Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

Today I am starting a series of posts called Courseware. This came about from a classic thought experiment from film school. “What movies would I use if I was teaching the class?” It’s actually something I would talk about with my buddies somewhat frequently for whatever reason. The thought train that brought me around to applying this to SF books started with the recent Tim Powers book.

See there actually is a Science Fiction as Literature class at the Community College of Rhode Island where my wife works. She took it when she was a student and enjoyed it even though her reading lists skews much more towards horror and supernatural. I know some other people who’ve taken it as well and everyone enjoys it. Unfortunately, it’s permanently in the 10am timeslot, effectively ruining it for anyone with a day job. The class as taught has a lot of short stories and one novel, The Anubis Gates by the aforementioned Tim Powers. I’ve read it. Good book.

So in thinking about how to structure a SF-F class, the first thing I realized is that the subject is way to broad to cram it all into one class. This is why I expect this to be a series. We did the same thing back in film school too and seperated Intro to Film Analysis from Intro to Film History. Let’s split it up here. Today is Intro to Sci Fi and later we’ll hit Intro to Fantasy. Let’s also assume it’s a once a week thing. Back when I was in college, my school was transitioning from a three credit system to a four. For a once a week class, it’s not that different, just an hour longer. Ideally, that gives the class maximum time to talk shop and read excerpts from the books being discussed.

The next ground rule is one book every two weeks for a six book total. When I was working nights, I’d polish off six to eight in two weeks but not everyone has that kind of time. Even now with the day job and the toddler, only doorstop size pagecounts take two weeks or more. This also gives ample time for discussions and such. A lot of the discussions would revolve around the background of the genre, the societal influences on the work and other works surrounding the ones chosen.

Specific to Intro to Sci Fi, the books I’ve chosen are going to skew modern. The reason for this is accessibility. I could go back to the very first sci fi book, Frankenstein but have you actually tried to read it? I have. Gah it’s not easy. The language is very dated and it’s not a very easy read because of it. Think of this as Sci Fi for newbies. We’re not trying to scare them off, we’re trying to rope them in. Things like the Foundation Trilogy and Ringworld are classics, but for a newbie could be like throwing them in the deep end without telling them which way is up.

I also want to showcase sci fi at it’s best. As a genre we’re concerned with the future of all people, not just the all too unfortunate demographic spread the old guard wants to cling on to for some reason. Only two of the six are written by white guys and four of the six have people of color and/or women as the protags. If we want to encourage the genre to be all encompassing going forward, one of the best ways to do it is by talking about the books that showcase it.

Without any further ramblings, the courseware for Intro to Science Fiction.

windupgirl The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is a near future book that takes place in a world saddled by environmental collapse. Too much genetic engineering has killed off biodeversity and engineered plagues are a very real threat. One protag works for Big Agriculture skulking around Bangkok looking for hidden foodstuff. The other is a genetically created human. Oil and petrols are restricted to the government and the super rich. When I first read this book, I felt it was a touch creepy that I could see the world really going down this path. For an introduction to the genre, familiar real world problems and technologies only a step or two away from what exists now can ease new readers into it. There’s a lot of room to open up the discussion to how sci fi can talk about things in a different way than plain old literature can

arcticrisingArctic Rising by Tobias S Buckell

I debated making this the first book as it is another near future book. Arctic Rising doesn’t have such a bleak outlook on the future. I also thing it has a more international feel to it even though both books so far take place outside of the US. Again, global warming is screwing with the earth. The nations boarding the arctic circle find themselves a lot more powerful all of a sudden with new resources opening up. The last icebergs on earth have formed a new geopolitical entity part of no nation. Anika Duncan is a bad ass airship pilot working for the UN thrown into a big mess. There’s a lot of politicking and action rolling around in this. Discussion could veer towards sci fi and thriller tropes interacting together.

merchantersluckMerchanter’s Luck by CJ  Cherryh

I specifically wanted this book to follow Arctic Rising because Buckell has said how it hit home with him growing up in the Caribbean. Sometimes tradition in our genre isn’t a bad thing and can create fascinating stepping stones across different generations of writers. Bam. There’s a lot of discussion from this right there. The book itself stands alone but takes place in a larger universe created by Cherryh. I would definitely brush up on the other books in the world to tie it together. Sprawl is often a key part in sci fi.

onbasiliskstationOn Basilisk Station by David Weber

Want to talk sprawl? Honorverse time. On Basilisk Station is the first of the (currently) thirteen book series tracking naval officer Honor Harrington from her first posting out of the academy. I’m horribly out of date on my Honor books, but the last I read she was an Admiral in two different nations. I first read this when I was maybe twelve and was my first non-Star Trek foray into space opera. Even though this was first published in 1992, there is a Cold War feel to the start of this series. Discussion could start off with the historical analogues of the cold war and the Manticore-Peep war in the making and space opera tropes here as compared to well known space operas on television and film (ie Trek and Babylon 5)

fuzzynationFuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

I couldn’t run an intro level science fiction anything without including Scalzi. He purposely writes science fiction that is accessible without needing a huge background in the genre. Old Man’s War may be more well known and what propelled him onto the scene, but Fuzzy Nation has the ethics of human-alien interaction. The OMW series has a lot of alien interaction but is mainly concerned with curbstomping them until book three. Which makes sense in the context of that series. Fuzzy is wholly concerned with the ethics of alien and sentience. Kind of self explanatory where the discussion would be going with that.

livesoftao The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

This is the most recent of all the books I’ve chosen, not even a year old. The premise here is a reverse of what Scalzi was doing in Fuzzy Nation. In Tao, humanity is the “lesser” species while the Prophus and Genjix, two factions of an ancient species, are the advanced race shepherding us along. It turns out the aliens crashed on earth before evolution even gave us fish. They piggyback on humans and animals, sharing the same bodies. It turns out all of human history has been influences by their war. Roen, an out of shape IT guy, gets a secret agent in his head by accident and is part of the war all of a sudden. I think it’s important to look at the trope of “advanced civilization interacting with a lesser” from the other direction.

So thanks to twitter again today, I’ve noticed a phenomenon in SFF publishing. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed it, but it happened again today and hey look! For once I have the time to do something about it.

So what the hell is it? [Insert Monty Python and the Holy Grail yelling GET ON WITH IT!]

Short answer, international cover art is way cooler.

humandivEhumandivjapanesexample A…. John Scalzi‘s Human Division dropped in Japan with this pile of kick ass on the right. Now… don’t get me wrong, the US version looks pretty damn spiffy but it also looks somewhat traditional. I don’t need to be a marketing genius or some sort of cultural expert to see that the manga looking cover is going to have a lot more attraction in Japan than the traditional space station.

Now actually, as far as traditional SF covers go, I think the Human Division cover is pretty damn spiffy. It’s got a nice color palate instead of black starscapes. But, I am partial to covers that show characters and while the Japanese cover doesn’t show an actual scene from the book, people are always more interesting than tech alone. I also agree with what Scalzi said himself that it’s great they show Ambassador Abumwe and not just the shooters.

So both good, but Japan wins. Like woah.

lockelamora-uslockelamora-ukExample B…. Scott Lynch‘s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Full disclosure, Lies is one of my all time favorites. But I totally did not pick it up off the shelf because of the cover. I actually picked up it’s sequel off the shelf first because of it’s cover. Again with the US cover, kind of traditional. I dunno what the hell Locke is supposed to be thinking sitting there. He’s certainly not being a very good thief sitting out in the open like that. It would bother me a lot less if that was something that happened in the book, but he never stares off at Camorr’s towers looking all pensive, wry and slightly emo.

UK over on the right still has Locke perched in odd places for some reason, but that captures the feel of the city and the book so much more. Locke’s version of Camorr is the dirty slums where you’re more likely to get shanked and dumped into the canal.

UK absolutely wins here and I’m pretty sure they stayed with the same artist for all the covers going forward, US and UK.

breachzone-usbreachzone-ukExample C…. Myke Cole‘s upcoming (and greatly anticipated) Shadow Ops Breach Zone, or in the UK, just plain Breach Zone. Now, again here, I don’t think the American cover is bad, I just think that the UK one is a whole lot better. Over on the left, Harlequin looks pretty damn impressive. Scylla looking pretty cool down in the corner but it’s totally Harlequin’s show and he could be a poster child for a recruitment poster there. Which is the point. We know this because we’ve met Harlequin before and I think the cover captures him pretty well.

But poor Harlequin can’t hold a damn candle to Scylla over in the UK on the right. She is fucking Bad Ass. Capitol letters and all. Seriously. Like Betty White, Scylla is sick of your shit. It captures the character more perfectly than any cover I’ve seen in a while. I want to find some British pounds to get my hands on that one.

Also, there’s a new blurb on the UK cover. The Peter Brett blurb on the left is a good one, (though nothing beats “I do not wish Sam Sykes dead” in Tome of the Undergates) but it’s the same one through all three books.

I’m getting into the rhetorical territory here now but I’m wondering why the covers are so different. The Japanese cover isn’t too hard to figure out but do the marketing departments in London and New York really so divergent? I was clicking around on goodreads and some people have wild variants around the world with their covers. Peter Brett, China Miéville and the afore mentioned Sam Sykes all have completely different covers out in EuropeIf you call up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, one of my favorite covers, it’s the same across the world. I’m not sitting around in the publishing house or anything but I think it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall to get some insight into the why’s of these decisions.

Problem of the Popular and Fun

Posted: October 20, 2013 in Genre, Reading
Tags: , ,

Nerds were disliking popular things before it was popular to dislike popular things. It’s like nerds are hipsters about being hipsters.

Does that sound stupid? Yeah it does. And it is. People really need to just like what they like. For some reason in the SFF world, the popular gets a really bad rap. Tie in novels, in particular, seem to have this huge reputation to overcome. But they still sell oodles and oodles. They’re like dirty movies, no one admits to having ever seen one. For some reason the genre has these weird notions of itself.

This started noodling around in my brain back at the end of the summer and a twitter conversation I witnessed between Sam Sykes and Scott Lynch. One of them called it the “consternation” of liking popular things. And then today Sykes dropped a blog post about Drizzt books and fun. Fun is considered a Bad Thing in fantasy, especially when it’s popular fun. GRRM is popular, but everyone dies so there’s gravitas. All the classic tropes of high fantasy going back to Tolkien are poo-poo’d because Tolkien did it first.

When I was fourteen, I would look at them and think: “Damn, I like that.”

When I was twenty-five and starting to read blogs and learn more about fantasy, I would think: “Man, stop.  You shouldn’t like that.”

And now that I’m twenty-nine and slowly losing patience and brain cells, I think: “Wait, why shouldn’t I like that?”

-Sam Sykes

Back in film school, I saw a very similar thing with horror movies. As the genre aged and made more dollars, it was looked down on more by the “serious” creators. By the time I hit the end of film school I felt that same lack of giving a fuck Sam does in his above quote and I got tired of talking up all the stuff film kids were “supposed” to like.

People should just like what they like. The popularity and marketing of something hitting a critical mass doesn’t change what it is. Need an example? Forthcoming! Here’s a popular sci fi book I’m going to summarize.

An alien race with very insubstantial bodies takes over other cultures by latching on, pod people style, to other beings. They co-opt the bodies of humanity and treat everyone as almost like a living zoo. The aliens like to experience different cultures and whatnot. One of the last members of the human resistance gets caught and an alien gets dumped into her brain. Except this woman’s consciousness doesn’t fade away. There’s an alien and a human residing inside the same noggin now and they’ve got to come to terms with that pretty damn fast because they’re being pulled by the human resistance that wants to save the woman and the alien officials who aren’t really keen on double-people.

That’s sounds pretty fun right? Pretty damn cool with pod people and such. Spies and resistances. Two people in one head is something I always find fun.

Well guess what?

That’s The Host. You just thought a Stephanie Meyer book sounded interesting. One of the most ragged on authors of all time who has made a metric ass ton of money in the process.

Yup, I read it. Didn’t know who the hell she was way back then. My wife read the book and she said “Hey I think you’d like this” and since she doesn’t usually read SF, when she does there’s got to be something pretty damn nifty about it. And yup, there was a little bit of smooching in it. She writes in a very …. even style, to pick a word that doesn’t come with built in negative connotations. But it got the job done. I enjoyed it well enough and had fun reading it.

Oooh there’s that scary word again. Fun.

Fun comes in all different forms for all different people. When it comes to genre tropes, the fact that they’ve lasted long enough to even become tropes for us to poke fun of (while we secretly keep buying all of it) means that people must like them. As writers and readers, we should never be stagnant and stale in our use of tropes. They’re a tool and shouldn’t be a limiter. But don’t treat fun as a dirty word. Fun should be why you’re reading. Fun should definitely be why you’re writing. To quote Ben of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

We should all give less fucks and just like what we like and have fun with it.

Boskone 50

Posted: February 17, 2013 in Conventions
Tags: , ,

And the blog has come full circle. This site was all of what, two weeks old, when I went to my first Boskone and right up until the last day of the year, it was the most trafficked thing here. This time around, for Boskone 50, I made the commute for two days instead of one. The downside is that I had to drive to Boston twice, and that isn’t fun.

But this isn’t a 2k word tirade about how much Boston is lame (18 and 1). This is a pile of words about how Boskone is awesome.

I went to seven different panels and a kaffeeklatch, which last year took me half a day to figure out what the hell it was. I was at The Year in Short Fiction, Military Motifs in SF, Death Becomes Her (or Him), Safety and Security Now and in the Future, Writing Advise: The Next Level, Worlds You Won’t Forget, NonEnglish Fiction and Translation, and Exit Stage Left. Whew. That was a long list. But I was able to do a lot in two days.

The Year in Short Fiction was a lot of fodder for my own reading. I’ve talked here before about how I want to read more short fiction, but it is very needle-in-a-haystack-y for me. I get most of my novel recommendations from other authors now so this served a similar purpose for short fiction. The people on the panel are all involved in editing so there’s a lot of fodder for my reading enjoyment.

Military Motifs in SF and the Safety and Security panels were very similar in that they both ended up on the topic of authenticity. This is where I got a lot of useful ideas for my own writing. Myke Cole and James McDonald were on both and Jerry Pournelle is the kind of old guy that every young guy should strive to be. They’re all great speakers and could talk about paint drying and make it interesting. They talked about the mindset that goes with the field. When they talked about it out loud, it sounded like a no brainer, but it’s the kind of no brainer that is easily missed anyways. It’s almost too obvious until you slow down and look at it. It’s got me thinking a lot about the level of professionalism by the crew on the ship in the novel I’m writing. It’s not something I even touch upon since two of the three protags aren’t involved with the daily operation of the ship. But I’m thinking it’s something I need to add in, even if just in little bits. Show the commitment of the revolutionaries.

And I’m off on a tangent. But they got me thinking a lot, which is the great part the cons.

Back on topic though. The Death Becomes Her panel explored Death as a character. There was a lot of philosophy in this one. Michael Swanwick actually shared a near death experience with the panel which is a pretty intense way to start out. The personification of the intangible forces is something I always find ripe for fiction, godpunk or otherwise. F Brett Cox was there again on that one. The panel stayed in the neighborhood of personifications to help people cope.

The Writing Advise panel didn’t quite hit on the stuff I was looking for but it was still a good panel. Elizabeth Bear is a very quotable personality. I was also incredibly amused at the end during questions when one older woman asked her what process she uses to put together her novels. Bear went on to explain that each one she does is different and the method she uses for writing are subservient to the story she’s telling. The woman asking the question seemed to insist otherwise. I think Bear answered three times before people started shuffling in and out for the change of panels and the woman couldn’t ask again. I chuckle, but I also imagine it was frustrating so golf clap for dealing with the repetitive newbie question. Bear also dropped a Futurama reference. Made me happy.

Worlds You Won’t Forget was another one full of reading fodder. I happen to think world building is awesome and when the land or city becomes a character in itself, it’s one of the most enjoyable things out there for me. I love the books when I can tell there are details in the author’s head that I’m not actually reading about. Bear was a font of great quotes on this one again, but it was really interesting that Melinda Snodgrass said how hard she finds worldbuilding. It was totally unexpected from one of the architects of Wild Cards.

I went in to Non English Translations looking for some reading fodder. I have been looking for new stuff to read all the time and the new point of view is always something I want to check out. The guys on the panel were specialists in East Asian stuff because those are the languages they know. Apparently there’s some Chinese space opera coming out soon which is something I want to look forward to. It’ll be good to get beyond just Battle Royale and the Nightwatch series. I think those are my only non English novels and I’d like to check out more but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of a two-way traffic in translations.

Exit Stage Left was all about character death. That’s another one that came down to serve the need of the story. That kind of came down to plotting vs pantsing. Something as big as character death really needs to be prepared for rather than thrown down out of hand. There needs to be significance to it otherwise the reader starts to dismiss the story.

Whew. Rambled a lot about the panels. One of the big things I made it a point of doing, was going to the kaffeeklatch. Last year I kicked myself for not talking shop with people in person. It’s a lot different than floating around the internet. So this year I was all like Bam! Gonna do it. So I went to Myke Cole’s. He’s a nice guy who’s super approachable and we had talked earlier in the con. (More on that when it shows up on his blog) It was eight people hanging out and shooting the shit. Damn that’s the kind of stuff I wish I could do everyday. It’s that exact kind of being around writing which makes me more productive and better at my own.

Another of my favorite parts of these cons, is finding authors who sell me as a person and make me want to go read their books. Last year it was Cole, Peter V Brett and Ben Tate/Joshua Palmatier. This year, it’s Elizabeth Bear, David Anthony Durham and Theodora Goss. I saw them all a couple times and they had very thoughtful, intelligent things to say involving the topic and their work. I’m game. Downside, the dealer room didn’t carry any of their stuff. There were some tables of uses books which is all well and good for people who don’t have access to The Book Barn, but you’d think the book sellers would stock up on the people who are going to be at the con. I picked up one of Bear’s books but so many others that I’d be interested in buying weren’t there. Yeah internet and all. But I want to buy stuff at the con from the people I see. I got a signed Wild Cards book, one of Bear’s and an unrelated cyberpunk book that invoked the Rule of Books. I was looking for Goss, Durham, Cox, Jennifer Pelland (who was at the con but I missed this year) and nothing. From a purely business standpoint, you’d think they’d want to have the products that correspond with the participants.

I’ve been typing a lot of thoughts and it’s time to wrap it up. I leave you with some of the choice quotes. Mostly proper quotes, not just amusingly out of context one-liners like last year’s quotes.

  • “Being dead was not a barrier to participation.” -Walter Hunt on killing off characters
  • “We come to stories because we want drama. We have tedium in our day to day lives.” -Myke Cole
  • “Turns out, living forever kind of sucks.” -Theodora Goss
  • “There’s no twelve year old that doesn’t want to be a dragon.” -Elizabeth Bear
  • “I don’t think we get the props for what we do. [World building] is a daunting task.” -Melinda Snodgrass

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Reading
Tags: , ,

Want to know what one of the coolest books you could ever get is? An ARC! I won myself an advanced copy of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole from a contest he ran a couple months ago. It’s actually funny how the contest went because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell to win. Throughout the month, Cole posted different entries on twitter coven13so I got to see how cool everyone else was. “Aw man… I don’t even have Photoshop, I did a literal cut and paste. Oh well, it was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon.” So I was slightly floored when I won. I shook my fist at that hurricane that slowed down the mail when I was waiting for the book to show up on my doorstep and I devoured the hell out of it when I got it in my hands. Even though I was in the middle of the final push to finish my own novel. And I get to talk about it now.

Coven 13 Tredici – Who’s Unlucky Now? Got me a shiny green ARC. Now, this is cool well beyond being fancy and getting to read the book early. The first Shadow Ops book was one of the first books I talked about on this blog and I dubbed it the most recommended book of last year. Control Point has been talked up all over ye olde internets. Likewisein the past few weeks, Fortress Frontier has been all over the “Anticipated for 2013” lists. Go ahead, open a new tab and search it. It’s there.

So what does an author do when he sets the bar really high with the first book? Open up an industrial can of awesome.

Back of the book time!

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people begin to develop terrifying powers –  summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed… but not for everyone.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front lines.

Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier – cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

Now he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place: Oscar Britton, public enemy number one.

First, huge, nine hundred pound gorilla in the room… we have a new protag. This brings up mixed feelings if you liked Oscar Britton, I’m sure. He had a great character arc in book one, so it’s risky to move him to a secondary role in Fortress Frontier. Put any worry out of your head right now. Alan Bookbinder is an even better main character. Don’t take this as a knock against Britton and the first book, read that sentence as it’s intended, Cole’s risk paid off and he raised the bar again. Britton is a soldier who became magical and went to do different soldier things with his magic. Bookbinder is a professional paper pusher who is told “You’re going to the front likes. Now. There’s paper to push there.”

Bookbinder is an almost-outsider. He is good at what he does and had a long military career prior to page one of the book. His role as support is crucial, but he is aware of how the combat elements of the military view him. So when he comes up latent (i.e. discovers he has magic), he isn’t exactly happy about being thrown to the front lines of another dimension. This is a point of view of support staff thrown into combat roll. It isn’t something I think I’ve ever run across in SF and if I have, definitely not someone with the rank Bookbinder’s got. He has this mindset of self doubt and inadequacy but is determined to make it through the meat and potatoes of the plot swirling around him.

Speaking of the plot, there’s a shift here too from the first book to Fortress. Britton is fighting the system. Bookbinder is surviving. Shit has hit the fan, lots of it. Bookbinder doesn’t stay a passive character, only reacting to the disasters facing FOB Frontier. He makes things happen. I’m not going to tell you what he makes happen because I don’t want to ruin all sorts of things I enjoyed. It’s another case of there being a very fine line between giving examples to prove I’m not blowing smoke, and spoiling things for anyone who reads this. Bookbinder’s quest is thoroughly fantastic, you’ll just have to read it yourself and be amazed.

I did get confused early on in Fortress however. The timeline as it compares with Control Point is a bit blurry in the first couple chapters. It’s set up the way it has to be in order to tell a coherent story here in book two, but I missed the clues that told me how they related. It’s really not something that’s dwell worthy though. Even money most people caught on to the clues I missed and didn’t get phased one bit.

Fortress gets upgrades across the rest of the board too. I’m not spoiling anything by saying there are non-American military personnel involved with this. It’s just as fascinating to see how the other nations of the world deal with magic. Throughout both books there are so many tantalizing snippets about the rest of the world. Every chapter starts with a little blurb about the world at large. Holy crap yes I want to know all about how the Danish military controls the weather. Even these blurbs and off hand comments show how smart and well thought out this series is. I was constantly beset by a feeling of logic, similar to when I read World War Z. You come away feeling that you just read how the world really would end up if magic just showed up one day.

I’m starting to seriously ramble on here, by I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on a couple more points, at least briefly, before I goad you one last time to read this book. First off, the magic system itself gets an upgrade. This is in both application of existing magic and the magic available to the world. We’re starting to dance that fine line between knowledge and spoiler again. The important part to take from it though is that there are new mechanics here in this book, and it shows us that Cole isn’t about to stop moving his world forward. If there’s an exact timeframe between the Great Reawakening and the books’ current date, I can’t think of it, but it surprised me that there was still discovery in Cole’s world. The magic always had an entrenched feel in the world, but it makes sense for discovery to be ongoing. There’s that whole well thought out world thing coming up again. I have no doubt that all the ripples being cast in this book are going to be felt farther out in the series.

Seriously, this post is mushroom clouding. Last point though. Maps. Maps are lacking from books too often nowadays, especially for urban fantasy or other books that involve the modern world. Fortress has a beautifully crafted set of maps up front that mark out all the major locations of both books so far. It greets you up front and makes me happy. It should make you happy. Check out his own blog post about the map.

So that’s it. It’s not a stretch of the mind to think I’ll be talking about this book again at the year end for 2013. This whole series is worth all the buzz. I just wish I didn’t have to wait around until next year for another.

Work In Progress Challenge

Posted: October 16, 2012 in Writing
Tags: , ,

The idea for the Work In Progress Challenge came from Kat Richardson via her blog post of the same vein which I happened to see via ye olde twitter. Since I started this website at the beginning of the year, I think this will be the most I’ve openly talked about the novel I’m writing. Putting it out there a bit will help kick my pants into gear and get some momentum behind me.

What is the title of your work in progress?


Where did the idea for your WIP come from?

This came about from the adoption of my “Write what you know, not who you know” philosophy to writing. The novel I attempted before Amity had a main character just like me and it got real screwed up by that. When you’re essentially writing yourself, it’s easy to overlook details and thoughts that you shouldn’t. You skim over things because you’re so familiar with them. This is why two of the three protags are women in this book. By being different from me, it makes me stop and think. I wrote a thing about writing women characters a while back.

When I started doing the earliest notes for Amity, I thought “Well just what kinds of things am I an expert at?” 1) I work in a shipyard. 2) I know stupid odd bits of history. 3) I like pirates. 4) I happened to be in Ireland when I committed notes to paper. Bam. Done. The scenario for the world Amity takes place in is like the American Revolution meets the Irish Troubles in space. I have elaborate rationales as to why space is dominated by the UN and China and the small players stuck between them. A key part of the history of this universe is how the American Revolution was funded by privateers/pirates funded mostly by Connecticut and Rhode Island. I’ll spare the further history tangent, but it’s there and it’s pretty cool actually. I lifted the pirates as freedom fighters concept for Amity.

What genre does your WIP fall into?

Space opera with some swashed buckles for good measure.

Which actors/actresses would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This question is harder than I expected it to be. The only one that comes easy is maybe Lucy Liu as Kimiho Okano. She’s got the bad ass wisdom needed. It took a while for me to come up with the perfect actress for my main characters, but Nicole de Boer would probably be it. If you know who that is without Google, consider it more nerd cred. She played Ezri in the last season of Deep Space Nine. She could be Bernadette. I don’t even have a clue who would play Tomas de la Vega.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your WIP?

Shipyard worker Bernadette Hastings is minding her own business welding on the Navy’s newest starship when she’s shanghai’d by pirates and thrown into battles not of her own choosing but too personal to run from.

Is your WIP due for publication or represented?

Ha! I wish. Finishing has to happen first.

How long did it take you to write?

Ugh. It’s been in progress longer than I want to admit. I’m on Act Three though and my goal is to finish by my birthday. That means I have about seven weeks to go. I’ve already arranged to take the day off of work so I expect I will be frantically writing til my hand falls off so I can get to the end before.

What other works in your genre would you compare it to?

I haven’t really read any other space opera pirate tales. I think there’s a bit of A Thousand Words for Stranger kind of feel with the adventurous planet hopping.

Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

I think that an author can’t help by be influenced a little bit by everything he or she reads. Even if it’s bad you can say to yourself “Not gonna do it like that.” More direct inspiration in regards to Amity? The aforementioned Julie Czerneda series. There’s a bit note from David Weber too. Whenever I read an Honor Harrington book, I get this extra kick of momentum. Harrington is a strong protag, albeit a different type of protag than the more “morally diverse” world I’m going for.

What else might pique our interest in this WIP?

For all that this is the most open I’ve been with talking about Amity, (in fact, I think this is the first time I’ve even used the title on this blog) there’s still some aspects of it I’m reluctant to talk about openly. But I will give a more proper back of the book style blurb…

Bernadette Hastings, welder shanghai’d by pirates. Claire Tew, pirate given a quest on the dying breath of her mother. Tomas de la Vega, intellegence agency investigator sent into deep cover on no notice. Hunted and hounded across space on the Amity, the weight of a rebellion balances on their shoulders whether they know it or not.

What is a useless tidbit of information about your WIP?

The pirates and the ship itself were named after actual pirates from Rhode Island. Thomas Tew was a privateer in the employ of the governor of Bermuda turned proper pirate. His ship was called the Amity packing eight cannons and a crew of forty six. He took an Arab cannonball to the stomach in 1695. In my WIP, Claire Tew is his descendant and has a family crest modeled after his flag.


Posted: October 3, 2012 in Reading
Tags: , ,

Anyone who even has an inkling about what goes on over with Angry Robot Books, has been hearing about vN by Madeline Ashby for a while now. Ever since the British publishers first showed up on the scene with things like Moxyland and Sixty-One Nails, anything they put out is instantly on my radar. vN was showing up on my radar more than its brethren however. All the early buzz was ridonkously positive. Also, go click on the Goodreads link and look at that cover. Angry Robot hits another home run in cover design. Clearly, I nabbed this one in the “brandy new” stage.

I was not disappointed.

Back of the Book time!

Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine – a self-replicating humanoid robot.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic / synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks them, young Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she’s on the run, carrying her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive. She’s growing quickly, and learning too. Like the fact that in her, and her alone, the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has stopped working… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.

This is one of those cases where the Back of the Book does not do the Inside of the Book justice. Not one eye-ota. Not that the Back of the Book is lying or misleading. All those things described happen. There’s just a lot more going on than those paragraphs can encompass. I can understand the difficulty the Back of the Book guy at Angry Robot had though. I’m having a hard time deciding which angle of attack to take without ruining anything for anyone. I’m going to start with a tweet I sent out a couple days ago even though quoting myself is a bit meta.

Holy amazeballs. 50 pages into vN by @MadelineAshby and it’s floored me. This is what people must have felt reading Asimov when it was new.

Upon finishing the book, I still stand by that statement. Years after something enters the public consciousness, it’s hard to see the landmark it creates. When I read Asimov the first time as a kid, I already knew the effects it had. Maybe not specifics in an academic kind of way, but I had already read things influenced by it. vN is a landmark book for sci-fi and robot fiction in particular. Every piece of fiction I read from here on out touching on AI will be filtered through this experience. This is the feeling that I imagine people felt reading Asimov when it was brandy new.

To dust off my film degree and use some examples I’m sure everyone will know… vN is like The Matrix for people in high school in the late 90s, or Star Wars was for my dad in the 70s. There is before. There is after. And if you get to see it fresh, you can gain a whole new perspective on it.

This book is smart. There’s an underlying philosophy to it with the nature and evolution of AI. I would rank this with Neal Stephenson’s Anatham or China Miéville’s Embassytown for philosophical intelligence. It’s specific and not blatant, no one stops to have deep thoughts out loud or anything. But it feels very well thought out and complete. So even if it hangs in the background, it still permeates into the pages throughout. This book is also very plausible. Like Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl or Tobias Buckell’s Arctic RisingvN is a logical extrapolation of where society could end up. That adds a little bit of creep to it.

Certain parts of this book sneak up on you until you realize things have been happening for a couple chapters. You can follow along with the character growth for Amy right along but with, Javier, another vN she meets along the way, the growth is very sly. I find it very satisfying when an author can sneak things like that under my radar.

One thing I saw on twitter recently about vN, was a comment about how the book was a lot darker than expected. Oh yeah. Like woah. Even hearing people talk about it before hand, it still caught me off guard. Which is why I feel ok talking about it. Because I’ll bet it’ll still get you even being forewarned. But these dark and unexpected moments are balanced out wonderfully with moments that are funny or touching. I snarfed with laughter two pages out from a deeply dark moment. It felt very real and authentic because I’m the type of person who will poke fun of something and laugh on the wrong end of the emergency room. Would that translate to someone else who doesn’t have my weird timing with humor? I can’t tell that, but I got a lot of extra feeling from the book because of the humorous moments sprinkled into vN.

So I love this book to death but I don’t think it’s quite perfect. The background to the vNs is something I really hope comes out in a sequel or “not a sequel but set in the same world.” These AI were designed by fundamentalists to stick around after the rapture to help out the ‘unfortunates.’ There’s a lot of potential there. It wasn’t crucial to this story but it could have been and I kept waiting for it to come up to the forefront. The ending…. eh, I don’t like to talk about endings on this. When I closed the book on the last page I wasn’t sure on it. It had to sit and marinate in my head for a while but I decided it’s right for the book and something I can get behind. Because of all the thought and philosophy in the book, it kind of concentrates there at the end. Again, I liked the way it ended, but it took some thought and processing to get there so this is kind of a warning not to give up on it and let it take it’s time to sink in.

So I’ve rambled a lot about this book but that’s because vN is a ramble worthy tale. The expectations were pretty high for this book, higher than I would normally attribute to a new author, but Ashby his the mark easy. I would be extremely surprised if this book did not garner some nominations and awards. vN has changed the way I will look at AI stories.

It seems like every week or so, there’s another flare up on twitter about some author behaving really horribly to other authors or their readers. Type “Authors behaving badly” into google and a whole litany of jerks come up. Maybe we can call them “Misguides by social media experts” if we’re feeling generous. The whole idea of someone’s job being a “social media expert” is laughable to begin with, but I’m sure there are some trusting and otherwise normal people who are genuinely duped by them.

Google’s top result of bad behavior has an author talking down on her fans because she was only number two on the NY Times list. There’s the book agent who was physically attacked by an author she passed on. There’s book reviews for sale. The best selling Brit who got caught sockpuppeting his own books and talking trash on rivals. And let’s not forget the ridiculously misguided people with the Goodreads Bully crap who think that any review less than positive counts the same as actual bullying. I’m not even going to dignify those people with a link.

This is all just the stuff that comes to mind in the last couple weeks. The Goodreads thing is the only one in that last paragraph going back farther than August. Hell, I even read a book where the protag was an author that spent half the introduction bitching about amazon reviews. I won’t drop names because I’m trying to do the exact opposite of spreading smack, but suffice to say, I’ll never read her books and I get miffed when I see people RT her into my twitter feed.

Even if there’s not outright controversy and assholeness, I know I can’t be the only one who is inundated with followback accounts on twitter which amount to nothing more than advertising. “@JoeBlowAuthor is following you! He follows 32k people and has 31k followers! Read his book! Read it faster! I won’t tell you anything about it tho or even talk about anything other than screaming Read it now!”

That’s what I get for using common hashtags like #writing.

So if we’re being constantly thrashed with bad behavior, where the deuce is the good?

I dropped this on twitter today…

So much about authors behaving badly, how about #AuthorsBehavingWell on twitter? People like @ChuckWendig @SamSykesSwears and @saladinahmed

These guys aren’t the only authors behaving well, I just happened to be on ye olde twitter around the same time of day as them. Authors behaving well include Madaline Ashby (@MadelineAshby), Peter V Brett (@PVBrett), Seanan McGuire (@seananmcguire), Cat Valente (@catvalente) and a lot of others who’s twitter handles are quite obvious.

So what do the people of my twitter feed do that makes them well behaved. Ima gonna break it down!

1 – Promote your stuff a little bit.

I know I said it was lame to be a walking advertisement on twitter a few paragraphs ago, but that doesn’t mean be silent about your work. I follow authors because I’m interested in what they write. I want to read Chuck Wendig’s latest blog post. Absolutely I want to know about Tobias Buckell’s kickstarter collection. Cat Valente’s last short story available online is one of my favorite short stories of all time and I never would have known about it if she didn’t drop a link on twitter. Celebrate your happy bookday. Drop updates on the current project. I’m interested in this.

There are authors I follow on twitter before I even buy their book. Of the eight people I’ve mentioned so far, I followed six of them before I bought the book. I’ve even follow people like Wesley Chu (@wes_chu) who aren’t published yet, but will be by publishers I love to read. Usually this sort of follow comes about by recommendations from other authors, seeing good things about their book, or one of the magical Scalzi Big Idea Posts. So by all means, link to reviews of your stuff. When I write a blog post about the book I just read, one of the primary reasons for it is spreading the word of awesomeness. Authors should know that they might have new and/or on the fence readers following them so they can find out if they want to read you.

2 – Promote the stuff of others a little bit.

Talk about your friends, your comrades, your fellow wordsmiths. One of the best things I get out of twitter is new books to read! I refuse to go to B+N so I don’t actually have a real live bookstore to go to in Rhode Island any more. I get so many of my new books to read from other authors. Chances are, if I’m interested in your stuff, and there are others who you enjoy as people and respect as writers, even if they’re not in our circle of F-SF genre, I’ll give them a gander. Benjamin Tate (@bentateauthor) reviews books on his LiveJournal. (Seriously, ever time I type LiveJournal, I think I travel back in time to 2000 and high school) Chuck Wendig interviews artists of all types. I happily recommend books to friends and there is no reason not to for the Well Behaved Twitter Author who has a willing audience that likes to read the same kind of stuff as they do.

3 – Be an awesome person the rest of the time

Finding out about the person behind the book cover seriously makes me giddy in a non-stalker kind of way. As a kid before the internet was running rampant with our lives, all I ever knew about an author was that little page in the back. “Joe Blow Author lives in a state with a family and some animals and has written a few other books.” I recognize the names in the Acknowledgements page now! In Kelly McCullough’s (@KellyDMcC) Broken Blade acknowledgements I recognized some of the names as Neil Gaiman’s dogs. They live near each other and he jogs with the dogs. Holy crap that’s cool. It’s not something you’d ever get years ago.

I have a dumpster cat named Mr. Pibb. I enjoy seeing the pictures of so many cats. Seriously. So many. It’s almost a cliche now, internet and cats, but everyone’s got them. Kylie Chan (@kyliecchan) and Seanan McGuire and Cherie Priest (@cmpriest) have awesome cats. Scott Lynch (@scottlynch78) is a firefighter. Greg van Eekhout (@gregvaneekhout) grows vegetables and fights off bugs on what I presume is a porch. Jennifer Pelland (@jenniferpelland) is a belly dancer. When Chuck Wendig or Tobias Buckell or Saladin Ahmed or Lauren Beukes (@laurenbeukes) talks about their kids doing something cool or weird, I can relate cause I’m a dad too. I won’t stop reading your books if you’re a good writer but boring on twitter, so don’t feel the need to preform either. Just be a regular person.

The internet has made authors into real live people. I get some sort of weird encouragement out of seeing people deal with sick kids or days when the word count just isn’t there or day jobs really really suck. They’re real people doing the same kind of crap I am and they made it. That means when I’m having tough days in the wordmines or the submarines at work are kicking my ass extra hard, I think “Hey they’ve got crap to deal with and got some damn good writing done anyways. I’m gonna do it too.” Solidarity man.

Don’t censor yourself though. It’s ok to get angry at something that sucks or be a little bit political. I’m not going to bandstand my own politics here because I don’t enjoy doing that kind of stuff, but in this day and age, most people are a little political especially during voting season. Don’t be a froth-at-the-mouth kind of political person and I can respect you even if I disagree with you. China Miéville and Orson Scott Card have famously controversial political views. They’re still considered luminaries of our genre regardless (I don’t think either use twitter though). Saladin Ahmed is the perfect example of this in my twitter feed. From reading his tweets, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to vote the same, but he’s being respectful so he can go right on disagreeing with me all he wants. Doesn’t bother me one bit. Frankly, I tend to skim over politics if I agree with you or not.

Really the most important part of the three points is moderation. Consider it a subpoint to all of them. Moderation in all things and there’s nothing to worry about.

So yeah. I think I seriously linked half of my twitter feed today. But I also think this has been my favorite blog post to write because it’s all about being part of a positive community. It’s certainly ended up being my longest blog post ever. But I’m not scrubbing for attention. I want to encourage people to be awesome and tell people about others who are already awesome. Play it forward. Good karma. There’s no need to candy coat everything, but foster that community damnit. Because seriously, it’s easy to forget how spoiled we are to have such a vibrant and well connected community. It’s easy to forget how easy it is to type out a “Hey I loved the shit out of your book! Digital air high five!” We didn’t have this kind of stuff twenty years ago or ten years ago. Hell, it wasn’t like this even five years ago.

Let’s make Authors Behaving Well a thing. It’ll cancel out all those who are behaving badly.

Instead of my usual book reviewy type post in regards to my latest finished read, Jandar of Callisto by Lin Carter, I had an interesting question pop into my head as I was finishing this I wanted to talk out. I’m sure you can guess what that question was, what since it’s the title of this post. (sidenote, Jandar has the best author note ever)

Why do some stories age well?

Jandar is from 1972 and was recommended to me by my dad on my last trip to The Bookbarn, which has come up in the last three or four posts of mine. When John Carter was made into a movie, it made me want to read the book much more than see the green screen fest. My dad picked out this book for me when we couldn’t find any of the John Carter books. It’s similar in genre and style. In fact, Lin Carter dedicates the book to John Carter’s author, Edgar Rice Burroughs. So what we’ve got here is a forty year old book written in homage to a book almost sixty years older than that. I enjoyed the book a lot. It was straight up fast paced and fun. There’s no deep science to it. Any scientific or fantastical question is answered in the simplest manner and we’re moved on. Pacing and action are paramount on Callisto but there’s some character growth going on too, mostly with Koja, an insect-like alien Jandar makes friends with eventually.

There were some things I found a little bit dated, mostly with the treatment of Darloona, a princess in exile who Jandar gets the warm fuzzies for. We meet her throwing down with a biggun jungle beastie. Here she’s a tough hunter. She’s in a bit over her head since it was a very large beastie but she’s out in the wilderness being awesome. The bad guy treats her like she should be a trophy to be won. Eh… I’ll let that one slide. He’s the bad guy and he’s doing it so he can inherit her kingdom. I’ll bite on that. I just get a sense that the author isn’t quite sure what to do with Darloona, wavering between her being tough and progressive for ’72 and a more ‘traditional’ and dated role.

Even with those faults, Jandar of Callisto is a worthy read, fast and fun. This is a crazy juxtaposition with the book I read prior to this.

His Majesty’s Dragon? Nope. It was Element 79 by Fred Hoyle.

I didn’t even realize this was a book full of short stories until I pinged the Goodreads page. There’s nothing to actually indicate this on the back cover review or in the front of the book. I figured they were just titled chapters, something common in older books. I couldn’t get through the first twenty pages. A bunch of people were abducted by aliens that they never see and are held in captivity on a space ship. They’re pretty much a zoo. Upon finding out this was really a short story, I went and read the end of it… and it was horribly vague with no actual ending. The whole thing is dated from 1967, smack in the New Wave of science fiction. I’m familiar with New Wave, early Zelazny is considered part of it. It’s very cerebral and psychological and barely readable.

So why is one still a successful read forty years later and the other had me tossing it aside in twenty pages? Seriously, twenty. I usually give a book a hundred, although twenty is a lot when a book only has 149.

Adventure tales, like that of Jandar or John Carter, have never really gone away. They’ve always been in the public eye larger than just the SF genre. Just look at Indiana Jones. Even that was created because Spielberg and Lucas wanted to make something reminiscent of when they were kids. It makes the tropes of an adventure story somewhat timeless and universal. Swash some buckles, clang some swords, save the day. That sort of thing transcends time and culture. Jandar fights swarthy sky pirates on a Jovian moon. Indiana Jones fights Nazis. There’s not much of a stretch to that.

It’s still going on today too. I was just talking to my dad on the phone before I started reading this and he was raving about In Fury Born and how much fun it was with the pirate navies and rogue planets and super space marines. He’s on an international road job for work servicing a Navy sub (building submarines is genetic apparently) and said “This book is so good, I had to share it. I gave it to the sailors to put in the ship’s library.”

So adventure books are thriving. Why the New Wave fail? Well I think it has to do with the in vogue science. Social sciences and psychology were big. I think there was a prevailing attitude that in order for the genre to be taken seriously, it needed to be serious. It got smart. I think it got way too smart for its own good. Character and fluid pacing were sacrificed in order to be ‘smart.’ And I don’t think it is just an author thing, I’ve noticed it with other books from the 60s and 70s I’ve picked up from The Bookbarn and then sent right back to them. Things like Kampus and even some of the early Zelazny is tough to digest and he’s my all time favorite author.

I am not saying a book needs to dumb itself down in order to be enjoyable. Neal Stephenson’s Anathem is one of the smartest books I’ve ever read, steeped in philosophy and science and math, blurring the lines between them like really high level science tends to do. I think there was just a precedence placed on abstract social science to make itself sound important in these older novels.

What’s going to make a story last? How can we make the SF powerhouse that’s going to last as long as Shakespeare? Well, do like ol’ Bill did and transcend your setting. It sounds slightly pretentious but the human stories are the ones that are going to last. The hero overcoming the odds. The tragic romance. The behind the back treachery. They worked in Elizabethan days. They worked for Burroughs. They worked for Carter and Weber and dozens of other authors I’ve read across all different times and genres. The set dressings still need to be up to snuff. Changing what aspects get the short shaft is a lateral move, not an improvement in writing. But years from now when we snicker at “blazing fast 28.8 modems” or a “futuristic 2020,” we can overlook a dated setting if the rest of the story holds up strong.

So I was called out on being tired and/or child distracted at the end of the last post about First Lines. It took much longer to type than I thought it would what with needing to hold the book with one hand and do the 3rd grade hunt and peck typing. The people have spoken, here I am to deconstruct the first line.

As a reader, it’s very easy to gloss over the first line. As a writer, I know I tend to agonize over it.

When I start reading a new book, I’m running pellmell face first into it, I can’t stop for just one line. For me, the first dozen pages are where I get my quote unquote, first impression, from. In fact, some of the first lines off the Shelf of Honor books give a different impression than what I remember of the openings. Specifically I’m thinking of A Thousand Words for Stranger and Boneshaker. In regards to Stranger, I remember Sira waking up not knowing who she is. Amnesiatic characters is something I find fascinating (also, see Zelazny for that) so that’s probably why it tends to jump at me. My first memories of Boneshaker are of Briar shleping through the muck of Seattle coming home from work, not of a mood moment.

Opening lines tend to be mood moments or action. Both can set the pace of what’s going on but even as I type this, I’m thinking of all the ones that do the opposite. Look at Un Lun Dun, the word ‘nondescript’ is used twice. You get a juxtaposition out of that one. When I write my own stuff, I tend to be of the ‘start with a bang’ school of thought. I vaguely remember it being taught in school at some point. I’ve tried mood openings or informational openings and they just don’t pop for me. In my in-process novel, I actually lopped off the first four pages and ended up with two people dying on page one. It made for a much better hook. It’s a show don’t tell kind of thing for me.

That’s not to say I can’t enjoy a book with a mood opening, the Shelf of Honor First Lines clearly shows that, but deconstructed as a single opening line, action speaks much louder than words. Actions make you ask Why? That little question propels the reader just as much as the writer. Actions? Questions? What single lines are the flavors I like best? I’m getting there. They’re next in fact.

“At the height of the long wet summer of the seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.” —The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

There’s a lot of information going on here. The weather and the year, they don’t do anything for me, but fortunately this is a nice long line. Thiefmaker and Eyeless Priest… who are these people? They’re titles so unique, they demand answers in themselves. But that’s informational. What’s the action? Why he’s got Lamora up for sale. The title character is for sale in the first line? Do tell more.

“Colin saw Walter’s foot a moment before it connected with his stomach.” —Well of Sorrows by Benjamin Tate

This is all action, simple and impactful. Both literally and figuratively. By starting off the whole book right in the middle of the fight, we’re instantly involved with what’s going on. There’s no lead in for us to choose sides nor are we shown the aftermath yet with the winner dusting himself off. We’re not even given a chance to take a breath before stuff’s going down.

“In a cold jail cell in Boston in Massachusetts Bay Colony on November 16, 1699, a weather-beaten man with hard scarred features unbuttoned his trousers.” —The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks

This one is a little bit odd in that it’s the only non-fiction book on the Shelf of Honor. But take a look at that. This book doesn’t read like a history text. It’s researched just the same but it reads like a novel. We’ve got action in a place that could easily start out as “Captain Kidd was in jail in Boston on November 16, 1699.” What we got instead is a lot more interesting, even if the image of a pantsless angry Scotsman in jail isn’t exactly an image we want willingly.

I just now spent twenty minutes going through my shelves for more first lines that really pop for me. What’s surprising me is that so many books I enjoy the b’jebus out of, have regular first lines. This goes back to running headlong into a new novel. When there are 400 pages, you’ve got at least fifty to hook me, one hundred if I’m being generous and you’ve got an awesome premise. In the last twenty minutes though, I did find two more that really jab the hooks in before the first punctuation mark.

“On the last true day of spring the nine worlds will ever know, my brother and I fly recon through the land of the gods.” —Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout

Godpunk is one of my favorite subgenres and the Norse are especially awesome. Not only do we have the ominous declaration that might as well be a Ned Stark saying “Winter is coming… everywhere,” we’ve got this awesome action of flying recon in the land of the gods. Something dicey is going on. There are so many questions in that half statement. There’s got to be danger a plenty in doing that, you don’t fly recon in safe zones. Expound on this danger! Tell me more!

“She let Johnny gag her mouth with a belt, that way she wouldn’t scream when he amputated her two mangled fingers.” —Johnny Zed by John Gregory Betancourt

Take a look at this book and read it’s synopsis and it sounds like a very dated 1980s popcorn muncher and then holy hell back alley amputations! I’m not so sure if I need to say much more about that. We’re starting in the middle of the action but it’s simultaneously the aftermath of another. What starts off as something sounding like it needs an R rating, turns out to be a lot more squeamish and intense than that. The question “What next?” drips off the page.

So there’s a thousand words about first lines, none more than 41 words themselves. One of the primary reasons I run this blog, is so that when I talk about these things, I become conscious of what works and doesn’t work in the books I read so I can apply those lessons to my own novel writing endeavors. So what have I learned, or more accurately, what have I become more aware of? Well, novels don’t have to get you in one line. Most of the Shelf of Honor books don’t hook me as fast as the 80s popcorn muncher that is Johnny Zed. When a first line really clicks though, it’s magic. Things are happening, things are moving and you’ve got no time to wonder what’s going on. All those magnificent questions these wonderful first lines raise, well hell, there’s no time to stop and think of them. We’re swept up in what’s going on without coming up for air.

There’s a whole novel for us to come up for air, but you’ve got to shove the reader back under the tide of words anyways. Make them work for it.