Chad Orzel has a neat article up at Forbes on science in science fiction. I'd be lying if I didn't admit I'm linking it because he has some kind words for A Darkling Sea.
Captain Black the Space Pirate is putting up recruiting posters because my Corsair is ready to sail!
I just got my first author copy of the hardback and it looks great. The cover is all swirly outer-spacey, but inside the book is pure pirate adventure. The designer at Tor Books did something very clever by choosing to set the book in Garamond — a type invented back in the Golden Age of Piracy.
For the next three or four months, every day is going to be Talk Like A Pirate Day at my house.
Shiver me timbers!
As I do every year (when I remember), I'd like to congratulate the 2015 nominees for the Hugo Awards. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't wish my own name was among them. The winners will be announced at the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, Washington. Congratulations, everyone!
Best Short Story
Best Related Work
Best Graphic Story
Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
Best Editor (Short Form)
Best Editor (Long Form)
Best Professional Artist
Best Fan Writer
Best Fan Artist
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
No, not that one. This one: the Compton Crook Award for best first novel, bestowed by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society at their annual convention Balticon. As one can see by the list of past winners, this is definitely an award of which it is true that it's an honor just to be nominated. My sincere thanks to the Baltimore SF society membership!
A few days ago John Scalzi put up this blog post, commenting (in the usual tail-chasing fashion of the Internet) on someone else's Twitter comment about yet a third person's magazine article — all wrestling with the question of whether writers should or should not try to be apolitical. John says no. I disagree with him, and instead of giving him more free Web content, I'm putting my reply here.
I think the heart of the problem is that we are conflating two separate roles that writers play. As a man and a citizen, I have the right — and perhaps even the duty — to participate in the political life of my town, my state, and my country. That naturally includes the right to let others know what I think about issues of the day. As my friends and my poor wife can attest, I am seldom shy about doing so.
But my role as a writer is distinct from my role as a citizen. As a writer my political notions are of no greater weight than the opinions of a panhandler, a soldier, a farmer, a banker, or an actor. Maybe as a writer my thoughts about copyrights or the self-employment tax are of value, but otherwise I'm just another citizen.
The problem is that I'm a citizen with a bullhorn. I can use my fiction to promote my views. I have a better than average ability to come up with clever little stupid bumper-sticker slogans. As a writer, in other words, I can spread my opinions more effectively than an insurance adjuster or an engineer can. Other writers can do that, too — as can moviemakers, actors, possibly musicians and professors, as well.
Why is that a problem? Simple: I'm a moron. So are you. So are all writers. The ability to express my ideas in an appealing and catchy manner doesn't mean those ideas are correct. I'm a moron with a bullhorn. Just one moron with a bullhorn is unpleasant to be around; the last thing we need is a whole mob of them.
There's another reason for a writer to avoid politics while wearing his writer hat: it's bad for the work. There have been great "political" novels, but most of those are great because they tackle universal truths rather than parochial issues. George Orwell's 1984 was a brilliant polemic against Soviet Communism — but if it had been just a book about how big a bastard Stalin was, nobody would have bothered to read it after 1953. Because Orwell created a book which examines how people become complicit in their own oppression, and how tyrannies distort every aspect of human life, his novel will still be relevant in 2084.
But most of the time, a writer being "political" means that the action of a story must screech to a halt while a moron with a bullhorn wanders onto the page, gabbling incoherently amid feedback squeals. In particularly sad cases, the moron gradually takes over all the writer's work. Recall G.K. Chesterton's famous quote about H.G. Wells "selling his birthright for a pot of message."
So in the end, I'm agreeing with both Mr. Scalzi and the un-named original romance writer who inspired this whole chain of commentary. Writers — as citizens and adults — have the right to be as political as they wish, and make their opinions known to all. But as writers, they should be aware that it's a perilous undertaking. Be as much of a moron as you like, but don't switch on that bullhorn. You might start an avalanche.
It's barely audible . . . or rather, it's barely Audible.com. The audiobook version of Corsair is ready for pre-order. I've been in touch with Victor Bevine (the narrator) so I know recording is finished. I was very impressed with how careful Mr. Bevine was to check with me about how to pronounce some of the odd names and places in the story. I'm looking forward to listening to his interpretation of the book. It'll be released at the same time as the hardcover print version, May 5.
Congratulations to this year's Nebula Award nominees. The final winners will be announced June 6 in Chicago, after a series of bloody, last-man-standing battles with knives and bricks. Or maybe voting. Anyway, congratulations to:
One thing which has begun to bother me about a lot of recent science fiction and action films is that they always go straight to putting the whole world in peril. In Guardians of the Galaxy the climax is an attempt by the villain to destroy the Good Guy Planet. In Interstellar the hero is looking for a new home for humanity because Earth is doomed. In The Fifth Element a giant cloud of Evil is coming to consume the Earth unless the heroes can find the MacGuffin to stop it.
I think this is a mistake.
In screenwriting guides like Robert McKee's Story, the advice for writers is "GSU" — give the characters a Goal, keep raising the Stakes, and generate Urgency. Now certainly this is good advice if you want to make an exciting film (or novel, or whatever). You don't want characters wandering around with no purpose, you don't want the audience to stop caring, and you don't want anyone to get bored.
But! There's a paradox. If you raise the stakes too high, you destroy all the suspense. Unless the film is a black comedy like Doctor Strangelove, the audience is pretty sure that the world won't be destroyed. Which means all the hero's heroics are not that suspenseful because they are destined to succeed.
There are ways around that: if the "hero" is a group of people, the writer can kill off some of them along the way, creating uncertainty and suspense about who will make it to the ending. Or in a movie, the director can simply dazzle the audience with footwork: in Raiders of the Lost Ark we're pretty sure Indiana Jones will accomplish his goal, but we never know how he's going to manage it and are always entertained to see what's coming next.
And, of course, there's the heavy-lifting method: keep the stakes small but make them important to the characters, then make the audience care about the characters. In Casablanca even the noble Resistance leader Victor Laszlo won't affect the outcome of World War II very much, but the audience nevertheless cares very much about how the love triangle between Victor, Rick, and Ilsa plays out.
Of course, this method takes a bit more work, but I think the payoff is ultimately worth it.
Later this week I will make the epic journey through the snow-cursed wilderness of Massachusetts to attend this year's Boskone convention. I may have to eat the sled dogs and my faithful Sherpa guide, but the lure of the exotic Westin pleasure-dome draws me onward, and the Ice Demons will learn to fear my axe.
Here's what I'll be up to:
Friday, February 13, 3:00 P.M.: Food In Fiction
"Join our panelists as they dish on the culinary delights that tantalize us in fiction, from regional teas to kingly feasts."
Carrie Cuinn (moderator), Steven Brust, James Cambias, Fran Wilde, Lawrence M. Schoen
Friday, 4:00 P.M.: Losing True Dark
"With the growth of modern cities, the star-swept sky is vanishing, hidden behind the ever-spreading glare of nighttime light pollution. Has the absence of true dark skewed the impact of the nighttime skies?"
David L. Clements (moderator), James Cambias, James Patrick Kelly, Donna L. Young, Guy Consolmagno
Saturday, February 14, 11:00 A.M.: Autographing
Bring anything and I'll sign it.
Saturday, 5:00 P.M.: Authorship, RPGs, and the Legacy of D&D
"Panelists explore the many facets of RPGs — from developing challenging and believable frameworks for cooperative story construction to taking the story beyond the game."
Chris Jackson (moderator), James Cambias, Mur Lafferty, Lauren Roy
Saturday, 6:00 P.M.: Cambridge Science Fiction Writers Group Reading
The mighty CSFW returns for a group reading!
James Cambias, Brett Cox, Alex Jablokov, James Patrick Kelly, Steven Popkes, Kenneth Schneyer, and Sarah Smith.
Sunday, February 15, 10:00 A.M.: Reading
I'll be reading from my forthcoming novel Corsair.
Sunday, 12:00 Noon: Swashbuckling
"Who today is writing adventure stories that tap this rich vein? How are they adapted for fantasy and science fiction?"
James Cambias (moderator), Steven Brust, Chris Jackson, Darlene Marshall
Sunday, 2:00 P.M.: The Great Game in Space: SF Retellings of Kim
"Join us and hear about Poul Anderson's homage to Kim featuring Dominic Flandry, S. M. Stirling's Great Game in a devastated world, and other stories which play in a fascinating milieu."
James Cambias (moderator), Gregory Feeley, Fred Lerner