Building Fantasy Worlds and Learning as You Go

7 May 2016

From i09:

Fantasy novels are known for their incredible detail and fantastic settings. From Middle Earth to Westros, stories often live or die depending on where they’re set. Martha Wells, who’s recently released the latest installment of her Raksura series, outlines how she builds her own worlds.

. . . .

Your latest book, The Edge of Worlds picks up in your Books of the Raksuraseries, the first three of which were published in 2011/2012. Why pick up the series again after four years?

Actually there have been two other books that are part of the series, a two volume set of novella and story collections. Stories of the Raksura I: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, which came out in 2014, and Stories of the Raksura II: The Dead City & The Dark World Below, which came out in 2015.

I kept going with the series because I’m still having a lot of fun with the world. I love writing about my matriarchal bisexual polyamorous flying lizard-lion-bee people, and I’ve had encouraging words from a lot of readers who wanted to see more stories about them.

There were elements of the world that I had in mind since I started the first book that I hadn’t had a chance to explore yet, and I wanted to take the opportunity to take the story to the conclusion I originally had in mind for it.

. . . .

Your books have frequently received praise for your world building, and I noticed that you had studied anthropology in college: how has that figured into your writing? What’s most important when creating a new world?

I think that when I was trying to create imaginary worlds, it helped me to know how the real world works. Even if I was going to have a world with so much magic that physics and biology are affected and changed by it.

Studying how real-world cities worked at various times in history, and how cultures and religions change over time, and the kind of technologies that cities in the ancient world developed, and how different cultures interacted with each other, all helped fuel my imagination and let me create my own cultures and cities.

. . . .

Are there any particular cultures or religions that you’ve been drawn to when it comes to building new worlds? Who do you reconcile the lessons of modern cities and society and utilize them in a fantasy world?

I don’t think I’m drawn to any particular culture. I love looking at places like Mohenjo-daro or medieval Benin City, for example, with interesting infrastructure. One of the things I’m working on right now is a fantasy city using a lot of magical technology and figuring out how they would use it for things like mass transportation. There are a lot of strange and forbidding places in the series, but it’s also fun to come up with environments that people would actually like to live in.

Link to the rest at i09

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12 Novel Adaptations That Should Get a Do-Over Reboot

1 May 2016

From i09:

We’ve all been there: a favored book is snapped up for adaptation, with a whole lot of potential behind it: solid cast, crew, production values, etc. When it hits theaters, you walk out wishing that they’d done everything differently.

It’s often said that there book is always better than the movie, and there’s a long history of that being true, because Hollywood simply didn’t get what the book was about, or did any number of other things wrong.

But, the movie version of a book isn’t always inferior: just look at Blade RunnerMinority Report, Children of Men or Jurassic Park, with films that rival or even exceed their source material. It’s possible to get the book right, or to get a good version of it.

For all the complaining that people make about Hollywood not greenlighting original projects, let’s face a reality: adaptations from books, reboots of old movies, and the general recycling of content will continue. With that in mind, here’s, a couple of films out there that we wish Hollywood would go back and do over again, hopefully better than before.

. . . .

A Wizard of Earthsea

Back in 2004, Lord of the Rings was in theaters and everyone was trying to jump on the epic fantasy bandwagon, including the SciFi channel. The result was an incredibly poor adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea, something that author Ursula K. Le Guin has publicly slammed the adaptation:

A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned. When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.

The show’s screenwriter, Gavin Scott, recently noted that he had very little contact with Le Guin, which could have helped.

It’s a shame, because Earthsea is one of the really great works of epic fantasy fiction. It’s set in a fantastic world, and uses magic in a brilliant, philosophical way. If handled properly (ie, not Whitewashed), this could make for a great adaptation.

. . . .

World War Z

When it comes to miserable movie adaptations, the most common thing to hear when Max Brooks’ World War Z is mentioned is “maybe they should have actually adapted the book.” Aside from the title, there’s not much crossover with the source material. The movie, follows one character through the zombie apocalypse, while the book follows a whole bunch of individual stories. Even Brooks noted that “it’s only World War Z in name only.”

There’s not likely to be any sort of do-over here – World War Z 2 is on its way. That’s kind of a shame, because apparently, the original script written by J. Michael Straczynski was a really great adaptation of the novel.

. . . .


Like Starship Troopers, this one falls under the love-it-or-hate-it category. There was David Lynch’s fantastic movie Dune, and the SciFi miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune, that came out in 2000. Both are reasonably competent adaptations: They get the broad story right, but there’s something about Herbert’s novel that neither have really been able to capture.

Dune is a really tough book to adapt, because it’s such a dense and rich story. Still, given the trend for thick, dense novels to make their way onto television, it would be interesting to see if an HBO-style, 10 episode season series would work for this.

Link to the rest at i09

The great escape

29 April 2016

From Aeon:

The only people who hate escapism are jailers, said the essayist and Narnia author C S Lewis. A generation later, the fantasy writer Michael Moorcock revised the quip: jailers love escapism — it’s escape they can’t stand. Today, in the early years of the 21st century, escapism — the act of withdrawing from the pressures of the real world into fantasy worlds — has taken on a scale and scope quite beyond anything Lewis might have envisioned.

. . . .

I’m emblematic of an entire generation who might, when our history is written, be remembered first and foremost for our exodus into digital fantasy. Is this great escape anything more than idle entertainment — designed to keep us happy in Moorcock’s jail? Or is there, as Lewis believed, a higher purpose to our fantastical flights?

Fans of J R R Tolkien line up squarely behind Lewis. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954) took the fantasy novel — previously occupied with moralising children’s stories — and created an entire world in its place. Middle Earth was no metaphor or allegory: it was its own reality, complete with maps, languages, history and politics — a secondary world of fantasy in which readers became fully immersed, escaping primary reality for as long as they continued reading. Immersion has since become the mantra of modern escapist fantasy, and the creation of seamless secondary worlds its mission. We hunger for an escape so complete it borders on oblivion: the total eradication of self and reality beneath a superimposed fantasy.

Language is a powerful technology for escape, but it is only as powerful as the literacy of the reader. Not so with cinema. Star Wars marked the arrival of a new kind of blockbuster film, one that leveraged the cutting edge of computer technology to make on-screen fantasy ever more immersive. Then, in 1991, with James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, computer-generated imagery (CGI) came into its own, and ‘morphing’ established a new standard in fantasy on screen. CGI allowed filmmakers to create fantasy worlds limited only by their imaginations. The hyperreal dinosaurs of Jurassic Park (1993) together with Toy Story (1995), the first full-length CGI feature, unleashed a tidal wave of CGI blockbusters from The Matrix (1999) to Avatar (2009). The seamless melding of reality and fantasy that CGI delivers has transformed our expectations of cinema, and fuelled a ravenous appetite for escape.

. . . .

The world is not made of atoms. It is made of the stories we tell about atoms.

. . . .

As the technology of escape continues to accelerate, we’ve begun to see an eruption of fantasy into reality. The augmented reality of Google Glass, and the virtual reality of the games headset Oculus Rift (resurrected by the power of crowd-funding) present the very real possibility that our digital fantasy worlds might soon be blended with our physical world, enhancing but also distorting our sense of reality. When we can replace our own reflection in the mirror with an image of digitally perfected beauty, how will we tolerate any return to the real? Perhaps, in the end, we will find ourselves, not desperate to escape into fantasy, but desperate to escape from fantasy. Or simply unable to tell which is which.

Link to the rest at Aeon and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Compelling Science Fiction

11 April 2016

From Compelling Science Fiction:

We are a new online science fiction magazine focused on ‘hard’ science fiction. All our stories are freely readable on this site, and we also provide a DRM-free subscription for .mobi and .epub formats through Patreon to read on your favorite e-reader. You can support us at any level you feel comfortable with. Your support allows us to provide high-quality stories in a simple, no-nonsense format and pay a professional rate to the authors who write them.

This first issue contains five excellent (dare I say, compelling) stories. We start with Lawrence Buentello’s “Gaia’s Children,” an intense tale about planetary colonization. Our second story, Aaron Wright’s “Reflection,” gives a glimpse into the life of a sentient hospital. We follow that up with “Mean and Clean” by Marie DesJardin, a lighthearted look at a unique alien life-form. “Opportunities for Lost Children” by James Beamon comes next, giving an interesting take on mind transference. Rounding out our lineup is “the Art of Failure” by Robert Dawson, an exhilarating first contact situation with a clever resolution.

Link to the rest at Compelling Science Fiction and thanks to Keely for the tip.

J.K. Rowling’s chair sells for $394K

8 April 2016

From Page Six:

The humble chair J.K. Rowling sat on while writing the first two books of the Harry Potter series was auctioned in New York City on Wednesday for $394,000.

An anonymous private collector made the winning bid, Heritage Auctions said.

The chair is one of four mismatched chairs given to the then little-known writer for her flat in Edinburgh, Scotland, and which she used while writing “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

. . . .

The unassuming 1930s-era oak chair with a replacement burlap seat decorated with a red thistle sat in front of Rowling’s typewriter when she was “writing two of the most important books of the modern era,” said James Gannon, director of rare books at Heritage.

. . . .

Before Rowling donated the chair to the “Chair-rish a Child” auction in support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 2002, she painted the words “You may not/find me pretty/but don’t judge/on what you see” on the stiles and splats. She also signed the backrest in gold and rose colors and wrote “I wrote/Harry Potter/while sitting/on this chair” on the seat.

The word “Gryffindor,” the Hogwarts house of Harry, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, is spelled out on a cross stretcher.

The chair is accompanied by an original typed and signed letter Rowling wrote prior to the first auction.

It reads: “Dear new-owner-of-my-chair. I was given four mismatched dining room chairs in 1995 and this was the comfiest one, which is why it ended up stationed permanently in front of my typewriter, supporting me while I typed out ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. My nostalgic side is quite sad to see it go, but my back isn’t. J. K. Rowling.”

Link to the rest at Page Six

The White House Wants To Use Science Fiction To Settle The Solar System

29 February 2016

From Gizmodo:

Earlier this month, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology assembled a strange gathering: scientists, artists, engineers, and policy-makers, for a workshop designed to imagine how humanity could settle the solar system.

The workshop, held in early February, was titled Homesteading in Space – Inspiring the Nation through Science Fiction, with the express purpose of imagining how manned space efforts can take us to our neighboring planets, not just for a short visit, but for longer durations.

. . . .

Kalil and the Museum of Science Fiction realized that there’s considerable work to be done in order to make it a reality. Experts in science and engineering are important, but he understood that there “would be a value in bringing together artists and scientists to explore this challenge.”

Science fiction isn’t a proscriptive genre for the future, but what it can do is inspire. “As a society, we have to decide whether this is a challenge we want to embrace,” Kalil noted. “Not everyone will be persuaded by George Mallory’s rationale for wanting to climb Mt. Everest (“Because it’s there). Artists can explore different ideas about why we should do this.”

. . . .

“I believe that science fiction can provide a simulator for the societal risks and benefits of new technologies. This is useful in the same way that scenario planning helps organizations prepare for the future.”

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

A snappy label and a manifesto

11 February 2016
Comments Off on A snappy label and a manifesto

A snappy label and a manifesto would have been two of the very last things on my own career want list. That label enabled mainstream science fiction to safely assimilate our dissident influence, such as it was. Cyberpunk could then be embraced and given prizes and patted on the head, and genre science fiction could continue unchanged.

William Gibson

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to be eighth book

11 February 2016

From The BBC:

An eighth Harry Potter book is to be released this summer – containing the script for a new stage play telling the wizard’s story.

A hardback edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II will be released on 31 July, the day after the play has debuted on stage.

It sees Harry as a father and an overworked Ministry of Magic employee.

The play is from an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will tell the “untold part” of the boy wizard’s story, including the story of the lives of his murdered parents, Rowling has said.

It will pick up the story 19 years after Harry was last seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, waving his two eldest children off to Hogwarts.

Link to the rest at The BBC

If science fiction

10 February 2016

If science fiction is the mythology of modern technology, then its myth is tragic.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Computers can qualify as drivers

10 February 2016

Not exactly related to the book biz (other than SciFi), but interesting.

From Reuters:

U.S. vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.

. . . .

Google’s self-driving car unit on Nov. 12 submitted a proposed design for a self-driving car that has “no need for a human driver,” the letter to Google from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said.

“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” NHTSA’s letter said.

“We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.”

Link to the rest at Reuters

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