Science fiction’s new golden age in China, what it says about social evolution and the future, and the stories writers want world to see

25 May 2017

From the South China Morning Post:

The science-fiction genre in China was little known before Liu Cixin was honoured with the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015 for The Three-Body Problem. The first book in Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, it tells of an alien invasion during the Cultural Revolution and has sold more than a million copies in China alone. The English translation was recommended by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to members of his book club, and praised by former US president Barack Obama as “wildly imaginative, really interesting”.

Last year, Liu’s compatriot Hao Jingfang earned a Hugo Award for Folding Beijing, in which the city is divided into zones, each with a different number of hours in the day.

Liu has been nominated for another Hugo Award this year, for the final episode in his trilogy, Death’s End.

. . . .

The two winning books are now being adapted for the big screen in China, marking a turning point for Chinese sci-fi and potentially expanding the genre’s exposure globally.

Some 104 original sci-fi titles were published in China in 2016, compared to 75 the previous year, and 461 novelettes were released last year.

Author Regina Wang Kanyu, 27, a long-time sci-fi fan, has witnessed its growth in recent years. “It’s the golden age of Chinese science fiction,” she says.

. . . .

Last month, writers Regina Wang, Wang Yao and Hao Jingfang attended Melon Hong Kong, the city’s first science-fiction conference to bring together Chinese and Western writers.

“It’s a market miracle,” says Wang Yao, who goes by the pen name Xia Jia. “Ten years ago [when I started writing], we could never have imagined that these opportunities would be available,” she says, referring to the translation of Chinese sci-fi books and film adaptions.

It’s not the first golden age of sci-fi in China, though. Wang Yao says that was between 1978 and 1983 during reforms initiated by late Deng Xiaoping. “It was thought that science fiction could cultivate a scientific spirit, and the authorities assigned authors to write books in the genre,” says Wang.

. . . .

 Although investors are eyeing sci-fi’s entertainment industry potential, the literature itself is not so highly valued. “The payment writers receive for fiction writing is very small. I also write for fashion magazines, which pay a lot more,” says Regina Wang. Since it is impossible to make ends meet writing sci-fi, most authors do it simply as a hobby.

Link to the rest at South China Morning Post


Star Trek: Discovery Proves That TV Is the Best Final Frontier of All

22 May 2017

From Wired:

BETWEEN 1967 AND 2005, 684 hour-long episodes of live-action Star Trek and 22 half-hour episodes of the animated series aired on TV. Allowing for commercial breaks, that gives us 521 hours of Star Trek, give or take. Add in the 13 movies, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek Beyond in 2016, and you wind up with more than 48 full days of Star Trek—not counting books and comics, which, if you want to argue about canonicity and amount of content, my DMs are open. (Not really.)

. . . .

And now the first real look at the long-delayed new show Star Trek: Discovery has finally frontiered. I’m gonna watch that show, too. All 15 hours of it, set to air on the subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the autumn. (When I showed my editor the new trailer, he said, “Sure, but who’s gonna get CBS All Access?” “Me,” I meeped. “For that.”) As a lifelong, devout Trekkie, I hear your concerns about the new show—why did they keep pushing the release? Why did showrunner Bryan Fuller bail for American Gods? What is up with that awful typeface on the intertitle cards?—but like Star Trek itself, I remain hopeful.

In fact, I am fuller of hope now than I have been about any of the movies since the whale one (which I liked). Because Trek’s serialized self, its television self? That’s Trek’s best self.

. . . .

The trailer’s visuals combine the shiny, lens-flaring, camera-tilting modes of the JJ Abrams and Justin Lin reboot movies. But that slickness is a sop to non-fans. Give me bulkheads that wobble and actors pretending to fall over when the camera shakes to simulate the loss of inertial dampers after a phaser takes the forward shields down to 30 percent. I mean, I get it: The structural rigidity of epic-sci-fi movies turns pretty much every Trek film (except the good ones) into a quest adventure with a third-act reveal and a finale of VFX and explosions. But audiences get enough of that these days from Star Wars and Marvel movies. A television show, with more time for story and presumably way less money in the budget, let Star Trek get back to its authentic guts.

Link to the rest at Wired



Bladerunner 2049

9 May 2017


Remembering The Host, a Scifi Book That Barely Wanted to be Scifi

7 May 2017

From i09:

Hey, remember when Stephenie Meyer wrote a scifi novel? Not just any scifi novel, but “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction” (that’s a direct quote). Nine years ago today, The Host hit bookstands, becoming one of scifi’s strangest and most unwelcome additions.

Science fiction is one of those fields that’s both inclusive and exclusive… depending on who you ask, and what you’re asking them about. As someone who didn’t start seriously reading science fiction until I was in my 20s, I’ll admit it was a genre that took some getting used to. So, when the writer of the hyper-successful Twilight series decided to take her interpretation of horror fantasy and apply it to science fiction, it honestly didn’t seem like a terrible idea. It was like training wheels for readers curious about scifi— especially for fans of her earlier work (I wasn’t, but I gave The Host a try anyway).

On the surface, I’ll admit The Host had an interesting premise: It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but from the perspective of the body snatchers. By the time the book starts, most of the planet’s been taken over, leaving a glorious utopia in its wake. The main character is a Soul named Wanderer (later Wanda), a parasitic alien who’s traveled from planet to planet looking for a place to belong, only to end up on Earth in the body of Melanie, a human host who’s resisting control. Sweet, two female characters in constant contact with each other… this will surely pass the Bechdel Test! Side note, it doesn’t.

In theory, this plot raises some excellent questions. What happens when a benevolent and altruistic species needs hosts in order to survive? They’re technically conquerers, erasing a civilization for their own benefit— but since they’re improving the world, do the ends justify the means? Do we as readers end up rooting for this parasitic species, since they’ve created a better world out of the one we’ve abused, or is it too hard for us to empathize with creatures that are taking our world from us? Most of all: Is this something we would do ourselves, given the opportunity?

Link to the rest at i09


The Field of Dreams Approach: On Writing About Video Games

15 April 2017

From Electric Lit:

Every year, more and more great essays are published on literary sites concerning video games. In the past year I’ve especially loved entries like Janet Frishberg’s “On Playing Games, Productivity, and Right Livelihood,”Joseph Spece’s “A Harvest of Ice,” and Adam Fleming Petty’s “The Spatial Poetics of Nintendo: Architecture, Dennis Cooper, and Video Games.” But for each great essay there are a handful of others written like apologies, seemingly perennial pleas to take video games seriously as a form of meaningful narrative.

I hoped to have a conversation with a writer about games that went a little deeper. There were two main reasons I turned to the Whiting Award-winning writer Tony Tulathimutte. The first was because of his response in an interview with Playboy, in which he said that his interest in gaming probably “had something to do with my desire to bend or break formal conventions in fiction.” The second was his three thousand word essay about Clash of Clans, “Clash Rules Everything Around Me,” which was exactly the type of essay about gaming I wanted to see more of. Tulathimutte is the author of Private Citizens, which we listed as one of the 25 best novels of 2016.

. . . .

Graham Oliver: Can we have this conversation without getting stuck trying to legitimize video games as a medium?

Tony Tulathimutte: “Are video games art?” “Have we had the video game Citizen Kane yet?”

. . . .

GO: What is the difference between video game-related essays showing up on a literary site, versus a site where the primary purpose is the intersection of video games and literature? What could that site do that can’t be done (or isn’t being done) otherwise?

TT: Part of it is just volume. You can’t have a general interest magazine like the New Yorker covering video games to the same depth or degree as it does film or music or even theater. Every big magazine at this point covers video games occasionally — I know the New Yorker has written about Minecraft and No Man’s Sky, for instance. New York Magazine just did a big essay on gaming more broadly.

But for some reason, there’s no video game editor at the New Yorker, no dedicated departments or verticals, except at newer places like VICE, Vox, The Verge. Unlike music or movies, video games aren’t equally distributed through the culture; it’s more compartmentalized. This owes in part to a marketing apparatus around games that caters to and fosters a specific audience, and because the audience for certain genres — responding to these pressures — became self-selecting, especially with respect to gender. Video games may be art, but they are also a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] industry, which makes them no different from any other STEM field in that regard.

. . . .

 GO: I suppose I was thinking more about the effect on your mental state. For instance, I have to save video games for the end of the day, because I have a hard time going from the almost meditative state of game-playing into writing. How does it fit in, not in the sense of time but in how it interacts with your ability to produce writing afterwards?

TT: If a visual narrative enters my head before I start writing, it’s enormously difficult to pull myself back into writing. A huge amount of psychic inertia has to be overcome to transition from consuming a narrative to assembling one. I have a lot of wacko bird theories as to why. Perhaps language is such an information-poor medium that it demands a sparseness of input, so that you can have room to envision or create new stuff in your head. Maybe the act of viewing, which puts you in the posture of evaluation and judgment, beefs up the inner critic that makes it hard to write. That’s all pure superstition, I have nothing to base that on.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit


A Brief Literary History of Robots

6 April 2017
Comments Off on A Brief Literary History of Robots

From Literary Hub:

Isaac Asimov, one of the world’s greatest science fiction writers, died 25 years ago today. I likely don’t have to tell you this, but one of Asimov’s most enduring legacies is his creation of the Three Laws of Robotics—not to mention his host of attendant robot-related literature. So, to honor the anniversary of his death, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the greatest robots in literature.

You may or may not know that robots actually originated in literature—the word was first popularized in a 1920 play by Czech playwright Karel Čapek (who was, incidentally, on Hitler’s most-wanted list). There were examples of mechanized humanoids and magically autonomous figures in literature before this play, of course, and much depends on how loose you are with your definition of “robot,” but this was the first time the word was used to describe an artificially constructed human-like tool. Happily, robots have rather caught on. In fact, some day soon they may replace their creators—writers, I mean—entirely. Below, find a few of my favorite examples of robot-related literature through the years—and since this is by necessity an incomplete list, feel free to add your own favorite robo-books in the comments.

. . . .

The word “robot” was first used by Czech playwright Karel Čapek in his famous 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti). In 1923, it was adapted for the English stage as Rossum’s Universal Robots. In Czech, robotnik means “forced worker” and robota refers to “forced labor, compulsory service, drudgery”—the Online Etymology Dictionary traces it back to the Old Slavic rabu, “slave.” Of course, as science historian Howard Markel put it, “it’s really a product of Central European system of serfdom, where a tenants’ rent was paid for in forced labor or service.”

. . . .

I assume I’m not the only one whose childhood was haunted by the Mechanical Hound of Bradbury’s 1953 classic:

The Mechanical Hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in its gently humming, gently vibrating, softly illuminated kennel back in a dark corner of the firehouse. The dim light of one in the morning, the moonlight from the open sky framed through the great window, touched here and there on the brass and the copper and the steel of the faintly trembling beast. Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubberpadded paws.

And don’t forget the “four-inch hollow steel needle” that “plunged down from the proboscis of the Hound to inject massive jolts of morphine or procaine” into its prey. Robo-dogs are dangerous, man.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub


Amazon Pulls Castalia House Book for Ripping Off John Scalzi Cover

2 April 2017

From io9:

Amazon blocked sales for The Corroding Empire, a scifi book from Vox Day’s conservative publishing company Castalia House, because the cover bore an uncanny resemblance to John Scalzi’s latest book, The Collapsing Empire. And it wasn’t a coincidence.

Update: Amazon has since resumed sales for The Corroding Empire, with the original cover. We’ve reached out to Amazon for more information.

. . . .

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi was released from Tor Books Tuesday, almost a year after it was first announced. Earlier this month, Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) revealed on his blog that The Corroding Empire from Johan Kalsi was available for pre-order… and would be released one day before Scalzi’s book. Amazon temporarily made the book unavailable to buy, but it looks to have been restored for the time being.

. . . .

There’s a reason Beale made a cover that looks exactly like Scalzi’s, and it’s not to ride his coattails. This is all part of Beale’s longstanding feud (or obsession) with Scalzi, who hasn’t shied away from criticizing him in the past. Beale has long considered himself Scalzi’s literary rival, even though they’re on completely different levels of success.

Link to the rest at io9 and thanks to John for the tip.

Is there a basis for a lawsuit? Probably, but PG isn’t going to get into the details.

Is this childish? Definitely.


Sci-fi author John Scalzi on the future of publishing: ‘I aspire to be a cockroach’

22 March 2017

From The Verge:

Two years ago, author John Scalzi signed a $3.4 million deal with leading science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor Books to publish 13 novels over the course of the decade. The novel that kicks off this new contract, The Collapsing Empire, is just now hitting bookstores. For Scalzi, there’s a lot riding on this book: it’s the start of a 10-year collaboration between him and his publisher, at a time when the publishing and bookselling industries have been undergoing significant changes.

Set in a brand-new universe, the novel is about an interstellar human empire that faces a major upheaval when its faster-than-light transportation routes begin to vanish. Scalzi has been a rising star in the science fiction world over the past decade, bolstered by a popular body of work and a legion of devoted fans he built through his blog, Whatever. His latest book is a thoughtful, exciting read, and it’s a good indication that his career will continue to rise.

. . . .

Scalzi’s career to date has been a mixture of experimentation and practical market assessment. He wasn’t able to sell his first novel, a science fiction / humor book called Agent to the Stars, so in 1999, he published it on his website, asking readers to donate a dollar if they liked it. He earned around $4,000 before he closed donations. (Tor published it in 2005.) In 2002, he began serializing his next novel online: Old Man’s War, which attracted the attention of his current editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and helped launch his career.

. . . .

Ten years is a long time for the publishing world. Since Tor first published Old Man’s War, the industry has seen huge shifts. Ebooks and audiobooks have exploded in popularity. As Amazon has expanded, brick-and-mortar bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble have suffered. But Scalzi remains upbeat. “I think the people in publishing do feel optimistic that not only are they going to be around for the next 10 years, but that they are actually going to still do what they have always done, which is to bring exciting stories and people into the market, to keep people engaged in the genre, and to be a presence.”

. . . .

How does this 10-year deal weigh on your shoulders looking forward? By the time you’re out of it, it’s going to be 2027, the future.

It doesn’t weigh on my shoulders at all. The whole point is that novelists do not have job security, right? You go from book to book, or you’ll sometimes get a two-book contract, or maybe even, “Oh, I’m going to write a trilogy.” But at the end of it, you have to go out into the market and prove yourself again.

In this particular case, literally for a decade, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to sell my next book. I don’t have to worry about whether the publisher is going to make a good-faith effort to actually sell the book, that it’s not going to get shoved down a hole somewhere. Rather than a burden of, “Oh my God, now I have 10 books to write” — or 13 books, because it’s 10 adult and three YA — it’s, “Oh boy, now I can write my books, and I don’t have to worry what happens to them from there.” Until 2027, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to be able to pay for my daughter’s college, I don’t have to worry about if I fall down a hole, whether I’ll be able to afford my medical insurance, so on and so forth.

. . . .

With concerns about publishers dying off, it’s intriguing that Tor is making this long-term commitment.

I think there’s a number of things going on there. I do think it was signaling. It is Tor and Macmillan saying: “We’re going to stay in business, and we’re going to do a good job of it.” This is part of an overall thing going on with Tor. Tor recently reorganized; brought in Devi Pillai [from rival publisher Hachette]; moved Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who’s my editor, from senior editor to associate publisher; brought in some new editors and some other new folks; and Macmillan basically gave it a huge vote of confidence.

It’s been fun and fashionable to talk about the death of publishing, and certainly publishing has had “exciting times,” I think that’s the euphemism we want to use, over the last decade. But the people who are in it do feel optimistic that not only are they going to be around for the next 10 years, but that they are going to do what they have always done, which is to bring exciting stories and people into the market, to keep people engaged in the genre, and to be a presence.

. . . .

So Tor saying, “We will be here in 10 years, so will John Scalzi,” is for me, very reassuring, obviously, but also a signal of intent that no matter what happens, they’re still going to be a player. This is just one part of an overall puzzle piece.


Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Sean and others for the tip.

PG always hopes for the best for authors. He sincerely hopes that John Scalzi’s ten-year contract works out wonderfully for him.

However, a publisher that is owned by large media conglomerate like Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck doesn’t control its own destiny. A small group of managers in Stuttgart controls the destiny of Tor, its employees, its authors and their books.

A brief history of Tor shows it was founded in 1980 and sold to St. Martin’s Press in 1987. St. Martin’s was and is owned by Macmillan. In 1995, controlling interest to Macmillan was sold to Holtzbrinck.

Control of Tor changed hands every seven years during its first 15 years of existence.

PG suspects that most, if not all, of Tor’s publishing contracts required that authors grant Tor rights to their books for the life of the copyright of those books – the life of the author plus 70 years.

Since 1980, employees of Tor have come and gone. Some almost certainly severed their ties with Tor in order to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. Tor never asked any of its executives or employees to commit to lifetime employment contracts.

Employment contracts are generally governed by state law in the United States. PG is not an expert on the employment laws of all 50 states, but he is confident in saying that no state would enforce an employment contract that prevented an employee from ever working for another company.

If management or ownership of a company changes and one or more employees don’t like the way the new people do business, they can quit and go somewhere else.

PG has never seen a publishing contract that permits an author to do the same thing with the author’s books. For better or worse, the author is stuck with the acquirers, whoever they may be. The fruits of more than ten prime years of Scalzi’s writing career will be staying with whoever owns Tor in the future.

Amazon’s relationship with indie authors is revolutionary because the author controls the book. An author can end the business relationship at any time. The author can then do whatever he/she desires with their books. The relationship continues so long as both sides think it’s a beneficial business deal.

PG can’t predict what Amazon or Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck will be doing ten or twenty years from now. He can predict that KDP authors will be able to do whatever they want with their books in ten or twenty years while Tor authors will not.


George R.R. Martin Opening New Film Studio

20 March 2017

From The Albuquerque Journal:

Famed author George R.R. Martin is starting a new film project in Santa Fe, a 30,000 square-foot non-profit office and production facility that will be open to both major Hollywood productions and beginning film entrepreneurs.

Mayor Javier Gonzales tweeted enthusiastically about Martin’s Stagecoach Foundation project Tuesday afternoon as a big boost to Santa Fe’s film economy.

He said in an interview later that a Santa Fean donated the building to Martin, author of the best-selling fantasy novels on which the hit “Game of Thrones” TV series is based, with the idea that it would be used for “something good” for Santa Fe.

“What this means for the city specifically is more film infrastructure” that increases the likelihood that major film productions will come to town along with start-up movie-makers, film editors and digital media creators who need affordable production space, Gonzales said. The Stagecoach Foundation facility could be used for a film crew’s headquarters as well as editing and other functions, he said.

Link to the rest at The Albuquerque Journal


Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century?

16 March 2017

From The Guardian:

A Scanner Darkly is one of Philip K Dick’s most famous but also most divisive novels. Written in 1973 but not published until 1977, it marks the boundary between PKD’s mid-career novels that were clearly works of science fiction, including The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and his late-career work that had arguably left that genre behind. Like VALIS and The Divine Invasion that followed it, A Scanner Darkly was two stories collided into one – a roughly science-fictional premise built around a mind-destroying drug, and a grittily realistic autobiographical depiction of PKD’s time living among drug addicts.

It is also, in the thinking of writer, critic and mathematician Rudy Rucker, the first work of a literary movement he would name “transrealism” in his 1983 essay A Transrealist Manifesto.

. . . .

Transrealism argues for an approach to writing novels routed first and foremost in reality. It rejects artificial constructs like plot and archetypal characters, in favour of real events and people, drawn directly from the author’s experience. But through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror. So the transrealist author who creates a detailed and realistic depiction of American high-school life will then shatter it open with the discovery of an alien flying saucer that confers super-powers on an otherwise ordinary young man.

It’s informative to list a few works that do not qualify as transrealism to understand Rucker’s intent more fully. Popular fantasy or science fiction stories like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games lack a strong enough reality to be discussed as transrealism.

. . . .

The potential list of transrealist authors is both contentious and fascinating. Margaret Atwood for The Handmaid’s Tale and her novels from Oryx and Crake onwards. Stephen King, when at his best describing the lives of blue-collar America shattered by supernatural horrors. Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace, among other big names of American letters. Iain Banks in novels like Whit and The Bridge. JG Ballard, as one of many writers originating from the science-fiction genre to pioneer transrealist techniques. Martin Amis in Time’s Arrow, among others.

. . . .

“Transrealism is a revolutionary art form. A major tool in mass thought-control is the myth of consensus reality. Hand in hand with this myth goes the notion of a ‘normal person’.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Felix for the tip.

PG says if transrealism was developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it’s long past time to get post-transrealism going.

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