The Greatest Advice For Science Fiction Writers: “Ask The Next Question”

27 February 2015

From Open Road Integrated Media:

Theodore Sturgeon, who would have turned 97 this Thursday, February 26, had a motto that inspired his writing and his outlook.

. . . .

As Sturgeon himself explained:

“This guy is sitting in a cave and he says, ‘Why can’t man fly?’ Well, that’s the question. The answer may not help him, but the question now has been asked. The next question is what? How? And so all through the ages, people have been trying to find out the answer to that question. We’ve found the answer, and we do fly. This is true of every accomplishment, whether it’s technology or literature, poetry, political systems or anything else. That’s it. Ask the next question. And the one after that.”

Link to the rest at Open Road Integrated Media

12 Biggest Blunders That Evil Wizards Make

25 February 2015

From i09:

There’s nothing more awesome than an evil wizard. Commanding the forces of darkness, chewing the scenery, wielding objects of terrible power… it’s a great gig. But it’s not one with a lot of job security. Here are 12 terrible mistakes that evil wizards always end up making, which prove their downfall.

. . . .

1) Falling in love with one of the good guys

Depending on which version of the story you go by, Morgan le Fay falls in love with either Merlin or Lancelot. And this love is generally something that gets in the way of her ability to screw with Arthur and take down Camelot — she’s too busy imprisoning and/or stalking the object of her love to hatch any other plans. Meanwhile, in Legend, Tim Curry wants to destroy the last unicorn, but he gets sidetracked into giving Mia Sara a gothy makeover.

. . . .

3) Not making sure the hero is really dead

This applies across the board, since mystical villains are really fond of terrible death traps. But it’s especially true when you’re ordering someone to kill a baby. How often does that actually work? Inevitably, the baby gets smuggled away or replaced with another baby, or they kill a decoy baby made of lunchmeat instead, or whatever. If you really want that baby dead, you’d better see a tiny mangled (but still identifiable) body afterwards. Otherwise, you can be pretty sure they’ll be back, in a dozen years or so.

. . . .

8) Getting Tricked Into Fulfilling A Prophecy

This is basically the Voldemort clause — you hear a prophecy of your own destruction, and then you get so obsessed with it, that you basically cause it to come to pass. Voldemort doesn’t need to go after Harry Potter’s parents, but by doing so, he seals his own eventual doom. But it’s a common failing for evil wizards — they try so hard to thwart a prophecy of their own death, they cause it to happen. Likewise, Bavmorda the evil queen in Willow tries to prevent the birth of Elora, but just causes Elora to be sent into exile where she’s taken in by Willow. Basically, if you hear of a prophecy of your own downfall, just ignore it — if it’s true, it’ll happen anyway, but anything you do to try and stop it will just give it more weight.

Link to the rest at i09 and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Oh No, She Didn’t: The Strong Female Character, Deconstructed

25 February 2015


There’s been a lot of talk lately in the science fiction and fantasy community about “strong” female characters, with various authors weighing in about how to write them, what they are, and why the term is flawed in the first place. There are discussions of deadly tropes and how to avoid them. This is all fine, and I agree with the points made for the most part; the last thing we need is a rehash of eyerollingly blatant male fantasies. But with all the focus on writing techniques on the one hand, and political imperatives on the other, I wonder if we’re not losing sight of the big picture.

Just as I don’t imagine most women want to be thought of as “female writers,” the idea of “female characters” as a category for discussion seems problematic. That this category continues to thrive, and to spawn essays and blog posts—including this one!—points directly to the underlying problem: we are issuing prescriptive Do’s and Don’ts about the depiction of women as if they are a separate, exotic species. There is of course good reason for this—frequently in fiction, and in genre fiction in particular, women are depicted as alien beings, even when it’s with the best of intentions.

. . . .

There is an uncomfortable feeling in online discussions about how to write “female characters” that some are squinting hard in their attempt to see women as people, while others are approaching the subject with the dutiful submission we bring to a meal of thrice-washed organic kale. One subset wants writing tips on how to take on the otherworldly she-goddess; another wants to make sure we are doing feminism properly. The first reminds me of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, where through innumerable books and sexual experiences, the male characters never cease to lament their inability to understand women. As to the second, well, I think feminism is complex, and what constitutes a feminist character should be part of an ongoing dialogue, not a set of precepts sealed in blood. It is also individual: Lisbeth Salander annoyed the hell out of me, but for others she was empowering…and I’m not out to argue someone out of their empowerment. At twenty-one I found Joss Whedon’s Buffy empowering, and I know that is not for everyone.

What I think is missing from some of these discussions is: writing a fully realized character of any gender requires one trait above all others, and that is empathy. When a female character goes off the rails, it is often because the author experienced a failure of imagination; while he could imagine all the emotions a man might feel in a similar situation—and in the case of literary fiction written by men, this is often recounted in great detail—he has neglected to understand his female characters in the same way. Instead there is a hyperawareness of her beauty and sexiness even from her own perspective, such as in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot; an inability to grasp how the character might experience life from the inside. I think when male authors make this mistake it’s because they forget we don’t see ourselves the way they see us. I don’t want to go so far as to call this a lack of empathy, but it is certainly a failure of imagination.

Link to the rest at and thanks to HN for the tip.

Game of Thrones Monopoly

16 February 2015

From The Guardian:

Most modern television programmes don’t lend themselves particularly well to board games – if they did, Milton Bradley might have actually responded to my letter suggesting the unbelievable licensing potential of True Detective Kerplunk. But there’s one notable exception. That exception, of course, is Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones comes from such a richly drawn universe, and is awash with so many cultural signifiers beloved by so many stereotypical board game players, that it has been crying out to become a mainstream board game for years. Now, it’s finally happening. Game of Thrones Monopoly has just been announced.

If you’ve played real Monopoly, you’ll know why this is so exciting. It’s a perfect fit. The story of Game of Thrones is already basically just a Monopoly session writ large, full of aggressive trading and spurious imprisonments and players seeking to gain total control over their peers. Like Game of Thrones, Monopoly revolves around several locations of differing values. Like Game of Thrones, Monopoly often ends with sudden acts of inexplicable violence. Like Game of Thrones, Monopoly always ends up being ruined by a Lannister.

. . . .

And I desperately want Game of Thrones Monopoly to be a success. Because that’s the only way other Game of Thrones board games will get the go-ahead. The possibilities for brand expansion here are endless. Perhaps there’ll soon be a Game of Thrones Trivial Pursuit, where players can quiz each other on the complex ancestral allegiances of various minor characters in the hope they’ll be able to watch future episodes without constantly having to refer to Wikipedia.

Link to the rest at The Guardian Explains Why Novellas Are The Future Of Publishing

13 February 2015

From i09: is moving aggressively into publishing novellas (or short novels) in e-book format, and they just announced their first list of titles. But why is (and everybody else) so convinced that shorter is better for e-books? Editorial assistant Carl Engle-Laird explains.

When asked why is focusing on publishing shorter works as e-books, Engle-Laird tells io9:

When the book wars sweep across the galaxy, and the blood of publishers runs down the gutters of every interstellar metropolis, the resource we fight for will not be paper, or ink, or even money. It will be time. For our readers, time is the precious commodity they invest in every book they decide to purchase and read. But time is being ground down into smaller and smaller units, long nights of reflection replaced with fragmentary bursts of free time. It’s just harder to make time for that thousand-page novel than it used to be, and there are more and more thousand-page novels to suffer from that temporal fragmentation.

Enter the novella, an old form with a new lease on life. We expect that the reader who has to fit their reading into their daily commute will appreciate a novella they can finish in a week, rather than a year. We’ll be releasing books that can be begun and completed on just one of those rare evenings of uninterrupted reading pleasure. And we think this will resonate especially with those readers who have so much reading to do that they’ve compressed their habit into a portable device.

Of course, won’t just be a science fiction publisher. Our fantasy sensibilities insist on reminding you that novellas aren’t just the future of genre, they’re also our past. Science fiction and fantasy were born in penny dreadfuls, came of age in magazines, and novellas have been essential to their development, from The War of the Worlds to The Shadow Over Innsmouth to Empire Star. wants to carry that fantastical history into a future that is beginning to outgrow its magazine predicates, but has no need to outpace its love of excellent stories at the length in which they were meant to be told.

Link to the rest at i09 and thanks to Dan for the tip.

Wheel of Time is the sad lesson of what can happen when you sell the rights to your books

11 February 2015

From Vox:

At 1:30 in the morning on Monday, February 9, a highly unusual program aired for a half hour on out-of-the-way cable channel FXX. Billed as Winter Dragon in some listings and The Wheel of Time in others, it was apparently a TV pilot for an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s ridiculously popular Wheel of Time fantasy series.

. . . .

The Wheel of Time is of great interest to TV fantasy fans because it has the potential to be the next Game of Thrones. Its sprawling world and gigantic cast of characters make it the natural choice for any network that might want to get in on the epic fantasy action. Plus, the pilot starred well-known actor Billy Zane. Outside of some terrible computer special effects, the production values were solid. And it was based on a beloved book series.

So why on Earth was it airing at 1:30 am on a Monday on FXX?

The answer to that has very little to do with quality control and everything to do with how TV networks and movie studios handle adaptations of popular material. The contracts governing those adaptations create situations like this all the time.

. . . .

Thanks to the huge success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, TV and film are hungry for grittier adaptations of fantasy novels, and Wheel of Time more than fits that description. Thus, an adaptation seems like an inevitability.

Or, rather, it would if a company that seemingly redefines incompetence didn’t own the rights.

. . . .

A short-lived attempt to get a series version of Wheel of Time off the ground was first made by NBC in 2000. That attempt failed, and the rights were sold by Jordan’s company, Bandersnatch Group, to Red Eagle Entertainment.

Red Eagle first exercised its adaptation rights with a comic book adaptation in 2005. In 2008, it actually got so far as to sign a deal with Universal to produce film versions of the books. (Remember Universal. Though it appears to have nothing to do with the FXX pilot, it will be important later.)

Significantly, if you go to Red Eagle’s website, which hasn’t been updated since 2009, it appears to be a company that exists solely to attempt adaptations of Jordan’s books. It’s done nothing else of note.

Wheel of Time films didn’t materialize, to Jordan’s anger and consternation. Yet Red Eagle retained the rights to the series through Wednesday, February 11, 2015, according to Jordan’s widow, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

. . . .

Thus, the pilot appears to be a bit of a rush job, created to beat the February 11 deadline. It was filmed mere weeks ago, according to its director, then rushed to air. It has every appearance of being a last-ditch attempt by Red Eagle to retain the rights to Jordan’s series.

. . . .

Most contracts between creators and those who buy adaptation rights to said creations have built-in expiration dates when the rights revert to the creator. These expiration dates vary, based on how much rights-purchasers wish to pay.

But these expiration dates also usually include a crucial caveat. If the person who buys the adaptation rights keeps making adaptations of the original property, the rights will usually stay with them.

. . . .

Rigney, Jordan’s widow, said in a statement:

It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this.

Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch.

I see no mention of Universal in the “pilot”. Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan’s estate, informed of this in any way.

Remember Universal? That reference to the studio may prove key. If, indeed, Bandersnatch’s adaptation rights contract was with Universal and not Red Eagle, then whatever claim Red Eagle has to the property will fall apart. If that contract was with Red Eagle directly, however, or if Universal turns out to have funded this secret pilot, things will get more complicated.

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to Claire for the tip.

‘Game Of Thrones’ Almost Had A Shocking, Weird Love Triangle

7 February 2015

From The Huffington Post:

A leaked letter written by George R.R. Martin to his agent reveals the original, different plan for A Song of Ice and Fire — the seven-book saga that inspired hit HBO series “Game of Thrones.” British book retailer Waterstones tweeted images of the three page letter in which Martin detailed his intended plans for the book series.

. . . .

The letter was apparently displayed in Harper Collins’ new London Bridge office, which has a George R.R. Martin room. Waterstone attributed the letter to HarperCollins UK who, according to Vanity Fair, corroborated the tweet before it was deleted. Besides the fact that the book series was first envisioned as a mere trilogy (Martin only planned to write A Game of Thrones, A Dance With Dragons and The Winds of Winter) the letter reveals some pretty major plot and character variations, including a shocking love triangle.

. . . .

Rob would die in battle
Martin planned for Rob and Joffrey to fight on the battlefield (almost nothing sounds more hilarious than imagining Joffrey in battle). Rob would “maim” Joffrey, but eventually Rob would be defeated by Jaime and Tyrion.

Jaime was originally a super bad guy
Martin wrote that Tyrion would “remove” Joffrey, thus making way for Jaime to take over the throne. Then Jaime would turn against Tryion, kill a bunch of people, blame his brother, and then get Tyrion exiled. (This is why Tyrion apparently grows fond of Arya.)

. . . .

Catelyn didn’t die in the Red Wedding
The infamous slaughter scene isn’t even mentioned in Martin’s letter and the author instead planned for Catelyn to travel North of the Wall, with Arya and Bran, only to be killed by Mance Rayder’s Free Folk (in the letter just described as “the others”).

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

The Absence of Women

6 February 2015

From author Marie Brennan:

The other day on Twitter, I commented about the absence of women from a book I was reading. Because Twitter is no place for long explanations or nuanced discussions, and also because I was about to go to karate and didn’t want to start a slapfight with fans of the book that might pick up steam while I was busy, I declined to name it there — but I promised I would make a follow-up post, so here it is.

. . . .

Okay, with all of that out of the way (and maybe the caveats were unnecessary, but) . . . the book in question is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.

1. Data

I want to be precise in my points, so I’m going to go through The Name of the Wind and list all of the female characters. I’m being generous in my definition of that term: I will count as a female character any woman who is distinguished from the backdrop by either a name or dialogue. (The bar, it is low.) Generalities like references to “wives” or “a girl” doing something in the background do not count. If I’ve missed anybody, do let me know — but anybody I’ve missed will be quite minor indeed, given that I was keeping notes as I read.

All page numbers are from the mass market paperback edition. There will (inevitably) be some spoilers.

. . . .

Total: 29 female characters in 722 pages. 22 get names; 21 get dialogue. 17 appear in the text for fewer than five pages. Only 7 of the remaining 12 are actual characters in Kvothe’s story, in the sense of having any kind of ongoing role in his life: Denna, Devi, Fela, Mola, Auri, Shandi, and Kvothe’s mother.

Against these, we may lay . . . two hundred? three hundred? more? male characters with equal or greater presence in the story: Taborlin, Old Cob, Graham, Jake, Shep, the smith’s apprentice Aaron, Carter, Bast, Chronicler, the commander of the soldiers who rob Chronicler, Jannis, Witkins, the tinker, Crazy Martin, the guy who recognizes Kvothe, Caleb, Skarpi, the Earl of Baedn-Bryt, Oren Velciter — and those are just the ones that show up before Kvothe’s mother does. Nineteen men, before we get a single woman. 19 men in 58 pages; 29 women in 722.

. . . .

When the topic of including women comes up, or people of color, or gay people, or whoever, there are a great many authors who say they are happy to include such characters when there’s a reason for them to be there. I look at this book and wonder: what’s the reason for all these characters to be men?

Chronicler could have been a woman. Bast could have been a woman. Abenthy could have been a woman. Kvothe’s mother is said to have “a way with words;” why is the Important Plot Song a composition Kvothe’s father is working on, with his wife reduced to the role of behind the scenes muse and assistant? (Why doesn’t she get a name?) Why are none of Kvothe’s friends among the University students female? (Fela gets there eventually, sort of. She could have been a friend from the start.) Why isn’t Trapis a woman? There’s a passing suggestion that he used to be a priest, and so far as I can tell the priesthood is exclusively male — but a) there’s no reason the priesthood had to be exclusively male.

. . . .

I do not understand this. This is not the kind of story that involves a limited number of characters, or a historical context where the demographics are out of the author’s control. It doesn’t even confine itself to the kind of social environment that has historically been exclusively male, which you might therefore expect the author to represent in that fashion. Kvothe travels all over the place and meets all kinds of people: most of them are men. There are women at the University: none of them really matter. When I ask myself what valuable things Kvothe learned from a woman, the best I can do is to say that Auri showed him around the Underthing. They don’t teach him sympathy or sygaldry or artificing or the name of the wind. They are not his enemies, earning the reader’s respect by the threat they pose. They’re just . . . insignificant. Mola stitches Kvothe up when he needs it, Kvothe’s mother is loving and then dies, Shandi is an irrelevant background detail. Auri is a helpful manic pixie dream girl. Fela is an object for Kvothe to rescue. Devi is the best of the lot, pretty much the only one with anything resembling power and agency in the narrative.

. . . .

I’ve been known to bang on about the problems with women in the Wheel of Time, but let’s give it credit where credit is due: in the first book alone, important female characters include Moiraine (the story’s Gandalf equivalent), Egwene (Rand’s childhood sweetheart, whom he doesnot end up in a relationship with, and who is one of the strongest channelers the White Tower has seen in a century), Nynaeve (even stronger than Egwene, and survived learning how to do it on her own, which is rare), Elayne (yet another strong channeler and heir to the throne of Andor), Min (possessed of a strange clairvoyant gift nobody can explain, and also good with knives), and Elaida (advisor to the Queen and also gifted with a rare prophetic ability). That’s six women off the top of my head, all of them less objectified and more proactive than just about anybody here, and it doesn’t include all the minor female characters who pass through the story along the way. Kvothe’s tale starts in a town where none of the women have names; Rand al’Thor’s does not.

Denna does not fix the problem. She just brings it into the spotlight. I didn’t start to have any interest in her at all until page 550, when Kvothe finds her in Trebon, because that’s the first point at which she seems to have a life of her own. Before then, she’s just this beautiful woman (did I mention she’s beautiful?) who always has men hanging off her and floats in and out of Kvothe’s life in a pointlessly cryptic fashion. It’s possible that aspect is significant; for a while I wondered if she was actually supernatural in some way, and that’s why (we are explicitly told) men always go for her and women always hate her. But if there is indeed more to her than meets the eye, it doesn’t get made clear enough in this book. I’m just left with an objectified cipher I’ve got no real reason to care about, and no other women of real significance.

Link to the rest at Swan Tower

Here’s a link to Marie Brennan’s books

SFWA Welcomes Self-Published and Small Press Authors

4 February 2015

From Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

In a referendum with a third of voting members participating and over 6 to 1 in favor, the membership of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has approved bylaw changes that enable SFWA to accept self-publication and small-press credits for Active and Associate memberships in the organization. We are using existing levels of income but are now allowing a combination of advances and income earned in a 12 month period to rise to the qualifying amounts.

SFWA President, Steven Gould, states, “Writers write. Professional writers get paid a decent amount for what they write. For the past five years it’s been apparent that there are ways to earn that decent amount that were not being covered by our previous qualification standards. Though these changes took a substantial amount of time, I’m grateful to everyone who worked toward this end.”

. . . .

Specific details will be posted at by the first of March, but the basic standards are $3,000 for novel, or a total of 10,000 words of short fiction paid at 6 cents a word for Active membership. A single story of at least 1,000 words paid at 6 cents a word will be required for Associate membership. Affiliate, Estate, and Institutional membership requirements remain unchanged.

Self-published and small-press works were already eligible for the Nebula and Norton Awards, SFWA’s member-voted genre award, and will remain so.

Link to the rest at SFWA and thanks to Maggie and several others for the tip.

George RR Martin’s The Winds of Winter: no plans for publication in 2015

31 January 2015

From The Guardian:

Another year of waiting for The Winds of Winter to blow is in store for fans of George RR Martin, as his publisher confirmed there are no plans for the much-anticipated latest volume from his A Song of Ice and Fire series to appear in 2015. Instead, readers will have to comfort themselves with an illustrated edition of three previously anthologised novellas set in the world of Westeros.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms takes place nearly a century before the bloody events of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, when the Iron Throne was still held by the Targaryens. Out in October, it is a compilation of the first three official prequel novellas to the series, The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword and The Mystery Knight, never before collected, and now set for release in a new illustrated edition.

Martin’s publisher Jane Johnson at HarperCollins promised that fans will pick up all sorts of clues from reading them.

“The novellas,” said Johnson, “are illustrated in black and white line drawings throughout by Gary Gianni in classic style. It will be a truly lovely book, and I adore these clever, funny stories.” They “give fascinating insights into the ongoing story, from the point of view of Ser Duncan the Tall, a hedge knight, and his squire Egg – who may be rather more than he first seems,” she said. “The short novels have been previously published in separate anthologies but never put together before, and this will be a particularly beautiful edition.”

However, Johnson confirmed that The Winds of Winter, the next novel in the series that has been filmed by HBO as A Game of Thrones, is not in this year’s schedule. “I have no information on likely delivery,” she said. “These are increasingly complex books and require immense amounts of concentration to write. Fans really ought to appreciate that the length of these monsters is equivalent to two or three novels by other writers.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Perhaps his memory is flawed today, but PG can’t remember another story in a major newspaper announcing an author would not be publishing a book.

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