Fantasy cannot build its imaginary worlds in short fiction

21 May 2015

From The Guardian:

Recently Damien Walter wrote about the tyranny of fantasy serial mega-novels. He suggested that fantasy novels now tend toward the enormous because of market forces — because everybody in the publishing and television industries is looking for the next Game of Thrones, and a new author who can open a factory of imagination that will lead to commercial success. I don’t think that’s the reason behind the size or format of fantasy books at all.

Last year, I was teaching on a short fiction course and agreed with the convenor that I’d do genre fiction while he covered high literary, New Yorker-style stuff. But although I read truckloads of fantasy, and write it, it was very difficult to find fantasy short stories that don’t lean in some way on an existing corpus of novels. There’s a very good reason for that, and it’s nothing to do with market forces – and everything to do with the requirements of the genre itself.

High fantasy of the George RR Martin kind hinges on world-building. When there really is a whole world to build, and not just a historical period or a particular country, world-building does not take a few paragraphs in a short story; it takes chapters. Add to that the anvil on which creative writing schools hammer their students now, show don’t tell, and these details take even longer to convey. A very fine example of this is Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. The plot is simple. It’s about a prophet who wants to change the world by bringing back dragons. But each book is more than 600 pages long, and it’s not pointless rambling allowed by an editor who simply wants to sell three books for £20 per hardback rather than one.

. . . .

However, Hobb’s stories don’t take place in the real world. The two main characters are not ordinary people who can be sketched and left largely to the imagination of the reader. One of them can see the future and refuses to disclose, for cultural reasons and out of general pig-headedness, whether he’s even a man or a woman. The other is a royal bastard born into political circumstances that deny him an ordinary family and any other truly meaningful friendships beyond that of this wonderful lunatic. They live in a world where there is magic in the air and the stones, and a dragon buried in a glacier. All those things which are not mentioned in literary realism but are important for its context – government, geography, fashion, everything – are equally important in this trilogy, but they are not already understood by the readers. To bring it all to life requires a lot of space, and a huge amount of detail.

If you take out the detail of fantasy and boil it down to the skeleton of its plot, the result is nearly always a lot of unexplained magic. That has a quite a peculiar effect.

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

2015 SFWA Election Results

20 May 2015

Author, Artist and Queen Jaguar M.C.A. Hogarth has been elevated to dizzying heights in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

From SFWA:

Ballots have been tallied and certified.  The current board serves untilJune 30th. On July 1, 2015 current Vice President Cat Rambo will start a two year term as president, and current Secretary Susan Forest  continues for two years in that post. Current Chief Financial Officer Bud Sparhawk was re-elected for one year as is newly-elected Vice President M.C.A. Hogarth.

Link to the rest at SFWA

PG says congratulations to Maggie.

Fantasy must shake off the tyranny of the mega-novel

19 May 2015

From The Guardian:

The triumph of George RR Martin has made publishers greedy for multi-volume stories, but not all authors can write them – and why should they?

. . . .

Money talks, of course, and ever since Tolkien laid down the basic three-part formula, his vision has gradually expanded into the multi-volume moneyspinners of today. If every reader has to buy 15 separate volumes of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time at £8.99 a pop, that adds up to a 44m-copy pay day for his publishers. But this commercial appeal is clogging up the genre with tome after tome of schlock, as anyone who has had the misfortune of being trapped in a confined space with only a Terry Goodkind novel for entertainment can confirm.

Series novels are common in many genres of fiction, none more so than crime, mysteries and thrillers. The formula of a lone detective investigating a new murder in each book has changed little in the decades between Agatha Christie and Lee Child.

. . . .

Fantasy novels have grown so vast that even the serial concept no longer quite captures what they are doing. In a recent essay, the sci-fi novelist Eric Flint suggested the term “mega-novel” to better express what fantasy serials of this kind are doing. While they may be broken into separate volumes for commercial reasons, these are really just very big novels, often with multiple heroes, each surrounded by their own cast of supporting characters. They’re not just big and long, but structurally complex in a way that requires that extra space.

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

Does Post-Apocalyptic Literature Have A (Non-Dystopian) Future?

14 May 2015

From NPR:

The end of the world sure is taking a long time. Ever since the breakout success of Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road, America has been degraded, devastated, and decimated time and time again — at least, on the page. Granted, McCarthy didn’t invent post-apocalyptic fiction. But he helped spark a literary trend that shows no signs of abating.

In the last year or so, an avalanche of books — including Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star, Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon, Laura van den Berg’s Find Me, Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, Adam Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready, Lev AC Rosen’s Depth and Jeffrey Rotter’s The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering — have probed what it means to be a survivor after some form of collapse or cataclysm has ravaged the world. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day, only with the apocalypse happening over and over, often with slight variations. These books are being written by the truckload, and some of them are even being read — but with this level of saturation, does post-apocalyptic fiction have a future?

John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey clearly think so, and for good reason. The series of e-book anthologies they co-edit, The Apocalypse Triptych, is the most ambitious, audacious undertaking of its kind. They have the credentials to back it up: Adams is the Hugo Award-winning editor of the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy series, as well as of the digital magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare; Howey is the bestselling author of the apocalyptic Silo Series, which began with Wool, a self-publishing phenomenon.

. . . .

Post-apocalyptic books are thriving for a simple reason: The world feels more precariously perched on the lip of the abyss than ever, and facing those fears through fiction helps us deal with it. These stories are cathartic as well as cautionary. But they also reaffirm why we struggle to keep our world together in the first place. By imagining what it’s like to lose everything, we can value what we have.

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Scott for the tip.

It’s 2015 And One Publisher Is Still Trying To Dumb Down Sci-Fi Romance

7 May 2015

From The Galaxy Express:

Folks, today I’m blogging as Anger Translator for sci-fi romance Author X.

I have the author’s permission to blog, without using identifying information, about something I learned from her via email. Namely, that a well-known romance publisher has directed her to cut thousands of words from her manuscript. Why? To significantly reduce elements like worldbuilding, science fictional concepts, essential details related to the story’s antagonist, and the like in favor of the romance.

Author X has over a decade of experience in publishing and she’s also a longtime SFR fan. I know she reads it regularly because I’ve had many conversations with her about various books. I’ve read her SFRs and even one of her paranormal romances and they fall squarely within these genres. Her sci-fi elements are solid, but not of the hard SF kind. This isn’t a case of an author trying to get a romance publisher to release a hard SF book. Far from it.

. . . .

Author X was asked to cut significant parts of the science fictional elements because the publisher essentially believes the story in its current form is too difficult for their readers to understand. The SF content supposedly reached some kind of dangerous level and will exhaust readers’ brains or something.

. . . .

Publisher, have you been to the theater lately? Watched any television? Visited any fan fiction forums? Science fiction is all over the place these days, and guess what? Women love it!

Link to the rest at The Galaxy Express and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

PG will note that self-publishing is a great solution to the recurring problem of a dumb publisher.

You can accomplish a lot with $50,000

5 May 2015

From Fast Company:

You can accomplish a lot with $50,000. That’s how much Dutch filmmaker Mischa Rozema raised on Kickstarter for his sci-fi short film, Sundays, which premiered on Vimeo on Monday morning. The 13-minute film—which starts in outer space before settling in the streets of Mexico City—looks like it cost a hell of a lot more than 50 grand, and that’s probably part of what made Rozema and Sundays the subject of what, by Deadline’s account, was a three-studio bidding war that Warner Bros. ultimately won on Friday.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

SUNDAYS from PostPanic on Vimeo.

Top Ten Most Common Short Story Names

23 April 2015

From editor and fantasy/scifi publisher Neil Clarke:

I just noticed that we crossed the 50,000 point in our submissions system sometime in the last month. I thought it might be fun to do a quick analysis of the most popular story titles in that pile. Here’s the results:

1st Place – 18

2nd Place – 16
The Gift, Home, Hunger, Homecoming

3rd Place – 15
The Box

4th Place – 14

Link to the rest at Neil Clarke and thanks to Dan for the tip.

PG wonders what the same list would look like for a romance publisher.

I’ve been doing my best to stay away from the current ruckus

19 April 2015

From author Eric Flint:

I’ve been doing my best to stay away from the current ruckus over the Hugo Awards, but it’s now spread widely enough that it’s spilled onto my Facebook page, and it’s bound to splatter on me elsewhere as well.

. . . .

First, on the Hugo and Nebula (and all other) awards given out in science fiction. Do they have problems? Yes, they all do. For a variety of reasons, the awards no longer have much connection to the Big Wide World of science fiction and fantasy readers. Thirty and forty years ago, they did. Today, they don’t.

Is this because of political bias, as charged by at least some of the people associated with the Sad Puppies slate? No, it isn’t—or at least not in the way the charge is being leveled. I will discuss this issue later, but for the moment let me address some more general questions.

What I’m going to be dealing with in this essay is a reality that is now at least tacitly recognized by most professional authors—and stated bluntly on occasion by editors and publishers. That’s the growing divergence between the public’s perception of fantasy and science fiction and the perception of the much smaller group of people who vote for literary awards and write literary reviews for the major F&SF magazines. There was a time in fantasy and science fiction when the public’s assessment of the field’s various authors and the assessment of its “inner circles” was, if not identical, very closely related. But that time is far behind us.

. . . .

Two examples are Murray Leinster and Andre Norton. Both Leinster and Norton had immensely successful literary careers that spanned over half a century. Leinster was once dubbed by Time magazine “the dean of science fiction”—he had the title before Heinlein more or less took it over—and it’s almost impossible to overstate Norton’s central position in the field for decades.

Nonetheless, in his entire career in science fiction, Murray Leinster got almost no recognition when it came to the field’s major awards.

. . . .

The situation was, if anything, even more extreme with Andre Norton. She was also nominated twice for the Hugo—for best novel (Witch World) in 1964, and for best novelette (“Wizard’s World”) a few years later, in 1968—but she didn’t win either time. Another way of looking at this is that, for almost the last forty years of her career (she didn’t die until 2005 and was writing actively until the very end), she received no recognition of any kind from the field’s premier award.

. . . .

Today, there are is only one author left who can regularly maintain the bridge between popular appeal and critical acclaim. That author is Neil Gaiman. And there are no more than a handful of others who can manage it on occasion. Perhaps the most prominent in that small group are Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula LeGuin and George R.R. Martin.
Once you get beyond that very small number of authors, the field diverges rapidly. That handful aside, there is no longer any great overlap between those fantasy and science fiction authors whom the mass audience considers the field’s most important writers—judging by sales, at any rate—and those who are acclaimed by the small groups of people who hand out awards.

. . . .

Any author—or publisher, or editor—who gets widely associated with a political viewpoint that generates a lot of passion will inevitably suffer a loss of attractiveness when it comes to getting nominated for awards—or just reader reviews. Somebody is bound to get angry at you and denigrate your work, and often enough urge others to do the same.
Does it happen to people who are strongly associated with the right? Yes, it does. But it also happens to people who are strongly associated in the public mind with the left. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is read through Amazon reader reviews of my work and see how many “reviews” are obviously triggered off by someone’s outrage/indignation/umbrage at what they perceive as my political viewpoint and have little if anything to do with the book which is theoretically being “reviewed.”

Nor does it matter very much whether the assessment people have is accurate or not. To give an example which is germane to this issue, there is a wide perception among many people in fandom—the average reader-on-the-street could care less—that Baen Books is a slavering rightwing publisher. And never mind the inconvenient fact that the author who has had more books published through Baen Books than any other over the past twenty years is…

(roll of drums)


Who is today and has been throughout his adult life an avowed socialist (as well as an atheist), and hasn’t changed his basic opinions one whit.

. . . .

Yes, it’s true that Larry Correia and John Ringo are pretty far to the right on the political spectrum and they don’t get nominated for major awards despite being very popular.

You know what else is true?

I’m very popular and further to the left on the political spectrum than they are to the right—and I never get nominated either. Mercedes Lackey isn’t as far left as I am, but she’s pretty damn far to the left and even more popular than I am—or Larry Correia, or John Ringo—and she doesn’t get nominated either.

Link to the rest at The official home page of author Eric Flint and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Here’s a link to Eric Flint’s books.

Some Sad Puppy Data Analysis

17 April 2015

From Difficult Run:

The list of fairly big-name outlets covering the 2015 Hugos / Sad Puppies controversy has gotten pretty long, but here’s how you know this is Officially a Big Deal: George R. R. Martin has been in a semi-polite back-and-forth blog argument with the Larry Correia for days. That’s thousands and thousands of words that Mr. Martin has written about this that he could have spent, you know, finishing up the next Game of Thrones book. I think we can officially declare at this point that we have a national crisis.

Martin’s blog posts are a good place to start because his main point thus far has been to rebut the central claim that animates Sad Puppies. To wit: they claim that in recent years the Hugo awards have become increasingly dominated by an insular clique that puts ideological conformity and social back-scratching ahead of merit. While the more shrill voices within the targeted insular clique have responded that Sad Puppies are bunch of racist, sexist bigots, Martin’s more moderate reply has been: Where’s the Beef? Show me some evidence of this cliquish behavior. Larry Correia has responded here.

As these heavyweights have been trading expert opinion, personal stories, and plain old anecdotes, it just so happens that I spent a good portion of the weekend digging into the data to see if I could find any objective evidence for or against the Sad Puppy assertions. It’s been an illuminating experience for me, and I want to share some of what I learned. Let me get in a major caveat up front, however. There’s some interesting data in this blog post, but not enough to conclusively prove the case for or against Sad Puppies. I’m running with it anyway because I hope it will help inform the debate, but this is a blog post, not a submission to Nature. Calibrate your expectations accordingly.

. . . .

Finding 1: Sad Puppies vs. Rabid Puppies

I have been following Sad Puppies off and on since Sad Puppies 2. SP2 was led by Larry Correia, and his basic goal was to prove that if you got an openly conservative author on the Hugo ballot, then the reigning clique would be enraged. For the most part, he proved  his case, although the issue was muddied somewhat by the inclusion of Vox Day on the SP2 slate. Vox Day tends to make everyone enraged (as far as I can tell), and so his presence distorted the results somewhat.

This year Brad Torgersen took over for Sad Puppies 3 with a different agenda. Instead of simply provoking the powers that be, his aim was to break its dominance over the awards by appealing to the middle. For that reason, he went out of his way to include diverse writers on the SP3 slate, including not only conservatives and libertarians, but also liberals, communists, and apolitical writers.

. . . .

Because Torgersen and Correia are more prominent, when I did learn about RP I assumed it was a minor act riding on the coattails of Sad Puppies 3 and little more. For this reason, I was frustrated when the critics of Sad Puppies tended to conflate Torgersen’s moderate-targeted SP3 with Vox Day’s fringe-based RP. But then I started looking at the numbers, and they tell a different story.

The Sad Puppies 3 campaign managed to get 14 of their 17 recommended nominees through to become finalists, for a success rate of 82.4%. Meanwhile, the Rapid Puppies managed to get 18 or 19 of their 20 recommendations through for a success rate of 90-95%.

. . . .
 Finding 2: Gender in Sci-Fi
I put together a table of all the Hugo nominees and winners with their gender. I know that gender isn’t the only diversity issue but it’s the easiest one to find data on. Here’s what I found:


. . . .

[T]he diversity of the early 2010s was not unprecedented. There wasn’t a long, slow, continuous growth of diversity. There were a lot of female nominees in the early 1990s, and this gets omitted from articles that act as though sci-fi had achieved some milestones of diversity for the first time. It’s true that the 2010s were the best yet, but the most important symbolic line was crossed way back in 1992 when 52% (more than half) of the nominees were women. Second, the rebound towards the overall average started last year, not with the 2015 finalists. In 2013 there was an all-time record percentage of female finalists (61%) but in 2014 the numbers had flipped and 62% of the finalists were male. Although Sad Puppies 2 did exist in 2014, it had very little impact and so the rebound towards the status quo cannot reasonably be blamed entirely on SP3 / RP.

. . . .

But the fourth complication is by far the most important one. Back in 2013 a Tor UK editor actually divulged the gender breakdown of the submissions they receive by genre.


. . . .

[I]f you have a situation where men and women are equally talented writers and where men outnumber women 4 to 1 and where the Hugo awards do a good job of reflecting talent, then 80% of the awards going to men is not evidence that the awards are biased or oppressive. It is evidence that they are fair. In that scenario, 80% male nominees is not an outrage. It’s the expected outcome.

Of course this just raises the next question: why is it that men outnumber women 4:1 in science fiction? For that matter, why do women outnumber men 2:1 in the YA category?

Link to the rest at Difficult Run and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

J.K. Rowling Interview

11 April 2015

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