PG Note

PG is having problems getting into The Passive Voice to add new posts. He’s working on the problem.

Friday Night Update: Despite a variety of strategies, no joy on TPV. More extreme approaches will be taken tomorrow.

What’s a Conlanger?

From Conlanger.org:

A “conlanger” is someone who creates or constructs languages or “conlangs.” Conlangs come in a wide variety although these can be divided primarily into three general areas: auxlangs or international auxiliary languages like Esperanto, engelangs or engineered languages like Ithkuil and Lojban, and artlangs or artistic languages like Sindarin or Klingon. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and these are simply some of the more widely-known examples of these respective types of conlangs. What is fascinating is the number of people engaged in language creation.

Link to the rest at Conlanger.org

From The Conlang Manifesto:

To me, it seems odd to have to defend language creation, and yet it’s been repeatedly attacked, mainly by linguists (which is the most baffling part about the whole business), and decried as a form of frivolity which should not and cannot be taken seriously by anyone, or even wicked (I’ve heard it). To such claims, I say the following things.

I would hope that many would agree that doing something that neither harms the doer nor anyone else is not wrong. That said, creating languages, to my knowledge, has never resulted in the harming of another human being, or of the language creator (at least, I’ve heard of no reports of a language creator driven insane. Though I should note that Esperantists were persecuted in Germany during the Holocaust, along with just about everyone else). Like any other hobby or activity, the only requirement is a requirement of time, and time management has nothing to do with the activity itself, but only with the one performing it. Thus, it can’t be argued that language creation is “a waste of time”, it can only be argued that certain people are wasters of time—how they do it is irrelevant.

The other argument—whether language creation can be taken seriously—is a bit stickier. The main problem I see that people have with language creation is that it’s “weird”—that is, not usual. As such, anything that is not usual will be regarded with apprehension initially; it’s as old as Copernicus—even older than that. If you point this out to the arguer, they will usually counter with the argument that language creation is useless, and therefore, frivolous. And, looking only at the utilitarian end of it, if the creator isn’t going to use their language for communication, and since language can be viewed only as a means of communication, language creation is pretty useless.

But is this all language is: A method of communication? If so, what is poetry? what is literature? What possible use could James Joyce’s Ulysses have? I suppose if you were on a desert island and needed to smash crabs, it would do the trick—it’s pretty thick, after all. But beyond that? According to them, it would have no use. And why stop there? What good do paintings do anyone? They just sit there, after all, doing nothing for nobody. And along with this goes any other form of visual art: Pottery, jewelry, tapestry, mosaic, sculpture, animation… And what about architecture? You just need a roof over your head; no reason it needs to look fancy. So out the window it goes, too. And music?! My word! There’s not even any functional value in music! So let’s burn all our musical instruments and albums: Goodbye Tchaikovsky, bye-bye Beatles, see ya’ Enya, aloha Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (that’s the “aloha” that means “goodbye”, not “hello”). Pretty soon what you’re left with is a world without art.

At this point, the argument should come to an end. The rigor and usefulness of art is an argument that has been argued many times by many people much more articulate than I, and by now (I certainly hope), the whole world should have figured out that art really does pull its weight on Earth. So, let’s continue from here. Any university worth its salt is going to have an art department. Millions of people every year study useless, frivolous art. So why not language creation? Nearly every serious subject has an art associated with it that’s also studied: Literature has poetry and prose; computer science has computer graphics and video games (another underappreciated form of art); functional architecture has artistic architecture; art history has art; music theory has music. If you take this to its natural conclusion, is not language creation the art most closely associated with linguistics?

This is particularly why I find the condemnation of language creation by linguists so befuddling. Aside from art, though, language creation has other uses. First, creating a language allows one to better understand language itself. One who creates an ergative language is far more likely to understand ergativity in natural languages than one who does not, I say. What’s more, this same understanding can ease foreign language learning considerably—not to mention linguistics itself. More importantly, it gets one thinking about the multifariousness and beauty of language, and one who can appreciate this is less likely to misunderstand, deprecate and stereotype those speaking other languages, which is one of the main causes of racism and ethnocentrism. In short, language creation is one of the keys to social harmony and world peace. If one is going to take anything seriously, certainly world peace is it, and if so, shouldn’t language creation be given some credit too?

Link to the rest at Conlang Manifesto

PG thanks regular commenter K. for sending him into Conlang World.

He loves finding small groups of people who are highly enthusiastic about something 99% of the world has never heard about, let alone recognized as an occupation/pastime.

Dune and the Delicate Art of Making Fictional Languages

From The New Yorker:

The trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part Two” features the boy prophet Paul Atreides, played by Timothée Chalamet, yelling something foreign and uninterpretable to a horde of desert people. We see Chalamet as the embodiment of charismatic fury: every facial muscle clenched in tension, his voice strained and throaty and commanding. A line at the bottom of the screen translates: “Long live the fighters!”

The scene fills barely a few seconds in a three-minute trailer, yet it establishes the emotional tone of the film and captures the messianic fervor that drives its plot. It also signals the depth of Villeneuve’s world-building. Part of what made his first excursion into the “Dune” universe such an experiential feast was its vivid, immersive quality, combining monumental architectural design with atmospheric soundscapes and ethereal costuming. We could see a few remnants of our world (remember the bit with the bagpipes?), but the over-all effect was transportive, as if the camera were not a piece of equipment but a cyborgian eye live-streaming from a far-flung alien civilization. Chalamet’s strange tongue is part of the franchise’s meticulous set dressing. It’s not gibberish, but part of an intricate linguistic system that was devised for Villeneuve’s adaptations.

Engineered languages such as the one Chalamet speaks represent a new benchmark in imaginative fiction. Twenty years ago, viewers would have struggled to name franchises other than “Star Trek” or “The Lord of the Rings” that bothered to invent new languages. Today, with the budgets of the biggest films and series rivalling the G.D.P.s of small island nations, constructed languages, or conlangs, are becoming a norm, if not an implicit requirement. Breeze through entertainment from the past decade or so, and you’ll find lingos designed for Paleolithic peoples (“Alpha”), spell-casting witches (“Penny Dreadful”), post-apocalyptic survivors (“Into the Badlands”), Superman’s home planet of Krypton (“Man of Steel”), a cross-species alien alliance (“Halo”), time-travelling preteens (“Paper Girls”), the Munja’kin tribe of Oz (“Emerald City”), and Santa Claus and his elves (“The Christmas Chronicles” and its sequel).

A well-executed conlang can bolster a film’s appearance of authenticity. It can deepen the scenic absorption that has long been an obsession for creators and fans of speculative genres such as science fiction and fantasy. But the entertainment industry’s fixation with crafting super-realistic realms can also be distracting. Speculative fiction works by melding the familiar with the unrecognizable. It makes trenchant provocations not by creating the most believably alien worlds possible but by interweaving them with strands from our own.

Hollywood’s current obsession with constructed languages arguably started with “The Lord of the Rings” film adaptations of the early two-thousands. J. R. R. Tolkien was a professor of Old English at Oxford and a lifelong conlanger, and he famously created the tongues of Middle-earth long before writing the books. “The invention of languages is the foundation,” he once wrote. “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.” The trilogy’s success showed the power of conlangs to create engrossing alternate realities, inspiring filmmakers to seek out skilled language creators.

The most influential conlanger working today is David J. Peterson. Born in Long Beach, California, Peterson started to create languages in 2000, while he was a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley. His early projects were amusing experiments: X, a language that could only be written; Sheli, which included only sounds that he liked and was initially unpronounceable; and Zhyler, which he created because he enjoyed Turkish and which, in honor of the Heinz Company, had fifty-seven noun cases. In 2005, he graduated with a master’s degree in linguistics from U.C. San Diego. Two years later, he co-founded the Language Creation Society with nine other conlangers.

Peterson’s big break came in 2009, when HBO reached out to the Language Creation Society with a strange request. They were creating a television show (which would turn out to be “Game of Thrones”) and wanted someone to develop a language (which would emerge as Dothraki). Nothing like this had ever happened before, so the society organized a competition that would be judged by the show’s producers. After signing a nondisclosure agreement, applicants were invited to send in a phonetic breakdown of Dothraki, a romanized transcription system, six to eight lines of translated text, and any additional notes or translations.

Peterson had an edge over his competitors: unemployment. For two and a half weeks, he worked eighteen-hour days, assembling a hundred and eighty pages of material. He made it to the second round and eventually produced more than three hundred pages in Dothraki. He landed the job and was later invited to develop five more languages for the series, including High Valyrian, which proved especially popular among fans. In 2017, a High Valyrian course launched on the language-learning app Duolingo; at one point in 2023, more than nine hundred thousand people had signed up as active users.

Along with James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009), which appeared in theatres soon after Peterson was hired by HBO, the first season of “Game of Thrones” demonstrated that audiences not only tolerated fictional languages—they loved them. What had previously been a nerdy pastime transformed into a standard of fantasy filmmaking. Peterson became the go-to language wizard. He has since been hired to create some fifty other conlangs, including languages for the Dark Elves in “Thor: The Dark World” (2013), for the Grounders in the television show “The 100” (2014-20), and for the desert-dwelling Fremen in the two “Dune” movies. When Chalamet, as Paul Atreides, calls to his combatants, he does so in words devised by Peterson and his wife and fellow-conlanger, Jessie. (Peterson worked alone for the first “Dune” film, and collaborated with her on the second.)

Peterson’s success stems from a commitment to naturalism. He knows languages well; he has studied more than twenty, including Swahili, Middle Egyptian, and Esperanto, and seems to have an endless mental Rolodex of the lexical, grammatical, and phonological patterns found around the world. Yet, when an interviewer asked him how, when assembling a new conlang, he decides “which aspects of a language to borrow from and mimic” (Greek suffixes? Mongolian tenses? Japanese particles?), he rejected the premise. “If you just ripped out a structure from one language and put it in your own, the result would be inauthentic,” he replied.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

How to Write Slipstream Fiction

From The Write Life:

In the ever-evolving genres of fiction, slipstream emerges as a genre that defies the traditional boundaries of storytelling, offering a unique blend of the real and the surreal.

This genre, sitting at the crossroads of speculative fiction and literary fiction, challenges our perceptions of reality, inviting readers and writers alike into a world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

. . . .

What is slipstream fiction?

Slipstream fiction is a genre that thrives on ambiguity, challenging both writers and readers to explore the spaces between the known and the unknown. 

Let’s dive into the core aspects that define this intriguing genre.

Our slipstream fiction definition 

Slipstream fiction is notoriously difficult to pin down with a single definition, but at its core, it represents a narrative that straddles the line between the speculative and the literary, often blurring the boundaries of reality and the fantastic. 

This genre is not just about fantastical elements or futuristic settings; it’s about invoking a sense of wonder, unease, or the uncanny through stories that feel both familiar and deeply strange. 

Slipstream challenges our everyday understanding of reality, pushing readers to question what they know about the world around them. 

It is this unique blend of the real and the surreal that sets slipstream apart from more conventional genres, making it a fascinating field for writers who want to explore the depths of human experience in novel ways.

What are the key characteristics of Slipstream fiction?

Before we delve into the characteristics that define slipstream fiction, it’s important to understand that these traits work together to create a distinctive reading experience that defies easy categorization. 

Here are the seven most important characteristics of slipstream fiction:

  1. Ambiguity: Stories often leave more questions than answers, challenging readers to find their interpretations.
  2. Cognitive dissonance: The narrative may combine elements that traditionally don’t coexist, creating a sense of unease or perplexity.
  3. Surreal atmosphere: The setting or events have an otherworldly quality, even if rooted in the familiar.
  4. Emotional resonance: Despite the fantastical elements, the core of slipstream fiction lies in its ability to evoke deep emotional responses.
  5. Intellectual stimulation: These narratives encourage readers to think deeply about themes, ideas, and the nature of reality itself.
  6. Genre blending: Slipstream fiction often incorporates elements from various genres, refusing to be boxed into a single category.
  7. Metafictional elements: There’s often a self-awareness within the narrative, playing with literary conventions and reader expectations.

Keep in mind that slipstream fiction is by its nature a genre that blends elements and influences from a wide range of sources.

As a result, feel free to use or ignore whichever characteristics of slipstream depending on what your story requires.

How has Slipstream fiction evolved?

The roots of slipstream fiction can be traced back to the works of authors who dared to push the boundaries of narrative storytelling, such as Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. 

These pioneers laid the groundwork for a genre that would evolve to encapsulate a wide range of themes, from the existential to the metaphysical. 

Over the decades, slipstream has grown from a niche interest into a significant movement that challenges the conventions of mainstream literature. 

Its evolution reflects a growing desire among writers and readers for stories that offer more than just escape or entertainment; they seek narratives that offer a mirror to the complexity and ambiguity of the human condition. 

In the contemporary literary landscape, slipstream fiction continues to evolve, influenced by both the rapidly changing world around us and the endless possibilities of the human imagination.

Slipstream fiction examples

To truly grasp the essence and diversity of slipstream fiction, examining both its foundational works and contemporary examples is invaluable. 

These stories illuminate the genre’s defining characteristics and showcase the myriad ways authors can navigate its complex terrain.

What are some classic examples of slipstream fiction?

The foundations of slipstream fiction are often traced back to the literary giants who blended the surreal with the mundane, crafting narratives that defy straightforward interpretation.

Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis

Kafka’s story a seminal work that exemplifies slipstream’s essence, with its story of a man who inexplicably transforms into an insect, challenging readers to find meaning amidst absurdity. 

Jorge Luis Borges’ collection “Ficciones

Ficciones is another slipstream cornerstone, weaving intricate tales of labyrinths, mirrors, and infinite libraries that question the nature of reality and fiction. 

These classic examples not only highlight the genre’s roots in the surreal and the speculative but also demonstrate how slipstream can offer profound insights into the human condition through its unique narrative approach.

What are examples of contemporary slipstream fiction?

Contemporary slipstream fiction continues to explore the boundaries between the real and the unreal, providing readers with immersive and thought-provoking experiences.

The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern’s tale is a dazzling foray into a magical competition between two young illusionists, set within a wandering, fantastical circus that opens only at night. Morgenstern’s novel captivates with its rich, atmospheric storytelling and intricate plot, showcasing slipstream’s potential to blend magical realism with deep emotional resonance.

Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven presents a post-apocalyptic vision that intertwines the lives of a traveling Shakespearean theater troupe with the interconnected stories of individuals surviving a global pandemic. Mandel’s work exemplifies slipstream through its exploration of art, memory, and survival in a world where reality has shifted beyond recognition.

Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell 

Mitchell’s classic stretches across time and space, linking disparate narratives from the 19th century South Pacific to a distant, post-apocalyptic future.

Cloud Atlas is a masterclass in genre blending, each story echoing themes of connection, power, and the nature of humanity, embodying the slipstream genre’s capacity for intellectual depth and speculative scope.

The diversity of contemporary slipstream fiction is proof that you have the creative freedom to add your own unique take on the genre,

Link to the rest at The Write Life

Why right-wing Italians love hobbits, pirates and talking seagulls

From The Economist:

The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome houses choice examples of 19th- and 20th-century Italian art. But the books currently on sale in its vestibule have nothing to do with futurism or Arte Povera. They are by – or about – J.R.R. Tolkien, a British writer of fantasy. “One of the greatest authors of the last century,” murmured Carlo Pesce, a Venetian business executive, as he fingered an edition of “The Silmarillion”, a dense narrative even die-hard fans tend to skip.

The books were put on sale as part of a show called “Tolkien: Man, Professor, Author”.

Italy’s right-wing government had sponsored the exhibition as a component of its cultural strategy, which aims to dismantle the long-standing ascendancy of Italy’s mainly left-leaning intellectuals and artists. At a packed news conference held to announce the exhibition, the culture minister extolled Tolkien as “a staunch Catholic who exalted the value of tradition and of the community to which one belongs…a true conservative.” Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister, took time out from her official duties to open the show, and the inauguration was attended by a bevy of ministers from her party, the Brothers of Italy (fdi). It was given extensive, admiring coverage on the prime-time news bulletin of the largest state-owned tv channel.

Italy’s culture minister extols Tolkien as “a staunch Catholic who exalted the value of tradition and of the community to which one belongs…a true conservative”
Attendance was sparse when I visited on a chilly weekday afternoon in January, yet the woman at the ticket office said the turnout had been “pretty good”. Still, the exhibition hardly lived up to the razzmatazz with which it was unveiled. It consisted of film clips and photos of Tolkien, illustrations for his books in which heroes slay dragons and grapple with orcs and editions of his works in a bewildering assortment of languages. There were also costumes and posters from Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings”, and a clip in which the wizard Gandalf battles the ghastly Balrog. There was even a gaudily decorated Tolkien-themed pinball machine. Meloni pronounced it all “very beautiful”.

. . . .

Tolkien, however, is only one of a strange collection of cultural touchstones held in esteem by Meloni and her party, which dominates Italy’s governing coalition. The fdi champions an array of writers, artists and film-makers who would be unfamiliar to most mainstream European and American conservatives. Surprisingly, few of them are Italian but they provide the country’s nationalists with a store of reference points. And not all of them are conservatives. What they have in common is a shared genre: fantasy.

Link to the rest at The Economist

‘Damage’ Caused by 2023 Hugo Awards Controversy

From Gizmodo:

You’d think the biggest headlines surrounding an annual celebration of sci-fi and fantasy writing would be applauding the winners—but that’s not always the case with the Hugos. Its latest controversy involves works being deemed “not eligible” for consideration at the 2023 event, which was presented by Chengdu Worldcon in Chengdu, China. Now, we have a touch more clarity about what happened—and an apology from the organization as it looks to the future.

The 2023 Hugos were handed out in October, but rumblings about the eligibility controversy began last month, when nomination data revealed certain authors and books had been deemed “not eligible,” despite having the necessary votes to make the list of finalists. The most glaring slight was against R.F. Kuang’s Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, a best-selling, highly acclaimed work that won the Nebula Award in 2022 for Best Novel as well as the 2023 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

At the time of the data release, the lack of explanation caused frustration among fans and authors. In a response posted on Instagram, Kuang noted “no reason for Babel’s ineligibility was given to me or my my team… until one is provided that explains why the book was eligible for the Nebula and Locus awards, which it won, and not the Hugos, I assume this was a matter of indesirability rather than ineligibility. Excluding ‘undesirable’ work is not only embarrassing for all involved parties, but renders the entire process and organization illegitimate.”

A stunning investigation posted on Patreon by Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford (via Locus) digs what happened at the 2023 Hugos, offering background and context while asking questions like who was responsible for the “not eligible” rulings, and why the works in question were singled out—as well as how much the geographical location of the 2023 awards affected the situation. It’s definitely worth reading the in-depth report yourself for all the details and receipts, but it did find that “political considerations” were behind the exclusion of Babel, as well as potential nominees Paul Weimer (Fan Writer) and Xiran Jay Zhao (Astounding Award for Best New Writer).

“Emails and files released by one of the administrators of the 2023 Hugo Awards indicate that authors and works deemed ‘not eligible’ for the awards were removed due to political considerations,” Barkley and Sanford wrote. “In particular, administrators of the awards from the United States and Canada researched political concerns related to Hugo-eligible authors and works and discussed removing certain ones from the ballot for those reasons, revealing they were active participants in the censorship that took place.” The report further notes that these concerns “were in relation to Chinese laws related to content and censorship.”

In his endnotes, Sanford underlines his main takeaway. “The 2023 Hugo Awards were censored because certain authors and works were deemed to have too many political liabilities, at least from the viewpoint of the Chinese government. While it’s unclear if this was official censorship from the Chinese government or self-censorship by those afraid of offending governmental or business interests, we can now be certain that censorship indeed took place. However, what also disturbs me is that the administrators of the Hugo Awards from the United States and Canada, countries that supposedly support and value free speech, appear to have been active participants in this censorship.”

In a statement released today, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, the chair of Glasgow 2024 – A Worldcon for Our Futures, which will present the next iteration of the Hugos, offered an apology for “for the damage caused to nominees, finalists, the community, and the Hugo, Lodestar, and Astounding Awards” and outlined “steps to ensure transparency and to attempt to redress the grievous loss of trust in the administration of the Awards.”

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

The first thought that raced through PG’s mind as he read the OP was “Innocents Abroad.”

Like a great many successful attorneys, a great many successful authors are intelligent people.

However, both attorneys and authors together with other groups of experts are liable to make classic logical error: because they are experts in one field, they assume they know something useful in an unrelated field.

The intelligent science fiction authors leading the 2023 Hugo Awards thought they had enough intelligence and knowledge to know how the Chinese government would respond to the recognition of an outstanding book of fiction written by a brilliant and accomplished woman, R.F. Kuang, whose parents emigrated from China when she was four years old.

Errors that PG could identify from reading the OP:

  1. Scheduling the Hugos’ big annual awards event in a location requiring lots of travel expenses that would present a financial strain for most of the members of the organization to attend: Dumb or Stupid?
  2. What was the attendance like for this convention vs. previous conventions in more accessible locations?
  3. Did the big shots in the Hugos organization have all their travel, food and lodging expenses paid?
  4. Why choose China? Did anyone consider the political issues/threats/possible reputational damages to the organization?

Harry Potter TV Series

From Deadline:

At its Max streaming event in April 2023, Warner Bros. Discovery confirmed a new era is coming for Harry Potter fans. The company announced a TV series based on all seven books about the boy wizard written by J.K. Rowling. See below for the most current answers to the most important questions about the project.

What is the Harry Potter TV series about?

“This new Max Original series will dive deep into each of the iconic books that fans have continued to enjoy for all of these years,” said Casey Bloys, Chairman and CEO, HBO & Max Content about the project, which he also assured fans would be “a faithful adaptation.”

. . . .

Early reports had each season of the series focusing on one book in the Harry Potter book series, which consists of seven novels, but Bloys said the project would run for “10 consecutive years,” which would seem to defy the 1 season, 1 book assertion. For those who say Fantastic Beasts could be leveraged to provide 10 seasons over 10 years, WBD brass said specifically during the announcement that FB will not be a part of the series.

Whatever the case, Bloys promised that, as the company embarks on its new Harry Potter adventure, “We do so with the full care and craft of this franchise.”

Who Is creating the Harry Potter series?

It has taken a bit, given the initial announcement was in April 2023, but in recent months Warner Bros. invited a select group of creatives in to pitch ideas for what the series could be.

Martha Hillier, Kathleen Jordan, Tom Moran and Michael Lesslie were among the original group who presented their visions to the streaming service and Warner Bros. Television, sources said. It’s an interesting mix of Brits and Americans, most of whom have some experience working with streamers and many of whom have shepherded projects in the sci-fi/fantasy space.

. . . .

Early reports had each season of the series focusing on one book in the Harry Potter book series, which consists of seven novels, but Bloys said the project would run for “10 consecutive years,” which would seem to defy the 1 season, 1 book assertion. For those who say Fantastic Beasts could be leveraged to provide 10 seasons over 10 years, WBD brass said specifically during the announcement that FB will not be a part of the series.

Whatever the case, Bloys promised that, as the company embarks on its new Harry Potter adventure, “We do so with the full care and craft of this franchise.”

Who Is creating the Harry Potter series?

It has taken a bit, given the initial announcement was in April 2023, but in recent months Warner Bros. invited a select group of creatives in to pitch ideas for what the series could be.

Martha Hillier, Kathleen Jordan, Tom Moran and Michael Lesslie were among the original group who presented their visions to the streaming service and Warner Bros. Television, sources said. It’s an interesting mix of Brits and Americans, most of whom have some experience working with streamers and many of whom have shepherded projects in the sci-fi/fantasy space.

Link to the rest at Deadline

Resignations, Censures Follow in Wake of Hugo Awards Controversy

From Publishers Weekly:

Two leaders of Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP), the nonprofit that holds the service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, have reportedly stepped down from their posts following accusations of censorship in the voting process for the 2023 Hugo Awards.

In a January 30 statement, WIP officials announced that director Dave McCarty and board chair Kevin Standlee have both resigned from their positions. McCarty was also censured for “public comments that have led to harm of the goodwill and value of our marks and for actions of the Hugo Administration Committee of the Chengdu Worldcon that he presided over.” Standlee was “reprimanded” for “public comments that mistakenly led people to believe that we are not servicing our marks.”

In addition, WIP announced that two others, Chen Shi and Ben Yalow, were also censured for “actions of the Hugo Administration Committee of the Chengdu Worldcon [they] presided over.” The statement adds that there “may be other actions taken or to be taken that are not in this announcement.” Yalow, who co-chaired the Chengdu Worldcon with Shi, is no longer listed on the 2024 Glasgow Worldcon committee and staff page.

“WIP takes very seriously the recent complaints about the 2023 Hugo Award process,” the statement reads, “and complaints about comments made by persons holding official positions in WIP.”

The Hugo Awards are the most prestigious honors in the sci-fi/fantasy community. The awards, administered by the World Science Fiction Society, are awarded annually at the group’s global convention, Worldcon. Last year’s Worldcon was held for the first time in China, in Chengdu.

The resignations and disciplinary actions come after the nomination data for the 2023 awards was made public on January 20 and it was revealed that certain authors and books—including R.F. Kuang’s hit novel Babel—had been inexplicably deemed “not eligible” for the Hugo. Kuang is Chinese American, and her work draws heavily from Chinese culture and history. Many fans and authors have speculated that state censorship—or self-censorship under the state’s watch—was the reason for the opaque ineligibility rulings by the Chengdu–based committee.

Also deemed ineligible were Chinese Canadian author Xiran Jay Zhao, whose book Iron Widow is about China’s only female emperor, and writer Paul Weimer, who expressed concerns in 2021 over holding Worldcon 2023 in Chengdu.

In response to the outcry, McCarty took to Facebook on January 20 and attempted (sometimes curtly) to address hundreds of comments from angered authors, including Neil Gaiman and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. An episode of Netflix’s TV series The Sandman, based on Gaiman’s comic series, was also declared ineligible.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Censoring Imagination: Why Prisons Ban Fantasy and Science Fiction

From The Literary Hub:

In 2009 I was working with the prison book program in Asheville, North Carolina when I got a request for shapeshifting. I was shocked and thought it was funny, until I came to realize esoteric interests like this are common with incarcerated people.

Incarceration removes people from friends and family. Most are unsure of when they will be released, and inside prisons people aren’t supposed to touch each other, talk in private or share belongings. Perhaps this is why literature on magic, fantasy and esoteric ideas like alchemy and shapeshifting are so popular with incarcerated people.

When deprived of human intimacy and other avenues for creating meaning out of life, escapist thought provides perhaps a necessary release, without which a potentially crushing realism would extinguish all hope and make continued living near impossible. Many incarcerated people, potentially with decades of time to do ahead of them, escape through ideas.

Which is why it’s especially cruel that U.S. prisons ban magical literature. As PEN America’s new report Reading Between the Bars shows, books banned in prisons by some states dwarf all other book censorship in school and public libraries. Prison censorship robs those behind bars of everything from exercise and health to art and even yoga, often for reasons that strain credulity.

The strangest category of bans however, are the ones on magical and fantastical literature.

Looking through the lists of titles prison authorities have gone to the trouble of prohibiting people from reading you find Invisibility: Mastering the Art of Vanishing and Magic: An Occult Primer in Louisiana, Practical Mental Magic in Connecticut, all intriguingly for “safety and security reasons.” The Clavis or Key to the Magic of Solomon in Arizona, Maskim Hul Babylonian Magick in California. Nearly every state that has a list of banned titles contains books on magic.

Do carceral authorities believe that magic is real?

Courts affirm that magical thinking is dangerous. For example, the seventh circuit court upheld a ban on the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game for incarcerated people because prison authorities argued that such “fantasy role playing” creates “competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.”

A particularly strange example of banning magic can be seen on Louisiana’s censored list.

Fantasy Artist’s Pocket Reference contains explanations of traditional nonhuman beings like elves, fairies and the like. It also features drawings of these beings and some guidance on how to draw them using traditional or computer based art. The explanation for this book’s censorship on Louisiana’s banned list reads, “Sectarian content (promotion of Wicca) based on the connection of this type of literature and the murder of Capt. Knapps.” Captain Knapps was a corrections officer in the once plantation now prison, Angola in Louisiana. Knapps was killed in 1999 during an uprising that the New York Times attributed to the successful negotiation of other incarcerated people for their deportation to Cuba at a different facility in Louisiana prior that year. It is unclear how this incident is linked in the minds of the mailroom staff with Wicca or this book—which is a broad fantasy text and not Wiccan per se. (Prison mailrooms are where censorship decisions are—at least initially—made).

As confused as this example is, what is clear is that these seemingly disparate links are understood by others within the Louisiana Department of Corrections since Captain Knapps’ death continues to be cited as rationale for why fantasy books are not allowed.

Is the banning of fantastical literature in prisons just carceral paranoia—or it is indicative of a larger cultural attitude that simultaneously denigrates and fears imagination? After all, prisons are part of U.S. culture which, despite a thriving culture industry that trafficks in magic and fantasy, nonetheless degrades it as lesser than realism. We see this most clearly in the literary designation of high literature as realist fiction and genre fiction like science fiction, Afrofuturism, magical realism as not as serious.

Magic’s status as deception and unreality is a relatively recent invention. Like the prison itself, it is a reform of older conceptions. In Chaucer’s time and place, ‘magic’ was a field of study. For example, in The Canterbury Tales, written in 1392, he writes, “He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel/ In houres, by his magyk natureel” when speaking about a doctor whose knowledge of plants was medicinal. Magic was connected to knowledge in Chaucer’s mind because of its connection with the Neoplatonic tradition, which acknowledged the limits of human knowledge. The known and the unknown were in a kind of relationship.

However, the Oxford English Dictionary notes, “Subsequently, with the spread of rationalistic and scientific explanations of the natural world in the West, the status of magic has declined.” Beginning with OED entries from the 1600s, “magic” becomes a term to designate manipulation of an evil kind.

At this time in Europe and its settler colonies, ‘magic’ became applied to a huge variety of practices increasingly seen as pernicious, from healing with herbs to rituals associated with nature spirit figures, like the Green Man and fairies, to astrology and divination. The diverse practices popularly labeled ‘magical’ were lumped together only through their association with intentional deception, superstition and error.

Writers like Ursula Le Guin have gone to great lengths to contest the supposedly firm divide between magic and reality. She argues that imagination is eminently practical and necessary:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.

For Le Guin, rejecting imagination is the ultimate collapse of the human social project.

Joan Didion’s conception of magical thinking as escapism is not far from this. The imagination that allows us mental respite from trauma is a bedfellow to the imagination that envisions our world unmoored to current conditions. There are so many issues that demand wild dreams to be addressed in more than shallow and inadequate ways.

It’s much simpler and less disruptive, of course, to deny dreams as unrealistic and to assert their danger. Imagination’s potential for disrupting systems already in place is clear. Those that cite this danger as a reason to foreclose imagination may even admit current systems imperfections yet, necessity. This may be the perspective of prison censorship of magical literature—commonly banned under the justification that these ideas are a “threat to security.”

Incarcerated readers say the censorship they experience oppresses their thoughts and intellectual freedoms. Leo Cardez says, “They [books] are how we escape, we cope, we learn, we grow…for many (too many) it is our sole companion.” Jason Centrone, incarcerated in Oregon, expresses exasperation with the mentality that sees magical thinking as threatening: “Or, lo! The material is riddled with survival skills, martial art maneuvers, knot-tying, tips on how to disappear—like this.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

‘Fourth Wing’ Publisher Vows to ‘Swiftly’ Resolve ‘Frustrating’ Misprint Issues With Sequel ‘Iron Flame’: ‘We Are Committed to Making This Right’

From Variety:

The publisher of best-selling romantasy book “Fourth Wing” is working to “swiftly” resolve the “frustrating” misprint issues with “Iron Flame,” the sequel from author Rebecca Yarros, which sold more than half a million copies on its Tuesday release day alone.

Entangled Publishing, the owner of Red Tower Books, the imprint behind “Fourth Wing” and “Iron Flame” issued a statement to Variety on Friday, following numerous social media posts and online customer reviews that cited misprints with physical hardback copies of “Iron Flame,” as well as the new holiday edition of “Fourth Wing,” both released Nov. 7.

“Entangled Publishing acknowledges that a limited number of copies from the first edition print run of Iron Flame, the highly anticipated sequel to Fourth Wing, have been affected by printing errors,” the statement reads. “We know that these misprints, no matter how common in the industry, have caused disappointment among those who eagerly awaited this release. We understand how frustrating it can be to receive a misprinted book. The satisfaction and joy of our readers is at the heart of what we do, and we stand by our products, our authors, and, most importantly, our reading community.

“In keeping with our values of quality and responsibility, we are committed to making this right. We are actively working with our distribution partner to create a solution for those who wish to exchange their copy but are unable to do so at their original retailer. Our printing company is also working to produce the additional copies needed to facilitate this process. Entangled Publishing appreciates the patience and support of our readers as we work to swiftly resolve this issue. More details will be available on our social media platforms in the coming weeks. Thank you for your continued trust, enthusiasm for Iron Flame, and the incredible stories we share.”

According to several videos posted on TikTok, customers found damaged and bleeding sprayed book edges, typos, missing pages, and upside down pages and endpapers in certain copies of “Iron Flame” and the special printing of “Fourth Wing.” One user shared a video that showed her copy of “Iron Flame” said “Fourth Wing” on the spine of the book, underneath an “Iron Flame” dust jacket, but did in fact contain the printed pages for the 640-page sequel book, not “Fourth Wing.”

“Iron Flame” is Yarros’ follow-up to “Fourth Wing,” her New York Times best-selling romantasy that was released in May by Entangled Publishing’s Red Tower Books. “Fourth Wing” introduced Violet Sorrengail, a first-year student at Basgiath War College who became a dragon rider after training her whole life as a scribe, a more peaceful calling.

Link to the rest at Variety

Thank goodness Ms. Yarros used a traditional publisher who deploys armies of editors and proofreaders to make certain readers always receive high-quality products for the prices they pay, unlike the scummy self-published authors who don’t offer the protections that professional editorial and quality-control procedures provide.

We Don’t Talk About Harry Potter

From Publishers Weekly:

Wands. Witches. Wizards. Platform 9 and ¾. Diagon Alley. Dumbledore and Voldemort. We know this world well. In late September, even the Empire State building lit up in Ravenclaw blue, Gryffindor red, Hufflepuff yellow, and Slytherin green to celebrate 25 years of Harry Potter in the U.S. The shadow of Hogwarts looms like the eye of Sauron, eclipsing (and burning) anyone who came before and after Harry. J.K. Rowling and her world have become the ultimate measuring stick for fantasy writers in the middle grade space—and even beyond. Reviews are often littered with comparisons. Readers make conclusions and connections between your work and hers (even *gasp* when they aren’t there). The media loves to anoint new, debut authors as the “next J.K. Rowling” to position their work in the market and try to siphon some of her publicity magic. Shorthands develop to sell the book using hers as the benchmark—“if you like Harry Potter, then you’ll love this book”—often reinforcing the parallels.

I’ve tried hard to not mention her books and her world. I want to be able to speak about The Marvellers and The Memory Thieves, the first two books in my new series about a global magic school in the sky, the Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors, without having to be interrogated about her work at every turn. I want to discuss all that my magical universe has to offer—the future of magic school where every kid gets an invitation. But Harry, Hogwarts, and Rowling always seem to find me no matter what I do or don’t do. Every time I talk about my own books and the Conjureverse, nice, well-meaning people ask me if I wrote this series to be in conversation with her or as some sort of Potterhead nod to her work or as some sort of love letter. The not-so-nice people believe I’m ripping her off or trying to make a “woke” Hogwarts or worse… that I’m challenging her legacy and stealing her ideas. It is difficult to make peace with my work being swallowed by the black hole of Hogwarts. All of these challenges would be enough to grapple with, but the author’s recent commitment to transphobia and harm adds a new dimension.

Nothing is original, however, J.K. Rowling’s fandom believes that the series is the first of its kind. The Hogwarts delusion is so strong many have forgotten several Hogwarts predecessors like Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch from 1974, set at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches; Jane Yolen’s Wizard’s Hall from 1991; Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform Thirteen from 1994; and more. These are the magic school books I encountered as a young reader. These are the magic schools that lived in my imagination. These are the worlds I was searching for myself in and not finding what I was looking for.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Expanding on The Expanse

From Book View Cafe:

Fantasy has its Game of Thrones. Science fiction has its The Expanse.

. . . .

Game of Thrones was the TV adaptation of a successful set of novels. (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.) The Expanse was the TV adaptation of the series of equally successful novels and other works by James S. A. Corey. Both deal with cultural conflict and war. Both have “magic”—actual magic in Game of Thrones. Alien technology that defies known physics in the case of The Expanse.

They are quite different in their characters. While there are rough characters in The Expanse, nothing compares to the unnatural evil that works its will in Game of Thrones. You’ll find genocide and child endangerment in The Expanse but you get incestuous murder in Game of Thrones.

While I am an SF writer the more important thing in this discussion is that I’m an SF reader. I’m much more drawn to alien tropes than dragons. Less drawn to monarchies than autocrats. So, I’ll talk about The Expanse here rather than Game of Thrones. Besides, I haven’t read the Martin books.

The Expanse is brilliant television and a set of excellent novels but both are flawed in interesting ways. Those flaws reflect curious writing decisions.

Note: I will be discussing things that happen in the books so if you’re spoiler-sensitive, don’t read any further.

The prose Expanse consists of nine novels and a few stories and novellas. In its future, the solar system has been opened to humanity by an incredibly efficient and powerful propulsion known as the Epstein Drive. This has divided humanity into three distinct groups: those from Earth, those from Mars, and those that live in the free space and moons of the solar system known collectively as the Belt. Those that live in the Belt are called Belters.

Mars is independent and on a continuous war footing with Earth since Earth has never really given up its hold on Mars. Think Britain and the US in the eighteen-hundreds. Mars is technologically superior to Earth but cannot match Earth’s industrial base. The ships of Mars are better but Earth has more of them. Neither much values the Belt.

The third is the growth and eventual factionalization of some Belters into terrorists. It is absolutely clear that Belters are an oppressed people in The Expanse. The Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) purports to represent the Belters but is, itself, divided. Some factions of the OPA are terrorists. Others want political autonomy. Think Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA.)

Any work with such grand themes needs lots and lots of characters to carry out the work. The novels have lots of point-of-view characters—one has fifteen.

The first book brings out the characters and ends with Eros crashing into Venus. The second book plays out the war footing that happens between Mars and Earth and the unscrupulous scientists building human/protomolecule hybrids. It ends with whatever the protomolecule has built on Venus launching into space. Book three begins after the Venus structure has moved out beyond the orbit of Uranus and reshaped into a ring structure. This is the book where the Belt begins to really make its presence known as a political entity as each of the players—Earth, Mars, and the Belt—are interested in figuring out the benefits of the ring. This is when the protomolecule reveals its agenda: it is intended to build connections to all of the other ring structures built by ancient aliens. Now, the solar system is part of a vast network of planets.

Book 4 explores how this new real estate affects the political stability of the solar system. Who is in control? It also personifies the protomolecule in its search for its creators. The protomolecule is not conscious but it is intelligent. Its purpose is to serve those that created it but it can’t find them. It does not succeed.

Book 5 involves exploring what is going on with the rest of the solar system through the eyes of the main characters. This book also shows the coalescence of some Belters into a military organization—the Free Navy. The Free Navy drops large asteroids onto Earth, decimating large swaths of land and population, and ultimately encamps just outside of the protomolecule ring, preventing anyone from using the new real estate. Book 6 involves the resolution of all of the threads in the previous books. The Free Navy is defeated but the Belt is now in charge of the Ring.

Books 7-9 take place some thirty years after the end of book 6 and have little direct impact on the events of the first six books. I’m not going to directly talk about them.

This is a large work. It has many, many characters. Some characters come into prominence and then fade out. Some stay the course for most of the books. Some appear for a particular scene and then are never heard from again.

In most cases, talking about the books is the same as talking about the show since the show closely follows the book. Issues of one are replicated in the other.

One decision—perhaps a flaw—is the way these characters appear, have a major impact, and then are never heard from or thought of again. One of the main characters is Naomi Nagata, the engineer of the Rocinante. She is a through character from day one all the way to the end. About halfway through the series, we discover that she had been a member of a violent OPA faction, had a son with its leader, and then left the faction and necessarily the son. It is represented in the work that she thought of the son often.

The son, Filip, shows up in the latter books as an important opposing character. Whole sections of the work involve the conflict between Filip and Naomi. Then, at a crucial juncture, Filip leaves the conflict and is never heard from again. In later books, he is never mentioned. Naomi doesn’t think about him. He never seeks her out. He has disappeared.

This is a continuing pattern: characters or events are important at the time but their reverberation across the work is severely limited.

Link to the rest at Book View Cafe and thanks to L. for the tip.

UPDATE: PG linked to the wrong book during an earlier edition of this post. He just learned about his mistake from a visitor to TPV who sent him an email.He believes he has fixed that error now.

PG apologizes to James S.A. Corey and his many readers for his error.

Fourth Wing

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

f you are even remotely on bookish social media, then you are aware of Fourth Wing. It’s been much-hyped and sold out and everywhere I look online there are rave reviews for this YA-fantasy-romance.

I am not here to yuck anyone’s yum. If you read Fourth Wing and you loved it, I am totally happy for you. I want people to love what they read.

This was not a book that worked for me, though, and I suspect I’m probably not the only one who didn’t love it. I made it about 45% of the way though before I finally decided this was just going to be a slog for me and I gave up.

There were two main reasons I could not get interested in this book 

  1. The fantasy archetypes and tropes at work in the plot, and  
  2. The pacing

Fourth Wing is set in a fantasy world where the country of Navarre protects its borders with an elite army of dragon riders. When they are approximately of real-world college age, the young people of Navarre enter one of four quadrants in order to serve their country. Violet Sorrengail is small and accident prone, and by all accounts should enter the Scribe Quadrant. Instead, Violet’s mother, a general, sends her to the Rider’s Quadrant where she’ll probably be killed before graduation (side note: Violet’s mom is not great).

If Violet survives her time at the War College she will hopefully be selected by a dragon to be its bonded rider. 

I don’t fully understand why the War College is so invested in killing off its cadets (or having them kill each other). Fratricide is openly welcomed in order to weed out the “weak” recruits. At the same time we’re reminded frequently that there are fewer riders and fewer dragons every year, and I believe this is definitely a case of causation, not correlation. Also don’t they need people for other jobs? Who makes lunch? 

Violet shouldn’t be in the Rider Quadrant. She’s very academic and would have excelled as a scribe, like her father. It would appear that everyone in the Rider Quadrant knows this, and multiple people offer to help her find a way to get out and get over to the Scribe’s where, frankly, things sound a lot better. Violet refuses on the grounds that her mom would find a way to send her back (why?) and because she stubbornly wants to prove She Can Do It (why?).

. . . .

Sometimes, in the real world, you cannot do the thing even though you really believe in yourself. I have a friend who convinced herself she could accomplish a Tough Mudder through the power of belief and positive thinking, and then she broke some ribs. 

Cadet training involves something like the balance beam from hell as well as a Ninja Warrior course, all while the other cadets are trying to murder you. Somehow Violet makes it through, mostly because she’s clearly The Chosen One.

The Chosen One is a trope seen often in YA fantasy and it doesn’t really work for me. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it; it’s just not a trope I particularly enjoy and this book relies heavily on it. For me The Chosen One trope allows the reader to accept that the heroine is somehow more special than her peers without actually doing much to prove it. In Violet’s case she’s clever and brave (if foolishly so IMO) but so are a lot of the other cadets. Violet even has the special hair (the ends are always silver regardless of how short she cuts it) that indicates a The Chosen One heroine. She won’t give up, she has fun hair, and two hot guys like her so she must be our heroine, I guess. 

The first half of the book is a boarding school book meets Hunger Games where alliances are formed, Violet injures herself a lot, and well meaning people worry after her, but she is determined to prove her mother wrong even though she hates it and will probably die anyway. It really crawled for me, probably because the stakes seemed so ridiculous that I didn’t care that much anyway. I mean, her first day of school is walking the balance beam of death while the guy behind her tries to stab her, and that’s a level of intensity I’m just not here for. 

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

PG notes that an author can’t satisfy everyone. The author of Fourth Wing, Rebecca Yarrows, is a multi-NYT bestseller. When PG posted this, the book had an average of 4.8 stars on Amazon with almost 100,000 ratings and 4.7 stars on Goodreads with well over a half-million ratings.

How Science Fiction Informs the Future of Innovation

From Automation Alley:

The remarkably prophetic capacity of humans to imagine and harness the future has shaped the evolution of humankind. Straight-line extrapolations and nonlinear predictions based on present-day facts have helped civilization discover mesmerizing technologies first described in science fiction novels and cinematic features from bygone eras. Therein we encounter thought-provoking ideas similar to the innovative products that we take for granted today.  

Historically, creative writers and movie directors have had an innate talent to envisage the future rapidly accelerating toward us. Even comic book writers introduced Dick Tracy’s 2-way wrist radio in 1946 that mirrors our indispensable Apple smart watches. When The Jetsons premiered in 1962, they foresaw flat screen televisions, video calls, drones, holograms, flying taxis, and digital newspapers. The moon landing in 1969 was loosely divined in From the Earth to the Moon published in 1865. With uncanny accuracy, the book’s author described astronauts in an aluminum capsule being launched into space from Florida. In 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer conjured the World Wide Web, hacking, and virtual reality. Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion depicts a quick spreading worldwide virus that enlightened the World Health Organization to declare Covid-19 a pandemic nine years later.  

. . . .

Consequently, business and industry strategists and public policymakers have increasingly looked to science fiction to see what lies ahead of the curve in a reimagined world. For example, the Financial Times recently described how defense establishments worldwide use visionaries to prognosticate the future of warfare based on fictional intelligence. Some of their predictions are captured in Stories From Tomorrow, published by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. Applying “useful fiction” (admittedly with non-fiction embedded within the author’s story telling), this compendium of eight narratives sparked interesting insights about tomorrow’s revolutionary technologies. Unlike WarGames, the folly of war was not one of them.  

Instead, the authors explore how theoretical quantum computing can render sophisticated cyber defense systems, digital electronic communications, and supercomputers utterly defenseless to a future enemy attack. Current countermeasures such as artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms, and encryption methods are yet no match for a quantum apocalypse — unless the wizards at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have something up their sleeve. The increasing automation of the world’s military includes carrier air fleets driven by AI-enabled aerial vehicles within the next decade. The U.S. Navy recently took delivery of an unmanned, fully autonomous warship that can remain at sea for up to 30 days.  

. . . .

Based on their raw computational power, quantum computing may deliver solutions to the world’s most pressing problems including income disparity, poverty, climate change, and disease prevention. Stories From Tomorrow also focus on data models powered by AI and machine learning tools that can produce digital twins capable of simulating real-time counterparts of physical objects, processes, entities, and even humans. These forward-looking models can “simulate everything from business ecosystems, military campaigns, and even entire countries, allowing deeper understanding as well as potential manipulation.”  In Virtual You: How Building Your Digital Twin Will Revolutionize Medicine, authors Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield explain how scientists have brought glimmers of hope to digitalizing identical copies of people (commonly referred to as doppelgangers) to trigger early detection of disease. Akin to a parallel universe, it allows doctors to prescribe custom-made medical protocols based on a patient’s chemical, electrical, and mechanical systems.  

Medicine has already sequenced DNA, mapped out the human genome, edited genes, and created stem cells in ways that allow for personalized medicine to mitigate symptoms and eliminate potential ailments in their preliminary stages by drilling down to their cellular level (think nanomedicine). Imagine fabricating molecular proteins based on a patient’s genetic code and identifying biomarkers to accelerate the speed of targeted drug delivery systems to counter Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The moral quandary and ethical catch-22 surrounding the manipulation of embryonic fetal cells in the quest for genetic perfection is a bit dystopian and reminiscent of historical attempts at racial superiority. The dangers of genome editing were the basis for the science fiction thriller Gattaca (1997) where human sperm and embryos were manipulated in a laboratory using technology like the modern-day CRISPR. Even more disconcerting is the ability of nation-states to create deadly pathogens and other biological agents aimed at a specific ethnic group or race of people.  

The blinding pace of scientific discovery significantly compresses time, making it difficult for humans to absorb and make sense of it all given our limits of cognition. “Biological evolution happens over thousands of years, but [the] digital evolution has occurred in less than one generation,” according to Professor Roy Altman of NYU. Compare and contrast this to The First Industrial Revolution in 1765-1869 (characterized by mechanization and steam power) and the Second Industrial Revolution in 1870-1968 (e.g., new energy sources, internal combustion engines, airplanes, telegraph, and telephone). Both had one-hundred-year runways to gradually diffuse and allow people to slowly adapt and accept the pace of change.  

Conversely, The Third Industrial Revolution was condensed to forty-one-years (1969-2010) with the advent of computers, the Internet, 4G, automation and robotics, space expeditions, and biotechnology. These force multipliers set the stage for The Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 as coined by Germany in 2010. Here we have seen in a matter of just thirteen years a dazzling array of co-dependent technologies working together to digitalize the world economy with a software-first approach to manufacturing. This represents a major transformation from traditional manufacturing because today a product’s hardware and software (i.e., sensors) are inextricably intertwined and indistinguishable from one another.  

Many of our solutions to historical challenges beget new challenges requiring more creative solutions. Despite increasing world living standards, industrial revolutions have had disastrous effects on air and water quality that now require environmental remediation. Weapon systems designed to protect us can also destroy us, and lead to our very extinction. Computers and the internet have made us vulnerable to cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, intellectual property, and financial systems. The point here is that rarely do novel ideas arrive completely formed and readily applied to everyday life without unseen implications down the road. Yet, this is the essence of progress.

. . . .

You do not have to be a registered technophobe to observe how the tectonic plates of fictional worlds versus the one we inhabit are rubbing up against one another. Look no further than how AI aided by machine learning can assign inanimate objects with sentient qualities capable of human emotions and free will. This blurs the line between humans and machines. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, a prophet of both techno-doom and salvation, points out the concept of singularity where science and technology outstrips human intelligence. This phenomenon could place human reason and decision making at the mercy of metadata and computer chips.  

Link to the rest at Automation Alley

What are the most common features of best-selling science fiction novels?

From chat.openai.com:

Query: What are the most common features of best-selling science fiction novels?

Response:

While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating a best-selling science fiction novel, there are certain common features and elements that tend to be found in many successful works in the genre. Keep in mind that the popularity of specific themes and features can change over time, and what works in one era may not work in another. However, as of my last knowledge update in September 2021, here are some common features of best-selling science fiction novels:

  1. Speculative Concepts: Science fiction often explores speculative and futuristic concepts, such as advanced technology, space exploration, time travel, and alternate realities. Best-sellers often introduce innovative or thought-provoking ideas in these areas.
  2. Engaging World-Building: Successful science fiction novels create immersive and well-developed worlds or universes that feel both plausible and captivating to readers. This includes detailed descriptions of settings, cultures, and societies.
  3. Complex Characters: Best-selling science fiction novels feature compelling and multi-dimensional characters who undergo personal growth and development. Readers should be able to relate to or sympathize with these characters.
  4. Themes and Social Commentary: Many great science fiction works address social, political, or philosophical issues through allegory or metaphor. They provide commentary on real-world problems, such as inequality, authoritarianism, environmental issues, or the consequences of technological advancements.
  5. Technological Advancements: Science and technology play a central role in many science fiction stories. This can involve futuristic inventions, artificial intelligence, cyborgs, or advanced scientific concepts. The portrayal of technology should be both imaginative and thought-provoking.
  6. Conflict and Tension: A strong plot with well-defined conflicts and tensions is crucial. This could involve external threats (alien invasions, space battles) or internal struggles (ethical dilemmas, personal choices).
  7. Unique Premises: Best-sellers often stand out with unique and original premises or twists on familiar concepts. They take risks and avoid clichés.
  8. Emotional Resonance: Successful science fiction novels evoke emotions and create a connection with readers. They can be thrilling, poignant, awe-inspiring, or intellectually stimulating.
  9. Page-Turning Plot: A gripping and well-paced plot keeps readers engaged and eager to turn the next page. Cliffhangers and unexpected twists can be effective tools.
  10. Diverse Perspectives: Many contemporary best-selling science fiction novels feature diverse casts of characters and viewpoints. They reflect a more inclusive and representative vision of the future.
  11. Well-Researched Science: While science fiction often bends the rules of science for the sake of storytelling, incorporating accurate scientific principles and research can lend credibility to the narrative.
  12. Societal Impact: Some of the most memorable science fiction novels explore how technological or societal changes affect individuals and society as a whole. They delve into the consequences of scientific and technological advancements.
  13. Memorable Imagery: Vivid and imaginative descriptions create lasting images in readers’ minds, contributing to the lasting impact of the story.

It’s important to note that while these features are common in best-selling science fiction novels, successful authors often find ways to blend and subvert these elements to create fresh and innovative stories. The science fiction genre is known for its diversity and adaptability, so aspiring authors should feel free to experiment and push the boundaries of traditional conventions.

Source: https://chat.openai.com/

Your Writing Superpower in a World of AI

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

I’ve been concerned about various threats from artificial intelligence for several years — threats to the economy, threats to our civil society, and even threats to human existence. I became even more alarmed about artificial intelligence when I discovered that AI systems are chronic, pathological liars.

In early 2023, I began using a “large language model” artificial intelligence system to research a nonfiction book project. It didn’t take long to discover that the AI was giving me wildly inaccurate information, again and again. I asked for citations and sources for the information it gave me—and it offered up authors, book titles, and web addresses that didn’t exist. I asked for quotations from specific scientists. The AI made up quotations the scientists had never said — and which sometimes contradicted their actual views.

When I pointed out these errors to the AI system, it admitted its mistakes, apologized for the “inconvenience”— then proceeded to dispense more misinformation. I later learned that AI developers see this behavior all the time. They have a name for it: “hallucinations.”

I found these interactions disturbing. They reminded me of the deviousness of HAL 9000 in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wondered: Why do AI systems lie?

So I was inspired to write a novel about the AI extinction threat. I conceived it as a science fiction suspense tale with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. The novel took five weeks to write, and it was published in June 2023 as Its Name Is Legion: A Human Novel about Artificial Intelligence.

. . . .

As I pondered the possibilities, I found myself waking up several mornings in a row before dawn, my head was swimming with ideas. On February 19, 2023, I woke up at 5:40 and knew that I had to start writing.

That day, I produced 2,000 words, a good down-payment on Chapter 1. I wrote in my journal, “This book won’t let me sleep! It’s off to a good start. I’ve never begun a project with so much confidence.”

The next day, I finished Chapter 1 and launched into Chapter 2, a total of 3,100 words. I journaled, “Speed is increasing. A good sign.”

I completed the first draft on March 25, 2023, exactly five weeks after I began. It was not a long novel, about 50,000 words. But I felt inspired and energized the whole time.

Though I used to be an outliner, in recent years I’ve followed the wisdom of Ray Bradbury: “I’ve never been in charge of my stories, they’ve always been in charge of me. . . . Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Most Iconic Fantasy Characters Ever

From BookRiot:

Hey, you. You’re finally awake…and just in time to read about the most iconic fantasy characters we’ve ever been graced with. Buckle in for some good old nostalgia as I walk you down memory lane to honor these fantasy greats.

What makes a fantasy character iconic? Seriously, I’m asking. Is it the instant name recognition of a Frodo Baggins or a Kvothe? The epic story of a Fang Runin or a Queen Talyien? The memeability of a Tyrion “I Drink and I Know Things” Lannister or a Cloud “Did Sephiroth… Do This” Strife?

That’s a really roundabout way of saying that each of the characters on this list is iconic for a different reason. Many owe their icon status to a non-book medium, such as a TV or movie series. One or two have never been in books at all, but have still managed to leave a lasting impression on nerd culture — and likely inspired a fun literary homage or two in the process.

As you might imagine, these aren’t necessarily the strongest, smartest, or most beloved characters out there. This isn’t a contest to see who would win in a fight. It’s about who has reached True Icon Status™…whatever that means.

Below, the most iconic fantasy characters of all time.

. . . .

Bilbo

Speaking of delighting fantasy fans for decades, let’s talk about Bilbo Baggins. The hero — and original author — of The Hobbit first appeared in print during the Great Depression, making him the oldest character on this list by far. A lot of us slept on Bilbo for too long, but honestly? This ambivert is totes relatable, and his penchant for pragmatism makes him a truly wonderful — and devious — fantasy icon.

. . . .

Falkor

OK, let’s be honest: who didn’t want to take a ride on Falkor’s back after watching The Neverending Story as a kid? Fans who haven’t had the chance to read Michael Ende’s 1979 novel will be happy to learn that the only Luck Dragon in existence is just as delightful in the original book, where he’s known as Fuchur. So here’s to Falkor — for inspiring our dreams and helping us believe in luck for close to 50 years.

. . . .

Inigo Montoya

The entire cast of The Princess Bride is utterly iconic, but Inigo Montoya has the fantasy icon trifecta: determination, a tortured backstory, and kickass sword skills. Then there’s actor Mandy Patinkin’s signature line from the 1984 film — “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” — which is equal parts memorable and memeable. 10/10. No notes.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Book Family Tree: A New Way to Think About Your Book

From Jane Friedman:

Choosing good comparable titles can be a brain-busting challenge for many writers. Comps let agents and publishers know where your book fits in the marketplace, and they’re helpful in crafting a publicity strategy. But it can be hard to find books that feel like an exact match, especially if you’re writing fiction and your novel doesn’t fit neatly into genre categories.

That was the case with Shaken Loose, my debut fantasy novel set in an unjust and unraveling Hell. During the long march to its recent publication, I came up with the idea of a Book Family Tree—an exercise that helped me better understand my own book and where it fit in the world.

It was not only enlightening but fun! So I made a free template that allows other writers to easily create family trees for their own books.

But first, some background.

While querying agents and publishers, I spent countless hours brainstorming potential comps while never feeling that any single one was a perfect match. Shaken Loose challenges organized religion like The Golden Compass, but it doesn’t have that book’s epic sweep; it features nuanced characters with existential dilemmas like The Golem and The Jinni but it isn’t historical fantasy. The landscape and backstory of its Hell are modeled on Paradise Lost, but clearly a 350-year-old poem isn’t a useful comp.

My book had an identity crisis. Or maybe the crisis was mine: I didn’t know where it belonged.

I’m a genealogy hobbyist as well as a writer, so I started playing around with the idea of creating a family tree for my book. If Shaken Loose had parents, who would they be? How about its grandparents? Its cousins?

This turned out to be a great deal of fun. It helped me think more broadly about the influences on my book and identify works that might not be an exact match but were still related.

With a family tree, I could list Paradise Lost as a grandparent—part of my book’s DNA, a foundational influence although vastly different in structure, perspective, and style. As parents, I chose an extremely odd couple—The Wizard of Oz and The Road—that expressed the book’s upbeat “quest for home” plot but also its vein of gritty darkness.

The “cousin” part of the tree was where I placed books that were actual comp candidates—recent upmarket fantasy like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This was a reassuring way for me to think about comps: Cousins share a lot of traits, but no one expects them to be as similar as siblings. Certainly no one expects them to be identical twins.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Best Fantasy Book Covers Of 2023: 7 Tips To Inspire

From The Book Designer:

The best fantasy book covers of 2023 are in and they are spell-binding. Book covers are one of the first key factors that either draw readers in or turn them away. Because of this, it’s crucial to get them right.

While we’ve all likely been told not to judge a book by its cover, the truth is, most of us probably do. That’s why today we are looking at the best fantasy book covers of 2023.

I discuss the various aspects that go into a standout cover design, seven of the covers that particularly stand out from 2023, and how you can use these gorgeous designs to inspire your own.

Whether you choose to traditionally publish your book and hope to have some part in the book design process, or choose to self-publish your novel and will design it yourself, you can learn from these tips. The best fantasy book covers of 2023 cover a variety of sub-genres.

But don’t forget, no matter what genre you write, there are always takeaways from authors who design well. Fantastical elements will appear more otherworldly, as they should, but each cover below depicts a level of familiarity that draws readers in.

I shouldn’t get ahead of myself though! Let’s lay the foundation as to why fantasy covers matter, and then dive in to discussing some of the best fantasy book covers of 2023.

7 Best Fantasy Book Covers Of 2023: Design And Inspiration

Your story’s plot plays a tremendous role in the type of cover you design. If your fantasy is a space opera and centers on a love triangle, you should use different fonts and colors than if you write a dark, medieval fantasy. Notice how plot plays a role in seven of the best fantasy book covers of 2023. 

#1 – Path of the Dragon: An Arthurian Fairytale Retelling

Jason Hamilton released his novel, Path of the Dragon, in April of 2023. He sets his story in sixth century England and casts Princess Una as his 18-year-old protagonist, fighting for a feeling of safety. The sole survivor of a dragon attack, the story centers on her treacherous journey to restore her stronghold. 

His cover features a golden emblem in the shape of a dragon, with the background completely black. Flecks of glowing green add life to what feels like a daunting story. 

#2 – The Terraformers

This futuristic epic by Annalee Newitz is the story of Destry. Her focus takes a dramatic shift when she discovers an entire people group previously unknown to her—living inside a volcano. Questions arise as she pursues the truth of their existence and her own. 

The cover features a futuristic city filling the entire right half of the cover and a vertical, not horizontal, title. The left half of the cover shows a river that dumps into a lake…leading to a volcano. Without even reading the back cover copy you’re likely to have a great idea of this book’s story. 

#3 – Star Bringer

Written by Tracy Wolff and Nina Croft, this new release is a futuristic fantasy set in a dystopian world. Filled with aliens, a dying sun, and tasked with saving the universe…seven surprising heroes, better known as misfits, must step up to the challenge. 

A soft, violet-blue and pink color palette are the feature colors of this third title in the best fantasy book covers of 2023. Space often feels blue, ethereal, and enthralling, and this cover communicates each of these aspects meticulously. 

#4 – Untethered Sky

Brought to you by award-winning author Fonda Lee, this fantasy fable stars Ester. Ester is a girl who’s been orphaned by her mother’s death and haunted by her baby brother’s murder. Her life takes a new focus—killing the monsters who killed everyone in her family, except her father. 

Fables are known for telling important tales throughout history, and this cover looks like it was taken right out of the time period itself. Neutral colors and a watercolor like image of Ester, with a massive bird above her, make you want to immediately open to page one.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

The 10 Best Artificial Intelligence Films, Ranked

From Movie Maker:

A.I. (or artificial intelligence) is everywhere, and movies have been warning us about its potential dangers for decades. With some of the wildest elements of sci-fi movies coming to virtual life before our eyes, we had no trouble thinking of most of the movies on this list of the 10 Best Films About A.I.

But, just in case our puny human brains forgot anything, we also asked ChatGPT for suggestions. And it remembered two very scary films we forget.

Here are the 10 Best Films About A.I., compiled with a little help from artificial intelligence,

10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Stanley Kubrick worked on A.I. Artificial Intelligence for two decades, inspired by the Brian Aldiss short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long.” When Kubrick died in 1999, Steven Spielberg took over. Spielberg’s film tells the story of David (Haley Joel Osment), a mecha who dreams of being a real boy — one of the films many nods to the story of Pinocchio.

. . . .

8. Her (2013)

A moving film that reflects the insidious ways technology seduces us. The golden voice of artificial intelligence entity Scarlett Johansson provides comfort and companionship to lonely Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), but he soon realizes he’s not as special as he seems.

. . . .

5. RoboCop (1987)

Perhaps the single most persuasive argument against the use of artificial intelligence in policing comes in the scene when the ED-209, the “enforcement droid” designed for “urban pacification,” gives a little demonstration of its supposed policing skills… and utterly annihilates a corporate suit volunteering to play an “arrest subject.”

The subject, Mr. Kinney, is given a gun to point at ED-209, which then politely orders him to drop the weapon — and gives him 20 seconds to comply. He does! He really does. But a growling ED-209 doesn’t see Mr. Kinney drop the gun, and goes way overboard in its handling of the situation.

Though RoboCop is first-rate satire, it also includes a little hope: RoboCop himself (Peter Weller) is a hero who uses technology, but is human at his core.

. . . .

3. The Matrix (1999)

As we mentioned: After writing up our own list of great films about A.I., we wondered if maybe we should get some A.I. input, just for fun. So we used ChatGPT to ask, “Make me a list of the 10 best films about A.I.”

It turns out we’d forgotten The Matrix, the Wachowskis’ magnificent predictor of our modern world, in which millions of people live online fantasies as their physical bodies languish in goo.

Perhaps disturbingly, ChatGPT also suggested the next film on this list.

2. The Terminator (1984)

Yep, ChatGPT’s second contribution to this list was another film about the machines taking over. (ChatGPT isn’t perfect, fortunately: It also suggested we add The Social Network, but we don’t think that’s primarily a movie about artificial intelligence per se, so we’re leaving it off. Because the robots aren’t in charge yet.)

James Cameron’s The Terminator has become endlessly parodied, and has spawned some bad sequels, which make it easy to forget that the original is absolutely brilliant, and terrifying. Terminator 2, of course, is the only great Terminator sequel, and one of the best sequels of all time.

Link to the rest at Movie Maker

Process for Fantasy World Building

From dyiMFA:

Let us begin with the very basic question: “What is world building?” If you are going to write fiction, every story needs a place to call home, where the action happens, where your characters live. This can be extraordinarily complex (as in the case of fantasy world building), or as simple as “the story takes place in the real world.” 

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing to remember is to stay consistent. If the story takes place in the real world, you do not have to deal with many of the complexities which arise in a fantasy story. 

It is when you are setting your story in another world that you need to be creative. This article deals with fantasy world building, although it can be used for almost any world building.

Where to Begin with World Building

I know building a new world is quite daunting for many people. Where to begin? Do I need to make maps? Do I need to create history, religions, political and economic systems? So many questions that need answers—Whew! Right? 

I have an acronym I use to start my personal process for building a new world: WHEW.

  • Who?
  • How?
  • Effects?
  • Why?

Each of these questions, when answered, makes up the basis of your world.

WHEW! Process for Fantasy World Building Explained

Who lives in your world?

The first question, the big question, I ask myself when I am building a new world, whether for a game campaign or for a story, is: Who lives there? 

Now you probably already have a good idea who the characters in your book will be, so that is your starting point. If you are writing a traditional epic fantasy, you may already have your book’s races in mind: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Haflings, etc. 

Your geography will probably be defined by where your races traditionally live. Elves live in the woods, Dwarves live underground, etc. This is not saying every elf is found in the forest and you will only find dwarves underground, but it is a starting point. 

If you wish to create a totally unique setting, then deciding who lives in your world will be a vital first step. If you want a story set on a water-world, then you need races which can cope with being wet. Aquatic elves, Mer-folk, etc. If you want your story to take place in a desert, then you definitely want people who can cope with the lack of water. 

Thus, deciding who lives in your story will set the basic parameters of your world.

How does your world work (magic, technology, etc.)?

How your world works is another point which needs to be decided early on, especially in fantasy world building. 

Is your world rich in magic? Or is it scarce and only available to a very few? How is it acquired? Are only some people born with the ability, or can anyone learn to cast spells? Is magic a force of mind or personality or is it a gift bestowed by the deities? Is there more than one kind of magic in your world? And what about magical objects? Does everyone and their brother carry a magic sword, or are they rare and only used by an occasional hero or villain? At what stage is technology in your world? Stone age or are there printing presses and mechanical clocks? Is some technology enhanced by magic? Or conversely, is some magic enhanced by technology?

How your world works gives you a basis to set up the systems your world needs to be a place where your story can happen. For example, if your world has an economy, then you need some kind of exchange system for goods and services. Is there money? Or is everything bartered? Does your world have civilization or is it pure barbaric savagery?

What effects make your world special and unique?

The hows spelled out above give cause for whatever effects you may wish to have. 

Is there a gold standard? If so, where does the gold come from? Only from Dwarven mines?

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

Love & Other Epic Adventures: Science Fiction Romance Books

From Book Riot:

I grew up on Star Wars, so you can imagine that science fiction, space fantasy, and science fiction romance have a special place in my heart. After all, what is Star Wars if not an epic science fiction love story? (Don’t try to fight me on this.) There’s just something about the combination of science fiction elements — you know, epic space battles, intergalactic political intrigue — and romance that work together to create the sense of a love story of epic proportions. Maybe it’s the grand scale of space or the stakes that are so often involved, with entire planets and civilizations dependent on the hero’s actions. Either way, I just can’t get enough.

But it seems like finding really good science fiction romance isn’t always as easy. Maybe it’s because I’m looking for that Han and Leia tier romance (see The Princess and the Scoundrel below) full of banter and complicated feelings and the highest of high stakes. When that’s your standard, it’s no wonder a lot of love stories fall short. But these 10 science fiction romance books (Han and Leia included) deliver on the feels in a big way, even if the stakes aren’t always quite as high as battling an evil empire.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

A pirate and a captured scavenger enter into a marriage of convenience in this gorgeous sci-fi romance. For Xích Si, this marriage will offer her the protection of the Red Banner, and in return, she agrees to help the mindship Rice Fish uncover who was behind the murder of her late wife, the Red Scholar. But though they both enter into this as nothing more than a business arrangement, their feelings for each other soon grow. As threats from both inside and outside of the pirate banners begin to circle, they must decide just how much they’re willing to give up to be with the ones who matter most.

The Red Scholar’s Wake is set in Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe, and while it can absolutely be read as a standalone, you might also enjoy the many other novellas, short stories, and novels set in this world of mind ships and vibrant Vietnamese and Chinese inspired cultures.

The Stars Undying by Emery Robin

Inspired by the lives of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, The Stars Undying tells the story of a princess who has lost everything to a civil war and the commander of an interstellar empire. If Gracia can win over Commander Matheus Ceirran and his right-hand officer, Anita, she might just be able to win back the throne and the computer containing the soul of the planet’s immortal god. But attempting to bed an Imperial commander is as dangerous as any battle, and if Gracia wants to regain her planet, she’ll have to become a queen the likes of which the universe has never seen before.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Diagnosing Dr. Fantasy

From Writer Unboxed:

If you’re a fan of epic fantasy or of Fantasy BookTube, our guest today will need no introduction. For the rest of you, Philip Chase is medievalist with a PhD in English Literature. He has taught courses on writing, medieval literature, and fantasy literature, among other things. His special interests include Old English, Old Norse, Middle English, nineteenth-century medievalism, comparative mythology, and fantasy. Other inspirations include time spent in places like Germany, the United Kingdom, Nepal, and the Northeast and Northwest of the United States.

Those of us who are fans of his eponymous YouTube channel, which is dedicated to exploring fantasy literature, have come to know him affectionately as Dr. Fantasy (after a regular segment on his channel). Many of us have also recently come to know him as the author of The Edan Trilogy, which begins with his recent debut, The Way of Edan. I was lucky enough to get an early chance to read, and I can tell you that his expertise and dedication shine through in every sentence of this wonderful book. I’m a fan twice over!

I also had the honor of hosting the discussion below, in an effort to ascertain the root causes—and lifelong consequences—of an affliction I share with today’s interviewee: a fervent love of fantasy. Please help me to welcome Dr. Fantasy himself, Philp Chase, to WU.

Vaughn Roycroft: You and I met in the comments of your YouTube channel. You’ve gained quite a large following there (rightfully so, in this fan’s humble opinion). Can you tell us your Fantasy BookTube origin story, and a bit about how running your channel fits into your writing life? It seems the channel has been a boon to the recent release of your debut. Did you have publication or platform-building in mind from the onset? How do you see the channel fitting into your career going forward?

began a little more than three years ago as an attempt to enhance a course I created and had been teaching for years at my college on fantasy literature. In the beginning, I imagined the channel as a forum where my students and I could exchange ideas on readings and on fantasy as a genre. I was completely ignorant of the community of book lovers on YouTube – I had no clue what a “TBR” or “tag video” was – but was delighted to find myself suddenly in the midst of so many people who love the genre that I believe is incredibly rich and deserving of critical exploration. My channel has always been part of the same passion that feeds my teaching, my reading, and my writing. It has turned out to be a lot of work to run a YouTube channel, but it rarely feels like work because of how much I enjoy reading and discussing fantasy literature and writing. Since I recently self-published the first book in a trilogy that I’ve been working on for more than 18 years, the channel has indeed become a boon for getting the word out. I would like to continue the conversations that take place on my channel within the “BookTube” community as a way to affirm my passion as a student of fantasy but also as a writer since it has become a wonderful way of interacting with my own readers. Most of all, I enjoy the meaningful friendships I have made while bonding over books on the platform.

VR: I can only imagine how much work goes into making your BookTube channel such a great resource, as well as a pleasure to watch. I often find myself marveling over it. If someone reading this was thinking of starting their own BookTube channel, what advice (or perhaps words of warning) might you offer them?

PC: Running a BookTube channel can be as time consuming as a full-time job, so it’s something that is, for me, fueled by passion for the subject. For a few people with large enough channels (much larger than mine), it is a full-time job. One key thing to know, I think, is that most (or all) of the things you can try to attract viewers and subscribers – to “grow your channel” – are things that take a lot of time and no small amount of determination. One example is putting out consistent content. Though I cannot claim deep familiarity with the mysterious algorithm, it’s common knowledge that regularity helps your views. Another example is the amount of content. In general, three videos per week will get more clicks and fuel more growth than one video per week. Yet another is putting production value into your videos, meaning lots of time spent editing and money spent buying nice equipment. And then there’s being responsive to folks who leave comments, which takes more time. And don’t forget thumbnails that grab people’s attention! You don’t have to do all these things, but I think you would have to do at least some of them very well to achieve a large following. That said, not everyone wants a large following. I’m on YouTube to exchange ideas about the fantasy genre and discuss books. Believe it or not, these are not the sexiest topics on the internet, and long form discussions (my favorite thing to do) are currently not in fashion, apparently. Deep analysis does not drive clicks. But I stick to that sort of thing anyway because it would be inauthentic — and likely a catastrophic failure — for me personally to make TikTok style videos.

VR: Your writing journey and mine are similar in that we’ve both written epic fantasy for a lengthy period, and have both completed several manuscripts in a series prior to publication. How long have you been writing your own fiction? Can you tell us why you chose fantasy, and what makes the genre special to you? I’ve noticed that several reviewers refer to your work as providing a fresh take on classic fantasy. Does that description match what you aimed to achieve? What advantages does the genre provide to what you’re seeking to accomplish in your storytelling?

PC: I feel like, rather than choosing fantasy, fantasy chose me. Or grabbed me and tossed me through a threshold into worlds of peril, beauty, and wonder. I haven’t felt much like returning ever since I wandered in the Shire, but of course fantasy also has much to say about our world and its struggles. When we return from imagined worlds to the one we inhabit, we often do so with a sense of clarity and new perspectives that help us in our struggles, even with an affirmation that we have meaning in a world that often tells us that we lack meaning. So, in some way, I have been working on my fiction ever since I read Lord of the Rings as a 12-year-old boy and found myself wanting to do for others what he did for me — something I would later learn is often called catharsis. I suppose that going off to learn Welsh, Old English, and Old Norse and becoming a medievalist was part of that journey too. But I actually began writing in 2004, and I started with a map. Not knowing what was going to happen in my story, I nevertheless felt the need to imagine a world in which it would happen. And I knew my protagonist’s name – Dayraven – which I stole from Beowulf (it’s not the only thing I stole from it, either).

I’m not entirely sure what puts the “classic” in classic fantasy, but it’s safe to say that my influences include not only older writers in the genre like Tolkien and Le Guin, but that they go all the way back to the really old stuff, like the Old Norse sagas and The Mabinogion. So, perhaps some of the “classic” vibes rub off from there. More modern fantasy writers have also played a role in my ideas about storytelling. Some that I admire and read while I was writing include George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, and Steven Erikson.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

San Francisco TikTok creator makes 1934 murder mystery novel ‘Cain’s Jawbone’ sell out worldwide

From SFGate:

In 1934, English translator Edward Powys Mathers, renowned for his cryptic crosswords, came up with a new puzzle: a 100-page murder mystery entitled “Cain’s Jawbone.”

To solve it, readers must correctly identify all six murderers and their victims, but doing so requires rearranging the book’s pages, which are published out of order. Only three people have ever correctly figured out the answer: two in the 1930s, and one last year.

Then the relatively obscure book became a worldwide sensation after a viral post on the social media app TikTok.

“I decided to take this nearly impossible task as an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and turn my entire bedroom wall into a murder board,” San Francisco TikTok creator Sarah Scannell says in a video posted Nov. 14, which reveals the 8-by-5-foot “murder wall” she created in her bedroom composed of the pencil-annotated 100 pages taped up and connected by string.

Days later, the book sold out at retailers worldwide.

At press time, the TikTok has 4.6 million views, 1 million likes, 36,600 shares and 5,340 comments. On Nov. 18, the publisher of “Cain’s Jawbone,” Unbound, announced a reprint on Twitter, and pointed to the cause of the sales spike: “To all who found us through @saruuuuuuugh’s TikTok, welcome and thank you!” 

. . . .

The TikTok begins with Scannell grabbing “Cain’s Jawbone” from the wood shelves of San Francisco independent bookstore Green Apple Books before revealing the murder wall in her apartment (which is also mine, as I am her roommate).

. . . .

The book sold out on Amazon within 24 hours of the initial TikTok’s posting, Scannell said. It was relisted the next day with its price doubled and with shipping delays. Presently, it’s listed on the online behemoth as out of print, with limited availability. As of Friday, publisher Unbound surpassed 5,000 open backorders in the U.S., 2,500 in Canada and 3,000 from U.K. book retailer Waterstones alone — its own website sold out of its stock of 600 within 24 hours. Two days after the initial TikTok’s posting, Joey Goodman, who works at Green Apple Books, tweeted at Scannell to let her know that her TikTok “wreaked havoc” on online orders.

Link to the rest at SFGate and thanks to DM for the tip.

The Easy-ish Way to Create Believable, Unforgettable Fictional Worlds

From Writer Unboxed:

Worldbuilding gets a bad rap sometimes. If you ask certain people, worldbuilding is either for nerds looking for almanacs, not fiction, or it’s a useless distinction that should be an intrinsic part of writing.

But there are plenty of writers who recognize the essential nature of worldbuilding separate from the act of storytelling—for science fiction and fantasy, sure, but also for all genres. And there are a ton of amazing, detailed guides to creating worlds. But years ago, when I was first looking to build out the world I had created for my first foray into fantasy writing, I looked up resources for worldbuilding and quickly got bogged down in the sheer number of details these guides wanted me to know.

These guides offer hundreds of questions about the world you’re creating, insinuating that answering each one will lead to developing a believable, original world. I found weeks-long online courses dedicated solely to building a world from scratch.

I like to call these types of resources sandboxes. They give you lots of blank space to play around. “Where are the mountain ranges in your world?” they ask. “What military tactics does each nation in your world use?”

These are good questions, depending on the type of story you’re writing. Sandboxes are fun places for free play and for letting the mind run wild.

But once I had determined the election procedures of a specific political party in my book, which was decidedly not about election procedures or political parties, I was left no closer to a better story. I wondered: “…Now what? What does this have to do with my story?”

This is how I came to begin thinking about story-first worldbuilding.

Story-first worldbuilding falls somewhere on the worldbuilding opinion spectrum between “almanac” and “intrinsic” by exploring the details of the world around the story you want to tell. You don’t need to know where every mountain range is in your world unless your characters intend to cross them. What follows are a set of exercises that are geared mainly toward writers of fantasy who are creating secondary worlds, but hopefully applicable to all writers. The goal of these exercises to help you build a believable world that will add depth and color to the story you want to tell—without making you spend hours writing out the dominant flora on a continent your story will never visit.

How to Build a World Around the Story You Want to Tell

To complete the following exercises, I will assume that you have at least a smidgen of a story idea in mind. It’s okay if it’s not a fully fleshed-out plot yet. I will also assume that, since you have a story idea, you also have a vague impression of the world in which it’s set. It’s okay if most of the world is a blurry mess at this point.

This section contains a couple of exercises to get your mind thinking about how your world interacts with your story. The exercises are intended to be done in order, but this isn’t school. Do what’s most helpful to you.

Exercise #1: Write down everything you already know about your story’s world.

Set a timer for five, 10, or 30 minutes—however much time you think you need—and write out everything you already know about the world in which your story takes place, stream-of-consciousness style. Focus on the parts of your story you’ve either written or can picture clearly in your head. For example, if you know a critical scene in the climax involves an escape from a desert prison, write, “There’s a prison in the desert.” Do not consult Wikipedia’s list of desert flora and fauna. Even if you list things that are contradictory or illogical, write them all down anyway. Give yourself permission to let your mind run free. Important: This is not the time to make up new things about your world. If new ideas come to mind as you’re writing, don’t stop to examine them—just write them down and keep going.

When your time is up, read back over what you wrote. What are the things that are intrinsic or critical to your story and/or characters?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed