Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing Sci-Fi

I've read a couple of things recently that suggested that science fiction writers can never be truly accurate about the future because our minds simply cannot fathom the changes that will come. While I'm not suggesting this is completely off base, I do think it misses an important point.

I'm currently working on a story set very far in the future. The truth is that when I imagine how the future will be at that point, you wouldn't believe just how bizarre that future would seem to the average person today. So will I write the story the way that I envision it? Of course not!

When we write a story, we are writing it for an audience of today. If I wrote about some of the crazy things I think are likely to be true in the far future, very few people would read my book, because they wouldn't be able to relate on any level. I have to scale back the changes and force the story to be relatable to today's audiences. That doesn't mean there won't be any strange elements in the story--of course there will be--but it is restrained in a way to allow a modern audience to still relate to the characters and to their surroundings.

I see it as being similar to the issue of portraying sci-fi in movies. Directors cannot be accurate in presenting the future, because our audiences wouldn't 'get' it. For example, I see future cyborgs or robots evolving technologically to a point where you couldn't tell the difference between them and a true human, at least not unless we build in something to purposely make them stand out. Yet in movies they always have to depict cyborgs or robots as being very obviously different from humans.

And if they wish to depict futuristic mind-data interfaces (such as I use in my first novel), they do so in films only with obvious mechanical items like goggles or other visible tech melded with the human body, when the reality is that such technology would most likely evolve to not be visible in any way. (That doesn't mean that humans of the future will look just like us. Evolution never stops, so humans will look quite different in the future, and even break into differing species at some point, should we begin to colonize different areas of space)

I'm not complaining about these differences between portrayal and the probable realities of the future. I understand why stories must be tailored for their intended audiences. But I do disagree with the idea that I am unable to comprehend the possible future. Of course no one can actually get all details of the future correct, but some of us have pretty wicked imaginations. If only you could see some of the things I think up!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rating Systems -- Amazon vs Goodreads

Having now been a published author for two months, I've noticed something for the first time that I hadn't noticed before on two sites that I have used for many years. Amazon and Goodreads both use a five-star system for customers to give ratings to books (or other items in Amazon's case), but the levels are different. And this is really depressing for me!

If someone wants to rate a book as 'it was okay', on Amazon it gets three stars while on Goodreads only two. If you want to rate a book as 'I liked it', it's four stars on Amazon and only three on Goodreads. Thus on average books get a whole star less on Goodreads than on Amazon. This may seem petty, but it honestly gets a tad bit depressing to keep seeing three star reviews on Goodreads when you only get better ratings on Amazon. Considering that Amazon owns Goodreads now, I wish they would align their rating systems to make them consistent!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Suggestions for Hugo Award 2015 Nominations

The famous writer John Scalzi did a nice post to allow writers and artists to submit their work in order for Hugo Award voters to scope them out and potentially nominate the ones they think are best. Oddly enough, for an award that is so prestigious, there is no site that gathers contenders together to allow voters to easily check everything out and pick out what they'd like to read. Seems a no-brainer to me. Anyhow, I thought I'd chime in on the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist category, since I feel Stephan Martiniere had his best year ever. Check out these two pieces of art done as covers in 2014 and tell me they don't deserve a nomination!
The gorgeous piece above is Martiniere's work for the novel Shield and Crocus by Michael Underwood.

And this is his work for my novel The Immortality Game. Hugo voters, you can click to enlarge these to see more detail. They are exquisite and I hope you will feel they are deserving of your nominating vote.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

At the end of each year I do a summary post of what I read throughout the year. I find it interesting to see my reading habits, and to make note of what the best books were each year. Last year's post shows that I read 37 books, and I beat that handily this year. I use a standard five star rating method with five stars meaning I loved the book so much I intend to re-read it throughout my life, so there are rarely any five star books.

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger ** and a half
2. The Evolution of Inanimate Objects by Harry Karlinsky **
3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman ****
4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman ****
5. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman ***
6. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Frasier ****
7. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins ****

8. How to Get the Part by Margie Haber ** and a half
9. A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons *** and a half
10. The Human Division by John Scalzi ****

11. Last Words by George Carlin ***
12. Accelerando by Charles Stross **
13. The General's Daughter by Nelson DeMille ****
14. The Many Deaths of the Black Company by Glen Cook *** and a half
15. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen ****

16. The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham ***
17. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey ****
18. Dropcloth Angels by Gerald D. Johnston ***
19. Countdown City by Ben H. Winters ****
20. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams ***
21. Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain *** and a half
22. From a Buick 8 by Stephen King *** and a half
23. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman ****

24. Seep by J. Eric Laing *** and a half
25. The Wasteland Saga by Nick Cole *** and a half
26. Blindsight by Peter Watts *** and a half
27. Three Men on a Bender by Patrick Rossi *** and a half
28. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie *** and a half
29. Anathem by Neal Stephenson *** and a half
30. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline ****

31. Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith *** and a half
32. Hunter's Run by George R.R. Martin *** and a half
33. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer **** and a half

34. Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey *** and a half
35. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi *** and a half
36. Horns by Joe Hill *** and a half
37. The Company by K.J. Parker *
38. Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey ****

39. Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle ** and a half
40. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson *** and a half
41. The Maze Runner by James Dashner ** and a half
42. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner **
43. The Death Cure by James Dashner **
44. The Kill Order by James Dashner **
45. Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith ****
46. Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith *** and a half
47. Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith ****
48. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith ****

49. Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith ****
50. Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith ****
51. Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith ****
52. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman ****

So while I didn't have any books this year that I absolutely loved, I read quite a number of really good ones. The best was The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. The best series was the Arkady Renko novels by Martin Cruz Smith, and the most promising new series is The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. Happy reading!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Discussion of Characters

Anthony Vicino wrote an interesting post a few days ago in which he compared his recent reads of two different cyberpunk novels, one of which was mine. The other was Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks. Anthony didn't just say he enjoyed the novels but went into some depth of the strengths and weaknesses of each. The best thing for me was when he gave his feelings on the weakest part of my book:

"TIG had some great concepts and interesting side-characters, but the main characters Zoya and Marcus didn’t really work for me. Zoya turns into a sociopath with a death-wish 3/4 of the way through the story, and Marcus devolves into a love-sick puppy."

I was very happy to see this. First of all, no character is going to work for every reader, so it's no surprise that these two characters came up short for Anthony. I'd be much more concerned if most readers felt the same way. I was happy about the comment because the description he used was precisely what I was going for when I wrote the book!

Zoya was just an average young woman struggling to live in future Moscow. When everything goes wrong for her and the mob is trying to kill her and everyone she loves, I needed her to reach a point of near-collapse. I needed her to realize that her life as she knew it was gone and could never come back. It would have been so easy for her to give up and let the mobsters kill her, but in the end she decides that with no life left, and with the interesting new military technology that she now has, she was going to go after the people who ruined her life. Does that make her a sociopath with a death-wish? You bet! That won't work for all readers, but it was what I meant for her.
Zoya by Stephan Martiniere
Marcus was a character that I knew up front wouldn't work for some readers. He is weak, or at least that is how he views himself. He was essentially a shut-in back home in Phoenix. He always felt he could never measure up to his world-famous genius of a father, so it was natural he became a Mesh addict. After his father's death and his mother also becoming an addict, Marcus stayed shut up in his apartment and didn't go out for years. He had no experience at all with women other than his mother, and his 'life' had been lived in a virtual manner, on the Web and locked up in his apartment. 

So it was important for me to show him as one who was not driving his own fate, not performing his own actions but rather being pushed into them by his AI father. As horrific as things become for him in Moscow, it's his first brush with real life in years, and that is exciting on some level. And meeting Zoya is like the most potent drug in creation for him. She's not a classic beauty, but she might as well be as far as he is concerned. She is real and vibrant and alive, and that is intoxicating for him. And it leads to him defying his father for the first time ever and making some decisions of his own. Does that make him a love-sick puppy? Yep, and that's what I needed him to be in the story I wanted to tell.

I want to thank Anthony for such a great and insightful review. He made me think about my own story for the first time in a while (considering I finished writing it quite some time ago).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Author Interview -- Simon Paul Wilson

I discovered the writer Simon Paul Wilson a few years ago on the writer site Authonomy. There are a lot of decent writers there, but Simon stood out to me as one of the more talented ones, so I'm proud to interview him here on my blog.
Simon Paul Wilson
I've always felt I had a lot in common with Simon. Besides being a talented writer, Simon has a forthcoming novel called GhostCityGirl that I feel shares some themes with my own work. Plus Simon currently lives in China, where I myself lived for three years.

Welcome, Simon and please tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, I am originally from the UK, but am now living in China with my wife and son. When I am not writing, I love listening to music, especially prog and post rock, and watching Asian horror movies. I am also a life-long fan of Doctor Who.

When did you begin writing?
I began writing seriously around 2008. I dabbled a bit before that time, mostly writing stories for RPG's that I used to play. 
See, there are a couple more things we have in common! I began writing close to that time, and I also was very into role-playing games and wrote my first book around that theme.
What is your writing style? Do you like to outline or just write as you go?
I outline the story first. Before I sit down in front of my PC, I have to at least know how I am going to start, what key events will take place during the tale and how it will all end. If I have those things clear in my head, then I can start bashing away at the keyboard. Saying that, the story will usually end up being completely different to what I initially imagined.
What's the hardest thing about writing for you?
Being over-critical of everything I write! Sometimes, I can spend days on a sentence. It is quite ridiculous, to be honest. Because of this, writing a book can take forever!
I know what you mean. I often let weeks or even months go by between writing new chapters simply so that I can get it perfect in my mind first.
How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
Well, I have written one novel and a novella, 'End Credits' and 'Yuko Zen Is Somewhere Else'. Both have been published by the lovely people at Pankhearst. I have almost finished the umpteenth rewrite of 'GhostCityGirl' and may start something new, called 'The Weird World of The Other Indigo Sykes' sometime in 2015.
What authors do you like to read?
I like many authors, mostly Asian literary fiction and American and English fantasy, horror and sci-fi writers. As for favourites, I have read everything by Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami and China Mieville. Those guys are the authors I admire most.

What inspired you to write Yuko Zen?
YZ started off as a straight horror story that I couldn't seem to get right! So, I took most of the horror out and made the girl in the story a little more quirky and Yuko was born! Mostly, YZ is a book all about a simple question -- the immortal 'What If?'. I think that's a question that will float through everybody's mind at some point. It certainly does mine!

What is your writer's food?
I don't have a certain food, but I definitely need coffee!
Thank you for spending some time with us, Simon. I think Yuko Zen is great and I can't wait until GhostCityGirl is published. I hope my few readers will give them a try, as well as keep an eye on your future work.

My name is Yuko Zen and I am somewhere else ... 

After a strange encounter with a beautiful girl in a Chinese take-away, Chris Winter discovers she's left her journal behind. He only opens it to search for her contact details, but he's quickly pulled into her mysterious world – a nameless Asian city filled with tales of Buddhist dogs, hedgehogs and yogurt pots, and a magical girl named Pixie. 

When Chris is totally hooked, Yuko's journal takes an unexpected turn. It starts to talk to him ... 

Magical (sur)realism for Young Adults of all ages, editors at Harper Collins have likened YUKO ZEN to works by Audrey Niffenegger and Haruki Murakami.

Monday, December 22, 2014