Author Gail Z Martin joins SciFiChick.com again for her Days of the Dead Blog Tour!
Epic Vs. Urban—Writing Both Sides of Fantasy By Gail Z. Martin
Swords or shotguns? Grenade launchers or catapults?
How about both? (Though not, usually, in the same story.)
I write epic fantasy and urban fantasy—along with alternate history and comedic horror—in time periods ranging from medieval to Victorian to modern. Sometimes people ask if it’s difficult, jumping around time. For me, it’s all part of the fun.
This year, we had a bumper crop of books coming out on both sides of the genre. Vengeance is the second book in my Darkhurst series about three undertaker brothers who become outlaw monster hunters and discover there is a much bigger conspiracy than they ever expected. The Dark Road is the second in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, tracing the story of the brigand lord through his time as a mercenary, fight slave and smuggler. Assassin’s Honor is the first in the new Assassins of Landria series, as King’s Shadows Joel Breckenridge and Garrett Kennard go rogue to save the kingdom from a shadowy itinerant holy man who has ensnared the aristocracy with treasonous whispers.
Plot and characters aside, the books are all very different. Vengeance is ‘big fat fantasy’, with multiple point of view characters, several braided story arcs, a big cast of characters, and a truly epic scale. The Dark Road is a serialized novel from Jonmarc’s point of view, told in an interconnected collection of short stories and novellas. Assassin’s Honor is buddy flick epic fantasy, under 300 pages, and rocks the ‘Butch and Sundance as medieval assassins’ vibe with humor, action and intrigue. I really like switching up how the story is put together, even though all three are technically epic fantasy due to their scope and the medieval setting.
Author Ann Aguirre joins SciFiChick today to talk about strong female characters and to promote her latest release – Like Never and Always! And keep reading below for a chance to win a copy of the book!
You have so many strong female leads, can you tell me about writing/creating strong female characters?
I can’t imagine writing women any other way. All women are strong, even if their strength isn’t apparent to others. I’ve written multiple heroines who are physically fit and capable of fighting, but that’s not the only type of strength that matters. Clever women who outthink their enemies are fantastic, too.
Growing up, I read fiction written by authors who treated their female characters as damsels in distress or as prizes to be won. I didn’t like seeing women regarded that way, especially in fantasy and science fiction. When I was a little girl, I can remember reading The Hobbit at the hospital when one of my relatives was sick. Even then, I recall wondering, Where are all the women? In a story of such grand scope, why are there no female characters at all?
Tolkien wasn’t the only writer who erased women from his stories. Many of the epic fantasies I read followed suit, and if there was a woman mixed in, she almost always served as a reward for the hero or a love interest only. Rarely did I find female characters who had their goals, who lived with agency, and might even part ways with the hero to pursue her own ends.
I was so excited when I found Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, and Tanith Lee. They were the first female SFF writers that I fell in love with, and I’d say they’re still shaping my work to this day. Later, I read greats like Kate Elliott, Barbara Hambly, Robin McKinley, and a bit later, Sharon Shinn. Those were the books I had been missing as a pre-teen, ones that told me that women didn’t have to be an accessory—that they could have their own adventures.
Growing up, I didn’t read a lot of science fiction because I couldn’t find the sort I wanted to read. I cared more about the people than the technology, and too often, men stole the spotlight and women didn’t get enough page time for my tastes, so more often, I watched my science fiction, both on television and the big screen. Eventually, I would write the sort of science fiction that I wanted to read, though I’m taking a bit of a break from that right now.
So naturally, when I started writing for teens, I wanted to continue what I’d started in speculative fiction, giving girls fierce heroines to root for and thrilling stories they could experience vicariously. In Like Never and Always, I set up a strange scenario, and it’s definitely a departure in some ways because while there’s definitely bad guys in the story, there’s no big war to fight. It’s dark and deep story, kind of down the rabbit hole, where the farther down you go, the stranger it all gets. I’d call it a thriller with supernatural elements, but that’s also dependent on whether you believe the body switch has actually occurred. I was so thrilled when Kate Elliott blurbed this book! Her work is iconic and brilliant, so it’s amazing to me that my words could be validate by someone who lit the path for me in terms of writing strong women.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog! I welcome all questions and comments.
From an up-and-coming new science fiction author comes an entertaining tale of first contact, exploration, and desperately trying not to screw up: GATE CRASHERS (A Tor Paperback Original; $15.99; On-sale: June 26, 2018). Humankind ventures further into the galaxy than ever before … and immediately causes an intergalactic incident. A planet full of bumbling, highly evolved primates has just put itself on a collision course with a far wider, and more hostile, galaxy that is stranger than anyone can possibly imagine.
Patrick S. Tomlinson joins SciFiChick.com today to talk about First Contact!
What’s it Like Writing First Contact?
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! For real, though. All of humanity has been waiting for this moment since Giordano Bruno first infuriated the Church with the heretical notion that what we knew as stars are actually suns, and that those suns have their own Earths, with their own plants, their own animals, maybe even their own people.
It is, perhaps, the question that has most preoccupied mankind for the better part of five centuries. So it should come as no surprise that speculations and flights of fancy about the answer keep cropping up in literature, film, art, music, in all creative endeavors, really. The moment the universe coughs up its greatest secret and our place within it is finally, conclusively defined.
Of course, that’s not how it will go. At all. The answer to “Are we alone” won’t define our place in the universe if that answer is “Hell no.” Instead, it’ll throw us into a frenzied struggle to fight for our seat at the interstellar table.
I’ve written about First Contact before. In my debut trilogy starting with The Ark from Angry Robot Books, mankind got the better end of the deal, landing on a planet full of ambulatory sentient cuttlefish that hadn’t had the advantage of plentiful metals with which to move out of their Stone Age. In that series, humanity struggled and sometimes failed to avoid the mistakes of our past, colonialism, gentrification, racism, all of it.
Now, with Gate Crashers, the shoe is on the other foot. We dig too greedily and too deep and find a whole Balrog’s worth of trouble we’re not remotely prepared for. So screwed we end up being, a book called “First Contact for Dummies” features prominently in the early decision-making process of the humans present. Because I really believe that’s about how it’s going to go down when it happens. At critical moments in history, people just… push through. No one’s ready for it. The “right” people are seldom present. And whoever is there, on all sides, just does what they can and hopes for the best.
The only real difference is, unlike other turning points that are often only recognized as pivotal moments in history after the fact, or played up by historians trying to establish a narrative, no one is going to be confused about the importance of First Contact. Whether that means everyone present will know to be on their A game, or the stress will make them even more prone to missteps that end in calamity, we can’t know until it happens.
Personally, considering the scale of the universe and the fact we haven’t already been overrun by flying saucers, I suspect anyone within our technological arm’s reach is going to be flailing about just as blindly and desperately as we are, clawing for someone to latch onto for comfort in the dark, hoping they don’t end up grabbing the monster under their bed.
I really hope to live long enough to see that moment. Until then, I’ll continue fantasizing about it on the page, and fighting in realspace to straighten out our species so we don’t end up being the monsters. Looking around our country today, I could really use some help on the second part.
About the Author: PATRICK S. TOMLINSON is a man of many hats. In addition to writing Sci-Fi novels and shorts, he prowls theaters, clubs, and bars throughout the midwest performing as a stand-up comedian. Between gigs, cons, and rewrites, he works as a pundit and frequent political contributor, with columns appearing in publications such as The Hill and The New York Times. In the little downtime remaining, Patrick enjoys hobbies such as motorcycling, model-building, and shooting. He lives in Milwaukee with his fiancee, two cats, a bearded dragon, and a 2008 Bullitt Edition Mustang named Susan. You can find him online at www.patrickstomlinson.com and on Twitter as @stealthygeek.
Brian Andrews, author of Reset, joins SciFiChick.com today and provided his own Q&A as a Guest Post…
1. I suspect there must be an interesting backstory with RESET, where did you get the idea for this story?
Once upon a time, I was having dinner with someone who’s plugged into real life X-files investigations around the world. He made a strange comment, almost in passing that he’d heard the Army had found a bizarre piece of tech in Afghanistan in 2002 while looking for Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora cave complexes. I asked him what it was and he shrugged, saying only that it was determined to be very old but contained advanced technology. Intrigued, I started asking questions around my network, but I didn’t get any hits. Next, I contacted a Canadian photo journalist who embedded with the 10th Mountain Division (the shooters spelunking the actual Tora Bora caves), but he said he’d not heard anything of the sort. Eventually after hitting enough dead ends, I decided to stop digging. But the germ of the idea stuck with me, nagging my author’s brain and not letting go. I started asking myself questions like: What if the Army really did find an orb with advanced technology in a cave? What could it be? Where might it have come from? What is its purpose? In brainstorming these questions, RESET was born.
2. Let’s chat mind control and tin foil hats. This novel is almost theatrical in nature, with some “high concept” elements. You’ve pecked a lot in here: mind control, armageddon devices, the 6th Extinction, and a “men in black” style government conspiracy that could control the fate of the world. Can you speak to this?
RESET was described on TOR.com as being a genre-bending novel. I think this is the perfect description. I’m most drawn to stories with what I would call “near-term” science fiction elements—technologies that exist now, but are only in an embryonic stage of development. Artificial Intelligence is a perfect example of this; there are millions of possible scenarios that could unfold as AI matures, but we can only speculate about which will come to fruition. It is this speculation that drives my novels. Mind control technology is the core theme of RESET.
As an author, the natural temptation is always to try to “save” your best ideas for the perfect time in the perfect story so you don’t waste them—kinda the literary equivalent of not wearing your favorite shirt so it stays nice. RESET is the novel where I finally came to my senses and pulled our every cool idea I’ve ever wanted to showcase in a book: Mind Control, Parasitic Organisms, the discovery of Alien Technology, Underground Bunkers, Doomsday Preppers, a crazy old Conspiracy Theorist, and DARPA (of course).
What I ended up with is a story that pays homage to conspiracy theory lore of the past three decades while feeling both nostalgic and fresh. And yes, I even found a way to work in the proverbial “tin foil hat” into the plot, but in this case the tin foil hat is a Faraday Cage helmet designed to stop nefarious Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). Yes, mind control is real folks…just look up TMS and Duke University and you’ll find reporting on actual research that will make you shiver in your chair.
3. RESET has an incredibly strong female cast, with Army wife Josie Pitcher emerging at the novel’s true hero. Can you speak to this?.
In writing this story, I fell in love with all the characters, but probably to Josie Pitcher the most. Josie embodies the type of heroine the world needs today, someone who is compelled to action by curiosity, loyalty, and courage, rather than self-interest and ego. Josie is no Atomic Blonde or Jessica Jones throwing punches and kicks; her weapons are the ones real heroes use to fight their battles—her wits, her power of persuasion, and her courage to act in the face of impossible odds. With RESET, I wanted to take Superman saving the damsel in distress storyline and flip it on its head. In RESET, you start by meeting this tough as nails 10th Mountain Army ranger who seems like he’s unstoppable, until suddenly he’s not and the only one who can save him is his young, tenacious Army wife. Ultimately, the fate of the human race rests on Josie’s shoulders…but that’s all I can say!
4. I noticed that the audiobook was performed by the voice actor Ray Porter who also reads your TIER ONE series. Can you speak to his performance on this book?
Definitely! In my opinion, narration is storytelling in its purest form. If you think about it, the oral tradition of storytelling is at the core of human culture. We’ve been swapping stories for millennia—be it sitting around the campfire, the dinner table, or at a child’s bedside. That’s why it was so important for me to get Ray to read this novel—he is a world building narrator because he captures the nuance and emotional connection between the characters. Nobody does dialogue better than Ray. I’ve listened to the recording several times now and it is a masterwork, with over a dozen different characters performed. Please check it out on Audible, I promise you won’t be disappointed. LINK: https://adbl.co/2J81cwd
5. One final question: The ending of this book has been described as an OMG event reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s early movies. Can you talk about this without spoilers?
RESET has the biggest twist of any novel I’ve ever written and yes, the reveal comes in the very last “two” chapters. I would call this a double-barrel twist, the first twist begetting a second twist that, I’m not sure has been done before. That particular comment you referenced from Charle DeLint with the comparison to an M. Night Shyamalan ending is high praise. There’s also a certain poetry to the ending of RESET. I use the symbolism of a Celtic Knot in the novel several times, an intertwining with seemingly no clear beginning and no clear ending—everything comes full circle. I can’t wait to hear reader’s reactions!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian is a US Navy veteran, nuclear engineer, and former submarine officer. He co-authors the Wall Street Journal best-selling TIER ONE thriller series (Tier One, War Shadows, & Crusader One) with Jeffrey Wilson. He is a husband, father, coffee lover and occasional malcontent. His latest stand-alone thriller, RESET, is new for 2018. You can find him online at: www.andrews-wilson.com and @bandrewsjwilson Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2oUCyHT
FIVE CLASSIC SPACE OPERAS THAT STILL HOLD UP TODAY by Gareth L. Powell
‘Space opera’ has been around since the heyday of the pulp magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. Initially the term was one of derision, likening the genre to tacky ‘horse opera’ westerns. However, just as the hippies and punks of the 1960s and 1970s took their derogatory labels and wore them with pride, so the term ‘space opera’ came to be used for action-packed stories featuring big spaceships and weighty themes.
Looking back now, not all of those stories have aged well. Some are frankly unreadable, either due to their dreadful prose, cardboard characters, or woeful science. But if you look hard enough, there are still plenty of gems to be found.
Below, I have picked ten classic* space operas that still have much to offer the modern reader.
*For the purposes of this list, I have defined the term ‘classic’ as including books written or published before the turn of the Millennium.
1. Nova by Samuel Delany. Without doubt, one of my favorite books, Nova is set a thousand years into the future, and tells the story of Lorq Von Ray, last scion of a powerful and rich dynasty, and his quest to harvest the rare mineral illyrion from the core of an imploding sun. Filled with literary fireworks, the book relates Von Ray’s quest to tarot lore and the Arthurian Grail legends, while simultaneously using the literary ambitions of one of its characters to provide a meta-commentary on the process of novel writing itself.
2. The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison. Harrison takes the tropes of pulp space opera—starports, lone traders, and naval engagements—and gives them a cyberpunk makeover. Crews have to jack directly into their ships via sockets on their wrists. The main character deals amphetamines and is discharged from the army because he wets himself every time a gun goes off. Whether or not it was written as a criticism of the genre, it paved the way for the grittier ‘New Space Opera’ of the 1990s.
3. The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey. When I sat down to write Embers of War, I re-read this book to help get me in the mood to write about a sentient starship. I hadn’t read it since I was a kid, and I was relieved to find it just about held up. Taken at face value, it’s a fun, if episodic adventure. Unfortunately, modern readers might baulk at the idea of data held on magnetic tape, and the titular ship’s constant yearning for a man to make her life complete.
4. The Game Of Rat And Dragon by Cordwainer Smith. This is only a short story, but I decided to include it because a) it’s quite extraordinary, and b) this is my list and I can do what I want. In the far future, human starship are routinely attacked during faster-than-light travel by invisible aliens that drive their crews insane. The only way to protect against these attacks is to use cats paired with human telepaths. The cats perceive the aliens as rats and destroy them with miniature nuclear weapons. If you haven’t read it, you really should. And while you’re at it check out Smith’s other stories, such as ‘Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons’, and ‘Golden the Ship Was-Oh! Oh! Oh!’
5. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Based at least in part on the author’s experiences fighting in the Vietnam War, this tale of interstellar conflict follows the fortunes of William Mandella, a physics student conscripted into the war against the mysterious Taurans. Due to the time dilation caused by interstellar travel, he finds each tour of duty—while only lasting a couple of subjective years for him—throws him further and further into the future, with the result that every time he returns to Earth, he finds it changed almost beyond all recognition.
Honorable Mentions: • Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds • Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold • A Fire On The Deep by Vernor Vinge • Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks • Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester • Dune by Frank Herbert • Gateway by Frederik Pohl
“A New Artistic Challenge” by D.B. Jackson/David B. Coe
Today marks the release of my first short fiction collection.
Tales of the Thieftaker brings together eleven short pieces I have written over the past several years in the “universe” of my Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy series set in pre-Revolutionary Boston (Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach, all from Tor Books). The collection includes some previously released work, as well as pieces that have never before been published.
Among the stories in the latter category is “The Ruby Blade,” a full-length novella that serves as the centerpiece of the book.
Those familiar with the series will recognize that title: The Ruby Blade was the privateering ship on which Ethan Kaille, my thieftaking, conjuring protagonist once served. A mutiny aboard the vessel in 1745 resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment. He served fourteen years at hard labor on a sugar plantation in Barbados, a living hell that left him broken, both physically and emotionally.
Beginning with the first novel of the series, the mutiny was a touchstone of Ethan’s backstory, something referenced in the books again and again, but never fully described. For years, fans of the Thieftaker Chronicles have asked me about the Ruby Blade, wondering when I would get around to writing that episode of Ethan’s life. So, when I decided to publish Tales of the Thieftaker, I knew I would have to include this particular story. I also knew, though, that I didn’t simply want to write that old tale and slot it into the collection. Instead, I found a way to blend it with a new mystery, and to set it in the days after the end of the final book in the series.
I should pause here to say that while I consider myself a novelist, and am best known for my longer work, I love writing and reading short stories. I enjoy the challenge of shaping a complete tale in a limited number of words. I often learn something new about my craft when reading short work from my colleagues and seeing how they approach this task. And more than any other series I’ve written, the Thieftaker Chronicles has lent itself to short fiction.
But in the case of “The Ruby Blade,” I faced some unique challenges, and that is always good for an artist. For one thing, I was writing Ethan’s “origin story,” which I found daunting. I had been asked about this episode in Ethan’s background for so long, and my readers had expressed such eagerness to read it, that I felt more pressure than I have for perhaps any other work in my career. Beyond that, I knew that the story would be an odd length. Each Thieftaker novel comes in at about 100,000 words. Most short stories come in at about 6,000 words. The former would have been far too long for the story I wanted to tell; the latter far too limiting.
A novella, by definition, falls in between the two lengths–according to most definitions, a novella is any story between 17,000 and 40,000 words. Three bits of trivia: 1) At 7,500-17,499 words, a novelette falls in between a novella and short story. Who knew? 2) This particular novella, “The Ruby Blade,” came in a hair longer than 40,000. Technically, it’s a really, really short novel. Shhh. Don’t tell. And 3) Before this, I had never written a novella.
That last piece of trivia proved to be the greatest of the challenges I encountered. A novel tends to have a certain rhythm, defined in a sense by chapters. Write twenty books or so, and you kinda get a feel for how they ought to flow. By the same token, the pacing of a short story is distinctive as well. You can’t be nearly as leisurely spinning a yarn in a short piece as you can in a full-length book. I’d had plenty of experience with this, as well. But in this instance, I was writing neither a novel nor a short story, and so had to discover a new cadence for my storytelling.
The method I chose for telling this tale, facilitated the development of that unique rhythm. As I said before, “The Ruby Blade” is, in essence, two stories in one. Courtesy of Ethan’s long-time nemesis and rival in thieftaking, Sephira Pryce, he is presented with a new mystery in the winter of 1771. But in order for them to solve this case together, he must first relate to her the events of 1745 that led to the mutiny. The story shifts between the two time periods, and those transitions provide cadence and tension that make both strands of the plot work.
I find writing any sort of story akin to piecing together a puzzle. The shape and size of the puzzle may change with each new work, but usually the process remains much the same. Tackling this novella proved different. Everything felt new again, and that made the writing especially exciting. This story forced me to rethink my process a bit, to adjust my strategy for shaping narrative and character arc. And the truth is, having written one novella, I can’t wait to try my hand at another. I find the whole writing process much easier if I’m able to shut myself off from outside distractions, which is why I’m keen to designate an area of my home as an office space for myself where I can focus solely on my work. I’ve looked at a website where I can get office chairs today, amongst other items of furniture, and I’m really starting to envision what I could create – it’s quite exciting. I’m sure, going into the future of my literary career, this office space could actually prove very useful indeed.
***** David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels and as many short stories. As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books consisting of Spell Blind, His Father’s Eyes, and Shadow’s Blade. As D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach. Tales of the Thieftaker, his first short fiction collection, has just been released by Lore Seekers Press.
David is also the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. He is currently at work on several new projects including more short fiction, a media tie-in, and a time travel/epic fantasy trilogy. David’s books have been translated into a dozen languages.
He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.