Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recommending Stross

Writer Charles Stross has really come on strong this past decade with scintillating works of speculative fiction. All of his published novels have been released this decade. So, for readers wanting to find that "current writer" to follow, I highly recommend Stross for those not already on the bandwagon.

For me, it all started with Halting State. Stross had already been recommended to me but had stayed on "the reading list." A glowing review of this recent work persuaded me to make it, I ordered the hard cover shortly after release and found it a page-turner.

The novel is a near future piece that points out the growing threats inherent in cyber-technologies. Spying, hacking, all the usual privacy and control issues are brought to bare. However, in typical Stross fashion, it's the clever storytelling and personal relationships in it that make it such a joy to read.

After being so pleasantly surprised by the book, I ordered Accelerando. The time span of this book is vast. Unlike the comfortable near future that most of us can imagine to a degree, Stross pushes it far in Accelerando. The story is very well anchored through the characters. The patriarch, Manfred Macx, the women in his life, his child and grandchild provide the common threads that weave through expanses of time and space. It's a fascinating tale with loads of scientific aspects addressed from the singularity to world colonization. But it's not all a geekfest. The personal issues addressed are profound and the story is captivating.

Touted as a sort of sequel, Glasshouse loosely takes off in the same singularity-based universal state as Accelerando. Although there is a backdrop common among both novels, there is no continuation of characters. So, Glasshouse can easily be read without any primer required. The time frames in this book span two eras: a troubling yet murky period of the protagonist's past and the core storyline era which takes place in an archaeologically experimental bio-dome of sorts. The time setting for the experiment runs from late last century through current day. So, it's very interesting to see how future people laugh at our seemingly ludicrous lifestyles.

Common in Glasshouse, Accelerando and Halting State are insights into the human condition. Stross never forgets that common literary goal: help people understand life. He takes all of the technology and future conditions and casts them in a very personal way. It is this deft ability that makes him such a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Asian speculative fiction insights

Two posts were mentioned in news alerts today regarding Asian speculative fiction:

The first is a collection of stories. They're all in no need to rummage around to find your Tagalog dictionary.

I've read through only a couple of them; selected haphazardly using a spontaneous clicking technique. One of note: The God Equation packs a bunch of metaphysical concepts into a short read sprinkled with some action and an international flair. You get to learn one Tagalog expression (again, no dictionary's explained) and it ends with Italian to leave you with that Papal feeling.

The second post, from Yusuf Martin's blog, is an academic commentary. If you're a speculative fiction enthusiast, it's very insightful stuff and highly recommended. Martin has done a deep dive into Malaysian English language works and breaks them down quite nicely including a chronology of the genre's development.

The message of the day: if you're looking for fresh speculative fiction, look to Asia.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting herstory right in speculative fiction

Cultural writer Lucy Portsmouth has done an excellent job breaking down the feminist perspective here in the online magazine Seven. In addition to parsing out the writers that have avoided the stereotypes, she also breaks down trends by feminist era.

As a child of the Seventies and Eighties, the message sank in...and I personally strive to avoid the pitfalls Portsmouth mentions in my own writing. Three of these stereotypes are the:

  • evil villainess
  • hapless victim
  • attractive, often scantily clad, in need of redemption and validation by a heroic man

Settling onto the couch doing a bit of self-analysis: I avoided 2 out of 3 in my recent novel Darwin's Orphans. There is a phalanx of evil-doers in my book all perpetuating unrest with violence. And there is an evil villain character -- not the leader -- she's the smart one that clearly dominates in the end...she's obviously the most resourceful of the lot. In this case, she's not a stereotypical, evil villainess. What about hapless victim? Most of the victims are male and the female pulled into the snare turns out to be very clever: again, I passed the test. The scantily clad one in need of redemption, I confess, is included in one chapter. In spicing things up, I committed a feminist misstep.

Overall though, I've got strong female characters and feel good about realistic and positive representations in the book. But, I wonder, how do your favorite authors faire in this regard?

I'm reading one of my favorite current authors now: Charles Stross. Catching up on his older books, I'm in the middle of Glasshouse and it's got hot women that Ms. Portsmouth may not respect. However, they are intelligent and full of guile...doesn't that earn Stross a few pointers? In the book before it, Accelerando, Stross also features complex, very smart women as major characters. Yet there is that hottie factor thrown in...but why is that?

My take on it: people are seeking both fantasy as well as future visions from speculative fiction. They want both intellectual stimulation as well as entertainment from their books. So, at least for the male audience, spicing the women up makes it more entertaining. That's not fair to real women, though. So, do you counter this by making the smartest, most capable characters women? Seems like a fair balance. After all, seeking balance is what the feminist movement pursues.

This writer pledges to seek that balance in female characters. As a child growing up when Gloria Steinem was in her heyday, I got the message loud and clear...and I agree with it. Hopefully, this same message will imbue the decisions that other male writers make in creating their female characters. Assuredly, Ursula K. LeGuin and other current female authors have already got this mastered.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the western edge of spec-fic

Seattle is back on track...the rare snowy conditions and white-knuckle-gripped driving are a thing of the past. So, back to writing and meeting about speculative fiction. The RustyCon suffered. Everything was thrown out of whack.

However, this writer plans to contribute to the '09 rebirth. It's true, this once consistent source of speculative fiction insights has been negligent. Posts have been sparse. I've let you down. There is, however, a reason for this...

"The blog is dead" they said. I took this seriously. Oversaturation and too many contributors not maintaining proper research behind their statements were the common themes. So, I was pulled into a state of despair. "Why do I bother?" I thought.

Truth is I've missed commenting on what's happening with both the science behind and the writing trends of my genre. It's fascinating stuff and deserves commentary. Even if it's now routinely brushed aside as pap.

So, please return. You will find more insights here in 2009. When I spoke on January 10th at the annual RustyCon, I was devastated: it was sparsely attended, people seemed lethargic, the light was dimming. But that doesn't mean that it's extinguished, right?

So, once more into the breech dear friends. Speculative fiction lives...and so do its brethren.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scatology in speculative fiction?

It was quite a surprise to read the intro blurb to this article on Enigma of the Second Coming. Specifically, the first paragraph ends with the term "scatology" which is the study of feces.

I'm not sure what's so mystical or beautiful about scatology...but inhousepress seems to find it so.

Hopefully, they're actually talking about eschatology. That would be far more fitting.

This is one situation where self-publishing press releases and/or lack of an editor make for some very funny copy. It's not all crap...just the one term is full of it. If Stan I.S. Law wrote the PR himself, I'm sure he's thinking twice about running without an editor next time around.

Honestly, I'm not poo-poo'ing Law's effort here...just recommending a second set of eyes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More from LeGuin

There were some attention-grabbing quotes from Ursula LeGuin that were highlighted here in my last post. Our friends at provided these comments.

There is more commentary from LeGuin featured in today's i09 Books section as well. This time George R.R. Martin is also featured -- the comments are quotations taken from an NPR discussion.

The focal point of this article is tearing down the divide between genres. Both LeGuin and Martin make some insightful points. It's a worthy read for any speculative fiction enthusiast.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some fresh looks at speculative fiction

Our friends at have published a noteworthy piece assembling thoughts on near future and distant fiction in Six Writers Speculate on Science Fiction's Future.

A thought-provoking piece, it got me thinking about my recent book, Darwin's Orphans, and my newest opus which chronologically occurs shortly after it. Regardless of the concerns and warnings I just read in the article, I'm sticking to my storyline.

The most compelling argument I read to continue down the near future path came from Ursula LeGuin: "Now that science and technology move ever faster, much science fiction is really fantasy in a space suit: wishful thinking about galactic empires and cybersex - often a bit reactionary. Things are livelier over on the social and political side, where human nature, which doesn't revise itself every few years, can be relied on to provide good solid novel stuff."

LeGuin has been in my personal pantheon since I read her Dangerous Visions contribution back in the 70's. Anyone who gets respect from a crotchety, old genius like Harlan Ellison has their proverbial act together. So, when I realized that my brand of social and political storytelling in near future fiction holds water by LeGuin, I decided to stay on track.

For the readers and writers of whatever form of SF (speculative or science fiction) you relate to, check out the io9 article. It'll get the wheels turning.