Post #36 – The Dearly Departed

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8/30/18

The speculative fiction world already lost at least three well known members this year, and we still have many months to go. First Ursula Le Guin went. Then Gardner Dozois. Most recently Harlan Ellison passed. For those with a morbid curiosity, there have been other genre author passings this year, and Locus maintains an obituaries page.

Some of these you may know, some maybe not. Everyone probably knew of Le Guin. I own The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dipossessed. The psychological depth to these books astounds me to this day.

Let’s also not forget her Earthsea series, most of which I own. The world she created there was so rich and interesting I think it rivaled that created by Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. She could have played in that sandbox for decades with no trouble finding stories to tell. I was sad that she didn’t. I long term goal of mine is to create a world that interesting.

I also knew of Harlan Ellison. His short story, “‘Repent Harlequin,’ said the Ticktock Man,” is a classic. I own it as well.

I was not familiar with Dozois, but his bio reads like I expect mine too if I ever become a better writer. He primarily wrote short stories, with only a couple books spread over a decades long carrier. He spent the end of his carrier as an anthology editor. While I don’t expect I’ll head down that road ever, it makes sense for a short story author to move on to editing collections of short stories. Mike Resnick, the editor of Galaxy’s Edge, has a nice tribute to Dozois in issue 34 (September/October 2018).

So whose next? Mike Resnick noted in one of his recent The Editor’s Word columns for Galaxy’s Edge Magazine how many sci-fi greats are of advanced age, e.g in their 70s or 80s. He calls out Robert Silverberg, who’s 83, as one example. Names I pulled out of a hat include Joe Haldeman, who is 75, Piers Anthony, who is 84, and Alan Dean Foster, who is 72. Resnick himself is 76. Statistically, we could lose any one of these at any moment.

These are major contributors to sci-fi literature, and they will be missed. In the past, when titans of the genre passed, others emerged. Who will emerge now?

They probably already have emerged, and I don’t know it. I don’t have time to read the Nebula and Hugo winners every year, though I assume that’s a good place to start. I really wish I did, since I’d like to win one or both of those.

The only sci-fi author that blew me away in recent years was Dan Simmons with his Hyperion series. Those four books were phenomenal. And he’s primarily a horror writer! The last in that series came out in 1996, and he’s also 70. So neither are very new.

If you know of a more recent sci-fi author I must read, let me know in the comments. I’m looking for those future legends who will fill the void when our current ones depart for the great supermassive black hole in the sky.

Photo credit: PiotrWompel via Pixabay

Post #5 – Resources Part 1 – Books

1/24/18

Besides being a big reader of speculative fiction, especially science fiction, I have no writing credentials.  I didn’t study creative writing in college.  I haven’t attended any writing workshops, though I may.

I repeatedly hear two pieces of advice on how to improve my writing.  The first way to become a better writer is to be an avid reader.  Check.  Of course, the second thing they say is to write.  However, I feel simply writing alone cannot make me a better writer.  How do I avoid repeating the same mistakes?  If I do not know how to develop characters, or plot, or theme, can I grasp those concepts intuitively just from reading other fiction?  I doubt it.  So instead of simply reading genre fiction, I also have read books recently on the art or how-to of writing speculative fiction.  Below are some of my favorites so far.

Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold

Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories by Orson Scott Card

On Writing by Stephen King

King’s is more high level and much more personal.  For example, he discusses where he writes and when he writes and how much he writes each day.  The first part of the book is a true memoir and discusses his childhood and his early writing while addicted to drugs and alcohol.  I found that all fascinating but not very helpful in developing my writing skills.  Unfortunately, I do not plan to become addicted to drugs or alcohol any  time soon.

The other two books listed above are more about the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction.  I found Worlds of Wonder especially practical.  For example, Gerrold devotes one chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing an alien race.  He devotes another chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing a new world.  While an author is not expected to include the answers to all these questions in a work, it seems logical that an author can only fulfill the old adage of writing what you know if you’ve developed the alien race or world to the point where you truly know it.

I don’t plan to stop with the books above.  I have a list.  I always have a list… for everything.  Below are a couple on my To Read list.

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula Le Guin (RIP, 1929-2018)

Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card

In addition to the craft of writing, I’ve read a couple books on the business of writing.  Writing will not be my career any time soon, but I found the following two books to be immensely helpful in understanding the ins and outs of writing as a business.

The Magic Bakery: Copyright in the Modern World of Fiction Publishing (A WMG Writer’s Guide) by Dean Wesley Smith

Q&A for Science Fiction Writers by Mike Resnick

I bought both of these as part of Story Bundle’s 2017 NaNoWriMo bundle.  I’m still working my way through the remaining titles in that bundle.  Resnick’s take is a little dated since it mostly was written in the early 2000s with the occasional update in 2008 and again in 2012.  Much has changed since the early 2000s and even in last five years, especially with electronic publishing.  Regardless, many of Resnick’s points remain applicable.  Smith’s take is more current, and he does not come off nearly as arrogant as Resnick.  (I’m not saying that arrogance wasn’t earned, but it’s there.)  That said, I felt I benefited from the two contrasting viewpoints.  Now I just need to learn about writing viewpoints.