Monday, September 17, 2018

TOR’s E-book Embargo

A robot reads a book.

TOR, publisher of science fiction and fantasy books, has been a venue for new and upcoming speculative fiction writers, especially through its website, Not only have unknown writers made a name for themselves when publishing on the website but also when TOR has licensed the electronic version of their books to libraries. However, TOR has been doing less of that lately. They put an embargo on libraries’ lending of newly published e-books back in July and so a library cannot loan them out until four months after their release. The reason for this embargo is, as TOR claims, to test the impact on sales from library e-book lending.

Librarians, however, have done their own study of such impact and say it is small and insignificant, according to Publishers Weekly. Publishers Weekly itself says that potential sales impact on an author-by-author basis is small. So not even the authors of these books are financially hurting. So maybe it has more to do with TOR as a big publisher staying in economic power, global corporate power to be exact, than it does losing money. After all, an e-book, like a print one, only checks out to a limited number of people due to restrictions on the licence that the library purchases from the publisher. However, the problem with the TOR embargo on e-book lending isn’t so much a decline in sales or a taking away of a source from libraries but rather the lack of communication between publisher and library.

I’m not at all a fan of e-books myself. But, because they’re a demanding market in this age of digital addiction, in order to get my work known I keep myself open to that format while also being sure to put my work in print. And I won’t deny that the e-book has played a major part in making my books known to a wider audience than if they were limited to print editions. Steve Potash, founder and CEO of OverDrive, a distributor of digital content, says that making e-books available in libraries helps authors and publishers get their books discovered and increases sales from library purchases of the books (via licences). Both he and ReadersFirst, a coalition of libraries, think the suspected decline in TOR’s sales may be due not to library e-book lending but to Amazon’s sales ofself-published e-books. This may be so, since Amazon has become a major empire in online retail. Still, Amazon has been another venue that has allowed unknown authors to expose their books to a wider audience. That’s been the case with my fictional work.

But I personally don’t think the problem is with the decline of sales or TOR taking away from libraries a venue of e-book lending. The real problem is that TOR did not discuss or make known their testing plans to librarians ahead of time, as Library Journal indicated in an interview with a library expert. News of the embargo came to librarians after the fact, catching librarians by surprise and making them feel left out of the decision-making process even if TOR may have had the right to stop selling them the licences of newly released e-books. But libraries are community institutions that work with businesses and non-businesses (non-profits and individual citizens) alike. Even though libraries’ dealings with TOR have involved a global corporation, still, especially in this age of internet and social media, it’s a community relationship. Or at least it should be treated as one. More recently, Penguin Random House has been shown to use more of this kind of model of library-publisher relationship in deciding on a change in its e-book lending terms, one that does not involve an embargo. 

Even if for different reasons, libraries and big publishing houses like TOR have a common goal: to promote the author. So if a major change is going to impact either library or publisher it should be discussed between the two and not just be done in obscurity by one or the other. Even the entire world is a community when you think about it, but especially these days with internet.

Until next time . . .

Sunday, September 9, 2018

New Space Opera Series May Bring Optimism Back to Sci Fi TV

An Atomic Era rocket ship stands on four fins with its ladder extended from a hatch.

About two posts ago, in part one of my WorldCon 76 review, I mentioned that I attended a screening of a new space opera TV series in the making. I said I would do a separate post about it and so that’s what this week’s post will be about. If you missed my review of WorldCon, you can catch parts one and two. But then be sure to come back here for a preview of this new sci fi series, Space Command, a retrofuturistic space opera that, if it follows through, will bring optimism back to sci fi TV!

For the past two decades, science fiction television has been loaded with darkly realistic and, in some cases, pessimistic TV shows. Two of these have been The Expanse, and the 2001s’ revived Battlestar Galactica series that hardly brought back anything of the original 1970s show, including its message of hope for the future. Director Marc Zicree’s Space Command is a return to that hopeful message that the original Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and the 1950s Space Patrol carried. The main story to this space opera TV series in the making is a group of space explorers, collectively known as the United Planet’s Space Command, travel and settle various planets of the solar system, including Mars. The series focuses on three families: the Kemmers, the Odaras and the Sekanders.

While Space Command is nostalgic of the many space opera TV series of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s and so has an atompunk fashion to it, it features futuristic technology based on today’s. Therefore, because the culture and style in this series is reminiscent of the space epics of the above eras, it can be considered retrofuturistic even though it doesn’t particularly take place in an alternative timeline. The clothes and appearance of the technology is 1950s sci fi style and so can be considered atompunk fashion. The explorers’ spaceship, the Palidin, has the elongated, bullet-style and bright red colour of the rockets typical of mid 20th century sci fi. The clothes styles are ones such as shoulder-patched tunics and Googi lightning bolt military logos. Yet much of the setting’s technology based on today’s comes up such as augmented reality-based computer keyboards and display monitors.

No TV series in the 21st century has been so atompunk as Space Command! Even though 2014’s mini series, Ascension, could be considered atompunk fashion, it was much more realist and dark in it’s storyline (as good of a show as it was). The closest that sci fi on the screen has come to atompunk in the last 20 years with the message of hope that Star Wars and Star Trek carried, and their predecessors such as Space Patrol, is 2017’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets even though that was a big screen movie. Still, it was much better than many of the critics gave it credit for and although Space Command doesn’t appear to have the dazzling colourful and delicate visuals that Valerian has, it’s no less visually appealing.

From what I saw in the screening of the pilot episode, Marc Zicree and his team have been doing a really good job with this series. Although, as he had announced before the episode was played, the production was not completed yet and so many of the visual effects came out pixelated or choppy, other parts of the episode flowed well and the story played out really good. The backstory to many of the main characters is given and there is plenty of action and suspense. And what’s really super is that Zicree is giving some of his characters surnames of classic sci fi authors such as Ray Bradbury and even Jorge Luis Borges.

The cast also consists of big name actors of science fiction such as Mira Furlan of Lost and Babylon 5, Robert Picardo of Star Trek: Voyager and Stargate Atlantis, Bill Mumy also of Babylon 5 and Lost in Space (original series), Christina Moses of Star Trek: New Voyages, and others! There’s no doubt that Marc Zicree will do great with this show. His credits are also from work on some of the most successful space opera TV series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Babylon 5. So the cast and crew are in no way new to science fiction. As of the writing of this post, it hasn’t been decided what venue the series will release through. However, Zicree thinks it will probably be a video streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu.

So far, Space Command has been financially supported through crowdfunding via Kickstarter. In fact, Zicree and his team met their funding goal only less than two weeks ago—at the end of August, according to the series’ Facebook page. I am delighted to say that I contributed to that support. As I had told Zicree at the screening during the question-and-answer session, I really hope this series will be accepted by a TV distributor because sci fi needs more atompunk since most of the retrofuturistic fiction of the last decade has been steampunk.

Even though the Kickstarter goal has been met, Zicree and his team are still looking for support in other venues. Depending on what you contribute, you can earn some really neat prizes! Visit the Space Command website to find out how and how to make this series come to television! If you weren’t at the screening, don’t feel like you missed sampling the series. You can see the segment from the pilot at Marc’s YouTube channel! If you check it out, let me know what you think in the box below and definitely let Marc know what you think at his channel!

Until next time . . .

Available at Amazon!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Special Con Review, Part II: WorldCon 76—Cosplay, Hugos, ‘Amazing Stories’

A flying saucer hovering in the air and generating a beam of light.

Last post of this two-part con report, I talked about the panels I attended on Saturday at WorldCon 76 in San Jose. I particularly talked about ones that I felt were most important to writers and readers of science fiction and fantasy. I also discussed how they reflected the growing racial and cultural diversity in the genres. If you missed last week’s post you can catch it here. This week I’m going to discuss the other events at the 76th World Science Fiction Convention such as the masquerade (cosplay), the Hugo Awards and a special person I came across.

The Masquerade

The masquerade started at 8 PM and was held Saturday in the Grand Ballroom. As I said last post, many of the panels I attended earlier that day were so packed they sometimes didn’t allow for even standing room. The Harlan Ellison Memorial was in that boat and so I was not able to attend it as planned. After running around the entire McEnery Convention Center, where WorldCon was held, all day I wasn’t about to work my way through the huge crowded building to the the Grand Ballroom only to find out there was no standing room (let alone sitting). I was already in the exhibit hall planning to shop in the dealers’ section only to find out that section was closed for the evening. The masquerade is the heart of any full fledged science fiction and fantasy convention. And I knew it was already packed wall to wall because it was close to 8. So if all the panels you attend are filled to the capacity, you damn well know the masquerade will be. So I watched it on streaming video on the giant screen that loomed above Callahan’s Place.

What is Callahan’s Place? It’s a pub in down town San Jose. Or was. Like the old curiosity shops of science fiction and fantasy pulp mags, it disappeared almost overnight. It was actually a portion of the exhibit hall sectioned off to serve as a bar for all five days of the convention where people could sit to unwind with drinks and chat about their favourite sci fi and fantasy. It was named after author Guest of Honour Spider Robinson’s series of novels of the same name.

So, after flipping through some fanzines in the nearby fanzine lounge, I took a seat in the Place and watched the masquerade from there. Unfortunately, there were several technical errors that took place at the masquerade itself such as stage lighting shutting off, but the host, Chris Garcia, took it very well and with good humour. One of the most notable costume skits was one titled “A Wretched Hive of Scummy Villainy”, a parody of the cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, where several cosplayers dressed as aliens such as the scaly bounty hunter, Greedo. If I remember correctly, it was this participant who held a picket sign and, at the end of the skit, turned it to face the audience to show that it read “Not My Emperor”. Everybody roared with laughter as well as applauded. And boy, did I applaud! It shows you how bad Emperor Palpatine/Trump is: not even the “scum and villainy” can stand people like them! Anyway, it was that team of cosplayers who won in a couple of categories: Judges’ Choice for Silicon Mask Work; and Best Mask. You can find out who the other winners of the masquerade were at the convention’s newsletter

The Hugo Awards

Also held in the Grand Ballroom, the next evening at 8 PM, was the Hugo Awards Ceremony. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend (I had already headed for home that day). But the ceremony presented a new award this year (although it wasn’t a Hugo). It was the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Best Young Adult Book Award. This was a great achievement for the ceremony and the WSFS itself since YA fiction, especially in the speculative genres, has become very popular and well received in the last few years. The winner of this award was Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor (published by Viking). Some notable Hugo winners were for:

Best Fazine: File 770, edited by Mike Glyer

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas and others

Best Professional Artist: Sana Takeda

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form: Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and screenplay written by Allan Heinberg

Best Related Work: No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Best Series: World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold (published by Harper Voyager)

Best Short Story: “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience”, by Rebecca Roanhorse (from Apex magazine, August 2017 issue)

Best Novel: The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (published by Orbit)

For for a list of winners in other categories of the Hugos and of other awards presented at the ceremony check out the post at WorldCon 76’s blog or, better yet, watch a video recording of the ceremony at the con’s YouTube channel!

Running Into Chief Editor of ‘Amazing Stories’ Magazine

Looking back to Saturday of the con, I was walking from a panel that just got done when a man with long, white hair and a beard handed me a copy of Amazing Stories. He was handing out a bunch for free. That was Steve Davidson, the one who revived the magazine that started in 1926 and sadly stopped publication in 2005. But, thanks to him, it’s now back in publication! I did not realise it was Steve until I had already walked away. I was in a hurry trying to turn in some lost keys I found in the men’s restroom. Finding the lost-and-found was a hell of a lot more complicated than I thought. I went to about three different places in the convention center, each telling me that it was not the place where they take lost items and one or two referring me back to a previous point that I tried. Finally, I was directed to the right place. That must have been a 15 minute or longer trip to turn those keys in.

I did an article on Steve Davidson’s relaunch of Amazing Stories for when I was freelancing for them and before they went obsolete. I was pondering whether to go back and talk to Steve but then thought he was probably gone by now. But I went back anyway and, surprisingly, he was still there handing out copies of the magazine. I thanked him again for the magazine and then told him who I was. I told him about the article I did on his relaunch of Amazing Stories and he thanked me. He was very pleasant. I asked if the magazine is sold in stores and he said it’s only sold through subscription, as individual issues at Amazon, and distributed at conventions like he was doing that day. I haven’t had a chance to read the copy he gave me, but I did flip through it later. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, including an article by Robert Silverberg about his relationship with the magazine. As soon as I catch up on my present reading, I’ll be sure to read the issue all the way through! 

In the Dealers’ Room

I spent most of Sunday in the dealers’ room and made sure I went early enough since that was the day I had planned to come home. Although most of the tables were book dealers’ there were a lot of arts and crafts and a few game dealers. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) had a table there. I talked to a couple of the staff members at the table about membership. They actually accept indie/self-published writers in their organization. I’ll consider applying for membership! See their website for details on how to apply.  

Like I arrived to the 76th World Science Fiction Convention later than I had wanted to, I also left it later than I had originally planned. Besides an overwhelming number of panels and other events there, the exhibit hall itself had an overwhelming number of things to see and I wanted to make sure I saw at least the best of exhibits and dealers’ tables. So I caught a train home by three hours or so later than I had intended. But big cons like WorldCon only come every so often near a person’s home area. If I had more money I would’ve stayed another day but economic reality called me home. However, after all the panels I attended and talks that I had with great authors and artists, literary reality also called me home. I had a lot of writing to catch up on and improve upon.

What’s the largest sci fi/fantasy convention you’ve attended? Did you have a hard time selecting events to attend there?

Until next time . . .

At Amazing Amazon!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Special Con Review, Part I: WorldCon 76 Offers a Universe of Diversity

A cartoon rocket flies through space.

WorldCon 76 (a.k.a the 76th World Science Fiction Convention) in San Jose ran from Thursday of last week through Monday of this, but I was only able to attend Friday through Sunday. I wasn’t even there for the majority of Friday because I left the house late and had to take a later train from Sacramento. But even if I had been there all five days it still probably wouldn’t have been enough time to see everything. For one thing, the time slots of many great events overlapped with each other. For another, many of the panels were packed to the point where there wasn’t even standing room. At least half of the ones I made it into I was either standing or sitting on the floor which this latter was a literal pain after having sat for 20 minutes. Other than the overcrowdedness, it all went by really good. There wasn’t even much of a problem with the Alt Right protest going on outside the McEnery Convention Center. Before, I thought I was going to have to walk a detour from my hotel to the con. But for me, it was almost as if they were never there because I was inside the building enjoying panels all day, some of which may had been at the root of the Alt Right’s purpose for protesting. Compared to the last World Science Fiction Convention I attended back in 2006 in Los Angeles, WorldCon 76 was much more culturally and racially diverse in its programme of events.

Diversity and the Mexicanx Initiative

The cultural and racial diversity at WorldCon was much more noticeable than I remember it being in Los Angeles (Anaheim to be exact) more than 10 years ago. In fact, according to an article by Charlie Jane Anders in the WorldCon 76 souvenir booklet, this year is the first World Science Fiction Convention that had a Mexican-American Guest of Honor, artist John Picacio (not Picasso!). A big project for WorldCon 76 was the Mexicanx Initiative, a programme that Picacio organised to get funding for Latino speculative fiction creators and fans to attend the con. The con itself had several panels on Latinos, Blacks, Asians, the disabled, women and LGBT in genre culture. There was even a panel on Afro-futurism which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. This diversity in race and culture added to the diversity in panel topics that the World Science Fiction Convention has offered for years.

Panels I Attended

Here’s a partial list of the panels I attended and found most useful to myself both as a writer and reader of speculative fiction:

“Imposter Syndrome”: Many authors, myself included, have been discouraged from non-writers and non-artists over our craft. This is especially those of us who come from more “practical” families or communities. This first panel I attended Friday evening talked about how to overcome such discouragement. One of the best points the panelists brought up was that if you get totally absorbed in your story and its characters while writing it, you “cease to exist”. Which means you don’t care what the outside world thinks of you if you’re really into the act of writing. It’s kind of like mysticism.

“The Bob Wilkins Creature Features Show”: I ducked into this 5-hour screening for about an hour. Even though I have on DVD many of the clips and footage from Bob Wilkins’s TV shows, I still wanted to honour this late night TV horror host from my childhood. I had donated to thecharity auction a beautifully sculpted action figure of a monster from a sci fi-horror movie in honour of him but wanted to be present for the gHost of Honor at the con.  

“Apocalypse Tomorrow: The Tumultuous History of Mexican Science Fiction and Fantastic Literature”: I went into this 10 AM Saturday panel about 15 minutes late so didn’t quite capture all the briefly told history of Mexico’s speculative fiction scene. (I say “briefly told” because you can only get so much into a one-hour panel.) I was too addicted to the complementary all-you-can eat breakfast at the hotel I was staying at, even to get to a panel in time that talks about sci fi and fantasy in the country of one of my ancestries. But one thing that was worthy of note here (among many others that I don’t have the time to discuss now) is when a person in the audience asked the panelists how Mexican authors use indigenous traditions in their sci fi and fantasy, the panelists laughed nervously. In answer, one panelist said that it was hard to do that because European domination was so big in Mexico for a long time that it alienated a lot of pre-Columbian culture. Another panelist, Gerardo Porcayo, said that today’s Mexican fantasy and science fiction writers are not only trying to integrate the ideas between indigenous and European cultures but also the ideas of other cultures from around the world. It shows how open-minded authors of Mexican ancestry are and how innovating science fiction and fantasy is. 

“Silence In the Library”: As an avid reader and writer there’s no way I can’t love libraries. That’s one reason I’m a library technician by day. So I thought attending this panel would help me as a library pro. But it also helped me as an indie author. The best advice I got from this one as a writer was that in order to get your book noticed by the Library of Congress you should get an ORCID. The panelists, all who worked in library science, also had a lot of interesting things to say about science fiction/fantasy cataloging in libraries and innovative library technology.

“Idea Versus Story”: I went to this afternoon panel as a second choice to the memoriam for Harlan Ellison. The memoriam was one of those panels that was literally packed wall to wall and so did not allow for any standing room. I was going to just settle for listening at the door but I couldn’t hear a damn word that was spoken. So I walked off saying to myself, sorry, Harlan but I tried. I’ll make it up to you. So I attended this panel that was basically about turning your story idea into a full story. The best piece of advice I got from this panel was that in order to write your idea into story form more easily start with the main character. Characters, as with real people, make decisions and actions and those two make events and a set of events makes a story. 

“Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow: Near Future Fiction”: This panel was moderated by John Scalzi who, like the other panelists, had some really useful things to say about staying ahead of real life’s scientific and technological advancements when writing science fiction. One of the two best tips they gave was that when you’re worldbuilding, to speculate how technology will be used differently between the upper tiers of society and the lower ones. The other tip was about outdated science fiction. Although this is one I’ve already believed in , I felt it was worthy mentioning here: if you date your science fiction story and if that date arrives and very little of the science and technology in the story occurs in real life, that story becomes alternative history.

TV Series Preview: Space Command: This is an “atompunk” series in the making. A half-hour of the two hour pilot episode was screened and showed a lot of promise. The series seems to be part social commentary and part escapism reminiscent of the 1950s’ Space Patrol TV series. It features use of technology based on today’s advancements while innovating a retro style of fashion and architecture. I told the director, Marc Zicree, who presented the screening, that I really hope this series will be accepted by the TV networks (online or off) because the world needs more atompunk. I definitely support this series and you can too at its Kickstarter page. I plan to do a whole post on it at a later date.

“Fantasy Aliens”: This panel discussed the influence of mythological creatures on modern day alien characters. An important point that the panelists brought up was that when you create an alien who’s different in physical appearance it’s important to make them different in their way of thinking based on their culture. This makes the story more plausible and better developed.

These were the panels I attended Friday and Saturday that I thought would be most useful for this blog where I try to focus on the science fiction and fantasy writing and readership of the two genres. Sunday I mostly shopped and looked around in the dealer’s room which I’ll talk about next time. I’ll also discuss some interesting things that happened to me between panels, the masquerade (cosplay) and much more.

Did you attend WorldCon 76? Have you been to any World Science Fiction Conventions from other years?

Until next time . . .

Available at Amazon!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

WorldCon 76 Charity Auction To Offer a Vast Selection of Sci Fi Treasures

A flying saucer searches for sunken treasure.

In less than a week I will be attending WorldCon 76! I’ve been looking at the programme schedule (the newly revised one ): the number of panels and other events are overwhelming! A person can’t say there won’t be enough events or activity there. There are going to be plenty of writing and art panels, fiction reading panels, author signings, game panels, film screenings, cosplay and of course the Hugo Awards! You can find the programme schedule here  for more activities. One of the events that I don’t dare fail to mention, though, is the charity auction. It is the main charity event of the world science fiction convention for this year. I was looking at the list of donated auction items the other day and it has some really neat sci fi and fantasy stuff!

My Donation In Honour of a Horror Show Host

WorldCon’s charity auction will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada. The Alzheimer’s Association is a non-profit organization that helps people with Alzheimer’s, a disease that causes severe memory loss, and supports research in finding a cure. As a sci fi author, artist and fan, I felt the need to contribute to an important cause such as this and so I did (see below).

WorldCon’s choice of charity for this year was inspired by the late Bob Wilkins and chosen with the help of Mr. Wilkins’ surviving family. Mr. Wilkins was a late-night horror TV show host back in the 1970s. I grew up on his shows, The Bob Wilkins Show and Creature Features. The first aired on Sacramento local TV stations and the second broadcasted from the San Francisco/Bay Area. Watching his shows and the A-rated and B-rated movies they featured played a big role in becoming the writer and artist of science fiction and fantasy that I am today. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wilkins and his very good wife, Sally, back in the mid 2001s at WonderCon, the sister con to San Diego’s Comic Con, when it used to be held in San Francisco. He suffered with Alzheimer’s. So, after he passed away in 2009 and the family asked for donations to the Alzheimer’s Association in lieu of flowers, I was much obliged to donate.

So in honour of Bob Wilkins, I have donated an item for WorldCon’s charity auction that’s proceeds are to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. I donated an approximately 6-inch action figure from a series of action figures called, believe it or not, Creature Features! However, I don’t believe the series was based on Bob Wilkins’ show. “Creature features” has just grown to be a common term for horror films in general. And the funny thing was that, when I donated the item, I forgot the name of the series it was from. It wasn’t until I saw it displayed on the WorldCon website that I remembered the name and realised it, even if unintentionally, reflected Bob Wilkins’ locally famous show. For that reason, I officially declare that donation as an honour to Bob Wilkins’ show of the same name: Creature Features.

An action figure of the 'She Creature' in its packaging.

The specific character the action figure depicts is the monster from HBO’s made-for-cable movie, The She Creature. The movie was a remake of the 1950s B-rated film of the same name. The action figure is a replica of the special effects artist’s, the late Stan Winston’s, sculpture made for the production of the film. For more about this item that’s up for auction, see the post for it at WorldCon 76’s blog. 

Other Donated Items

There are a lot of other donated items for auction displayed on the con’s website. Some of these are:

  • A Hugo Loser’s “Award” Plaque (a good-humoured novelty, I’m sure!)

  • An iron coin based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels that HBO’s Game of Thrones is based on. (The author himself is scheduled to make an appearance there!)

  • Audio books
  • The first four issues of Asimov’s SF Adventure Magazine from the 70s

  • A limited illustrated edition of Larry Niven’s Ringworld (who is also scheduled to appear!). I’ve read his first two books of the Ringworld series and they were fantastic! This edition of the first one should be even more fantastic with the beautiful art inside. Sure, its a French translation, but even if you don’t speak the language the artwork alone will probably make it worth bidding on!

  • Frank Frazetta’s Princess of Mars statue: this beautifully painted statue is based on Frazetta’s depiction of the Edgar Rice Burroughs character. Frazetta is one of the best sci fi/fantasy artists who did illustrations for numerous book covers when science fiction and fantasy books actually had freehand illustrations.

  • Star Trek memoribilia
And more! So check out the website

I’m not sure if I’ll be posting next week since it will be a very busy weekend for me. I’ll try to squeese in a short post, probably a mini update of the con. If not then I’ll have a more full report of the convention the following week. WorldCon 76 is the world science fiction and fantasy convention that gathers some of the most famous artists and writers of the genre. It will be held at the McEnery Convention Center in downtown San Jose, California, 16 August to 20 August. Maybe I’ll run into some of you there!

Are you attending WorldCon? If so, what events are you looking forward to? Feel free to leave your answers and any other comments in the box below!

Until next time . . .

Sunday, August 5, 2018

No Patience for a Sci Fi / Fantasy Novel Series? Try a Novella!

A woman sits in a high-backed chair with her foot on a stack of books and a dragon standing over her.

As much as I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman and as great as his novel American Gods has been said to be, I have not read it. That’s because I’m not a big fan of novels that go over 400 pages regardless of genre. Not that I’ll never read American Gods; I’m just not ready to work my way through an extra long work any time soon. Anything more than the equivalent of a 400-page mass trade paperback novel I normally try to stay away from. I’m afraid that if I try reading it that I’ll put it aside to read other things and take a break from it--a permanent break. It’s happened to me twice with one book--Don Quixote.

So, as much as I’d like to read American Gods and probably will someday, I’ve turned to the “alternative” instead. Actually I’ve turned to two alternatives: two American Gods sequels (see the list below for titles). However, you probably won’t find them on shelves at the bookstores, much less the library, yet. At least not as their own books. That’s because they are not novels. They are novellas. The novella: a little shorter than the average size novel (and so not much longer than 100 pages), a little longer than a long short story (which is sometimes referred to as a “novelette” and totals to about 50 pages).

Because I have a short attention span for reading long novels, I have even a shorter attention span for writing novels of any length. I can read an average size novel (399 words or less) with no problem, it just takes me longer to get through it than it would most people. But writing a novel would probably not hold my patience for very long. I’ve always told people that I’ll try writing one someday. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But I have written a novella as an alternative. I think this is a great way for a writer to introduce him- or herself to writing novels--write a novella first. It’s easier to keep track of and the revision process is quicker, although I haven’t quite yet made it to that level of writing my mine. The novella is also great for readers who are new to sci fi and fantasy and don’t like reading really long works that are so typical in the speculative genre. So, where do such readers find science fiction and fantasy novellas if too few of them are sold in stores? Traditionally, literary magazines, short fiction collections and anthologies have included novellas. However, the lack of science fiction and fantasy novellas in bookstores may come to an end soon, according to an article by Jason Kehe at entitled “The Rise of the Sci-Fi Novella: All the Imagination, None of the Burden”

Kehe discusses the novella as ideal reading material for new readers of sci fi and fantasy who often get the impression that the two genres consists mostly of long, multi-volume works. Science fiction and fantasy book series, such as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Charles Stross’s Laundry Files, have eclipsed smaller works in the two genres for decades. But, again, this may be changing. Kehe says that the novella was mostly confined to fiction magazines and anthologies where it would receive only a marginal readership. But then he says that fairly recently popularised the novella and he goes into details about how it has done so and how the trend has spread out to other markets. He also gives a list of contemporary titles. To see this list, take a look at his article. For more titles, take a look at my list below of science fiction and fantasy novellas I’ve read and enjoyed.

Fairly recently, shorter works have been selling more on Amazon—including novellas and short stories. And so Amazon has been selling more short stories individually as stand-alone books rather than just collectively in anthologies and collections. That’s why I had self-published “Circa Sixty Years Dead”  as a book rather than waiting to include it in a short fiction collection or anthology. And you know what? I haven’t made a penny from it. At least not on Amazon. My short fiction collection, The Fool’s Illusion, has sold more copies. But hey, “Circa” is only one short book. And I’ll admit, I haven’t given the time to promoting it as much as I did “Fool’s Illusion”. However, I did sell some copies of “Circa” at Sac-Con almost a year ago. So yes, people are looking for shorter works to read and Kehe explains why in his article.

A Random List of Sci Fi/Fantasy Novellas I’ve Read and Enjoyed

Monarch of the Glen, Neil Gaiman

Black Dog, Neil Gaiman

Dr. Jekylle and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

Rescue Run, Anne McCaffrey

Do you read or write novellas? What are your favourites?

Until next time . . .

Monday, July 30, 2018

Alien Worldbuilding; WorldCon 76 Program Removed

A rocket as typically depicted in 1950s science fiction.

Like in many parts of the state, Northern California has been having its summer wild fire problem. Even though Sacramento hasn’t been hit by any of the flames (the closest fire has been in Redding) the smoke blows over to here. Even so, and even though it’s been frying in the triple digits, I put on my gas mask (okay, my clinical anti-germ mask) Saturday afternoon and braved the extreme heat to take advantage of a sale at one of the comic book stores. It almost wasn’t worth it. I kind of thought maybe the time would have been better spent continuing to work on a short story that will probably take more than three months to complete because it involves inter-dimensional time travel. So this is a story that I have to bring all kinds of quantum mechanical concepts into and I’m no astrophysicist.

Worldbuilding To Create Aliens

However, I’m done with the worldbuilding part of the story, unless future drafts prove otherwise. What helped me was drawing out the aliens. When I’d draw them with certain features, such as a Cyclopean eye and jaw-tipped appendages, I had to build a backstory about how and what on their planet made them evolve that way. For my other science fiction stories it’s been vice versa: I would first brainstorm and determine the planet’s atmosphere and geography and then sketch out the native beings accordingly. So drawing doesn’t have to be just for illustrating books themselves. It can help in the worldbuilding process for the story, including monster creation!

Pencil sketch of two one-eyed, tentacled monsters.
A concept sketch of aliens in a science fiction story I'm working on.
Credit: The Blogger

WorldCon 76 News

The76th World Science Fiction Convention is less than three weeks away and I’ve been taking preparations to attend! I’m not going to have a table there but will be simply enjoying the events and talking with the other writers and artists. Yesterday, I cast my vote for the Hugo Awards which accepts votes until July 31.

I would have selected the con’s events I’d like to attend but the program was removed. And probably for good reason. According to chairman Kevin Roche “too many errors” were made in the program that was published at the website Sunday July 23rd. He said the program “slighted and angered so many of the people we are gathering to meet, honor, and celebrate.” Many of these people were reported to have complained that panels were rejected because their creators, including certain authors, and topics were not well known enough. The whole idea of a panel is to inform people. If a topic or author or some other creator isn’t known then panels are supposed to attempt to make them known. Another cause for the reaction against the program was the misrepresenting of Hugo Award finalistBogi Tokacs’ gender identification in a bio. Roche apologised for the problems in the program and declared that a new program will be made from scratch. When it will be publicized is unknown at this time.

The 76th World Science Fiction Convention runs from August 16 to 20, 2018 in San Jose, California. See the convention’s website for more details. 

Fellow fiction writers: How do you develop your otherworldly characters? Fellow fiction writers and sci fi/fantasy fans: Are you planning on attending WorldCon 76? Who would you like to see get a Hugo this year? Feel free to leave your answers and any other comments in the box below!

Until next time . . .