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The Signal Goes Dark: RIP SFSignal

SFSignal has been an important part of my morning routine for years now. It was my go to site for everything science fiction and fantasy since I first encountered it many years ago. On Thursday, SFSignal published its last post. The signal has gone dark.

SFSignal will be deeply missed by the community. But I am confident that the spirit of the site will live on as John DeNardo and all those who made it possible go on to new horizons.

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Magic, E.T., and the Genres I Aim to Write

Many questions have percolated in my mind lately. But writing them down in a blog post has been, honestly, a pain in the butt. None of the previous drafts have flowed satisfactorily. I think I have it this time.

Researching magic systems is a pain in the ass. Especially if the magic systems are those of the real world. So far, I’ve mostly looked into the Western ceremonial tradition. It is crazy! To be generous, the ceremonial tradition of the West is a hodgepodge of specious scholarship and laughable frauds melding together by, perhaps, too uncritical minds. 

Still though, what I’ve uncovered has been very interesting, even if I think much of it is laughable. But it does give me an insight into how different types of magicians or witches work. And why, exactly, they get involved in many of these traditions. 

An interesting thought, though, is the difference between the, to be less cumbersome, goetic tradition and many of the traditional or local witchcraft traditions. One tradition relies on an (to my mind) archaic philosophical interpretation of the world while the other relies on a deep knowledge of the local environment married to a mastery of local religion (or mythology).  What would a fantasy that confronted the two traditions look like? Also, Richard Cavendish makes a wonderful point that magic is, perhaps, more poetry rather than (proto)science. What would a more poetic take on magic be like? Would it look like reality warping?

Another question I had is whether or not having born wizards/ witches rather than having them desire and learn their powers a better option? The two approaches do have their respective storytelling strengths. But is a biological approach easier to world build? And maybe, easier to have genuinely good characters?

Moving away from fantasy, for the moment, I want to touch now on some thoughts about E.T.s. 

If you’ve ever watched the television series Through the Wormhole, you’ll understand what is coming. 

In the aliens episode, the argument is made that most sentient, or intelligent, alien species will be predators. But I really have to challenge that assertion. Or, at the very least, the notion that we may have to deal with smart apex predators. If you look at our own world, no apex predator has attained sentience. We humans are not apex predators. Yes, we are omnivorous, but we were prey to other species. I wonder if it is not the relative weakness of the human body which requires both hunting strategies and strong artificial defenses that, in part, contributed to our need for increased intelligence. 

Another point. Are we the only sentient species on this planet? Could not certain species of dolphins be sentient? And could some whale species also be sentient? 

Finally, we hear so often that we are the young kids on the galactic block. But what if we are actually one of the older species? What does that mean for us? (Okay, for the record, I have every intention of writing a space opera around this idea. But it won’t be a replay of Western colonialism).

Speaking of space opera, I’ve been thinking a lot about the genres (or subgenres) I aim to write.

There are some genres I’ve always wanted to write. They are the genres that have, as a form, captured my imagination and inspired me. 

Space opera, epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, science fantasy, the weird, cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, etc. 

Writing science fiction has been a challenge for me. In part I think because, while I adore science fiction, actually bringing all of my knowledge and inspiration to bear hasn’t really born much fruit, excepting a few instances (like the space opera idea above).

In a way, I’m a fantasy idea machine. The trouble here is determining how to schedule everything out. And never getting around to writing science fiction.

Writing this post, I got hit by an “I’m an idiot” bomb. My current work in progress is an epic fantasy set in a version of the “real world.” (Mind you, it’s not the real world because, well, magic isn’t real). The other three fantasy projects I have in the works  are no less interesting, genre wise. 

I had convinced myself that the project coming after The Goetic High would be no less epic. But I am not so sure. For one thing, I really wanted to make some kind of science fiction story out of it. In this iteration, the project would have been either postapocalyptic, punk, or space opera. But things just did not click. Now, that is not to say that a good science fiction story will never click into the overall idea. But the idea just works better as fantasy. So the story is back to being a portal quest epic fantasy. But is that really the best option? 

Writing this blog, it “hit” me that maybe I could take more inspiration from sword and sorcery and mix that into the science fantasy it already was. (You know, this project could raise questions about how sword and sorcery and epic fantasy interact). Only time will tell. Anyway, I can’t wait to discuss some of the inspirations that went into this project. Inspiration comes from the craziest places. 

Two Cities has, honestly, proven a pain. What damn genre is it? Yes, it is urban fantasy, if only because the damn story takes place in San Francisco. Then, again, it “hit” me. Magic realism. Or in this case fantastic realism since, so far, the point of the story is very much a human one rather than a more action oriented story. 

The fourth idea is still a ways off. But I suspect it will be a wildly experimental work. And maybe see the wedding of steampunk and southern gothic. (Hey, I love southern gothic, too). 

I’m rambling, right now, so I’ll stop here. 

Writing this post, like many of my “talking to myself” posts, has opened up new storytelling possibilities. So, yes, this post succeeds where earlier drafts failed.

31 Days of Post (2) Day 18: The Trouble with Science Fiction

I’ve written a few times about my desire to write science fiction and the troubles I’ve encountered brainstorming ideas. I haven’t really discussed reading science fiction  as much as I should, but I find the same troubles plaguing me when I do read science fiction. And that is a bad thing. 

The problem is that I’m as caught up in pointing out scientific problems in science fiction as many other fans. I am a harsh critic. If there are plot holes, world building hiccups, or writer’s brain farts, I’m going to catch it and give hell for it. And truth be told, I’m far harsher towards science fiction than I am fantasy. Because I hold science fiction, even if it is fantasy, to a higher standard. 

And this high standard causes me problems as both reader and aspiring writer. As a reader, I’m too concerned with catching flaws to appreciate the work. And as a writer, I feel that I do not have the credentials needed to make a credible effort.

Is this stupid? Yes, yes it is. Many of the great science fiction writers have a strong foundation in science, if not having day jobs in the sciences. But not all of the greats have such strong grounding to include advanced degrees. Many great science fiction writers are as relatively ignorant of science as I am (that’s not to say I’m science illiterate, but I’m not at the level of a degree or even a passionate lay person). 

I’m, understandably, troubled by this tendency in myself as a reader. How can I enjoy a work if I’m obsessing over how dated it feels? How can I write a space opera or a cyberpunk story if I’m crippled by the fear of making a fool of myself?

(Maybe, as a writer, I should just stick to fantasy. I am, arguably, a fantasy idea machine).

But let’s, for a moment, extrapolate out from me to looking at science fiction as a fandom. I’m not the only sf fan who obsesses over these issues. And I’m not the only one likely to be crippled by these troubles. 

Is this tendency, increasing over the past few years, a good thing or a bad thing? Unfortunately, I don’t think it is a good thing. Largely because I fear this attitude shrinks the genre to a small die hard community that reinforces itself. And this, I think, partially explains why science fiction has lost popularity over the past decade or so, though science fiction is by no means dead. 

Whether this attitude is enduring or a momentary fade, hopefully science fiction will endure.

31 Days of Post (2) Day 13: The Politics Post

I’ve largely avoided talking about politics on this blog. The reasons for this are two fold. One, I don’t feel comfortable adapting political discussion to sf, comics, manga, etc. Two, I really don’t feel comfortable talking about my own political values and beliefs. But as a writer, part of the job description is to reveal bits of oneself every time one puts been to paper (or starts mashing a keyboard). 

I identify myself as left wing politically. But I’m not exactly passionate or obsessive about it. I’m not a political junkie. I used to be, but my interests have changed. The glory days of my wonkiness came during the 2008 elections. And it dropped from there. Now, it has gotten to the point that I really don’t care.

But I can’t avoid politics. Especially when it comes down to genre politics. Every few months the sf community enters into a politically driven shit storm of controversy. Usually, this controversy revolves around the rising role of women, lgbts, and people of color in sf, but controversy has also swirled around the role of history in fantasy and mainstream politics. Black Gate is known for its sometimes heated political fights (though it has lessened in the past few months). And let’s remember that Weird Tales dealt with two huge controversies a few years ago. 

The irony may be that the area of sf that I love the most is also, arguably, the most conservative. Maybe I should walk that statement back, though. Is it that sword and sorcery is conservative, or is it that some of the most vocal fans of sword and sorcery (and related genres) are reactionaries? 

Yes, Tolkien and Lewis are conservatives. And they are foundational voices in modern fantasy. But does that mean that fantasy itself is conservative? And how do more liberal writers affect the perception of conservatism? I mean Martin is a liberal and Rowling is on the left wing of the modern Labour Party. How does their politics affect their writing?

And that is one of the keys, I think, to politics in writing. China Mieville seamlessly weaves his politics through his work, but even then, it can be a bit overwhelming (especially in Iron Council). And while I think Rowling intended a more liberal friendly reading, I don’t know how well she accomplishes that goal. 

Because while a writer’s intention may lead to conclusion x, a reader’s political view may lead to conclusion x, y, or z. How? Simple, politics are relative. Hell, interpretation is relative. Why, hello Reader Response Theory.

It’s posts like this which possibly reignite my old love for literary theory. Reading, response, influence, inspiration, and creation leads to new stories that lead to new cycles of creation. 

This leads back to politics because I idealistically view politics like this. But so often, politics are used only to tear apart and promote one narrow minded view of the world (or more accurately, to promote the partisans of said narrow minded perspective into power). 

 

31 Days of Post (2) Day 10: A Time for Punk?

A fantasy is being written. The setting is a secondary world. The inspiration for that secondary world is the British Empire during Victoria’s later reign (though it could be the whole damn world during the same period). Does that make the work steampunk? Or is it gaslamp fantasy?

What I’m asking is what exactly is “punk” in the context of speculative fiction? Is “punk” science fiction only or can it incorporate elements of science fantasy? But is it still “punk” if the setting is a more “accurate representation” of the inspiration period just with solely fantasy elements?

I started thinking about this as I formulated some early plans for a few project Ideas I have. For one thing, my early twentieth century project is looking to be pure fantasy baring a few fantastic science elements which may, or may not, appear. The other project, inspired by late fourteenth century Western Europe, is looking to have no magic. Or at least supernatural magic. So, is either project “punk”- either diesel or dungeon?

I don’t know. As far as the TCP (twentieth century project), I would guess not. The setting, though a secondary world, is based on the period without too many elements that lead one to ascribe “punk” to the genre. Though that is not to say that there won’t be punks as characters. 

But as I was looking up dieselpunk on TVTropes, I discovered another genre which could equally describe the project: two-fisted tales. I don’t know much about this genre, but I will do my homework on it. 

While TCP might not be “punk,” I could argue that L14th (late forteenth) is dungeonpunk. The direction I’m heading with the idea just screams punk. And there is no supernatural magic. Which means I need to do some science research. 

Now that that is out of the way, I still don’t think I’ve adequately figured out what “punk” is to speculative fiction. The problem is, I think, that “punk” itself has changed from when it first appeared as a genre. Cyberpunk was a revolution in science fiction. It opened new avenues of style and subject. But as time goes on, “punk” has become more commercialized to the point where “punk” is little more than a marketing ploy. Set something in x period (whether historical or secondary)? Put it with a “punk” and it’ll sell. 

In some ways, I think “punk” should have an edge, a rebelliousness to it. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that way any more.

The Human Division (and some House Cleaning)

To those who recommended John Scalzi’s The Human Division, thank you. Seriously, it is one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. Just amazing. 

The Human Division is set in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War Universe. The title basically sums up the theme, humanity is divided. For centuries , the Colonial Union has kept Earth a backwater, exploiting humanity’s homeworld for colonists and soldiers. But with the revelations made in The Lost Colony, the relationship between Earth and the CU is ruptured. 

Most of the episodes that make up the novel feature Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the awesome diplomatic team/ crew of the two ships named Clarke, who attempt to deal with the new reality in which the CU must use diplomacy, not force. But, in all honestly, the real plot of the novel is the discovered conspiracy to not only keep Earth permanently estranged from the CU, but to destroy the CU (and the rival Conclave). 

There is action aplenty and lots of humor. Even though the CU is less than sympathetic, I really enjoyed almost all of the characters. Wilson is a trip, Schmidt is endearing, Abumwe is a boss (she is one of my two favorite characters), and Sorvalh is the bomb (my other favorite character). 

There are only two episodes that don’t really work for me. “A Voice in the Wilderness” perhaps is the weakest section of the entire novel. It just doesn’t fit, in my opinion. Maybe i’m just having a hard time with the modern stasis that has afflicted Earth for centuries (no matter how many have passed). But it just doesn’t seem “right.” The other weak episode, in my opinion, is “The Sound of Rebellion.” I think my issue with this episode is that I think the CU won too easily. 

And that is a frustration of the various stories in the novel. Things seem to conclude too easily in the protagonists’ favors (not that it saves them in the end with a holy shit wham cliffhanger). 

I was recommended this novel because it started life through serialization. After having read it, this is not quite what I had in mind. The Human Division is more a short story collection than a novel or a continuing coherent narrative. Rather, it is more like a television series. And it works. I want more. Dammit, I want more. 

 

Now, onto the house cleaning. I need to elucidate a comments policy. Typically, I will allow anything unless it is economic spam, abusive, or too sensitive. 

If you are wanting to comment on posts made by my former co-writer (aka my brother), your comments may never appear. Largely because he was the primary editor when we set up the blog. And by now, he’s forgotten the password. 

Which also explains my failure to redesign the blog last year when I flirted with that idea. One of these days, I’ll need to make a concerted effort to get the password. 

Superheroes, Fantasy, and Science Fiction

I think I’m falling out of love with superheroes right now. I just can’t muster up the excitement. Not even Earth 2. Right now, I’m decidedly more into manga, again. Sometimes, I curse my fickleness. 

But, honestly, the superhero genre is only tangentially related to the point of this post. The real problem is a conundrum I’m facing when it comes to science fiction and fantasy.

I want to write science fiction as much as I do fantasy. I love both, I’m passionate about both. But fantasy just calls to me. It just seems more, I hate to use the word, “natural.”

Perhaps the issue is one of outlook and interest. I’m a natural at history. And it is so easy to adapt the history I read into ideas for new fantasy projects. This is not to say that I cannot adapt those same inspirations to science fiction, but my natural inclination is to fantasy.

Maybe it’s how I think about science fiction. Maybe I’m too concerned with applying the realism of science. Maybe I’m trying too hard to predict the future. And that shouldn’t be what I obsess over. I should be looking at making it fun and exciting even has I try to hammer whatever themes I wish to explore. 

What concerns me is varied. For one thing, getting the science right, even if it is only structural support. I am also deeply concerned with depicting a culture that has believably progressed from our own. 

Now, I prefer space opera and cyberpunk to harder schools of science fiction, so how truly concerned I should be is up in the air. But I hate to make mistakes. 

And it is so much easier to muck up science compared to magic. . . 

So far, I haven’t touched on possible combinations of the two. I do have a love for science fantasy. I’ve blogged about my love for this mash up genre (even as it is arguably older than science fiction and fantasy proper). 

I have a lot of projects I want to write. Hell, I have a bucket list of genres I want to get to. And science fantasy is at the top of my list. But how do I approach it? How do I get the science and the magic to play nice? Or should the the uncertainty be between advanced technology and obviously not as advanced cultures? 

I keep thinking about knights on motorcycles. How do I get it to work? Well, I could create a modern secondary world where the social upheaval caused by World War I never happened. I could see the German Empire expy using such forces. And perhaps the British as well. Another option would be a post apocalyptic setting where humanity has descended into another feudal system. Or maybe mash up biker ethics with a notion of chivalry and loyalty to a feudal type lord.

But could I introduce knights on motorcycles in an expy of 1381 England? Honestly, no. This is, honestly, one of my big problems with Dune. How the fuck does a feudal system exist in space. And to exist for ten thousand years (more if you read the prequels)? 

Clearly, don’t ask my opinion about medieval stasis (or really cultural stasis) because that will set me off on an epic rant. Yes, it is easier to create a world that hasn’t changed in x thousands of years. But it is freaking dull. 

And in that, I think my science fiction side comes in. Even as fantasy comes naturally to me, my outlook is decidedly more science fiction friendly. I’m not enamored of monarchy and romantic visions of peasants. I do have a dark take on that period. But I’m not grimdark. Tragic, yes. Grim, dirty, and occasionally disgusting? Fuck no.

I’m a worrywart at heart. I shouldn’t be too concerned with this at the moment. Hell, I’ve got a ton of other projects on my plate. But I like to think and plan ahead. 

And who knows? Maybe I’ll figure it out in the near future? Nothing is set in stone, after all.

Science Fiction on Television: A Reason to Hope?

I haven’t watched Syfy since Battlestar Galactica ended. Baring the occasional movie. All that changed a few weeks ago with the premier of Defiance. Damn, I procrastinated until this weekend to watch the series. But I freaking love it!

Defiance is a well written mash up of space western, post apocalypse, space opera, and Shakespeare. That all of the the various genres complement each other rather than struggling for dominance is amazing. Plus, the show wonderfully manages to juggle all of the various plots threads (at least so far).

The acting is good. And the visuals, wow. Very well done.

Defiance gives me hope for the future of science fiction on television. But, before I get called out that science fiction hasn’t exactly vanished from television, I must argue that with the rebranding of SciFi to Syfy, the end of Enterprise, and a general lack of space opera that there appears to be a dearth of science fiction on television even as science fiction becomes ever more prevalent.

So, let’s look at what is coming up.

Syfy seems to be making a course correction with all of the scripted shows they are weighing right now. Of the possibilities there are several I am seriously interested in watching.

High Moon seems to be extremely interesting. Orion I seriously want to see. Clandestine is equally high on my list. And top of my list? Infinity. The synopsis/ pitch has me salivating. These are the stand outs, but I will be willing to give all of the series listed in Deadline.com’s article a shot.

Now, are any of these shows exactly original? Not really. Orion looks to be Tomb Raider in space, Clandestine is reminiscent of Firefly (only more antihero), and Infinity is, perhaps, a more human centric Farscape. That doesn’t mean I ain’t going to give them a chance. I want to watch them all. Now, please.

But Syfy is not the only one. Starz is developing Incursion which seems to be very interesting from what I’ve heard. And may give me reason to actually see if I have Starz.

And, I do believe AMC is developing a really interesting space noir series. But I can’t remember its name. But it sounds damn awesome.

These developments give me hope. I love science fiction on television and I’ve spent the last few years in misery.  Now, I need to go check out Blake’s 7. And really start to get into Farscape again.

 

On Space Opera

When it comes to speculative fiction (sf), I’ve always been significantly more of a fantasy fan. That’s not to say that I don’t like science fiction. I do. But, like I said in my previous post, I’m not overly fond of the science fiction often championed by the sf internet circles I frequent.

When I read science fiction, I prefer space opera by a significant margin. Perhaps it comes from the fact that I was introduced to science fiction largely by space opera. Okay, I started out as a Star Trek and Babylon 5 fan. And my love for those series moved me gradually into a small passion for space opera.

My favorite science fiction novel is Dune with Excession and Chasm City fighting it out for second place.

What I love about space opera is the scope of the story. And the fact that the focus is on both sweeping narratives and interesting characters. Don’t get me wrong, I like science, but I’m really not that interested in scientific accuracy or nitty gritty. So what if the FTL method is ludicrous? Just so long as it works.

Science fiction has been plagued for decades with the question of why people read it. What is the value of science fiction? To me, that is a rather stupid question. I read science fiction because I want to be entertained. If I also happen to have my mind blown by the themes, ideas, characterization, etc. of the work, then that is absolutely a great thing. But I don’t read for revelation or prophecy. The assumption that science fiction’s worth is tied up to its predictive accuracy is, to me, bull. Perhaps that is why I have an issue with a lot of science fiction? It dates so poorly.

Now, space opera isn’t the only subgenre of science fiction I read. I do like me some punk (so long as the punk is actually punk). And I don’t completely hate the New Wave. But I tend to go for space opera.

The funny thing is that I haven’t really read science fiction in months. I think the last time I read any science fiction was either an anthology or for Critters. Damn, I need to get some science fiction read!

 

Crap, before I post this, I need to remind every one about Post 300. Remember, comment any ideas you have for the subject.

Also, here’s an update of for the posts I have for the rest of the week:

I’m adding a rant on LGBT inclusion in fiction (again). Expect this either tonight or early tomorrow morning.

I also have a review of The Avengers on tap. I just need to watch the film first.

And I have a ton of comics coming in from my local library. So expect a review of The Children’s Crusade among others.

Later.

Thinking about Media and Genre: What Interests Me?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for two days now. And I’ve been rather distracted by life. And time. But now I’ve got some to spare, so I’m taking it. Tonight, I want to write about media and genre. I want to explore why I want to write in certain media and focus on certain genres. But as I’ve written before, never say never that I won’t migrate to media or genres I have no interest in now.

Media

Poetry: I’ve written poetry for creative writing course assignments. And some of my favorite literature courses have been centered around poetry. But I have no real passion for writing poetry.

Prose Fiction: Let’s divide this up in two, shall we?

Short Fiction: I know I should be passionately in love with short fiction. But I’m just not. I like to read short stories and novellas when I get the chance. But I have no real passion for them. And even less in writing them. I just don’t know. . . I just don’t dig it.

Novels: Now this is what I’m passionate about! I love getting in depth and exploring characters and worlds. Many of my ideas scream to become novels. Novels take a lot of work, though. There is a demand for novelists to have an eye for detail. And an ability to keep the readers’ interest for hundreds or thousands (yikes) of pages. When I develop ideas and projects, they are always divided in two categories: novels and. . .

Comics: To be honest, I’ve had a fraught relationship with comics. Comics were among my first loves. But I’m a fickle and inconstant fan. In recent years, I’ve fallen back in love with comics. Hard. And I want to write them. Now, my main focus is on creator owned projects. I have several ideas for comics series I want to develop. Would I ever want (or love) to write for the Big Two? Hell yeah. I would love to write Catwoman, Red Robin, Young Avengers, Storm, etc. Never say never.

Video Games: Much like comics, my relationship with video games is fraught. I love video games. And I suck at them. Really badly. I’ve only ever beaten a few games. More often than not, I quit at some point in frustration. That doesn’t mean I don’t love watching other people playing. Nor does that mean I’m not interested in how video games are made. Would I ever want to write for video games? I don’t know. I don’t know enough about the industry. But, never say never.

Television: I currently have an obsession with serialized fiction (of which comics and television are the prime examples of). But do I really want to put up with a team of writers, producers, show runners, etc.? Probably not. But who knows?

Movies: Again, I’m not too interested in writing for film. My brother once tried to get me to write a few movies with him. But I’ve never really felt an impetus to want to write a screenplay. I mean, I’ve written a play before. Didn’t like it though. So, I think I’ll pass.

Genre

This post is starting to go on longer than I really want (and I don’t want to write a two part post), so I’ll speed through this. Any questions, please leave me comments.

Given the nature of this blog (and my interests), I’ve always wanted to write speculative fiction. I’ve tended to naturally focus more on the fantasy side of things compared to science fiction. And as I’ve gotten older, that tendency has started to grow.

Perhaps the issue is that the type of science fiction popular with the internet circles I frequent are not the types of science fiction I would like to write. I’m more of a space opera guy. I’m not overly interested in hard science fiction or near future dystopia. Do like a bit of punk, though. If the writers actually know what the hell punk is. . .

But that is not to say that I’m exclusively interested in speculative fiction. For a long time, I wanted to write literary realism. I gradually abandoned that to focus on speculative fiction. But there are inklings of an idea that may be calling me back. I don’t know though. I could still somehow make it speculative in some fashion. You never know with me. I mean, I read a history book and I automatically get ideas for fantasies.

In the end

Crap. This post is getting more than a little long. There’s not much else to say except to always remember never say never. And to never try to predict the future.

With that in mind, lets have a preview of what I want to do the rest of this week!

I want to write a post on space opera. I want to explore my obsessions. And I have The Avengers to review.

There is one thing I want to try, though. In the next few weeks, I will hit my 300th post. I would like to give the choice for post 300 to you, the readers. Comment your suggestions, please.

Later.