Space Cola now resides at http://mestaton.wordpress.com
Go there, it's good!
Space Cola now resides at http://mestaton.wordpress.com
Go there, it's good!
Ever since I can remember there has been a debate over the place of women in SF. There are many women who read SF and many women who write it, but far fewer are published. There are many sides to the debate including: women are just not capable of writing compelling SF, or there is an inherent sexism in genre fiction, or not enough women are actually writing 'real' SF.
The first argument is of course utterly rubbish. The second might have some teeth. The third? well it depends on what you consider SF to be. If you are talking 'hard' SF, that which is more focused on stories about real or plausible science and technology and less on philosophical ideas, you may have a point. Though the last two arguments are not entirely true there is something to them.
Why is the first one complete and utter rubbish? well, it's not simply because it's offencive to women writers and belittles their contribution to the genre, it is because it is absolutely false. In my opinion the first known example of western science fiction is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Many consider this to be the mother of classic, gothic, monster horror which is true, but it is also a book about science and technology. Written during the Industrial Revolution it is a warning against the abuse of man's new found knowledge in the sciences and increasing reliance on machines. It poses questions of morality and philosophy. It is the first work of socio-political SF. So, in fact, when the author Sheri S. Tepper says "...science fiction is the genre of ideas..." she is not hypothesising on a certain sub-sect of science fiction. She is making a true statement about the entire genre.
It was my intention to write a very detailed post or series of posts on women who write science fiction and the history of women in SF. Although it is my intention to focus on this issue, I've expanded the idea into writing reviews of books written by women, who write science fiction over at Beyond Fiction run by Mark Deniz and Sharon Ring of Morrigan Books.
My first such review is of Grass by Sheri S. Tepper a stunning work of both ideas and adventure.
I would like to invite the discussion of women's contributions to science fiction and why it's seems so hard to find great female SF writers in print on a regular basis. For my own part I see that there might be some sexism still at play in the genre itself amongst both readers and publishers, however, what I see more is that there is less taste for socio-political science fiction these days than there is for the likes of hard, military and space opera SF. Could this be the reason that women struggle to make themselves known in this genre? This is just a question, a thought for discussion, not an assumption. So if you feel the assertion is wrong, let's discuss!
We could argue about the exact meaning of science fiction. Is it only fiction that includes real science? or is it also fiction with fictional science? Is science fiction a parent genre or is it a sub-sect of fantasy? That's really up to you. If you are trying to get published, you may have to wrestle with the debate a little, but for our purposes in this post science fiction encompasses both fiction about or that includes real science and also fiction that includes anything science related even fictional science.
I like to think I write 'socio-political science fiction', although people don't seem to use that term any more. It's often just called 'soft' science fiction as opposed to 'hard' science fiction which includes lots of real or plausible science. The modern trend is to not subject this kind of fiction to the label of science fiction, but simply to dress it up as literary fiction or some other new brand of fiction that separates it from actual science fiction or fantasy. To me this degrades the genre. I am quite happy to say I write science fiction and leave it at that. I don't really need to declare it as anything else.
In my time I've met people who, although they read fantasy and these other types of 'literary' science fiction dressed up as something else, won't read things clearly labelled as science fiction. Here is where all the assumptions and preconceived notions about science fiction come in. Just as there are all different types of any other genre, there are plenty of different types of science fiction. People who don't want to read science fiction or have tried, but can't get on with it have usually encountered the 'harder' forms of science fiction, or the traditional 'Space Opera' form of science fiction. This scares them away and makes them unhappy and frowny when you tell them you not only read science fiction, you write it.
My own particular view on science fiction comes out of the television and film science fiction of the sixties and seventies mixed with the works of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and HG Wells. To me science fiction is about character, metaphor, politics, social injustice and the human condition. science fiction is about morality, society, overcoming adversity. It is about hope, perseverance, and paying the price for ones actions. It's just set in space, or the future, an alternate reality or a dystopian view of modern society. This is the kind of stuff I think people who think they don't like science fiction need to read.
Here are some excellent examples of the science fiction I like to read, some contain real science and some do not. What they all ultimately have in common though is good story telling and writing style. They are books that made me think and they are books I could easily read again. Some of them you'll find in the SF section of the bookshop and some others you'll have to dig deeper for:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
20,000 Leagues under the sea by Jules Verne (see other works by Verne)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (see other works by HG Wells)
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Brave New World by Aldus Huxley (see other works by Huxley)
1984 by George Orwell (see other works by Orwell)
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (also short story collections)
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The City and The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke (see other works by Clarke)
Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick (see other works by Dick)
Behold The Man by Michael Moorcock (see other works by Moorcock)
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (see other works by Vonnegut)
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (also Left Hand of Darkness)
High Rise by J.G. Ballard (see other works by Ballard)
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney (see other works by Delaney)
Gateway by Frederik Pohl (see other works by Pohl)
The Last Man on Earth anthology ed. by Isaac Asimov (out of print, but you might find a used copy)
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler
Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (see other works by Tepper)
Desolation Road by Ian McDonald (see other works by McDonald)
Air by Geoff Ryman
The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod (see other works by MacLeod)The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
This is by no means an utter and complete list, merely a sampling of some of the SF I have enjoyed reading and I think is more palatable for people who are adverse to reading SF. Additionally I have not put "see other works" against all names because I haven't read any other works by this author as of yet. Exploration is always encouraged.
Captain Kronos - Vampire hunter is a film from Hammer House of Horror. Filmed in 1972 and released in 1974 it stars Horst Janson as Kronos, John Cater as Professor Hieronymus Grost, John Carson as Dr. Marcus, Caroline Munro as Carla, Shane Briant as Paul Durward, Lois Daine as Sara Durward, Wanda Ventham as Lady Durward, and William Hobbs as Lord Durward.
Written and Directed by Brian Clemens ( writer and or producer of: Avengers, Adam Adamant Lives! New Avengers, The Professionals,Remington Steele, Bergerac) it was originally meant to be the pilot for a T.V. series. After budget cuts at Hammer the film was shelved before being released in the cinema. The film itself has possible links with the Hammer 'Karnstein Vampire Series' and shares many attributes with those films.
Unlike many of those films, however, it has equal appeal to both sexes. The handsome, swashbuckling hero of Captain Kronos provides ample titillation for female fans as does the buxom gypsy Carla--Kronos rescues her from a stockade as the travel in search of Vampires--for male fans. It also suffers from slightly better writing than most of the films from this series and from this time period.
The story takes place in the typical Hammer limbo of history. It's sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries in an indistinguishable european country. In a rural village young girls are being attacked by a cloaked figure in the forest. They are often found staring into space, their lips kissed with blood, then they began to age horribly until all the life and youth is drained from them completely. Dr. Marcus, who lives locally, calls on old friend Captain Kronos (a former Captain if the Imperial Guard) and his sidekick Professor Grost to help him investigate. No details of either Kronos and Marcus's relationship, nor how Kronos hooked up with Grost, who which Imperial guard Kronos served in are ever given.
Professor Grost acts as a sort of Van Helsing character using various methods (such as dead toads) to determine the presence of a Vampire. At one point he employs a not very effective alarm system by hanging bells on red ribbon in the forest where the cloaked figure has been known to attack. When Dr. Marcus is attacked himself Kronos and Grost apply all their knowledge and experience to turn him back. Grost also fashions Kronos a special steel sword complete with crucifix handle and mirror inset for his final showdown with the Vampires.
The interesting thing about their methods is that they basically have to use trial an error. They know what has worked in the past, but apparently not all vampires are the same. It is only after Marcus is pierced by a steel crucifix that he returns to his former self and Kronos and Grost realise to fight these particular vampires they need steel. They go to the local graveyard and remove a large iron cross, but not before they are attacked by angry villagers believing the pair have killed Dr. Marcus after one of them witnessed all the terrible things they did to him to remove the vampire curse (it's pretty brutal).
Most of the films in this series are little more than male generated fantasies of lesbians/bi-sexual women having it off with one another, using the metaphor of the vampire bite as very loose cover for pornography. Clemen's film still uses some of those tropes, but with a bit more sophistication. As the main vampire, Lady Durward, not only seeks to restore her youth and beauty by taking the lives of young women--you never see any damning flesh--she is also on a mission to restore her dead husband Lord Durward. She is not motivated by lust or blood thirst, but by love.
The idea that the Vampire Hunters are making it up as they go along, making them imperfect heroes goes a long way to cure the ills of the Hammer soft-porn Vampire flick. There are some quite stunning moments in this film that have halmarks of classic spine tingling horror.There is one particular compelling and actually quite chilling scene when a young woman parts from her lover. The young man watches the woman walk toward the safety of home through the woods. She disappears from view for only a moment only to emerge having been accosted by an unseen assailant and dies in his arms.
This film and it is not as overly clichéd or kitschy as you would expect. No doubt due to Clemens's writing. Of course it still has it problems. For instance, Kronos is quite typical in his broody, lone wolf persona. When he is done killing the Vampires he's done with bed-fellow Carla and leaves her behind to pine for him. Strangely he also tosses away the spiffy sword made for him by Grost.
What would have been cool if Carla suddenly got wise, picked up the sword and became her own kind of Vampire Hunter.
I think Captain Kronos would have found a cult audience had it remained a series, even just as a few one off films. If Vampires and cheesy horror flicks are you thing than this is worth a rent of from your DVD vendor of choice. Be prepared though, it's action is quite daring-hero-with-a-sword classical versus bright red bloody.
These are not "rule" as such, just the little mantra a tell myself regularly to keep me pushing forward instead of stepping backward.
One book that changed your life? hmmm, well that could be several actually. Books change your life in different and often subtle ways. If you mean what books inspired me to write, I can narrow that down for you to the following:
I know I've said in the past that it was H.G. Wells's biography that inspired me to write Science Fiction. That is still true. Actually the writing bug got me much earlier than that I think with a biography of Benjamin Franklin. I read this book, Russell Baker's Growing Up, at about age 14, well after reading Wells. This book really cemented for me a desire to be a writer. Just afterward I started reading quite a bit of Ray Bradbury. With Baker's inspiring prose about his personal and professional life and Ballard's other worldliness tickling my creative centre the idea to write became firmly centred in my brain and it was at this time that I started putting to pen whole formed story ideas. I would say this book, in conjunction with a few others, was part of the waking the writer within.
One book you have to read more than once? When I was a kid had to see films over and over again. I think most kids do this. You can watch the same episodes of television shows a hundred times with as much interest as if you have never seen them before. Films are the same. You sort of feel like you are living in that world for that brief time and when you are very young, two hours seems like an eternity. Books on the other hand are harder to do this with. Very few, even books I really enjoy, make me want to read them over and over. Usually I have to wait at least a decade before I can contemplate reading a book again. Good books stay fresh in your mind. Their meanings and intriguing nuances stay with you always. When I was a kid I read Little Women and Heidi about five times each. That's the most I've ever read any one book. Not since then have I ever read a book more than twice, at least not as yet. There are a few I would say I will most definitely re-read in my lifetime.
Robert Graves's I, Claudius is an exception to my own rule I think as I read it twice in the space of two years a couple of years ago. I had also read it in my twenties. I am also in love with the television production and have watched it nearly every year for the past six or seven years. Yes I'm a little mental when it comes to this book. I even named one of my cats Caesar, the intention being to call him Claudius (he has a limp leg btw that was not intentional), but had to compromise with my husband. I could probably read this book another ten times at least. Yes I have a love of history, but Graves does play with it a bit here. This is indeed a novel and not a biography. He takes poetic license with the lives of his characters. The narrative does follow true events in the proper time-line. However, Graves weaves a spellbinding tale of murder and political intrigue that is not such much a record of the past, but more a mirror of it. The reader is so entwined with poor Claudius that you simply cannot put this book down. It is filled with wry wit and a perseverance of spirit that is rarely rivalled in reality or fiction. Claudius is not just an unwilling and witless participant in the forging of a dynasty. He is a survivor of the blackest depths that men (and women) will trawl to obtain power. This book brought me back to reading. I spent a few years not reading much or half heartedly. However, when I cracked this book I found my love of books again and through it my love of writing. It is certainly one of the books that changed my life and look forward to reading it again with immense 'relish'.
One book you'd want on a desert island? The above book certainly goes into this category. Presumably if you had only one book with you on desert island it would have to be something you wanted to read over and over. In that case it should also be a substantial book. I could say something like Shakespeare's complete plays or something of that nature. That would be an excellent volume to have on a desert island. It would certainly keep you going for quite a while. But I'm not going to say that.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien is a book I've read a few times. Not in quite a while, but certainly as a teen and in my twenties. A lot of people hate this book. I do not, obviously. To me it is as much a history as it is a collection of tales. You cannot read this book like a novel. It's a collection of ideas and bits of world building that are not necessarily linear. I've always been fascinated by this book. It has lots of hidden gems and bits of secret knowledge about Middle Earth and Tolkien's elves. In many ways I find it far more interesting than Lord of The Rings. It shows the darker side of some of the characters who appear in LOTR as benevolent beings. In fact it makes them far more human. It seems like a strange book to wish for on a desert island, but I reckon I could spend many a good hour picking this book apart. Teasing out the small anecdotes into larger more vibrant dramas.
Two books that made you laugh?I've certainly had a fair few chuckles whilst reading books of all kinds. These are two of my all time favourites though.
I read this at about age 15. I was doing summer courses and one of them was creative writing. Along with above mentioned books that inspired me in writing this is certainly one of them. It was completely impossible not to fall into Keillor's quaint storytelling style which has been subtly referenced many times in popular culture (narrator for the musical in Waiting for Guffman, Peter begins a tale in the prison episode of Family Guy etc). For those of you unfamiliar with Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days, Keillor had a radio show called 'A prairie home companion'. It was a variety show that featured music and drama. One regular feature was 'News from Lake Wobegon'. A fictional place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average". I believe this was the first collection of stories in novelised form. It's reminiscent of 'Our Town' without the overwhelming sadness. It's a poignant and hilarious look at small town life in America based on Keillor's own experiences growing up in the northern mid-west of America. The radio show ended for a brief period in the late eighties, but returned to the air only a few years later and can now be heard round the world.
I debated about this one, originally I thought I would put Gateway by Frederik Pohl. It's brimming with a New Yorkers sardonic wit, however it is also complex and dramatic and not exactly a side-splitting type of novel. Although, someone has beaten me to it I simply cannot put anything other than The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Even if you aren't a sci-fi geek like me, this novel is just one paragraph of hilarity after another. That dry british wit and self-effacing humour is pervasive throughout the text. However, Adams's sardonic misadventure is not only a parody of genre, but in general of modern life. With particular emphasis on bureaucracy of all kinds and the power of the scientific communities. Simply put, it is brilliant.
One book that made you cry? Being quite an emotional person, a little drama and evocative emotion from a character will probably make me cry, but the one that still sticks out in my mind is the following:
Dan Simmons's Hyperion is his best work in my opinion. Full of drama, intrigue, adventure and action it is rich and complex. A beautifully woven portmanteau of seven characters making a deep space voyage and crossing an alien planet to reach a terrifying conclusion. Although it's part of a series, I was sadly disappointed by the sequel and other of Simmon's books. This book however is a triumph. Not all the personal stories will make you cry, but Simmons creates characters with such depth and pulls you into their stories so fully that you cannot help but become immersed in the tidal wave of emotions that tears through this book. It effected me so deeply that I had to stop reading it in public or else risk becoming so overwhelmed by emotion I would have an outburst. Seriously, I was practically bawling on the bust one morning on the way to work.
One book you wish you'd written? To be honest, I wish I had written nearly all the books on this list. To have such creative talent, to reach such perfection (in my estimation anyway) of storytelling ability and style that these authors possess would fulfil all my writing fantasies. But, since I can pick only one for the purposes of this meme here it goes...
J.G. Ballard's High Rise is one of my all time favourite novels and one I've read more than once. Ballard's brilliance, in this novel in particular, is taking something mundane, everyday and ordinaryand breaking it down into something dystopian. The human spirit is degraded in this novel, not through sex or violence but through class struggle. The high rise becomes a metaphor for a stratified society and within it the residents create a microcosm of the larger society that becomes twisted and fouled by human greed and lust for dominance. It's a truly gripping and powerful novel. One I could easily say I wish I had written.
One book that you wish had never been written?Originally I was going to say Fall of Hyperion the sequel to Hyperion above. It was such a disappointment and shattered all my illusions about the brilliance of Dan Simmons, who I easily could have become a love slave to based on that one book alone. However, it struck me that long before I fell out of love with Dan there was another writer who greatly disappointed me and perhaps far more deeply and irrevocably.
Stephen King's Insomnia was the book that ended my love affair with Stephen King. It also cemented in my mind that he should quit trying to write paranormal/horror and just write ordinary fiction that is a little twisted or dark. Insomnia sounded like a good idea and began with King's usual flare for character building and setting, but nearly a quarter of the way through not very much had happened or was happening besides an old man finding it hard to sleep. I did not have that problem and the first time in my life actually fell asleep with a book in my hands whilst reading. At this point I became fed up with the dual nature of King's writing. On the one hand he is utterly brilliant at writing a character and creating a setting. You really do get immersed in the world he creates, however, several of his more supposedly horrific or alien based plots just end up disappointing. After investing many hours into reading a huge novel one expects the effort to be rewarded with a stunning pay-off, but this is rarely so with Stephen King novels particularly after a certain point. To this day my favourite King novels are the regular fiction ones such as Delores Claiborne, Gerald's Game and Misery. Both The Shinning andThe Dead Zone, although technically paranormal do not rely on these as be-all end-all plot devices and the Eyes of The Dragon is possibly one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read.
Two books you are reading at the moment? I don't know if reading is the right word more struggling through. I've been trying really hard these days not to start a new book before I have finished the previous one or abandoned it all together. However, this meme catches me at a moment when I started reading a new book because the first book was getting on my nerves, although I have not abandoned it. Unfortunately the second book is not entirely what I hoped although I persevere.
The first of these is Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space. I have been wanting to read one of his books for some time as I've heard them exalted repeatedly by other genre lovers. However, it was not long into the reading of this book that I began to notice a distinct lack of style to the writing. I think the thing that annoyed me the most were the overuse of adverbs and week, passive narrative. Something I am acutely sensitive too since I've been told not to do it in my own writing. So it kind of annoys me that the very thing I've been given negative feedback for has not only been published but considered "best of genre". Beyond the quibbles about writing style, the narrative also lacks very little momentum. I do not mean there is no action, because there is, but in this multi-pov peppered story I find it very difficult to care about the main character and caring only slightly more about one of the others. At times the drama and tension and even the emotion is quite forced. I am about half way through and not really relishing reading the rest.
The second book is Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton. This book has been on my wishlist since it was published. Having finally purchased a copy I was hoping that 1-it would relieve my disappointment over Revelation Space and 2-would help me get over my disinterest for most fantasy. So far it hasn't been able to do either. I'm only into the first chapter after reading the prologue and so far, although there have been flashes of exceptional description there has been little else to capture my attention. I will press on in the hopes that this changes. It's not entirely bad though, there are some weird quirks like rarely using the posessive form (he she it). I should point out that I am not a huge fantasy fan though, however, if a book is written well that should not entirely matter. We'll see what happens.
One book you've been meaning to read? There are quite a few of those. So many books on my wish list and so many books I read as a teenager or young twenty-something that I would like to read again, because at the time I am not entirely sure if I understood them or appreciated them. Or simply because I cannot remember them.
Mockingbird by Walter S. Tevis is one of those novels that has been on my wishlist for decades. I'm not sure why I've been almost afraid to read it. It's supposed to be powerful and haunting. A novel about the dangers of failing literacy inspired by Tevis's own experiences as a professor of English. A novel set in a grim New York, my birthplace, of the future where knowledge is the provence of machines and man is just little more than an animal. Perhaps I am afraid of the prophetic nature of such a novel. Even though I have never read it, I can see it's influence in other works that followed. In some ways it sounds similar to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a favourite of mine, and perhaps I am afraid it will somehow spoil or perhaps not live up to my expectation based on that comparison. Whatever the reason is remains a book I wish to read and lingers on my Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes&Noble wish lists.
So there you have some of the books that have shaped me, some of the books I am reading and one I really should. Like to see what others have said in response to this meme? here are a few:
The title of this post should really be The Writer AS The Reader. However, it wouldn't conform to the theme I seem to be developing with this blog. So, this post is not about your readers/fans as a writer, but about reading as a writer.
In the past year I've had a couple of supposed writers tell me they don't read very much. When I asked the inevitable question--which to me seems only logical after such a statement--what inspired you to be a writer then? If you don't read books why the hell would you want to write one? The simple answer was "I am creative". I'll let the crickets do the talking.
Having done my own not-so-clinical trial on myself, I've discovered that there is definitely a direct correlation between my desire and ability to write with whether or not I am reading regularly. Many studies have been done in recent decades which have shown that reading improves brain function. The mere act of reading also improves reading ability.
Creativity is not some ethereal force. It isn't magic. It comes from a stimulated brain. Creativity is not just the ability to imagine elves and dragons it is the ability to think beyond the limited scope of the senses. Scientists, Historians, Teachers, Doctors, Journalists, Architects, Engineers, Psychology Majors and even Management Consultants all have to think 'creatively' everyday. Creativity and Creative Thinking are not the providence of the artist alone.
My father and I both decided at different points in our lives that we liked the idea of painting. We bought paints and canvas and set about allowing our imaginations to rule a brush. However, neither of us have ever considered ourselves to be, nor called ourselves Painters. We didn't go to art school or take night courses, or struggle for years to be recognised by slaving away night and day to make our art live. We both like art, but we don't spend our days trawling the galleries and museums or go to a lot of showings or openings. We weren't part of the art world in anyway. We just bought some paints and had a go. It was a creative outlet, but we did not fancy ourselves good and proper artistes. We didn't try and show or sell our paintings. They were and are merely for our own amusement. So, to call yourself a writer--particularly if you are submitting your work for pay and publication--without reading just seems like a ludicrous idea to me.
When I moved to this country I went through a phase of not reading very much. During this time I did almost no writing. In fact I gave up the idea of ever being a writer and just concentrated on trying to find some sort of career. It made me miserable. The minute I started reading again, and regularly, that old lust came back. My brain was stimulated. The ideas started to come to me. The stories started to build in my head. It took a couple of years, but eventually, one day, I woke up and realised that I had been stifling myself and needed to really put some effort into writing. It hasn't happened over night. It's taken me a good two years to really get going with it, to find some motivation and a bit of discipline. In that time I have noticed that if I don't read for a while, I don't write. It's like my brain starts to shut down. Even craptastic books get the juices flowing. If anything so you make sure you know what not to write.
One of the regular pieces of advice you'll get as a writer is to read and read widely. Usually with the idea that reading widely gives you more knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of topics, styles and genres. I take the advice to read, the widely bit is up to you I think. I read a lot of Science Fiction and connected genres. I read the occasional History book or biography and a smattering of non-fiction usually geared toward writing or political science. I'm also not adverse to a little weird fiction or 'Classics' of English and American literature. Whatever I read, I just couldn't imagine not reading whilst trying to be a writer. I don't do it necessarily to keep on top of what is hot in my genre--although, it's not a bad idea to know what is going on to see where you fit--It really is to stimulate my mind and emotions.
Reading not only enhances my cognitive function improving my memory and vocabulary it also gives me goals and challenges to overcome. When I find a writer whose style and stories really invigorate me I see it as something to strive for, to become as good and as provocative as they are. When I read something that does not appeal, that rubs me the wrong way and makes me want to chuck the book across the room, I remember that. I keep it with me as something to measure my own writing against. I constantly ask myself am I making the same mistakes as that author?
I also learn from my mistakes and those of other authors. I think it makes me a more critical reader as well as a better writer. When someone gives me feedback on my WIP I take the criticisms seriously. I even try and research their comments to see what others have written about style, grammar and storytelling. I am better able to recognise these concerns when I see those same trespasses in the work of another. It gives me a better understanding a more critical eye when viewing my own work.
You can't go into any profession blindly. I didn't have a complete education, so I don't have a degree in Creative Writing, or English Lit. I won't let that stop me from writing or wanting to be a writer. However, I didn't just start writing one day, send out un-edited manuscripts without critical feedback from other writers and then call myself a writer because I managed to sell something. I haven't sold anything. But I do call myself a writer because I actually put the effort in. I read, I write and I seek knowledge. I am always trying to get better. I listen when I am told to use less adverbs and more active voice. I swallow my pride when someone isn't in awe of what I have written and takes the time to tell me why. I revise what I have written. Some say I spend too much time revising and not enough time actually writing. This is probably true. As I've said before I find it very difficult to move forward when I know things are wrong or week. I'm not actually looking for perfection. Though it may seem that way. I have a high standard for the books I read so I have an equally high standard for the books I write.
And, frankly, I don't see a problem with that. The more I read, the more I appreciate good writing and strive to be a writer who achieves the ability to marry style with substance. Who doesn't over complicate plots and then doesn't deliver. I don't want to be a writer who has a myriad of characters, but only one or two are more than two dimensional. I do want to be a writer who shows more and tells less. Who doesn't info-dump. Who doesn't show off how clever they are to the detriment of the story.
These are the things that I have learned about writing from reading. I don't see how you could do it otherwise. People can talk about these subjects to you all day long, but until you actually see it in action by reading they will only be theoretical concepts you can chose to ignore. Hell you'll probably even get published if you never take anyone's writing advice or if you never read a book in your life. It's just not the kind of writer I want to be.
The lovely CC--not to be confused with the other lovely CC--sent me a link to the NY TIMES (link not posted in protest against their pay-for policy, blah, blah, blah, stick-it to the man!) regarding the recent flutter of "I Write Like"controversy. Obviously this is just a bit of fun, a harmless web bot to play with, however, the creator has made a fatal flaw in not putting a big warning, pop-up window, underlined, blinking text to say so.
I think the problem is that you're dealing with Writers here. Like all artists they have massive egos. Sometimes they aren't even aware of how large and how fragile those egos are until you tell them they write like the most hated man in literature of course. Then you're done for. Writers fight back. The poor creator of the said web-bot has been inundated with the wrath of outraged writery types who all hoped his little bit of code would prove that they/we all write like their/our idol of choice and are therefore all geniuses. With the exception of Dan Brown of course.
There is no bit of software or algorithm that will ever be able to confirm your creative genius I am afraid. It's all subjective. So, let's all get back to our literary masterpieces and prove our talent with action instead of webbages.
BTW I Write Like Arthur C. Clarke, so eat them apples!
It's great when a post by someone else not only mirrors your own thoughts, but inspires you to write your own blog post. The clever Adam Christopher posted a great article the other day entitled Short story writing and the novel shaped head, in which he explains why he had settled down to write novels despite feeling that there is a pervasive culture in genre fiction that one must write short stories to become established.
When I first stepped into the genre I too experienced the idea that one had to get published as quickly and as often as possible. I met several authors who have spent decades publishing works of short fiction and are quite well know in genre circles. I too started out with the idea that I too should write short stories in order to become a better writer, to be published sooner rather than later, and then become established so that then I could have the luxury of sitting down to write a novel that would have a better shot at getting published because of my connections in the publishing world.
However, the practise was something completely different. My problem is not a lack of ideas. Ideas I got plenty of. My problem was being able to plot out a short story, to focus in on one idea or details. Every short story I sat down to write barely got started by 2,000 words. Which is a significant problem if you are aiming to write 3,000-5,000 words of a complete story. I really struggled with it for quite sometime. The more I forced myself to do it. The more I resisted and just didn't write anything. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I am just not a short story writer. At least not at the moment.
I have always wanted to write novels and now that is what I am doing. I may not be any faster at writing a novel than I was at writing short fiction, but I feel much happier in that decision and less obliged to do it. I simply want to do it. Of course this doesn't mean that I would never write a short story. I still have several in mind, but the novels in me want to come first and they take precedence.
So, why am I bothering to tell you all this? Especially since Adam did such a bang up job saying nearly the same thing and saying it first? Well this post isn't actually about my need to write novels even though I spent several paragraphs explaining myself. It's really more about these "rules" that we self-impose upon ourselves. We get these ideas from other writers. Sometimes in person, but more and more by way of the Internet. Social Networking has meant that unpublished writers can hob-nob with published ones in huge clouds of chatter like Twitter. There are so many writing websites and communities now that you can amass a wealth of writing "friends" and acquaintances with all sorts of ideas about writing, what it means to be a writer, and how you should go about it.
The problem is not so much other writers ideas about writing, but how we allow ourselves to be saturated with the advice of other writers, particularly if they have already been successful in some way. In twelve step programs they have a clever little get-out clause for your brain that is meant to encourage independent thought even though there are established guidelines and that is "take what you want and leave the rest".
It's great advice, but sometimes hard to follow. Particularly when you see people in your network publishing yet another story in another magazine or anthology and you've barely finished writing chapter three after seven months. When people on Twitter and Facebook are talking about the next anthology, the next mutual blog, the next convention you want to be part of that world and experience. When they talk about the next "big book" you want to rush out and buy it and see what all the fuss is about, even though you're negative £300 in your bank account and already facing obscene bank charges the idea that you are missing out is very hard to deal with.
The days of writing alone in a room are over. One needs to expose themselves to what is going on in writing and publishing if they want to be successful (IMHO), but the price of all this interaction is that it can leave you feeling very inadequate, unsocial and left behind. Of course a little social jealousy can be a good reason to spur yourself forward so that you can get to a place where you are invited to the parties and events, can afford to buy the new books, and go to the all conventions.
However, there is this part of me that sometimes feels like shutting it all down. Basically taking a vacation from Twitter and Facebook so that I don't have to see all the chit chat about events and books I can't afford, all the anthologies I'll never get into, and the publishing deals I want but are not yet obtainable. I don't of course because those places also contain a lot of personal solace for me. I need to talk to other writers about writing, I need to chat to other geeks about tv, film and books. I want to stay in touch with my friends who live thousands of miles a way.
As human animals we are essentially social. We want to be part of a social group of some kind. Even as loners we want to fit in somewhere. We want someone to understand and accept us. The internet only enhances that. It allows you to be part of a social group even though it is not necessarily a physical one. It allows you be accepted when nobody in the real world is accepting you. You can gain a real sense of belonging in the virtual world. So, when they are all twitting about the con they just went to and you weren't there, those feelings of social inadequacy from childhood can easily rear their proverbial ugly heads. You are suddenly a cinderella who could not attend the ball.
There is a subtle culture of keeping up with the Joneses that has nothing to do with writing, but is just part of human nature. We are all guilty of it. There is a lot of emphasis on productivity (word counts/hours spent per day writing/number stories published/wips), on paying attention to "trends", on formulating golden lists of books like they are the ten commandments of genre fiction and forgetting about the actual quality of the works in question. I read these books. I have knowledge and understanding. I am important. There is something worthy and acceptable if you follow these ideals. If you adhere to the literary cannon. If you aspire to be one of the cloud.
For my own part, I try really hard not to be exclusionary. I like to be part of things, but not at the expense of other people's feelings. I am only human. I fall into the trap of trying to keep up, of being jealous, of wanting to fit in. Luckily, a little life experience has taught me that these things can be nasty pitfalls and with a little perseverance can pull myself away from too much emotional clutter just as easily as dive into it. The feelings, however, are still there.
All this accessibility to information, advice, and companionship is both a blessing and a curse. Of course what you cannot do is let it hinder your progress in anyway. What you must try and do is stay focused, keep your eye on your own goals, and remind yourself that just because everyone else is doing it a certain way does not mean it is the right way. It isn't necessarily about placing judgement on others either for their activities or updates on activities. By accessing these global technologies we open ourselves up to the foibles, habits and influences of other people. How we deal with it, how we allow it effect our own lives is our own problem, not theirs. Ultimately we can only be responsible for ourselves.
I can't have everything I want in life. I shouldn't have everything I want in life. I don't have to be like everyone else. I don't want to be like anyone else. I will be me and that will have to be enough.
It's a book. It's a science fiction book. It's pretty fucking good. You should read it.
A fairly lame review, but you have to understand that two years ago I met this guy named Neil Williamson. He writes books too. He's Scottish. He writes pretty fucking good as well. You should read his stuff too. Anyway, Neil convinced me to buy this book at NewCon. Which I did. Then it sat on my to-be-read pile until a couple of months ago. So the book is about four years old now. It's been reviewed many times. I've read some of those reviews. They are pretty good. Much better than anything I could write. You should read those reviews.
So, why am I bothering to post this? Because I want you to go buy this book and read it. Then you will love it. Then you will understand. Books like this make my spine tingle. They make my brain go POP. You'll know when it happens to you. There is no better drug on earth.
Why are you still here?
Writer of science fiction, founder of The Cola Factory speculative fiction writing group in London.