Posts Tagged ‘Speculative Fiction’

Steven Boyett is a well known author as well as a DJ. His first book, Ariel, he wrote when he was just 19. He runs several successful music oriented websites, inlcuding Podrunner. He lives with his wife and a split personality, the DJ versus the Writer.

Q1: What draws you to write Speculative Fiction?

SB: I think the appeal of speculative fiction in general is its inherent ability to provide perspective, to step outside of the framework of the world, of everyday life, of even the human condition, and be able to comment on it, often uniquely by contrasting these with something else. Unfortunately I think it rarely aspires to this. Usually it steps outside because the reader and/or the writer simply wants the hell out. That has value, too, but it seems a shame to waste a valuable resource and squander such potential.

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

SB: My first novel, ARIEL.

Q3: What did it feel like?

SB: Relief, honestly. I know I was young, but I’d been sending out fiction for years and banging my head against the wall looking for solutions and angles, and ARIEL had utterly occupied my every waking moment. So when it was accepted, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel elation, euphoria, a glorious epiphanic confirmation that I was truly bound to the shining golden rail of my writerly destiny. I felt relief. The kind of painful pleasure that comes after a long-clenched muscle can finally relax.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?

SB: There wasn’t one. I’ve been a writer since I was at least five. There was a defining moment when I realized I wanted to write for a living, though. When I was fourteen I picked up Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. I loved the original cover, and the first sentence (“to wound the autumnal city.”) intrigued me. The book begins and ends midsentence. There in the bookstore I looked to see if they joined up, and they did: the book looped. (Though now I would offer that there’s a halftwist in the narrative that makes the book a Mobius strip.) At the time I had not read Finnegan’s Wake, so the idea that an author could reach out through a page and make me do that and by implication serve me notice that I was in for a deeper, more involving experience than I might be accustomed to, had me from the first line. It opened up the idea of fiction for me, something like the way 2001: A Space Odyssey opened up the idea of movie when it was released. And the rest of the novel only continued unfolding and subverting the conventions of novels themselves. This guy was using fiction to write about language. Holy shit.

I’d been writing fiction since I was about five, but I clearly remember the moment I realized I wanted to write for a living. I was in the school cafeteria about to be late to class because I couldn’t stop reading this book. Everyone had picked up their trays and gone to class and I was almost alone in the big room and totally absorbed. And it hit me: I want to do this. I want to write something that does for someone somewhere what this book is doing to me. I’m fourteen years old, and I want to do this for a living.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

SB: At least since I was five. What keeps me writing now is volition. I quit entirely for about five years, around 1999, and learned a lot of other things and became quite successful at some of them. I learned that this whole notion that you have to have no choice about writing is absolute bullshit. I’ve come to feel that it’s a motivational lie, something writers perpetuate to keep themselves writing. I told myself that lie for decades. What I learned by quitting is that if you really are an artist, then that engine will operate in whatever vehicle it is given. And that I’d rather have a good life than a good career, if it comes down to making a choice. The years that I quit writing were some of the happiest years of my life.

Now I write because I want to, not because I have to. That’s astonishingly different from the attitude of my younger self. It’s so much less romantic, so much less mysterious. But I just don’t have the patience or temperament for that navel-gazing drama-queen self-importance anymore. I write because I’m a writer and it’s fun and I want to do it, and I try to spare myself and the world all the usual trumped-up angst.

Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)

SB: I’m a very critical reader, so it’s fair to say that everything influences me in that even the worst book is educational if you ask yourself why it sucks. That can be just as difficult to answer as why something is great, really.

Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?

SB: Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany (assuming we can count it as such. I dunno if Delany does).

Q8: How do you balance writing and music, being an author and a DJ?

SB: By sleeping four hours a night.

Q9: Who are some of your musical influences?

SB: I am totally serious when I say that I would have to be a much better composer to have influences. There are plenty of people I like but I honestly don’t have the chops to learn, borrow, or steal from them the way artists do. I just plink stuff out a note at a time. I haven’t composed in a few years, though; I have so little time. I really miss it. (My wife is one of the most naturally gifted composers I have ever met, and fascinatingly the only one to exhibit no discernible influences.)

Your readers can download one of my tracks at http://www.djsteveboy.com/steve_boyett_-_rachele.mp3, if they’re morbidly curious.

DJ-wise, John Digweed was an enormous influence until I found my own flavor, which I call New Old Funk (much more evident in my Groovelectric [www.groovelectric.com] mixes than in my Podrunner [www.podrunner.com] mixes).

Q10: Did you really expect to have ARIEL published when you began writing it?

SB: Why else put 150,000 words on a stack of pages? I don’t have any patience with writers who say they’re doing it for themselves. Who are they kidding? They sat on their collective ass and filled up a stack of blank paper with words with no intention of them being read? I’m so sure. In my life I have known exactly one artist with that kind of purity, if I can use that word in this context, and I married her.

Of course, when you’re young you have no idea how the deck is stacked against you, and that very ignorance paradoxically allows you to accomplish more than you’re likely to when you’re older & wiser. When you’re older you know that the windmill always beats Quixote, and that tilting at it isn’t romantic, it’s stoopid. When you’re young, though, you’re like the Fool card in a tarot deck. People tend not to understand that’s a very positive card. It sort of means being blissfully oblivious.

Q11: What do you think has kept ARIEL relevant even over 25 years later?

SB: Well, I’m glad you think it is! Besides good luck, I think the fact that it strives to be about more than its events, that despite some dated details it isn’t a slave to its time, and that it’s about some of the painful tradeoffs we make as we enter adulthood, resonates with readers.

Q12: Who was your favorite character in the original book and why?

SB: In a cinematic, scenery-chewing, character-actor sort of way, Malachi Lee steals the book. He’s crazy as hell, fearless, quirky, fun to cast (there’s a thread on my forum [http://www.steveboy.com/forum] devoted to casting the novel, which is kind of fun).

But more substantively it’s Pete, because he’s an interesting character and a fun voice to speak with. People often assume he’s simply my alter ego, and that isn’t true at all. Pete is as sarcastic as I am, but he’s much more innocent than I ever was. I was nobody’s innocent at 19 when I wrote the book. Pete’s a weird combination of raw nerve and survivalist utilitarianism. I think he’s kind of imprisoned by this, a feeling that’s definitely borne out in ELEGY BEACH.

Q13: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received from ARIEL?

SB: Many years ago a schoolteacher wrote me to tell me about a problem student who was failing everything across the board. He wasn’t motivated, didn’t care, couldn’t see why he should bother. He discovered ARIEL in the school library, I think simply because he liked the Barclay Shaw cover, and it sparked something in him, struck some responsive chord. He started reading voraciously after that, applied himself, focused, improved his grades, got himself on track. I don’t by any means take credit for that. To hold yourself responsible for positive influences means you’re just as accountable for negative influences as well – people who shoot cops after hearing rap songs, etc. But the thought that the product of your imagination has made some concrete difference for the better is hugely rewarding. That’s been equally true for my Podrunner and Groovelectric podcasts as well. It’s unexpected, not something you think about when you set out to do these kinds of things, and very humbling.

Q14: What drove you to write ELEGY BEACH, even after you swore you’d never write a sequel to ARIELl?

SB: Well, the afterword to ELEGY BEACH, “Note to Self,” is almost entirely about that question, and it’s not easy to answer it briefly. The somewhat snarky version is that I felt the story in ARIEL was finished, and I had nothing more to say about those characters and no urge to squeeze money from it for the sake of keeping the conversation alive. Thirty years later it turned out the writer in me had some things it wanted to say in that milieu and with those characters. The rest of me absolutely didn’t want to do it. In a certain strange sense the rest of me still doesn’t. I had to compartmentalize myself to write the book. It was kind of odd.

The shorter answer is that I simply didn’t have anything to say in that regard until now.

Q15: ARIEL represented your growing up as much as it did for Pete Garey. Does ELEGY BEACH hold the same level of meaning for you that ARIEL did?

SB: I don’t believe ARIEL “represented” my growing up at all. I utilized my growing up for it, I mined my heart in the ruthless way artists dig into themselves to unearth and convey true feelings that will resonate with their readers. Similarly I mined my own life for ELEGY BEACH, and in some strange sense also unearthed my current feelings toward ARIEL; on one level you can read ELEGY BEACH as a commentary on ARIEL. But ELEGY BEACH is a much more laminated, mature, inferential work than ARIEL. It had better be, else what have I learned in three decades? A readership approaching it as ARIEL 2: MORE OF THE SAME is going to be disappointed.

I’ve joked that as ARIEL is my coming-of-age novel, ELEGY BEACH is my midlife-crisis novel. But it’s a mistake to read that as meaning that ARIEL is about my coming of age (though I mined it for that) or that ELEGY BEACH is about my middle age (though I’ve mined it for that; the midlife crisis either hasn’t happened or has been around since I was about eleven, I’m not sure which).

Q16: Will we see any more stories based around the spellware concept you developed in ELEGY BEACH?

SB: Spellware itself seems to want to be elucidated and explored, but right now all I have are ideas. I don’t write books about ideas; my main problem with science fiction is that it tends to be primarily about its ideas, and the characters are little meat puppets dropped into the scene to act as tourists to explore them. In my view the ideas are simply a stage on which the important parts are presented. I need more than ideas and events to make me write. I need emotional resonance, thematic cohesion.

The shorter answer is that I’ll write them if I have something to say.

Q16: Before spellware, did you have any experience with writing computer software?

SB: Nope. I used to write macros as a word-processing operator, and I’m relatively computer-literate and do my own websites and yadda yadda, but I’m no hacker.

Q17: The world of ELEGY BEACH seems much more complex and filled out than the world of Ariel. What do you attribute that to?

SB: Not being nineteen anymore.

Q18: Though in ARIEL, Pete met mostly white, mostly male characters, in ELEGY BEACH it comes to light that his wife and Fred’s mom was black. This gives Fred a duality beyond pre-Change adults and post-Change children, but it’s not expressed in the book. Do you think, in a post-apocalyptic society, things like race and religion will take a far back seat to survival? Why or why not?

SB: Well, I don’t agree with your second sentence. The reason it isn’t addressed in the book is because Fred has no duality at all, and isn’t treated (by the narrative or by the other characters) as if he does. That’s the entire point. In fact no one’s ethnicity is ever described in ELEGY BEACH; it’s all adumbrated. In Fred’s world, culturally very different from our own, no one gives a shit.

Personally I think that in most postapocalyptic scenarios race and religion would play an enormous role. If people banned together they would also ban against, and identifying with tribal units is pretty fundamental stuff that takes an evolved framework of culture to strive against. In many ways civilization itself is a striving against baser instincts for the greater good. But I didn’t want that to be the case in ELEGY BEACH because I didn’t see the point in writing a book about that. I wanted to deal with the clash between generations who seemed alien to one another, to discuss the dissonance between the outgoing Baby Boomers and the displacing generation, which my friend Ken Mitchroney has brilliantly dubbed Generation Eloi. The truth is that the young generation in ELEGY BEACH would be far more alien than it is depicted, but this was a case where the natural consequence of such speculation would have led to narrative difficulties that would have alienated the reader, and it would have increased the signal-to-noise ratio to pursue that too fully. Their strangeness is more suggested than detailed.

Q19: What do you think Pete’s reaction would have been had he known that Fred and Yan were lovers?

SB: What makes you think he doesn’t? In any case, Pete wouldn’t give a shit.

Q19.2: What made you write the boys that way, instead of simply portraying them as close best friends?

SB: Who says I did? Who says they aren’t? Nothing about anyone’s sexuality in ELEGY BEACH (and with some characters in ARIEL) is stated directly. The degree of Yan & Fred’s involvement in a sexual sense is up to the reader. The fact that you noticed it is great, because I think many readers didn’t pick up on the possibility, but to me whether or not they were lovers is irrelevant. As with Fred’s (or anyone’s) ethnicity, no one among Fred’s generation gives a damn. The important fact is that Fred loves Yan. Where people put their genitals doesn’t have a thing to do with that beyond confusing the issue, in my experience.

Q20: Do you think, twenty-five or thirty years from now, you’ll become compelled to write a sequel to ELEGY BEACH?

SB: When I’ve got something to say, I might. I don’t want to crank something out just to keep a product out there. I think part of the reason ARIEL has been remembered is because (to be tautological) it’s memorable. Take the fantasy elements out and it still deals with important issues and inevitable consequences of adulthood. I hope that’s the case with ELEGY BEACH. I’m sure I could tell some whizbang story with a third book, but so what. Plenty of people and companies across all media produce either carnival rides or soporifics. I don’t want to be one of them.

Q21: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

SB: I’m not really qualified to answer that, because I haven’t read much current speculative fiction in the last twenty years or so. Or much fiction generally. Aphoristically, though, I think speculative fiction has a great future behind it.

Q22: What are you working on right now, music-wise and writing-wise? Any other series or stories in the works?

SB: With a full-time life involving two DJ podcasts and a full-time life as a writer, I haven’t had the time to compose music in years. I miss it, but it’s not as if I’m missing out (or as if the world is, either).

It’s odd to be asked if I have any other series in the works. I’ve never had a series in the works. I can’t imagine writing a series. I’ve never approached a thing I’ve written that way.

I’m about to begin what I hope is final revision on a novel that I’ve worked on for a long time, but I’ve learned to be leery of discussing anything I’ve written before it’s scheduled to appear. There’s writing, and there’s publishing. They ain’t the same thing.

I’d like to get back to short stories because they’re my first love and I miss them terribly (I never wanted to write anything but short stories, hard to believe now), but it’s a time and admittedly a motivation issue. The money for short stories is exactly what it was twenty five years ago – and you didn’t exactly write short stories for the money then, either.

Q22: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

SB: I’d like to plug the book websites, if I may. ARIEL (http://www.arielbook.com) and ELEGY BEACH (http://www.elegybeach.com) have dedicated websites featuring online & PDF chapters, audiobook chapters, and even Google Earth route maps that let you follow the novels in real-time with satellite imagery – one of the unexpected benefits of my obsessive need to be as real-world accurate as I can manage in my work.

I’d like to thank you for your questions and for interviewing me!


For more information about Steven R. Boyett and his writing visit the sites he listed above or head over to his writing blog, Write Now.

You can purchase Ariel and Elegy Beach through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books.


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Delilah and the Space-Rigger by Robert A. Heinlein
Part of the The Green Hills of Earth anthology
Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Baen Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0671578534

It’s a well known fact that women are a serious and often dangerous distraction on high risk jobs, such as constructing a space station. At least, that’s the attitude held by Tiny Larsen, the crew chief in charge of building Space Station One. He works with an all-male crew, trying to get this monumental task accomplished while maintaining order among the men. That all seems to be in jeopardy when G. Brooks McNye is sent up to the station to replace a man who was fired.

Gloria Brooks McNye is the first and currently only woman on a space station crewed entirely by men. Larsen fears for her safety and the respectfulness of his men, as loudly and obnoxiously as he possibly can. He goes completely out of his way to try and keep her sequestered from the rest of the crew while he hustles to get a male replacement sent up.

This is a humorous story poking fun at the sheer ridiculousness of judging competence and character based on gender. McNye sets out to prove from the beginning that she can do anything boys can do, and in some cases, better. It’s up to her and rest of the crew to convince Larsen that women have as much right to help build this huge undertaking for as men do. It’s a funny story, and I recommend it and the rest of The Green Hills of Earth for any Heinlein lovers and any newbies alike.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree, Jr.
Part of The Hugo Winners: Volume 3 anthology
Hardcover: 603 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 1, 1977)

P. Burke is a social pariah, deformed in body and in possession of not much mind. The near-future society in which she lives is utterly devoted to the worship of beautiful people. They are seen as gods, striding above the rest of the population on a wave of adoration. Every holocam is pointed in their direction. Burke cannot even hope to be noticed by such people and in the end, her existence becomes too much to bear. She tries to kill herself. And is miraculously offered the chance of a lifetime while recovering in the hospital.

Become a Remote for a new god. No one will ever know that P. Burke is really the brain running the beautiful doll body of lovely little Delphi, the newest splash on the celebrity scene. Burke sits five hundred feet below ground, hooked up to wires and controls and circuits, her own body nearly lifeless, and lives the life of Delphi. But why would she be offered such a chance? What’s the catch?

A set of stringent laws called the Huckster Laws have banned nearly all forms of advertising. The only way you are allowed to advertise is either on or in your product, or during an in-store demonstration. No more billboards, no more TV commercials, no more painted buses. And that just doesn’t work for the corporate men. So they’ve found a way around it. Create celebrities beloved by all, and have them showcase select products in their “everyday” lives. The millions of people who watch their broadcasts won’t fail to notice what brand of toothpaste or what kind of shoes their living gods are wearing.

P. Burke and her alter-ego, Delphi, will be a living advertisement. But when Burke/Delphi falls in love and grows a conscience about breaking the ad laws, her life is irreparably changed.

Tiptree’s deft hand in this story is wonderful to read. The narrative style is great, and the descriptions of corporate life, evil machinations, and the desire to simply be loved for who and what you are, are absolutely captivating. This is a fantastic peek at where are own world could be headed, with our reality TV shows and the incessant consumer culture we live in. Read this story, and weep for Delphi. Then break your TV.

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Speculative Fiction is Still for Children

I don’t remember the first Speculative Fiction story I read. There are so many possible contenders; I literally cannot pinpoint which one got to me first. I read Anne McCaffrey, Brian Jacques, Tanith Lee, Bruce Coville, Philip Pullman, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L’Engle and many more, all before I got out of elementary school. In middle school, I discovered Tamora Pierce, Simon R. Green, Douglass Adams and Lloyd Alexander. In high school, it was Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Orson Scott Card, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Moon, and Garth Nix. I was heavily into fantasy back then. It wasn’t until college that I really started to read science fiction: Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, James H. Schmitz, Neal Stephenson, and David Weber.

Throughout all those years, about 18 now since I’ve been able to read to myself, my books were what kept me going. I had a troubled childhood (who didn’t), and I was looking for ways to escape. Speculative Fiction provided that escape. If I couldn’t personally run away from the things that bothered me, at least my mind could. I read on the bus, I read during classes, I read while walking home. I wanted to be those characters, I looked up to them, I admired the heroes in all those stories.

I wrote quite a bit, too, and made elaborate stories up in my head. I wanted to discover distant planets or alternate realities. I imagined myself the wielder of great and dire powers, magical or psychic. Nobody would ever make fun of me again. I could rearrange the world to my liking. These were childish stories with obvious Mary Sue characters and little to no true merit. But when I was writing them they made a world of difference to me. It gave me power over my own existence.

Speculative Fiction probably saved my life, or at least my sanity. I’d like to return the favor by making it a genre that anyone and everyone can read. When I was younger, all that mattered to me was the story. It didn’t have to be particularly good, and it didn’t have to representative of real life people. It just had to be not my life. As a critically thinking adult, I’ve started to expect more from the books I read. While I grow and change as a person, I expect the genre of Speculative Fiction to grow and change as well. And it’s very disappointing when it doesn’t live up to those lofty expectations.

It is a flawed genre, in some ways very badly. Many writers are still marginalized or go completely unpublished because of their choice of material or what they themselves look like or the way they live. Characters that I could once immerse myself in now reveal themselves to be shallow stereotypes and trite clichés. I’ve begun to realize that some of my favorite authors are themselves quite human, and many times it has been their bad behavior within the spec fic community that has shown this to me. It’s much easier in the age of the Internet to knock your heroes off their pedestals, simply by means of being able to talk to them or hearing them talk about themselves.

These are not irredeemable flaws but they are daunting ones. The Speculative Fiction community isn’t the all-welcoming entity it would like some to believe. Prejudice against women, against people of color, against LGBT fans and writers, is strong and alive.

However, as a feminist, a lesbian, and an advocate for racial and cultural diversity, I can honestly see no better medium then Speculative Fiction works to advance the ideals I believe in. If we can write anything, we can write stories full of characters of color, stories of strong, capable women, and stories featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer heroes, not to mention many other marginalized members of society. As real life human beings, we can advocate for the publication and recognition of these works.

The true meaning of Speculative Fiction, for me, is this.

The world is infinite, the possibilities are endless, and anyone can save the day.

It’s up to the advocates and the educators to make sure those stories and the authors who write them have the space they need to flourish. We need to talk about the flaws of the genre openly, review the less well known works, write opinion pieces and analytical essays. Introduce your friends to the little authors and ask publishers for the kind of works you want to read. It’s not a fast process or always a safe one. People might try to intimidate you or even threaten you into silence. But if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?

I love Speculative Fiction and I think it has some wonderful authors and amazing stories within its history. But I also think it’s time for the genre to grow up.

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tobiasincentralparklgTobias Buckell is the author of many short stories, three speculative fiction novels, plus a novel set in the Halo universe. He’s also an avid gamer, and a brand new dad to twin girls. Born in the Caribbean, he strives to include that flavor in his novels.

Q1: What draws you to write science fiction and/or fantasy, hereafter referred to as speculative fiction?

TB: The sense of possibility, the open-ended ability to write just about anything you could imagine.

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

TB: Besides the high school newspaper? I think it was a short, 750 word piece up on Jackhammer Magazine. It’s the first piece I got a check for ($8.00, the editor rounded up their penny-a-word rate). I still have a framed photocopy of the check. My first ‘big’ sale in the genre was to Science Fiction Age, where I sold my story ‘The Fish Merchant.’

Q3: What did it feel like?

TB: There was a lot of inarticulate and loud happiness.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?

TB: Seeing my first story in print, in a magazine that people could buy at most stores and was even in grocery stores at the time, made me feel a writer.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

TB: I’m 30, I started submitting short stories to markets when I was 15. What keeps me going? I love doing it!

Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)

TB: I enjoyed Clarke and Asimov, though Clarke a bit more, to be honest, as an influence. Later the cyberpunks got me pumped up about SF/F, because they were a bit more blue collar, street-oriented, inclusive, bringing in developing world countries as players on the global scene. That struck a deep chord in me, growing up in the Caribbean and all. Clarke was also way more of a globalist as well, and I think that’s what attracted me to him more than other authors.

Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?

TB: I’m rather fond of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. I startled Vernor at San Diego Comic Con at a bar once when I told him I’d read it 40 times (I read rather fast, books I enjoy usually get reread several times) in high school, and charted out how many pages there were in each chapter and what POV they were in so I could draw a chart of how the novel was constructed because I wanted to write a novel like that. I’ve since dissected more novels in similar fashion, but his was the first that I kept coming back to going ‘how’d he accomplish this?’ over and over again.

Q8: Tides From the New Worlds contains 20 short stories, each one a little different. Will any of them ever lead to a book?

TB: One of them already did, Fish Merchant lead to Crystal Rain, my first novel. There are some other stories in there that I wouldn’t mind taking further, like Tides. I’ve written another short story in that universe, and I would really like to explore a fantasy world where magic is tied to how much life you use up for a spell, or magical event, and where there are progeric children wandering around cities who’ve been used up by magic.

Q9: Which of the short stories is your personal favorite and why?

TB: Fish Merchant, all these years later, is still one that I like because it was the first time I suddenly got the bike to stay up as I pedaled, so to speak. Before that I kept falling over.

Q10: When you set out to write Crystal Rain, did you ever think it would be published?

TB: I had a hunch. I was still writing short stories when I met my agent, and he asked me to write Crystal Rain. He was very excited about the book, so I was very hopeful for it.

Q11: Do you think that the fact that Crystal Rain features an overwhelming array of characters of color, including the main character, affected how quickly the book was picked up?

TB: Hard to say. On one hand, it got a lot of rejections, but they didn’t specify why. One house said it was confusing because I was white-looking, but the people in the book were all minorities, and they weren’t sure how to sell that. I know it’s affected some sales, some have emailed me hate mail based on the idea that Caribbean peoples would rule the stars. But on the other hand, I’m still plugging away selling books and gaining readers, so it’s not a show-stopper. Some people are just never going to be your audience.

Q12: Is John DeBrun based off of anyone in real life?

TB: No, I don’t know anyone in my life with a hook for a hand.

Q13: What about Pepper?

TB: Pepper is my homage to the dangerous action hero. He’s just as liable to get you killed as to save you.

Q14: Why do you think so few authors of color and characters of color show up in speculative fiction?

TB: There are so few characters of color because the authorship isn’t very diverse, and it’s not high on awareness of most white authors to focus on main characters of color. Because the field then looks white, there is a perception that non-white people aren’t welcome (a perception not helped by a lot of cluelessness from core genre in all sides of diversity, inclusiveness). If you look at the number of diverse authors working in mainstream literature, particularly in academia, which has nominally higher levels of authorship than SF/F, it’s because some effort was made to reach out and cultivate and invite authors in. We haven’t had a ton of that until very recently, where thanks to the internet, non-white authors have been able to discern that there are non-white friendly editors/fans/readers. Since like-minded non-white authors could confer, there is also more of a sense that they can try to stand up and be counted, whereas before they might have felt like they were the only one trying to do so, and maybe give up after a while.

There’s a somewhat racist fallacy that inviting, encouraging, or growing non-white talent instantly means imposing quotas, and then someone stands up and says ‘and we only want the *best* fiction, not quotas.’ It’s interesting because it assumes at its core that casting your net wider can only work if you include lesser work, or that non-white authors can’t produce work as good as white. Encouraging and seeking out don’t equate to quotas, but even now, many resist even specifically asking or stating they’re looking for more diversity in both characters, outlook, worldview, and authorship.

Q15: Do you feel that by writing books like Crystal Rain, you’re making a difference with readers about their perceptions of speculative fiction and who should be included?

TB: I hope so. I know I’ve made a difference to some, I had one reader break into tears when they met me because I had main characters of color and they got so little of that in science fiction they felt left out and invisible, and coming across the few books that did this was always an emotional event for them. I’ve had a few readers email to say that they didn’t want to read a ‘Caribbean SF’ book because they were resistant to the whole idea, but after getting recommendations, ended up reading and enjoying.

Q16: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive or more exclusive, and why?

TB: Orbit just sent me Nora Jemisin’s first Fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, of a series that I’m really looking forward to cracking open. I’m supposed to get a copy of David Anthony Durham’s next book here soon. Nnedi Okorafor is writing some awesome stuff. I can’t wait for Nalo Hopkinson’s next book. So that’s a sign that things are not hopeless. On the other hand, if you compare demographics of novelists to the demographics of the US population, diversity is still vastly out of sync in the field. I think if SF wants to survive, just looking at the US census’ estimated makeup of the US in 20-30 years, we will need to be able to speak to more than just a monochromatic future, because it’s certainly not where the very obvious near future is going.

Q17: What are you working on right now? Will there be any more books set in Crystal Rain’s world, beyond Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose?

TB: For now the Crystal Rain world is on hold, the sales were not moving up as quickly as hoped, and while online sales and preorders for Sly Mongoose gave me my best opening week yet, chain bookstores hardly carried Sly Mongoose. I may look into taking the series (I have 2 more books carefully plotted out, and 20,000 words written of the fourth book) around to a smaller publisher, as it might be a good book for them (like I said, we had awesome sales via Amazon.com and indy stores), but we’re trying to reboot the chains’ interest in me with a new direction. I’m writing a near future novel called Arctic Rising for Tor, about what happens when people start trying to terraform Earth in the near future to prevent further global warming. As a near future cyperpunk/techno thriller sort of thing it’s a new direction, but early readers have been pretty psyched about it.

I’m also, at the same time, enjoying writing a young adult novel called The All Tree. But I’ll have more information about it in January or so.


For more information about Tobias Buckell and his writing, including excerpts for reading, visit tobiasbuckell.com or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell

You can purchase Crystal Rain and the rest of the series through Amazon.com and Tides From the New Worlds through Wyrm Publishing.

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crystalrainlargeCrystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (May 29, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0765350909

John DeBrun is literally a man with no past. Washed up on the seashore 27 years ago with no memory and only the chain around his neck to tell him his name, John has managed to build a life for himself, despite his terrible handicap. With his wife, Shanta, and son, Jerome, he lives the life of a coastal fisherman on the island world of Nanagada, suffering through nightmares and a feeling of deep loss as he tries to make new memories to fill the hole left by his amnesia.

That all changes, though, when the Azteca on the other side of the Wicked High Mountains invade, looking for slaves and sacrifices for their strange, alien gods, the Teotl. Forced to flee before the invading army, John heads for Capitol City without his family, determined to join up with the mongoose-men, the best fighting force the Nanagadans have to offer. He’s hunted by both the terrifying Teotl and a brutal man named Pepper, for reasons he can neither remember nor understand. It’s up to John to find some way to stop the Azteca, regain his lost memories, and save his family, all while trying to stay alive.

Nanagada is a colony planet of Earth, but the reasons why this branch of humanity has ended up there, or what they were meant to do, have been lost hundreds of years ago. With the flavor of the Caribbean woven throughout the story, Buckell paints a vivid world full of diverse people, with strange enemies, and even stranger friends. John is a strong man bent under by the force of his unknown past, and the fate of his family. A rare figure in speculative fiction, he’s a black man trying to make his way in a world he doesn’t remember. He shows emotion freely, genuinely loves his wife and son, and is doing his damnedest to either save them or make someone pay, hard.

Pepper is someone from John’s past, a walking, talking killing machine with dreads, who has a secret soft spot for lost causes and hopeless people. Haidan is a man of honor, the General of the mongoose-men charged with protecting Nanagada, and weighed down by responsibility and a creeping sickness. Oaxyctl is an Azteca who befriends John, madly driven by his bloodthirsty gods to get the secrets from John’s memory any way he can. And Prime Minister Dihana is a shrewd, tough young woman determined to keep her people alive while at the same time bringing them back out of the dark ages. All these characters and more make for a riveting tale.

There are several recognizable influences in the book. The Azteca are modeled after the Aztecs of South America, the alien Loa that many in Capitol City worship are references to the practice of voodoo in Haiti and other areas, and even the Rastafarians briefly mentioned come from Jamaica. This mix of religions, peoples, and historical references makes for a rich and varied background against which the main story takes place. It is rare to find an author with a deft touch for so many unusual cultures, but Buckell pulls it off beautifully, probably with plenty of help from his own Caribbean upbringing.

The tech in Crystal Rain remains relatively low key up until the very end, turning the focus on the main players instead of the shiny machines as some authors do. What tech does appear has an almost steampunk quality at times, with soaring airships, armored locomotives, and a steamer ship that can pop out treads and crawl over land. There is also a hair-raising tech scene towards the end that brings to mind something that happened in the Matrix, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving away details. Just read the last few chapters with care.

Crystal Rain is a fascinating and memorable experience, and a great opening for the start of Buckell’s first series. The only problem I had at times was the cant with which some of the characters spoke, but it’s an adjustment that comes quickly once the story picks up. If you’re into adventure, betrayal, grotesque aliens, strange technologies and a life or death struggle, go pick up Crystal Rain immediately. And while you’re at it, pick up the next two books, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose. This is a series worth reading.
Check out Tobias Buckell’s website where you can read the first 1/3 of Crystal Rain for FREE! or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
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Other Reviews of Crystal Rain:

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Lovin’
Enduring Romance

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Author of the WeekStarting next Monday, November 2nd, I will be interviewing a science fiction/fantasy author every week, as well as reviewing one or two pieces of their work. There will be questions about their pieces, getting published, the experience of being an author and a writer, how they choose their characters and why, along with many other topics.

There will also be some book giveaways, for those who might be interested.

I’m looking for suggestions on your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors who you might like to see interviewed. I love talking to the big name authors, but I think an interview and review event such as this would most benefit the less well known authors, those authors just getting started. I’m hoping that the draw of the bigger names will help bring attention to the smaller authors.

And of course, I’m hoping that everyone who stops by will learn something about what being an author means, and what science fiction and fantasy mean to readers and authors alike.

My first guest author will be Tobias Buckell, Caribbean science fiction writer. I’ll be reviewing Crystal Rain, the first book in his science fiction series, and Tides From the New Worlds, his short story collection.

For a full list of the authors already signed up and scheduled, visit the AOTW page tab at the top.

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neuromancer_bookNeuromancer by William Gibson
Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Ace (July 1, 1984)
ISBN-13: 978-0441569595

Henry Dorsett Case, known simply as Case during the story, is a washed up console cowboy. Once a top hacker, he crossed his former crime boss employer, but instead of losing his life, they burned out his ability to neurally connect to the web. Now a middle man in the slums of Japan, he’s stuck doing drug deals and fencing electronic gear. Case has become a suicidal addict, desperate for a cure that will reverse his mutilation, but beyond all hope of ever finding one. This is where Molly finds him. She’s a street tough working for a man named Armitage, a mysterious character that neither Molly nor Case knows much of anything about.

Molly and Armitage clean Case up, repair his neural damage, and add a little incentive to the mix to force him to work for them. This comes in the form of poison sacks hidden in strategic places inside his body that will slowly dissolve over time, putting him back in the same debilitating state they pulled him out of. Unless he is given the final antidote at the end of his work for them, he’ll be back in the gutter. The job? The preliminary run is just a basic smash and grab, stealing a unique program from a mega-corporation. But the ultimate goal of their little team is unclear, the only clue being a name; Wintermute.

The name Wintermute is revealed to be that of an AI, an artificial intelligence with a strange and perhaps dangerous agenda. It’s up to Case, Molly, and the rest of their team and friends to decide whether to help or hinder the AI. They’ve got to manage this somehow, while trying to stay alive, stay out of jail, and stay connected to the web. The meaning of the title isn’t revealed until well into the book, and it is truly astounding when it is.

Characters are diverse but all have a recurrent theme, that of some kind of social outcast. Case is a hacker, someone who makes a living by breaking into computers and selling what he steals, but he’s also an intelligent and thoughtful man, with a penchant for falling in love. Molly is a woman with a past, and a desperate need to protect her future. Her physical adaptations make her an ideal strong arm, but they came at a heavy price that still haunts her, and brings to mind some of today’s social injustices. The other characters are all equally memorable, and have equally difficult or heart breaking pasts.

This book is the definitive cyberpunk novel, the founding work and the place where the rest spring from. The most amazing part of the book is the fact that it came out in 1984, years before easily accessible personal computers, cell phones, or serious genetic manipulations were available. Gibson correctly imagined technology and innovations that wouldn’t happen for years, and wrote well using them. Not only was it visionary, it was a first novel. Gibson managed to create something amazing and genre-creating on his first publication. A good point for first time writers: Don’t be afraid to use your imagination; no species, technology, or characterization is too bizarre if done right. Gibson did it right.

Check out William Gibson’s site or follow him on twitter @GreatDismal

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Other Reviews of Neuromancer:

SF Reviews.net
Book Geeks

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