Monthly Archives: June 2013

Brighter than the Stars – A Sense of Wonder

My first (and so far only completed) novel is a story that I wrote, in part, to bring back the sense of wonder I felt as a boy when I first read good SF. I don’t get that from novels written today very often. They can be good stories, well written, creative, etc, etc. But where’s the wonder? Where’s that feeling of the vastness of the universe? There have been some more recent books that evoked those feelings – Verner Vinge’s On/Off star in A Deepness in the Sky is an astounding invention. The long space voyages he envisioned help the reader appreciate the distances between stars, and the strangeness of the spider creatures definitely did awake my sense of wonder.

But too many books today are like The Windup Girl. This book received tremendous accolades and sold well, so who am I to criticize it? But let’s be frank; it describes a depressing, gritty, ugly world ruined by bioengineering. Who would want to live in it? Where is the inspiration of scientific discovery? And the ending unfortunately degrades into a sort of civil war. I’m SOOO tired of war themes in SF! But Paolo Bacigalupi is a tremendously talented writer – no arguments there. He just chose to write a book that depressed and disappointed me.

So I guess, in a way, I tried to write the anti-Windup Girl. Brighter than the Stars does have conflict, it does have a bad guy and it does have tension and resolution. But there aren’t any wars, science is presented in a positive light, and the problems that arise are problems caused by the limitations of living things – their fears, prejudices, and especially, their innate instincts.

I also tried to weave in certain themes, or leitmotifs into the story. There’s the sun, a stand-in for the fusion generators that drive the plot. There’s music, misunderstood by the Cygnians (the species that invented fusion power and is now trying to sell their fusion generators on Earth) who communicate with thought waves. There’s each species’ instincts limiting them, causing them to make mistakes. Another theme is the other, the sense of being an outsider. Thus two of the main characters are African-American, and the main conflict in Cygnian civilization centers around the fact that predator species from other planets, dangerous outsiders, are visiting them in places they’ve long secured from their own predators.

The action takes place on Earth and two other planets. The reader gets introduced to the grazing, pacifist Cygnians, the vicious, wolf-like Arcturans, the bureaucratic, satyr-like Eridaneans, and my favorites – the Sirians, the source of all the little green men sitings on Earth, and a species so technologically advanced that they spend all their time pursuing pleasure – especially sexual pleasure.

I’ll outline the plot in a future post.

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Submitting and Rejection

Anybody trying to become a published author, and whose name isn’t one immediately recognizable by the general public, has to go through the tiresome, degrading process of submitting his or her work and getting lots and lots of rejections, almost all of which provide absolutely no useful information.

How tired I am of “it doesn’t work for me” or “we can’t use it at this time” (the most common one). Tell me why, for cryin’ out loud!! But I can imagine the firestorm of invective that a tiny minority of fragile-ego writers would unloose if they were told what was wrong with their story. And I can imagine that editors have seen this phenomenon, and so the bland, information-free rejections continue.

What’s even worse is when it takes six or more months to get said rejection. If you’re going to sit on my piece, all the while proclaiming that you don’t want simultaneous submissions then please be at least a little bit prompt. This recently happened to me with a certain publication that’s been around for a long time and usually takes a lot less time than 235 days (as calculated by Duotrope). OK, I’ll say who it was – Analog. Why 235 days? At least give me something to work with if you’re going to tie up my story that long. A single sentence will do.

OK, enough ranting for one post.

We all know why this happens – because it can. The A-list publications get mountains of submissions every month. Most are awful (I’ve been told) but the good ones still add up to many times more than they can publish. They don’t want to discourage good writers, so they send a bland rejection. But why not do something like what Buzzy did for me. The rejection said it was a good story, but they just couldn’t fit it in. That tells me something, at least.

I’ll address the issue of what the A-list mags are actually publishing these days in a future post.

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Cindy’s New Profession

I borrowed a character from my novel “Brighter than the Stars” for “Cindy’s New Profession” – Jason Wise (he’s Sean in this story).  His vanity, intense sexuality, and cavalier attitude toward life and the world he’s chosen to live in fit perfectly with the little northwoods community where he meets the town’s lone prostitute – Cindy Johanssen. Cindy holds down a second job as a waitress at the Tall Timber – the only restaurant within thirty miles, and so she gets to know all the interesting characters that come into the area – and you’d be surprised – there are some very unusual visitors to her little town!

I’ll just stop right there, because discovering what’s really going on is what makes this story fun.

Here’s the link

Cindy’s New Profession

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Paradise Lost

This is a very short, but very serious story that is part of a cycle of stories that I’m writing, all trying to answer the question: “What if the Intelligent Design people are right?” OK, if you’re not a religious fundamentalist, you probably must think that I’m some bible thumper now, but you’d be wrong. I simply wanted to take an idea, which I personally don’t think makes any sense at all, and try to make it work in the world of science and natural phenomena.  Intelligent Design advocates, who are the direct descendents of Creation Scientists, believe that some amorphous Head Designer created the world. By doing this, the Head Designer becomes what they call God.

But what if they were right? How would it all work? What would God’s real nature be if he/she/it were a super-scientist who created our world? To simplify, I limit the act of creation to just that of the human species, and I make the Designers plural – a whole race of aliens. The story is told from the point of view of the first generation of humans cut off from their designers (whom they call gods). It centers around a conflict between a priest and warrior. The priest wants the people to remember the gods (designers), worship them, and pray for their return (sound familiar?). The warrior counsels people to live for themselves, forget about their origins.

The story is written in a style that one commentator said reminded him of Roger Zelazny in Lord of Light. I was striving more for a very slight resemblance to Hesse’s Siddhartha, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lord of Light was inspired by Siddhartha. The title’s allusion is, I hope obvious, and the core story is in fact a retelling of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

You can read it here:

Paradise Lost

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The Fine Print

This was my first published story, and a personal favorite. It takes place in the universe of my novel, Brighter than the Stars (there’ll be other posts about that) but the characters are a little different than they are in the book.  The title relates to the legal theme of the story, but also to a song by Muse with the same title, a song I like a lot. I recently saw another story with this same name on Daily Science Fiction, and the author also mentioned the Muse song as an inspiration.  Yes, it’s a great song!!

The Fine Print is a humor piece that lampoons lawyers, overly serious SF stories about evil aliens, and even the Twilight Zone. I wrote it originally like a play – almost 100% dialog, but QM’s editor, Time Goyette suggested I add some description, and that really helped. It takes place entirely in a hospital room and has just four characters. It was a lot of fun to work on and get right. No deep meaning here – just a little fun.

It’s not a long story, so please just go and read it at:

http://www.quantummuse.com/story.php?RecID=476

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