Interweb is in the Hugos’ Megahurtz

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So, some news happened today. Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary has been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work of 2013.

[Editor's note: IS SOMEONE SCREWING WITH ME?!?]

Although my name is on it, next to one of the finest bloggers in the field, Jared Shurin, I feel we can take only the smallest bit of credit. SpecFic’12, as it’s been dubbed on character limited social media, is the product not of its editors’ labor, but a construct of an entire community. It is a product of the combined brilliance of fifty writers that cover the breadth of science fiction and fantasy fandom. To every single writer that contributed to the project I can say nothing else but thank you.

Thank you, not just for lending your writing to the book, but for choosing to be a part of the conversation at all. Thank you for embracing this thing we all love and being willing to share your thoughts about it. Or, in the case of Joe Abercrombie, for sharing your thoughts about yourself. Thank you, each and every one, for making an effort to move the genre forward, to grow it, and to make it welcoming for readers of a new generation. That last part is the root of what SpecFic’12 is all about.

Duck and Covers: The Foreign Edition

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Any discussion on covers of non-US/UK editions seems to begin with Marc Simonetti. French based, he works on covers around the world, including the US and UK. Above is the cover to Assassin’s Quest for Leya Brazil. One of the things I love most above Simonetti is his interest in full paintings that cover the entire jacket. Whether the publisher ultimately uses the whole thing or not, it makes for a pretty tremendous piece of art. Below is another beautiful Simonetti from the French edition for Panini of Jeff Salyard’s Scourge of the Betrayer.

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The Three by Sarah Lotz

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There’s horror and then there’s horror. By that I mean there are novels that fit within the horror genre, with overt applications of “scary” and “suspenseful”, and then there are novels that are generally horrifying, with an ability to elicit dread from a reader. It is the latter category that Sarah Lotz’s first solo novel, The Three, falls into. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, a imprint of science fiction and fantasy in the UK, The Three is not some tale of supernatural goings on so much as its the story of humanity’s willingness to project its insecurities on the most vulnerable.

It begins with an American woman flying to Japan to visit her daughter. Pamela May Donald is overweight, self conscious, and deeply Christian. When her airplane crashes into a wooded area she isn’t killed instantly. Instead she finds herself broken beyond repair and dying. Capable of recording a final message on her smartphone, Pamela calls out to Pastor Len. At the same moment, around the world, three other flights crash. Only three people walk away. Three children whose survival is as improbable as the Rapture, which is rather the point when Pastor Len interprets Pamela’s last message as a warning straight from Revelations.

What begins as a mystery surrounding the untimely demise of four different airliners quickly becomes an outright battle between conspiracy theory nutjobs, religious zealots, and self-interested ambulance chasers hoping to make a buck off others’ tragedies. But, rather than tell the story through a traditional narrative, Lotz utilizes the book within a book technique, where her narrator is Elspeth Martins, famed biographer and sensationalist. Elspeth assembles transcripts of interviews she conducted, republished blog posts and editorials, and a few extracted instant message conversations. See, The Three isn’t just a story. It’s a constructed story. It’s a story with its own bias as told through the lens Elspeth Martins constructs. What’s real? What has Elspeth left out in her telling? What’s the other side of the story?

A Neapolitan of Reviews: Vanilla, Strawberry, and Dog Slobber

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

This week on Writing Excuses Brandon Sanderson proposes a three-pronged character model–sympathy, capability, and activity. In other words, an interesting character will have one of these three things in spades. Either the character is likable and endears themselves to the reader, is an expert in some way important to the story, or is actively making decisions that guide the narrative.  How does Katniss Everdeen fit into this model?

Katniss is incredibly capable, at least physically and mentally. But, she’s weak emotionally, which often makes her unsympathetic. Her dithering when it comes to her feelings toward Peeta and Gale also make her rather unlikable as she strings them both along, often reflecting on her inability to even spend the time to really work through what she wants. Her activity level is an interesting question and, I think, open to some interpretation. I would argue Katniss is only active, in a sense of attempting to impose her will on the situation she finds herself in, at the end of each of the books. Her moment of finally reaching a point that she is unwilling to be pushed around by others is, functionally, the climax of every novel. However, until that point in each book, she is constantly pushed and pulled by forces like President Snow, Haymitch, and Peeta. In other words, I find Katniss to be an incredibly unappealing character who’s saved by being able (if tentatively unwilling) to kill her peers.

And yet, Kantiss is touted as a heroic character. She is something of a icon of the “strong female character”. I think shoehorning her into that role does her, and Suzanne Collins, a grave disservice. She is, actually, a much more layer character than that. She is lot more like Tyrion (minus the real horrible bits) than she is Aragorn. Because Collins takes us inside Katniss’ head we’re privvy to her thoughts and instability. We know she uses Peeta’s feelings for her at times to survive, and leads Gale on because she’s unwilling to let him go. She kills an innocent at least once without remorse and generally does the kinds of things we would not put in the “hero” box.

Rocket Talk, the Tor.com Podcast

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art by Tim Paul

Here’s the deal, I’m the host of the Tor.com podcast. It’s called Rocket Talk. It’s a a show dedicated to insightful and expansive conversations about all the cool ass shit we love. So, check it out. To preemptively answer your question, I am both the Ninja and the Cthulu thing. I am Ninjulu, a dread assassin from beyond the veil of reality.

Here’s the introduction post I wrote for Tor.com:

Rocket Talk, the Tor.com podcast, launches today and we couldn’t be more excited! (Thanks to Tim Paul for the awesome banner!)

To be released weekly, Rocket Talk will blend discussion style talk-radio with audio narrations of Tor.com’s award winning short fiction. The podcast will take the vast landscape of Tor.com and beam it straight into your ear holes. It will capture the tremendous dialogue on the website and take it to the digital airwaves like a Viking horde beaching a seaside village with more group dancing and less pillaging.

You’re probably wondering who will be on the Tor.com podcast. The answer is everyone, but one voice will be there every week—Justin Landon. You may know him from the First Law Trilogy rereadUnder the Radar, or hisTwitter feed. You will soon know him as the host of Rocket Talk. You know, if you listen to the podcast. Otherwise you’ll probably continue to know him as that other guy, or not at all. Which is really a shame for him, but only a problem for you if your life lacks absurd pop culture analogies to describe science fiction and fantasy. Regardless, we very much hope you’ll get to know him and the dozens of brilliant guests that will be on the show in the coming weeks and months.

Read the whole thing here.

You may now shower me with your excitement.

 

Why I’m Excited Today…

faithJohn Love has a new novel. Who’s John Love ? He’s a British dude who wrote one of the best novels of 2012 that no one has heard of–Faith.

Built around the idea of aegrescit medendo, which is a Latin medical phrase meaning, ‘The cure is worse than the disease’, Faith is the story of a near mythical starship bent on the destruction of an entire people. Humanity’s last line of defense, is the Charles Manson and her crew, condemned fringe intelligentsia who exist so far outside of typical human behavior that they’ve committed heinous crimes against humanity. Too capable to discard, they were given one option–serve or die. It’s an achievement of a novel that satirizes Star Trek, while executing the kinds of themes plumbed by Herman Melville in Moby Dick.

Now, there’s another novel on the horizon from Love and I’m over the moon about it for two reasons. The first, of course, is I really like his writing and I have high hopes for the novel.

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The future is a dangerous place. Keeping the world stable and peaceful when competing corporate interests and nation-states battle for power, wealth, and prestige has only gotten harder over the years. But that’s the United Nations’ job. So the UN has changed along with the rest of the world. When the UN’s “soft” diplomacy fails, it has harder options. Quiet, scalpel-like options: the Dead—biologically enhanced secret operatives created by the UN to solve the problems no one else can.

Anwar Abbas is one of the Dead, and one of the deadliest human beings on the planet. When the controller-general of the UN asks him to perform a simple bodyguard mission, he’s insulted. And resentful. But he takes the job. Because that’s who he is and what he does.

Anwar is asked to protect the host of an important UN conference, the beautiful Olivia del Sarto. Olivia is the head of one of the fastest-growing churches in the world, and in her rise to power she has made incredibly wealthy enemies.

As they ignite a torrid affair, Anwar must uncover the conspiracy that threatens to destroy her, and the UN—as well as all of the Dead.

Interesting, right? The second reason I’m excited is even more significant. Night Shade Books is acquiring new books.

Up until now the new owners of Night Shade have only published titles that were already on the docket under previous ownership or continued an ongoing series. Love’s newest is neither of those things. While he may have been under contract for another book (I have no idea), the imprint’s willingness to go in an entirely new direction with him speaks volumes for their long term interest in providing a landing place for avant-garde manuscripts. And that’s really exciting.

Observations About the Editorial Process in Publishing

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For the past two years, or so, I’ve been doing a lot of early reading for authors. The first wave of these novels will be out at some point in 2014 (and a few are already out). Participating in this process has been enlightening as manuscripts developed from outlines, to partials, to alpha drafts, to beta drafts, to finished products. In cases where an author brought me in at the beginning, the process has resulted in me reading a novel as many as four times or five times. There have been times my input has resulted in major changes to a novel. There are times the author has ignored my advice entirely. In the course of this process, I’ve learned some things about editing and how it works in publishing. Obviously, my experience on this issue is anecdotal and cannot begin to describe a pervasive picture of the state of editing in genre publishing. So, take this article with a grain of salt, but, please, don’t ignore it either.

One of the reasons I believe authors have approached me in such large numbers is because it becomes increasingly difficult to get feedback as a writer progresses in their career. One of the not-so-secrets in publishing is that a lot of second, third, fourth, et. al. novels are given only a very cursory editorial review (debuts are given more attention, but still not always at a level you might expect). I’ve even seen editorial letters from publishers that demonstrate a command of the novel without offering any critique beyond continuity and tensing errors. Of course, all books are copy edited, but an editor with a large list simply does not have the time to give a complete editorial review, or even sometimes a full read through, of a manuscript from an experienced mid-series author. Instead, more rigorous content edits are conducted at the literary agent level. Authors aren’t alone in putting their reputations behind their book. Agents do the same when they represent a novel to a publishing house. As a result, they are often much more inclined to dig into a novel and tear its heart out to get something they’re proud of and can sell. Of course, not all agents do this, positioning themselves more as negotiators and contract mavens than turd polishers (not that your manuscript is a turd).

Duck and Covers: Literary Agencies as Publishers?

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love the business of publishing. It’s like a game of blackjack where you’ve got a card sharp on one end and a drunk-off-his-ass college kid on the other. The card sharp plays the game by the book. He stands on 15 when he’s supposed to, recognizing the odds generally favor a player who doesn’t do dumb things. Of course, that’s all ruined by the moron on the other end who hits on 17, double downs like the cards are shots of Jagermeister. In between these two extremes are regular folks just trying to make a buck and have a good time. Meanwhile, looming over all of it is ‘the House’, which in this metaphor is none other than Amazon. Just like a casino, Amazon will let you think you’re winning from time to time, but more often they’ll sneak in behind you and take back what you’ve won a little more besides. Publishing, just like blackjack, is about finding the cracks in a stacked deck. Where are the niches that yield results in spite of a marketplace designed to induce failure?

One of those niches, I believe, is underway at JAbberwocky Literary Agency Inc., where Joshua Bilmes and his team are capitalizing on their authors’ out of print backlists to re-issue professional produced eBooks outside of a traditional publisher/agent/author royalty relationship. The agency publishes the eBooks itself, acquires art for the cover, and takes a smaller cut of each sale than a publisher would. Given the attention big publishing would provide to backlist eBooks, the lack of marketing dollars at a literary agent seems less an issue. This project is more about ensuring the work continues to be available and that, if an author has enough available work, it might provide a (very) modest, consistent income stream. If you ask me, this is publishing card counting. It’s manipulating the stacked deck in your favor. I love it.

Here are two Tim Akers novels, with new (to the US) art by Luis Melo, created by JAbberywocky’s eBook team:

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In other news (and completely unrelated to agencies as publishers, I find this cover of Jonathan Carroll’s Bathing the Lion stunning.

Duck and Covers: Are you not entertained?!

I wish Raymond Swanland did more cover work. No one captures motion like he does. Admittedly, his style is so unique as to be almost one-note, but I love it nevertheless. Here he is with a new novel from K.V. Johansen and Pyr. I feel like Swanland really should be illustrating X-Men when I see The Lady.

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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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O
nce upon a time there was a book. In the first twenty pages it had like a bajillion names, several dozen instances of archaic speech patterns, and quite a bit of moping. I was instantly willing to hate it. But, because I’m a true critic of the arts, I continued. Also, because I can’t really beat a book up unless I finish it, right? I admit to doing this on occasion. However, as I continued to read Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, I became enthralled. What was off-putting became second nature and beneath it was revealed a gorgeous narrative, a lush world, and dozens of fascinating characters. While there remains an absurd indulgence in complicated naming mechanisms, Addison has written a fantasy novel that rates among the best I’ve read.

Every book has a story, and Goblin Emperor’s begins long before it was published. Katherine Addison is actually Sarah Monette, a critically acclaimed author of four novels for Ace Books. Unfortunately, those books didn’t sell very well. Goblin Emperor was submitted to Ace and rejected, forcing Monette to shop the project elsewhere. Purchased by the Jim Frankel (who has had some problems subsequently) at Tor, the novel found a home. Monette became Katherine Addison because bookstores aren’t big fans of authors who don’t sell real well, but are easily mollified with byline changes. I mention this because I have no idea whether Monette can write her way out of a paper bag, but Katherine Addison is a genius and Ace should be totally bummed they didn’t buy Goblin Emperor.