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Happy Puppies

I haven’t blogged in awhile, for various reasons, none of which involve any decreased interest in speculative fiction or any of my other common topics.  Mostly, I’ve just been doing other stuff that serves those same interests: game design, writing, more writing, working on machine translation, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence software.

I don’t have any major plans to become as active on this blog as I once was.  However, I do intend to still post occasionally.  Perhaps once a month or so, if nothing drags me back to it because of its sheer awesomeness.  Do consider this a “dragged-back” post; do not consider the reason the sheer awesomeness of spec fic.  I’m writing this post for a much more depressing reason:

Sad Puppies.  I love puppies.  Not as much as kittens, but they’re still pretty adorable.  I don’t like it when they are sad.  I wish we could all just be Happy Puppies.  In furtherance of that goal, I have a few things to say about the recent Hugo Awards Slate Voting Controversy, henceforth to be referred to as the Sad Puppies (Incident).  That’s not a value judgement; it just seems like the most people will recognize it without a drawn-out explanation o my part.

So, a few important points:

  1. No one should ever be sending death threats to someone over their political opinions.  Nor rape threats.  Nor creepy anonymous phone calls.  Not to left-wingers, right-wingers, or any sort of -wingers.
  2. In general, the politics of an author are unimportant when judging a book.  If the politics of the book itself (or any other form of writing or story-telling) make you squeamish, fine.  Don’t read it; don’t buy it; don’t vote for it.  But don’t attack the author based on their politics, or their book’s politics.  Not unless they’ve been actively user their author persona to promote those politics.  Still don’t attack them.  Follow Rule #1.  If they open the door by posting politics on their blog, feel free to go there and debate them.  Dislike them as people. Decide not to buy their books.  But don’t drag the spec fic community into it.  Don’t actively campaign against others buying their books.  Don’t actively campaign for them, either, if you don’t like them.  Campaign for what you like, and leave the hate out of it, either way.
  3. I’m politically left.  Possibly even a socialist.  I read plenty of right-wing-slanted stories.  I even enjoy some of them.  I read books by politically-right authors.  The same goes for the left, if we insist on dragging politics into it.  I think some books on both “sides” are great.  I think the majority are mediocre to readable, and I think some books on both “sides” suck.  That’s a separate issue from whether I was the target audience for a book.  I can like some things about a book and hate others.  Maybe it had a great plot but poor prose.  maybe it had deep characters but I hated their politics.  Maybe I thought the politics were tolerable but they hit me over the head with them too many times.  Maybe the book sucked, but I was the target audience so I cut it some slack. (never too much, good writing/story always trumps politics).  maybe it rocked by I was not the target audience so I was a bit more critical of it than I otherwise might have been.  We’re all biased in one (or many) way(s) or another.  Maybe I liked some books by an author, but hated others.  I disagree strongly with much of the politics of OSC.  I still liked his Ender books, and his Gate books.  I hated his Seventh Son books.  Partly for political reasons, partly because I just didn’t like them as stories.

I’m absolutely against what the Sad Puppies are doing.  But I totally believe that they’re telling the truth, or their interpretation of it as far as some of the treatment they received.  I don’t thik they chose the right response.  I don’t agree with their vision for “real” or “proper” Speculative Fiction.  But that doesn’t excuse bad behavior on the part of the Happy Puppies.  Criticize them for their actions, not their politics.  Criticize them for bad quality writing or story-telling, not for their politics.  Criticize their politics.  Challenge their views.  But don’t attack them.  Don’t call them names, don’t threaten them.  (What qualifies as name-calling may differ among groups.  Sorry.)

Better commentators than I have already talked voting policy to death.  Good luck to everyone at Worldcon.

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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Sigh

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Fairytale Fiction

Sub-genre of the Week: Fairytale Fantasy

Last week, I discussed Near-future SF.  This week, I’m going to talk about a newly re-popularized genre of fantasy: fairytale re-tellings.

Definition:

Fairytale fiction is a sub-genre of speculative that revolves around re-tellings of fairytales in new settings, with new characters, or from the perspective of a previously non-perspective character, and also fairytale style stories.

History

Fairytale retellings have been around for as long as there have been fairytales, but in the past decade or so, they’ve come together as a commercial genre.

Common Tropes and Conventions

The same as those for fairytales: secret royal birth, HEA endings, marriage into a royal family, something dangerous in the nearby woods, etc.

Genre Crossover

Fairytale fiction is unique among fantasy genres for generally having very little crossover.  The specifics of the stories usually preclude it.  It’s certainly possible to create high or epic fantasy out of fairytales, but people usually file off the serial numbers if they do so.

Media

Robin Hood has always been popular in film, and Snow White has just recently received multiple adaptions.  No doubt there will be more in the future.

Future Forecast

Fairytale fiction will no doubt continue to be popular for the near-future.  Although the most popular stories now have four or five major retellings, there are plenty of lesser known stories still awaiting a re-imagining.

Recommendations

1.  Enchanted series by Gail Carson Levine

2.  Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

3.  Beastly by Alex Flinn

4.  Princess series by Jim C. Hines

5.  Rapunzel’s Revenge series by Shannon Hale

6.  Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

7.  Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

8.  Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey

9.  Beauty by Robin McKinley

10.  The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

Goodreads list of Fairytale Fantasy

Next week: Cyberpunk

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Near-future SF

Sub-genre of the Week: Near-future SF

Last week, I talked about Portal Fantasy.  This week, I’m going to tackle another tough to categorize genre.

Definition:

Near-future SF is a sub-genre of SF dealing with science fiction stories and concepts just the other side of contemporary.  I’ll limit it to the next fifty years for the purposes of this post.

History

There can be no true history of the genre, since what qualifies changes as time passes.  But the concept originated as a sub-genre in the 90s and grew to its present size and description in the late 2000s.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Besides the fifty-year time frame, there are few major tropes and conventions.  There’s a tendency towards exploration of the solar system, biological advances, punk themes, climate change, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, occasionally fusion reactors and green energy.

Genre Crossover

Near-future SF crosses over with dystopian fiction, Mundane SF, and social science fiction.  It may also share traits with some hard sf.

Media

Near-future SF rarely gets attention in video media, due to its often lack of flashy technology.  It does come up now and again in anime and manga.  Otherwise, it’s mostly a print genre.

Future Forecast

By definition we’re going to have more of this.  The popularity of near-future SF and its related genres has gone up quite a bit since the post-cyberpunk movement and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

Recommendations

1.  Dagmar series by Walter John Williams

2.  Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

3.  Halting State by Charles Stross

4.  The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

5.  Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

6.  Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

7.  Air: or Have Not Have by Geoff Ryman

8.  India 2047 series by Ian McDonald

9.  Anime: Planetes

10.  Anime: Dennou Coil

Goodreads list of Near-future SF

Check in next time for a discussion of Fairytale Fiction.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Portal Fantasy

Sub-genre of the Week:

Last week I talked about Dystopian Fiction.  This week, I’m going to look at another venerable subgenre: Portal Fantasy.

Definition:

Portal Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy where the protagonist goes through a portal from the real world into the fantastic.

History

Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Widerland in 1865 as a favor to the daughter of a friend, after she loved his story of Alice and her adventures during a float trip up the Isis, a nickname for part of the River Thames.  Lord Dunsany published The King of Elfland’s Daughter in 1924, though it’s brilliance was only recognized after the re-publication by Ballantine Books in 1969.  And in 1950, C.S. Lewis began publishing The Chronicles of Narnia, based on an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels through a snowy wood he had when he was 16.  And the genre took off from there.

Common Tropes and Conventions

All you need is a portal and a fantasy world on the other side of it.  Generally, the protagonist is also treated as a savior or Chosen One in the other world.

Genre Crossover

Portal Fantasy often crosses over with High Fantasy, as most of the worlds on the other side of the portal conform fairly solidly to High Fantasy tropes and conventions.  Some anime and manga uses Epic Fantasy worlds as their targets.

Media

Alice and Narnia have both gotten several big movies, though there are no original film stories in the genre that I know of.  Anime and manga are chock full of portal fantasy, including the ever-popular Inuyasha.  And obviously print is full of it, or I couldn’t have written this post.

Future Forecast

There’s plenty of new Portal Fantasy being published these days.  It’s always been popular, and it likely always will be.  This interesting article on Making Light contradicts me a bit here, but I think it’s a bit pessimistic.  Perhaps a new style of portal fantasy will change the game.  I think I’ll get on that.

Recommendations

1.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland series by Lewis Carroll

2.  The Fionavar Tapestry series by Guy Gavriel Kay

3.  The Chronicle of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

4.  The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

5.  The Magicians series by Lev Grossman

6.  Amber series by Roger Zelazny

7.  The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson

8.  The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

9.  Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente

10. Anime: Arata Kangatari

Goodreads list of Portal Fantasy

Check in next time for a discussion of Near-future SF.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Dystopian

Sub-genre of the Week: Dystopian

Last week, I talked about Epic Fantasy.  This week I’ll be discussing one of everyone’s favorite genres: Dystopian (Science) Fiction.  It also happens to be one of the most commonly misunderstood.  Hopefully I can clear things up a bit.

Definition:

Dystopian fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that involves a societal structure argued to be a utopia by its administrators, which in fact suffers from some fatal flaw, such as authoritarianism or over-surveillance.

History

Dystopian fiction has a very distinguished history.  Samuel Butler first published Erewhon: or, Over the Range in 1872, detailing a country in which the sick are criminals while criminals are considered sick.  It could be argued to be a satirical utopia, as it comments on many aspects of Victorian society, and here we come across the first ambiguity of dystopian fiction.  However, whichever way it is categorized, it was certainly an influence on later works.

For example, it greatly influenced Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, where society is divided into five major castes, raised in creches and assigned their roles in life.  The novel is often considered a response to Huxley’s visit to Imperial Chemical Industries’ Brunner and Mond plant, and is an extension into the future of many of the principles of the Industrial Revolution, and represented many people’s fear of losing their individual identity.  A further influence on Huxley was Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 novel We, written in response to the authors life in Imperial Russian in the early 20th century, which reflected on the mass collectivization of labor.

The next major dystopian novel was George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984, which represented the increased uncertainty with government surveillance, the rise of communism, and gave rise to the popular icon “Big Brother”.  Other famous dystopian novels include Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

More recently, we have Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, a sickeningly accurate prediction of a more modern version of the Big Brother surveillance state.

And finally, we arrive at Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games series of novels, which spawned a vast tide of YA “dystopian” novels.  The Hunger Games recalls Koushun Takami’s 1999 nove, Battle Royale, the story of a class of Japanese teenagers iset on an island for a game of survival where only one can remain.  It remains to be seen whether this new wave of dystopian fiction can match up to the old giants of the genre.  So far, I’d say it hasn’t.

Common Tropes and Conventions

A “perfect: society with one major flaw, generally the rampant suppression of a group or social freedom we take for granted today.  Otherwise, not much else has to be in common.

Genre Crossover

Dystopian strongly crosses over with apocalyptic fiction, especially in the new wave coming out in the wake of The Hunger Games.  It can also cross over with near-future SF, such as in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-up Girl.

Media

Many dystopians, from Soylent Green to The Hunger Games have graced the big screen.  They’re also common in Japanese manga and anime, such as Deadman Wonderland, where a privatized prison has become the new Disney World.

Future Forecast

The new wave of YA dystopia is still going strong, and looks to keep on going for quite awhile.  Whether adult dystopias will make the same comeback is uncertain.  But the genre looks to be in no danger of slowing down.

Recommendations

1.  1984 by George Orwell

2.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

3.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

5.  The Giver Quartet series by Lois Lowry

6.  Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

7.  The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

8.  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

9.  Movie: Soylent Green

10. Anime/Manga: Deadman Wonderland

Goodreads list of Dystopian fiction.

Check in next time for a discussion of Portal Fantasy.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Epic Fantasy

Sub-genre of the Week: Epic Fantasy

Last week, I discussed Social Science Fiction.  This week, I’m going to tackle Epic Fantasy, and perhaps disambiguate it a bit from high fantasy, which when looked at closely, can be usefully considered as separate genres.

Definition:

Epic Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy involving a large scope, a big cast, and often morally gray characters.  It is mainly but not always a form of secondary-world fiction.

History

Epic fantasy has a long history, closely intertwined with high fantasy.  It has become increasingly popular since the 90s, beginning with the Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire.

Common Tropes and Conventions

Large casts, wide scope, multiple perspective characters, and high stakes.  And, of course, they almost always come in series.

Genre Crossover

Epic fantasy often crosses over with high fantasy.  In fact, many of the big hits are both.  However, it is distinguished by it’s lack of black-and-white conflict and commonly wider scope, as well as a less mythic and more gritty tone.  It occasionally crosses over with portal fantasy, dark fantasy, and historical fantasy.  It shares many tropes with Sword & Sorcery, but is distinguished by the more-than-personal stakes and large cast.

Media

Epic fantasy is immensely popular in visual media, including manga, anime, and movies.  Game of Thrones is the latest in a line of popular epic fantasy appearances on the small and big screen.

Future Forecast

As with any well-established genre, epic fantasy isn’t going anywhere soon.  It will no doubt continue to be popular and receive at least a couple debuts every year.

Recommendations

1.  A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

2.  The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson

3.  The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson

4.  The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett

5.  The Night Angel series by Brent Weeks

6.  Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher

7.  The Inheritance Trilogy series by N.K. Jemisin

8. Winds of the Fourlands series by David B. Coe

9. The Long Price Quartet series by Daniel Abraham

10. Watergivers series by Glenda Larke

Goodreads list of Epic Fantasy

Next week: Dystopian!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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Subgenre of the Week: Social Science Fiction

Sub-genre of the Week: Social Science Fiction

Last week I talked about Sword & Sorcery.  This week we have something of an odd duck.  Social Science Fiction is not a regularly accepted genre, but perhaps it should be.  It lacks common conventions and tropes, and yet the focus on society, sociology, and anthropology makes the books within it distinct from others they may share some genre classifications with.

Definition:

Social Science Fiction is a genre of SF revolving around the exploration of alternate societies, anthropology, and sociology.  It’s a rather broad umbrella.

History

There’s no real history to this genre, since it’s not an established sub-genre, but rather a collection of disparate works that often appeal to the same group of people.

Much of it was published around the New Wave in the 60s and 70s.  For example, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote most of her Hainish series during that period.

Common Tropes and Conventions

There are none, really, except that focus on the social sciences and possible future societies.

Genre Crossover

Pretty much any genre.  Space Opera for The Hainish Cycle, Military SF for Starship Troopers.  Near-future SF and Dystopia.  (I argue that Dystopia is worth considering separately.)

Media

There have been adaptions of many shorts stories and some novels, such as Flowers for Algernon and Starship Troopers, but otherwise firmly in the realm of print.

Future Forecast

Hard to say considering it’s not a cohesive body of work.  It’s certainly likely that more will be published in the future, as near-future SF is still pretty popular.

Recommendations

1.  The Hainish Cycle series by Ursula K. Le Guin

2.  Earthseed series by Octavia E. Butler

3.  Canopus in Argos series by Doris Lessing

4.  Nightfall by Isaac Asimov

5.  Blindness by Jose Saramago

6.  Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

7.  Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

8. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

9. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

10.  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Goodreads list of Social Science Fiction.

(A lot of stuff on the Goodreads list is actually Dystopian, which I distinguish from Social SF.)

Check in next time for a discussion of Epic Fantasy.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in genre, Genre of the Week

 

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