Thursday, May 28, 2015

DCC messed up their "Diversity Mission", again!

And in pretty much the exact same way they did last time, too. Here's what happened this year at Denver Comic Con. To recount briefly, DCC thought it would be a brilliant idea to run a "Women in Comics" panel discussing the history or portrayal of women in comic books, and include absolutely no women on the panel. Predictably, the men on the panel were somewhat out of touch on the issue. I'm not saying that men cannot advocate for positive portrayal of women -- that would be hypocritical -- but when the absence of female creators in comics is one of the primary causes of the problem in the first place, not including women in the discussion is the kind of oversight that demonstrates you have absolutely no grasp on the issue. During Writespace's Comicpalooza panel on tropes in cliches in SFF, the issue of female stereotypes came up, and for a very good reason I kept my mouth shut on the issue until the women on the panel were done talking and then ventured my own points on the destructive role that gender cliches play in the industry.

Here's what makes this more terrible: this has happened before and failed to generate the same media response. I was there in 2013 when a panel on the same subject managed to argue points so unthinkably self-defeating that I just can't. even. stand to remember them. Maybe if the media had been paying more attention in 2013, history wouldn't have repeated itself. DCC obviously didn't listen to the complaints that myself and other attendees made at that time.

I do want to mention that I don't agree with Geeky Goth Girl in holding the women on the 2013 panel blameless. I recall that the women did their own share of body-shaming during the panel, accusing women in the audience of objecting to the sexualization of the female image only because they are frustrated by their own bodies and that they should just get over it. One female attendee told me after the 2013 panel, anorexia and body-image issues triggered by media representation is not something you just get over. I feel like the attendee who told me this is probably correct.

The 2013 panel moderator, I think, also failed in their task of moderation. On the other hand, I'm male, so don't know what it's like to be a woman tasked with having to moderate a man twice your size slamming chairs on the stage as an intimidation tactic to make people in the audience shut up. I don't think anyone in that room was having any fun.

But what I really have to wonder is if something like this happened in 2014 that I wasn't there to see and that fell below the radar as well? In 2014 I was busy moderating Comicpalooza's panel of Gender in Science Fiction, a beautifully constructive panel that included my friends D.L. Young and Keri Bas (and others, someone remind me?) and went so smoothly that I'm still getting positive feedback a year later. I wasn't able to attend this year's Women in Fantasy panel at Comicpalooza, but I don't hear any muttering (correct me if I'm wrong).

DCC is defending this very obviously ill-advised all-male panel that they've put on. It makes me wonder if they're just trying to save face and are going to fix their act before next year comes around, or if this pattern of behavior is going to continue.

Maybe next year people should fly down to Houston for Comicpalooza instead of going to Denver so that we can show them some respect and actually have a conversation about the issues. What do you guys think?

Here's another article on DCC's 2015 panel for further reading which makes some very unfortunate observations about con and industry trends that are completely correct and need to be brought into common knowledge. Apparently a round-table of woman panelists managed to get together on the last day to try and right some amount of the wrong that was done, but that doesn't reverse DCC's gaff or the duty of conventions like DCC to do so much better. I have to hand it to Comicpalooza: every panel I was on this year had woman writers, scientists and voices represented. Hopefully other Comicpalooza panelists experienced the same, and hopefully that's a trend that we'll see more of.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trying not to talk too much about the Hugos, but...

I'm going to go ahead and let loose a couple of posts about current events and what I think about them. This one is about literature and genre fiction, with a minimum of mud flung at the sad puppies and the rabid puppies and the random wombats or whatever. I don't really have much to say about voting slates and politics in the industry. It all sounds pretty much like the kind of guild drama you get into when playing games online, but with obnoxiously high stakes. To be honest I'm not even watching the Hugos that closely. I don't think any of us get into the business because of awards or have our career plans built around who wins or doesn't win those awards. (with the possible exception of certain jerks trying to rig the rewards, ostensibly to make the point, but maybe also for personal profit. But I'm not talking about that)

The Hugos, the way I see them, are a representation of what an ever-fluctuating controlling minority of the SF community feel deserves recognition and increased visibility. So it's a money-and-popularity contest, maybe now more than other times, and you'll forgive me if I'm therefore giving it a sideways eye and a shrug. This doesn't mean the rabid puppies "win" at devaluing the Hugos or anything; nothing's changed there for me. The thing about literature is it's a centuries-long game that the rabid puppies lost before they frothed their first yip, well before the sad puppies ever wibbled. It's not up to the writers or the readers of now to decide what represents us, but the readers of the future when they look back on this time. It's the literature professors and students who, one hundred years from now, looking back on what we call contemporary fiction and writing essays about what it tells of the psyche of our cusp-of-the-millennial spiritus mundi, will decide what is an what is not literature.

Although, spoiler warning: everything we write is the body of literature produced by our generation. Just, by definition, that's what it is.

The Hugos decide who gets the recognition and the cash prize. Okay, but that's it. It's not going to change what is and is not literature, it's not going to change what any of us write, and it's not going to change how the future looks back on our words. That's not for any of us to decide.

This is literature.
So here's what I really want to get at, because I find it kind of hilarious in the worst possible way, but also funny in this crooked kind of way that smooths out over a longer period of time. It's hilarious in the way that sometimes a good wine tastes awful on the first sip, and you choke and hiss and then the aftertaste hits and you realize that the rest of the bottle is going to be just fine. It's hilarious like that.

Literary writers look down on genre writing. They don't look down on genre writers, as a rule, but "The Academy" of scholarly, literary think-tanks does not look on commercial fiction as valid literature. It just does not count to them. This is something I deal with plenty because I'm one of those writers that sort of wants to be on both sides of this thing. So I've talked to lots of people on both "sides" of this, and most people kind of agree that the distinction can be arbitrary. Which I find weak because the distinction is powerfully arbitrary. 1984 is literature, and A Brave New World is literature, but Dune is not. Why?

Just because it's written to make money and not for the sake of its own art? Who are we to say why it was written, and why does it matter? Do we think that the author didn't consider it literature, and for some reason that means it can't or doesn't tell us anything at all about the society from which the story originated or the society that consumed it, and we can't learn something about ourselves by interrogating our own dialogue with the work? 
This is not literature?

If you want some fun, ask a hoity toity literature professor about Ursula K. Leguin's The Left Hand of Darkness and watch them do the whole literary-science-fiction dance. Then keep the dance going by insisting that either science fiction can be literature or it can not be. Criticize the number of the time they use the word "but" to add a qualifying clause to their praise of Leguin.

The flip-side of this is how the rabid puppies are all offended that science fiction is getting too literary. I understand that right now it's popular to complain about science fiction being less about exploration and the achievements of the future and more about "literary navel-gazing". It's a silly complaint, like saying science fiction is too pessimistic right now, but it's a complaint I understand. The problem for me starts when people draw this line -- and they're doing it from both sides now -- that science fiction isn't allowed to have literary implications, and literature isn't allowed to have genre elements. Literary writers don't want any elements of genre fiction in their journals or curricula, because for some reason that disqualifies all literary value in a story. And the rabid puppies don't want any literary elements in science fiction, because for some reason that disqualifies its... entertainment value?
This is [Redacted]!

For the life of me I can't understand the issue there, because the complaint is utterly incomprehensible. Like everyone is required to write according to these formulas that were invented by rebellious thinkers before our time, or else we're doing it incorrectly and that's bad.

My favorite thing about this entire mess is the way the rabid puppies pointed out how popular the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, as though it's the perfect example of what science fiction is supposed to be. People want action and fun, say the high-voiced puppet dogs that represent the rabid puppies in my head, just look at how many are going to watch the Avengers fight an army of robots! Science fiction should be more like that!

This has no literary implications
whatsoever no stop I mean it stop
talking or you can't have a Hugo.
I love the MCU so I'd be totally fine if more science fiction was like the MCU, but I wonder if the puppies have ever watched one of those movies? Because it doesn't take a genius to understand that Iron Man is literally the embodiment of America's military-industrial complex struggling with the fact that the repercussion of past-wars are forcing it to take an interventionist policy which is only causing more wars, leaving it riddled with guilt and helplessness even as it becomes more and more powerful. And it's not like Captain America isn't the manifest ideal that America has always wanted to be but could never achieve, serving as a constant reminder to both Iron Man, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the viewers of their failure as leaders on the world stage. And don't even get me started on Bruce Banner representing the drive of science allowing itself to be bullied into serving the military-industrial complex, the way Tony and Bruce are always hanging out together but Bruce is always slightly nervous about (if not completely terrified by) whatever they're working on.
Probably written by a self-important
undergrad who thinks he knows
what literature is and isn't.

I mean, seriously. What movies are the rabid puppies even watching? Superhero movies are extremely literary and in the future academia is going to produce some exemplary literary theses about our society's addiction to the idea of the superhero, as well as our obsession with the utopia, the dystopia, and the legendary heroes of high fantasy.

Here's my conclusion: all the things that people are saying to try and force this great divide between genre fiction and literature are plainly absurd if you think about them for ten seconds, and it's getting more and more mind-boggling the longer it goes on. What I write for my readers and what I write for UH's creative writing department aren't that different. I tackle very similar themes across both, and I'm grateful the professors at UH are thoughtful enough to let me get away with the occasional monster in my literary work. If I'm saying the same thing in my genre fiction as I am in my non-genre fiction, then they're both literary. And I guess that upsets some people, but that's how it is, and no amount of arguing, complaining or barking is going to change it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Excerpt from the prologue of "The Dusty Man"

Another crash shook the dome, and this time Angida extended an arm to the catwalk’s railing to steady himself. This jolt came with orange light, though, and moments later a blast of distant heat. It came from the east, and when Angida looked that way he saw a sizable detonation of fire, steel and glass rubble falling from the dome into the city below. As he watched, a dark-bodied helicopter – one of his Z-19 Black Whirlwinds – fired another missile from where it hovered between the city and the dome, punching a hole through the glowing barrier from inside.

Angida straightened. “Hm.” The detonations were not too near any of the operations platforms, and were over a less-populated part of the city, so immediate casualties were likely negligible.

He turned and paced back toward the platform he had just vacated. The annoyance on his features had softened and sunk beneath his skin, now visible only by the tightness of his lips and his eyelids sinking low over his eyes. On the platform, the soldiers had changed from a relaxed pose to a more ready but equally useless one. The engineers, however, were very busy over their workstations.

The giant demon Marduk surged westward through the sky, emitting a long, earthy sound as it went. The demons covering its body made shrill noises, happy and eager, their bleak gazes transfixed on the hole in the dome.

Angida didn’t have to speak. As soon as he set foot on the platform, an engineer with thick fingers and a round face shouted at him. “There’s a hole in the dome! We need to get some patches in place before the demons get to it!”

“Yes. That’s your job, isn’t it?” Angida looked at each of the soldiers in turn, pointing toward the gap in the dome even as the helicopter that had ripped it open flew through it into open air. “Go.” At that single word, the soldiers ran onto the catwalks, weapons in hand. The engineers shouted back and forth at each other, speaking into microphones to the other platforms, frantic.

Watching them with disinterest, Angida brought his thin, black-gloved hand up near his face. He pressed his opposite fingertips to the underside of a metal gauntlet on his wrist, watching a lighted display flicker at him before he spoke into it. “This is Vice-Chairman Anvidya. All surface defense canons, activate and target Marduk’s head. Use the lowest range and yield weapons available. Remember that we are not capable of hurting him. Just get some smoke in his eyes. However, do not miss any shot you choose to take. Those with poor aim will be reprimanded.” A din of affirmation erupted from his gauntlet, and immediately the dome began to creak with the sound of pivoting guns. Angida took a single breath before going on. “Soldiers manning the dome, get as close to the hole as possible and shoot anything that comes in. Patrols in the area of the Shuizhui depression congregate beneath the incident. Kill and collect every demon. Do not let any evade you.”

Already, small winged demons from Marduk’s body that had first taken to the sky and flown ahead of it, threw themselves through the hole into the city. The soldiers he’d sent ahead opened fire on them, rending their bodies, but allowing them to fall broken to the ground below. If not collected and contained, the demons would heal and return to life. No matter how small or weak a demon was, they were all immortal, and even a single demon inside the city could do incredible damage if it was clever and patient enough.

An alarm went off through the city, a shrill siren that shook the gray, battered buildings and the dilapidated roads far below. The canons that sat on the outside of the dome came to life with concussive blasts, the slam of metal and the hiss of rockets. Gleaming projectiles ripped through the brown clouds outside of the city and slammed against Marduk’s shell. Missiles detonated over its featureless head. The giant demon ignored them, flying eastward, though smaller demons fell from its body temporarily dead.

Angida twisted his hand and moved his fingers, the displays on his wrist changing. He spoke again, “I have a question for you, Réveil.”

A woman’s voice replied from the gauntlet immediately. “I’m sorry! Someone stole one of the Black Whirlwinds. I don’t know how this happened.”

“Your apology is not encouraging. I will make note of your ignorance.” He watched as more soldiers arrived at the hole in the dome just in time to join in the slaying of even more demons. Dozens of winged bodies of all sizes punched through the hole. No human casualties yet, though. “Réveil, why did someone just flee the city in one of my helicopters?”

“I don’t know. I’m trying to find out.”

“I expect you to know very soon. Do not make me inquire with other parties.” He twisted his wrist and the display went dark, his gauntlet silent.

The Dusty Man, book one of the Ruin of the Fifth World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Get the pre-order for the special price of only $0.99, and read it when it releases on May 15th!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Did a panel at HBU this weekend...

The topic of the panel was “Realism in Science Fiction” and I was supposed to keep us on topic talking about the research that we do to keep our sci-fi grounded. To my credit, I only got side-tracked by the subject of dystopia for like ten minutes, and that’s because D.L. Young was there and he’s specifically a dystopian writer, and the subject of author responsibility to society had already been broached (by me).

Which reminds me I should work on the dystopia blog series I was doing. But while I’m here, allow me to offer the following seemingly arbitrary observations from the panel:

  • All of the authors felt that researching science was extremely important, but that it’s possible to lose yourself in research and never proceed with the work. Two of the four of us shared anecdotes in which deferring to the expertise of a professional made our own attempts at research look kind of sad.
  • We did not feel like we had any responsibility to be 100% correct all the time, mostly because this is impossible. However, we do feel responsible to be as correct as we can, especially if the science is the crux of a story.
  • Social, political and economic sciences are science, too, and people should research and write stories about these things.
  • We all felt that science fiction should be educational and inspirational, but of the four of us, only E.L.Russell was able to say he’d written stories specifically for the purpose of raising awareness of the possibility of the science in his story. He felt strongly about this.
  • I was able to direct challenging questions toward D.L. Young and E.L. Russell, but C. Stuart Hardwick evaded me and I’ll try harder next time.
  • Apparently none of us like first names.
  • HBU runs an awesome event and I think they’re going to be putting video of this panel on Youtube at some point, so hopefully I’ll be able to share that some time.

My next appearance on any panel is going to be at Houston’s Comicpalooza, where I’ll be doing some panels directed at writers and some panels directed at readers. I’d encourage everyone to come and say hello, either at a panel or at one of the tables on the dealer floor (I’ll be bouncing between the SkipJack table and the Houston Writers Guild table).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Announcing a new book: Atargatis

This one has been a long time coming. I haven't released a new book since my debut novella, Absolute Tenacity, in January of last year. Atargatis has been a manuscript since well before then, the idea maturing over time and going through several phases of rewrites. About six months ago the final thematic piece of the story clicked into place in my head and triggered massive rewrites. I'm pleased to announce that I'll be releasing Atargatis on April 20th, in just ten days.

A Goddess stirs in the deep...
The underwater city of Atargatis is the only bastion of the last humans, a genderless population of nearly identical clones. They share their ocean world with a sea-faring species, the Scorps, who have prophecied human extinction. As the day of that prophecy nears, Atargatis fearfully blocks the Scorp pilgrimage to their goddess in the deep ocean.
The Scorps' only advocate among the humans, Senator Edessa, is convinced that the Scorps' true intention is to save humanity from the prophecy. But when Edessa's last ally is assassinated in a coup by his nemesis, all political pretense falls away and Edessa is no longer safe in Atargatis.

Watch for the ebook on sale starting April 20th, and print not far behind! For now, find it on Goodreads.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Absolute Tenacity in print

More than a year after its publication, my debut novella is in print on Amazon. If you want to grab a signed copy, I'll be at the Houston Baptist University writer's conference next weekend. Or, if a university writer's con isn't really your thing (it's my thing, but I don't judge) you can always try and win one of three signed copies available in the Goodreads giveaway I'm trying to get started.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Absolute Tenacity by K.J. Russell

Absolute Tenacity

by K.J. Russell

Giveaway ends April 12, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Another great time to find me is at Comicpalooza in May, where I'll have not only copies of Tides of Possibility and Absolute Tenacity, but also Tides of Impossibility and two new books. What two new books? A new novella and my first full-length novel. Those are going to get their own full announcements this week, though.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Get ToP for free through Goodreads!

We're running a Goodreads giveaway for Tides of Possibility with five books up for grabs. Don't have a Goodreads account? Why not? You're missing out on free books! If you've been wanting a copy of Tides and haven't bought one yet, here's your chance to have one shipped to your doorstep. Give it a try. :)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tides of Possibility by K.J. Russell

Tides of Possibility

by K.J. Russell

Giveaway ends March 25, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Book Releases from "Tides" writers!

Today I want to feature three major book releases from writers that I have (or will) publish in anthologies. All of these books are brand new and well worth your time and support. Remember that new voices can only get a footing in the industry when readers take a chance on them! So why not take a chance on someone new today? For readers of womane's literary fiction I have a short story collection from Patricia Flaherty Pagan, who's short story Puca Dawns will be featured in teh upcoming Tides of Impossibility anthology. For science fiction I'm featuring a collection of short fiction by D.L. Young, whose award-winning story The Reader was published in the Tides of Possibility anthology. Finally, for fantasy readers, I want you to know about the debut novel from Corinn Heathers, whose stories appear in both anthologies.

"This breathtaking literary journey will echo in your head long after you read the last page."
-Award-wining novelist Pamela Fagan Hutchins. 
Travel with five women confronting hard choices in unique, vivid settings in Patricia Flaherty Pagan's new collection "Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories." We are thrilled to announce that this collection is available now for the introductory price of 99 cents. Bonus: Chapter One of Ms. Pagan’s upcoming, fast-paced mystery, "Zippo: Arson and Domesticity." Order yours today from Amazon.
Find more about the author at and follow her on Twitter @PFwriteright. 

Pagan is a member of my critique circle, and in the time I've been attending she's brought in a few very powerful, tense stories that absolutely distracted me from giving any meaningful critique. It's great to see a few of those stories make it into this anthology. I've been wanting to read them again!

In this powerful collection of stories, D.L. Young infuses edgy, dystopian science fiction with thought-provoking social commentary.
Eleven gripping tales, including new works exclusive to this collection, explore the near-future impacts of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, automated warfare, and genetic engineering. The award-winning story The Reader, Training the Fundies, and the title work Juarez Square envision an anarchic, cutthroat existence along the US-Mexico border. In Ximena, a defiantly unconventional woman opens a robot brothel in Madrid. The Gianni Box tells the tale of a stolen artificial intelligence that becomes the hottest designer in the fashion world. The Jacob Seeds takes place on a man-made floating island nation, where a scientist's revolutionary breakthrough in genetically-modified food becomes the prize of a high-stakes, winner-take-all political battle.

This book marks the emergence of a compelling new voice in speculative fiction.
The best service I can do this book is to encourage you to read Albedo One's full-length review. Or check out the many Amazon reviews.

This is a story about magic, cohabitation, loneliness, girls who love girls, investigating the arcane and survival in a supernatural world hidden from the eyes of modern civilization.

Karin Ashley doesn't expect much from life anymore. At twenty-nine and single, with a family she loves but doesn't quite understand, Karin works a job she hates as a security officer at the Federal Records & Licensing Agency. Called in late one night to respond to an electronic break-in, she is caught in the middle of a power struggle between a familiar human lust for power and a deeper evil called forth from the stuff of nightmares.

Karin's desperate struggle to survive that terrifying night has left her soul bound to the Relic, a blessed blade that kills evil. Armed with the specter-slaying sword and accompanied by the fiery fox spirit imbued within, the two are simultaneously recruited by a secret supernatural crisis management agency and pursued by those who would reclaim the Relic for their own dark ends. Thrust headlong into a world suddenly gone mad, will the new bonds they forge together prove to be the strongest yet?
A fantasy adventure/romance set in an eerily relateable future America, the novel unapologetically imitates established tropes for the purpose of breaking them down and regendering them. It's interesting both as a work of fiction and as a sociological exploration. Find it on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Panel and Signing this Saturday at B&N

Hopefully I'll be seeing some of you out east at the Pasadena Barnes and Noble this Saturday, where I'll be talking about speculative writing and signing books with some of the Tides of Possibility writers like E. L. Russell, and hopefully D.L. Young has some copies of his new short story collection, Juarez Square. I'll be there with fellow Tides of Impossibility editor C. Stuart Hardwick, along with Rebecca Nolen, who will be published in that anthology is well, and Cassandra Clark, an author of medieval mystery. It's a great group and I'm sure it'll be a fantastic event!

Sign up for the facebook event if you plan to be there.

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
5656 Fairmont Pkwy, Pasadena, Texas 77505

Friday, February 20, 2015

Announcing the ToI full cover and Table of Contents!

We finally have everything in order to be able to announce the full table of contents for the Tides of Impossibility fantasy anthology that I've been working on so long with C. Stuart Hardwick. First, I want to show off the cover art, since I've been taunting you all with it for too long. If you saw my analysis of the different preview images, then hopefully you appreciate this all the more. :)

Care of David Sidebotham, the man behind Unfinished Creation.
You might recognize his work from the cover of the Tides of Possibility science fiction anthology.

What can you expect in the book? Sixteen short stories by some of the best visionaries in the indie market! Here's the titles and authors you'll be seeing.

Elfanticide - by Lisa Godfrees and T.J. Akers
The Thirteenth Summer - by Artemis Greenleaf
The Queen of the Elves - by Steven D. Malone
Wind and Ash - by Corinn Heathers
Bone Flowers - by K.J. Russell and Adrienne D'Agostino
The Way She Grows - by Erin Kennemer
Talisman - by Patricia C. Hughes
The Pledge - by Bethany Vales
Chemistry Lesson #One - Oppoosites Attract - by Barbara A. Higgins
Puca Dawns - by Patricia Flaherty Pagan
The Stolen Key - by Rebecca Nolen
Death Hires a Stylist - by Mandy Broughton
The Witch's Child - by John D. Payne
Booly - by John Fritz Schwab
The Bargain - by Claudia Herring
Effa on Fire - by Chantell Renee

We also have a release date pinned down: Friday, April 24! Of course, Kickstarter backers will be receiving their ebook copies significantly sooner than that, however. In fact, Kickstarter backers should be watching their emails as soon as next week!

Why Dystopia is Important and Positive: Part 1

Back in January I had the privilege of speaking on a panel about Young Adult fiction's recent focus on dystopia. I was on the panel because I asked very politely that if there was going to be a panel on dystopia that they please let me speak on it. I care a lot about dystopia and the role it's playing in the literary discourse right now (if you don't think science fiction is literature, you're on the wrong blog). I think themes of dystopia are a beautiful, poignant and well-timed contribution to a debate that's been going on for hundreds of years all over the world. However, I also think people can be ignorant of this, looking only at the moment and seeing it as nothing but pessimism or, care of old man Brin's cane-shaking, formulaic story-telling.

David Brin hates this movie. I'm just happy to have an excuse to post
Jennifer Lawrence's face on my blog.
The panel -- at the CoSine SF writers conference in Colorado Springs -- was a wonderful thing to be a part of. I feel like all the right questions came up. The moderator and audience didn't want to know just the 'what' and the 'how', but also asked about the extremely important 'why' of dystopia, which I loved. Someone even asked about how the non-English-speaking world portrayed dystopia, which is just a beautiful question to ask, and I wish I could've answered it better, but at the time I really didn't know. Which is why it's nice to be able to go back and revisit the topic like this.

During the panel I was able to deliver, in brief, my take on the history of utopian thought beginning around the time of American colonization and how that twisted into dystopia in post-industrial America. My panelists made some wonderful points about how modern, highly visible terrorism has managed to present harsher realities to the new generation at a younger age than expected, and how this makes YA dystopia natural. I loved this point. I want to expand on all of it and really lay out why dystopia is the way it is and why people should stop complaining about it. Or at least frame their complaints in a more constructive way, fully aware of the discourse that they're commenting on.

The case against Dystopia

Some criticism is base. To hear it from David Brin, "[His] own chief pessimism about our future is rooted in Hollywood's absolute determination to undermine our confidence with pummeling after pummeling of relentless pessimism" (this said in response to a Popular Mechanics article holding Star Trek up as the gold standard for inspirational sci-fi). Brin has strong opinions on films such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent series, viewing them as uncreative, formulaic, risk-free films made according to a money-making algorithm.

A more thoughtful argument is that science fiction inspires people, that SF writers haven't been doing that job recently, and that it has lead to a dearth of innovation. Neal Stephenson, in his much-lauded article Innovation Starvation, helpfully breaks that statement down into two parts. The Inspiration Theory observes that sci-fi directly inspires people to become scientists, engineers, and inventors. The Hieroglyph Theory proposes that sci-fi inspires unspoken visions which unfy groups of scientists whose specializations are disparate, smoothing out communication and making "big things" possible.

Stephenson's article is the perfect place to start any modern conversation about dystopia, because it so firmly strikes the root of the problem while so perfectly avoiding the question of value in pessimistic literary works. Stephenson is less concerned with making a literary statement and more concerned with doing his humble part to leverage his position as writer to affect change in society. His Hieroglyph Project is a beautiful and hopeful idea.

You can hear him talking about it in a video on MIT if you like. There's also a fantastic radio interview with Kathryn Cramer, co-editor of the Hieroglyph anthology that resulted from Stephenson's project.

This book is important.
Stephenson's arguments in Innovation Starvation are so convincing and his points are so good, that it's no wonder his article has been sourced over and over again by detractors of dystopia.

It is true that "we find ourselves saddled with technologies like Japan’s ramshackle 1960’s-vintage reactors at Fukushima when we have the possibility of clean nuclear fusion on the horizon." It is true that "[China's] space program, like all other countries’ (including our own), is just parroting work that was done 50 years ago by the Soviets and the Americans."

It is all so true. Is dystopia to blame?

I think the answer requires understanding what dystopia is, what utopia is, and where and why they've emerged. In my next post we'll flash back to dystopia's tragic backstory and learn why it is such a pitiable, if often unlikable, character. After that, I want to discuss why it's an important present perspective and what it is bringing to the table, why it's valuable, why we should appreciate it. Finally, I'll do what I failed to do during the CoSine panel and present at least one international perspective on the growth and value of dystopia.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

ToI Cover Preview 4

This 4th preview of David Sidebotham’s cover for the Tides of Impossibility fantasy anthology features the last of the four principle figures of the composition. She still has some features in common with the first inhuman figure and the faceless woman, but the tone of this figure is a clear departure. She is much more similar in appearance to the character in the last preview, darker and less orderly. Unlike that figure, though, her face is turned away. However, this also means that is the only figure who is not looking directly to the left or right, parallel to the composition. Uniquely, she is looking back on the composition itself.

Next I’ll post the completed cover, all four figures and their surroundings. The full scene is spectacular.

(see more of David Sidebotham’s work at Unfinished Creation)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ToI Cover Preview 3

This third preview of David Sidebotham's cover art for "Tides of Impossibility" shows a very different figure than the last two. Like the first, it is inhuman, and you can see some similar imagery in the design. But it is closer to human, showing a very human design, and shares minor visual queues with the human figure featured last time. This figure will also be the only one of the four whose face is visible.

(You can see more of David's work at Unfinished Creation)

Friday, January 9, 2015

ToI Cover Preview 2

This second preview image of David Sidebotham's cover art for "Tides of Impossibility" shows off his skill with human character design. Here we have a very different image from the inhuman figure I featured last time, yet there are some very clear parallel themes.

(more of David's work can be seen at Unfinished Creation)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

ToI Cover Preview

For "Tides of Impossibility", the upcoming fantasy anthology edited by myself and C. Stuart Hardwick , I again sought the visionary expertise of David Sidebotham, the artist behind Unfinished Creation. The cover art he delievered is in my opinion the best stand-alone illustration I've ever seen him produce. It features four primary figures composed in violent contrast with gentle, smooth colors.

Over the next few days I'll be showing off close-ups of the mythical characters that David created for the anthology's cover. I want everyone to see how complicated each figure is before I reveal this incredible cover in its entirety.

Very soon, we'll be announcing the complete table of contents! Those who have already earned their ebook by participating in the Kickstarter campaign can look forward to some great fantasy reading not long after.