Category Archives: science fiction

Capclave 2019, Day 1

Yesterday, I attended the first day of Capclave, the Washington, D.C. area local science fiction convention. This has been my local convention ever since I started to sell stories. I haven’t been writing much the last few years and so I haven’t been attending conventions, but I decided to attend this convention for two reasons: First, Robert J. Sawyer and Martha Wells are the guests of honor, and second, I’ve started to write again, and it would be great to catch up with old friends.

Rob Sawyer was the GoH at the first science fiction convention I ever attended, RavenCon in 2007. I had just sold my first story, and Rob was incredibly nice to me. I think the last time I saw him was at the Chicago Worldcon, and it was great to get to see him again yesterday.

Chatting with Bill Lawhorn, one of the Capclave con-runners, we tried to figure out when I first attended Capclave. I thought it was in 2010, the year that Connie Willis was guest of honor. Bill read through the list of earlier Capclave’s and I was fairly certain I hadn’t attended those.

I was wrong.

Searching the blog this morning, I found that I attended Capclave 2007 when Jeffrey Ford and Ellen Datlow were guests of honor. I was not a panelist then–indeed, the first time I was ever on a panel was at Readercon in 2008, I think. But I sat in awe on many of the panels as people whose names I’d been seeing on books and in the magazines talked.

At that 2007 Capclave I attended a workshop led by Edmund Schubert, Jagi Lamplighter, Jeri Smith-Ready, and Allen Wold. In the years since, I’ve sold more stories to Ed Schubert than any other editor; I attended the Lauchpad Astronomy workshop for writers in Laramie, Wyoming with Jeri Smith-Ready (her husband, Christian Ready helped run it), and yesterday, I moderated a panel that included Allen Wold among the panelist.

I had a late lunch with my pal, Bud Sparhawk, who has to be one of the most prolific “retired” people I know. It had been a few years since I’d seen Bud and it was great to catch up with him.

I had my first panel at 8 pm, “Before the Beginning,” a panel on what happens before a writer starts to write a story. It turned out I was moderating this panel, which included Sunny Moraine, Ian Randal Strock, Ted Weber, and Allen Wold. It was a light audience of maybe a dozen people, but I think we had a pretty good discussion. It was the first panel I’ve moderated in several years and I was a little nervous about it, so I made sure to prepare ahead of time. For those curious, here are my notes (the stuff handwritten, are things I scribbled down during the panel):

I’ve got two panels lined up today, neither of which I have to moderate, fortunately. Looking forward to another fun day.

My Capclave Schedule, 2019 Edition

It has been a few years since I’ve attended science fiction conventions, mainly because I haven’t been writing much. But, I will be at my local convention, Capclave, this coming weekend, October 18-20, in Rockville, Maryland.

Robert J. Sawyer and Martha Wells are guests of honor at this convention. I am looking forward to being there. Here is my preliminary panel schedule for the weekend:

Friday

  • 8 pm: Before the Beginning (w/Sunny Moraine, Ian Randal Strock, Ted Weber, and Allen L. Wold. When developing a story, what comes first, the setting, plot, characters, or something else? Is it writer or story dependent? How does this choice affect the story? What planning does the author do and how does this change while writing the story? I am moderating this panel.

Saturday

  • 2 pm: Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make (w/Larry Hodges, Dina Leacock, Ian Randal Strock (M), Sherri Cook Woosley). What was the biggest mistake you made as a new writer? Do you still make that mistake? What incorrect assumptions do new writers make? What advice would you give new writers about managing their career?
  • 4 pm: Writing Under Duress (w/Kelly E Dwyer, LH Moore, Lawrence M. Schoen). Tips, cheats, and strategies to keep writing even after life punches you in the throat. General self-care for writers.

Sunday

  • 10 am: Plotters and Pantsers: A Debate (w/Day Al-Mohamen (M), Beth Brenner, Michelle D. Sonnier, Sherri Cook Woosley). The audience will vote at the start and end. The two sides will go back and forth defending their style. The winner is the side that changes the most votes.

Considering Becoming a Patron of the Functional Nerds Podcast

Allow me a moment to plug a Patreon campaign for a really fantastic science fiction/fantasy podcast: The Functional Nerds. The podcast is hosted by musician extraordinaire, John Anealio (@johnanealio), and Patrick Hester (@atfmb), a podcast grandmaster. In the course of 250 episodes (as of this writing) they have interviewed practically everyone in the science fiction/fantasy/horror world. They even interviewed me, back in Episode 226. The interviews are always great, often funny, and the people that they have on are fascinating. Binge-listening to the Functional Nerds is like getting a master’s degree in the genre.

The time and effort it takes to put together these shows is enormous. I’ve witnessed it firsthand, both as a guest, and as a person trying to locate Patrick at a Worldcon. It was tough; his schedule was filled with wall-to-wall interviews for the show. John and Patrick have started a Patreon Campaign to help support the show and introduce improvements along the way.

If you enjoy their podcast, consider becoming a patron. If you’ve never listened to their podcast and are interested in what it’s like, go check it out (and why not start with yours truly in Episode 226?).

No Capclave for Me This Year

I always look forward to this weekend in October because it means that Capclave is here. Capclave is my local science fiction convention, and it is the convention that I’ve been to most often since I started going to conventions back in 2007. I have only missed Capclave a few times. Unfortunately, this year is one of those times. We are having a big family reunion up in New York, and so I won’t make it to Capclave. On the other hand, I will see my brother, sister-in-law, and their 5 kids some of whom I have never met before. It has been an unlikely 5 years since I last saw my brother, so I am looking forward to seeing him at the reunion.

If you are local to the metro Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia area (or surrounding regions), and are interested in attending a good convention, centered around written science fiction and fantasy, you should check out Capclave. It is a lot of fun, and populated by lots and lots of good people. I’m sorry to miss it this year.

The Retro Hugo Awards for 1941 at MidAmeriCon II

Next summer at MidAmeriCon II–the 74th World Science Fiction Convention–among the awards given out will be the Retro Hugo awards for 1941. The award will cover stories published in 1940. I have a particular interest in this award because a few years ago, when I was taking my Vacation in the Golden Age, I read, and wrote about, every story that appeared in Astounding Science Fiction from July 1939 – November 1942. That means that I read and commented on every story that appeared in 1940 issue of Astounding.

Many of these stories are likely unfamiliar to modern audiences who will be voting for the Retro Hugos, so I wanted to call attention to my Vacation in the Golden Age, specifically for 1940, in the chance that folks would want to read what I thought of the stories published that year. And if any of them pique your interest, you might look them up in a collection or anthology.

Here are the 12 issues of Astounding that appeared in 1940. Clicking on the issues will take you to my review of that issue. I comment not only on the stories, but on everything in the magazine, letters, editorials, and sometimes even the advertisements.

Astounding 1940

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Episode 7: Jan ’40 Episode 8: Feb ’40 Episode 9: Mar ’40
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Episode 10: Apr ’40 Episode 11: May ’40 Episode 12: Jun ’40
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Episode 13: Jul ’40 Episode 14: Aug ’40 Episode 15: Sep ’40
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Episode 16: Oct ’40 Episode 17: Nov ’40 Episode 18: Dec ’40

Unlike 1939, where from July – December Astounding published stories by 3 different women, there were no stories published by women in 1940, at least not in Astounding. That’s too bad, because in 1939, one of my favorite stories was “Greater Than Gods” by C.L. Moore.

There was still some excellent fiction published in the 1940 issues of Astounding. And if you are wondering what my particular favorites were, I’ll list them for you below, along with the issue in which they appeared, in case you want to read more about them.

My favorite stories for 1940

  1. “Final Blackout” by L. Ron Hubbard1 (April, May, June 1940)
  2. “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein (January 1940)
  3. “Cold” by Nat Schachner (March 1940)
  4. “The Stars Look Down” by Lester Del Rey (August 1940)
  5. “The Mosaic” by J. B. Ryan (July 1940)
  6. “If This Goes On–” by Robert A. Heinlein (February 1940)
  7. “Butyl and the Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon (October 1940)
  8. “Fog” by Robert Willey2 (December 1940)
  9. “One Was Stubborn” by Rene La Fayette3 (November 1940)

Of course, A. E. van Vogt’s famous novel Slan was serialized in Astounding in 1940 and you may note that it didn’t make my list of favorite stories. I suspect this one will be high on the list for other people, primarily because it is still fairly well known today. But while the first part of Slan was extraordinary, I think it got weaker with each subsequent part. Not true for another serial, like Final Blackout. This is just my opinion.

Astounding was not the only magazine publishing science fiction in 1940. There were others, including Unknown, John Campbell’s other magazine, and Amazing Stories. But it was a time when it was still possible to read just about everything published in the year.

It will be interesting to see how the voting turns out for the Retro Hugo because it is a 2016 audience voting for stories published generations earlier. At the very least, it would be fascinating to look at the results of the Retro Hugos for 1941 and compare them to Campbell’s analytical laboratory (for those stories that came from Astounding at least) to see how much our literary judgments align with fans from generations past.


  1. This was a decade before Hubbard published his infamous “Dianetics” essay in the May 1950 issue of Astounding.
  2. A pseudonym for science writer Willy Ley
  3. A pseudonym for L. Ron Hubbard

Awards Reflect the Society We Live In

One of my favorite classes in college was an elective class I took on History and Film taught by Carlos Cortés. The essence of the class was that films reflect the times in which they were made. As one example, we watched Henry V starring Lawrence Olivier, and followed that film with Henry V starring Kenneth Branagh. Olivier’s portrayal of Henry in the former film was strikingly different to Branagh’s “Harry the King” in the latter. Each film told the same story, using the same dialog, but the pictures we get of the two Henrys were very different. Those films tell us a lot about the times in which they were made.

When I read earlier today of a proposal for yet another genre award that, in part would allow judges to

Disqualify any work they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story.

I kind of rolled my eyes. Aside from the mechanics of ensuring that judges based their decision solely on an unmeasurable criterion (“The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion.”) it ignores the fact that most awards reflect the society at the time the award is given.

Fiction, like film, reflects the society we live in

How many genre readers today bemoan the fact that Mark Clifton and Frank Riley’s novel They’d Rather Be Right actually won a Hugo award (in 1955). It might not meet our standards for a Hugo today, but it reflects the standards for the award that was given in 1955.

Had the Hugo existed in the mid-to-late 1930s, I have no doubt that E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman stories would have one more of the awards to their name. We can discount the fact that “Galactic Patrol” lost the retro-Hugo for 1939 because it was a 2014 audience that voted.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels feel dated today because the Cold War is thing of the past. You can’t get away from the fact that an award reflects the society in which we live, because the definition of “good story telling” changes as society changes.

I have a feeling that most genre readers today would not consider Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series as the Best All-Time Series. But in 1966, Asimov was given a special Hugo for Best All-Time Series, beating out Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, E. E. “Doc” Smith, and J. R. R. Tolkien. In 1966 that was how fans felt. Today, feelings have evolved, and not just because there is a half-century more fiction to consider. Fiction reflects the society we live in.

Genre awards are not unique in this respect

Derek Jeter never won an MVP award, but he is considered to be one of the greats of the game of baseball. Put together the number Jeter put in his career, with the intangibles he brought to the game, and its hard to believe he never won an MVP. Compare him to past winners, and it is even more remarkable.

But awards reflect the society we live in. Maybe Jeter would have won an MVP if he’d played for the Yankees in the 1960s. The criteria for Most Valuable Player changes with time. The same is true for most awards. Science fiction and fantasy films have been among the most popular and successful films for decades, but it wasn’t until 2004 that a fantasy film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, took home an Oscar for Best Picture.

No award system is perfect. But one of the things I have always enjoyed about our genre awards is that they are a good reflection of the times at which the award was given. Look at the awards given in the late 1960 and compare them to the awards given in the late 1970s. They encapsulate a sea-change within the genre. It is good to see change. It means our genre is evolving along with the rest of society. As much as I enjoy Golden Age stories, I don’t want to see us mired in a nostalgia for the past. I want to see our genre moving forward toward bigger and better things.

What I have seen is that we are slowly, but steadily moving toward a place where our best stories reflect the diversity of the genre as it is made up today. We still have a lot of ground to cover. A new award that tries to filter out anything that isn’t good storytelling is a nonstarter. Such an award won’t give us better stories. It will simply provide another window into how our culture thinks about stories, how it classifies them, and ultimately, how part of that culture is desperate to cling to the past.

DC17: Washington D.C.’s Bid for the World Science Fiction Convention

I live in the metro Washington, D.C. area, and I would love to see the World Science Fiction Convention come to our area in 2017. DC17 has a bid for the convention, and the August 10 deadline to receive mail-in votes is fast approaching.

Personally, I can think of 3 reasons why I’d like to see the World Science Fiction convention come to D.C. in 2017, and I’ll list them in order of increasing importance to me.

1. It’s local! It would be great to have a Worldcon in my home town. While I love traveling to other cities for Worldcon (San Antonio was blast, and I’m really looking forward to Kansas City next year), I’d be lying if I said it would be nice to attend a Worldcon at home. Of course, this is a great benefit for locals, but it still means that everyone else coming to the convention has to travel.

2. It’s Washington, D.C. But you get to travel to Washington, D.C. I’ve lived in the area for over a decade, and I still think its history is well worth visiting. Playing in the Senate softball league on the National Mall, I would occasionally look up to see the Washington Monument, or the Capital Building in the background and think: I’m playing ball in a place where Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt once walked. We’ve got the Air & Space Museum, the Library of Congress. We’ve also got the Washington Nationals. And in the surrounding area, you can find Mount Vernon to the south, and Gettysburg to the north.

3. It’s being run by the folks who run Capclave. The most important reason I want to see the World Science Fiction convention here in the Washington, D.C. area is because it is being run by many of the same folks who run Capclave, my regional science fiction convention. I have been going to Capclave ever since I began selling stories. It’s become my favorite science fiction convention, and I look forward to it each October. I’ve written about my time at Capclave at lot: here, herehere, and here, to list a few time. A big reason I enjoy is because of the hard work of the people who put it together. They get great guests, great panelists, they draw crowds of diverse, engaged, interesting, and fun people, and we spend 3 days talking about science fiction, what it means to us, and how it impacts us.

If you are so inclined, grab a ballot for site selection and cast your vote by mail before the August 10 deadline.

The Trailer for Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN Looks Fantastic

You guys know that I am not much of a movie fan, and especially not much of a science fiction movie fan. But last year, I read Andy Weir’s The Martian and it was the best science fiction novel I read in 2014. Matt Damon stars in the movie being made from the book, and even I will admit that the newly released trailer looks fantastic.

I’ll be at RavenCon April 24-26

As I am about to head off on the road for the better part of the week, I think now is a good time to remind folks that I will be attending RavenCon in Richmond, Virginia next weekend, April 24-26.

At present, this is the only science fiction convention I’ll be attending in 2015.

My friend Allen Steele will be there, as will Jack McDevitt. RavenCon is the first convention I ever attended after selling my first story back in 2007 so it holds a special place in my heart.

On Sunday, April 26, Bud Sparhawk and I will be giving a talk on “Plotters vs. Pantsers,” Bud being the “plotter” and yours truly being the “pantser.” We’ve done a version of this with respect to online writing tools at Capclave, but this talk is focused on the two methods and their respective advantages and disadvantages. It should be a fun talk if you can make it.

I’ll be arriving in Richmond around lunchtime on Friday, and staying through the convention, so if you think you’ll be there, and you see, say hello.

 

To my friends and fellow fans who might not be able to afford a Worldcon membership

Earlier today, Mary Robinette Kowal offered 10 (now 20) supporting (voting) memberships to the World Science Fiction Convention in 2015 to fans who might not otherwise be able to afford a supporting membership. The membership allows fans to vote for the Hugo Award, which is often considered to be the most prestigious award in science fiction.

I know that I have friends and fellow fans out there who can’t afford a supporting membership, and so, taking a page from Mary’s book, I am offering 5 supporting memberships for Worldcon for people who can’t otherwise afford one.

Part of the fun of the World Science Fiction Convention is being able to vote on your favorite works from the previous year, and that $40 supporting membership is difficult for some folks. If you can afford, it, I encourage you to get a supporting membership. If you can’t afford one, shoot me an email at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin [dot] com with your contact information. Also, because of the controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards this year, I want to be clear that for folks who get these supporting membership: please don’t feel constrained in your vote. Participation in the fan process is all that I am hoping for.

Next week, I’ll pick the 5 names randomly from the requests that I get, and buy the memberships through the Sasquan website on their behalf.

ETA (4/15): All 5 supporting memberships have been given out to folks making requests. As it turned out, I had exactly 5 requests for a membership through today, so that made things easy.

George R. R. Martin on Guilt by Association

From George R. R. Martin’s Not A Blog:

I do not believe in Guilt by Association, and that’s what we’d be doing if we vote against every name on the Puppy slates simply because they are on the slate. That was a classic weapon of the McCarthy Era: first you blacklist the communists, then you blacklist the people who defend the communists and the companies that hire them, then you blacklist the people who defend the people on the blacklist, and on and on, in ever widening circles. No. I won’t be part of that.

I completely agree.

Thoughts on Interstellar: Worthy Grandchild to Tau Zero and The Forever War

If memory serves, I first encountered time dilation in a visceral way in November 1997. That is when I read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. The effects of relativity play a significant role in that novel. I next encountered it in Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, which I read in January 1999. I read the books in the wrong order. Anderson’s novel, which was based on his short story “To Outlive Eternity”, was first published in 1970. Haldeman’s novel was published a few years later.

The two novels took different approaches to time dilation: that effect that relatively has on time when one approaches the speed of light. Anderson’s book examined the extremes, reaching out for the end of time, the end of the universe, the end of all things–all within a single human lifespan. Haldeman’s novel took the personal approach, looking at the effect of time dilation on a few individuals, over a much small time scale.

I was more effected by The Forever War than by Tau Zero. The notion that time slows down as a person approaches the speed of light fascinated me. I remembered a commercial for Omni magazine which described the twins paradox. All of that stuck with me, and I remembering wondering if a parent traveled close enough to the speed of light, might not their children grow older than them while they were away?

The thought eventually led me to write a story called “Flipping the Switch” that deals with that very paradox. Although I first started writing the story in late 2008 or early 2009, it wasn’t published until 2013, when it appeared in the original anthology Beyond the Sun, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

And then, a week ago, I finally got around to seeing Interstellar. While I am not generally a fan of science fiction movies (something that people have a hard time believing, since I write science fiction), I really enjoyed Interstellar. I was the best science fiction movie I’ve seen since Contact. I watched the movie, and then, later that same evening, I watched it again. I know that some people complained that, despite the best efforts, some of the science was not accurate. Others complained that the dialog was poorly written. I enjoyed it all. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing the paradox that I envisioned in my story come to life in a well-executed conclusion. Indeed, the ending of Interstellar reminded me, in some ways, of the ending of Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man.”

I also loved the vision of robots in Interstellar. The AIs of that world reminded me of the AIs that populate Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict novels. Their versatility was impressive, but I also enjoyed the personalization: you could define humor, honesty, and other elements to your taste.

Contact was a more cerebral movie than Interstellar, but Interstellar made me feel like I was traveling to alien worlds. It is a movie that I know I will enjoy watching again from time to time.