Tag Archives: science ficiton

“Beggars in Spain”

In the 1930s, it was still possible to read every piece of published science fiction.  It hasn’t been that way in a long, long time.  You could read science fiction 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and still not keep up with it all.  There is always new stuff coming out, for instance, added to the collection of published works.  Every now and then, I wonder, when will I discover the next new thing that will blow me away?  But I forget that you can’t read everything that’s been published, and that the next "new" thing, may be something that has existed for some time.

The sixth story in The Hard SF Renaissance is Nancy Kress’s "Beggars In Spain".  I read this story tonight, and I was blown away by it.  I couldn’t put it down, which explains why I am up at 11:30 on a "school" night.  It is no wonder the story won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.  It was simply incredible, and certainly one of the best pieces of short science fiction that I have come across.

The story reminded me in many ways of an amalgamation of Isaac Asimov’s "The Bicentennial Man" and A. E. Van Vogt’s Slan.  Thinking it through, it may be the best novella I have ever read.

I love when this happens:  discovering a gem like this, something that I probably should have read a long time ago, but never got around to it.  Reading all 960 pages of The Hard SF Renaissance will be worth it for that one story.  It just goes to show how valuable anthologies like these can be; and it certainly makes me more conscious of that value going forward.

But I’ve just got to say, that even if you are not a fan of science fiction, you should find yourself a copy of "Beggars In Spain" (the novella; I can’t yet speak for the novel) and read it.  It will be time very well spent.

Readercon, Part 2

Saturday was my second and final day at Readercon, and it was just as good as the first day. I attended several session today, including a fascinating one on rewrites and revisions. The panel included (among others) Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly. I attended a couple of readings as well. The first reading was by James Morrow, who read from his upcoming novella, Fumbling Toward Hiroshima. The second was a reading that included half a dozen or more authors from

  ‘s new anthology, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Among these were two readers I really wanted to hear, Elizabeth Bear (a.k.a.

  ) and Barry N. Malzberg.

And speaking of Barry Malzberg, I got to spend some more time with him late this morning. He was heading out for another walk (he is, as he describes himself, a compulsive walker) and he invited me along with him. Once again, it was terrific. Later in the day,

was kind enough to take this photo of me and Barry just outside the huckster room. Scott also got this photo of me with

and Michael Marano.

I went through the huckster room several times today but managed to refrain from buying anything. With the house nearly all packed up, it seemed cruel to buy books which I would immediately have to pack away.

Around 4 PM, I headed for the airport. I thought I might be able to get an earlier flight, but I got there just in time to miss the earlier flight to D.C. So I went to a pub, had a plate of cheese fries and a couple of beers, and read for a few hours while I awaited my flight. The flight itself was uneventful and I was back at Dulles on time. Kelly was waiting for me in the baggage claim area and we were at my house by 10 PM, just as planned. Dad was there and we hung out with him for a while before heading off to bed.

Readercon was terrific, the best convention I’ve been to so far, and one that I will continue to attend in the coming years. Meeting a personal hero, a favorite writer is, as MasterCard says, priceless, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have met Barry and for the kindness he showed me throughout the convention. I look forward to seeing him there again next year. Once again, I have to thank

,

, and

for making me feel at home at a convention where everyone there seemed more knowledgeable about science fiction than me, where they all seemed to have gained the trick of throwing major league fastballs, and the ability to hit major league curve balls. These are the people, all of them, who make science fiction what it is today and I felt very lucky to get the chance to hang out from them and (hopefully) learn from them.

Marsbound, part 1

I finished part 1 of joe_haldeman‘s new serialized novel, Marsbound this evening. It’s always fun when ANALOG runs serials (the last one I read was Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback), but there is also an element of frustration to having to wait 25 days or so for the next issue to come out with the second part of the story. I savor the wait.

I’m really enjoying the story so far. Without giving anything away, I will say that the tone seems a little different from Joe’s recent stuff. It’s got a Heinlein-like quality to it, and the main character, Carmen, reminds me of Podkayne “Poddy” Fries from Podkayne of Mars. If you are an ANALOG reader and haven’t read this story yet, go read it. If you’re not an ANALOG reader, this story alone is worth a subscription.

And speaking of reading…

…I’m 120 pages through the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, well into the B’s and still very much enjoying what I am reading. Of course, 120 pages is just a hair under 10% of the total, but it still adds up to 120,000 words, or more than your average novel’s worth of reading.

Why read an encylopedia?

Perhaps there is an advantage after all (aside from sheer pleasure) of reading a tome such as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. As I mentioned earlier, Ed Schubert sent back my story “Wake Me When We Get There” because he’d published a similar story a few issues back. The story is about an astronaut who comes out of suspended animation prematurely when her equipment fails on the way back from a long mission. Apparently, this theme (which I thought pretty original), is fairly common. (Allen Steel has a similarly themed story, I think.)

In going through the Encyclopedia, I am finding that Clute and Nicholls are very good at highlighting what they think are overused themes or cliches in s.f. I’m keeping an eye out for these. To some extent, they are overwhelming, but then I keep in mind Damon Knight’s advice in his book Creating Short Fiction. In part, he suggests taking the cliches and overused themes and turning them on their heads. Sometimes this has already been done, but it is still a good exercise in avoiding treading over well-worn territory. If the book does nothing else but help to highlight these areas, it’s worth it.

That’s not to say that an overly-used theme cannot make a good story. It is my belief (based on what I read in the magazines) that in some instances, good writing trumps cliches and themes. But that is the exception rather than the rule.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

I bought the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd edition) on in November 1993, when it first came out. It retailed for $75 and I got it for 10% off. It’s a passive massive book, 1,200 pages of fine print and totaling more than 1.3 million words.

I mentioned it earlier today. I was browsing it last night to get ideas for something to read. I lugged it on the train with me this morning and read the introductory sections, themselves fascinating. They included a description for how the book was organized, how the data was collected, and rationale for changes made since the first edition.

On the train ride home, I pulled the massive, 5-1/2 pound book out again, and on a whim, started reading the entries beginning with “A”. It was wonderful. Every entry was fascinating. The print is so small that I only got through about three pages, but I was utterly captured by it. Wow! Who knew!

I’m not saying I’m going to sit down and read The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction cover-to-cover. But it is certainly very entertaining and educating reading so far, and since nothing else has piqued my curiosity lately, I don’t see any reason to stop.

Rejection and revisions

I got out of the office later than I wanted to this evening and finished up “Sanctuary” on the train ride home. It’s a great story and I’d recommend it to anyone who is a science fiction fan, and anyone is a fan of good storytelling.

When I arrived home, I had several pieces of mail, including the easily identifiable (to a writer) self-addressed stamped envelope, which in my experience usually holds a rejection slip. It did have a rejection slip for my novella, “Graveyard Shift”. It was a form-letter rejection, which was disappointing since my last rejection from ASIMOV’S was a personal letter from Sheila Williams. It also marks the longest ASIMOV’S has ever taken to respond to a story of mine: 123 days, or roughly 1/3 of a year. Then again, at 20,000 words, this is the longest story I’ve ever submitted to ASIMOV’S. The story is going to ANALOG on Saturday. Since I will be in New York, I am tempted to take the manuscript into ANALOG’S offices (the way that Isaac Asimov did nearly 70 years ago), but I won’t. At least I know that it should get to the ANALOG pretty quickly.

At this point, I have two things “out”: my science fiction poem “Schrodinger’s Intersection” has been at ASIMOV’S for 33 days now. And I am working on revisions to “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” at the request of the editor of INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW. Actually, the revisions are complete and I reread the story today and I think that the revisions improve the clarity of the story. I have a few minor tweaks to make, and then I’ll send it back to the editor tomorrow, as promised.

Laundry is underway. I have lots of chores to do, but I have a little more time than I thought. I’m leaving work at about noon tomorrow. I thought my flight was at 4:30 and I was going to come home, do a few things, and then head to the airport. But it turns out my flight isn’t until 5:30. I don’t have to rush as much.