Links to Chew On: Publishing, Dialog, Language, Culture, DRM, and Weirdness

It’s time for another helping of the various links I’ve accumulated over several weeks on both diverse and literary topics, and with occassional added commentary.  Enjoy:

  • Jeff VanderMeer is Dreaming Well of the Future of Publishing…  and Jeff VanderMeer knows whereof he speaks – a man who has traditionally published and self-published both; my experience of Mr. VanderMeer (very limited though it is) is one that leaves me the impression of a very intelligent and thoughtful man, and I find this essay thoughtful as well; It matches pretty well to things I’ve been saying on this blog before: here, here, here, here, and here… oh, also here and herehere, too, and of course, here.  Hmm… you think this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while?
  • Jay Lake has a great little primer on dialog tags and the progression of style from said-bookisms all the way up to tagless dialog – it was really useful to see this laid out with some clear examples.  I don’t strive for purely tagless dialog, or even for the elimination of all said-bookisms (I believe they have their place in fiction writing), but I do try to be sparing and economical in their use.
  • Aliette de Bodard discusses character names, and different cultural approaches to naming conventions… a topic I ought to spend more time thinking about when I do my culture worldbuilding.
  • Another common Fantasy trope goes under the microscope: this time, it’s the axe-wielding Dwarf in an essay by Jim Hines; Steve Bucheit has a writing prompt based on Jim’s short essay: Story Bone
  • National Geographic has a Photo-essay on endangered languages: those in threat of extinction when the last few living speakers pass away
  • How much more pleasant would my afternoon commute be with a self-driving carSwoon… Let’s just say that I, for one, bow to our new robot overlords (if it means I don’t have to put up with crazy drivers and traffic jams)…
  • Tor Books decided to drop DRM, so UK publisher Hachette decides to double-down on DRM 
  • Author Cory Doctorow responds to Hachette’s draconian letters warning authors against publishing their titles in other markets without DRM; let’s just say Cory Doctorow doesn’t find Hachette’s position credible, or lawful… (I don’t know the relevant contract law, but I’m skeptical that a contract can dictate the terms of other contracts one party may have with a third party – that seems like a real stretch at best.)
  • So some author self-publishes a book filled with racist stereotypes and other derogatory things. Mostly, the world doesn’t notice or care, because poorly-written openly racist claptrap isn’t a big market these days.  More’s the pity.  (This is called sarcasm.)  Then a venerable and respected magazine of weird and speculative fiction decides to publish and promote said racist claptrap after forcing out the former, respected editor of said magazine, and against the editorial advice of said former editor. Get the whole sordid story here (background on said racist claptrap), here (author N.K. Jemisin reacts to the news), here (author Jim C. Hines reacts) and here (author Jeff VanderMeer and husband of said former editor dishes with the insider information on how it went down).  Finally, of course, said now-fallen-from-grace magazine retracts after the internet falls on its head, as the internet is wont to do when egregiously stupid collides with highly visible. I toyed with linking to the book in question, or to the “publisher’s” website, but decided not to push any traffic in that direction. 
  • In response to the above, a sub-pro short story market has decided to go pro. That’s pretty awesome.  Here’s Mary Robinette Kowal with some of the details.
  • A father and writer looks at violence in his books: this is one I’ve been trying to think more about, but just don’t have anything at this time to add.  I’ve talked about what I call the “Dark Matter” of fiction before, and fictional violence is a part of that.  No easy answers, but lots of questions.

Not Your Father’s Steampunk: Reviewing “The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities”

I didn’t set out to become an expert in Steampunk – and in that regard I suppose I’m not in any real danger of becoming one – nor did I have an specific desire to write Steampunk, per se.  It was just another reflection in the funhouse mirror that is the greater Speculative Fiction genre umbrella: a little bit sci-fi, an little bit fantasy, and a little bit something different.  I liked it, the same way I liked Fantasy and Sci-fi.  Heck… I liked it before I knew what to call it.  (The word “steampunk” dates back to the late 80s, but the genre didn’t seem to enter the popular consciousness until the late 90s and 2000s.  When I first discovered steampunk I had no word for it, and thought of it as “retro-futurism” and except for the fact that there’s now a significant fantasy cross-over segment of steampunk, I still think of it that way.)  But my first love was the classic Epic and High Fantasy.

But then I started this blog.  In the years before I started blogging Steampunk as a community – one part cosplay and one part literary movement – started gaining… um… steam.  So by this time I was aware both of the genre and its attendant aesthetic and of the now-accepted term itself.

The first time I mentioned Steampunk on this blog was in response to a Flash Fiction challenge that I completed as a Friday Flash.  This particular challenge asked us to use the word “zeppelin” somewhere in the story.  So, naturally, steampunk.  And this was the result.  After that, I discussed Steampunk once or twice with other bloggers in comments on their posts, throwing in my own two cents on the ins and outs of the genre.  Somehow, as a result of all that, I ended up writing one of my most popular posts on this blog: “A Steampunk Society“, which still gets hits today from people who apparently want to understand what values and mores would be present in a steampunk-inspired, pseudo-early industrial society.  I guess there was a small hole in the internet concerning that particular sub-topic of the genre, because writing that piece made me into something of a second- or third-string “expert” on the Steampunk genre.  And I’ve enjoyed digging deeper into the genre.  I’ve promised myself someday to return to that article and rewrite it with a more scholarly and exegetical focus.  I believe the popularity of that post lead indirectly to my first professional publication, here.  And those two things together likely combined to lead to this post.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

The Curious Cover of The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

All of this was a long way of saying I was somehow identified as a member of the Steampunk literary fan community – possibly even someone of some influence, although I might have a hard time believing that – and that as someone of this type I might be interested in reviewing Ann and Jeff VanderMeer‘s latest steampunk-themed anthology, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

Well… indeed I was interested in reviewing it – so when I was contacted to ask if I was, I responded in the affirmative.  A few days later, a shiny new review copy of the Cabinet arrived on my doorstop.  So now, allow me to introduce you, if you have not already made the acquaintance, to The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

What is the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities?

A fine question, my dear friend.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is, quite naturally, a curious specimen.  It’s an anthology, sure – but it’s unlike pretty much any anthology you’re likely to have picked up.  A typical short story anthology has a theme and a bunch of stories from different authors that fit that theme.  But that’s not exactly what you’ll find in the Cabinet of Curiosities. Continue reading

Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

Being Part the First:

In Which I Declare My Official “To Read” List

During the past three years of grad school, I did very little writing and very little reading.  I finished one novelette-length short story.  I read two novels (both “Wheel of Time” books, and actually only half of the second), half of another novel and a few small volumes of short stories.

Since graduating a few months ago, I’ve upped the amps on my writing.  But my reading is still continuing at roughly the same pace.  Largely, I’d felt so deprived of writing while I worked on grad school that I wanted to focus my free time on writing, at least until I was in the thick of my novel and making solid progress (i.e. at least until I had actual draft wordcount on the novel, and not just background stuff).  But my slow reading these past few years hasn’t stopped a tsunami of excellent fiction from exploding into my consciousness.  It’s for that reason that my “To Read” list has grown into something of an unmanageable behemoth, and an unstoppable juggernaut.  To make anything like a dent in that list I’d have to take a few months off from work and dedicate a lot of time exclusively to reading.  Which… ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, I’m going to pivot some of my time to reading a little more again.  Because it’s not like other writers are going to stop writing awesome books just because I haven’t had time to read them.  And if I don’t read those awesome books, I might die unfulfilled.

Right now, my “To Read” list is broken into four parts, and looks like this:

I. Books I Own

A Clash of Kings* by George R. R. Martin

Mistborn: The Final Empire¹ by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings¹ (signed) by Brandon Sanderson

The Children of Amarid¹ (signed) by David B. Coe

The Name of the Wind¹ by Patrick Rothfuss

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with introduction by R. A. Salvatore

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of Writer’s Digest with introduction by Terry Brooks (this is a combo volume of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Writer’s Digest’s The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference) Continue reading