30 November 2006

Ancient Astral Computer

According to the Dec. 1, 2006 The Sydney Morning Herald, Scientists decode ancient astral computer! A 2100-year-old device, the Antikythera Mechanism, is a "complex and uncannily accurate astronomical computer"!

CNN also has an article on this:
Ancient astronomical device thrills scholars, including a picture.

This is awesome story material!

Clarion fundraiser

The latest Clarion E-bulletin tells me that The Clarion Foundation and UCSD have joined forces to embark on a substantial fundraising campaign for the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. If you've got some extra $$$$, dig into your wallet and invest in the speculative writers of tomorrow.

29 November 2006

Churchill's words were science fiction

According to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald on Nov. 28, 2006,
Churchill's words were science fiction!

Check out how Dr. Richard Toye of Cambridge University finds similarities between Winston Churchill's speeches and earlier works by H.G. Wells.

Happy Birthday

Three children's authors, speculative fiction writers all, have birthdays today: Louisa May Alcott, Madeline L'Engle and C. S. Lewis.

Louisa May Alcott of Little Women, you say? She wrote sensationalized stories about duels and opium addiction and mind control. I haven't read any of them, but I'm interested enough to google around after I get my two thousand words in today.

Remember the loving family in A Wrinkle in Time? L'Engle's parents weren't very interested in her, only each other, so she imagined happy families for herself. What does your life lack that you make up for in your writing? That's your niche--go for it!

And, C.S. Lewis said, "You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."

28 November 2006

Congratulations, Jim!

On Nov. 22, 2006, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced James Gunn will be the next Grand Master of Science Fiction. Read their Press Release.

Congratulations, Jim! You rock! :)

I've mentioned him before here. Among many other things, Jim founded The J.Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at The University of Kansas. He also teaches an Online Writers Workshop in Science Fiction through the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.

27 November 2006

Butterflies, ski-lift operators, polar bears & hydroelectric planners

What do butterflies, ski-lift operators, polar bears and hydroelectric planners have in common?
According to the Nov. 26, 2006 Washington Post, they're all 'On the Move to Outrun Climate Change'. Read their full coverage on 'The Threat of Climate Change'.
This topic is rife with story ideas!

26 November 2006

Cover Letters

Have you slaved over a cover letter that will get your story noticed by the editors at Electric Spec? Well, don't. We'll read your story unless it is clear from the cover letter that the story does not meet our guidelines. However, I do grow tired of seeing certain things in cover letters that really don't belong there, such as:

1) personal information: age, marital status, number of children, or day job
2) information about the plot of the story (we are going to read it, after all)
3) the phrase, "I've been writing since I was (fill in the blank) years old"
4) requests for comments about the story
5) information about how much you love to write

Please DO include the essentials listed in the Electric Spec submission guidelines, including the name of the story and author in the subject matter line and a word count. A short summary of past publication credits is helpful, but not essential. Be aware that if you include a link to your biographical information, I probably won't go there. I usually don't have time to follow links around.

Here's a sample over a cover letter that would be just dandy:

Dear Electric Spec Editors:

Please consider the attached 4000-word
story, "Hayward the God's Eye Wanderer" for publication in Electric Spec. My
short stories have previously appeared in IGMS, The New Yorker, and Static
Movement. Thanks for your


Edward E. Egglsby

Pretty easy, huh?

21 November 2006

A Higher Standard

The thing about short stories is that they almost always leave us wanting more. They're a snack, not a meal, but the good ones do leave behind a certain satisfaction--a sort of better-to-have-love-and-lost-rather-than-never-loved-at-all feeling.

Does your story begin where it is supposed to? This is a common problem with rough drafts of novels, but I also see a lot of stories that should have started with the narrative on page two. The writer thinks he needs to take the time to introduce me to his world, or he's so enamored of it he thinks I want the four-hour tour, rather than just slipping in references at appropriate moments. In the narrow slice of life provided by a short story, I think it's most effective to throw your reader right into the crisis. But the crisis action must be plot-provoking, evocative of your world, and show me your character in clear terms. Sounds a lot to ask for, eh? Just know that I hold Electric Spec writers under the same constraints I put on myself.

And to make it tougher, I expect that every paragraph of your action/narrative meet those stringent standards. Think of every scene as sitting on a three-legged stool, the legs being plot, setting, and character. If it doesn't touch on each one your writing isn't tight enough for a short story. (A solid recommendation is once you think you're finished, make a goal to cut your word count by ten percent.) I think some scenes in novels can lean a bit, but a short story reader will topple right out of your story without these three elements propping up each scene.

The best short stories are often more about what you don't say.

20 November 2006

So long, Jack :(

As many of you know, Jack Williamson, world-renowned science fiction author and Grand Master, passed away on Friday November 10, 2006 in Portales, New Mexico at the age of 98.
There are a couple nice articles about him in the Portales News-Tribune: 'Williamson considered one of science fiction's greats', and 'Local writer remembered'.
There's a nice audio segment on NPR: 'Science Fiction Writer Jack Williamson Dies at 98'.
There are some nice photos from Nov 16th, 17th Memorial Service at the Eastern New Mexico University, and their news release: 'World-Renowned Science Fiction Writer Jack Williamson Passes Away'.
See also the SFWA obituary, and the
Albuquerque Tribune obituary.

So long, Jack. We'll miss you.

17 November 2006

Electric Spec's Selection Process--Revealed!

I’ve noticed that we have not posted the specifics of our selection process, so here it is. When a story is submitted to our “submissions” address, it is randomly distributed to one of our four editors. The editor reads the stories distributed to him or her. If the editor decides a story is not right for use he/she will send an e-mail to the author saying so. If the editor can’t decide, he or she will pass it on to another editor for a second opinion. Finally, if the editor thinks the story might work for us in the next issue, he or she notifies the author that we will hold the story for voting.

The editors have a production meeting about a month and a half before the next issue comes out. There, we discuss all the stories that have been held for voting. Although the quality of the story is paramount, we also look at how stories will work together in each issue to create variety and balance. After the production meeting, we e-mail the authors and let them know whether we have selected their story for the next issue.

I should mention that the process does not stop there. Our editors actually edit the stories we’ve selected. These edits can rage from very minor revisions to significant ones.

Is there something else you are just dying to know? Just ask and we'll try to address it in this blog.

16 November 2006

Return to the Moon by 2020?

Talk about awesome story ideas! www.space.com had an article yesterday about NASA Weighs U.S. Strategy for Moon Exploration, in which we may return to the moon by 2020. The article includes lots of neat links, including IMAGES: Walking on the Moon in 3D. Actually, all the stuff on www.space.com looks neat. :)

15 November 2006

Hatrack River Writers Workshop

Speaking of Orson Scott Card (Nov 13 entry) and
Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury (Nov 9 entry), I should be thorough and mention the Hatrack River Writers Workshop. This is a great resource for speculative fiction writers and includes several discussion areas including a writing class! Enjoy!

14 November 2006

Catastrophic impacts common?

There's an interesting article in The New York Times Science section today: Ancient Crash, Epic Wave , which describes scientists' efforts to find evidence on earth for recent (within the last 10,000 years) asteroid hits. Apparently, some think they've found such evidence and they claim catastrophic impacts could happen every few thousand years.
I guess they used Google Earth for some of their studies.
It sounds like great story material.

13 November 2006

Military Science Fiction Classics

I ran across this listing of military science fiction (MSF) "classics." Although a couple are golden oldies, like First Lensman, many are much younger. Normally, I wouldn't consider work from the 80s and 90s "classic," but hey, MSF didn't evolve into a truly marketable sub-genre until the late 80s, though it was birthed in the 50s. Check out Del Rey's 2001 anthology, The Best Military Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century, for a great compendium of shorts.

Anyway, MSF happens to be one of my favorites, and it's always interesting to compare older works with those being published today. How the market doth drive readers' tastes!

Wiki has a definition of military science fiction that I would agree with except for the interplanetary/interstellar conflict part. I think MSF can occur at a global level too without bringing in star systems or galaxies. Anyone else have an opinion?

If I compiled a MSF reading list, it would have to include Herbert's Dune (yes, that could be considered sociological too), Heinlein's Starship Troopers (Casper Van Dien's and Denise Richards' acting in the movie did NOT improve on the original story so, don't go there), Card's Ender's Game, and Drake's Hammer's Slammers. I'd add in books from Burroughs' Mars series and McCaffrey's Pern series too.

Anyone else have a list of "classic" MSF every other fan should read?

11 November 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Last night I saw the movie Stranger Than Fiction. The "high concept" premise is: "what if a character in a novel starts to hear the author's narrative?" Because of the idea of the movie, it's fun for writers. For example, in one scene, a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) interviews the "character" in the novel (Will Ferrell) and tries to figure out what book he is in. He asks questions like, "Do you have any magical powers?", "On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that someone is trying to assassinate you?", and "Are you the king of anything—i.e. a hidden land under the floorboards of your house, etc.?" As a writer, the questions made sense to me right away, but they, of course, baffled Will Ferrell's character. If you get a chance, you might want to check this movie out.

09 November 2006

Implications and Consistency Combined with Craft

Author Mark Salow has posted some interesting commentary regarding the futurist perspective in speculative fiction. It's inspiring to find a writer who not only works the craft, but considers the philosophical implications and consistency of his message. I'll have to check out Darwin's Orphans to see if he does all of it well.

So long SF and Fantasy Workshop Newsletter!

An era has come to an end. The long-running SF and Fantasy Workshop Newletter,most recently run by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury published its last issue in October 2006. Kathleen did a great job. The Newsletter was chock full of info for writers of speculative fiction. It's sad to see it go.

For example, the October 2006 issue contained:

  • "SAFER REVISING: by Diana Carolyn Ice
  • "SEVEN TOP WRITING TIPS" by Andrew Rey
  • "THE REVENGE OF MAISY THE TIDYBOT (aka The Gripes of Reading)" by Lynn S. Light
  • "WE ARE NOT ALONE" by Fran Giuffre
  • "WORKSHOP, THE WORKSHOP, AND ME" by Robert Nowall

However, they do plan to post the back issues on the web. I highly recommend them!

08 November 2006

Global Warming is not a theory

OK, this graphic has little to do with speculative fiction; I just thought it was funny. Of course, Lesley Smith and Michael Crichton did write novels about the topic.

06 November 2006

I was inspired by Lesley's last post, and also by the noticeable lack of adverbs. So . . . I was curious about how the rest of Electric Spec's stories would hold up.

Here are the first lines for the first issue:

  • "Open the pod bay doors, Hal . . . Do you read me, Hal? . . . Hello, Hal, do you read me? Do you read me, Hal? . . . Hal, do you read me?"
  • The bedside phone trilled, dragging me though several layers of warm slumber.
  • I sank needle-tipped buckyfibers into the boy's naked chest, connecting the Steel Diagnostician to his metabolic system.
  • "I must go, Mrs. Hansen," said Helen. "I'm late as it is."
  • Looking out through a broad window into the cheerless gray sky of nineteenth century London, I realized I hadn't turned off the simulator last night.
  • Simple things.

And issue number 2 . . .

  • Rhonda Minestra walked into the office, and after shutting the door, grinned and bounced on her toes.
  • Catching God is the tough part.
  • Matirsutrus shone full on the waters of Malibar, his face mournful and pockmarked as he crept along the canals.
  • Edward thought he knew every part of the library, but he was perplexed to find he was wrong.
  • "Small people are tragic," Rain said.
  • Kyril Ague, the only Diplomat Class passenger aboard the starship, hefted his zipbag and stepped out early from the exit valve, hoping to see a standard local reception committee.
  • Ursula sported quite a shiner when she arrived at work bright and early the Monday after her vacation.

Yup, no adverbs. What else do these opening sentences have in common? Very few adjectives, lots of strong verbs (except for stories starting with dialogue), and an element of mystery that draws the reader into the story. They all match the tone for the rest of the story as well, but you'd have to read the story to verify that. Can anyone spot other similarities?

This list also highlights that many approaches work. You can start with setting, dialogue, or character. You can start with complex sentences or short fragments. You can include world-specific words or everyday vocabulary. Lots of choices.

This should not imply that first lines are more important than the rest of the story. I've read first lines that I've loved only to be disappointed later on. A sure rejection. I've also read stories that didn't work well at the beginning but were worth trying to fix because of the rest of the tale.

More short story first lines

I must admit I was curious how the Electric Spec stories stacked up in the first line department. Here's the data from our current issue:

  • Six years Federal Police Force, last two on Homicide.
  • In her cold bedroom chamber, Atana re-read her letter, then pressed the send button on her console.
  • "So what's the crisis?" Duram Karr sighed as he slid into a lounge chair in the VIP Room of the Commander's Club.
  • "Who gives a shit what the surface track is?" asked Kalypso.
  • My hand brushed the shoulder of his jerkin before he twisted away.
  • "Sol, it's time. They're ready to see you now."

I am intrigued. How about you?

05 November 2006

Die, adverbs, die!

Note of personal interest: I recently did an -ly search on my book, a 116,000 word fantasy novel. I'm readying it for submission, and I read the suggestion on an author's website. I've never thought of myself as particularly adverbial, but this exercise proved that theory wrong. My manuscript is now over ONE THOUSAND words shorter, and a better read, I believe. Adverbs tell, not show. Most adverbs signify lazy writing, as Brian says, and as an editor I'm always on the lookout for them. But, as is so common, I missed a great deal of them in my own work. I'd suggest the -ly search and see if it doesn't improve your writing. I think you'll often find they aren't needed at all.

02 November 2006

William Styron: 1925-2006

William Styron passed away yesterday...he was 81. Styron, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose explorations of the darkest corners of the mind were charged by personal demons that nearly drove him to suicide, died in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. He had been in failing health for a long time.

Although he was not a speculative fiction writer, I thought we should mark his passing. I really enjoyed his work, especially Sophie's Choice.

Short story first lines

One of my critique groups has been having a (offline--I know, it's shocking) discussion about best first lines of novels. See, for example, 100 Best First Lines from Novels. (Thanks for the link, Dave!)

Of course, Electric Spec focuses on short stories, so I thought I'd look at some short story first lines. I must admit I cheated and just looked in my 2005 "Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction" Edited by Gardner Dozois with a forward by Robert Silverberg.
Here are some intriguing short story first lines (YOU MUST BUY THIS BOOK. It truly is the best of the best.)

  • There is a principle in nature I don't think anyone has pointed out before.
  • I awoke this morning to discover that bioengineering had made demands upon me during the night.
  • It all started when Cletus Jefferson asked himself "Why aren't all blind people geniuses?"
  • So the white men are back!
  • Mae lived in the last village in the world to go on line.

What's your idea of a good short story first line? :)

01 November 2006

Good luck NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo folks!

Happy November! November is a big writing month what with
NaNoWriMo:National Novel Writing Month and NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month. I'd enjoy hearing any success (or not!) stories.
Does anyone else wonder why November? Doesn't it interfere with eating turkey? :)
Good luck writers!