31 January 2008

Exciting Electric Spec Announcement!

As promised, here is the exciting Electric Spec announcement: our February 28, 2008 issue will include an interview with Robert J. Sawyer! Be sure to check out the issue to see what he says about the uniqueness of prose fiction, artists obligations, science fiction and spirituality, short stories and much more!


Excellent fantasy author Carol Berg said, "I believe that every genre spans a continuum from pulp to literary. This is NOT a judgment of writing quality or worth, but of purpose."

Another excellent fantasy author, Ursula LeGuin, wrote in On Despising Genres,

"Division of fiction into genres is like all classification, useful � useful to readers who like fiction of certain kind or about certain subjects and want to know where to find it in a bookstore or library; and useful to critics and students and Common Readers who have realised that not all fictions are written in the same way with the same aesthetic equipment.

Genre has no use at all as a value category and should never be used as such...

But the concept or category of genre is used to evaluate fiction unread. To sort out the real books � that is, realistic fiction � from the "subliterature" � that is, everything else � every other kind of fiction written in this century. Everything but realism, including the very oldest and most widespread forms of story such as fantasy, gets shoved into a ghetto."

Interesting! What do you all think of Genre?

30 January 2008

ESpec Update and misc

As you may have deduced, we Electric Spec Editors convinced Renata to come back and help us. Huzzah and welcome back Renata!

In other news, the stories for the Feb 28, 2008 issue have been chosen. Closed round authors should have been notified by now. Accepted authors, please get back to us ASAP.

I added an excellent new link to the Electric Spec Links, the Horror Writers Association. Click it out!

I heard some good news recently. According to the company Simba Information, in 2006 Science fiction/fantasy book sales were $495 million, Mystery novels were $422 million, and Graphic novels were $128 million. I'm not sure where horror fits in there, but it still sounds good to me!

29 January 2008

Another Take on the Writers' Strike

I ran across this humorous vignette on Slate via funnyordie.com. It was written by a striking writer and, I think, captures the current situation. It's 3.5 mins., but worth the time to see the deal cut at the end....

Hey, if we can't rip/share songs for free because musicians and the recording industry want to keep as many of their dollars as possible (a logical desire), why shouldn't writers be protected too?

28 January 2008

Quantum Fiction

Has anyone heard of the new speculative fiction genre Quantum Fiction? According to the Wikipedia Knowledge Dump, "Quantum Fiction is a new literary genre that blurs the lines separating science fiction, fantasy, and quantum mechanics. This genre is characterized by The use of quantum mechanics to explain, or make plausible, the supernatural, paranormal, or fantastic."

Vanna Bonta coined the term and describes it as "...literature that embodies the new physical or quantum universe. It involves the view of reality as a multi-dimensional experience in which reality is subjectively seen and uncertainly known."

Interesting! Has anyone read Bonta or other quantum fiction? Send Electric Spec some quantum fiction stories!

24 January 2008

Writing on Reading: The Sparrow

One of my favorite experiences in life is discovering a new book I love. That happened to me when I read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Russell is an academic who wrote The Sparrow in 1996 as her first foray into fiction. It's a "first contact" novel that has lots of interesting ideas about space travel, alien culture, and near-future Earth. More importantly, however, it explores the tragic spiritual journey of the protagonist, a Jesuit priest, and his relationships with those around him.

Russell does some things "wrong" in terms of her writing. She uses numerous point-of-view characters, even switching between P.O.V.'s mid-scene on occasion. It doesn't matter. The characters hold the novel together and make it interesting from start to finish. Each of the primary characters have exquisitely crafted spiritual and emotional landscapes, both complicated and enriched by their relationships. Russell does not shy away from the tough issues, like celibacy and the belief in God. In fact, the central dilemma of the protagonist is stated quite starkly toward the end of the book: "What a wilderness, to believe you have been seduced and raped by God."

The Sparrow is dark, sometimes excruciatingly so, but it ultimately left me where I leave all good books--reluctant to close the back cover and eager to read the sequel.

23 January 2008

2007 BSFA Short Lists

The shortlists for the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) awards were announced yesterday. They include Best Short Fiction:
  • "Lighting Out" Ken MacLeod (disLocations; NewCon Press)
  • "Terminal" Chaz Brenchley (disLocations; NewCon Press)
  • "The Alchemist and the Merchant's Gate" Ted Chiang ( F&SF, September)
  • "The Gift of Joy" Ian Whates (TQR)
  • "The Sledge-Maker's Daughter" Alastair Reynolds (Interzone #209)

Congratulations to all the nominees! The awards will be presented on Saturday 22 March 2008 in London.

17 January 2008

Behind the scenes...

What's happening at Electric Spec behind the scenes these days? Well I'll tell you. The editors are furiously reading and judging the stories in the 'closed round' and they're trying to line up necessary tech assistance and special features such as possible interviews and/or reviews. One is polishing an Editor's Corner story. We're all looking at and judging art submissions, and generally getting ready for the big production meeting at the end of January. We're also accepting new stories and art for the summer 2008 issue. Phew!

What this means is, if you submitted and did not make it to the closed round, Congratulations, competition was fierce! If you did make it to the closed round, we'll be contacting you probably in early February 2008 with the news, good or bad. Again, Congrats to those in the closed round. Then in Feb we will work with authors on editing and we will generally put the issue together.

Check back here for more info as it becomes available. :)

15 January 2008

2007 Nebula award prelim

The 2007 Preliminary Nebula Award ballot was released yesterday. Our readers and authors might be interested in the short stories:
  • "Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse" - Duncan, Andy (Eclipse 1: New Science Fiction And Fantasy, Night Shade Books, Oct07)
  • "Titanium Mike Saves the Day" - Levine, David D. (F&SF, Apr07)
  • "Captive Girl" - Pelland, Jennifer (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Fall06 Issue #2)
  • "Always" - Fowler, Karen Joy (Asimov's, apr/may07)
  • "For Solo Cello, op. 12" - Kowal, Mary Robinette (Cosmos, Feb/Mar07)
  • "The Padre, the Rabbi, and the Devil His Own Self" - Fletcher, Melanie (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Fall06 Issue #2)
  • "The Story of Love" - Nazarian, Vera (Salt of the Air, Prime Books, Sep06)

Have you read these stories? If so, what did you think? If not, some of them are available on the web. Personally, I have some reading to do. Congrats to all the nominees!

Read the nominees in other categories at www.sfwa.org.

14 January 2008

paring down

So much of short story writing is stripping down to the essentials. On my personal blog, Sex Scenes at Starbucks, I wrote a one sentence post yesterday. However, it didn't start out that way.

I'd had a fabulous day snowboarding, beyond words, really, but I somehow wanted to catch the essence of what made it so great. One of the best aspects stemmed from a minor annoyance. My boots are too loose and flexible for my skill level. That realization was like when you suddenly get the difference between telling and showing. My boots haven't changed; I have. I'm a better rider. Yea for me.

The second good part was the snow itself. Loose, powdery, and a fresh layer for every run. I wrote a rather poetic (for me) graph about the snow.

Then I sat back and looked at it. Only one line stood out:

In the moment my soul catches up to me, I realize snowboarding in deep powder feels like folding chocolate into whipped cream.

Not the greatest line ever, but it did describe what I was feeling.

Then I looked at all that stuff about my boots. It didn't really matter to anyone but me. In fact, it might actually be, gulp, boring. DELETE.

And all the other words around that one line basically repeated the sentiment in less effective ways. DELETE.

Can your six thousand word story be five thousand words? I bet it can, and it'll be leaner and more active without all that extra weight. Kill narrative. Look for conversations that don't further the plot. Describe things with the perfect word, not the perfect ten words. DELETE. And then see if you don't have a better story.

13 January 2008

Writing on Reading: Darwin's Radio

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear won the Nebula and Endeavour awards in 2000 for best novel, and was also nominated for a Hugo that year (a Deepness in the Sky by  Vernor Vinge won). Given its prestigious pedigree, a lowly writer/editor like me is really in no position to criticize, yet . . .

Darwin's Radio is centered around an innovate idea supported by impressive scientific research. The basic premise is that our DNA contains secret codes that allow for a major evolutionary change to the species under certain conditions. When that change starts happening, the scientific community and the government do not know how to handle it.

The first half to three quarters of the book is more focused on the science than on character or plot development. If I had a science background (or perhaps paid more attention in college biology and anthropology classes) the exploration of these theories may have been enough to keep me entertained, but it wasn't. At certain points, I had to resist the temptation to give up on the book. I wasn't invested enough in the plot or characters early enough in the novel. 

In fact, that leads to my major criticism of the novel. It seemed like the characters were invented to support the exploration of the science, rather than having true depth and believability. At one point in the story, the protagonists describe their own "thumbnails":

Mitch: "I know very little microbiology, barely enough to get along. I stumbled onto something wonderful, and it almost ruined my life. I'm disreputable, known to be eccentric, a two-time loser in the science game. . . ."

Chris: "I've chased diseases over half the Earth. I have a feel for how they spread, what they do, how they work. . . . Up until recently, I've tried to lead a double life, tried to believe two contradictory things at once, and I can't do it anymore."

Kaye: "I'm an insecure female research scientist who wants to be kept out of all the dirty little details, so I cling to anybody who'll give me a place to work and protect me . . . and now it's time to be independent and make my own decisions. Time to grow up." 

While these character sketches are by no means boring, they still feel contrived. I don't think characters should have enough self-awareness to describe their own role in a novel. Throughout the book, I felt I was reading the author's idea about how these characters might act rather than reading about "real" people.

For the most part, the writing quality was good. However, at times the dialogue felt stilted and contrived. For example:

"We are not wrong," Kaye said. "Be my man."

"I am your man."

"Do you love me?"

"I love you in ways I've never felt before."

"So fast. That's incredible." . . .

(Mitch) "The air feels very thin where we are, [sic] right now."

"Like being on a mountain," Kay said.

"I don't like mountains much," Mitch said.

"Oh, I do," Kaye said. . . . "They give you freedom."

"Yeah," Mitch said. "you jump off, and you get ten thousand feet of pure freedom."

To be fair, some of this dialogue refers to past discussions, so it is not quite as strange as it sounds out of context. However, I still can't imagine a real conversation that sounds like this.

Darwin's Radio, with its many accolades, must have resinated with lots of people. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to tune in to the book as much as I would have liked.

11 January 2008

The Inklings

Savvy spec fic authors may be aware of The Inklings, but I just discovered them. What are The Inklings, you ask? Wikipedia says, The Inklings was an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England, between the 1930s and the 1960s. Its most regular members (many of them academics at the University) included J.R.R. "Tollers" Tolkien, C.S. "Jack" Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien's son), Warren "Warnie" Lewis (C.S. Lewis's elder brother), Roger Lancelyn Green, Adam Fox, Hugo Dyson, Robert Havard, J.A.W. Bennett, Lord David Cecil, and Nevill Coghill.
and Readings and discussions of the members' unfinished works were the principal purposes of meetings. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, and Williams's All Hallows' Eve were among the novels first read to the Inklings. Tolkien's fictional Notion Club (see Sauron Defeated) was based on the Inklings..

So, The Inklings were a critique group! I would have loved to attend, or even be a fly on the wall, hearing early drafts of The Lord of the Rings and the rest. Wouldn't you? Which brings me to my point. IMHO, authors need a critique group. Maybe your WIP will be the future's The Lord of the Rings--if you get some assistance from your critique group. :)

It is clear to me that some of the authors in our Electric Spec 'closed round'--as Betsy would say--do not have critique groups. A case in point: please do not have random pov switches in your short story. Here's another: do you really need three different timelines in your short story? Probably not.

However, congrats to all the authors that made the closed round! We editors have some tough decisions ahead of us.

10 January 2008

Mars Rovers top 10 Discoveries

Have you ever wondered what Earth looks like from another planet? Or what Mars smells like? Check out the Mars Rovers top 10 Discoveries according to www.space.com.

Good spec fic writers always have fully-realized worlds, be they horrible, fantastic, or scientific. Do your research and send Electric Spec your fully-realized stories. :)

In new issue news, stay tuned for an exciting announcement at the end of the month! (It's really exciting!) Also next month we'll have an interview here with the Editor's Corner author! I'll give you a tiny preview: sex robots.

09 January 2008

another peeve

Please don't have your DEAD protagonist talk/act/think/summarize/etc. after he/she/it is dead--unless your protagonist is undead or similar. I find it quite annoying.
Actually, I guess this is another consistency issue. :)

Keep sending those consistent stories to Electric Spec!

08 January 2008

Why do you write?

I came across an interesting blog that answers the 'why write' question at least from the perspective of Hollywood: Why We Write. It was created "to inspire and inform all writers during the strike".

Why do you write?

hobgoblin consistency?

I've heard it said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. I guess Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed with this, I can't say I do (of course maybe wise consistency is another matter). :)
Please be internally consistent with the stories you send to Electric Spec. If you say your protagonist has no emotions, please don't have him/her/it sighing, surprised, feeling whatever. If your protagonist is immobile, don't have him/her/it describing various different scenery. I can't speak for my fellow editors, but inconsistency is an automatic rejection for me. :(

Please send us your (consistent) stories for the June 2008 Electric Spec issue. I have a secret hint for blog readers: we are a little more lenient in holding stories over for voting at the beginning of the submission cycle, e.g. now. Good luck!

open round comments

I finished reading the open round for this issue. The quality of stories was unbelievable. I realized I made most decisions based on personal taste and Electric Spec's unique, ever-developing voice. Finding well-constructed stories was rarely an problem; I could concentrate more on the story--an excellent position to be in as an editor.

We editors have our own biases, and it's no secret I like dark stories. That doesn't necessarily mean tragedy, or even spine-chilling horror, but I tend to focus more on the characters. I love those grey characters, the ones I like despite who they are and what they stand for, or the baddies who make the right decision. But it's a delicate dance and difficult to manage in short form. For instance, I just read a story last night in which a "negative" secondary character did a noble thing at the end. Surprising and intriguing. I didn't know much about him, but that was all right, because neither did the main character. However, I passed because I realized by the end I didn't know the main character any better than I did the secondary. He obviously symbolized "youthful optimism" which is all well and good, but a character, especially a main character, should be more than a symbol. He survived his ordeal (though not by any real effort of his own), but I found I didn't care because he wasn't a real person to me.

Our production meeting is scheduled for late January, so if you've been held for voting, you should know if your story is in the issue by Feb 1 or so. Good luck, and to those of you who were rejected, please try us again!

07 January 2008

Writing on Reading: Ship of Fools

Recently I read Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo. It was good. The protagonist was intriguing, the world-building was very good and the plot was pretty good. In a nut shell, the characters wander around in an oligarchical spaceship. The first line was intriguing: "We had not made landfall in more than fourteen years." They did seem like a pathetic ship of fools, afraid to leave their spaceship, and more specifically, the oligarchy didn't want to loose its power.

The more I thought about it though, the more depressing it got: isn't this the exact situation we all live in? We travel through the galaxy on a spaceship called Earth, ruled by rich people who care only about themselves and their wealth? What a relevant book! Send Electric Spec your relevant stories for our June 2008 issue!

Now that we are in production mode for the first 2008 issue, I promise to blog on the Electric Spec issue and submissions in the near future.

05 January 2008

Electric Spec Author Nominated for Award

We're proud to announce that Steve Goble's "The First Casualty" was nominated for best science fiction/fantasy short story in the Predators & Editors poll run by Critters. Congratulations, Steve! Please show your support for Steve (and Electric Spec) by voting for his story here.

Statistics for our Next Issue

We know the competition is tough for getting a story published. How tough? Well, for Electric Spec we received 229(!) short story submissions for our next issue alone. Of those, we've held 24 for voting, and there may be some more that we hold for voting in the most recent batch. We usually end up choosing six or seven of those stories for publication. Statistically speaking, that means you have around at 2.6 percent chance of getting published when you submit a story to Electric Spec.

What does all this mean? It should be good news for both readers and writers. For readers, that means that every issue you read will be the cream of the crop--you'll be reading some great short stories. For writers, it means that a story selected for Electric Spec is a great writing credit, one that you should be proud of and looks good on your writing resume.

04 January 2008

Deadline and misc

Don't forget our winter 2008 issue deadline is tonight! Get those stories in to Electric Spec ASAP! We have gotten an amazing number of good subs this time around, so competition has been fierce. I think Dave will blog some numbers next week. It's early yet, but this issue looks excellent. Stay tuned for more info.

Did you know the longest-running search for radio signals from alien civilizations is getting a burst of new data from the upgraded Arecibo telescope? Well it is, and that means SETI @ home needs YOU to help analyze data.

Writing on Reading: A Thousand Splendid Suns

I also read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini over my vacation. With a title like that, you might think it was a science fiction book. In fact, I believe it's considered mainstream but I think it would have made an excellent fantasy: if Afghanistan was another planet. Why do I say that? It has excellent world-building--just enough is explained. If you haven't read it, it does have some similarities with The Kite Runner, in that it is set in the same country during the same time period, and has two protagonists--one of which is illegitimate. The prose is very nice and the story is quite compelling. I have decided Hosseini is a master of the tear jerker. Some effective ways to tug at readers emotions apparently include a down-and-out person is kind to others, a long-overdue kindness is too late in coming. This book is worth reading to learn how to manipulate readers emotions (which is part of the writers job).

What did you glean from it?

02 January 2008

1st 2008 deadline looming!

Please recall the deadline for the first 2008 Electric Spec issue is January 4, 2008! Quick, get those stories in by midnight U.S. Mountain time!

In other news... I was going to blog another 'Writing on Reading' but the book was so bad, I can't think of ANYTHING positive to say about it. So, I'm not going to blog--it would be too cruel. Just know there are some published books out there that suck. :(