28 September 2009

Writing on Reading: Spin

Here I continue our occasional literary analysis in hopes of learning something about spec fic writing...
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson (2005), won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Novel with good reason. Spin utilizes literary devices very well. Among other things, it has two narrative timelines, 4 x 10^9 A.D. and the near future. The near future narrative is told as a series of flashbacks because "Graphomania was one of the several sides effects of the drug." (Spin p48) The narrator undergoes a mysterious medical procedure in which he "... found myself wanting to write again, the urge coming on like an echo of the fever." (Spin p51).

Interestingly, much of Spin is familiar in that there are several similarities with the plot of Spin and the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Spin is told in first person from the viewpoint of Tyler Dupree. Tyler grows up poor with his widowed mother in the Little House “in awe of” (Spin p6) the inhabitants of "the Big House, we called it" (Spin p5) across the lawn, the wealthy Lawtons: twins Jason and Diane, mother Carol and father E.D. While Tyler is the point of view character in the novel, Jason is the real 'mover and shaker' of the story. Obviously, this is similar to Fitzgerald's setup with Nick Carraway, the narrator, living across the yard from rich 'mover and shaker' Jay Gatsby.

Another similarity between Spin and Gatsby is the hedonism in both novels. In the case of Spin, humanity believes itself about to be extinguished, and reacts by doing drugs, alcohol, violence and creating a whole Christian Hedonist spectrum in which "...the robes began to drop and the dancing started. And a few acts more intimate then dancing." (Spin p72) "...just a few hundred pilgrims smiling into the teeth of extinction and loving their neighbors like they'd like to be loved." (Spin p72). In Gatsby, Fitzgerald writes of the moral emptiness and hedonism of the 1920s illicit speakeasy culture.

Moreover, in Gatsby, Nick thinks Gatsby's power to transform his dreams into reality makes him great, and in Spin, Tyler thinks Jason's power to transform his dreams into reality makes him great. Jason terraforms Mars using a variety of “...ebony eggs. ...scatter these into the Martian atmosphere.” (Spin p118) “...inoculating the planet with life” (Spin p119) and creates a human colony: “...we send people. ...if all this worked...they would have to teach themselves subsistence skills in an environment only approximately fit for human habitation.” (Spin pp145-146).

Unfortunately, the greatness of Gatsby and Jason do not last. In Spin, on Mars, “the Fourth Age was ...a longevity treatment and a social institution. But it's evolved since then.... There isn't just a four, there's a 4.1, 4.2...” (Spin p401) Jason goes too far and volunteers to be “a biological receiver” of “...the replicators' hidden second subchannel for communicating among themselves and with their point of origin.” (Spin p408) and his final upgrade leads to his death. In the end of Gatsby, Gatsby's dream is corrupted by money and dishonesty and he is murdered. Furthermore, the novels endings have some similarity: Nick moves back to the Midwest, escaping the East's moral bankruptcy, and Tyler escapes the Earth, going to a new planet where “History doesn't start until we land.” (Spin p452)

Obviously, there is also much of the Spin plot that is not similiar to Fitzgerald's work. For example, in Spin the characters initially believe “the stars had actually 'gone out'--that is they had been extinguished like candles in a wind.” (Spin p12) But they discover “the stars had been 'eclipsed'... by something big. Something fast.” (Spin p16) and they have “an imposter sun, a clever fabrication.” (Spin p17) But I'll leave it to the reader to decipher just what exactly is going on. :)

What parallels can you draw between one or more spec fic novels and other novels?
It's fun to ponder. :)

24 September 2009

Since I'm Behind on my Slush

Slush I Read
by Jim C. Hines

(Apologies to Seuss)

I read slush.
Slush I read.

That slush I read.
That slush I read!
I do not like that slush I read.

Do you like fanfic with vamps?

I do not like them Mary Sue.
Why do these vamps all worship you?

Here’s a tale from D & D!

I do not want your D & D.
I do not like your elf PC.
I can not stand your purple prose.
I want to punch you in the nose!

Would you like a hot sex scene?
I wrote it for my online ‘zine!

I do not like your pervy tale.
Your metaphors make readers pale.
Your paragraphs are pages long.
Your bad sex scene is oh so wrong!
Can people do that with their lips???
I do not like your manuscripts.

This one is in Comic Sans!
My parents are my biggest fans.

That evil font we do not want!
My aching eyes, my weary sighs.
Why can’t you get the format right?
We post our guidelines in plain sight!
I will not read your 8-point type.
I want to bash you with a pipe!

Would you read this in the loo?
Let me slide it right to you!

I would not, could not, while I poo!

You just hate me ’cause I’m new!
I’m too original for you!

Too original you say?
This book is one absurd cliché!
It should not see the light of day.

I do not like your Mary Sues.
I do not like your crackhead muse.
Eve and Adam, Star Trek slash,
Tolkien ripoffs, pointless trash,
Prologues forty pages long,
Spelling every third word wrong.
I do not want to read this slush.
It’s all too much, my brain is mush!

Just one more story for today.
Soon I’ll clear this slush away.
No more vampires, I pray.

This cover letter’s brief.
The format’s clean. What a relief!

This story from the slush.
This story gives me such a rush.
These pages have a brilliant hook.
I want to read it in a book!
The wordcraft makes me start to swoon.
Is that the end? It came too soon!
I read it one time, two times, three!
It is so good, so good you see!

So I will read the slush again.
And wade through drafts by Twilight fen.
And I will read the pointless plots,
And tales of busty blonde sexbots.
And I will read your pissed off mail.
And I will read it without fail.
Yes I will read slush by the bale
So I can find that next great tale.

22 September 2009

An even briefer post...

Many of you may have seen this already, but I just found it and it is absolutely hilarious. From io9.com: Physicists Prove That Vampires Could Not Exist. I'm so relieved the definitive study is in! I was really confused. :)

Maybe I just find it so funny because I'm a vamp--, er, physicist. :) (Read the comments, too.)

21 September 2009

Some comments from the slush pile...

I interrupt the First Page Game for a very brief post...
We are now hard at work at Electric Spec on our upcoming Oct 31 issue! First, a "Thank You" to all the authors that have been submitting to us--without you, Electric Spec wouldn't exist. Second, after reading through slush, I have some advice...

As usual, I will try to convey it via a positive spin:

  • Do give us an original plot. For example, evil murderers that get their just desserts or evil murderers that murder lots of people are a tough sell. If the muse is sending you murderers (!) give them an original twist.
  • Do show us just what we need to understand your world. Please avoid info-dumping. This means your characters should rarely (never?) talk about things they all know. For example,
    "Gosh, those evil Baby-Eating Worms from planet Gooey have sure been eating a lot of babies, lately."

    "You're right, Stewie. And they especially like smart-ass male babies."

    "I know."
    or similar probably wouldn't sell. But, "Help! A worm is chomping on my foot!" or similar would be more effective.

  • Do show us your story. Do include some dialog! Rarely (never?) do we buy a story with no dialog.

That's it for now. I'll post some more if I come across them.

18 September 2009

first page critique game # 10

Sorry so long! It's been a big week catching up on sleep and various other projects after conference. A word: we're running a bit low on first pages, so feel free to tell your friends to submit. If they dare. Bwahahahaha! Okay, kidding. I aim for constructive, but I do admit I'm less forgiving on these than I am on my critiques for writing buddies. This is me, trying to show you how I think as an editor. And really, I don't know what you're aiming for besides what you show me here. Anyway, here goes...

Suicide Extinct
Sardonyx Nash struggled as her fellow vampire looped handcuffs around her wrists and attached them to the liquid fuel line. “Handcuffs?”

“Not just any handcuffs.” Vin Driscol, transfixed his black eyes on hers. “A mage on Venus created them. Silver with a Jade core. No creature – Not vampires, werewolf, or wraiths from Jupiter -- can break through them. The key is on that ledge. Get the crew to release you once I’m gone.”

“Release a vampire stowaway?”

“I told you not to follow me onto this spaceship, Nyx.”

Sardonyx yanked on the shackles, metal clanking. “Don’t do this.”

“Careful. This pipe here?” Vin tapped his long white finger on the pipe labeled liquid fuel. “The fuel line. If you rupture it, the SS Pantara Eve will burst into a supernova.”

Sardonyx slumped against the wall. “Vin Driscol, if you jump you’ll be hanging in space for immortal eternity.”

Vin looked over at the cargo doors. “That’s the plan, Nyx.”

“Deep space will be your eternal floating prison.”

“And being vampires, living forever, that is not a prison?” Vin pushed his arms into his leather, then tapped a code into the wall console. The inner doors jerked into slow separation.

I don't have a lot to say about this other than it's a bit sloppy with the punctuation. I marked issues with bold red font. The vast majority of our subs are clean grammatically and with punctuation. It's not a deal-breaker, but it is a strike. Cleaning up a piece with a lot of grammatical and punctuation errors is kind of like picking up my kid's room. He's more than capable of doing it himself; he just doesn't want to. It smacks of laziness. Grammar and punctuation are the most basic of your tools. Don't let ignorance or laziness hold you back .

One highlighted bit requires explanation: the name of the ship. Don't format for your editors. If you want something bold or italic, note it with underscoring And not _xx_ either. That's annoying because we have to go in and remove those extra spaces by hand.

Story-wise, I think this is a fine start except for two points.
1. I'm wondering why Nyx cares. What's it to her that the other vampire is imprisoning himself in space? 2. I'm also wondering who's head I'm in. I write with very little internal narrative myself, but give us a physical reaction, the cuffs are cold or too tight or a flutter of horror, something to let us know who's side we're on in this.

Really easy fixes, though, and the premise is different enough to catch my eye. I'd keep reading.

09 September 2009

Electric Spec at Colorado Gold

Bets and I will be presenting the workshop "Focus on Short Stories" at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Colorado Gold Conference on Saturday afternoon. We'd love to meet up with any of our blog readers that will be there! I'm sure we'll also have gets some tips and ideas for future posts at this event.

On an unrelated subject, if you get the chance to see "District 9" check it out! One of the best sci-fi movies I've seen in a very long time.

04 September 2009

first page game #9

Cobra Cutlass

A cerulean moon spotlighted the center courtyard pedestal displaying a kneeling man, arms separated and tied to the two posts above him. Gazing at the man’s wrists dripping with blood, and bits of scalp hanging from his head, Khoran felt nothing but aggravation.

“I thought the sorceress would castrate you for the prisoner’s silence.” The voice whispered from the white scorpion, Khoran’s demon, his constant companion.

“Her poison burning through my veins was not terrifying enough for you?” He massaged his inner arm, where the Sorceress Evixen Mosk had inserted her poison punishment. Punishment for to Khoran’s failure to convince the king to talk.

Khoran grasped the balcony rails for support and glowered at the pedestal. “I’ll find your son and extinguish his life, Henry -- King of Abana. Though you have hidden him. He will die before his next birthday.”

Khoran looked out over the towers of the City of Abana standing arrogantly quiet at the base of the Gajijen mountains. The prophecy told that on the scion’s 24th birthday, the king’s son would gain powers beyond comprehension. Powers greater than the Sorceress Evixen Mosk.

The incubus white scorpion twisted on her perch, tendrils twitching. “Evixen approaches!”

This is a relatively exciting hook with a problem up front. They've got some guy (the king? Not clear) tied to a post for questioning and torture. So far so good. I like the creepy scorpion—more on it in a moment. Khoran seems maybe anti-heroish, or even evil. I like me some evil protags. And Khoran has a clear problem, even if we're not yet sure what it means to him and the situation. That's okay. Also, some traditional-seeming fantasy, which we're not seeing a ton of. So far so good.

But I've got some deal-breaker issues, too.

I'm not crazy about the present participle phrase starting with Gazing. I don't like 'em in general, though I've used them. It's not wrong, but I've just been introduced to these people and I'm still trying to get my bearings. Who am I following here, the kneeling man or who-ever's gazing at him? I have to get through 38 words to find our POV, Khoran. It might seem minor, but really none of it made any sense to me upon first reading until I found the name Khoran. So while the phrasing is technically okay, I don't think this structure is best utilized in the first graph. I'd suggest moving Khoran up a few notches, even to the first sentences. Cerulean moons are cool, tortured guys are cool, but I want to link up with my guide as quickly as possible.

There's a couple of unnecessary fragments. Punishment for to Khoran’s failure to convince the king to talk. Contrary to popular belief, this tired device does little for emphasis. This info can be easily integrated into the previous sentence without the eye having to pause over a word echo. And it appears again, a couple of graphs later. Powers greater than the Sorceress Evixen Mosk. I hate this kind of trick enough I'd probably reject it based on that. Yes, it's that much of a pet peeve.

Let me clarify. I, and I'm not alone in this, like clear, concise writing. Good writing does not call attention to itself with a lot of tricks and devises. You've got enough cool stuff going on here without mucking it up with word echoes and unnecessary phrases and fragments. Seeing these tired devices makes me wonder if the writing will be up to par throughout. And yes, I realize I just started a sentence with an "ing" word, but in that case it's a gerund phrase that serves as the subject. I did it on purpose so I could discuss the difference. Smooth, huh?

I think there's some over-explaining that can be cut. Phrases like: the Sorceress Evixen Mosk (her sorcery could be easily shown) and his constant companion. And while we're on the scorpion thing, she gets a ton of description and names. She's a white scorpion, a demon, a constant companion, an incubus white scorpion…it's almost like the writer couldn't make up his mind. What I don’t know are some basics, like how big she is or if other people can see her.

My suggestion to this writer is to clean up the writing and let your promising story elements shine.

02 September 2009

Submission Deadline: September 15

Just a quick note to say we're approaching the submission deadline for our October 2009 issue. Please get your stories in by September 15, midnight (U.S.) M.D.T.
After that, your story will be considered for our first 2010 issue.