26 October 2010

Literary Refs in SF/F/H?

I recently read the 1956 science fiction novel The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and there are surprisingly-many literary associations in it. Bester's literary references in Stars begin in the epigraph; he quotes part of William Blake's 1794 poem "The Tyger" and sets the tone for the entire novel. Also, I believe the novel as a whole is a SF version of Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo. I could go on and on with examples, from William Shakeaspeare's Hamlet to James Joyce's literary device to Arthur Rimbaud poems, but my point isn't what Bester references, it's that he makes literary references at all.

Do other SF/F/H works utilize references to other literature? Yes, some of them. For example, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury has a section "Usher II" which is very reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado", and of course, there's Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher". Another example is To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis--an hommage to Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome from 1889!

Can you think of other examples of literary references in SF/F/H? Do think they're a good idea, or a short cut? If the former, consider sending us a story with a literary reference. :)

25 October 2010

MileHiCon Wrap-up

Wow! MileHiCon was awesome, as usual. It was great to see old friends, make new friends, and hobnob with famous writers. For example, Jeanne Stein and Mario Acevedo were there up to their usual tricks. See Mario's post about it on their blog the Biting Edge (Including a picture of Editor Betsy--IN THE BAR!)

My panel on dystopias was standing-room-only because of award-winning novelist Paolo Bacigalupi. Paolo said he doesn't really consider his work to be dystopian. I have to agree because, at least historically, a dystopia is a futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state/government. ==> This means individuals have lost their personal rights/liberties because of this repressive entity. Ultimately, however, we posited a dystopia is in the eye of the beholder. This prompted me to ask: do we live in a dystopia now? Hhm...

My panel on weird physics was also standing-room-only--because people like weird physics, I guess. :) Initially, I said I didn't think physics was that weird; it's based on logic and math, etc. But the other panelists and the audience kept coming up with weird stuff, so I was forced to change my stance: physics is weird. Upon reflection, afterwards, physics is weird when a theory is about to be overturned/supplemented, i.e. when we're on the verge of discovering something new. Awesome!
I did have a handout of an interesting article I saw "The 10 weirdest physics facts, from relativity to quantum physics" by Tom Chivers of The Telegraph.

See Betsy's impressions here. Perhaps Dave would like to add some impressions of MileHiCon?

In other news, we are hard at work on the next issue. Keep sending us your stories.

21 October 2010

ESpec Editors at MileHiCon

This weekend (Oct 22-24) you have an opportunity to interact with the ElectricSpec Editors in person at MileHiCon--if you dare! (Cue spooky music.) Bwa ha ha!

But seriously, folks, feel free to say hi. I think we'll be wearing our Electric Spec t-shirts at least part of the time. Plus, it's a safe bet that Editor Betsy will be in the bar most--if not all--of the time. Ha ha, Betsy, just kidding. Not. :)

We will officially be participating in some excellent programming:

  • Friday 3:00-4:00 pm Dave is on the "Developing Your Writing Voice" panel
  • Friday 6:00-7:00 pm Betsy is on the "Small Press & Ezines: Finding/Dealing with New Markets" panel
  • Saturday 11:00-noon Lesley is on the "Dystopias in Science Fiction" panel
  • Sunday 1:00-2:00 pm Lesley is on the "Weird Physics" panel
  • Sunday 4:00-5:00 pm Betsy is on the "Guilty Pleasures" panel

MileHiCon is always a blast. I recommend it.
Dave, Betsy, do you want to add anything?

In other news we are working on the next excellent issue, due out Nov. 30, 2010.

Keep sending in your stories!

19 October 2010

Why do you write?

I recently reread Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 military SF novel Starships Troopers. I was struck by the realization that Heinlein is trying to influence readers and it made me wonder why he wrote. Was it purely to advocate his personal philosophies?

Critics have said, often in SF it is "...the idea that is plot and character..." (Farah Mendlesohn) and "…sf as advocacy, …[is] … the sf of 'big story' writers such as Heinlein and Asimov." (John Clute)
There's no question Heinlein has been very influential over the years, but it is because of, or in spite of, his advocacies?

Let's take a closer look at what Heinlein is advocating in Troopers. Heinlein's mouthpiece Mr. Dubois, the protagonist's instructor in History and Moral Philosophy, says, "The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war's desolation."

Of course, this refers to the lyrics of the 4th stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key, which include,
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
…And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

That's pretty blatant propagandizing on Heinlein's part!

It actually reminds me also of the sentiments espoused by President John F. Kennedy in his famous January 20, 1962 Inaugural Address, including,
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shank from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.

All Kennedy's talk about this world really brings to mind other worlds. :) Will Earth ever be united? Face sentient creatures from other worlds?
At any rate, clearly, Heinlein was on his soapbox.

How about you? Do you have a soapbox? What themes do you seem to revisit? Why do you write?
Send us your (soapy?) stories!

15 October 2010

Electric Spec on Facebook

I am happy to announce that we now have a page on Facebook. Please stop by and "like" us when you get the chance.

Here's the link.

12 October 2010

role/appeal of icons in SF?

Perhaps more than any genre, SF is filled with icons. Gwyneth Jones has written an interesting essay about "The Icons in SF". She does a good job illustrating the symbolisms SF icons represent and how they came about, e.g. rockets represent weapons: "The rocket, with its upward thrusting phallic shape and dramatic flight, is an inevitable symbol of energy and escape, but a rocket is a weapon...". As a writer, I find such symbolisms fascinating.

In my opinion, the real value of icons seems to be "The icons of sf are the signs which
announce the genre, which warn the reader that this is a different world; and at the same time constitute that difference." Therefore, I believe icons are invaluable to SF for the role they play, rather than for the objects themselves.
Do you agree? Disagree?

As a reader, icons such as rockets, spaceships, robots, mad scientists and/or aliens per se do not and did not appeal to me. The primary draw of SF is as Jones says, "...perhaps sf's greatest aesthetic gift...[it] brings us closest to experiencing the romance of the scientific endeavour." This sense of wonder is the true appeal of SF. Indeed, "...the sf audience will go on coming back for more, as long as the ...message is wrapped in ...wonder, delight and playful invention."
What do you think?

Keep sending us your icon-filled stories!

All quotes from James, Edward, and Mendlesohn, Farah, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 2003.

07 October 2010

Make or Break Dialogue

Dialogue can make or break a story. Three ways to "break" a story with dialogue are:

1. Make most of the story dialogue. If the story reads like you are overhearing a long conversation between two characters, beware. This has the effect of distancing the reader from the story, taking action off stage, and minimizing setting details.

2. Including no or minimal dialogue. If you scan through a story and don't see any quotation marks, it could be a sign that there is too much narrative and not enough action.

3. Meaningless dialogue. We hear and engage in meaningless dialogue every day: "Hi, how are you?" "Fine. And you?" I'm good. Nice weather." "Yup. Really sunny." We're bored enough engaging in these interactions in real life--we don't want to experience again via a short story.

Three ways dialogue can "make" a story:

1. Intrigue. A character says something that creates conflict, establishes a mystery, or give a subtle clue about how their world works.

2. Insight. The dialogue reveals something about a character's goals, morals, or (important) backstory.

3. Originality. A character speaks with a unique rhythm or vocabulary. (This does not mean trying to write in an accent, which does not often work).

05 October 2010

Does SF influence science or science influence SF?

I have a sort of 'chicken and egg' question for you: Does SF influence science or does science influence SF? To investigate, I'm going to look at Kim Stanley Robinson's 1993 novel Red Mars. In Red Mars Robinson addresses many scientific issues including manned missions to Mars, terraforming, experimental gerontology, and overpopulation.

Let's look first at manned space travel and more specifically a manned mission to Mars. Robinson describes his characters leaving earth in explicit detail:At first it felt like a shove in the chest. Then they were pushed back in their chairs... The Ares had been orbiting Earth at 28,000 kilometers per hour. For several minutes they accelerated, the rockets' push so powerful that their vision blurred as corneas flattened, and it took an effort to inhale. At 40,000 kilometers per hour the burn ended. They were free of the Earth's pull, in orbit to nothing but the sun.

Notice the numerous specific scientific elements; this is a hallmark of hard science fiction. In Kathryn Cramer's "Hard science fiction" she says, ...hard sf has digested the more disheartening findings of planetary exploration, and has begun to appreciate the planets as they actually are (rather than as we had hoped they might be)...

Robinson certainly describes the surface of Mars as it actually is, for example, The ground was a dark rusty orange, covered with an even litter of rocks the same color, although some of the rocks showed tints of red or black or yellow.

Although scientists haven't made it to Mars yet, in April 2010, President Obama called for a manned mission to Mars: "By the mid-2030's, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth,"said Obama. "A landing on Mars will follow," he added. (Information Week)

In Red Mars the pressures of overpopulation lead to a revolution on Mars, in which, It was not hard to destroy Martian towns. No harder than breaking a window, or popping a balloon.

Overpopulation may well be the greatest challenge humanity will ever face and is only now starting to be addressed by journalists. In July 2010 two articles appeared in The Independent. Steve Conner wrote an article which Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston says, "We really do have to look at where we are going in relation to population. If we don't do it, we may survive but we won't flourish..." ( The Independent)

Michael McCarthy described the concerns of environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, who says an inquiry into population is long overdue but "Governments have just found it too hot to handle..." (The Independent)

In fact, scientists have yet to begin to study how human population affects planet Earth, its climate, its ecology, and its resources because of the moral, ethical and political concerns surrounding population control. Let's hope something comes of these recent articles and scientists do address the issue before Earth undergoes its own revolution, because as John Clute writes in "Science fiction from 1980 to the present" The Mars trilogy ... is, of course, sf as advocacy... The stakes ...are high. ... By the twenty-first century, ... [Robinson] thinks, "rapid technological development on all fronts [has combined] to turn our entire social reality into one giant science fiction novel, which we are all writing together in the great collaboration called history."

I, for one, would prefer a happy ending to that story

So, what do you think? Does Science influence SF or is it the other way around?

04 October 2010

FYI Next Issue Deadline: Oct 15

FYI folks,
Our next issue deadline will be Oct 15, 2010, midnight U.S. Mountain Time.
Get your stories in before then to be considered for our November 30, 2010 issue!
Of course, if you miss that deadline, your story will be considered for our next issue...

01 October 2010


At the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference, we did a session on short stories. Lesley had the mic right then, discussing elements. Her mention that the story needs a protagonist, a character of some sort, got a laugh.

Don't laugh.

I had two stories in my last round of slush reading with no protagonist. No character. They weren't stories; they were vague summaries on the state of some world, the sort of rambling a writer might do as a world building exercise and then file away and never look at again. In short, they had no character, so there was no drama. No drama, no story.

I think I can safely speak for all the editors at Electric Spec, we require a character in each of our stories.

Some people think characters and plots are a chicken-or-an-egg kind of deal; some stories certainly reflect that line of thought with cardboard characters. Some people just think up plots first and others think up characters first; process seems to direct which side of the fence they sit on.

But picking a side of the fence is a colossal cop-out.

Sure, events can happen without a protagonist: worlds can form, glaciers can move, bombs can blow up nameless people. But they have no power, no oomph, no drama, without a character.

And characters can do stuff, yeah? They wander into vignettes, have interesting conversations. But without the structure of a plot, a plot that can only happen to that character, it has no meaning, no drama...

Sound familiar?

Mutually dependent? I'll raise you a thousand. Characters and plot are so tightly woven in good stories it can be tough to see where one picks up and the other leaves off. It could matter less which a writer dreams up first, but they'd better, at some point, become equally as concerned with the other, or their story will suffer.