Thursday, March 16, 2017

Top 5: Modern SF/F Magazines

I've often spoken and written about how short fiction is the life blood of sci-fi and fantasy. I grow more convinced of this all the time. Almost every great, well-known SF/F author has a massive backlog of short stories that you could peruse. Hell, some of them made their entire living on short fiction.

But that lifeblood doesn't flow if nobody can pay for those short stories… so magazines. People have to read magazines for the magazines to pay authors. And there's a lot of them out there. The list I have here is in no way extensive. These are just my five favorite SF/F rags this week. They're all magazines I think deserve a little support, because they do good work. They put out quality fiction, and that should be rewarded, in my opinion.

5: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
It would be hard to do this list without mentioning this particular magazine. It's been around since before the web (This marks year 67 of publication), and it's collected a lot of just straight-up quality pieces in that time. It's hard to apply a general qualifier to all of the work they publish, as it really ranges across the board. The only thing that ties it all together is how plain-old good the fiction is.

You can get a subscription to them starting at around $37. Why such a steep price? We're talking physical magazines in your mailbox.

4: Daily Science Fiction
While the whole body of work isn't going to be to everyone's tastes (They publish five days a week, 52 weeks per year.), something in DSF is going to appeal to everyone. My main reason for including this one is that it's free. Completely free, a short (Very short) story delivered to your inbox five days a week, entirely free of charge.

So if you want to subscribe, just go over here.

3: Shimmer
Shimmer is a weird one. I'm not judging – they'll admit it. Their fiction is beautifully written and stylistic. A lot of magazines focus on how their fiction isn't pretentious and doesn't take itself to seriously. Shimmer is pretentious and it does take itself seriously. Very seriously, in the best of ways. It's the very fact that the authors take their work so seriously that makes Shimmer such an incredible magazine to read.

Shimmer is just $15/year, so why not give them a chance?

2: Fireside Magazine
Shimmer is strange. Fireside is strange, but more accessible to the general populous. Very heavy focus on character and concept If those are the kinds of things you like to see in your stories, I really can't recommend Fireside heavily enough. They're very selective, and it really shows.

They're also free, but they pay their authors very well, and they're entirely kept afloat by crowdfunding, so consider throwing something atthem, if you enjoy their work.

1: Clarkesworld Magazine
Now, I love all the magazines before this, as well as a lot of others that didn't make the list (Basically just because I didn't have space.). But this one was always going to be on the list. It was always going to be number one on the list. If I had to pick one SF/F mag to read for the rest of my life, it would be Clarkesworld. There's just something about these stories. They are purely character-driven, more than any other selection of short fiction I've ever seen. Their stories are consistently up for various awards when that season rolls around. It's one of very few sources of fiction that has provided me with a story that changed the way I think about science fiction and writing and the way short stories should be structured.

They run as low as $2.99 per issue, so it's pretty hard to beat that, in my opinion. I can't recommend a Clarkesworld Subscription enough. I really, really can't.

And that's my little primer on SF/F mags. As I said, there are a lot more of them out there that I didn't get to put in. Maybe I'll put them into another post… or two… or three. However many it takes.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Voss

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On "Arrival," Sapir-Whorf, and "Bad Science"

So, let's just get this one out of the way: there are probably spoilers in here for Arrival. So if you haven't seen it and you're planning on it, you've been properly warned.



Now that's done, let's get right into it – Dumbledore dies at the end. I know, I didn't see it coming either. It was a really weird change of pace from the aliens and science and spaceships and shit, but who am I to question someone else's artistic vision?

But really, Arrival was one that I was initially very unenthused about (Jesus, that word looks weird. I don't think I've ever seen "unenthused" written down before…). It looked like one more first contact movie, and one that was going to be taking itself a little bit too seriously to really hit any of the magic that it could have had. So of course, I didn't see it in theaters (Also because I don't watch movies in theaters. I think the last one I saw on the big screen was The Force Awakens.).

Then I found out the main character was a linguist. As a writer and as a general nerd, that really got my attention. I think we need more sci-fi with actual scientists as main characters. People doing science in science fiction shouldn't be as hard to find as it currently is. So that convinced me to watch it. Plus, at two bucks, it was more than worth the rental price (Bless those little DVD machines that sit in grocery stores, and bless whoever decided they wanted to put one in Podunk-ville, BFE Washington.).

Now, this is where we get into real spoilers, so your last warning. I won't tell you again. Flee now.

Okay, so the actual premise for Arrival is something known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. There's lots of articles online and lots of information about it, so I won't go into great detail on the specifics or the history. You need to know two things about it for this article to really make sense.

1: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, in a nutshell, states that language shapes human perception of the world. A person who learned about the world in Chinese will have not just different words, but a different experience of life.

2: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is, at best, heavily disputed and, at worst, a crock of shit. It all depends on which linguist you ask, but the linguists who subscribe to Sapir-Whorf are few and far between.



Why didn't they know about this? How could their science be so bad? That ruins the entire movie! God damn you Hollywood, stop contributing to the dumbing down of America!

I'm sure some people out there would have that reaction learning this information. It did initially strike me as odd when I looked into it, I admit, but I had to stop and question why… and hence, we have this entire post.

I'll get this out of the way now, then explain it: I don't think using Sapir-Whorf as the basis of the movie in any way devalues the film.

Now yes, you could argue that we should be following modern trends in linguistics if we're going to make a movie about linguistics (Also: let's just stop and appreciate the fact that there's a big-budget, popular film about linguistics out there now.). But again, I have two points to make.

1: Science fiction has always, at its core, been an exploration of possibility. What if you traveled 10,000 years into the future of Earth? What if dragons were genetically created? What if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was not only valid, but correct?

2: Sapir-Whorf has to be correct for Arrival to get its message across. It's about determinism, and Sapir-Whorf provided an opening for them to explore that (I'm skipping steps in there, obviously, but that's the simplified version.).

Some people will posit that, because it's not realistic enough, it's just no good. But really, did any of us expect a realistic movie about first contact? No. But what we got was, if questionably possible, very intellectually stimulating. There aren't many movies out there anymore that exist entirely to make you question things, to make you think about the world in-depth. They tend to be considered "too risky" for big production companies, I would imagine. They can make much more money by pumping out Fast­2(Furious + 47X) or whatever naming convention they go with this time around (Seriously, those movies are a mess and a half. I enjoy them… but what ever happened to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7?).

My hypothesis that I'm sure will be proven wrong? Arrival opened a door that we can start to get some more intellectual works through. We can start to have stimulating thought experiments and breakdowns of science in the two hours we spend glued to the screen watching the next big-name flick.

But even though that's almost definitely not correct and almost certainly won't happen, I think Arrival is an important movie, both for its daring and for me personally. It dared to be smart. And it made me think. It got me thinking. I hope it gets everyone else thinking, too, but it sent me down this particular rabbit-hole.

Being smart is fun. Learning is fun. Knowing things is fun. Sometimes we just need a bit of a reminder of that, and I think Arrival—in large part thanks to its use of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis—can be that. It can do that.

To me, that's worth more than all the correct hypotheses in the world.


Voss

Thursday, February 9, 2017

5 Quintessential Short Stories

Well, it's still snowing and still cold. If I keep mentioning that, and then I die in the snowpocalypse, this will… well, all the mentions of the weather will probably make this actually horribly dull to read, in the end. So let's get past that.

You may have noticed that I've been talking about short stories a lot lately. I've mentioned that I refocused to increase my short story output. That involves reading a lot of them, and thinking about them a lot. And I've been thinking about sort of the quintessential list of short stories. Or at least my list of quintessential short stories. Some of them are new, a lot of them are old, and they're not in any quantifiable order. I just wanted to put them out in the world for people to see. And there's only five, because I would have been here all day if I didn't give myself some kind of limit. There are obviously many, many more stories out there worth the time to read.

1: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
This is one that still haunts me with its… everything. It's a brilliant piece of magical realism that really deserves to be read and scrutinized and discussed. It has been, but not by everyone. It resides in Yale and Harvard classrooms instead of in raucous bars and cocktail parties. Which is where it belongs, because it's really a story for everyone.

2: Berenice
I pretty regularly cite this as the best of Poe. It's body horror. It's eerie. It deals with some strange family relationships (And by strange, I mean potentially illegal by modern standards.). There's insanity. It's everything there is to love about Poe, all together at last. It's so dear to me, in fact, that I wrote an homage to it (Here, if you're interested.).

3: Today I am Paul
This is a recent one. It was up for a Hugo last year, but I feel no remorse putting it on this list. Poignant, well-written, and surprising. It's an emotional ride through the future well worth taking.

4: For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn
That's both the title and the entirety of the text. Six words that really show what language can convey. I've always said the goal of flash fiction is not to tell a story, but to capture an emotion, and this is one that succeeds beyond belief.

5: Flowers for Algernon (Can't give you a link for free on this one. Still under copyright!)
Absolutely one that must be read. I've been through the short story as well as the novel that spawned from it. While I will always recommend the novel version of this, the short story completely deserves its place on this list.

Those are my five. They'll probably change by this time next year. Or even next month. But for now, this is the list. What are your short story recommendations for me (And the rest of the comments.)?

Voss

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: The Long List Volume 2

So, if you've been hanging around for a bit, you might have noticed the odd review float by, and you might have noticed that I settled on a format: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Highly original? Of course not, but it works.

Then what's this? Well, it's a review of a book that really doesn't work with that… in point of fact, it's not even a review of a whole book. It's about half a book, since there's a fairly clear delineation between the two halves. This is a review of The Long List Volume 2. Or the short stories therein, at least.


What is The Long List? Well, to know that you have to know The Hugo Awards. They're fan-voted awards in the SF/F community, and one of the categories is for best short fiction of the year. There's only 1 winner and 5 semi-finalists, for lack of a better term, but there are a lot of other stories that get mentioned almost enough to make that "short list." That's The Long List, and it's been compiled into an anthology by the wonderful David Steffen over at Diabolical Plots, and made available for everyone's compact, easy reading pleasure.

So why am I only doing half? Well, there are a lot of shorts, but for stretch goals for the crowdfunding to make the book happen, novellas were included. I'll be doing those as a separate post. Or possibly more than one, depending how in-depth I go with each one. But that's enough of this pointless chattering explanation: onto the fiction!

(Note: there are two non-fiction pieces in here as well. If I cover them, they'll be on their own as well.)

Damage by David D. Levine: This was a well-written piece, but not particularly mind-blowing. It's a solid story with good writing, and it was an enjoyable read, but I do feel like I've seen all the elements before, just not in precisely that configuration.

Pockets Amal El-Mothar: If you enjoy magical realism, this will be a real standout for you. I was thrilled to see representation for a genre that seems to be largely pushed aside. That said, the plot is the weak point. This story is all about concept and execution, and in those places it succeeds.

Today I am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker: Holy shit, guys. This one. I had specific complaints about the first two. They were good, but flawed. This story is… perfect. If nothing else, try this one out of the anthology. And keep the tissues ready.

Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer by Megan Grey: Not only well written, but placed very well after Today I am Paul to lighten things up. It's got brash humor and adult language and it works beautifully: what else would you expect from a rebellious teenager and a retired demon?

Wooden Feathers by Ursula Vernon: Both beautiful and bittersweet, this story all by itself convinced me to take a harder look at Ursula Vernon. Gorgeous imagery, surprising plot twists, and subtle writing make this both brilliant fiction and a wonderful statement about art and artists.

Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard: This one is unique, and it revels in that. With a distinctly non-Western vibe permeating everything, it's intriguing, but perhaps not for everyone. Don’t look for a tight, gripping plot. Don't look for a plot at all. At most, you'll find a shadow. But these three short vignettes create something magical and haunting that's well worth the read.

Madeleine by Amal El-Mothar: This, for me, is one of the two weakest stories in the collection. It's still very strongly written, has emotional impact, is compelling enough to carry you through the story… but we really have seen this exact thing quite a lot. Don't go into this one expecting really anything original at all.

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon: This is really, truly an atmospheric piece. A good high-middle quality piece for this collection. It's all about the setting and the main character. Nothing else really matters, and that's okay. That's exactly the way this story should be. It's perfectly quirky and odd in all the right places.

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong: Wow. This one doesn't seem like much of anything at first, and it unfolds a million delicate, beautiful petals. It's very rich and sensory. If you like strong descriptions, you'll love this one, no doubt.

So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer: All right then. If I were to include an "Ugly" section in this review, it would be occupied by this story. Yes, the writing is cogent. I understand it. I obviously don't have a problem with epistolary storytelling. I have four books that do it. But this… it was dull. It felt dated by the threat of Bird Flu, as though this was written when that was a headline, but then kept in a trunk for whatever reason. And possibly the thing that hit it the hardest: it didn't feel like an SF/F story. The one speculative element—a much stronger Bird Flu epidemic—felt unimportant. It could have been any threat at all. But it also felt… mundane. It just missed all the marks for me, unfortunately.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsyn Muir: All right, this one sort of straddles the line between short story and novelette, so I'm tucking it in here. This one is delightful. I love the eldritch horror/lovecraft thing, I love psychics, and I love the general vibe this story provided. More than worth the read.

And there's that. I don't know when we'll finish off this review, since I'm plugging away at my work, but here's hoping it won't be too long. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shovel myself a walking path.


Voss

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year 2017

New Year, New Me…

Okay, I hate myself a little, even if I did type it entirely for the purpose of this joke. Feel free to stone me for that. Seriously.

This isn't going to be a big post, I just wanted to sincerely offer all of you my wishes for a happy 2017. Not just happy. Fulfilled and gorgeous and perfect. For someone who writes for a living (Writes with words, nonetheless.), I have an awful lot of trouble putting into words what all this means to me. Having you reading this, and reading my books. Whether you just found me or you've been here since this crazy adventure started all the way in 2011, it means the world to me that you're sitting on the other end of this screen, spending your time with whatever I've written. It's… see, I'm trying to use words and failing miserably. It brings me to tears knowing that I have this connection, and while I'm an admittedly emotional person (Seriously, I've been known to cry at Dora the Explorer.), it's still indicative of some pretty powerful emotions.

So in 2017: let's have more love and more learning and more light… and possibly something else that starts with "L," since I inadvertently locked myself into a pattern, apparently. Let's eat good food and drink fine wines and quality vodka. Let's hug people who need it and leave people behind who are bad for us. Let's cry and let's laugh and let's just do everything we've always wanted to do and been too afraid to try. Whatever that is for you, tackle it. Let's all tackle something good.

But just in general? I hope 2017 is the best year you've had yet.


Voss

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Wrap-Up

So Cat Rambo—current President of SFWA and an absolutely amazing human being. Seriously, if you haven't gotten the chance to spend some time with her, even in passing, do it—posted on Facebook, encouraging authors to collect up everything they had that could be Hugo or Nebula or whatever-other-award eligible from 2016. And a lot of people have taken the call to action… myself included, as it turns out. I think it's a good idea, both from a professional standpoint—if you do the work for them, maybe they'll be more likely to read your stuff—and from a personal standpoint—look at how much I did this year, go me.

So yeah, it is a little chance for authors to pat themselves on the back… and the way this year has been so far, I think we could all use a little upper.

So, what did Voss Foster put out in 2016 (Please shoot me. I just referred to myself in the third person completely unironically.)?

BOOKS

The Inn (EvenstadMedia Presents #3): Book Three of my dystopian epistolary sci-fi series. I feel like this one was a big improvement from the second book, which for me is the weakest of the series so far. I'll openly admit that. It's not bad, but it's not the strongest book.

The Tunnels(Evenstad Media Presents #4): Book four of the same series. This is the midpoint of the whole series, and it does exactly what I wanted it to. The stakes really ratchet up on every side of a very multi-faceted conflict in this book, and it sets up a good run for the climax (Note: this is very uncomfortable, talking about my own books this way. FYI. I apologize for the bragging.).


SHORTS AND ARTICLES

Rifle in Hand (Horseshoes,Hand Grenades, and Magic): This is less a story and more a vignette. An old woman is called in for a job that the young soldiers just can't quite seem to get right. And, as with all the stories in the anthology, close enough definitely counts.

Ivory (Merely Thisand Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk): My retelling of some classic body horror (Poe's Berenice.). It's, to me, the most horrifying of all Poe's stories. Something about it is just chilling, and I was super-excited to get the chance to put a new spin on it. I won't say that I did it justice, but I'd like to think I at least managed a humble homage to one of literature's most talented masters.

I've Never Known aWorld Without Mass Shootings (Vox.com): This was my gut reaction to… everything. I started really looking into it after the San Bernadino shooting, and actually had a very early draft of the same article that I wrote just for myself at that point. It had finally become too much after that, and I had to do something. Writing is what I know. After Pulse in Orlando, I tossed it out into the world, and it really caught fire. I'm still proud of this one. I'm proud of all my work, but this one is really special to me, because it's so real and so raw.

Hii Shadir(Domesticated Velociraptors): Apparently 2016 was the year of the vignette, because this is skirting very close to that, as well. But with a concept as intriguing as "domesticated velociraptors," I couldn't very well pass up the chance to write for it.

In the end, 2016 was a pretty light year for publishing, but it was also the best financial year I've had since I started writing professionally. I feel like I made strides and am really in a good position for 2017. Also, I'm back to the crazy idea of undertaking the Bradbury Challenge. The whole thing: 1000 poems, 1000 essays, 1000 short stories, and a short story written every week. I've attempted this all in the past, but I'm determined. So keep me on track if you see me straying. By any means necessary.

Here's to 2017 being better… because it would have to try pretty hard to be worse…


Voss

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Shameful Author Secrets: Hidden Books

I'm going to spill one of those dirty, dirty little authorial secrets to you all. This could get me killed, so if I disappear… well, I hope it was all worth it.



Okay, it's not that big of a deal, per se, but it is something that authors maybe don't talk about as much, even in this wide and open new world of indie authors where nothing's really a secret anymore. This is still something that, in my experience, authors hold close to their breast and don't let out into the world. Well, I'm going to let it out right now. Here it goes… any second now.

Okay: there are books we want to write that we probably won't, and books we want to publish that may never see the light of day. And I'm not just talking about the whole "Authors have more ideas than they have time" thing. This is different. Let me just toss some examples out. Names redacted to protect the innocent, of course.

I have a very close friend who made her career writing romantic suspense novels. That's her brand. It's what she does. But I also hear a lot about wanting to write straight-up thrillers from her. She wants, just once, to try tossing the romance aside and going for a suspense/thriller novel. She also has a book that she wrote already that doesn't fit the romantic suspense themes, so it's sitting untouched.

Yes, this is a thing that happens.

Another friend dreams of writing action/adventure novels in the vein of Indiana Jones, but SF/F series are everywhere already. Again, we have a difference in branding and, yes, not much time to devote to things that aren't really on-brand.

I'm in the same boat, too. I'm constantly toying with the idea of writing a series of crime novels a la Criminal Minds or Bones or something like that. Shorter, episodic, and character driven. But they aren't what I've got plastered all over the internet as what I do. I do speculative fiction. Which makes it a little tricky to consider doing something so comparatively "mundane" as crimes on Earth with regular people.

And I, too, have a book written that is just sitting there. Two, in fact, with the third one due to be written in 2017. Yeah. Basically a series that I'm just not doing things with. It's one that I personally love a lot, too. It's on-brand… but I am nervous. And this is one you especially won't hear authors talk about. But we're all friends here, right? No one on the internet is ever mean or cruel to strangers, right?

Oh... nevermind.

I am nervous about it, though. I love it maybe a little too much. Enough that I still tout it as my best work… that no one can ever get their hands on. I tell myself how brilliant it is every time I think about it, but it's not out in the world. It's been schlepped to a couple agents, but that's it. I haven't really been ready to pull the trigger.

I wish I was here to tell you that I'm going to put it up immediately. I'm not, however. I'm still holding onto it until there comes a time when I'm flat-out ballsy enough to tackle it. And that might come in 2017. I hope it does. But we'll see, won't we?

So next time you encounter an author… well, just know that we have those nerves and those hidden professional desires. I don't know what you're going to do with that knowledge, but hold it close. Maybe it'll help you remember that we're just people, too. Personally, I have a hard time remembering that one, even from the other side.

Voss