Being a Better Writer: Science-Fiction

Hello readers! Welcome back! I trust you had a good weekend?

I certainly did! Shadow of an Empire picked up another Five-Star review, which while not being a title that fits with the genre today’s post is about, is certainly something that I’m happy about regardless. The reviewer in question stated that they found Shadow of an Empire while looking for fantasy books that had deeply developed hard magic systems, and to that end they were incredibly impressed (and thoroughly enjoyed) just how deeply the magic was laced through the world, characters, society, and setting.

They also expressed sadness that there was only one title to date in the series (well, they probably don’t know about the short in Unusual Things, or weren’t counting it because it was, after all, a short). And to that I say “I have plans.” But I need to finish up Starforge and the UNSEC Space Saga first.

Okay, news done. Let’s get down to details with today’s (admittedly) broad topic of a post: Science-Fiction. First of all, what do I mean titling a post with such a broad, generic term?

Well, as long-time readers of the site may recall, I’ve done genre posts before. Such as the post on Westerns, or the one on Mysteries. And doing a genre post on Science-Fiction has been on my list for a while because, well … There’s a lot of disagreement out there about what Science-Fiction is.

Yeah. Again, what is the internet but a location for people to argue over whose lack of knowledge is greater? Even outside of the internet though, the subject of “What is Sci-Fi” in the last decade has become a topic of much debate. And I don’t mean “debate” in the terms of “Let’s sit down and have a calm discussion” either. More often than not the “debates” over what Science-Fiction “truly is” devolve into people speaking or shouting past one another … or threats and disparaging comments made about the parentage or life of anyone who disagrees.

In other words, if you’ve heard of how the internet, from Twitter to conventions, has become a “battleground for Science-Fiction and Fantasy” in the last decade, the argument over what Science-Fiction is most assuredly plays a part in that debate.

So why talk about it then? Well, because I happen to believe that one entire side of that argument is wrong. At which point I’ll forewarn that this means I’ve “entered the debate” and taken a side that could see all kinds of disparaging things thrown at me or said about me. But it’s not just that one side is wrong, but that the debate has become so fierce that there are a lot of people out there that legitimately don’t know what Science-Fiction is anymore. The term has become empty, or misused. The term has been diluted and at odds with itself through its various definitions.

Which in turn has led to no small amount of confusion among both readers and writers alike. It’s hard to go a few days anymore without seeing a discussion of Science-Fiction online where someone doesn’t bring up a book only to have someone else say “Well, that might be a nice book, but it’s not Science-Fiction and therefore not germane to this discussion.” Or bring up something that they’re working on writing, only to have someone post “I’m sorry, but that’s not Science-Fiction. If you want it to be Science-Fiction you’ll need to dump these elements and do this.

Of course, by hopping into this “debate” there is some risk, in a small way, that I’m simply contributing to what the webcomic XKCD as the “standards” problem. But I’ll try not to, as after all, Science-Fiction has been around for centuries, and a fixed definition for decades now (newcomers trying to change it notwithstanding). So with all this said, let’s dive in, starting with the answer to the following question: what is Science-Fiction?

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Being a Better Reader: Stocking for Covid-19

Hello readers! Welcome back! Though you may notice something a little different in the title today.

There have been a few times in the past when I’ve done Being a Better Writer posts that are jokingly titled Being a Better Reader, though not without reason, as each of them was about exactly that. Today, with everything that’s going on in the world, I figured it was time for another one of those.

If you’re confused at all about this post, than I’d urge you to open a new tab and look up news on Covid-19, AKA the Coronavirus. We’re officially in a global pandemic, with cases spreading and multiplying fast enough that whole countries are shutting down. Economies too, with most jobs either having their people work from home or shutting down entirely. My own part-time was among the latter, as were a lot of other jobs worked by people I know. Borders are closing, countries going into lockdown …

Thankfully, these places are doing this to slow the spread, and it is showing signs of helping. I’m not a WHO-speaker or a CDC doctor, though, so I’ll say no more on that front save the standard rallying cries during this pandemic of—

Stop shaking people’s hands. Wash your hands! Don’t touch your face.

Seriously people. Stop doing all three. Fight the spread.

While we’re at it, fight misinformation. Stop, think, and source before spreading something like “Salt water kills the infection!” It doesn’t, and 41 people in South Korea got infected because they believed the salt water thing and shared the same water among themselves.

Okay, so with all this going on, what does it have to do with today’s post? Simple: There are a lot of people around the world who are under quarantine right now, for one reason or another. Either they’re under a full quarantine, where they may have been exposed and are stuck inside a room for two weeks, or they’re under another quarantine where their country has entirely shut down and they’re unable to leave their house. Or they’re under a loose quarantine (my words, not anyone else’s) like the US where their job has shut down and any gathering of more than 50 people has been requested to not happen by the CDC.

In other words, a decently large-sized chunk of the world right now has a lot of free time on their hands. They’re out of work, Earth is closed, and they’re just sitting at home wondering what to do.

At home entertainment, in other words, is spiking. Streaming services and gaming portals like Steam are already setting records for usage. Everyone’s got time on their hands. People are looking for things to do that allow them to stave off cabin fever while stuck at home for the foreseeable future.

Have they considered books?

This brings us to the point of today’s post: Books and series to read during the Covid-19 pandemic. A massive collection of reading material to keep one occupied during the outbreaks. Pages and pages and pages to turn. My own works will be on the list, as well as the works of many other authors I’ve read and enjoyed. We’ll start with books, but then I’ll jump into webcomics that are perfect for an archive binge as well.

Now, a few things to note. 1) These stories will not be about disease. I’ve seen way too many lists of “Best books to read for the Coronavirus” or “Greatest books to read stuck inside during Covid-19” that are just every famous disease and plague book out there, like The Stand.

No. Not doing that. We’re living a pandemic right now. We don’t need escapism that’s just more of that, and worse. Sands, I’m not even going to be linking one of my favorite webcomics on this list, specifically because it’s about a world-ending plague. So no, no stories about disease.

2) Most of these stories will be Science-Fiction and Fantasy. Not too surprising, but I write Sci-Fi and Fantasy, so a lot of what I read tends to be Sci-Fi and Fantasy as well. What I link here is going to be stuff I’ve personally enjoyed.

3) Most entries on this list will be longer, multi-book series. Something you can really dig your teeth into. There will be some smaller, one-shot entries, but I’ll try and keep most of these recommendations in the realm of “This will take you some time.” Because most of the world has it right now.

4) I don’t get any financial compensation here save on my own books. All the books I’ll be linking that I didn’t write? I won’t get any compensation for you clicking the link and picking up a copy. If you buy one over the other and I didn’t pen it, it doesn’t matter to me … but it does matter to the author who wrote it (or their foundation if they’re no longer with us). I’m promoting them because they’re good reading material, not because I’m getting any sort of compensation (again, exception if you purchase one of my books from this list).

5) Click the cover to head to an Amazon ebook page. I don’t get any compensation for that, first off. But if you’re interested in the book, then click the cover to go right to Amazon. By default the page will be for the ebook (no delivery, just download it!) but if you’re looking for a paperback to be delivered to your door, that’s probably an option for most of these as well.

6) I do recommend sharing this list! Especially if you liked what it had on display. Sharing helps more eyeballs discover it, which helps more people find new options for what to read, and in turn stave off boredom and cabin fever during this pandemic. So feel free to share away, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or wherever else you hang out!

That settles it, so hit the jump and let’s get to the list! We’re going to start with some smaller, one-shot books. Why? Maybe you’re new to reading or want to start small. That’s fine. We’ve gotcha covered. Hit the jump, and let’s see what’s out there!

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Parliament of Wizards Submission Call!

Readers! I have news! For you! Which I mentioned in Monday’s Being a Better Writer post but is finally getting its own post here. Submission calls are open for LTUE’s fourth Benefit Anthology, Parliament of Wizards!

If you’re stumbling across this post with no prior knowledge of what any of those things mean, let me catch you up. LTUE is Life, The Universe, and Everything, one of the best (if not the best) writing conventions out there, attended by hundreds of experienced authors and industry professionals all for one epic goal: To talk about writing in all its forms. This is a conference you come to in order to meet your favorite authors and then listen to them talk about the ins and outs of writing.

Better yet, since the goal of the conference is to help writers learn how to write, it’s also open to students and charges $5 for student attendees. LTUE is about giving resources and knowledge to writers of the world, and students are part of that.

Trace the StarsSo, in order to help keep that student cost low even as the con has grown again and again, the LTUE Benefit Anthologies were set up. These are collections of short stories written by a wide variety of authors, some new, some long-time industry vets that are household names, each around a themed topic, and sold entirely in support of the convention.

That’s right, the authors and editors don’t see a penny. All the proceeds from each sale go toward keeping LTUE running and making sure that the price for students stays at $5, so that the young would-be writers of today can get the education to help them become the writers of tomorrow.

To date, there have been two LTUE anthologies published. Trace the Stars, a collection of Science-Fiction stories, was the first and published in 2019. The second collection was published this year, just in February, and titled A Dragon and Her Girl (and I’m in that one!). The third collection, Twilight Tales, will be released next year (2021).

70081760_568294170598543_7425837595373862912_oWhich means that submissions have just opened for the next and fourth collection, Parliament of Wizards, 2022’s release! Stories about wizards. Submissions are open from now until April 30th, and not only is it a good place to submit a story too as they’re open to authors of all experience but again, it’s to help one of the best writing cons out there keep their costs down.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in submitting to, hit the jump for some more details and link to Hemelein Publications’ submissions page!

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Life, The Universe, and Everything 2020!

I’ve been waiting to make this post for months now, readers! But with the new year upon us, it’s finally time. Life, The Universe, and Everything 2020 is almost upon us, with a little over a month to go!

Some of you readers are cheering quietly (or perhaps loudly) while mentally double-checking your hotel reservation for next month, but some of you, I’m sure, I are looking at this post and thinking “Isn’t that a Douglas Adams book?” while wondering what I mean about next month. So before we go any further, let me clear that up.

First, yes, it is the title of one of Douglas Adams’ books. Life, the Universe, and Everything was the third book in his Hitchhiker series and released in 1982. So you’re not wrong there. However, that is the LtUE with a lowercase “t” on the “the.” The uppercase variant?

Why, it’s Life, The Universe, and Everything, the premier Fantasy and Science Fiction Writing Convention! With an uppercase “T.” But yes, it is a reference.

“All right,” some of you might say. “So it’s another Sci-Fi/Fantasy con. So?” To which I’d reply “No, not exactly.”

See, LTUE is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing con. While other conventions are about getting together just to have fun dressing up and meeting authors and creators, LTUE is different. LTUE is about creation. Where other Sci-Fi/Fantasy cons will have panels where you can meet your favorite author and ask questions about your favorite series or listen to them talk about their favorite moments from the book, LTUE has panels where you come to hear your favorite authors talk about the art of writing.

That’s right. Hundreds of authors on hundreds of panels, talking about writing. How to write. Pitfalls. Elements you may not have considered. Topics for days.

That’s right, LTUE is a convention for writers who want to learn more about writing. With panels given by some of the biggest names in the industry. While also having signings, art shows, game rooms, and all the fun stuff you’d expect from a regular con.

In other words, if you’re a writer of any level interested in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, LTUE is the con to go to. For learning, for networking, for even just having fun chatting with favorite authors or new ones! It’s the con.

Okay, so that’s what LTUE is. Oh, and if you’re a student (college or k-12), tickets are … around $5. For three days of con awesome.

In other words, what are you waiting for? The website is here, reserve your ticket! And while you’re at it, take a look at their guestlist and schedule to start planning what panels you’d like to attend!

While you’re at it, you may notice a familiar name on the Guestlist and attached to a number of panels! Which brings me to the second reason for today’s post: Letting you all know that yes, I will be at LTUE this year, paneling once more! And signing, and doing a reading …

It’s going to be a big year for me this LTUE. A very big year. I’m pumped.

But it means that, in addition to letting you all know that LTUE is approaching (February 13th-15th), I also get to have the wonderful pleasure this year of putting up my LTUE panel schedule, letting you all know where you can find me over the course of the con! So, without further ado, a list of all the LTUE appearances I’ll be making this year! I’ll repost this as we get closer to the date of the actual con, but for now: Get ready and excited! It’s coming!

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Jungle Releases in One Week

One week, readers. One. Week!

We are one week away from the release of my biggest book ever, and the sequel to Colony. It’s almost here. All you readers are about to get your hands on Jungle. Are you ready?

You should be. Jungle sees the return of Jake, Anna, and Sweets after their mission to Pisces. You know, the one where everything went crazy? Well, certain folks back on Earth aren’t too happy with how the trio handled things. Not happy at all.

You can pre-order Jungle now to make sure you’ve got your copy right as they start releasing next Tuesday. Just click that cover! But if you’ve already secured your copy, hit the jump past the cover and synopsis for another early preview!

Jungle Cover

Jake, Anna, and Sweets are back in the long-awaited sequel to Colony!

Fresh off their mission to Pisces, the trio is looking forward to a well-deserved rest, and better yet, a fat paycheck after everything that occurred on the alien world. But all that comes to a crashing halt when they’re waylaid above Earth by their employer and find themselves with an extended contract, sending them right back out into space.

Worse yet, their trio has been split to best handle their new assignments. Jake and Anna find themselves attached to a scientific expedition, tasked as security escorts keeping the expedition safe as they investigate a new potential colony world thriving with a vast, vibrant jungle. Meanwhile, Sweets has been assigned aboard an UNSEC military vessel, tracking down the source of a pervasive cyberattack against their hardware.

But as both teams get to work, it’s clear that there may be more to their respective missions than they were led to believe. The cyberattacks are brazen and powerful, but simplistic and utterly untraceable. The alien world’s ecology defies logic and sense, puzzling the expedition team.

And above it all, the ripples of events on Pisces continue to spread through the galaxy …

Hit the jump for a third and final preview!

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Jungle Now Available for Pre-Order!

After three years it’s finally here!

Jungle Cover

That’s right folks, as some of you saw yesterday in the news header to Being a Better Writer, the sequel to Colony is at last available for pre-order! You can click that link right there, or the cover image to go right to Amazon and secure your copy right now. Which, as of posting, is two weeks out from the November 19th release date!

Here’s a synopsis:

Jake, Anna, and Sweets are back in the long-awaited sequel to Colony!

Fresh off their mission to Pisces, the trio is looking forward to a well-deserved rest, and better yet, a fat paycheck after everything that occurred on the alien world. But all that comes to a crashing halt when they’re waylaid above Earth by their employer and find themselves with an extended contract, sending them right back out into space.

Worse yet, their trio has been split to best handle their new assignments. Jake and Anna find themselves attached to a scientific expedition, tasked as security escorts keeping the expedition safe as they investigate a new potential colony world thriving with a vast, vibrant jungle. Meanwhile, Sweets has been assigned aboard an UNSEC military vessel, tracking down the source of a pervasive cyberattack against their hardware.

But as both teams get to work, it’s clear that there may be more to their respective missions than they were led to believe. The cyberattacks are brazen and powerful, but simplistic and utterly untraceable. The alien world’s ecology defies logic and sense, puzzling the expedition team.

And above it all, the ripples of events on Pisces continue to spread through the galaxy …

And if you’re looking for more, hit the jump for an excerpt from the early chapters of the book!

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The Shifting Tide of Employment – Follow Up

Hey there readers! Sorry for the lateness of this post. I just wanted to get a bit more work done on Axtara: Banking and Finance before I had a work shift tonight. But speaking of work, remember that post I made about two weeks ago about how employment as we know it is soon going to shift completely as increasing automation quickly overtakes everything? The one where I pointed out it’s already happening and only accelerating, and we need to figure out how we’re going to adapt to it?

If you don’t, or haven’t read it, than you really should. Not just because it’ll give some needed context to this post, but because it may bring to light some things you didn’t know or realize and should probably be thinking about. It was called The Shifting Tide of Employment – The Sci-Fi Future is Already Here. It produced a lot of talk in comments here and on other sites where it was linked, because most people don’t realize how swiftly this change is moving. It’s not “when will it come” because it’s already here. Which is kind of the point of the post, along with a note that in my personal opinion, as a culture and a society we are not prepared in the slightest for the magnitude of change this will bring.

And then yesterday, things shifted again. In my first post, or at least in one of the comments, I compared the coming of automation to be an avalanche that’s already started. We can’t stop it, but we need to figure out how we’re going to weather it. It can be a good thing, or a bad thing, but we need to make those decision now, not later. A video someone mentioned in the comments (and I’ll link it again in this post for good measure) compares us to horses looking at the car and wondering if it’ll ever replace us.

Yes. The answer is yes. And this week, we moved a step closer. Take a look at this video from Boston Dynamics:

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The Shifting Tide of Employment – The Sci-Fi Future is Already Here

Alright, I’m gonna preface this with the note that I hadn’t planned on writing this post today, but employment and job-related issues are on my mind since my part time job is, well, no longer any-time. Which means financially, I’m about to hit … well, I wouldn’t call it a speed bump. How about a guardrail? Or just the ditch?

Basically, I really appreciate those book sales, Kindle Unlimited reads, and Patreon Supporters right now. In the meantime, I’m digging around for similar part-time work or gigs and selling off a few unneeded items.

That’s all I’ll say on the matter, but it has put the context of this post in mind. Which has been one I’ve been meaning to write for a while now. Because, well, what was Science Fiction a decade ago is right now becoming Science Fact (or already is), and in some cases I worry too many aren’t noticing.

All right, I’ll back up. What really sparked the genesis of this post was a post I read about six-seven months ago on someone else’s site that was, though I don’t remember the exact title,  basically “Automation is a Paper Tiger.” This article, from a fellow Sci-Fi author, mind you, was basically a giant opinion piece against automation (and in this context, we mean the broad-scale rollout of AIs and robots to replace most human workers).

If you’re thinking ahead and wondering “Hey, what happens to all those workers?” you’re on the right track. But let me get back to that.

This was, the article writer declared, impossible. Not only was it decades, maybe centuries away, it was a pipe dream. Companies will always need human employees, and robots couldn’t possibly do a job that a human did. They offered examples of jobs they (and commentators) believed were impossible for a machine to take over, like trucking (18-wheeler shipping). They were adamant that it was all just fearmonging, that no one had any cause to be worried about their job disappearing, it was all hearsay, etc etc.

I believe they were wrong. Actually, no, they are wrong. Why? Well, for starters, some of the very jobs they offered as examples of jobs that couldn’t be replaced by robots? Well …

Yeah, they’re already being replaced.

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Genre VS Literary and the Cult of Twitter

Hey readers! Got an interesting one for you today. Sort of a call-back, almost, to last week’s post on “pulp” not being a stand-in for “fun.” Once again, brought up by an online discussion I saw in a reading sphere.

Oh, and the cover image there will make sense. Just bear with me for a bit.

This is a discussion that I suspect many of you have heard repeatedly if you’ve hung out in certain reading spheres, but a poster had dropped in to ask what the difference was between “genre” and “literary” as he’d seen both used often. They also pointed out that genre seemed to be used as a derogatory term, while literary was used as a form of praise, and wanted to know what they could do as a new reader to identify these “literary” books so they could get the best experience.

That poor soul, right? Okay look, I’ll level with all of you readers here: The division between them is largely nothing. Nothing but pretentiousness on the part of the reader or, in some cases, the author. We’ll get more into this here in a little bit, and along with a really neat example that just kind of shows exactly how foolish the whole debate is, but up front, and in reality … “Literary” is 99.9% hindsight. Those books that are written up-front as “literary works” tend to be overblown masses of text because the author went in with the goal of producing some overblown level of “literary prose.”

Wow, listen to those lighters being held up to torches. I call it like it is folks. Also, I know who’s lighting those torches: The same people that get uppity and snooty about “literary” versus “genre.” Because they hold what some of the people in the resultant discussion did, that only “literary” is worth reading, and that it’s “different” from everything else in a way that makes it superior.

How? Well, let’s start with the definition that was offered by these defenders of “literary” virtue. They explained to this poor poster that “genre” was a story that was just focused on cookie-cutter elements. As they put it, it was fiction that was heavily dependent specific narrative devices, had a niche market, and would not be of interest outside that market because of those narrative devices. It was further declared that genre boiled down to driven by plot and formula according to stereotype.

Meanwhile, they explained that “literary” works were those that ascended beyond cliche and genre to tackle interesting topics, explore new things, and be enticing to those readers outside of genre.

Bleh.

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Being a Better Writer: You Can’t Make Up Rules When the Reader Knows What They Are

Welcome back readers! It’s JUNE!

Right, I know. Hunter/Hunted isn’t out yet. But I’d plan on it this month. Editing is … well, it’s a process. Both it and Jungle are inching closer toward release … But that’s all that needs to be said there. Right now?

Right now, we’re going to talk about some small rules of writing. Small but vital, and which fall under that mouthful of a title up above.

Now some of you might have guessed, and correctly, that today’s title falls under a rule I’ve talked about more than once on this site: Always do the research. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, from hydraulics to genetics, you need to do the research.

But today just isn’t quite about that. It falls under the same umbrella, absolutely, but there’s a bit more to it. While “always do the research,” whenever I’ve said it, has almost always been about the big things … today is more about the small things, and less about the science of something works and more the methodology.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re going to write about a character studying genetics at a college somewhere in the US, you should work to get the genetic information right. But what about the order in which they study about genetics. What about their classes, or the way their teachers present information? The way their labs are set up?

See, while you may be able to make up material that can fill all those gaps, and get the science right, you can also run into a problem of someone else who’s been through that experience or adjacent to it might be able to look right at it and say ‘Wait a minute, those two things are correct, yes … but they’re also out of order.’

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