Monthly Archive: March 2009

Mind Melding with the Best

I was invited to participate in another SF Signal Mind Meld, which are quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do. This time the question was, who were the funniest writers in the history of Science Fiction? Adam Roberts, Dave Freer, Don Sakers, Elizabeth Hull, Esther Friesner, Frederik Pohl*, Gardner Dozois, Jim C. Hines, Joe Haldeman, Joe R. Lansdale, John Zakour, Mike Resnick, Simon Haynes, Spider Robinson, and myself took a swing at it.

Of course, if the question had been, who’s the funniest writer in SF after three cocktails and no dinner? the answer would have been me, by a long mile.



Well, new best friend Ja’Michael Bush attempted to create a Wikipedia page for Your Humble Author here, which lasted about three seconds before the Powers That Be Wikipedia took it down. I never even got to see the actual page. <sniffles, looks away manfully as he masters his emotions> This is getting embarrassing, really. I’ve got what, the 356th best-selling science-fiction noir paperback books in the English-speaking world, and I don’t rank a Wiki? Jeff is the sad clown today.

We might have to splinter off and start Somerspedia. Who’s with me? Hello?

Living in the Cloud

Y’know, you just don’t have to read, watch, or listen to anything any more. Welcome to the future, and the future is spoilers.

This is not an anti-spoiler rant. I have no worries over spoilers. Demanding that every piece of entertainment be delivered to you pristine and unexplained in any way is ludicrous; half of the power of good fiction is poring over it and gleaning the details, the references, the tiny points that reward careful attention. If knowing the ending to a story ruins that story for you, then 99% of the literature and filmed entertainment ever produced is already ruined for you, and that’s just sad for you, to be that limited.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go into new things fresh – for example, you don’t mind that you know how The Lord of the Rings ends, you still re-read it occasionally, but when Watchmen comes out, you want to remain ignorant of it until you watch the movie so you can experience it as pure new story, well, that’s fine. But if someone does spoil the story for you, the only reasonable reaction is to shrug and go see the movie anyway, because if the story’s any good, it won’t matter.

Anyway: This is not an anti-spoiler rant; I sleep on a mattress made of spoilers and I sleep well. No, this is about the Cloud.

The Cloud is the web, mainly, although it’s also people around you. The Cloud is the repository of spoilers out there, the ongoing discussions about TYV shows, books, and movies. The Cloud basically contains the entire plot of every new book, movie, or TV show, plus the detail analysis and exhaustive revelation of Easter Eggs. The Cloud means that you no longer have to watch or read anything in order to be perfectly familiar with it.

I have never watched an episode of the new Battlestar Galactica. Yet, I can give you a decent plot summary and even discuss the basic themes of the show, and a smattering of the complaints people have had. It’s like I’ve actually watched it. All because of web sites like I09 and the like – hell, I’ve seen clips, read detailed reviews and analysis. Having never actually watched the show, I could convince you otherwise at a party.

Part of this is because I am a Catholic-church-trained liar, and we Catholics learn to lie with the best. I could also convince you I am wearing pants, when I clearly am not. But I digress.

I have also never seen the movie Watchmen or read the graphic novel, but I know the plots of both, plus a boatload of background details. Am I a mindreading genius? No, I’ve simply read so much about it, I’m like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day: I’ve been around for so long I know everything. IO9 even provided a handy analysis of the opening credits sequence for me, which gave me an abundance of tiny detail to work with.

We are entering a period of time when you don’t actually have to read or watch something to know all about it. Yes, you’re missing the wonderful details, the craft, and the joy of good writing. But on the other hand, you can now, in a way that was impossible not so long ago, determine pretty exactly whether you’re truly interested in a book, movie, or TV show before you actually put much time and effort into it. Just by dipping into the Cloud, you can get very good idea if you’re going to like something before you invest in it. And that’s a good thing, I think. But then, I don’t fear spoilers. I only fear children. And adults. Stop judging me.

Fiction Science is Not Magic. Unless It *Is* Magic

I see my brother regularly; let’s call him Yan. Yan is a famous curmudgeon, dissatisfied with just about every movies, TV show, or book he’s ever digested, and we often have long talks about what he doesn’t like about The Entertainments the universe offers him. He’s usually pretty savvy in his criticisms, though I’m more forgiving and can accept imperfection as long as there are compensating pleasures offered and so we don’t usually agree on what qualifies as ‘good’ in TV or movies.

One of the things we often discuss is a tendency by bad writers to view any Science Fiction or Fantasy story as a license to do anything, to toss out the very laws of physics. I’m not talking about magic here, you see – I’m talking about the assumption by hack writers that just because a story is SFnal, anything can happen. It’s one thing to have magic in your story. The Jedi can do just about anything, okay, fine – that gets established early on in the Star Wars world and so when Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp, or when Vader chokes the life out of someone who’s on a completely different ship, well, you just shrug and accept it. The rules of The Force are established and that’s fine.

Sometimes, though, you have writers who decide that just because you have, say, a psychic or a spaceship in the story, well, anything is possible. That if a character has one special power or ability, he or she should be able to sprout new ones whenever the plot requires a solution. Of course, sometimes a character with unspecified abilities can believably display a heretofore unknown aspect of them – take Spock stuffing his soul into Bones McCoy in Star Trek 2 – so to a certain extent it depends on how it’s handled.

For the clearest example of the acidic effect this attitude has on SF writing, I direct your suffering eyes to Highlander 2: The Quickening. The special sauce of this movie is the idea that since it’s a SF story, anything goes! And I do mean anything. Though to be fair this movie apparently suffered from meddlesome investors who took a bad movie and made it indescribably terrible, the fact remains that the writers of this movie heard ‘immortals’ and ‘science fiction’ and decided that whatever batshit crazy stuff they came up with would work.

You can, of course, let your imagination run when writing SF/F work, but there have to be rules of some sort. Especially in serial works when a character has, say, dozens of episodes or novels to develop and display their abilities. Suddenly granting them the one power which would solve your plotting problems will not fly, my friend. But then, my brother and I are bitter, bitter people. For example: I still intend to get my $7 back from the producers of Highlander 2. Oh, some day, they will pay me back. I swears it.

Every Other Day of the Week is Fine

Ah, Monday. My sainted mother tells me that she still wakes up at 6AM every day despite being retired for 20 years now, trained by 40 years of waking up for school, for jobs, for her screaming, bratty kids. Similarly, I figure Monday will always be a drag even when I’m sitting on a yacht somewhere dozing through a good book and a bottle of good Scotch: I’ve been trained to view Monday was a descent into grim struggle.

Today though, there’s something fun to brighten my day: The Digital Plague is part of Bookspot Central’s March Tournament. In round one I’m up against Black Ships by Jo Graham, and after 2 votes (one by my sainted agent) we’re tied 1-1. Get over there and cause a ruckus and GIVE ME MY TITLE. I’m told there’s an engraved trophy, and I’ve never won a Major Award, so I demand everyone go there and make sure I win. Or I will be wrathful.

Well, Lookie Here

To balance out the bad review I posted the other day, here’s a really great review. It says, in part: “This book is absolutely brilliant. A masterpiece from a very talented author.” Huzzah!

Even better, the web site has excerpts from both The Electric Church and The Digital Plague posted, so if you’ve been wondering about my books but unsure, here’s a chance to take a gander and see if you like ’em.

Messing with Everyone

Twitter has its uses, eh? After tweeting some of my ridiculous schtick (I’ve been using Twitter as a sort of stream-o-consciousness platform, just riffing on whatever random topic comes to mind), this time concerning how I want everyone to send me their battered well-loved copies of my books in return for a pristine new copy. I’d encourage everyone to sign their used copies before sending them to me, and I’d start a little museum of the personalized copies of my books.  Sean Ferrell replied with an even better idea: Folks should send me their used copies and I send them a new copy with a different ending.

This is genius. We quickly sketched out a fantastic idea: Publishing a book that had many, many different subtle variations. Like, 250 different versions of the book. We’d tell no one. No announcement, no PR campaign. One person’s copy would have the hero dying in the end, another’s would have him live. Some would be almost identical except for different adjectives used throughout. The point is, we’d tell no one. Slowly, people would start to realize what we’d done.

This would be an amazing idea, a social experiment cum publishing stunt. But of course you’d need a publisher that doesn’t mind being a little ridiculous, and the brass balls to do it all with a straight face. Not to mention possibly invalidating your story completely if there are sixteen different endings and a basic admittance that it doesn’t matter what adjectives you use in that scene.

Still. . .I’m tempted.

Of course, you could do this much easier with an eBook, just serving up randomly selected files from a pool. Still, as Nick Mamatas pointed out on a recent SF Signal mind-Meld, eBooks are overpriced currently ($10 for a file I don’t even actually own, but only ‘license’? Jebus save us) and many are encumbered with DRM. So eBooks currently=Fail. Plus also too, doing this sort of thing with actual printed copies is so much more grand and epic. People could spend years trying to collect ’em all! And then think of the translations!

So, next time you’re reading one of my books, you might want to call up a friend and compare some pages. You never know.

Best Bad Review This Year

The Digital Plague got reviewed by the glorious Zine World, and Henry S. Kivett didn’t seem to like it, though I had to read between the lines to get that. The bad review is worth it, however, for this glorious summation:

“Somers’ fatal mistake is that he kills off the only likeable character on page 29, leaving us to follow a jackass and his cohorts through a wasteland. . .”

And thus we have the title for Avery Cates #4, don’t we? A JACKASS AND HIS COHORTS coming to you in 2010!