Inhuman Swill : Writing : Page 26

Laura and I have been culling great numbers of books in preparation for our anticipated move (still months down the road). As I was going through boxes, considering each volume in turn, I ran across my hardcover copy of Dave Wolverton's space opera The Golden Queen (recently republished as part of the two-book omnibus Worlds of the Golden Queen under Dave's more successful pseudonym David Farland).

I opened the book to hunt down a particularly memorable passage, and happened to turn directly to it. I read aloud to Laura:

Everynne closed her eyes and let her mantle connect to Lord Shunn's personal intelligence via telelink. She watched his attack progress—silver fliers swept through the sky in a wedge, shooting low over the forest toward the gate, dropping a barrage of explosives along with canisters of chlorine gas, which was particularly toxic to dronon. As soon as the fireballs began erupting over the treetops, Lord Shunn's attack force moved in.

Under cover of the trees, long-range laser weapons were nearly useless, so Shunn's forces all wielded only incendiary rifles. No human could bear the weight of the armor needed to ward off an incendiary blast, so Shunn's men were protected only by gas masks and lightweight heat-resistant combat fatigues. The men ran forward in loose formation, moving cautiously. Since the battle was meant only as a diversion, they were not in a hurry to engage the vanquishers.

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Coming attractions

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When the mail came on Friday and I spied the October/November issue of Asimov's in the pile, I opened it immediately to the last page. I didn't necessarily expect to see it yet, but it was there nonetheless:

COMING SOONmind-bending new stories by Robert Silverberg, Stephen Baxter, David D. Levine, Wil McCarthy, Liz Williams, Chris Roberson, William Shunn, Paul Melko, Jack Skillingstead, Bruce McAllister, Allen M. Steele, Carol Emshwiller, Michael Swanwick, Paul J. McAuley, Neal Asher, and more!
So cool. Congratulations, Paul!
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Legionnaire of space

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Jack Williamson's new novel, The Stonehenge Gate, is out, and he insists it is his last.

I learn this from an article [info]bobhowe points me toward, in the Albuquerque Tribune. It's a delightful piece to read (despite the fact that one paragraph is worded carelessly enough that you might assume there have only ever been two Grand Masters named by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America—Williamson and Robert Heinlein).

Part of the reason the article is so delightful, of course, is that Williamson, at 97, has been writing since nearly the dawn of modern science fiction. His first short story was published 77 years ago, in 1928. He was one of my earliest SF reading discoveries, as well; a family friend gave me a copy of The Legion of Space when I was at that impressionable age. I had the honor of joining him and six or eight other folks for breakfast one morning at the 1997 WorldCon in San Antonio, and I don't think I could have been more awed had I been sitting there with God. I don't think I said two words. If I have a writing career half as long as his, I'll count myself fortunate. Even if he's really done, it's a wonder of the universe that he's been doing it so long and is still with us.

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I can't help it. When someone sends me an email that says:

Kindly advise a good time to contact you along with your contact information.
I want to respond:
My dear Good Time, should you choose to contact me along with my contact information, you would find me ever so responsive and earn my eternal gratitude.
Simplicity and clarity, for God's sake! Why is it so hard to write, "When can we call you, and what's your phone number?"
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Hey there, all you WordPerfect users aspiring to write short fiction! For you maligned folks and you folks only, I've added a new feature to my inexplicably popular manuscript formatting instructions.

I created a set of WordPerfect templates and macros that let you easily create a properly formatted short story manuscript and update the word count as you type with a simple keyboard shortcut.

Downloading, installation, and usage instructions here.

(For you eager users of Microsoft Word, I'll get to you soon. I'm far more comfortable in WordPerfect, which I've been using faithfully ever since version 4.0 for DOS, and even so, the programming and page-building took quite a bit longer than I expected.)

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Via Paul Melko by way of David Moles, I encountered this morning a fascinating essay by SF writer and scholar John Kessel exploring and repudiating the morality of intention that underpins Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and attempting to explain the book's enduring popularity.

It's a long essay, and quite worth reading if you have any interest in morality and fiction, but here's a distillation:

The number of times this scenario of unjustified attack and savage retaliation is repeated, not just in Ender's Game but in other of Card's stories and novels, suggests that it falls close to the heart of his vision of moral action in the world.... The same destructive act that would condemn a bad person, when performed by a good person, does not implicate the actor, and in fact may be read as a sign of that person's virtue....

This, I fear, is the appeal of Ender's Game: it models this scenario precisely and absolves the child of any doubt that his actions in response to such treatment are questionable. It offers revenge without guilt. If you ever as a child felt unloved, if you ever feared that at some level you might deserve any abuse you suffered, Ender's story tells you that you do not. In your soul, you are good. You are specially gifted, and better than anyone else. Your mistreatment is the evidence of your gifts. You are morally superior. Your turn will come, and then you may severely punish others, yet remain blameless. You are the hero....

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It's official, or will be when the promised contract arrives in the mail. I just made my first sale to Asimov's. A 19,000-word novella no less.

The story's called "Inclination," and though it takes place a few decades earlier, it's set in the same future milieu as my Nebula-nominated novelette "Dance of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites." And it certainly won't be the last thing I write that's set on or near or in a place somehow connected to Netherview Station.

No clue yet when it will run, but publication is surely many months away.

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I'm just sayin'

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The Years Best Science Fiction: Twenty-first Annual Collection
I stopped by Borders on the way to Petco, and I can now confirm that The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-first Annual Collection is out and available in stores.

I would never suggest that you buy a $20 book for the sake of a four-page story by yours truly that's available online for free, but if you do pick up a copy of YBSF 21 you'll be getting a heaping slab of Really Good Stuff, not the least of which is William Barton's novella "Off on a Starship," one of my favorite stories from 2003. I'm just sayin'.

(Btw, Gardner's honorable-mentions list at the back of the book includes no less than five of my stories from 2003. Not counting the one he actually reprinted, of course.)

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Draft validation

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From my agent, a generally positive assessment of the third draft of The Accidental Terrorist:

I've read your revision and I'm pretty darn happy with it. I think you've done a good job synthesizing and compacting huge swaths of material into a much more manageable narrative. I'm also happy with the choices you've made in adding flashback material. All in all, this is a strong piece of revision, and it makes me confident that we'll be able to whip this monster into submission shape sooner rather than later....

I'm very happy with the work you've done thus far, and very impressed. It was a huge haul you just went through, and while this new revision won't be easy, you have gotten over the hump. This book is much, much closer than it ever was. Good work.

In the elided portion, he went into some suggested adjustments of voice in the sections leading up to the subclimax and climax, where the writing might have lost some necessary passion, and I think he's probably right about that. But the fact that he likes what I did with this draft is a huge validation and relief.

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Missionary Man

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My memoir is finished. Well, the first draft, anyway. Time to go and lift a pint.

Better idea than trying to lift the manuscript. It rolled in at 1,076 pages.

Next step: blue pencil.

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William Shunn