Sunday 23 March 2008

Author Interview - John Varley

Novels: Ophiuchi Hotline



Steel Beach

The Golden Globe

Red Thunder


Red Lightning

Rolling Thunder


Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.

>Rolling Thunder is the third in a series that began with Red Thunder and continued with Red Lightning. It will conclude with Dark Lightning. It is the saga of the Strickland-Garcia-Redmond clan, who meet up with a disgraced NASA pilot and his disabled-genius cousin, who has invented a new method of propulsion that revolutionizes space travel, and power generation of all kinds. They build a spaceship out of spare parts and fly it to Mars and back. The second book is the story of the second generation, Ray Garcia, and his experiences after a starship collides with the Earth while moving at nearly the speed of light, causing a tsunami that devastates the Eastern United States, and the resulting war between Earth and Mars. Rolling Thunder is the story of the third generation, granddaughter Podkayne, who travels to Jupiter’s moon Europa and witnesses the birth of something strange and frightening there, which may have dire consequences for humanity.

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

>Catch-22 by Joseph Heller saved my life, because when I read it I vowed that I would never go into the military. Thus I avoided the Vietnam War. It’s also the best novel I’ve ever read, period.
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry.
Of books I’ve read recently, I’d recommend The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.

In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

>My favorite character is always the one I’ve just finished writing about, so right now it’s Podkayne Strickland-Garcia-Redmond, the heroine of Rolling Thunder. Soon I expect that my favorite characters will be her twin daughters, Cassandra and Pollyanna, who will star in the fourth and last book of the Red Thunder series: Dark Lightning.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

>I love to travel, and my characters do tend to get around, so I’d probably be happy to change places with any of them. However, characters in stories do tend to get into scary places, and get hurt a lot, which doesn’t appeal. But as to actually being any of them … well, I already am, at least in part.

What is your university degree in?

>I dropped out of Michigan State University after a year and a half, when I realized I didn’t want to be a physicist anymore. My education was completed instead on the roads of America, in the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, at Woodstock, and on the streets of Los Angeles. I’ve never regretted it … which is not to say I counsel anyone not to pursue a higher education. I only point out that it’s not for everyone.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

>In science fiction there is often a lot of research that has to be done, and lately, the monetary rewards tend not to be quite so great. In fantasy you get to make up all the rules, and write for a larger audience. The problem is, I can only write what I’m good at, and that happens to be SF.

When and where do you write?

>I used to start and midnight and work until sunrise. As I’ve gotten older and don’t sleep so well that has turned around. I’m now often up before the sun, and usually stop work around noon. Who knows what I’ll be doing in another 10 years?

What's the best/worst thing about writing?

>The best thing about (book) writing is that you get to be your own boss. (Screenwriting is an entirely different thing.)
The worst thing about writing is that you get to be your own boss. You may not be a very good one. If you’re lazy, like me, sometimes you need a real bastard boss cracking the whip.

Any tips against writers block?

>Nothing has ever worked for me … but I never tried the remedy Gene Wolfe says works every time for him. It’s too extreme. He merely tells himself that, until he has written X number of pages, he can’t read anything, watch television, engage in hobbies, or go to the movies. This leaves him nothing to do but walk, sit, drink, and eat, and he soon gets back to work.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

>None. I sold my first short story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction after an editor-suggested cut from 12,500 to 10,000 words, which greatly improved it.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Not Quite Human

Here's another Sci-Fi reading list for those interested in robots, cyborgs, etc. Since a lot of people seem to be checking out the reading lists without looking over the rest of the site, let me explain what this is and is not. This is not a comprehensive list of all books involving robots, cyborgs, clones and similar things. That would be impossible. Rather this is a list I created for a display in store (involving about 40 titles). The titles are (generally) restricted to what is available in store, what is in print and what I, as a bookseller, have knowledge of (I can't add a book I've never heard of). I sometimes add books I've done searches for, but not often. Feel free to leave comments with other books you've read and think people would enjoy if they are interested in this topic. As always, authors are in no particular order.

Isaac Asimov - I, Robot, Caves of Steel, Naked Sun, Robot Dreams, Robots of Dawn...
Joel Shepherd - Crossover, Breakaway, Killswitch
Philip K. Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (aka Blade Runner)
K. W. Jeter - Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human
John Sladek - The Complete Rodrick
Garth Nix - Shade's Children
Marge Piercy - He, She and It
Tanith Lee - Silver Metal Lover, Metalic Love

Justina Robson - Keeping it Real, Selling Out
Elizabeth Bear - Scardown, Hammered, Worldwired
Jeff Somers - Electric Church

William Dietz - Legion of the Damned, Final Battle, By Blood Alone...
Steven Kent - Clone Republic, Rogue Clone, Clone Alliance
James Beauseigneur - In His Image, Birth of an Age, Acts of God
Various - Star Wars clone wars novels

David Brin - Kiln People, Postman (uses augments, but it's not readily apparent)
Richard Morgan - Black Man (augment - genetically enhanced human)
Nick Sagan - Idlewild, Edenborn, Everfree (bioengineered humans)

Sunday 9 March 2008

Jim C. Hines

Novels: Goblin Quest
Goblin Hero
Goblin War

Heroes in Training
- Edited with Martin H. Greenberg

Stories: "Blade of the Bunny" - L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future XV
"Spell of the Sparrow" - Sword & Sorceress XXI


Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.

> There's a scene in Lord of the Rings where our heroes are making their way through the Mines of Moria as a part of their Great and Noble quest, when they're attacked by goblins. Have you ever thought about that scene from the goblins' point of view? That's your home. Imagine trying to live your life, always being interrupted by those blasted heroes running amuck on their silly quests.... Goblin Quest is the story of Jig the goblin, a nearsighted runt who was minding his own business when a band of "heroes" showed up, killed his companions, and captured him to be their guide through the mountain. In order to survive, Jig has to help battle everything from dark wizards to a dragon. All three books are a lot of fun, and they challenge a lot of our assumptions and preconceptions about the fantasy genre. Also, Jig has a pet spider named Smudge who sets things on fire. What's not to love?

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

> That's a very difficult question, in part because the answer changes from week to week, depending on my mood and what I've been reading lately. I've always been quite fond of Janet Kagan's Hellspark. There's a warmth to Kagan's writing, and her cultures are very well-developed. As someone who writes on the humorous side of the street, I love Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. In non-fiction, I really enjoyed Ursula K. LeGuin's collection Dancing at the Edge of the World.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

> Heck, no! Authors are cruel, cruel masters. We have to be. Nobody wants to read about characters who live a nice, peaceful, happy life. So we toss one problem after another at our poor heroes. If Jig the goblin ever finds a way into our world, he's going to track me down and kick my butt from here to Australia.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

> I wrote a mainstream novel called Goldfish Dreams, which was published by a very small press years ago. It's the only non-SF/F thing I've written, and it's very different from the rest of my work. I was fictionalizing a lot of the things I had seen and experienced during my time as a sexual assault counselor at a local crisis center. Trying to put myself into the mind of both my protagonist, an incest survivor, as well as the perpetrator ... it was more than a little disturbing. I'm very proud of the end result, but it wasn't an easy book to write.

What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

> That would be the group signing we did this January at the World's Biggest Bookstore, of course! Okay, maybe I'm kissing up to the bookseller a little bit there. But I did have a great time visiting Toronto, meeting the other authors, and visiting with folks in the store.

If you still have one, what's your day job?

> I'm a state employee in Michigan, doing customer support for the department that gathers and maintains education-related data. Not the most exciting job in the world, but it pays the bills, and my coworkers are good people. My writing career has been going really well these past few years, but with two young children as well as a few chronic health issues in the family, I can't afford to lose the steady paycheck or the health insurance. (Curse that U.S. health system!) I would love to cut back on the day job, but looking at the numbers, it's not going to happen any time soon.

When and where do you write?

> Finding time to write has been a bit of a trick. The bulk of my writing is done during my lunch break at work. One hour a day, five days a week lets me churn out about 5000 words in a week. Deadlines have been crunching me a little harder lately, so I've been squeezing in some evening and weekend writing sessions. But every night I spend trying to get a short story finished by the anthology deadline is a night I'm not playing with my son or reading to my daughter. I'm okay with sacrificing video games or TV, but there are limits to what I'm willing to give up. (Any wealthy patrons who feel like adopting a fantasy author, please contact me!)

What's the best/worst thing about writing?

> That's another one I could talk about for hours. One of the best things is the connection with my readers. Whether it's an e-mail telling me how the goblin books helped someone smile during a really rough time, or chatting with fans on my blog, or talking to a teacher who used my books to get a student excited about reading, it's an awesome feeling. The idea that your words -- even the silly ones -- could make a difference in someone else's life ... I'm incredibly grateful that I'm able to do this. The worst thing? Probably the emotional ups and downs. When you're struggling to break in, the rejections and the uncertainty can really wear you down. Then when you start selling, you get a whole new batch of neuroses to worry about. Will the books sell? Will my publisher drop me after the next book? How am I going to find time to finish that interview when I've also got a book to revise, a short story to finish, and two proposals to turn in? Honestly, I think the smartest thing I ever did as a writer was to marry a trained counselor.

Any tips against writers block?

> One of my most-repeated suggestions -- one which has also helped me when I'm feeling blocked -- is to give yourself permission to write crap. I used to get stuck a lot because I didn't feel like the words I was writing were good enough. Rather than risk writing a lousy story, I'd freeze. Sometimes for days at a time. The thing is, you have to take those risks, and it's okay to write crap. Even an awful first draft gives you something to work with. You can always revise, and the story isn't done until it's sold, proofed, and typeset. Writing is a skill like anything else, and I've yet to meet a writer who produced brilliant fiction from day one. A lousy story doesn't mean you're a lousy writer. It means you've got to keep practicing and learning ... just like the rest of us.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

> Oh, man. I've collected over 500 of the things since I started sending my work out back in 1995. The first story I sold was "Blade of the Bunny." That one was a fluke, and only got two rejections before taking first place in the Writers of the Future contest back in 1998. Goblin Quest, on the other hand, was bounced a total of 33 times, mostly by agents. You can write the best book in the world, but if you don't know how to write a good query letter, most agents aren't going to bother with you.

Saturday 1 March 2008

Sci-Fi Fan Letter Issue 19

World’s Biggest Bookstore’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Newsletter
Issue 19 March 2008

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, due to time constraints, this will be the final issue of the Sci-Fi Fan Letter. I’m hoping to keep up the website, though the content will be changing depending on the responses to the poll I’ve set up on the site. This month will still have two author interviews (Jim Hines and John Varley) and a themed SF reading list. Thank you for supporting our work and please keep visiting the site!

American Gods
By: Neil Gaimen

What makes Neil Gaimen’s American Gods an excellent read is the author’s acute attention to detail. Gaimen draws from a wide range of sources, mixing obscure references to classic mythology and religion with pop culture in an interesting way. The result is a novel unlike any other. Part thriller, part Joseph Campbell, American Gods is at once an engaging adventure story, while at the same time an intellectual rumination on the fabric of North American culture and its religious attitudes. Gaimen is able to create a fascinating fantasy world where ancient gods are our next-door neighbours, quietly waiting to reassert themselves and their importance in a way that grips the reader and leaves them guessing.

- James Bernard

City of the Beast
By: Michael Moorcock

The ‘pulp SF’ of the early decades of the last century is negatively construed nowadays having been replaced with the ‘serious SF’ works of modern authors. Unfortunately by turning our backs on these somewhat campy stories, we’ve also forgotten how much fun they are to read.

Rather than the purely escapist fantasy I was expecting, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. Why? Because Moorcok is able to explain, in surprisingly acceptable terms, how his hero, Michael Kane, became an experienced swordsman and how he ended up on an inhabited Mars of the ancient past. He even has a plausible explanation of how Michael Kane is able to communicate with the beautiful princess Shizala when he arrives there. His Martian races are varied and culturally diverse, and the descriptions vivid enough that it’s almost hard to believe TV has replaced such stores.

If you’re interested in SF’s colourful past, looking for a nostalgic story or simply want escapist literature, this is a great place to start.

-Jessica Strider

Halfway to the Grave
By Jeaniene Frost

Years ago, a young, sixteen-year-old girl was raped. However, that was not the end of the story. The man who raped this young girl was a newly turned vampire, and in that night the unthinkable happened: a child was produced. Now, twenty-two years later, the half-human, half-vampire Catherine (Cat) Crawfield is tearing a swath through the vampire community armed with her unusual abilities and a silver stake. But Cat’s plans for vengeance against all vampires and most especially her father are put on hold the night when she encounters Bones, a vampire bounty hunter. Though he was originally her next prey, the hunted became the hunter and Cat was captured instead. In exchange for her life, Cat agreed to Bones’ demands and entered a partnership with pure evil….

Sometimes one vampire story becomes like the next: been there, done that, just stake him already and put him out of my misery! But I have to admit that Halfway to the Grave had a new twist on the typical vampire myth which had me finishing the book in only two days. Despite the author’s attempt to make it apparent that Bones is British through his dialogue (ad nauseam), this is a book well worth reading and well worth the wait for the next one in the series.


Dreamsongs, Volume 1
by George R. R. Martin

Fans of George R. R. Martin have something of an obligation to check out Dreamsongs. This book highlights various short stories Martin has written over the years but more than that, it shows his progress as a writer as each segment contains an introduction wherein he describes what stage of his writing career he was in when he wrote them. For anyone interested in seeing how a writer develops and how a great career blossoms, this book and its second volume are a must. Be warned; it will make you want to want to write which is always a dangerous urge.


Coming in April Hardcover:
Personal Demon - Kelley Armstrong
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame - Ben Bova, Ed.
Passage- Lois McMaster Bujold
Small Favor - Jim Butcher
Keeper of Dreams - Orson Scott Card
In Milton Lumky Territory - Philip Dick
Shadow Gate - Kate Elliott
Maximum Offense- David Gunn
Dead Witch Walking - Kim Harrison
Moon Flower - James Hogan
Varanger - Cecelia Holland
Caliphate - Tom Kratman
And Less Than Kind - Mercedes Lackey & Roberta Gellis
The Hidden World - Paul Park
Galaxy Blues - Allen Steele
Lord of Lies - David Zindell

Trade Paperback:
Magician & the Fool - Barth Anderson
Dragon’s Wild - Robert Asprin
Nebula Awards Showcase 2008 - Ben Bova, Ed.
Purge the Unclean: Dark Heresy Adventure Anthology - Kate Flack, Ed.
Blood Ties - Pamela Freeman
Piaras Legacy - Scott Gamboe
The Lost Ones - Christopher Golden
Blood Ravens: The Dawn of War Omnibus - C.S. Goto
Samarkand Solution - Gary Gygax
Make Room! Make Room! - Harry Harrison
Dragon in the Sea - Frank Herbert
Clan of the Dung-Sniffers - Lee Danielle Hubbard
Martian General’s Daughter - Theodore Judson
Button, Button: Uncanny Stories - Richard Matheson
Queen’s Bastard - C.E. Murphy
Cry of the Wolf - Rachel Roberts
Operation: Save the Innocent - Tony Ruggiero
Starfish - Peter Watts
Crooked Letter - Sean Williams

Mass Market Paperback:
War Hammer: Brothers of the Snake - Dan Abnett
War Hammer: Legacy - Dan Abnett
Magic Burns - Ilona Andrews
Wanderer’s Tale - David Bilsborough
Hungers of the Heart - Jenna Black
Aftermath - Ben Bova
Orphan’s Journey - Robert Buettner
Legacy - Lois McMaster Bujold
Embrace the Night - Karen Chance
Misspelled - Julie Czerneda
War Hammer: Ancient Blood - Robert Earl
Warlord - Jennifer Fallon
1635: Canon Law - Eric Flint
Harald - David Friedman
Interworld - Neil Gaimen & Michael Reaves
Forgotten Realms: Swords of Dragonfire - Ed Greenwood
Vampire’s Betrayal - Raven Hart
Dreamquest - Brent Hartinger
Personal Demons - Stacia Kane
Murder of Angels - Caitlin Kiernan
Fortune’s Fool - Mercedes Lackey
Mainspring - Jay Lake
Eberron: Obsidian Ridge - Jess Lebow
War Hammer: Wolf’s Honour - Lee Lightner
The Incredible Shrinking Man - Richard Matheson
What Dreams May Come - Richard Matheson
War Hammer: Heldenhammer - Graham McNeill
Empress - Karen Miller
Natural Ordermage - L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The SFWA European Hall of Fame - James Morrow & Kathryn Morrow
Inferno - Larry Niven
Star Trek: Night of the Wolves - S.D. Perry
Poison Sleep - T.A. Pratt
Finest Challenge - Jean Rabe
Unto the Breach - John Ringo
Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
Edenborn - Nick Sagan
Starfist: Firestorm - David Sherman
Star Wars: Sacrifice - Karen Traviss
Beyond the Gap - Harry Turtledove
Ninth Talisman - Lawrence Watt-Evans
War Hammer: Relentless - Richard Williams
Dangerous Dames - John Zakour & Laurence Ganem
Sword of the Deceiver - Sarah Zettel
Silver Sword - David Zindell