Category Archives: Science fiction

News and an excerpt from a novel-in-progress

I haven’t posted in a bit. Nothing major to announce at the moment, except that I sold a short story – “A Shadow on the Sky”, a tale of a drone queen because of course drones would need one – to Mythic Delirium.

AND here’s a novel update: I’m currently working on two concurrently, because I’m out of my mind. The first is Rookwar, the final installment in the Casting the Bones trilogy – which I am very behind on and need to push hard at this month – and also an as-yet untitled one that I began on a whim. You know how I seem to keep coming back to the Line and Orbit universe? Well, this is the story of Kae, how he met his wife Leila, and how – together – they saved the entire convoy from starvation, managed a conflict between a lost human colony and a sentient biosphere, dealt with Relationship Feelings, and somehow didn’t murder Lochlan.

I’m not very far into it, and like any baby novel its future is uncertain, but I’m feeling pretty good about it and so far it feels like it’s coming relatively smoothly. If you like, here – with the usual caveats about a work-in-progress (rough draft, may not make it into the final product if there is one, etc.) – is an excerpt.

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On writing (cisgender male) gay romance and Strong Female Characters

image by Jason Chan

image by Jason Chan

I just got the novel edits for Labyrinthian (my tropey gay retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur IN SPAAAAACE), which is a tad overwhelming – there is much work to be done, though most of it is cosmetic – but also exciting, because I love this book and I’m looking forward to getting it in tip-top shape for its release this coming January. My editor is a lovely person and graciously takes the time to make sure I know what she really likes – which always feels good – and she mentioned that she appreciated how many of the women in Labyrinthian are in positions of power and protection. That was very conscious on my part, because I try very hard to make my stuff rich in terms of diversity and positive representation, but it reminded me of a dilemma I ran into more than once while I was writing the book itself. It’s an interesting one, and it’s one I’ve had to deal with before. I suppose a lot of people who write this kind of gay romance have done so.

My two protagonists/kissy-face participants, Taur and Theseus, are cisgender men. The story is – at least in significant part – the story of their relationship, so they’re both very much the center of the book, and they are the only POV characters. Which means that Labyrinthian, simply by virtue of what it’s about, is going to be very male-focused. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time, but looking at the structure of my book and the characters in it, I realized that – given how much I care about making my SF diverse and also feminist – I needed to make sure they weren’t the only ones getting significant screen-time, and that they weren’t the only characters with depth.

So I made a lot of my other characters women. Most of my other major secondary characters are women. Phae, Theseus’s ex, is a queer woman of color. And yes, these women are physically strong, self-reliant, smart, competent, sexually independent. Yet all of those things have been used by writers to argue for their work being feminist, leading to the trope of the Strong Female Character.

And the problem with the Strong Female Character is that she’s a cardboard cut-out. She’s there to do a thing, not be a person with all the strengths and weaknessness and complexities that a person has. She might be able to beat you up, but odds are she won’t hold your interest. And in her way, she’s just as sexist a construct as the fainting flower who exists purely to be rescued by the dudely hero. She’s still there to be a Female Character, not a character who’s female.

What makes a strong character? It’s not physical strength. It’s not even necessarily attractive attributes. Consider, oh, 90% of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire – most of them are at least sort of terrible people who have done many terrible things, and they lie and cheat and stab each other in the back, and some of them are outright cowards, but a lot of them are interesting. They’re strong characters because – at their best – they feel real.

An actual strong female character is real. I’ve seen it reframed as “strong character, female” and I like that a lot.

So I was putting the women in Labyrinthian in important, powerful positions, because I wanted them front and center as much as possible. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I had to make Phae interesting, and I had to do it on her own terms. And I had to pack as much character development for her as I could into a story where she’s not the focus. I had to do the same for the others who show up, some of whom aren’t there for long. I had to at least try. I owed it to them, and I owed it to myself.

I’m not sure if I was entirely successful – I think I did all right, but I’ve learned that readers are very often better judges of that than authors are – but I hope I did. I love the women in Labyrinthian just as much as I love Taur and Theseus, and I hope that love comes through. I hope you enjoy them, even the ones you only meet briefly. I know they’re looking forward to meeting you.

Line and Orbit sequel news!

The news is that I’m rewriting it. Almost completely. Not going back through and changing some scenes around, not making some major adjustments. I mean I’m scrapping what I have and starting almost entirely from scratch. With the exception LineandOrbitof one subplot, and a few characters, it’s going to be a totally different book.

There are a number of reasons why I’m doing this. Some of it is that, on further consideration, there are  a number of aspects of Fall and Rising as the current version stands that simply don’t work as well as they could. I took on a lot in that book, and I’m not confident that I pulled all of it off as well as I might have. I’m not averse to failure, even in public, but it’s something that I also see no reason not to avoid if at all possible. A lot of Fall and Rising is uncomfortable, and I’m not convinced that all of it is uncomfortable in a good way.

Another reason is money. I want to sell this book and I want to get paid.

I haven’t had any luck finding a publisher for it as it is. This is a problem, and the problem is compounded by the fact that it’s a sequel, not a standalone novel. It’s also much bleaker than Line and Orbit, and while I love and value my bleak writing – my short fiction can be just brutal a lot of the time – I’m not sure that bleak is the right tone for this series. I don’t believe that sequels have to perfectly match their predecessors in tone, but I also don’t believe that they should be vastly different.

So while I dearly love Fall and Rising and while I’ve very proud of huge chunks of it, it’s going into the proverbial drawer and something else is happening. I view this as a learning experience. I don’t think it was a mistake, and I don’t think the effort I put into it was wasted. It just isn’t going to be what I thought it was.

The takeaway is that this never stops being an educational process.

So, as of right now, here are the things (I think) I know about this new version of the next chapter of Line and Orbit:

  • The focus is back on Adam and Lochlan. I love Eva and Kyle, and I think they’ll be showing up in a major way, but Adam and Lochlan were among the primary things that people seemed to fall in love with in the first book, and I think it makes sense to stick with them. That means that this is back to being primarily “M/M” (scare quotes because I am still not 100% comfortable with that categorical marker). There are a number of reasons why I think this is a Good Thing on the whole.
  • It’s not going to be as goddamn bleak. I think a lot of bad things will still happen, but not nearly to the degree that they were happening in the first version of the book.
  • Spoiler alert: For those of you who’ve read my story in Hellebore and Rue, you may see some familiar faces. I’m really pleased about this, and I’m happy that I’m doing this rewrite if only because I get to circle back around in that way.
  • Nkiruka, the would-be replacement for Ixchel, is still in the game.
  • The villain remains the same guy with  the same characterization. Because I love his perfect face.
  • It does essentially the same job as the first version. That is, setting up the third and final book in the series, in essentially the same way. We end at basically the same place, we’re just getting there by a very different route.

So that’s where things currently stand. I’ve started work on it and I don’t expect to blast through it nearly as fast as Labyrinthian (which takes place in the same ‘verse so will hopefully act as an appetite whettener), so we’re ideally talking a finished MS by the end of January at the latest. I’m also supposed to be writing Rookwar, the third book in the Casting the Bones trilogy, so Fall and Rising may get pushed back depending on what my priorities end up being. Oh, yeah, I’m also theoretically writing a doctoral dissertation. So there’s that.

Anyway, for those who are interested, them’s the haps.

We See a Different Frontier – on sale now!

WSADF-cover-3

Basically what the post subject line says: We See a Different Frontier, the anthology of post-colonial SF that I’m lucky enough to be a part of, is now available in ebook and paperback formats.

So far the book has gotten great buzz from critics. Publisher’s Weekly (which calls my story “haunting”):

Fernandes and al-Ayad, editors of webzine The Future Fire, have compiled an innovative and trenchant anthology of 16 postcolonial speculative fiction stories…all the stories, as Aliette de Bodard says in the incisive preface, center on the voices “of those whom others would make into aliens and blithely ignore or conquer or enlighten.” This is not just an interesting and entertaining collection, but also a necessary, convincing critique of the colonialist tropes that mark many of speculative fiction’s genre conventions.

Locus (which gave my story a “Recommended”):

[T]he anthology does not simply present a series of dreary, bitter polemics. There’s variety here, and quite a few of the stories are entertaining, a lot of fun – particularly for readers who enjoy revenge tales. There is also anger and tragedy, and looks back into history that may open the eyes of some Western readers.

It really is an awesome anthology. I also agree with PW that it’s a necessary one, especially given the conversations that are going on in the SFnal world right now. Check it out.

And an excerpt of my story “A Heap of Broken Images” is under the cut.

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Book giveaway and free Line and Orbit chapter enclosed

LineandOrbitLine and Orbit has been out for a month now, and what a month it’s been. I want to once again thank everyone who’s spread the word about it, and again encourage anyone who reads and enjoys it to do the same – you do me and my co-author a truly immeasurable favor when you do so, and we appreciate it so much.

So in honor of its releasiversary, I’m doing two things.

  1. I’m running a Tumblr giveaway of a free copy of the book. Have a Tumblr account? All you have to do in order to enter is reblog. Monday after next I’ll pick a winner at random.
  2. I’m posting the entire third chapter below, wherein we introduce our roguish smartass secret-man-pain MC2 Lochlan d’Bideshi, and blind-seer delightfully prickly wisewoman Ixchel. Enjoy.

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Line and Orbit: Science and the Protectorate’s original sin

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
– Carl Sagan

One of the cool things about writing – and I think this is especially true of writing anything book-length – is that you’re not always aware of what’s going in there. What you’re producing is coming out of you; in that sense what you

courtesy of NASA

write is a jumbled mirror image of all the fragments of you that make you who you are. Your values, your dreams and your fears, what you think you are and what you hope you might become. Fiction is self-reflexive, though it’s that way implicitly; it’s not a memoir but it is a part of the greater whole that makes up the messy history of you.

So it’s always neat when people find things in it that are unquestionably there but that you didn’t notice at the time. Again, my friend Natalie is a great example of this in that she spotted a big overarching ecological theme in Line and Orbit that I didn’t realize was there at all, and that I don’t recall discussing with my co-author aside from a few things about Melissa Cosaire’s orchids.

But it’s also the case that sometimes things come out in such a way that you don’t think what you meant is clear. Or that you didn’t think through the theme enough to specify it clearly – which is always the risk you run when you’re not explicitly trying to Be Thematic, which I don’t recommend doing (it smacks of ham-handed effort and Look How Deep I Am and people can usually spot it). So I was rereading a bit of L&O the other day – always fun when you can read your stuff with enough distance that you can enjoy it as if it weren’t actually yours – and I spotted something that troubled me a little: that the book might be open to an interpretation of being anti-science. (very mild spoilers under the cut)

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Line and Orbit: Looking to the future

kolyma_etwoo

image by Etwoo

Release Week for Line and Orbit is almost done, and oh, what a week it’s been. It’s been great to see people reading and reviewing on Goodreads, seeing what people are liking about the book, what’s striking a chord with people – it’s been so much fun. Those of you who have reviewed it already, thank you so much. Those of you who are reading now and come out of the experience pleased, the single best thing you can do for us is to leave a rating or a review, or to blog about it, or to otherwise spread the word, because word-of-mouth is what a book like this really needs.

But as we come out of this week and into the next, I find that what I’m really thinking about isn’t the present, but what’s coming next for this universe. Because yeah, I feel comfortable being very clear about this now: Sequels are in the works. (very mild spoilers for the first book below. hints, really, more than anything.)

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