Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An Open Letter to the Chinese Science Fiction Community


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Roughly seven years ago, at the suggestion of my then-editor, Jennie Bai, I wrote a column explaining the workings of the Hugo Award for Science Fiction World. I ended the column by pointing out that it was perfectly possible for a Chinese writer to win the award and suggested that one of my readers might be the first one to do so.

At the time, I thought it would happen a decade or two from now.

Last Saturday, I was present at the Hugo Awards ceremony at Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, when Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo for Best Novel. The applause was thunderous. But nobody applauded harder than me.

I applauded chiefly because as a reader I loved the book and because as a writer I admired Liu's ideas. But I was also applauding the entire science fiction community for how rapidly you made my prediction come true.

It does not diminish Cixin Liu's accomplishment to observe that no book is written in isolation. A novelist writes with the example of those who came before him, and in awareness of what his peers are writing as well. He also requires the support of editors, publishers, reviewers, and most particularly readers. So in part credit for the award goes to everybody who has worked so hard to make science fiction a respectable form of literature in China.

Congratulations, then, to all of you.  Most particularly, of course, to Cixin Liu.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Young Raven, Old Raven

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I've been wandering about in raven country -- Montana, mostly -- for the past week, and the frequent sight of those strangely intelligent birds inevitably put me in mind of Bernd Heinrich's book on the subject, Mind of the Raven.

One of Heinrich's observations is that young ravens are endlessly curious and will investigate any unfamiliar obect placed in their territory.  Sometimes this involves placing themselves in danger but they do it anyway. In this way, they acquire a stock of experience and information that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Sometime around the time they reach sexual maturity, however, the behavior of ravens changes.  They lose the curiosity. They distrust the new.  Place something novel in their environment -- a whirligig, say -- and an old raven will eye it with suspicion and then fly far away.

The analogy with human beings is, I trust, obvious.  This is why scientists usually make their great discoveries while young.  This is why there are so many jokes about Gramps asking his ten-year-old for computer advice.

This is why some writers cease to be interesting after a certain age.

People have logical powers denied to even ravens, however. I think here of Tom Purdom, who sold his first two stories in 1957 but whose stories in the past decade are far superior to his earlier work and to most of what's published currently as SF to boot. If a writer can keep his or her curiosity alive,
maintain an interest in novelty for its own sake, and refrain from deciding she's (or he's) got enough knowledge to last, it's possible to go on and on.

But somewhere along the line, the writer has to consciously choose: young raven or old raven?

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Ask Unca Mike





Science fiction and fantasy writers are a group are extraordinarily generous with advice to new writers. A moment's thought, however, reveals that this is just encouraging talented young people to occupy the publishing niches and win the awards that would otherwise go to to us Old Hands. Ask Unca Mike is an attempt to rectify this deplorable situation.



Titles of the Purple Sage

 Coyote writes: Everybody tells me my titles suck.  But I think that "An Incident," "The Package," and "Road Kill" are pretty darned cool.  Please tell me that I'm right and they're wrong.

First of all, my editor friends tell me that "Road Kill" is the single most common title in the slush pile.  Imagine the glory of writing the best story with that title! You might want to consider using it for every story you write until you achieve that glad accomplisment.

Failing that, you definitely should stay with your soporiphic-to-the-point-of-tears titles.  Primed to expect a boring, tedious story, the readers will encounter the brilliance that is your prose and the mesmeric qualities of your storytelling.  They will be amazed.

Or so, anyway, I would like to believe you will believe.


If you have a question for Unca Mike you can post it below. Or write to AskUncaMike ("at" sign) gmail.com. I'll respond tho those I have the best answers for.

Ask Unca Mike appears here on Fridays.

Above: As always, I'm on the road again.  As it turns out, Yellowstone is off the grid.  I managed to keep on schedule, technically.  But I apologize for not being on time according to your schedule.



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On the Road to Yellowstone

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As always, I'm on the road again.  A week ago last Saturday, I drove to North Carolina for a book tour. When I returned home, I hit the sack and got up early to catch a plane to Spokane for the World Science Fiction Convention.  It was an eventful weekend, made particularly dramatic by the smoke from nearby wildfires that filled the city with smoke, turned the sun red at noon, and dropped flakes of soot from the sky.

So, to relax after all that, Marianne and I are driving to Yellowstone in Montana.

Yesterday, we drove for long hours up a dirt road through smoke-filled valleys, startlin bighorn sheep and coming upon unexpected waterfalls.  We passed through the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains before coming to rest at last in Butte. There's a lot of character to Butte, and to the Fingen Hotel where we're staying as well. Montana must be a great place to be a photographer.

If I want to see all we plan to see, howver, I've got to put a few hundred miles on the odometer.  So, well... Off I go!

More news as it occurs.


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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sasquan Memories

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Wednesday, I drove for twelve hours from Asheville, NC to Philadelphia. The next morning, I got up early and caught a flight to Spokane. And from Thursday afternoon until Sunday evening, I attended Sasquan.

Here are a few of the things that made me happy about this year's Worldcon:

1. Spokane itself.  Beautful city, lots of old buildings, a very nice river park that's used as a venue for lots of cultural events. I'm sorry that I'm going to miss the Chinese lantern festival, though.

(The wildfires in the region turned the sky gray and the sun red, filled the air with smoke and rained down ash in a dramatically apocalyptic manner; but that was hardly the city's fault.)

2. Hanging out with Vonda McIntyre and Robert Silverberg in the green room.

3. Seeing Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem win the Hugo for best novel.  I have friends in the Chinese science fiction community, so seeing this become the first foreign novel in translation to win the award was a big deal to me.  But more than that, I admired the novel for its own sake. Right now I'm reading the next book in the trilogy. Several people who read Chinese have told me it's even better than the first.

4. The fact that next year, when I'm goh at MAC II, Pat Cadigan will be toastmaster.  Pat and I are pals from way back. I'm thinking we'll have a ball.

5. Learning that The 2017 Worldcon will be held in Helsinki.  All four bids were desirable destinations, and I'm friends with the D. C. people and the Canadians both, so whichever way the vote came out, I was going to be happy.  But I have to admit that I'm delighted to have the excuse to visit Finland again.

6. Signing lots and lots of autographs. Some of those who asked seemed to think it was a bit of an imposition on me. Nope. I enjoy it. I also enjoyed the panels and the reading.

7. Getting to congratulate Joe and Gay Haldeman on their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

8. The Hugo Losers Party in Auntie's Book Store. Great venue and it felt like a real party. Also, I met Ken Liu there.

9. The words "He's dreamy" in MAC 2's promo film.  I wasn't a bit offended when it got a big lauugh.

10. Having the opportunity to have a conversation with Gregory Manchess.

11. Dinner with former F&SF editor (but still publisher) Gordon Van Gelder.

12. Getting to see Lee Moyer again. And Phil and Kaja Foglio. And Ellen Datlow, Eileen Gunn, and John Berry, for the first time since we wandered through China in April. And Ellen Klages, Judith Berman, Les Howle, and Karl Schroeder. And Chales Finlay and Gary K. Wolfe and... But if I don't stop here the list will start to look inclusive and the dozens and dozens of good friends I haven't mentioned will think I've forgotten them and will feel hurt.  Not a bit of it.  I'm just looking forward to...

13.  A good long sleep at the end of it all. 'Night, all.


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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ask Unca Mike





Science fiction and fantasy writers are a group are extraordinarily generous with advice to new writers. A moment's thought, however, reveals that this is just encouraging talented young people to occupy the publishing niches and win the awards that would otherwise go to to us Old Hands. Ask Unca Mike is an attempt to rectify this deplorable situation.



Withholding Plot

 Miss Plotz writes: I began my novel by "setting the scene" and dropping clues as to the nature of the story for the reader to memorize.  This took roughly twenty pages. My writing group tells me that I should begin the plot earlier than I did. Are they right?

Quite the contrary.  You should put off beginning the plot for as long as possible.  Picture a reader who picks up your novel in a bookstore. She begins reading to see whether it's something she might want to buy. Twenty pages in, she has no idea. Nor does she at forty, sixty, a hundred. The hours fly by. The bookstore owner scowls and taps her wristwatch.  Your victim has no choice but to buy the book or be haunted forever by the possibility that somewhere down the line all this wasted effort will pay off.

You may have made an enemy -- but you've also sold a book.



If you have a question for Unca Mike you can post it below. Or write to AskUncaMike ("at" sign) gmail.com. I'll respond tho those I have the best answers for.

Ask Unca Mike appears here on Fridays.

Above: as always, I'm on the road again.  The Ask Unca Mike logo will return when I do.


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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

As Always...

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I'm on the road again!

Today, I drive some 650 miles home.  Then, in the morning, I'll get up bright and early to catch a plane and fly to Sasquan.

Which is wht today's post is so short.

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