Month: January 2015

Interview with Serenity Sheild

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Serenity Sheild’s book blog]

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

I wrote terrible stories in grade school, journaled in high school, and took writing courses at MIT and Harvard. When I left MIT, I was interested in trying to write and spent time with a writer’s group, one of whom is now a bestselling author – Sue Miller, of The Good Mother and other novels. But I was not good enough to break in at that time (I was 22!) so I went on to careers in computer science and business. I’ve returned to writing after early retirement.

Is being an Author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen? The best and worst thing about it?

If you’re going to write novels, you’re going to be isolated a lot; you can’t be task-switching every ten minutes and hanging out with friends every night. So you spend long hours in your head and interruptions are resented. The best thing, I suppose, is that you get to single-handedly create—no one can stop you, no one (except possibly an editor!) is going to derail the flow of what you and your characters have to say.

What was the very first thing you ever wrote?

Hah! Probably a two-page science fiction story about a boy going into a cave and discovering aliens at the center of the Earth. I knew it was bad even at the time!

 What made you create (your book)? How did it come to you?

I had done well with two books about attachment theory and relationships: Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner and Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. I had not tried to write long-form fiction in 20+ years, but a long discussion online with a group of science fiction writers and fans convinced me to take up the challenge of writing a story about and for younger people which had some of the technological optimism of old-school science fiction, blended with the diversity and sensibility of today. Part of the problem with YA fiction is the depressive tone taken by many authors, as if every story should focus on Major Issues like global warming and environmental catastrophe. A breakthrough like Hunger Games happened because publishers saw it was a story with a strong young woman as hero — which is true and a big part of its appeal. But it became a phenomenon because it is also a story about today’s politics, with the elite urban disdain for rural and lower-class people and the oppressive micromanagement of an ever-increasing and manipulative government. I wanted to more directly address the same urge for freedom.

Who is your literary hero?

Hmm, I don’t have just one. But I grew up reading Robert Heinlein’s juveniles, so-called because they were designed to be relatively simple and feature young people growing into adulthood and doing great things. When he wrote more complex and adult stories, his publisher refused them – starting with Starship Troopers, still considered a classic. In later years as he became too commercially successful to be told what to do by editors, he got self-indulgent and his work was less focused.

Evan Connell is another master of literary fiction whose work is less known than it should be. Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge are perfect, lapidary novels capturing a husband and wife in Kansas City in the 1930s and 40s. Heartbreaking portraits composed of a series of small scenes, each one adding a tiny bit to your understanding until you are overcome by the power of it — and all without major drama. Restrained, refined, repressed. Two of the top ten American novels.

How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?

None directly. There are fragments of my own background and personality mixed up with other people I have known, but once set they tend to take on a life of their own beyond those starting ingredients.

Describe your main character in six words.

Grad student waiting for a challenge.

Describe the world you’ve created in six words.

Soft fascist thought control state, overturned.

What scene was your favorite to write?

The fictional version of an incident where a professor put up a “Firefly” poster and was cited by campus authorities for creating a threatening environment. Which actually happened. I enjoyed gently mocking Star Trek and Firefly.

 What scene was the hardest for you to write?

One must have villains, and one of mine is the boyfriend of my main female character, Samantha. He’s a narcissistic, rich schmuck, and in the scene where she breaks up with him in a restaurant, he is abusive. It was intense to write feeling how she must be feeling.

 What are you working on now?

The next book in the series. Our rebels take on the governments of the world and bring peace, harmony, and plenty to all. No, really! Until the next book, anyway.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

I work out every day at a gym, lifting weights and doing cardio. I really enjoy that and come up with some great ideas while on the Stairmaster. 

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Jeb Kinnison’s Amazon author page

“It Described His Behaviors With Such Eerie Perfection”

Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner

Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner

A new review of Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner: on Amazon keeps the uniform 5-star rating going:

5.0 out of 5 stars, January 17, 2015
By Dara

I’ve been (it turns out) with an avoidant/dismissive for around 10 years — this book brought me peace because it described his behaviors with such eerie perfection. I was able to understand why our relations had always been tumultuous and why it was okay to leave.

Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

Amazon Warrior

Amazon Warrior

The culture war continues between Social Justice Warriors (who want to elevate politics over story in science fiction) and everyone else (writers and fans who come from all political perspectives but see true diversity as a product of merit, not correctness.)

I came into this battle late and I lack the scars of many of the writers who’ve manned the barricades, but it’s obvious where my sympathies lie: freedom of speech, freedom to write a good story wherever it leads, freedom to have characters of any and all cultures and colors, including white and privileged, so long as the story is compelling and the writing is good. Applying a political correctness screen to fiction gets us bad fiction and bad politics. And just as certain elitists tend to see any business that is profitable as suspect and in need of more government supervision, science fiction elitists would try to screen out science fiction that is “too entertaining” or too accessible to the less refined. Joy, you see, is to be found only in the tiniest of nuances, the finest of emotions that can only be expressed by a truly literary author. It is the joy of feeling yourself superior to all those unwashed who cannot see what you see. And if it doesn’t confirm the latest and most advanced progressive ideology, it’s dangerous and only perpetuates racism and sexism…

Many have written good pieces on the topic, so I’ll just point out a few:

James May: “The Death of Science Fiction”

Larry Correia: “Why I Don’t Like Social Justice Warriors”

Sarah Hoyt: “In the World of the Red Queen” (has she read my book?? 🙂 )

“Dave of Cydonia”: “Why Social Justice Warriors Suck, Part 2”

Peter Darbyshire: “War is Coming to Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fandom” (a good overview of recent controversies)

Jeb Kinnison (me!):
#Gamergate Explained
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again

On the latest skirmish, “Sad Puppies 3” by Brad Torgerson — another effort to leaven the Hugo Award nominations with non-PC candidates, I wrote elsewhere:

Controversy! I’m on the side of good story-telling and mind-expanding entertainment no matter what the political perspective or level of accessibility. I guess I have to start paying attention… to quote Brad:

“I’ll say it again: the Hugos (and the Nebulas too) have lost cachet, because at the same time SF/F has exploded popularly — with larger-than-life, exciting, entertaining franchises and products — the voting body of ‘fandom’ have tended to go in the opposite direction: niche, academic, overtly to the Left in ideology and flavor, and ultimately lacking what might best be called visceral, gut-level, swashbuckling fun. The kind of child-like enjoyment that comes easily and naturally when you don’t have to crawl so far into your brain (or your navel) that you lose sight of the forest for the trees.”

“The Man in the High Castle” – Pilot Episode

The Man in the High Castle - Amazon Studios

The Man in the High Castle – Amazon Studios

Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle is one of his best books, apparently having been written in less haste and under fewer drugs than some of his others. It’s an alternative history set in the US of a 1962 where the Axis powers won WWII and the pacifist US succumbed and is partitioned, with the West Coast ruled by the Japanese Empire and the East Coast under a Nazi puppet state a la Vichy France. But like all his books, much more is going on here than just an alternative history story; reality is slippery and no one is quite what they seem, and this history may not be real, either.

It is not really science fiction — there’s no scientific explanation for what is going on, or portals between multiverses, although some characters can “see” other realities in foggy San Francisco. The delicacy and ferocity of Japanese culture is examined, the I Ching functions as a kind of Greek chorus pronouncing on the plot, and there’s a shadowy author who has written a book describing a world where Roosevelt wasn’t assassinated and the Allies win the war. The author points out what all historians know — the conquerors are affected by the conquered and absorb some of their culture.

Most of Dick’s novels and stories have been made into movies by now:

Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty,[6] eleven popular films based on his works have been produced, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau and Impostor. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923.[7] In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

He is now seen as marketable by Hollywood financiers. His estate’s commercial success is a bit tragic, since he died largely unrecognized in 1982.

Now we have a miniseries of Man in the High Castle, partly produced by Ridley Scott (another magic name in Hollywood) and financed by Amazon Studios. I watched the pilot and highly recommend it for its high production values and good acting. Because the complexity of the novel would be hard for film viewers to follow, it’s been simplified a bit, but the essence of the novel appears intact. This is the kind of production SyFy would mount if it weren’t run by science fiction illiterates.

Watch the Pilot Episode at Amazon Prime Streaming

Review by Jim Henley

For more on pop culture:

“Game of Thrones” and the Problem of PowerThe Lessons of Walter White
“Blue Valentine”
“Mad Men”
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family
Coen Brothers: 30 Years of Great Movies