Friday, September 22, 2017

Putting Your Best Foot Forward


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Here's a story with the names rubbed off, lest I unintentionally give offense. Back in the Eighties, when I was what Gardner Dozois would persist in calling "a hot new writer," for a full decade, a small press published s series of small, cheap SF paperbacks, each containing half a dozen or so stories by a writer whom I considered one of the best of my generation. I eagerly bought them all... and was invariably disappointed. Because they'd all saved their best work for an eventual hardcover collection.

Years later, I was talking to Jim Turner, the extremely valuable editor of Arkham House and later Golden Gryphon Press, about these collections, and he said, "There was no reason not to use their best. I wasn't in direct competition with those books."

I remembered this later, when Chris Logan Edwards suggested I put together a slim collection of stories for his Tigereyes Press. So I went through my uncollected works and chose the very best and because they all were written in recent years, they had an underlying unity that worked well. Chris created a beautiful book with a wonderful cover by artist Lee Moyer

A Geography of Unknown Lands placed on the ballot for the World Fantasy Award for best collection.

The moral here, I think, is obvious.


And the reason for the picture above is...

So off I went, out into the countryside, on what I would have called a "mental health day," back when I pulled down a salary.

The picture above is of a cormorant drying its wings in the sun. Cormorants work hard. Usually, I do too. But not every day.


Above: Photograph by M. C. Porter. Marianne is a much better photographer than I'll ever be.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Gone Birding

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Li Bai long ago wrote a poem, in Chinese of course, that can be translated thusly:

Because water returns, though we cut it with swords,
And sorrow returns, though we drown it in wine,
Because the world can in no way conform to our desires,
Today,I will let down my hair
And go fishing.

Wise words from everybody's favorite drunken savant. So today I'm going birding. If you behave yourselves while I'm away, maybe I'll share a photograph or two.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

China in Helsinki -- Part 2

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Chinese science fiction writers, editors, and other professionals were all over Worldcon 75. I had a number of conversations with old friends and new throughout the convention. Many of which occurred during the Storycom party on Saturday night.

I met and talked with any number of writers there, including Gu Shu, whose story "Chimera," appeared last year in Clarkesworld and Bao Shu,  another Clarkesworld alumnus, whose story "What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear" was published last year in F&SF and reprinted in Paula Guran's The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novellas and Allan Kanter's The Year's Top Short Science Fiction Novels audio book. I also had the opportunity to connect with author Ruhan Zhao and to meet Feng Zhang, introduced to me as "the Chinese John Clute." Among, as they say, many others.

The conversations were good. I learned a lot about the rapidly evolving state of science fiction in China. My friend  Haihong Zhao and I discussed Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem  trilogy at some length -- books which we both admire greatly. I learned much that should prove useful to know.

And if I could share with you only one thing I learned about the Chinese SF community, what would it be? Well...

"You guys are all so supportive of each other!" an actress I know once remarked about the science fiction community in the US. "Actors aren't like that at all."

The Chinese science fiction community is like that too, and possibly more so, because contemporary science fiction is relatively new and needs all the support it can get. I had heard beforewhat a close-knit community it is. But now I could see it in action: in the way they treated each other, in how the bigger-name writers were careful to introduce the newer ones, and how everybody was careful not to hog too much of any conversation. These are good people and they're working to create an important body of literature. I couldn't help thinking the world of them.


Above: Ted Chiang, me, and Ruhan Zhao.  In the background is Bao Shu. Photograph by Haihong Zhao. Did I mention what a terrific writer Haihong is?

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Monday, September 11, 2017

China in Helsinki -- Part 1

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One of the most substantive conversations I had at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki was with award-winning author, translator, and editor Francesco Verso. He is also the founder and editor in chief of Future Fiction, an Italian imprint dedicated to publishing the best SF authors from around the world. We were talking about diversity, in part because he’s publishing an anthology of stories by Chinese SF authors in both Chinese and Italian. So, obviously, he’s in favor of diversity. “But not to be ‘politically correct,’” he said. “That’s pointless.”

I wasn’t taking notes and I’m wary of unintentionally misquoting Verso, so here’s something very similar to what I heard, which he said in an interview on The Earthian Hivemind: “…as a reader, I was tired of going to Italian bookstores and finding always (or mostly) the same kind of story, written by a middle-class, English-speaking, white-man (presumably Christian, Heterosexual and living in the US or the UK). I was missing a huge part of the representativeness of the ‘real’ world, some kind of ‘literary biodiversity’ which in other genres – as paradoxically as it might seem – is not so extreme.”

Exactly! Literary diversity is to be valued not for abstract reasons but because it enriches us. It gives us new insights, new perspectives, and most importantly new ideas. Which is, after all, what this field is all about.

This is why it was so exciting to see a large and active Chinese presence at the Worldcon. There were at least four distinct groups of which I was aware: 

There was Science Fiction World, the publisher of China’s oldest (and the world’s most-read) science fiction magazine (also called Science Fiction World), as well as a great number of SF books, both original and in translation. In addition to their core activities, they were manning a booth in the trade hall (dealers’ room) to promote the Fourth China International SF Conference, which will be held in Chengdu this November.

Then there was Douban Read, the publishing arm of a social networking service. At least two of their people were meeting with science fiction writers and editors in order to expand their presence in the SF market.

The Future Affairs Administration is or began as, if I got this right, a consortium of Beijing-area fans, dedicated to the promotion and development of Chinese science fiction. In a South China Morning Post interview with the Future Affairs Administration's founder Ji Shaoting, the paper characterized their mission as "a start-up in Beijing that wants to ‘administer the future’ by being an incubator for sci-fi talent and integrating resources through hosting seminars and connecting writers with scientists." They are currently getting into publishing in a big way.

Finally, but certainly not least, there was Storycom, which I was told exists chiefly to connect Chinese science fiction writers to the Chinese movie industry. But they are engaged in other activities as well, most notably the Shimmer Program. A partnership between the Shimmer Program and Clarkesworld has been bringing a Chinese science fiction story a month to Anglophone readers for twenty or more months. We have good reason to be grateful to them.

So there was a great deal going on. Most of which, of course, went right over my head. My connection with China is very slim. I've had some stories and novels published there, and I have Chinese friends, but to be honest, I'm a spear-carrier in this epic.

But I'll say a few words more about on this topic in Wednesday's blog.


You can read The Earthian Hivemind’s interview with Franceso Verso here.

You can read the interview with Ji Shaoting here.

And of course, you can always find the indispensable Clarkesworld here.


Above: That's me with my friend Haihong Zhao, an extremely good writer and winner of several Chinese Galaxy Awards.


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Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Writer's Pie Safe

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I just now finished a story and placed it in the pie safe. Which is a tool almost as necessary to a writer as a pen or a level desk to place heaps of paper upon.

A literal pie safe is a piece of furniture used before refrigeration to store pies and other foodstuffs. It often has tin inserts decorated with punched holes to provide ventilation while keeping out flies and other vermin. But I, of course, am speaking metaphorically.

A metaphorical pie safe is the discipline needed to set aside a finished story for a few weeks and not think about it. The story doesn't stay in the pie safe long enough to grow stale -- just long enough for the writer to fall out of love with his or her words. Then it gets taken out again and reread. Preferably out loud.

You'd be amazed at the mistakes that leap out at you when you do that. A quick revision later, however, the story is ready to submitted to a paying market. And resubmitted again and again until it is bought or you die.

Whichever comes first.


And a word of caution...

No writing advice works for all writers. Depending on what kind you are, the pie safe might not be suitable for you. It is definitely contraindicated for writers who, given the chance, will take the opportunity to lock the story away, never to be reread, revised, or submitted to a paying market. You know who you are.


Above: A very nicely made pie safe I found at The Wood Whisperer. You can visit that page here.


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Friday, September 1, 2017

A Family Visit

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It used to be, Marianne and I had to drive three hundred miles to visit her parents. Today, alas, it takes less than a hundred.

Yesterday, Marianne and I drove to the military cemetery in Ft. Indiantown Gap to visit her father, William Christian Porter and mother Mary Ann Porter. The cemetery is beautiful and quiet and, the stones being all of a size, there is a touching democracy of death.

Death is something the military forces understand well.I've been to a lot of military funerals and they're always deeply moving.

Marianne's mother's remains were interred some while ago, though. We just came to visit and to see that the stone had been carved in accord with her wishes. As it was. It had taken some argument with the VA officials, but they finally agreed to let her have her way: If you look closely at the stone, you'll see that under her husband's name are his dates of birth and death, but under hers only the date of death.

Her age was nothing that a woman of her generation would have made public.


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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Two Stories On The Stands At One Time!

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Look what came in the mail yesterday!

The September/October issue of Asimov's Science Fiction contains my novelette "Universe Box." Which, combined with the fact that the current issue of F&SF contains my short story "Starlight Express," (as mentioned in last Thursday's blog post) means this is a pretty darned good month for me.

"Universe Box" was originally published in an edition of thirteen as part of an assemblage by Dragonstairs Press. A project which, incidentally, sold out in four minutes flat.

So what's the story about? It's about cramming as much fun as i could in ten thousand words. A boring young man is about to propose marriage to the love of his life when Trickster drops by with a cigar box containing the biggest, most valuable theft of his career. Dan Scratch shows up to make a deal. The Eternal Minion has a face-down with the Black Lama. And there are giraffe wranglers!

Also, snowflakes.

Oh, and that reminds me: Spoiler Alert. I probably should have said that sometime earlier.

You can visit the Dragonstairs Press site here. Scroll down to see photos and a short film of the box. Linger to admire the many publications that, with one or two fleeting exceptions, are no longer available for sale.

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