Seven 20th Century Classic SF/F Books You May Not Have Read

December 23, 2016

Over the course of this past week I posted the following recommendations on my Facebook page. These are all books I’m a big fan of, have read and re-read growing up. They played a major role in shaping my perception of genre as well as my own writing style.

The posts generated some interesting discussion and I figured it may be worth collecting them into a blog post, for those who do not read my FB feed. (Which you totally can. My posts are generally set to public and you can subscribe/follow if you wish.)

So, here goes:

Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick

This book covers the history of the human race over the course of several thousand years. It’s episodic: each chapter is self-contained and can be read as a short story. In fact, I was surprised when Mike told me it wasn’t put together out of individually written/sold short stories first but, in fact, written in order over several months.

I love episodic fiction and this is perhaps the finest example of such when it comes to space opera. It also outlines the future history of the setting of many of Mike’s popular novels such as Santiago, the Widowmaker series, the Starship series, etc.

 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

This is my favorite Russian-language novel and Bulgakov is my favorite Russian author. In writing this book he invented Magical Realism decades before Marquez. In his “Heart of a Dog” he scooped Keyes by writing a superior version of “Flowers for Algernon.” Both of these books also have a humorous bend and engage in then-death-defying satire of the Soviet regime.

Inexplicably, Bulgakov was favored by Stalin, which protected him for a time. He died in 1940 and this novel wasn’t published until 1966. A very small print run was produced before the book was promptly banned by the censors and circulated mostly in samizdat until the late 1980s.

Although I can argue that this is one of (if not the) most influential Russian novels of the 20th century, I recommend it because it’s a great book that easily withstands the test of time and still reads fresh today.

 

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

 

In honor of the release of ROGUE ONE, today I’d like to talk up Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Admiral Thrawn trilogy.

I tend to strongly dislike media tie-in books. I’m of the opinion that they’re rarely any good, even when written by authors who are capable of producing excellent material. The combination of restraints placed by the IP holder, short turnaround times, and often crappy pay encourages writers to channel their inner hack and turn in bland, uninspired work that ranges from Meh to eyebleedingly horrible. There are, of course, exceptions, and Zahn’s Star Wars books are among the very best.

The Thrawn trilogy picks up five years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI and is full of intrigue, adventure, and unabashed space opera that makes Star Wars, well… Star Wars. He also introduces one of the best bad guys in the franchise, Grand Admiral Thrawn, who–in my opinion–is second only to Darth Vader himself. The alien tactician is brilliant enough to climb high in the Empire’s xenophobic hierarchy, and he makes a worthy opponent to Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the gang.

Although older Star Wars books are no longer considered canon as per Disney’s decree, many of Zahn’s ideas took root. It was he who introduced the concept of Coruscant, the Republic’s planet-wide capital city, which was later featured in the movies. And although I haven’t watched the cartoon, I understand Grand Admiral Thrawn shows up in STAR WARS REBELS, so that makes him canon, too.

From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown

 

Much of what I know about writing short fiction in general, and especially flash fiction, I learned from reading Fredric Brown. He isn’t as well-known today as he deserves to be but I don’t think it would be much of an exaggeration to call him the father of flash fiction. He wrote beautiful, funny, clever little stories that fit onto a page or two but carried more punch than most longer works do.

Although you might not already know his name, chances are you’re familiar with some of his work. Two of his pieces are particularly well-known. The first is “Arena,” a short story that a Star Trek: the Original Series episode of the same name was based on. (The original short story is better, IMO.) The second is “Knock,” which opens with the world’s shortest SF/horror story. I shall post it here in it’s entirety:

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

Brown goes on to elaborate on the concept in “Knock” but it’s these two lines that have spawned countless imitations and elaborations, and remain firmly embedded in our pop culture.

Although this book is a bit pricey, it’s well-worth it for the complete collection of Brown’s genre stories (he also wrote mysteries, which are collected in a separate volume.) In my opinion, anyone who is serious about writing short fiction must read this book.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

A beautiful, evocative, complex science fiction novel, this and it’s equally-good sequel The Summer Queen are among my favorite books — genre or otherwise.

Vinge has written several other excellent novels (such as the Psion books) but a serious car accident in the early 2000s derailed her career. She appears to have published a couple of film novelizations since then, and little else, which is a great shame.

 

Labyrinth of Reflections by Sergei Lukyanenko

While I talked about my favorite Russian writer earlier, my favorite *living* Russian writer is Lukyanenko. He has written everything from urban fantasy to space opera to YA, but his very first published novel (I believe it is, anyway) remains my favorite. Labyrinth of Reflections is a cyberpunk novel written in the 90s and while some of the references (like AOL and saving a laughably small amount of data onto a diskette) feel outdated, the book withstands the test of time as well as Neuromancer.

You may already be familiar with Lukyanenko’s work from the NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH films (the books are WAY better than the movies.) He’s deservedly the most popular fantasist in Russia (as well-known there as Stephen King is in the US) and is well-worth reading. I can’t vouch for the quality of the translation below since I read this book in the original, but a cursory examination suggests it’s pretty good.

Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

 

Simak is, in my opinion, one of the best SF writers of the 20th century. His work was well-recognized with award nominations and wins but it has been out of print for entirely too long and younger readers are sadly unfamiliar with his books. Fortunately, Open Road Media brought his work back into print recently. Although many of Simak’s books are excellent, I consider WAY STATION and CITY absolute must-reads for every SF fan (and writer!) out there.

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So what are some of your favorite genre books written in the 20th century? (With a special focus on titles that may not be as well-recognized as Dune or The Left Hand of Darkness or Ringworld)

 


Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah Podcast

December 21, 2016

My funny Cthulu Channukah story got the podcast treatment at FarFetchedFables this week. And if you prefer reading to listening, it’s still available here at Every Day Fiction.  This story was originally published in Galaxy’s Edge last year and it seems to have a lot of legs. You will get the chance to read/hear it at least once or twice more in 2017.

This week also marks the reprint of my SF story “Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms” as part of The Prison Compendium anthology edited by Jennifer Word.

prison

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New publication: “Noun of Nouns: A Mini Epic” in Upside Down

December 13, 2016

upsidedown

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is an anthology from Apex Publications which launches today. It includes my humor story “Noun of Nouns: A Mini Epic” which makes fun of the epic fantasy genre. (I wrote it while writing an epic fantasy novel, so…)

If you enjoyed “Dreidel of Dread” or “How Earth Narrowly Escaped an Invasion from Space” you will likely dig this story. It’s that kind of humor. So grab your copy, eh?

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Philcon 2016 Schedule

November 15, 2016

I’ll be attending Philcon this weekend. Here’s where to find me:

    • Fri 7:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Three—Russian and Soviet SF (2491)  The early Soviet era was a very positivistic, technologically- and scientifically-minded society  (*). How have the changing cultural ideologies of the region impacted the kinds of science fiction its writers have produced over the last eighty years? How has Russian folklore influenced their stories and storytelling?

Anna Kashina (mod), Alex Shvartsman, Anastasia Klimchynskaya, Michael Swanwick

(*) Not my words. I will probably spend some time on this panel railing against whoever wrote this panel description.

    • Fri 11:00 PM in Plaza II (Two)—Crucifix Nail Nipples, and Other Horrors from the Slush Pile [18+] (2428) We’ve spent all day talking about some of the best science fiction and fantasy to see the light of day. Now let’s talk about the submissions that editors have dutifully faced…and fought to keep locked in a drawer.

Bernie Mojzes (mod), Neal Levin, Alex Shvartsman, Brian Koscienski, A.E. Decker, W. Randy Hoffman

    • Sat 10:00 AM in Plaza III (Three)—Speculating With Respect: Using Religious Texts as Inspiration for Fiction (2446) Nobody likes it when their religion is treated as less than sacred, but some of the oldest stories in the world are represented in texts that are considered canon to someone’s belief system. Here are some things to consider when seeking to use scripture as source material.

Alex Shvartsman (mod), Jay Smith, Peter Prellwitz, D.H. Aire

    • Sat 7:00 PM in Executive Suite 623—Readings: Alex Shvartsman at 7pm & Tom Purdom at 7:30pm (2685) Alex Shvartsman (mod), Tom Purdom

Saturday happens to be my birthday, too. So if you want to do something nice for me on that day, attend my reading. 🙂

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And speaking of early birthday presents, I’m happy to announce that Apex magazine accepted my translation of K. A. Teryna’s award-winning short story “Black Hole Heart.” I assume it will appear there sometime in 2017. Stay tuned!


New publication: “Masquerade Night” in In a Cat’s Eye anthology

October 22, 2016

catseye

There have been lots of cat anthologies and there surely will be lots more. But that’s only because we never get tired of reading them! In a Cat’s Eye features original stories by Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Elektra Hammond and others, as well as an all-new horror (well, horror-adjacent at least) story from yours truly.

“Masquerade Night” is about a dance club in 1920s New York City where ancient gods and monsters mingle with unsuspecting humans.  Here are the opening lines

The first time Harat saw Ada was when she was dancing with the goddess of death.

It was masquerade night, and cub Rhythm was full of monsters. An orchestra blasted the latest European tunes at their highest volume setting, filling the cavernous dance hall with music. Dance beats reverberated in Harat’s temples. An engine rotated an enormous lantern of painted glass suspended from the high ceiling, which cast shards of colored light across the hall. It was the glint of light against the lapis lazuli amulet that drew his attention.

Want to read more? Grab the e-book or a paperback here.

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A Major Milestone

October 17, 2016

Today marks a major milestone in my writing career. I just typed the words “THE END” at the bottom of a 95,000 word document that is my first novel, Eridani’s Crown.

When I first dared to try my hand at writing fiction in English, back in 2010, I planned on being a novelist. I wrote a prologue and half a first chapter on a novel and then I realized that I had no bloody idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to proceed, how to build a decent plot or a character arc. Worse yet, I didn’t know if the writing was any good, and I didn’t know any people who could tell me. While I have been a life-long science fiction fan, at that time I never even met another science fiction writer.

And so I came up with a brilliant plan: I would write a few short stories and I would send them out to science fiction magazines (of which I only knew about three total.) I figured that if I was able to write publishable short stories then that meant I was ready to tackle a novel.

I wrote a short story. Then another. Then another. After a few months of this my stories suddenly began to sell. At first I placed a few at very small token markets, but before long I had a string of semi-pro sales, then a few pro sales. Over the course of six years I’ve had nearly 100 short stories published, most of them at pro venues. I won an award, was nominated for another, had countless stories reprinted, podcasted, translated to other languages…

But I never finished that novel. Or any other novel. Until now.

Having more-or-less established myself as primarily a humor writer, I figured my first book would be some sort of a snarky urban fantasy or an otherwise humorous adventure yarn (space opera, maybe?) But instead, I set the mode to “super difficult” for myself and wrote a secondary-world grimdark fantasy with not a joke in sight.

Why grimdark you ask? I wrote a short story about the protagonist and was really fascinated with her. So I wrote another. And then I wanted to write her origin story. And before I knew it, I had a novel-length project on my hands. So I just kept writing.

It was slow going. I started working on this book about three years ago, but I added to the novel very slowly. choosing to focus on short story projects instead. As the manuscript slowly grew, I became more and more focused on the novel. In fact, well over 50% of my writing time in 2016 was spent working on this book. And tonight, the hardest part of the project is done.

To be clear, the book is far from finished. First drafts are messy and kind of ugly; they’re the sort of things you never ever show anyone because they contain mistakes and prose that can be outright embarrassing. But they’re the bones upon which the book will grow and flourish as I work on revisions.

I also have no idea if the book is any good. At the moment it feels like someone thoroughly shook the dictionary and upended it onto my screen. In other words: a random combination of words masquerading as a story. I simultaneously crave and dread the moment when I get to show this book to my trusted beta readers. If all goes well, they will assure me that the book is not totally crap. If it doesn’t… Well, no one can make me show this manuscript to anyone else. But I remain optimistic.

I can’t tease you like this and not tell you what the book is about. Eridani’s Crown is the story of a woman who is her world’s version of Alexander the Great or Napoleon — except she succeeds where they failed and actually takes over the entire world (conveniently, her world is a single Pangea-like continent called the Heart.)

She starts out as a hero, fighting against terrible odds and for all the right reasons. But by the end of the book, she is the worst kind of villain and despot. I like to describe it to folks as a “character arc of Breaking Bad meets the grimdark setting of Game of Thrones.”

And while, again, I’ll reiterate that I don’t know if the end result is any good, I’m certain it’s ambitious. There are politics and machinations, examination of power and responsibility, and the first instance of a political Cold War I’ve seen in this sort of setting. I stole liberally from different eras of history, with characters loosely based on Alexander the Great and Mozi (Chinese engineer and pacifist from 400 BC). There are scenes inspired by the Battle of Waterloo and the decline of the Roman Empire, by the ill-considered reforms of Peter the Great and the brutality of Ghenghis Khan.

And I’m pretty sure the body count would make George R. R. Martin flinch.

Whether this book or good or not, I have unlocked a major achievement in that now I can call myself a novelist. Tomorrow the revisions begin, but tonight I celebrate and rest on my laurels for just a little while.

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Humanity 2.0 is now available

October 17, 2016

Humanity20-400

Humanity 2.0 is an anthology of hard SF and space opera short stories, each dealing with the idea of how interstellar travel (whether from or to the solar system) may alter us as a species. Physiological and social changes are both on the table.

This is a bit of a different project for me. Up until now I’ve edited mostly anthologies of humorous fiction, as well as a couple of books with a tight but at least somewhat-whimsical focus (an anthology of Coffee stories and a fun space opera antho set in a game universe.) So Humanity is arguably my first “serious” anthology, with not a pie in sight of anyone’s face nor a banana peel hidden in the darkness. Can I curate a solid collection of “serious SF”? We’ll  find out.

You can buy Humanity 2.0 here. And if you happen to have received an early review copy, don’t forget that your reviews are both extremely helpful and really appreciated!

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