Unless an author has a particularly fascinating personal story, or is embroiled in a spicy controversy, I tend not to read a lot about them. I’d prefer to read and talk about their fiction. I think that’s a common angle in the old-school genre fiction circles (science fiction, fantasy, horror). So when Wired Magazine published a piece, reputedly critical of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, I skipped it.
I don’t really qualify as a Brandon Sanderson fan. I encountered (and enjoyed) his work finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, and on the strength of that I have Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. I’ve enjoyed his commentary on the writing podcast Writing Excuses. He seems like a nice guy, accessible to peers and fans, and very enthusiastic about genre fiction. I never felt the urge to dive deeply into Brandon Sanderson, The Man.
The success of the Disney+ series Andor seems to be inspiring a pivot in the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian S3 E3 (Chapter 19) made a jarring, seemingly non sequitur jump from the Mandalorian diaspora and the news of their home world to a couple of Moff Gideon’s minions, now part of an Amnesty Program on the former Imperial capital planet of Coruscant. Former Imperial functionaries, their names replaced by numbers, have the opportunity to do work for the benefit of the New Republic. They can make lives for themselves, if not rise to their previous status and importance. It’s not much, but it’s better than prison.
One detail that struck me: The administrative bureaucracy of the New Republic in The Mandalorian looks exactly like the administrative bureaucracy of the Empire in Andor. The same vast, open floor plan, the same cubicle pits, the same sense of a giant, soulless Panopticon. The rebellion shifted who’s in power, but life in the bureaucracy hasn’t changed much. In fact, the sense of paranoia and totalitarian surveillance is alive and well in the New Republic. It’s a scathing indictment of revolution. The high drama of Star Wars’s rebellion is over, and in The Mandalorian, people have a hard time fitting into the boring business of running a bureaucracy.
Superhero science fiction, 1,400 words, a prologue of sorts wherein two estranged, super-powered brothers meet to set an entire superhero saga into motion.
The man who called himself The Hammer stepped onto the basketball court in the old neighborhood with something approaching reverence. The world was at stake. This would be an ending, but it could also be an origin. His younger brother Evan was already there. Two hoops stood in opposition on a blacktop rectangle, surrounded by just enough grass and a couple of stunted trees to call it a park. In simpler times, being on different sides didn’t make you enemies. Except when it did.
The Hammer asked his brother to meet here because Evan was sentimental, and might put aside their beef to hear him out. If it went right, it would be a new beginning for them, and where better to begin than at their beginning? Maybe The Hammer was sentimental too. When they were growing up, this wasn’t a place to hang at 3 AM. Times changed. So had they, along with a tenth of the world’s population. Empowerment was a rush, but it brought new threats.
The Codex Writers group holds a periodic “Weekend Warrior” contest where writers are given a set of prompts on Friday evening, and are challenged to write and submit a 750-word (max) flash fiction story, due the following Sunday night. The writers in randomly-organized divisions all score the stories on a ten-point scale, and give their feedback and suggestions for improvement. There are five rounds, and the three best scores are added to determine a writer’s final score. The prize of ranking in the top three in one’s division is bragging rights, but the real prize is that each writer has completed up to five stories, with reader comments.
I’m thrilled to announce that my 1,100-word dreamy horror story “Stag In Winter” is published in Cosmic Horror Monthly issue #33! It’s a little tale of a man who has lost his purpose finding one in a commune in the wilderness. It’s so nice to be needed. The Great Resignation meets Showtime’s Yellowjackets.
I used my one free online article to read Ted Chiang’s February 9, 2023 article in The New Yorker, “ChatGPT Is a Blurry Jpeg of the Web.” It’s well worth the price of an issue (if they include it in one), one of those mind-expanding explanations of technology that ignites the imagination and shifts how one looks at a problem.
Ted Chiang, my favorite science fiction author, is a master of the pithy analogy. He describes the current crop of large learning models—GPT-3 (ChatGPT), DALL*E, etc. —in terms of data compression and decompression. These may well be the same terms in which AI practitioners understand these problems, but Chiang articulates the connection so well, it’s hard not to see learning, both machine and human, in these terms. It feels revelatory.
If you’re already versed in compression algorithms, do read Ted Chiang’s article. It’s wonderful. But for my friends and family who aren’t in technology, with whom I’ve been discussing these text-and-art generating systems, I have a simplified walkthrough—my own stab at pithy analogies.
I adore what Javier Grillo-Marxuach writes about writing. He’s a screenwriter and showrunner: his essay on “Operational Theme” in Apex Magazine is a brilliant way to understand how a collaborative creation maintains cohesion, and his Eleven Laws of Showrunning is an excellent leadership/management bible for creatives (fields like software development are often creative too!).
He recently wrote an essay on World-Buiding in Uncanny Magazine, and it’s a joy to read. This whole blog post is just an excuse to share that link. It comes on the heels of a context-free Stephen King tweet on how he dislikes the phrase “world-building” which sent speculative fiction writers into a minor tizzy. It is, after all, the thing we SFFH writers do. Grillo-Marxuach reeled the discussion back in by defining the terms, and more importantly, outlining the principles of world-building as a process of craft, not a product to be delivered to a studio exec–which is likely what King was referring to. The following are some thoughts on JGM’s principles, but honestly, just read his words.
Fantasy/thinly-veiled fan-fiction, 2,000 words. The empire is smashed. The Dark Lord is dead. The rebellion has won. Now, the leader of the rebellion, who only just learned that the Dark Lord was her father, must lead the reconstruction, and reckon with the eldritch power she inherited.
Shadows wheeled and whirled across walls and shelves, thrown by breeze-bothered candles. Her brother Lucerin would see omens in the interplay of shadow and light, but Alie Okarna, her quill poised over paper, found only annoyance. She scrawled her signature, large and bold, at the bottom of an order that could starve thousands. It would also pressure the former imperial capital to end an economy propped up by slavery.
Those enslaved will starve first.
Peace is only war under different terms. The stakes are no smaller. Remember why you fought.
I’m thrilled to announce that my 1,000-word science fiction story, “The Air Will Catch Us,” is published in Reckoning issue 7! A grandparent reckons with environmental changes nobody had foreseen, where–as Pennywise the Clown promised–everyone floats.