(1) CLICHE KILLER. Charlie Stross has left the story! Or at least heaved the book across the room. He’s posted a rant about “Science-fictional shibboteths” with examples of “what makes me yell when I kick the tires on an SF/F novel these days.”
…Disbelief can be shattered easily by authorial mistakes—one of the commonest is to have a protagonist positioned as a sympathetic viewpoint character for the reader behave in a manner that is not only unsympathetic but inconsistent with the protagonist’s parameters. But there are plenty of other ways to do it….
But then we get to more specific matters: specific shibboleths of the science fictional or fantastic literary toolbox that give my book-holding hand that impossible-to-ignore twitch reflex.
(Caveat: I am talking about books here. I basically don’t do TV or film because my attention span is shot, my eyeballs can’t scan fast enough to keep up with jerkycam or pull in enough light to resolve twilight scenes, and my hand/eye coordination is too crap for computer games.)
Asteroidal gravel banging against the hull of a spaceship. Alternatively: spaceships shelting from detection behi nd an asteroid, or dodging asteroids, or pretty much anything else involving asteroids that don’t look like this….
(2) SILVER BELLS. A Krampus parade in Austria. The video (a public Facebook post) is highly entertaining. Jim Rittenhouse nicknamed the marchers “the 324th Krampus Brigade” but it’s a genuine local custom. (Well, I’m not sure about the giant silver bells on their buttcheeks….)
What is this…? An Austrian tradition!
The Krampus is an old tradition. It has its origins before Catholicism reached the mountains in Austria and Bavaria. In the past, were the winter was cold and strong, before the Krampus a so called Perchte should punch the winter away with a rod. When Catholicism reached the described areas, the Perchte was transformed into the Krampus, just like other profane rites. So the Krampus got the bad part of the Nikolaus-Krampus team. With the Krampus scaring the kids. The good kids are rewarded by the Nicklaus whereas the bad kids are punished by the Krampus.
The Parade called “Krampuslauf” serves to present the masks . Many hundreds or thousands of people look at this ” Krampuslauf ” in different locations in Austria.
(3) Today In History
- December 5, 1974: The last new episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was broadcast on the BBC.
- December 5, 1980: Big-screen adaptation of the Flash Gordon serial opens in the U.S.
(4) Today’s Birthday Boys
- Born December 5, 1890: Fritz Lang
- Born December 5, 1901: Walt Disney
(5) MYTHIC FIGURES. Seen in Paris a couple of weeks ago —
(6) SORCERER TO THE CROWN. The Independent profiles author Zen Cho.
Perhaps somewhat unwittingly, Zen Cho has become something of a poster-girl for the growing chorus of voices clamouring for more diversity in science fiction and fantasy literature.
It seems a given that a genre that deals with the different, the new, and the unfamiliar as a matter of course should quite naturally embrace diversity and progressiveness in both its practitioners and its characters.
But the recent debacle over the genre’s Hugo Awards – to cut a very long story very short, the awards nominations were flooded by a concerted campaign from a couple of fandom factions who think SF should really be the preserve of straight white males, and a spaceship should be a spaceship and not a metaphor for anything else – shows that there are still clearly-delineated battle lines over this….
Zen Cho’s response has been more measured, and delivered in really the best way an author can – she’s written a novel that simultaneously manages to tackle questions of race, gender, and social justice while being a thumping good read.
Sorcerer to the Crown is a Regency fantasy that posits an alternative-history England where magic is practised openly, but where political shenanigans within the source of the magic, the Fairy Court, are limiting England’s power … and just when it needs it most as the Government ramps up its war with the French.
(7) AN UNEXPECTED LANCELOT. Sherwood Smith covers the history, then reviews the mystery, in “Arthurian Cycle with a New Twist” at Book View Café.
But after a lifetime of sampling all these various versions, I’ve never really taken to this storyline. It’s a doom and disaster tale that turns on adultery. Not my cuppa.
I did have to teach Malory back in my teaching days, getting puzzled kids through fifteenth century English mainly by teasing out stories that could relate to their lives now, and then painting a picture of life then. We read it in spite of the story, kind of, because personality was pretty sparse: the characters are all pretty much one thing, especially the women.
But there’s one Arthurian story I really like a whole lot, and that’s this one, by Carol Anne Douglas, the first half of which is entitled Lancelot: Her Story. I’ve been reading drafts over a number of years, as she slowly reworked and layered the story into what it is now.
She’s studied those earlier versions, and it shows in the episodic nature of the narrative, the easily accessible prose, and of course the famous people and incidents. But she added a twist: Lancelot is a woman. And Arthur and his Knights don’t know it.
(8) TOP 10 WARS. From Future War Stories, “FWS: Top Ten Most Interesting Wars of Military Science Fiction” Many good picks, and plenty of fodder for discussion since my own list wouldn’t overlap that much. What about yours?
- The Cylon Wars from BSG
The Cylon Wars have been a founding event in both BSG series, and neither have been seen in any length until the 2012 web-only miniseries Blood & Chrome. In the 2004-2009 Reimagined Series, the rebellion of the intelligence machines, known as Cylons, was about fifty two years before the Cylon Holocaust (BCH), and lasted for 12 years. This war united the 12 Colonies of Kobol under the Articles of Colonization, and saw the construction of the Battlestars that we know and love. This conflict transformed the 12 Colonies and paved the way for its destruction decades later and the rise of our society here on Earth. But, we saw very little of the actually, despite the Caprica series.
In the original 1978 series, the Cylons were actually an reptilian alien race that used robotic soldiers to wages their wars after their own population was nearly exhausted to maintain their empire.
The Cylons of the original series waged an 1,000 year war with the 12 Colonies of Man, until finally achieving victory, and destroying the 12 Colonies of Man. Of course, both Cylons had help in destroying the 12 Colonies in the form of the Baltar characters. After the end of the SyFy Channel reimagined series in 2009, it was believed that a new series would be created around the Cylon War and William Adama’s experiences in the war, along with the series Caprica. Again, the Galactica would be front-and-center. This would have allowed us to see the war that had been floating around science fiction since the 1970’s. That promised series was not delivered in the form that we fans expected. BSG: Blood & Chrome was downgraded to an online miniseries of a 10 episodes. The show we thought we were going to get was just okay, and the Cylon Wars remains an unseen war. What is interesting about the Cylon War mentioned in both series, is that creators took two very different ideas on the war and the Cylons.
(9) VIRTUAL CHERNOBYL. Preview the virtual tour of Chernobyl now being assembled for an April online debut.
Take a virtual tour of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone – without leaving your sofa
The town of Prypiat is not a place which is likely to feature on many travel-lovers’ bucket lists.
Almost three decades ago, its 350,000 residents’ lives changed forever when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster turned their home into a terrifying radioactive danger zone.
Prypiat might not be the sort of destination you’d fancy visiting in real life, but soon you will have the chance to take an amazing virtual tour of this abandoned Soviet ghost city.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster next year, a Polish games developer called The Farm 51 is offering “anyone with access to virtual reality devices an unprecedented trip to the area without leaving the comfort of their homes”.
… “Virtual visitors will be free to explore and engage with places that have hitherto been off limits.”
The Farm 51 spent days filming the town’s eerie locations in unprecedented detail, digitising its spooky swimming pool, ferris wheel and bumper cars.
Anyone brave enough to take a virtual tour can do so starting from April 26 next year – the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
(10) GOOGLE BESTSELLERS. At The Digital Reader, “Google Play Reveals Its Best-Selling eBooks, Videos, and Games for 2015”. Depressingly, five of the 10 top books are “Fifty Shades…” of something. But The Martian by Andy Weir and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs also sneaked in there.
After seeing Google’s list, I was better prepared to discover that science fiction is only the seventh among the top selling fiction categories at Smashwords — “2015 Smashwords Survey Reveals Insights to Help Authors Reach More Readers”.
[Last three of ten points.]
- Avoid $1.99. For the fourth year in a row, $1.99 was a black hole in terms of overall earnings. On a unit sales basis, although $1.99 books outperformed all books priced $5.00 and above, it dramatically underperformed on overall earnings, earning 73% less than the average of all other price points. If you write full length fiction and you have books priced at $1.99, trying increasing the price to $2.99 or $3.99, and if your book performs as the aggregate does, you’ll probably sell more units. Or if it’s short and $2.99+ is too high, try 99 cents instead because the data suggests you’ll earn more and reach about 65% more readers. I’m not entirely certain why this is the case. It’s not because our retailers pay lower levels for sub-$2.99 books. They don’t. Our retailers pay the same for $1.99 as they do for $9.99. There’s something about the price point that readers don’t like. Who knows, maybe readers see 99 cents as an enticing promotional price, $2.99 and up as a fair price, and $1.99 as the price for lesser quality books that couldn’t make the $2.99 grade. Your theory is as good as mine.
- Bestselling authors and social media. Bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and more likely to have a blog. Not a huge surprise, though it’s worth noting there are plenty of successful authors who have minimal presence on social media.
- Top 10 Fiction categories during the one year period: 1. Romance. 2. Erotica. 3. YA and teen fiction. 4. Fantasy. 5. Mystery & detective. 6. Gay and lesbian fiction. 7. Science fiction. 8. Historical. 9. Thriller & suspense. 10. Adventure.
[Thanks to Mark-kitteh, Alan Baumler, Will R., John King Tarpinian, and Brian Z. for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus .]