Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts

Robots in 1901 Japan?

Izanami's Choice comes out in three days. So for the next 72 hours or so, this is me:

Interviews and reviews are trickling in, with more due to appear around the release date. Seattle Weekly loved it, calling it "a ferocious little genre blender in book form: part Hammett novel, part Kurosawa Samurai epic, part Blade Runner, and entirely obsessed with keeping the reader’s eyes moving from one page to the next."

Nerds on Earth said, "Heine does a great job of building a world replete with rules and history and uses both to construct a mystery with an awful lot of intrigue and surprise."

I'm not even kidding! They actually said those things!

On release day, I'll be giving away two signed copies of the book. There may be other giveaways going on around that time too, so watch this space for more info. (Watching Twitter space or Facebook space will also get you what you want). UPDATE: Oh, look! Here's one of them now: a chance at a 30-page critique.

So in Izanami's Choice, Japan has functioning robots and machine intelligence as early as the 19th century. I was recently asked how the heck that's even possible. After all, in our 1901 computers didn't exist then, and things like simple radio technology were still very primitive.

First of all, it should be noted that Japan has had actual automata as early as the 17th century. Karakuri puppets are relatively simplistic  compared to the creations in Izanami's Choice, but it shows the idea of Japanese robots is very old -- much older than the timeline of my novella.

As for machine intelligence, well that's where science fiction comes in. It's primarily a combination of two what-ifs:
  1. What if Charles Babbage had successfully completed his difference engine and analytical engine designs? (This is essentially the same what-if behind The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling).
  2. What if evolutionary programming were discovered around the same time?
The latter would require a variety of factors, like Babbage chatting with Charles Darwin and coming away with programmatic ideas, and 19th-century logicians figuring out how to codify reasoning as mathematic deduction -- not probable, but plausible.

Evolutionary programming is the idea of pitting competing parameters or programs against each other to achieve a certain goal (like getting a computer to handle facial recognition). Those parameters that perform best are then modified further and tested against each other again. This process is repeated until you have a programmatic solution to otherwise difficult problems.

The key idea behind Izanami's Choice, then, is that this method was used with the analytical engines to rapidly improve the design of the engine's programs and even the engine itself. The engine was improved to the point where it could evaluate the results automatically, and then it was improved further to where it could revise the programs itself as well. When that loop was closed, the engine would become capable of revising and improving upon itself at a rapid rate -- a robotic singularity.

Of course the novella doesn't have a big old infodump like this in it, but I do love talking about world-building!

Izanami's Choice -- a story about samurai, robots, and AI singularities

I've been head down writing Torment conversations, but I have an important announcement to make: my new novella, Izanami's Choice, is coming soon from Broken Eye Books.

It's a book. That you can buy. About samurai and robots in a cybernetic Meiji-era Japan.

If any of that sounds remotely interesting to you, I recommend you sign up for my newsletter so you'll know when it comes out.

Not sure? Read on!

Tokyo, at the dawn of the 20th century. The Empire has gone through an industrial and political revolution. The samurai are a thing of the past, railroads connect every major city, and the artificial jinzou serve in every aspect of Japanese life, from servants to soldiers to assassins.

Shimada Itaru is an aging ronin, a survivor of samurai rebellions from the early days of the Meiji Restoration. He hates the jinzou, but he knows quite a lot about fighting them -- or he did, before the Emperor made it illegal for humans to carry weapons.

Gojusan is a jinzou framed for her master's assassination. Hunted by her own kind, and unable to turn to the police, she runs to Itaru for help. Before Itaru can throw the jinzou out, assassin droids storm his home, trying to kill them both. Now Itaru's on the run with the thing he hates most, and the only way he's going to get his life back (such as it was) is to figure out what really happened to Gojusan's master.

Of course, the truth is something neither of them suspect.

I'd love to say more, but Torment! Conversations! (Seriously, I need to get back to work if I'm going to make my deadline). Sign up for the newsletter or subscribe to the blog for more information in the near future.

You can also ask me questions, if you like. I'll get to them when I can. (Yes, I'm busy, but sometimes answering questions serves as a nice break. So don't be shy.)

In which you can read a new story of mine

On December 21st, there's a new anthology out which includes "Curiosity," my Cthulhu space story you may have heard me mention, alongside stories from several other fine authors -- including Monte Cook Games's Bruce Cordell.

If you have any love in your heart at all, you will pre-order your copy right now!

Super science. Madness. Transhumanism.

This is the dawn of posthumanity. Some things can’t be unlearned.

Gleaming labs whir with the hum of servers as scientists unravel the secrets of the universe. But as we peel away mysteries, the universe glances back at us. Even now, terrors rise from the Mariana Trench and drift down from the stars. Scientists are disappearing—or worse. Experiments take on minds of their own. Some fight back against the unknown, some give in, some are destroyed, and still others are becoming… more.

The human and inhuman are harder and harder to distinguish. Mankind is changing, whether it wants to or not, with brand new ways of thinking. What havoc is wreaked by those humans trying to harness and control their discoveries? As big science progresses and the very fundamentals of this universe are understood, what stories are being hushed up?

Of course, the Old Ones laugh at our laws, scientific and otherwise.

These are transhumanist near-future science fiction tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. These are tales of more than merely cosmic dread. They exist in our world of the next couple years. This is the era of big science and—what is that? We’ll be right back. 

Authors: Desirina Boscovitch, Lynda Rucker, Samantha Henderson, Daria Patrie, Kaaron Warren, Richard Byers, Damien Angelica Walters, Spencer Leary, Joshua L. Hood, Jeff C. Carter, Simon Bestwick, Matt Maxwell, Shannon Fay, Adam Heine, Mike Allen, Darrell Schweitzer, Cody Goodfellow, Bruce R. Cordell, Pete Rawlik, A.C. Wise, Robert Brockway, Nate Southard, Molly Tanzer, Joshua Alan Doetsch, Thomas M. Reid, Clinton J. Boomer, L.A. Knight, Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi, J.M. Rozanski

Editors: Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski

Why are we drawn to magic?

From the AMA pile, Nameless One (though not the Nameless One . . . I don't think) asks:
Why are we so drawn to the theme of magic?

When viewing cravings, be it one for air, food, sex and something else...they are all based on things that we can observe and acquire, so why do we crave works of fiction that involve magical themes as strongly as we do?

Well, I can't tell you why you are drawn to the theme of magic. I can tell you that there are people who aren't drawn to the theme of magic, who feel fantasy fiction is ludicrous and a waste of time (and I really can't tell you why they feel that way).

But I can tell you why I am drawn to themes of magic: because I want to believe there is more to this world than what we think we know.

I want to believe there are powers we don't understand, worlds we've never visited and can't imagine, wonders that we could accomplish -- right now, even -- if we only knew how.

This sounds superstitious and silly (okay, I guess I can understand why those people feel that way about fantasy), but it's not. Gravity is a power I can calculate but don't fully understand, and I understand black holes and the strong nuclear force even less. The universe is filled with worlds we've never visited and can only imagine by pointing really powerful telescopes at distant stars and measuring how they twinkle.

And we are surrounded by wonders that, whether we can explain them or not, are no less wonderful for that. Cancer survivors are magic. Forests that regrow after a raging wildfire are miraculous. Everything at the bottom of the ocean is a fricking horror marvel.

Shoot, man, my kids are magic. They are people, with thoughts and ideas of their own, who will one day do things that no one has done before. And yet twenty-five years ago, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM EXISTED.

So I don't know about you, but I'm drawn to themes of magic because my world is filled with it and nobody seems to notice. I want to notice. I don't want to think that, just because I can explain or reproduce a thing, it means that thing is now mundane. And I want to believe -- I do believe -- that there are greater marvels out there that we know nothing about yet, or perhaps that we've dismissed because they don't fit our schema of what the world should be like. There's got to be more than this world seems to offer. We just gotta find it.

I don't know, guys. Why are you drawn to themes of magic?


Got a question. Ask me anything.

First Impact: INGENICIDE by Joan He (First Page)

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the first page for INGENICIDE, a YA dystopian from Joan He, whose query we read last week. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

First Page
It’s the first dance I’ve gone to in years.

I'm totally sticking on this: should
technicolor be capitalized?

I want to know what she thinks her
mother's thinking.
Mom tells me to stay away from the spirits. She glances out the car window, at the Technicolor lights that dart across Kennie’s packed driveway. Her brows knit together—I know what she’s thinking. Music thrums in the asphalt, vibrating through the soles of my shoes as I swing my feet onto the ground.

Dad rolls down the window. “Enjoy yourself. Today’s your day.”

“We’re so proud of you,” Mom adds, the little knot of worry vanishing. I blow them both a kiss. Dad honks. They drive away.

I knock and wait, apprehensive. It won’t just be our School at the post-graduation party tonight. Fairfax, Georgetown, and DC should be here, too. Already, I catch drifts of new voices among the blasting speakers and the familiar lull of the old. I relax when it’s Tess who opens the door.

Ombre's a pretty modern term (I had
to look it up). Is this near future?
“Hey, Sibyl,” she yells over the song. Her eyes are heavily made-up, but nothing competes with her dress. It’s got a million iridescent scales that scatter in ombre from the hemline. Rainbow lights dart around her form. They make Tess sparkle.

“You’ve outdone yourself,” I yell back. She laughs.

“Did you expect anything less?”

Not sure why school is capitalized.

Kind of a non-sequitur from Tess to
the school system.
No, I didn’t. Not from Style Enhancer Tess Wittle of Alexandria, which is one School of five in the DC and Virginia sector. All the Schools belong to the Training Of Prodigies system, better known by its acronym: TOP.

Tess doesn’t wait for an answer. The door closes behind us as she pulls me into the mass of dancing graduates. She’s whisked away after barely a minute, but I don’t mind. TOP Peers who recognize me pull me into their circles. They ask me about my plans after the one-month hiatus and congratulate me when I tell them that I’ll be apprenticing under a team of Experts in the renovation of the White House. Between beats, I ask them the same question. One Flesh Weaver leaves late June for a Bioprinting conference in Japan. Russell, Alexandria’s resident Beauty Translator, will be hosting his first art show in New York. Slaps and fist pumps go around, and then again, until it gets a bit overwhelming.

Adam's Thoughts
I really want to know what she thinks her mother is thinking :-) It seems like she's apprehensive, but I'm not clear about what, exactly. What is she afraid will happen? That knowledge alone might carry me through this piece a lot more strongly.

There are some world bits here that are intriguing -- the Flesh Weaver, for instance. But I'm not picking up enough to keep me hooked. That doesn't mean you have to add more just yet, but it's something to think about.

I kept getting hung up on simple words that were capitalized, but I didn't know why -- like School and Expert. I'm sure there's a reason, but because I don't know what it is, I find myself wondering why it doesn't just say school and expert. Why are they special enough to mark them as proper nouns? The problem is they appear to mean exactly the same thing as the common terms. It's similar to the problem of foreign terms: if a "hobarjee" is actually a duck, then it's better to just say duck.

These are nitpicks, and that's a good thing. I can't say I'm hooked yet, but I'm not turned off either. I think it just needs some turns in the right direction.

So what do the rest of you guys think?

First Impact: INGENICIDE by Joan He (Query)

Despite all the noise ($2M in two days, guys! Keep it going!), it's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

The random numbers have favored critiquer Melodie Wright for February's prize. Congratulations, Melodie! And the rest of you remember: anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the query for a YA dystopian from Joan He. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Query Letter
I think the phrase is "the sky is the
limit," but also it's a bit cliche. You
can do better.
For sixteen-year-old Sibyl Kenschild, the sky is her limit when it comes to interior design--that is, until the Genocide reaches Alexandria, Virginia, and gatecrashes the graduation party.

Why is Peers capitalized?

What's Ingenium?

At the moment, I think her life is
more important than these things :-)
In a matter of hours, Sibyl’s world is shattered. Chaos erupts, Peers are slaughtered, and Sibyl has no idea why the Normals have resorted to mass killings of the Ingenium. All she knows is that she’s too young to die. She must survive and protect what remains most important to her--her heart, her spirit, and her sanity.

My confusion in the 2nd paragraph
is making this one impossible to
So when the leaders of the Genocide present a selection of Ingenia with a second shot at living, Sibyl decides play their game. Four Peers will have to summon all that they have learned to create unparalleled rooms for the enemy headquarters. It is a competition that puts at stake the dearest price; with each assignment, one Ingenium is exterminated. As she grows closer to her competitors—in particular, a troubled but gentle boy who designs chillingly twisted rooms—Sibyl is not sure if she has what it takes to win. And if she does, she just might not have enough strength to ignore the fates of the others.

INGENICIDE is a YA dystopian/adventure novel complete at 58,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

Adam's Thoughts
First of all, I love dystopian novels, and this sounds like it has some cool stuff in it.

Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time figuring out what that cool stuff is. Who are the Peers? Who are the Ingenium? Which one is Sibyl? And why are they designing rooms? That part, in particular, sounds potentially cool, but I can't tell because I don't understand it.

Now understand, the way to fix this is not necessarily to add the information into the existing query. Very often that leads to a bloated query that just raises new questions. Look for things you can cut so that you don't even raise the questions to begin with. For example, do we really need to know about Peers and Ingenium? Maybe you can just say "Sibyl's people," and use the space you save to explain the rooms. Which way you go is up to you and what you want to convey in the query. Just remember, it's okay to skip stuff; the goal is to make the agent want to read more.

What do the rest of you guys think?

First Impact: THE LEGACY OF THE EYE (first page) by Patricia Moussatche

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the first page of a sci-fi novel from Patricia Moussatche. Some of you may remember critiquing the query for this one. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATE: Patricia has a revised version of the first paragraph in the comments.

First Page
Chapter 1--Proposal

Catrine blinked as her eyes adjusted to the brightness outside the school building. She should have worn a hat. She glanced at David, who had closed the heavy wood door behind them. Her best friend’s smile was as bright as the afternoon light. This was the first time either of them had left the school since their enrollment at the age of two. They were both eighteen now, but David looked ready to conquer the galaxy.

“Maybe we should go over your speech one more time,” she said.

His smile dimmed. “We went over it five times on the way here.”

“Four. And you’re still forgetting to mention that the tutors will be traveling to the pupil’s home planet. That’s the whole point of the proposal.”

“Do you want to give the speech?”

Her inside twisted in knots. “No.”

"Then stop fretting. If the council hadn’t liked our idea, they wouldn’t have requested an audience.”

“They probably read the proposal once. You’ve read it a dozen times and you still forget some of the details. I should have made you write it.”

David's smile returned. “Then it wouldn’t have been perfect.”

Or written at all, she thought.

Adam's Thoughts
I've actually read an earlier version of this (Patricia was one of the lucky winners of the 20-page critique). So keep in mind that I have more of the backstory in my head than a new reader might.

I really like the banter between them. It feels natural, shows off the characters (especially Catrine), gives useful information without being obvious about it, and it even makes me smile in a couple of places.

I'm less certain about the opening paragraph. It feels slower and less interesting to me. I don't think it should be cut necessarily, because it grounds us, but it didn't shine for me like the dialog did.

What do the rest of you guys think?

Books I Read: Neuromancer

Title: Neuromancer
Author: William Gibson
Genre: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk
Published: 1984
My Content Rating: R for sex, language, and violence
Cliffhanger Ending: No

Case is a washed-up computer hacker; a toxic enzyme from some folks he double-crossed ensures he can never jack into the matrix again. He spends his nights trying to get himself killed in the seamier side of Japan when he's approached by a mysterious man named Armitage and his muscle: a woman with mirrors for eyes and blades in her fingers. Armitage says he can give Case his life back, but he needs him for a job tougher than any hacker has ever faced.

Case is so totally in.

This novel is what cyberpunk is, guys. You have no idea how much science-fiction is influenced by this story, from Shadowrun to The Matrix. I once put this on a list of 10 sci-fi books every SF fan should know, and it has earned that spot.

And it's totally fun on top of it. The only thing that bugged me at all were the descriptions of cyberspace, which were a lot more amorphous that I would have liked. But it's surprising how well Gibson's imagined tech almost 30 years ago holds up to what we have today.

First Impact: MIST OF KAVALA by Carolyn Abiad

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start, and we're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who leaves a critique in the comments is eligible to win a 15-page critique from INCARNATE author, Jodi Meadows. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful.

This week we have a sci-fi query from Carolyn Abiad. Thanks for submitting, Carolyn! My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

Dear Mr. (agent),

The 2nd sentence feels misleading to
me. I'm sure he feels responsible, but
I wouldn't say he is.
In the biodome of Kavala, fifteen-year-old Taner is a pacifist who worships the goddess Tyche, like the rest of his outcast family. No one suspects he’s responsible for his father’s violent death. The Shadowcloak’s fatal shot was meant for Taner, who was pocketing the thief’s artifact.

I like the term mods in this sense.
A mix of guilt and vengeance drives Taner to defy his creed and secretly train to fight the Shadowcloaks. He activates the artifact, hoping to find the thieves, but what he discovers is not a portal or a passage. The artifact mods things, literally changes them. Taner mods his weapon, an auto-aim scope appears out of thin air, and the action alerts Tyche’s rival god, Mithra.
I'm having trouble tracking which
god is which here.
Mithra’s Elite Guards give Taner a choice: follow Tyche from his prison cell, or use his instinctive military skills to capture Shadowcloaks with the Guard.

Whoops, you lost me here. This
sounds like a cool reveal, but in the
query you might need to keep it
At Guard boot camp, Taner follows a raiding thief into the Shadowcloak dome, and discovers nothing he knows is solid. Biodomes are holographic, driven by Mithra’s exploitive codes. Mods are part of the fight to control reality. And the Shadowcloaks once followed Tyche.

Clear stakes. Good.
If Taner doesn't stop Mithra’s manipulation, the Shadowcloaks and everyone he loves in Kavala will be destroyed.
Linking to your website is great, but
I doubt agents will be interested in
the background of your book.
MIST OF KAVALA is a 59,000-word YA science fiction novel. Kavala’s world rules draw on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games, the mods that plague them, and the ancient military cult of Mithra. More information about the mythology in the book can be found at carolynsnowabiad (dot) com.

I believe you might like my YA sci-fi, MIST OF KAVALA (because).

Thank you for your consideration of my work.

Carolyn Snow Abiad
Women’s National Book Association
- Charlotte Membership Chair
SCBWI Member

Adam's Thoughts
This sounds like a cool world with a clear plot. I haven't actually played an MMORPG since 1989, but as a gamer I would totally read this.

I do think the query gets a bit confusing when it comes to the gods of the world. Part of that is I didn't realize the gods were actual characters until Mithra was introduced (usually gods are non-participants in a story), so I wasn't paying attention.

Actually, you might be able to skip mentioning Tyche entirely just to simplify it. Something like: "When a thief kills Taner's father, Taner leaves his family's pacifist religion, secretly training to fight the Shadowcloaks." But better, you know?

I like that even though the story is based on MMORPGs, it doesn't feel like a game-turned-novel. And who knows? You might find an agent who likes MMORPGs as well.

What do the rest of you guys think?

First Impact: The Legacy of the Eye, by Patricia Moussatche

Before we get to our First Impact critique, I need to announce that on Friday, Author's Echo is hosting revised versions of Authoress's Round One Logline Critiques. That means two things for you:
  1. More chances to win this month's First Impact prize. All critiques offered to these logline revisions will be entered for the monthly prize.
  2. There will be a deluge of posts on Friday (e-mail subscribers, I'm so, so sorry).
Remember, anyone who shares their thoughts in the comments of this post, and the logline revisions on Friday, will be eligible to win a 15-page critique from Jodi Meadows, author of INCARNATE. Each post you critique is another chance to win.

We always need more stuff to critique, so if you would like to submit your query/first page/etc, send it to Details here.

This week we have a sci-fi query from Patricia Moussatche. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. And remember, this is just one guy's opinion. Your mileage may vary.

This is a lot of setup. I think you can
just put "they're a team" after the
first sentence and cut all but the last.

"Diligence to write down ideas" feels
like a lame ability next to David's.
David and Catrine, top graduates from the Academy of Demia, are more than friends and schoolmates. David has brilliant ideas and Catrine has the diligence to write them down. Catrine is shy, so David gives their thoughts a strong voice. When David’s temper flares, it is always Catrine who calms him down. They are a team. At least until the day he kisses her.
Woah, this paragraph raises a lot of
world-building questions. How does
the throne have authority if it doesn't
exist? What has David accomplished?
How does the throne represent
hypocrisy? What kind of hypocrisy?

That day, David notices a tiny tattoo hidden beneath her hair that marks Catrine as next in line for a hereditary throne that should not even exist on their planet. Will his own accomplishments count for naught when the next ruler is chosen? And how can he love her if she represents the hypocrisy of the utopian society he always believed in?

More questions: What turmoil? How
is his gov't deceitful? Why is David
the only one who can make Demia
prosper? Where's home and who's
luring him there? And most
importantly: what's the bait?
When David discovers his parents are conspiring to make him king of Demia--a position that does not exist--by marrying him to Catrine, he is sure his leadership skills can be better employed bringing peace to the turmoil at the other end of the galaxy. He does not want to be part of a deceitful government, but can Demia prosper without him? And how long can he evade those who are determined to lure him home? The bait might just be more than he can resist.

I'm betting your work deals with
science fact, not fiction ;-)
THE LEGACY OF THE EYE, complete at 85,000 words, is science fiction with romantic elements and was inspired by Plato’s Republic. I also work with science fiction in test tubes at [where I work].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Patricia Moussatche

Adam's Thoughts
World-building is so, so, so, so, so hard to get across clearly -- decuply so in a query. The trick in a query is to stay 100% focused on what matters: the main character, his goal, his conflict, and what terrible choice he must make. Don't hint at anything you can't explain, and don't explain anything you don't absolutely have to.

This query actually does feel focused on the main storyline, but it hints at a bunch of things we don't understand. You either need to explain things, or even better, cut the bits that raise questions.

For example, instead of saying "a hereditary throne that should not exist," go straight to what's sinister about it. "She's marked as the next Queen Poobah. The Poobahs were supposed to have been removed from power centuries ago, but they've been ruling the utopian Demia from the shadows. Now David's parents are conspiring to make him the next King."

Or instead of explaining it, skip his relationship with Catrine and the tattoo, and go straight to David's parents conspiring to marry him to Demia's next shadow ruler. Then explain why this is a bad thing (stakes) and why just saying no is not an option (sadistic choice).

Anyway, that's just my idea. What do the rest of you think?

The Reality of Time Travel

"Time travel is theoretically impossible, but I wouldn't want to give it up as a plot gimmick."

— Isaac Asimov

So. Back to the Future. You know, the scene in the third movie where Marty complains they can't get the time machine to 88 mph because they'll run into a movie theater, and Doc says, "You're not thinking 4th dimensionally, Marty! When you go back to 1885, none of this will be here."

It's clever, cuz see, even though you're traveling to a different time, you're still in the same place. So while there's a movie theater in 1955, it's all prairieland in 1885. Where a bridge is under construction, 100 years later it'll be finished and you can just sail across.

But if you think about it, that's ridiculously Earth-centric.

See, during the time you skip, the Earth will have moved. For one thing, it rotates constantly. California (where the movies take place) moves through space at about 700 mph. So unless you are arriving at the exact same time of day as you left, the Earth will have shifted underneath you.

Pic by JasonParis, cc
In the DeLorean's inaugural voyage, Ein would've crashed into a house 12 miles west of the mall.
Also the Earth is traveling around the sun at about 67,000 mph. So not only would you have to arrive at the exact same time of day, but also the exact same time of year (we won't talk about that quarter of a day that makes Leap Day). So Einstein would have appeared somewhere past the International Space Station.

"Was that . . . a DeLorean?"

But that's assuming the sun is our central reference point, which is just as arbitrary. Why not use the galactic center? Or the (impossible to define) center of the universe? By some measurements, Earth is shooting through the universe at over 1 million miles per hour.

Poor Ein would end up a tenth of the way to the moon. And that's just for traveling one minute in to the future. Marty's first jump would land him somewhere past Neptune. His final 100-year trip would shoot him out of the solar system entirely.

Don't get me wrong, I love time travel stories. But writing them gives me a headache.

Who's not thinking 4th dimensionally now, Doc?

Twitter Horror

So I'm out of First Impact subs. I will continue to accept submissions as they come in (because, hey, one less post to think up), and September will still have a prize because I said it would, but I might not continue the prizes after that. We'll see.

In the meantime, I present to you this true story, told in tweets.

Speculative Fiction: A Diagram

Following up our conversation a couple weeks ago, I present Adam Heine's Official Definition of Speculative Fiction:

1. Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term covering everything that is either science fiction or fantasy.

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy are the two main branches of speculative fiction. Sometimes they overlap.

3. Horror is fiction intended to frighten or scare. It could be sci-fi, fantasy, both, or neither.

4. Magical Realism is not sci-fi, but to quote Terry Pratchett, it's "like a polite way of saying you write fantasy."

5. Everything Else -- paranormal, utopian, dystopian, superhero, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, alternate history, urban fantasy, weird fiction, supernatural, and all of the -punks -- is a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy.

Among other things, this means there is no speculative fiction that is not either sci-fi or fantasy. You will be very hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Here, I made a diagram to help.

Spec Fic, Sci-Fi, and Other Ambiguous Terms

"Speculative fiction" is hard to define, mostly because nobody agrees on the meaning. Broadly, there are two useful definitions, but to understand them, we have to take a brief (BRIEF!) look at the history of science fiction.

1. About 100 years ago, people called science fiction a thing.
2. About 80 years ago, sci-fi hit what's considered it's "Golden Age."
3. About 60 years ago, a LOT of people were writing sci-fi. Not all of it was good.

(Told you it was brief.)

It was around this time that Robert Heinlein coined the term speculative fiction, and gave it its first definition:

speculative fiction: (n) 1. Fiction that has science-fictional elements, but is not science fiction.

Here's what happened. When sci-fi got big, it also got stereotyped. It became seen as cheap entertainment for the masses. "Genre" fiction as opposed to "real" fiction. Critics treated it as subpar literature, even though (and I love this quote from Peter Watts) "The same critics who roll their eyes at aliens and warp drive don't seem to have any problems with a woman ascending into heaven while hanging laundry in One Hundred Years of Solitude, just so long as Gabriel Garcia Marquez doesn't get published by Tor or Del Ray."

Ever since then, a lot of sci-fi authors -- like Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, and Margaret Atwood -- have tried to distance themselves from the sci-fi label. They often use the term speculative fiction to do this.

But it's not a very useful definition. For one thing, it defines itself by what it is NOT, which is silly.

But also, it's arrogant. It tries to define speculative fiction as "science fiction, but good." It's an offense to Herbert, LeGuin, Asimov, Card, and thousands of other genuinely good sci-fi authors who weren't afraid of the term.

I think people realized this, but the term has stayed in use. But to most people, it now mostly means this:

speculative fiction: (n) 2. An umbrella term covering everything from science fiction to fantasy to magical realism.

At first glance, it appears too broad to be useful. Almost like saying spec-fic is any fiction that could not have occurred in the world as we know it.

Two things make this definition useful: (1) fans of sci-fi and fantasy* have a large amount of overlap. (2) A lot of speculative fiction does not fall easily into one of these subcategories.

Speculative fiction gives us a way to talk about works like Miéville's Perdido Street Station without having to decide whether the fantastical races make it fantasy or the high-tech, steampunk elements make it sci-fi. Or whether Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is fantasy because it feels medieval or sci-fi because it's dystopian and post-apocalyptic.

It is almost too broad a term (which is why I didn't use it in my query), but it's inclusive rather than snobbish, which I much prefer. Instead of saying, "That can't be genre fiction because it's not garbage!" I'd rather say, "Yes, this is genre. Some it is actually GOOD."

* And magical realism and horror, paranormal, dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction, superheros, alternate history, and everything else spec-fic usually covers.

Books I Read: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2009
My Content Rating: PG-13 for violence
Cliffhanger Ending: YES

Thomas wakes up in a dark elevator with no memories of who he is or what he's doing there. He emerges in the middle of a giant maze, surrounded by boys who have likewise been stripped of his memories. They've spent the last two years trying to escape, while struggling against the creatures that live in the maze. But Thomas is different. Things feel familiar to him, though he doesn't know why. He has to figure it out fast, though, because his arrival -- and the surprise arrival of the first girl the next day -- is about to change everything.

I completely fell in love with the world-building of this book. I mean, shoot, a giant maze with moving walls? What's not to love! And then when you start catching pieces of the mystery behind it all: HOOKED.

The characters made me happy too. They were smart (mostly; see below), brave, and stubborn (in a good way). I wouldn't mind being stuck in a maze with most of these guys.

The one thing that bothered me through most of the book was how slow they were to pick up on things. I didn't like that they seemed to be withholding information from each other, and I didn't like that it sometimes took Thomas a few tries before he remembered/believed something somebody did tell him.

The fact that I'm telling you about the book, however, should tell you just how much more I love the secrets and the world-building. I should be mad, but I'm not (though I do hope they're quicker to pick things up in the sequel), and I'm pretty sure I have to finish this series.

Books I Read: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Published: 2008
My Content Rating: R for violence and effing language (except he doesn't say effing)

Todd has grown up his whole life being able to hear everyone else's thoughts, and having everyone else hear his. A germ that hit before Todd was born killed all the women, and the men who survived couldn't keep their thoughts to themselves. But it turns out you can keep secrets even if you know everyone's thoughts, and the men of Todd's town have been keeping a lot of secrets. Todd's first hint of this is when he finds a spot of complete, impossible silence in a world filled with Noise.

If you feel like there's a lot I'm not telling you in that summary, then you understand the one thing I didn't like about this book. To me, the withholding of information felt artificial at times, and was put off for so long that I'd basically guessed all the answers already.

But don't take that the wrong way, because I LOVED this book. The world, the narrator's voice, the frigging dog . . . it was all pretty amazing. And it says a lot that, even though I felt almost cheated by the secrets, I didn't care. I was willing to let the story drag me along anywhere it wanted.

Fair warning though: the story is dark and leaves it wide open for the next book (gah, I hate book-ending cliffhangers). Still a good story, though, if this sounds like your thing.

Books I Read: Closed Hearts by Susan Kaye Quinn

You may recall I talked about Open Minds last year, about a world where everyone can read minds, except for this one girl who discovers she can actually control them. Susan Quinn (crit partner, Author's Echo regular, and giver of the BEST gifts) is releasing the sequel today.

So if you liked Open Minds, go and get Closed Hearts. And if you haven't read the first one, you might as well go do that first. The world building alone is worth it (and I think there's some kissing or something, if you're into that).

Title: Closed Hearts
Author: Susan Kaye Quinn
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Published: 2012
My Content Rating: PG-13 for make-outs and tense situations

After Kira outed the presence of mindjackers on national TV, things got difficult. Paranoia about what jackers can do is sweeping the mindreading population, complete with anti-jacker politicians and laws. As the most famous jacker in the world, Kira has to stay hidden from readers and angry jackers who liked things better when they were hidden. She thought she was doing okay, until an escaped jacker criminal kidnaps her and forces her to face the thing she fears most: the FBI's experimental torture chamber for jackers.

I love where this trilogy (yeah, there's one more) is headed. There's no easy answers for anybody, which is just how it should be.

And I love how Susan is still exploring this world (without going everywhere). Turns out things might not be as black and white as readers vs. jackers. There are other things too . . .

Because Closed Hearts comes out today, Susan also has a virtual party going on at her site and a giveaway. Use the form below to win some cool stuff!

Rafflecopter giveaway
Other books by Susan Kaye Quinn:

Mind GamesOpen MindsClosed HeartsIn His EyesLife, Liberty, and PursuitFull Speed Ahead

My Favorite Anime

I can't believe this blog has been going for nearly 4 years, and I have barely scratched the subject of anime. Well that ends now! Here are my top 5 anime series of all time.

(If you don't know what anime is, start here, though odds are you've already seen it. Apparently, I was watching it as a kid and didn't even realize it.)

(For my top anime movies, please see the entire collected works of Hayao Miyazaki.)

#5 Samurai Champloo
Genre: Hip-hop historical fiction, samurais
Premise: Two rival master swordsmen are rescued from execution by a teahouse waitress, who makes them vow to help her find "the samurai who smells of sunflowers."
Why I like it: Awesome fight scenes, unique liberties taken with the Edo period, and hilarious banter between the two swordsmen.

#4 The Vision of Escaflowne
Genre: Science fantasy, mechas, dragons, steampunk future-telling devices
Premise: A girl gets transported to the magical world of Gaea, where she must use her psychic gifts to help a dispossessed prince fight off an evil empire.
Why I like it: Mechas, dragons, and clever questions on what it means to know and change the future.

#3 Neon Genesis: Evangelion
Genre: Science fiction, mechas, metaphysics
Premise: A teenager is recruited as an elite mecha pilot by his estranged father, to protect the Earth from a series of increasingly-deadly "angels."
Why I like it: Mechas and clandestine gov't organizations
Why it's not #1: Cuz the ending is weird, man. Really weird.

#2 Naruto
Genre: Fantasy, ninjas
Premise: A ninja orphan, shunned because of the monster that was sealed inside him at birth, is determined to become the greatest ninja in his village.
Why I like it: Ninjas, clever tactics and strategies, ninjas, like a hundred characters with backgrounds and motivations that matter, ninjas, ninjas, ninjas
Why it's not #1: Because it's at 477 episodes (and counting). About a third of those are filler.

#1 Cowboy Bebop
Genre: Science fiction
Premise: Spike and Jet travel the solar system, scraping a living as bounty hunters.
Why I like it: Witty banter, smart characters, mysterious pasts, a tight storyline from beginning to end, and one really smart corgi.

Keep in mind there are lots of series I haven't seen (Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, would probably be on this list, but I've still got over 20 episodes to go!).

What's your favorite anime? And if you don't have one, why aren't you watching Cowboy Bebop right now?

What Are Your Top 5 Books?

So, your favorite books. I know, I know. Choosing favorite books is like choosing favorite children, but I figured I'd give it a shot. For the record, these are my favorite books, which is a different thing than what I would consider the "best" books. For example, the best Nazi movie might be Schindler's List, but my FAVORITE is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

See the difference?

Ender's Game -- Yeah, the computer game that explores his psyche is a little much, but the kid's a tactical genius with a heart. I will never get tired of that.

The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings -- Do I really need to talk about this? (And yes, series count as one book. IT'S MY GAME SHUT UP!)

Dune -- I talked about this once, but for those who missed it: sandworms, desert ninjas, Sting.

Mistborn Trilogy -- The newest one on the list, so I'm not sure how it will stand the test of time. But at the moment? Original and awesome superpowers, clever heists, immortal tyrants, and subverted fantasy tropes all over the place.

Marvel 1602 -- An interesting look at what Marvel superheroes might be like in the 16th century rather than the 20th. Hey, I had to put one graphic novel on the list, and this one creeps me out less than Watchmen and V for Vendetta (though both of those are good as well). Plus it's written by Neil Gaiman. Double win.

Now that I look at this, it's interesting to note that 4 out of 5 of these revolve around the Chosen One trope. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess.

Of course you all hate my top 5. So what are yours?