Excited about International SF

The Apex Book of World SFThe Apex Book of World SF has just been released, and I’m excited. It’s been a long time in the making – from conception, to convincing the venerable Secret Masters of Apex Books to take it on, to the reading and the soliciting and the selection, and putting it all together – but it’s finally out, and I’m excited.

It’s an exciting time for international SF in English. Zoran Živković was the Guest of Honour at this year’s World Fantasy Convention – an incredibly rare honour for a non-English language writer. Aliette de Bodard signed a three book deal with Angry Robot, the new genre imprint from publishing giant HarperCollins. Jetse de Vries is editing an anthology for Solaris. Andrzej Sapkowski won the inaugural David Gemmel Award. Sergey Lukyanenko’s Night Watch novels are selling all over, and DAW have recently announced an original anthology of Chinese writers from the Chinese diaspora. Israeli writer Gail Hareven had an SF story published in no less a place than the New Yorker. And then there’s Haikasoru, the new Viz imprint dedicated to publishing Japanese genre fiction in English. A new award for translated SF has just been announced.


Why is that?

I personally think it’s because international SF is cool. I love the stories in the Apex Book of World SF – from S.P. Somtow’s haunting tale of post-World War II Thailand and its most notorious serial killer in The Bird Catcher, to Aleksandar Žiljak’s crazy Men in Black-meets-Boogie Nights story An Evening In The City Coffehouse, With Lydia On My Mind, to Anil Menon’s melancholy mundane SF story, Into the Night to Aliette de Bodard’s kick-ass alternative history/noir The Lost Xuyan Bride. I like them all.

This month, you can sample three of the contributors – including a story from the anthology itself – over at Apex Magazine. You can also follow everything to do with international SF over at the World SF News Blog – from Thai disaster movies to Arabic science fiction and everything in between. You can follow Charles Tan’s series of interviews with the contributors over on SF Signal, and learn more about the diversity and excitement of international SF.

Yes, excitement is the word right now, I think! Or maybe, just maybe, I had too much coffee?

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more.

Self-promoting like a self-promoter.

Hello. My name is Rachel Swirsky, and for better or worse, I’m a short fiction writer. This is relevant to today’s post — and indeed, to my entire last week — because for me, fantasy and science fiction has turned out not to be just a fun occupation, but also a disease vector.

Last week, my husband and I headed over to San Jose for the World Fantasy Convention, where — among many other entertaining things — I was able to meet our fair hosts, the VanderMeers. Unfortunately, my husband and I came home with more than just our free tote bags full of books (and by the way, wow, World Fantasy really piles on the free books. I think someone was being paid by the pound).

Now, a mere seven days after contracting the swine flu, husband and I are doing much better. I’m even able to start thinking about things like blogs again.

Which brings me to today’s shameful, shameless purpose.

I had hoped to ease into guest blogging with a few reviews, some weird links, and maybe a political rant or two. Instead, having lost a week to cough and fever, I’m going to leap into the breach with some self-promotion.

Last week, upon my return from the World Fantasy convention, I discovered not only that I was contaminated with swine flu, but also that my novellette, “A Memory of Wind,” had just gone up at Tor.com.

“A Memory of Wind” tells the story of the sacrifice at Aulis from Iphigenia’s perspective. Traditionally, her voice has been ignored; the original Greek tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis, concentrates on the pain of her father, Agamemnon, as he decides whether or not to have his daughter killed so that he can go to war. I began writing “A Memory of Wind” several years ago, after seeing a feminist reinterpretation of the tale in which Clytemnestra (Iphigenia’s mother) was given her turn as protagonist. I wondered whether Iphigenia would ever get her chance to speak.

I worked on this piece at the University of Iowa, where a very famous author informed me that anger was never an appropriate inspiration for writing.

I ignored him.

Here’s an exerpt from the beginning of the piece:

I began turning into wind the moment that you promised me to Artemis.

Before I woke, I lost the flavor of rancid oil and the shade of green that flushes new leaves. They slipped from me, and became gentle breezes that would later weave themselves into the strength of my gale. Between the first and second beats of my lashes, I also lost the grunt of goats being led to slaughter, and the roughness of wool against calloused fingertips, and the scent of figs simmering in honey wine.

Around me, the other palace girls slept fitfully, tossing and grumbling through the dry summer heat. I stumbled to my feet and fled down the corridor, my footsteps falling smooth against the cool, painted clay. As I walked, the sensation of the floor blew away from me, too. It was as if I stood on nothing…

And now, I shall provide a unicorn chaser to follow my own self-promotion. Behold, greeting cards for after the zombie apocalypse:

(Check out David Ellis Dickerson’s entire entertaining Greeting Card Emergency series, and possibly also his book, House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions.)

I’ll be back later this week with reviews, weird links, and politics.

Bibliophile Stalker Best Of 2009 Short List

Guest Blogger Charles Tan blogs at Bibliophile Stalker, The World SF News Blog, and SF Signal.

It’s not yet the end of the year and publications/companies/people are already publishing their “Best Of 2009” lists. Don’t you find that annoying? (I, on the other hand, am trying to cram as much books that I haven’t yet read in this last two months.) Anyway, I’m following Andrew Wheeler’s advice on publishing my short list. At the end of the year, I’ll be publishing my top three titles in various categories over at my blog. I’m not an institution however so note that this list is very subjective and tentative (and I still have a lot of reading to catch up to!).

Some disclaimers though. While a lot of other publications focus on the novel, I tend to read more of anthologies and short story collections. And while we’re on the subject of short stories (and its ilk, the novelette and the novella), I don’t have access to to the Big Three genre magazines, so that also colors my preferences (I can’t evaluate what I haven’t read).

I like lists though because it generates discussion. What are your favorite titles in the various categories? Anything that I missed or should be reading? (On that note, China Mieville’s The City & The City has been bought but unread, and the same goes for John Joseph Adams’s Night Shade Books anthologies.)

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The Interzone Sampler

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

There’s a lot of chatter these days about Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF slowly dying. I suspect that like Mark Twain, not only have the rumors of their impending deaths been greatly exaggerated, they’ve been exaggerated to push a diverse set of agendas, ranging from online publishing triumphing over those pesky dead tree mags to the perpetual concerns over the genre’s aging population of readers.

One surprising thing about this angst is the belief that the American style of SF magazine publishing—using a digest format—is the only way to achieve SF magazine success. For proof of another way to thrive, please consider the British magazine Interzone.

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A Day in the Life of a Literature Professor, or Why I Do What I Do

Several years ago, right after I earned my Ph.D., a friend rather bluntly told me that the only reason people became literature professors was because they had failed at being creative writers. I remember shooting back with something along the lines of, “Not all academics want to be creative writers.” Of course, my friend summarily discounted that statement with, “Yes, they do. If they haven’t tried writing, it’s because they know they’ll probably fail, and they’re cowards.”

I’ve had this exchange, or versions of it, often enough to merit giving it serious thought. Since graduate school, I have surrounded myself with writers, many of whom are now my dearest friends (and one of whom is my husband), and they are a boisterous, savvy, messed up, cuh-razy, brilliant, ignorant, frustrating, stupid, arrogant, elitist, humble, generous, kind, and downright weird group. I can’t imagine feeling closer to or happier with any other type of people. But you know what else I can’t imagine? Being a creative writer. Never. Nuh-uh. No frakkin’ way. Going for a swim in an active volcano? Maybe. Writing a novel? Thank you, but . . . no.

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Reportin’ From the Road, Don’t Mind Me…

(Ann, and our friend Tessa in San Fran right after World Fantasy Con. Will I pay for posting this photo? I might…)

Catch me at Powell’s, Cedar Hills, tomorrow at 4pm… (and awesome, awesome guest blogging thus far…)

It’s Jeff, just checking in to say the tour is going great thus far. We had close to 70 people at the University Bookstore for my joint reading with Cherie Priest and Cat Rambo, and the turn out for the Willamette University gig was quite as impressive.

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My Spur-of-the-Moment Chapbook

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and game designer with more than 60 published credits in books and magazines. He’s currently designing a new RPG for Pelgrane Press. He also blogs at the game/story outfit, Gameplaywright, at his home venue, The Gist, and at a tumblelog, the Word Studio Notebook.

Last night I got frustrated with some writing I’m doing for a client, so I turned to myself and I said, “Put something out into the world. Something that’s yours.” So I took an hour and I put together a little poetry chapbook, consisting of five poems found in a Cessna Manual of Flight. This isn’t about that, so much, but it abuts the chapbook enough that I’ll put up links to it:

For more about the chapbook proper, you can read this post on my blog.

What I came here to talk about, in Jeff’s space, was how easy it was to put this thing in front of people. The whole process, from layout to publication, not including explanatory blog posts, took about 60 minutes, and that includes rewriting one of the poems so it didn’t audibly suck. The Internet’s pretty rad. I’m not sure if you’d heard.

Here are the sites I used, then:

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Surviving the Book Contract that Wasn’t

Guest blogger Kameron Hurley does most of her ranting at her blog, Brutal Women. You can find  some of her recent fiction in Year’s Best SF 12, Strange Horizons, and EscapePod. She currently makes a living as a marketing and sales copywriter in Ohio, and has sold or nearly sold or sort of sold or is still in the process of selling a book called God’s War, which may or may not actually be published at some unspecified period from an as yet unspecified publisher. Stay tuned.

Surviving the Book Contract that Wasn’t

I’ve been writing with the intent of becoming “a writer” on and off for the last 15 years. Published some stories, etc. Done some guest blogging. I even make a living now as a copywriter. I’ll be turning 30 in January, which gives you an idea of how long I’ve been slogging away at becoming a storyteller.

But what is that? A storyteller. I can tell stories all day long. To friends, at parties, in letters, in emails, on my blog… but whether or not we take a storyteller seriously has – for the last half century or so – largely hinged on one’s ability to be published by a major press. Today, $$ success often equals seriousness and respectability, as Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown can attest (ha!). And I grew up with the intent of being a “writer.”

But… I do actually write copy for a living. Doesn’t that make me a writer? What did being a “writer” mean to me?

It meant publishing books.

End of story.

Because that’s what being a “serious” writer is.


So you can imagine my delight when I sold my first novel, God’s War, as part of a three book deal in February of last year. After over a decade of writing like a mad woman, scrambling madly across the world, scribbling madly through writing workshops, spewing much snarky rage on my blog, attending beer-and-books conventions, collecting well over a hundred rejections, and writing madly, passionately, crazily, and – often – very badly – I had been awarded that solemn tag of writerly respectability – a book contract. This wouldn’t be a publication in a pulp magazine, the sort that left my friends and family merely bemused. This was a major contract from a major publisher.

So I did what any new writer does, after screaming and scribbling for over a decade:

I got soft.

There’s something strange that happens when you sell your first book. For me, it was initially pretty anti-climatic, then… it was like somebody let all the air out of my tires. I’d been so close for so long with so many different books that actually selling one felt like falling off a cliff after hiking – barefoot and bloody – for days. You’re so exhausted that the freefall feels effortless.

So I waited for things to get started.

And waited.

And… waited.

I met with my editor at Wiscon that May, and learned we would start edits in July.

But July soon turned into August. August to September, then November… and nine months after I sold my novel, with no movement or update on what had been going on with it since May, I got a call from my agent telling me that my editor had been let go. They were still publishing the book, she said, but I’d be working with another editor.

I felt far sorrier for my awesome editor than myself, frankly.  Publishing fucking sucks.

My buying editor gave me a call after that and explained the reasoning behind passing my book off to another editor at the house and not another (which I wholeheartedly agreed with).  It was a shitty situation all around, but everybody was doing their best to make it bearable.

Once I started working with the new editor, things started to clip along. I got regular updates on what was happening with the book. My release date was pushed back to spring 2010 instead of fall 2009, but who cares, you know? At least the book was being published. I had expected far worse.

My new editor and I worked mad ages to clean up the book. We finished three rounds of hard-won edits and got to see the book improve by – if not leaps and bounds (it was a pretty good book already) – then certainly by significant lengths (and certainly with far more sense and less confusing fight scenes). When we were ready to wrap it up, my editor sent it off for copyediting.

I wrote up and sent in my acknowledgements page.

It felt good to send off that acknowledgements page. I was tracking my progress with another writer I knew who had just sent off hers a few weeks before. We both had three book deals. It was fun to pace myself with other writers.

I started getting excited about writing book three, since book two was just about finished and just needed some revisions.  I started writing the opening chapter after sending off the acknowledgements, full of a serene sense of the inevitable awesomeness that would be book publication.

And then… a strange period of silence.

Only a few days, yes, but on one of those days, I was supposed to receive my copyedits.  And my editor was always good about acknowledging emails, but hadn’t responded to receiving my acknowledgements page.

Ripple of worry across a still pond.

When your agent calls you in the middle of the day, you’ve either sold a book or had your contract canceled.

In May of this year, my agent called me at lunchtime and told me my contract was canceled.

Three books.

Just like that.

Nothing personal, apparently. They were just looking for ways to cut costs, and an untested debut novelist with a three-book deal is a good candidate for the ax.

I had hardened myself for this news before the call. That pond ripple helped. So I took it pretty well. After all, things could be worse. I was still employed and had health insurance.

It’s not like anybody died.

We were going to get all the rights back, and we were going to get paid.  I figured we could turn the book around fairly quickly, resell it, and I’d still get to see a book published before I was 30.

But the bottom was slowly falling out of the publishing world.

And I was caught in the middle of it.

I waited three more months for the book to get released and paid out so we could sell it again. In publishing terms, three months isn’t a lot of time. But trust me, when you’ve got a three book debut series sitting around in limbo, it feels like three years.

I stayed tight-lipped about the whole thing aside from a few writing folks, because it felt incredibly embarrassing to have a contract canceled. It felt like I’d done something wrong. Like I was somehow deficient. Like I had failed as a writer.

I tried to be pro-active. Asked my agent if we should shop another series in the meantime (yes, I have a five book series waiting in the wings). Tried to work on producing other projects. But she felt strongly that this series would make a great debut, and I knew she was right.

That didn’t make it any easier.

And I just couldn’t get myself to write anything in the meantime.

So I sat on my hands for three months.

Getting a book contract cancelled isn’t the worst thing in the world. But the waiting is a fucking nightmare. The sitting around with no control over anything. You sort of own your work, but not really. And… you know, I’m not a bitter mid-lister. I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing. I had no idea how to conduct myself.  I had no lack of projects to work on… But I had lost all motivation to do them.

I had finished book two before the fallout, so I tried to concentrate on that. I kept opening and closing and re-opening the files, dithering around with revisions and line edits. Dither, dither, dither.

I tried to start book three again – got a chapter and a half in – and just… stopped. And began to dither, dither, dither.

I started working on some stalled short stories.

Dither, dither, dither.

I spent a lot of time cocooning with my partner, and reading, and cooking. I put all of my energy into my day job. Took on more responsibilities. I became intensely career focused.

But my whole fiction writing world had stopped turning.


Why, after 15 years of slogging along with very little outside acknowledgement, did I suddenly let the loss of something I’d never really had get me stalled?

The trouble is, when you give somebody else a measure of control over the timeline of your career, you’re not really sure what to do when they drop the ball.

You need to be polite, and demure, and easy to work with – that’s what all the agents and publishers and pros tell you. You need to grin and bear it and show your teeth and say, “Why yes, yes, these things happen in publishing.”

Because they do.

And you can’t do a fucking thing about it.

For better or worse, we have a lot of tools that weren’t available to writers a decade ago. We have paypal donation buttons, easy online publishing, lulu.com, and social media. If we’re willing to put in the work without the initial injection of cash we’d get with a formal advance, we can create whole worlds in virtual space and go back to the old patron system.

But it still helps to have some measure of success and respectability before you start supplementing your income from cash-strapped publishing houses.

So, despite how much the world has changed, I still want the respectability. I want my book sitting on a shelf at Books & Co. I want to be reviewed. I want to be read. I want to be able to sign physical copies of books that don’t make people sneer because only “really terrible fan fiction writers” and “wanna-be”s use lulu.com.

I want that delighted tone in my mother’s voice when I named my publisher and she said, “My God, that’s… that’s a real publisher!”

The old houses may be cash-strapped dinosaurs, but they still give your work a measure of seriousness and respectability that you just can’t get by selling copies out of the trunk of your car.

But the price we pay for that sometimes feels pretty raw.

Someday, we’ll resell God’s War. Someday I’ll see a book of mine at Books & Co. But until then, I have other things I have to do with my fiction. Things I have control over. I’ve got an old trunk novel I’d like to share, some short stories to finish, and another book to start. Because though my writing life may have stalled out for the last two years, the real world has not. The real world keeps spinning.

If I want my fiction life back, I have to take control of it again. It was never anyone else’s to begin with, of course, but… sometimes it’s easy to forget that when you enter into a contract with a big publishing house.  Sometimes you still expect that when you win the book publishing lottery, all of your work is done, and all your dreams will come true.

In fact, it marks the point where your hardest work begins.

No one cares more about my work than I do.  And I’m ultimately the one who’s responsible for its success or failure…  And defining what exactly “success” and “failure” mean.  I can tell you right now that having a book contact canceled doesn’t make me a failure. But not getting up afterward? Not pressing on after two years of dithering?

That would make me a failure.

And it’s my fear of remaining a failure that’s kept me out here in the dark for so long.

Matt Cook’s Blood Magic series

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

Here’s a horror story to strike fear into every writer and reader: An emerging author’s first two novels are published by a small press, where the books sell very well. The author begins writing the third book in the series to wrap up his story. However, thanks to the increasingly insane publishing world, readers won’t see this new novel anytime soon.

I’m talking about the Blood Magic series by new author Matt Cook. The first book (titled Blood Magic) was released in 2007 by Juno, a publisher of paranormal romances. As I wrote in my review at that time, the novel is a must read for any fan of fantasy or horror. The sequel, Nights of Sin, was published last year and is even better than the first, taking Matt’s characters into unforeseen emotional and storytelling ground. The books did extremely well, with both being nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards and becoming two of Juno’s best-selling titles.

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To Asimov’s or not to Asimov’s?

A couple of weeks ago, Jeff took Asimov’s Magazine to task over on the Sofanauts podcast. So in thinking of writing a blog post as a guest here this month, I thought I’d write something in defence of Asimov’s, just to take a devil’s advocate role. I was going to write about how Asimov’s, being a Dell Magazines legacy, has its hands tied in terms of design or paper quality or pretty much everything else. How it has to keep providing the sort of stuff loyal readers expect – the loyal readers being the core group of consumers for the magazine, and therefore can’t take undue risks in terms of content. I was going to say how it still makes an attempt to publish new writers, like Sara Genge or Aliette de Bodard, despite not taking electronic submissions and making it difficult for overseas writers to send stories (both the writers mentioned live in Europe). I was going to say that while, on the one hand, its non-fiction content seems old, another way of looking at it is to see a continuity from the golden age of science fiction, and continuity is a good thing. I was going to say all this and more, only something happened, and I’m still feeling a little guilty about it.

I just got back from a few days in Bangkok. People go to Bangkok for a lot of reasons, mine are food and bookshops. So I was delighted to discover, in one branch of Kinokuniya (for Americans: this is sort of an Asian version of Borders), they had a sale on.

Sale! I love a book sale. I picked up about eight paperbacks (and a handful more in a nearby second hand shop), and then discovered they also had a sale table for magazines.

And it had an issue of Asimov’s.

For 50 baht. (approx. $1.30 US).

And this is the thing, and I still feel a little embarrassed about it, several days later.

I couldn’t bring myself to buy it.

50 baht!

I don’t know what it was. Was it the cover? The grey pulp paper inside? Was it something else?

I wanted to buy it. I honestly did. I never get to see SF magazines any more, not where I live. I don’t get to see books, most of the time.

I should have bought it.

And yet… I couldn’t bring myself to it. It looked so… forlorn, sitting there, with a sort of pinkish cover over grey, like the sort of thing you buy from the butcher’s and is a little past its sell by date. It looked kind of sad.

And I bought a copy of Wizard magazine instead, and it had full colour throughout and the first five pages of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen story and an interview with Art Spiegelman.

But I still feel sort of bad about it.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more.