On Shortlists

Hugo nominee Paul Kincaid discusses what it means when people kvetch about book award shortlists (specifically those in science fiction and fantasy).

Reader Request Week 2009 #10: Writing Short Bits

I traditionally end my Reader Request Weeks with an entry (or two) of shorter answers to several questions. This year I’m doing two: One for writing questions, and one for the rest of it. Let’s get to the writing questions first.

Paul Barnes:

How about religion in modern s/f and fantasy? Of course, you could discuss the historic treatment of religion too.

This is worth a longer response, which I’ll probably get around to at some point, but for now I’ll note that religion is science fiction is not generally presented with any great affection, I think partly because many science fiction writer are not religious themselves, and also because religious organizations, like any bureaucracy that’s able to affect people’s lives, makes for a useful bad guy (religion in fantasy is more complicated, because fantasy often implictly involves gods and religion for both good an ill). I’m not sure that every science fiction writer needs to work on his or her presentation of religion, although I will say that in my work, I’ve noted that people still have religion in their lives and as a guiding principle, most particularly with the Colonial Mennonites in The Last Colony. I incorporated them not only because they were useful to the plot, but because I doubt somewhat that the religious impulse will leave us any time soon.

Steve Thorn:

Do you ever write any stories or novels in longhand first?

God, no. I can hardly read my writing; I can’t imagine writing a whole story in it. I do often write poetry in longhand, but even that I do less than I used to. I’m pretty much entirely crossed over into typing.

Jon S.

I’d love to see you compare and contrast Japanese science fiction with American science fiction.

I couldn’t, really, because I don’t have much basis for comparison; I haven’t read a lot of Japanese science fiction. That said, anime publisher Viz Media is launching a new imprint this summer called Haikasoru, which will translate Japanese science fiction novels into English. They sent along one of their novels, All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, for me to look at. I liked it enough to blurb it — it was very high action and a lot of fun to read, and I think people who like military science fiction will enjoy the heck out of it. I don’t know if Sakurazawa’s work is representative of Japanese SF in general, but if it is, I wouldn’t mind.


Have you ever given thought to writing fiction outside the science fiction genre? Say, a mainstream novel, or a mystery?

Yup. But at the moment I’m getting paid a fair amount to write science fiction, and I enjoy writing it, so I’m happy doing that. If I do write in another genre, I suspect it may be mystery or crime fiction; The Android’s Dream was more than half way in that direction, anyway.

Patrick M:

Do you find that all these Conventions is difficult on your writing schedule? How do you balance that?

It’s not really the conventions that present a problem, as most of them are weekend events, and I try to relax on the weekends anyway, and in any event conventions are fun. It’s the travel that generally gets me, because it’s draining, and it often takes up most of a day. Add that up with the other business travel I do, and it does begin to impinge. I’m trying to balance it mostly by making sure I don’t over schedule myself with conventions, and making sure that I actually do writing on a daily basis.

Michael G:

Is it okay, when on the internet, to not give a shit about your writing? I mean, should one be taken seriously if their commentary is filled with leet/txtspeak?

Theoretically it should be the message that’s important, but as a practical matter, yeah, if you come across as someone who can’t string together a sentence, you will find people are not going to bother to get through to your message. I’m a big believer in trying to write well every single time you write, because if you do that, over time it actually becomes difficult not to write at least competently. There’s some allowance to be made for idiom, etc, but generally, yeah: Be clear, be readable, and don’t expect your readers to do all the work figuring out what you’re trying to say.

pedantic peasant:

What is/would be your approach to collaboration (writing, not reading)?

Not to do it. I know myself well enough to know it would annoy me to have to try to write a story with someone else involved — and thus would annoy them, too. And no one wants that. However, I will say I enjoyed the collaboration process the writers of METAtropolis had, which was to collaboratively create backstory, and then as we wrote our individual stories, show each other our work as we went along in order to keep the integration between stories tight. That stuck the right balance (for me, anyway) between working with others and doing my own thing.


How to handle success without letting it go to your head.

You can’t. Success always goes to your head; it’s what you use to be aware of your success. The key is to handle success without becoming too much of an asshole. One way to do that is to remind yourself that almost everyone who goes up (even the relatively modest “up” of being an author of science fiction) eventually comes down in one way or another, and you are not likely to be an exception, and how you treated people on your ascent will be visited upon you on your descent. And therefore, to paraphrase the immortal words of Harlan Ellison Kurt Vonnegut, “Goddammit, you’ve got to be kind” — if not because it’s the right thing to do, then because of self-preservation.


I know there is the old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun” but do you feel this way when you are starting a new project? If so, what do you do about it? Just suck it up?

As the retreading of Starship Troopers in Old Man’s War makes abundantly clear, I’m not horribly concerned about when I’m treading on old story tropes and indeed enjoy playing with them. What I worry about is using them to tell a story that readers will enjoy. I also try not to repeat myself (or when I do, for example in Zoe’s Tale, to tell the tale in such a sufficiently different fashion that it’s mostly new).


Have you ever done any acting, or drawing, or any creative endeavour that isn’t writing?


More short bits tomorrow.