Category Archives: fiction

The Demand for Optimism

The world of science fiction magazines these days seems to be on the hunt for positive material. When conducting my monthly review of the SF short story market, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that in many place, stories that show a virtuous future are preferred. One magazine searches for stories that ‘show us the way back to a livable future’. Another requests stories that ‘celebrate and elevate’. Humor anthologies are in big demand. ‘Nothing dark and gloomy’ is a common refrain. ‘Eco stories’ requested, describing how we can live in a future run by solar and wind power. The list goes on. Once, I found a magazine whose mission of literary depth and engaging characters I felt I agreed with exactly. Then I noticed a small tag, noting that sometimes Vegan themes were preferred. Undeterred, I sent him my best story, at the time. It featured genocide as a major motif, but no animals were hurt, as requested. The editor rejected my story in the strongest terms…

It’s a trend that’s left me feeling a little out of place. My writing can be pretty bleak; though I’m not overly enthusiastic to describe it as such, it probably must be admitted.  My proudest achievement has always been the galaxy-scale universe my fiction is set in and, well, it’s a pretty terrible place. Approximately 50% of the time, the protagonist will wind up violently killed. Perhaps it relates to the more British traditions in fiction that influence me, and the more gloomy tone that often involves.

But I believe my work is relevant and creates real feelings in my readers. I have confidence in the validity of what I produce, at this point. The question is what form my writing will manifest in when it interacts with the professional sphere.

Yet trends in the science fiction markets are not good. Short stories markets, in particular, sometimes seem on the brink of annihilation. Many venerable old publishers and publications seem to have gone into deep hibernation, sealing their doors to outsiders. The retreating, shrinking feeling reminds me of a Savannah waterhole, drying up in the summer sun. Nobody seems to have any significant plan to reverse the decline.

I still submit, of course. But sometimes I have to laugh a little, as I imagine an editor’s face as he opens up the file to read. It’s a great story, and I’ve sent it to a great magazine, but he won’t like it. I consider my work to be highly progressive. Others do not. I speculate that my violent or misanthropic  themes can alienate some of those whose perspectives I share, but I maintain reporting the horrors that could one day come is indeed an act of subversion against the problems of today.

Speaking of horror, the horror market is absolutely booming. The contrast is stark. Requests for horror and dark writing are everywhere. So what’s a horror story? Sometimes I will be picky over my work, and sometimes not, but this is one area where I’ll do whatever’s needed. Market my work as Horror, with SF elements? Or am I trying to sell Hard SF, with Dark elements? To a certain degree, I don’t care. Straddling genres has always been a  virtue, a rejection of arbitrary limitations.

So I produce horror now, even though I produce nearly the same as before.  Every story I write has a pretty dark background, though fear is not usually the primary purpose of the story. A small relabel, and my market situation is looking much healthier. These considerations have even produced some changes in my style. Adding in good horror scenes is always fun to write.

One conclusion is that Horror and Science Fiction markets are heading in radically different directions. One encourages visions of a hopeful future, the other almost by definition reaches a bad end. And yet, humans beings will always vote with their feet to some degree. It makes me anxious to imagine that the world of science fiction publishing is preaching to the choir, appealing to an ever dwindling core with no new recruits to replace them. Consider what has happened the the readership of actual Marvel and DC comics, as an example.

Has trends in literary science fiction fallen out of step with the society around them? Should art reflect our culture, or should art drive our culture? These are questions for different essays, of course. Certainly the world of cinema science fiction has significantly parted ways with written fiction in terms of tone and atmosphere.

If my writing reflects the world I live in, and the Horror genre more accurately reflects my writing than the Science Fiction genre, has the Science Fiction genre failed to capture our present reality?

Either way, I struggle to meet the demands of the magazines. At the risk of sounding cantankerous, I’m not going to rub my readers shoulders and tell them everything is going to be ok. Because we’re not going to be ok. It’s a new dark age out there, and it may just be getting started. I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

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Abyss and Apex and Disappointment

Hello all!

I missed a week due to travelling India, but I’ll be posting more in general in the future to make up for that.

Last night, I received a disappointment, and over the past 12 hours it’s led me to something of a paradigm shift.

Science Fiction Short Story magazines. They aren’t many of them left. And they’re important. They form the traditional gateway into the industry. They’re still in many ways used as the gatekeepers of quality. And they know exactly what they want, and they aren’t expanding.

Like much of the publishing industry, they are in a state of chaos that borders on existential crisis, and like much of the world around us today, no one has any idea what the hell to replace them with and how that’s going to work – me included, but I’m going to have to find a solution whether I like it or not.

Today’s case study: Abyss and Apex

Now plenty of these magazines have short submission windows. Veeeeeery short submission windows. As in, they’re basically trying to make it as difficult as possible to submit to them. They do this to filter out the lightweights, and I accept that. It takes a careful degree of planning to successfully meet their submission window. And so that brings us to last night, my phone calendar informing me that Abyss and Apex has opened.

Their schedule looks like this:

  • first week of November 2016 CANCELLED
  • First week of February 2017 FLASH ONLY
  • first week of May 2017
  • first week of August 2017

I’m sure you can see the problems here immediately.

After the August 2016 submission, I waited patiently for November. It was cancelled. Ok, these things happen. I set my patient wait for February 2017. A six month wait, not exactly minor, but sadly not atypical for this sort of business. And now, I learn that February 2017 has abruptly been closed to all but Flash fiction. I will not be able to submit my work to this. My carefully co-ordinated wait has been for nothing.

I don’t think Abyss and Apex are doing this through any fault or laziness of their own. I think they just have too many damn stories, and not enough sales or funds to justify publishing more. Indeed, that’s just a wider symptom of the industry as a whole. Abyss and Apex was always one of my top choices, their published work matches my style very closely and I’m a big fan of their work. It’s been suggested before that if the short story magazine market is dying, why would I frantically be trying to join such a sinking ship?

Part of me wonders if my current approach stems from some degree of nostalgia for the traditional publishing processes, or anxiety over the alternative routes to acceptance.

But I think this is a turning point for me. I’ve long been falling out of favor with searching for magazine formats for my short stories, and moving closer to the  concept of releasing anthologies of my own. Of course, getting an anthology published as an unknown author is still another set of tough challenges, but it’s starting to look more feasible that keeping the fiction magazine industry alive on artificial life support.

My short stories are great, and I have no doubt they will one day have a life of their own somewhere, some year in the future. But I think I would be surprised now if it happens in an old school magazine, like our classic SF ancestors before us…

On to a new and dizzying unknown future, friends! Good luck out there

 

 

Installment 2:

Writing continues well.

I’ve written a scene over the past week that I’m not 100% sure is acceptable to share with a general audience. There’s a fine line about what kind of sex you can feature before you end up producing pornography, and I’m not entirely sure I paid attention to it.

Most things get changed from the first draft, though. Plenty will not survive editing. And this is definitely likely to need significant editing.

But overall I do like where it is going.

Here are my new batch of daily cyberpunk characters, – free association go:

A man jovial with a mechanical replica lion head
A woman with a banshee-like scream, elderly survivor. Pirate?
Someone addicting to continuously piloting an iron giant
An ace pilot who has reconstructed their own fighter craft.
A creature bred to feed of sewer waste. Wraithlike, haunting monster.
A large alien that acts as though dim-witted, but is secretly not
Someone with cybnetically enhanced sense of smell for fine dining
A washed up young technocract, using a jetpack to rob a bank
A diminutive midget with a giant shotgun that knocks it over

And there we are at 16, for one a day in 2017

Till next time,

The Resurgence of Rimmblog

Good evening.

I’m excited to welcome you to the humble return of Rimmblog!

We’ll be returning with a weekly format: posts every Saturday, and occasional extras during the week.

It’s been almost exactly 2 years since my last post. I think we can all agree that a lot has happened since then. For starters, I’m now permanently based in Hong Kong. It’s beautiful here and I’m very happy.  Also, 2015 and 2016 happened. It’s become a cliche to hate 2016, but I must confess to a certain feeling that the world is entering some new era of darkness. Understandings about the course of things that seemed certain only a year ago have entirely evaporated.

As someone who writes about bleak futures, it has the small benefit of keeping me focused.

Writing continues, and progress is excellent. I haven’t received professional rate publication yet. But I am close to finished a second anthology. And I’m developing finalized plans for writing beyond the scope of short stories. I’ll be posting updates as things progress.

One idea I’ve had is to set myself the challenge of inventing a new science-fiction character every day. The plan is that forcing myself to create when out of ideas will stimulate creativity. If nothing else, I can always recycle them into my RPGs 😉

It’s the 7th day of 2017 right now, so I guess I owe you seven:

  • Gladiator Pilot, competes in Aerial Contests
  • Jungle hermit with empathic link to a giant hairy beast.
  • Veteran Jetpack Infantry. Professional attitude. Loves his job.
  • Full-time artistic chef. Irritated by interruptions.
  • Alcoholic Baron, guaranteed immunity by diplomatic contracts
  • Reverent artillery shell bearer
  • Someone who has chosen to physically remain as a baby. A smart baby.

That’s it, I’m done. Catch you soon, everybody.

Leaving Scotland

I’m leaving Scotland forever this week, so sadly the Rimmblog is getting a little disrupted as I move huge amounts of stuff by hand (my limbs ache something fierce).

I’ve been entering a bit of a fantasy / medieval stage in my thinking recently, and I asked 4chan’s /tg/ for some recommended reading (no really).

The results were interesting. The /lit/ came out before /pol/ wrecked it.
The main recommendations were:

JRR Tolkien -Lord of the Rings
E R Eddison – The Worm Ouroboros
Lord Dunsany – The Gods of Pegana
Homer – The Illiad

Frank Herbert’s Dune was also recommended plenty, but it isn’t fantasy and I’ve already read it (and would emphatically recommend it). I’ve also read Lord of the Rings, because obviously.

Sadly, I’m not sure if I’ve got the time to undertake a whole gigantic masterwork in the midst of the books I already own. Maybe I should be more ambitious and add one to the list. Incidentally, the trend of modern fantasy novels to be enormously expanded in size was mentioned, along with its habit of forming a barrier to entry for the genre. Someone said that ‘with the invention of the word processor to replace the typewriter, the length of these novels sky-rocketed’. I don’t have the knowledge to know if that’s true or not, but it certainly interested me.

The Conjurer of Cheap Tricks – Part 3, Conclusion

Here we have the final part of our very short Fantasy tale “The Conjurer of Cheap Tricks”, inspired by the adventures of my good friend’s character, Tandalf.

TRIGGER WARNING: Psychedelic wizards

Read Part 1 here:
https://rimmblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-conjurer-of-cheap-tricks-part-1/

Read Part 2 here:
https://rimmblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/the-conjurer-of-cheap-tricks-part-2/

Musical accompaniment:

There was a momentary lull, the crackling of the fire providing a comfortable background noise. Tandalf reached down and collected a small metal tray. “Brownie?” he asked. “No wait, you’re a powders man, aren’t you?”
The adventurer ran his hands through his greasy hair. This was not going as planned. “Tell me, please, what happened at that final battle?”
“Honestly?” said Tandalf, “I’m not entirely sure. I saw some things. I try not to remember them. It doesn’t seem real. Maybe it wasn’t, technically. I don’t know how you’d define these things. I’ll tell you this though, the dragon was there at the very beginning, watching us. That first night in the mountains, after we were thrown out of the Ogres camp…” Tandalf’s voice sounded distant, and his eyes glazed over as though a man in the depths of a flashback. “We saw a light up in the hills… That was him. That was the plasma dragon, leading us onwards, recruiting us to collect his precious pieces of crystal. Even at that party, all those years ago. He planned it all…” Tandalf seemed to suddenly snap back into focus. “Except, he got something he didn’t expect.”
“What?” asked the adventurer.
Tandalf’s eyes gleamed, and his face widened into a gleeful grin. “An Eldritch Abomination,” he broke down into hysterical laughter.
“Damn you Tandalf! That unspeakable demon is what haunts us now! Your cursed abomination is a scourge upon us all, a heart of darkness contaminating all it touches! The power of an elder dragon, combined with the power of the Far Realm? It’s too much, I say! I shall slay this monster, and restore sanctity to the land! It is my glorious mission, my divine quest!” The adventurer stood tall, filled with pride.
“An elder dragon? Oh son, you don’t even know…” chuckled Tandalf. “But,” his voice became cold suddenly, “if you wanted to meet my old friend, all you had to do was ask…” The wizard stared at the adventurer with a steely gaze. The adventurer looked back at Tandalf with a growing sense of confusion, and began to slowly back away. He looked around the shack in concern, but Tandalf nodded to the battered wooden door the traveller had come in from.
“He’s right outside,” said Tandalf.
The adventurer looked at the old wooden door, then back Tandalf with doubt.
“He’s always there, waiting, just outside” whispered Tandalf. “All you have to do is ask…”
The adventurer turned, and hesitatingly walked towards the door. He opened it. A howling black vortex of nightmares hissed back at him, reaching to claim him with its endless multitude of limbs. The adventurer’s cries of horror died away as the ancient wooden door slammed shut behind him, and for a moment Tandalf thought he could hear a malevolent chuckling from all around.
“Say what you want about him,” muttered Tandalf to himself, “but that old chap was one hell of a bard…”

howard_by_olivertandy-d7qrflb

All artwork used is courtesy of my fine associate Oliver Tandy, see his work over at http://olivertandy.deviantart.com/. He keeps some of the best stuff to himself (rated unfit for public consumption), but we’ll get it out of him one day, eh?