J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

The Were-Traveler Open Call: Tribute to Douglas Adams

Nov
19

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Do you write humor stories on your blog? Do they sometimes have a speculative twist, even outright sci-fi roots?

I’m looking at you Shawn Cowling, E.A. Wicklund, and Biff!

The Were-Traveler has, among their Calls for Submissions, an issue they are calling “Mostly Harmful, Sort Of, Something Something 42 : A Science Fiction/Fantasy Humor Tribute to Douglas Adams.” Who doesn’t love Douglas Adams?

While this publisher doesn’t pay, they do accept reprints. You can send them a story from your blog, which is what I did. What you get is the added exposure of their site and social media. And, of course, you get to sit in the issue alongside moi!

Yeah, it’s not the fanciest or most well-known publishing site. But you probably weren’t sending that story anywhere anyway, right? The deadline for the Douglas Adams tribute is January 15th.

You can find Were-Traveler’s submission guidelines HERE.

Two New Stories Live

Nov
11

While I’ve been away working, I received notice from two publishers that my stories are not live on their respective sites.

The first is an original Storm Hamilton story I wrote shortly after finishing The Maltese Falcon. I’m sure the influence shows. It was published as part of Akashic Book’s new flash fiction series, Fri-SciFi. The story can be found HERE.

The second story is a reprint of an old Iric story on Eternal Remedy. Like the previous story I had published with them, they paired the story up with some odd pictures that represent their style, a style that I happen to like. I also like the clean layout of their website. Anyways, the story can be found HERE.

In addition to this good news, I’ve been working on the Iric collection. I have the ebook cover done and am just waiting for some final editorial comments before I put it up on Kindle.

I have to admit I am a bit excited to finally have a book for sale! Oh, and my next story with <a href=”http://www.centropicoracle.com/index.php” target=”blank”>The Centropic Oracle</a> is set to drop on the 15th of December. So much news coming in these days. Seems like things work out better when I am not paying attention, a watched pot as they say…

I’d like to say that I can now enjoy my weekend but, alas, I will be working through. Hope you guys have a fun break!

~J.M.

Catching Cameron Ellis

Nov
02

My cyberpunk/noir/crime-drama flash story “Catching Cameron Ellis” is not live on Astounding Outpost. Go check it out.

This story will also appear in their Neural Nets, Uplinks, and Wetware anthology.

Sometime this month, Astounding Outpost will open up a voting page for readers to choose their favorite stories from the Neural Nets, Uplinks, and Wetware collection. I hope to earn your vote!

Anyway, why not go read my story? You can find it HERE.

~J.M.

Colonialism in SF/F

Oct
13
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Photo by Tongik Saejeam

I generally don’t like to get into politics or heavy topics, which is likely why I lean towards fantasy more than science fiction. However, I recently read something that irked me quite a bit. It’s an issue that has been pinching my nerves for some time.

It came about when I read what is a mostly amazing ARTICLE by Cecilia Tan entitled “Let Me Tell You,” where she defends the use of telling in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F). She argues that the absolute rule of “show, don’t tell” is a part of big Lit culture, and that SF/F authors should not bind themselves to it. SF/F as a genre, and particularly those sub-genres that feature alternate-world settings, require a lot of telling in order for the story to work. While there are many ways of world-building through showing or through action, such as dialogue, it is in no way practical to do that all the time. There’s not enough space, nor reader patience, for it.

Despite having a compelling general argument, Tan reveals some liberal naivete when she describes the “fantasy newcomer” trope as colonialist. These days a lot of folks, particularly college-educated folks (Tan has a BA in Linguistics and Cognitive Science from Brown), like to throw around complicated academic terms without have a full understanding or appreciation for them. I remember when I was an undergraduate majoring in English and was expected to discuss things like colonialism and post-modernism, which even the experts have trouble understanding, let alone explaining (I still think many of the graduate students who taught these classes were confused). It wasn’t until graduate school that I finally started to wrap my head around just how much I didn’t know. This came after my advisor told me to stop using the term “post-colonialist” until I figured out what it meant.

In her article, Tan suggests that the use of the naive newcomer in “stories that center the naive reader will always be about the impact that stranger has on the world that is new to them”–and that this is colonialism. But it’s not. It is simply the nature of cultural interaction. Two people or groups of different cultures who meet and interact cannot but impact each other. If our definition of colonialism is simply impact, then the Indians would be just as guilty of it as the British–which is, of course, an absurd notion.

The idea of colonialism we are discussing here is not the dictionary definition of having colonies, but rather the philosophical definition of cultural domination (a good explanation of which can be found HERE). Imperialism is the use of political, economic, or military power to control another group but not necessarily to change that group. Colonialism is imperialism with the goal of changing the dominated culture or location to be in line with the colonizers. Colonialism is a mix of power and coercion to compel assimilation to the culture of those in power. Thus, the British made the Indians speak English and don western clothes, and the Japanese made Koreans speak Japanese and adhere to Japanese cultural mannerisms.

Any fantasy story about a naive foreigner travelling to another land is not inherently colonialist. What matters is that character’s use of power and their relationship to the native culture. Let’s look at some examples:

The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien — This is one Tan cites as an example for her colonialism argument. However, it is far from the case. While Frodo does travel to foreign lands and interact with many new cultures, he does not feel superior nor try to change them. In fact, he seems to adore these cultures and takes on some of their characteristics, such as elven clothing and weapons.

The Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind — In this set of books, typical country bumpkin Richard Rahl learns he is the blood relative of a great wizard of an exotic, magical land to the east and later becomes ruler of his adopted kingdom. This story is textbook colonialism because Richard knows better than the natives about almost everything and seeks to change their behavior (i.e. culture) to match his superior ways. There is also a very overt anti-communist thread in the later books. The series is very clear in its judgments of one culture being superior to another and often equates this to the typical fantasy good vs evil battle. Despite these obvious flaw though, I did enjoy the series, though I was a lot younger (and dumber) then.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain — Like the Sword of Truth Seriesthis novel finds an intelligent man in a foreign place who uses his superior culture to dominate the natives. Everything about the American is superior, and the character cannot stand the native culture or habits at all. Blatant colonialism.

The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise — This film gets a lot of flak from people who like to throw around terms like “colonialism” without understanding them. Again looking at the story in the context of power and coercion to assimilate, this film is exactly the opposite. Not only does Capt. Nathan Algren not try to change the culture of the people and the samurai he meets, he in fact, abandons his own culture and people in order to assimilate into the samurai village. Moreover, he goes into battle with the samurai, adopting their less-advanced technology and tactics, knowing full well it will likely mean his death. Assimilation into the native culture by those with power is precisely the opposite of colonialism. Most films like this, such as Dances with Wolves or The Forbidden Kingdom, are assimilatory, not colonialist. The hero becomes better by changing himself and adapting the native culture, but the effect on the native culture itself is negligible or non-existent.

Now, this is not to argue against other problems these films have, such as the cultural imperialism of white faces and Hollywood packaging and presenting non-white voices and cultures. But interestingly enough, these films actually do a much better job of presenting the culture accurately, and indeed have a greater desire to do so, that other Hollywood films that simply use the culture or setting for something else. This has everything to do with the naive foreigner point of view that Tan criticizes in her article. It simply makes no sense for two samurai to be in a scene discussing samurai culture, something they clearly would take for granted. The only way to have scenes where culture is taught directly to the audience, is to have a lead character in the same position as them.

I happen to love these sorts of films just for that reason–I feel I am getting a more authentic look of a foreign culture. Even foreign made films, particularly East Asian films, are not wholly authentic to their own cultures because, being under the dark shadow of Hollywood, they now try to hard to westernize their films for global appeal. Thus, Korean cop films play out like LAPD action movies, though that is not at all how cops operate here. Perhaps Bollywood is the only local market with enough power to not have to globalize their work.

I happen to find the naive foreigner protagonist to be one of the best vehicles for making overt telling in your story actually make sense and work for readers.  Forcing world-building into dialogue in a manner that the characters would never actually do is far worse of a crime. Neuromancer is one book that Tan cites as a great example of internal world-building, which is certainly true to some extent, though there were many times when I felt Case was being told things he should already know.

I don’t think the naive foreigner trope is going away anytime soon. In fact, I would argue it’s an entire sub-genre of itself, consisting of journey tales (The Hobbit) and portal fantasies (Neverwhere).

While I do find Tan’s argument for “breaking the status quo” in SF/F compelling, I wish she would not get so hung up on a concept she clearly doesn’t fully understand. Unfortunately, this sort of pseudo-academics is all too common today, and it gets on my nerves.

Do you agree with my analysis? Prefer Tan’s interpretation? Let me know what you think.

~J.M.

Born of Struggle – What Pegman Saw

Sep
24
cambodia

Sambor Prei Kuk Temple, Cambodia © Google Maps

Their lasers could not cut through the trees. If their drop-ships came too close to the jungle canopy, the smoke and ash from incinerated vegetation would kill their thrusters.

History had shown the Vietnamese to be quite difficult to defeat. After resistance was crushed in the rest world, they were the last ones fighting. A cradle of hope in a hopeless swamp of green.

Chau drove her squad mercilessly on, whipping them with words like a French colonial governor might have done to his servants with a switch. She led them across the old border–one that no longer mattered–to one of the last surviving ancient ruins. A place that still did matter.

Approaching the site, marching at the head of her squad like her grandfather had done, she saw the slime-black aliens clustered around the temple.

They had made it into an outpost!

*I think this is my first time doing the What Pegman Saw prompt. This picture really stood out to me. It probably helped that I am watching Ken Burns’  The Vietnam War on TV while I write. I am considering a larger project along these lines, perhaps a short story about an alien-invasion centered on the Vietnamese–or maybe Afghans–whose history is one of constant struggle and opposition, as the last hope of mankind. Does that sound like something you’d read?

Hey there! Do you like what you’re reading here? Have you signed up to join the Rabble? In a week or so, I will be sending out the first bit of exclusive content, including the first reveal of the cover for my soon to be released series with Fiction Vortex! You don’t want to miss it. Sign up by putting your email address in the box to the right.

SHARE: Ships Made of Guns, by MV Melcer

Sep
14

This one didn’t hook me until the very end. The beginning seemed a bit conventional, almost as if I had read it before. The final twist was interesting, and the author did a great job getting a full plot into so few words. I was surprised by the completeness of it all.

But because it has a full plot, I was left wondering about the character arc here. Is this a flat arc, where the character doesn’t change the but the world changes around him? If so, it seems to miss the element of doubt that makes the character relate-able. This character feels a bit too self-righteous.

But all in all a decent little story.

~J.M.


Ships Made of Guns

When the invaders appeared, I had no choice. I lowered my head and opened my arms to greet them. Some of us tried to fight, against my warnings, but the orbiting gunships put a quick end to the resistance. I made sure everyone learned the lesson: their ships are made of guns. You cannot stop them…READ MORE

Where to Publish? — Anti SF

Sep
03

There are quite a few bloggers out there who post links to markets for writers. The trouble is, more of often than not the markets they share are pay-to-submit writing contests. I have voiced my concerns regarding some of these so-called “publishers.” In short, sometimes the math doesn’t add up.

Regardless, there is little reason to pay to submit your work when there are countless paying publishers that read for free. For writers new to formal publishing–like I was not so long ago–it can even be beneficial to send to publishers who don’t pay anything.

There’s a lot to gain from publishing, beyond just dollars and cents. One should not be so short sighted. Publishing in any venue helps build your brand and helps you learn the submission process. You get the chance of working with editors and staff, perhaps even receiving feedback on your work, and in general learning whether you have any writing chops or not.

These benefits come from non-paying publishers as well.  Moreover, while I don’t have any statistics, I imagine you have a better chance of being accepted into a non-paying market. That gets you in the door to learn the second half of the publishing game, the social exchanges between author and editor (and maybe even contracts depending on the pub). Even better, many of these publishers accept reprints, meaning you can send them work you have already posted on your blog. Few paying markets accept reprints, and those who do have brutal standards for anything that isn’t bringing in first rights.

Most of all, getting published anywhere helps you build confidence and establish relations with the greater writing world. To that end, the first publisher I am going to recommend is one whose editor I have developed a congenial bond with.

1

Antipodean SF is an Australian non-profit, print and audio publisher. It is managed by a man named Ion who DJs his radio show under the moniker “Nuke.” Most of the authors they publish are Aussies, but they will read English-language work from any which-where.

AntiSF has many things going for it as an online pub. Not only will they publish your work as part of an ezine issue, they will also add the audio version to the radio show (this can either be author read, or read by the AntiSF staff–usually the incredible Marg Essex). Beyond that, they have a more professional-looking website than a lot of free publishers. And most importantly, they accept reprints. Both of the stories I sent to AntiSF were originally posted on my blog.

If that didn’t sell you, the editor is a friendly chap and is more than willing to work with you to tune-up the story, if accepted. It’s a great place to start learning how to work with an editor.

There really isn’t any reason not to give it a try.

They publish flash fiction of the sci-fi or fantasy variety, and prefer quirky stories that are humorous or turn the genre upside down. Their guidelines can be found HERE.

What’re you waiting for? Give it a shot!

~J.M.

*If you’d like to receive even juicier publishing advice, join the Rabble! I will send out one premium market recommendation with each letter. 

SHARE: Is Science Fiction Dying?

Aug
06

As a routine submitter to the Writers of the Future Contest, I get weekly and monthly newsletters from them with interesting articles on writing and sci-fi.

One of the articles sent out this week was from famous sci-fi author Orson Scott Card. In it, Card offers his thoughts on why sci-fi seems to be struggling as a genre, at least in traditional formats.

Card does a great job of digging into common theories about sci-fi’s decline, which you should certainly read over, but I have a couple thoughts to add.

First, sci-fi in the past was not that great. Excluding Vonnegut, most of the well-known science fiction writers never made it into the top tiers of literature. Most people lay the blame at the feet of academia for rejecting sci-fi for being different. That is certainly true to an extent, but I also think sci-fi authors deserve some of the blame. If you look back on classic science fiction–which I am doing now as a student of my genre, trying to learn my roots and improve my own stories–you realize it had a lot of problems. Even the most famous works are far from masterpieces, despite what Science Fiction teachers and critics internal to the genre will tell you. Frank Herbert’s epic Dune suffers from what would now be considered amateurish and unnecessary shifts in narrative point-of-view. Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game, and countless others suffer from cardboard protagonists that lack emotional depth or agency.

To be blunt, nothing in sci-fi has ever reached the level of Tolkien’s work, and for good reason–most sci-fi writers have been scientists or science-centric by trade rather than lit majors. Beyond Tolkien, many epic fantasy writers have writing backgrounds: George R.R. Martin in Journalism, Terry Brooks in English, Brandon Sanderson in English, Patrick Rothfuss in English, etc.

It, in fact, seems common for those who study literature and writing to drift into fantasy rather than sci-fi. I did. Sci-fi could almost be described as anti-literature. Studying lit teaches you to focus on the character above all else; the character is the vehicle of the story, the purpose of it, and the means of connecting to the reader. Science Fiction often sacrifices the character for the sake of the concept or plot, as was the case in the titles mentioned above. Though I write in both genres, I most often find myself in fantasy because when I am focused on a good character, I find the explanation and exploration of ideas to be a distraction from what I am trying to do. Even the hardest sci-fi I have written so far seems to be light on concept in favor of character.

A second idea that comes to mind is the prevalence of escapism in pop culture. Fantasy tends to be escapist, whereas sci-fi is introspective, conceptual, thought-provoking. Sci-fi does take more effort to read and appreciate. I wonder what it would look like if you looked at sci-fi and fantasy sales over time and compared that to the rise and fall of escapism in other media such as films. I feel like we are living right now at a time where people are craving escapism. The world is dark, the news gloomy. Is it any surprise that epic stories about heroes and evil being defeated are popular? Star Wars emerged at the peak of the Cold War and is about as pure of an escapist work as you could hope to find.

Well, those are just my additional thoughts on the subject. To read the rest, follow the link at the end of the excerpt below.

~J.M.


Are We at the End of Science Fiction? By Orson Scott Card

These aren’t the best of times for science fiction.

The magazines, from the venerable Fantasy and Science Fiction to the once-dominant Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine are at astonishingly low circulation levels, and even that bastion of idea-oriented (“hard”) science fiction, Analog, is hurting.

But those are the short stories, and they have long been an anomaly inside the genre. Long after short stories became a dead issue in popular reading, and the old fiction magazines either died or found new kinds of content, science fiction stories persisted. It’s possible that the decline of the magazines only means that science fiction is catching up with—or falling down with—the rest of the literary world…READ MORE

Engineering in SF and Fantasy

Jul
06

Tor.com recently had an article featuring a round-table of leading speculative fiction authors discussing engineering in Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is a very interesting discussion.

Engineering, and science in general, can be a great component to a science fiction story. But I find there are some key flaws or weaknesses that make it hard to incorporate. First, and most obvious (and seemed to be missed in this discussion) is that the author needs to know her science and engineering if she is going to write about it. The risk of getting it wrong and putting off critics and readers is a genuine threat.

Second, readers need to be interested in the science as well. Part of this is up to the author to write it well, but the other part is the whims of the public, which the author has no control over. Hollywood seems to think that people these days do not want to know how things work, they prefer action over intelligence. I haven’t become that cynical yet, but there does seem to be a desire for thrill over substance.

I also probably don’t have to mention that I disagree with Susan Lake’s suggestion that Star Wars is a great representation of engineering in SF. What engineering? Star Wars is Fantasy and Fantasy usually doesn’t have engineering. Once you start explaining how things work, you’ve moved into proper Science Fiction.

Anyways, here’s the link to the article. Check it out: Making All Those Gears Spin

New Audio Story on the Centropic Oracle

Jun
10

During my adventures with writing and publishing, I have tried to take several approaches. One of these is with audiobook podcasts, the first of which released yesterday at the Centropic Oracle.

I have been waiting with a bit of apprehension to hear their production of my work. I imagine that must be a common feeling for authors having their writing turned into audio. Will the reader do a good job? Will they read it right?

The latter question is probably the worst. We authors have big egos. I doubt you could get into the craft without one. I know how my story should sound. I wrote it after all. It’s all made worse because I a man of a certain type of personality, one that often thinks there is only one right answer to any question.

Rob Gillespie did a great job with his reading. Certainly, there are things I think should have been pronounced or paced differently, but I honestly doubt I could have done a better job. Rob has a great voice for audio work. He sounds like a long-time audiobook reader, similar to voices I have heard many times before. And I am probably being picky.

For any flash fiction authors out there, if you are looking for something different to do with your work, you could do much worse than sending your stuff to the Centropic Oracle. They do a great job with their productions and publish a wide variety of story content, though it is restricted to speculative fiction.

If you like audio stories, you could do worse than check out my story, A Brief Glimpse of Everything.

There is also a donation button on the page, if you want to directly support me or the reader. That is a great feature that I haven’t seen in other places. The ability to directly support authors is always welcome.

Story Link