Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Jump, you fuckers

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Those immortal words, flung in abuse by a protestor on Wall Street last fall, also constitute the title of Dan Hind’s essay on the economic crisis. Hind, the author of a book on our use/abuse of the Enlightenment, seeks to get to the root causes of the accelerating economic downturn, and finds them in the dismantling of the Bretton Woods agreement, which allowed the U.S. to run up massive debts even as the rich became disproportionately richer—and the overall system became ever more unstable amidst the orgy of profit-taking green-lighted at the very highest levels of the political/economic elite, all at the expense of the Average Worker.  This is the kind of explanation you’re unlikely to see much of among the elite’s Tame Intellectuals (as Hind so aptly calls them), who are charged with continuing to proclaim their Faith in the Free Markets, as well as “let’s not blame the system for a few bad apples”, but it’s one of the more compelling arguments I’ve read thus far on what we’re facing.

It also gets at one of the things I thought about a lot while writing MIRRORED HEAVENS:  the notion that our civilization is heading rapidly toward some kind of mega-discontinuity/overhaul out of which something new will emerge, for good or ill.  Again, our Tame Intellectuals don’t help us here—they’ve encouraged us to believe in our current Way of Life as the culmination of everything that went down before (see, Fukuyama, Francis). But imho science fiction is all about this discontinuity, whether it comes in a month, in a decade, or in a century. It’s about somehow unshackling our minds from the tyranny of the now—that mindset that literally can’t envision anything else. We’ve got a long way to go here; preoccupied with its own petty infighting, SF is largely absent from serious debate on the causes or ramifications of our current crisis. One hopes this will change as the situation worsens (as it assuredly will); now, more than ever, we need to take the long view.

How to Get Your Novel Published

Friday, February 6th, 2009

NOTE: I’ll be signing copies of Mirrored Heavens at the Bantam Spectra booth at ComicCon NYC tomorrow.

I had a conversation earlier this week with the inimitable Shaun Farrell over at Adventures in Sci-fi Publishing. Check out the podcast, in which I rant on about space elevators, Autumn Rain as Al-Qaeda, the weaponization of space and cyberspace, and various other fun topics.

Towards the end of the conversation, we talked about how breaking into publishing.  Shaun said a lot of his listeners have more than a passing interest in the subject; I mentioned an essay I wrote last year for Bantam Spectra’s Facebook page, and promised I’d reprint it here when he released the interview.  So, without further ado, here’s the REAL story. . . .


Though a title like that kinda intimidates me. Yikes. And in truth I’m a little bit hesitant to offer up advice here, because I’m just one guy, and relatively new at this. More seasoned authors undoubtedly have a lot more to say.

Except a lot of them don’t.

Thanks to a nifty little paradox that is routinely ignored by some of the very folks to whom it applies the most. That paradox being: the more seasoned an author you are, the further you are from the realities of breaking into publishing in the market today. And, I might add, the further away you are from the dilemma of the Unpublished Newbie.

Something that I discovered pretty quickly as I started to research the market in 2006. My first novel was done, and I was scoping things out. And buying books on how to land publishing deals . . books that featured sample query-letters like “Dear Agent: Having already written two best-sellers . . . blahblahblah”, or that included sentences like “my work has been featured in [Prestigious Magazine], and I won [Prestigious Award].”

And you can see the problem. What I’m saying is that a LOT of the advice you’ll see out there falls under the general umbrella of Bell the Cat Strategies:

I.e., strategies that are great ways to solve problems that are already largely solved. (Because if you really could bell the cat, you wouldn’t need to worry about the goddamn thing in the first place. And if you really DID have a best-selling book . . . you get the point.)

So here’s my advice. For what it’s worth. From the perspective of the Utter Newbie:

#1: Unless you know somebody at a major publisher, go for the agents. You’ll hear a lot about how you can’t get a publisher without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without a publisher. You’ll also see stats that say half of writers got their deals through publishers directly. But here’s the thing: virtually all of those writers knew someone, or had short story credentials that got them introduced to someone (see below). Though there are exceptions to everything in life, you generally have to know someone to get a major publisher to seriously consider your material without an agent. (Unless you win the slush-pile lottery at one of the few publishers that still takes unsolicited submissions.) But you DON’T have to know an agent . . . to get to know an agent.

#2: If you DO know someone, then make the most of it. Because realistically, this is how a disproportionate # of folks get in. (Be prepared to push that six-degrees-of-separation a degree or two out of your comfort zone too.) And if you don’t know anybody, then start going to cons. Try not to make the first thing you talk about your unpublished novel. But hey, you’re a fan right? So you’ve got a right to be there, and you’ve got something to talk about.

#3: For the love of God, find a way to bypass the #$# query-letter stage: Query-letters are the meatgrinder of the process. The really senior agents are getting tens of thousands of query-letters a year. And they’ve got an intern or their high-school son reading them. I’m not saying you can’t run the gauntlet. I’m just saying don’t let it stop you in your tracks. I queried two-thirds of the market. Want to know how many agents requested to see my manuscript material? One. Want to know how many agents requested my material off of my query-letters?

Zero. Which brings me to . . .

#4: For the love of God, find a way to meet the agents: I met Jenny Rappaport, my (awesome) agent, at the WorldCon in 2006 in Los Angeles, following a panel. They say no one in their right mind goes to WorldCon to meet agents/editors (World Fantasy is, in truth, far better), but sometimes not knowing the rules works to your advantage. And the first question out of my mouth was NOT “hey, Jenny, nicetameetcha, would you be interested in taking a look at my awesome book?”

#5: When you meet the agents, don’t #$# up: Because asking her that would have been bad manners (like asking someone for a date when you’ve known them for five seconds). First she and I talked a little about the panel, and we also talked about how my experience in the video-game industry ought to be positioned in my search for representation (i.e., I was politely asking her for advice). Only then did I switch to my pitch. I kept it to a single sentence, and Jenny said, sure, sounds intriguing, send me a partial (i.e., first 50 pages of the manuscript). Query letter=bypassed.

#6: There are all sorts of ways to meet agents: . . in addition to talking to them after a con panel. The hotel bar, for example—editors tend to lurk there too. : ) The problem, though, is that unless you’re an ace networker, you’re only getting near an editor/agent at a con bar or party if you already know somebody they’re drinking with. And I’m assuming that, as a newbie, you don’t. But many cons have “speed-dating w/agent” events (the cons call them that, this isn’t an extension of the above analogy), and these should be a top priority for you to get in on.

#7: Agents who want to be big are way better than agents who ARE big: Legendary agent Eleanor Wood was also at the con where I met Jenny. I felt sorry for her; she had a crowd of aspiring authors surrounding her/stalking her for virtually the entire time. And she didn’t look very pleased about it either. And I can only guess how many query-letters she receives. I’m not saying she’s not a world-class agent: obviously she is. But that’s the problem. She’s so senior that unless you’ve got publishing credentials already, she’s probably out of your league. Jenny and I were a great match for one another because she wants to get to Eleanor’s level: i.e., she’s hungry, and smart—and she used my MS (and the outlines of the rest of my trilogy) to land her first deal with Bantam Spectra. And it’s tough to argue with a result like that.

#8: Iterate: If you play your cards right, you’ll do better than I did: you’ll have more than one agent who you’ve managed to get a face-to-face connection with. But there’s a lot of agents out there, and the bulk of agents will probably remain unknown to you. So you’ll just have to send them query-letters anyway. And . . . this is yet one more way in which so many of those #$# query-letter advice books are so lame! They basically tell you to write the Perfect Query Letter, and then send it out to all the agents.

Me: Well . . . how do you know it’s a Perfect Query Letter?

The Advice Book: Because it gets agents to say yes.

Me: Right, but . . I haven’t sent it out yet.

Advice Book: Well . . send it out, and find out!

Me: Ok . . . but say all the agents say no?

Advice Book: Well. . then I guess it wasn’t the perfect query letter after all!

See the problem? (It’s such a basic problem it’s a wonder it doesn’t get brought up more often.) I don’t care how well you craft the goddamn letter, the only REAL way to tell if it’s worth anything is to send it out. But you don’t want to blow it all in one go. Meaning you have to adopt (in my humble opinion) a strategy of “cautious iteration.” Write an awesome letter, and then send it out to a FIFTH of the agents. If they all say “yawn”, then chances are it’s NOT as awesome as you thought it was, so . . . iterate! . . . develop a different angle/pitch, and then send a DIFFERENT LETTER out to the next fifth of the market. Is there a chance there’s someone in that second fifth of the market who would have loved the first letter? Sure. No one said this gets you out of rolling some dice. All I’m saying is be careful of putting all your eggs in one basket.

#9: Play the Long Game: Since the query-letter system is broken (and it is), you’d be an crazy to act like it’s not. A lot of people think you only get ONE query per agent per novel. This is a myth: because it essentially asks us to assume that agents have got some Awesome Database that says, whoops, we already received a query-letter from this guy, guess we’ll just have to NOT READ this new query-letter from the same guy. Who of course they remember. . .except they don’t: like I said, they’re swamped just trying to keep up. So take advantage of this fact. But don’t be a jerk or unprofessional about it. Wait several months, then send any agent who declined you at the query-letter stage a NEW query-letter with different content (because you’re iterating per #8, right?), and see what happens. Some people will say you should write in that letter that the book has been revised pursuant to market feedback. That’s absolutely true if the agent has seen manuscript material. But if they haven’t, then why bother: the agent doesn’t remember your book, they don’t remember your pitch, and they sure as hell don’t remember you. To them, you’re a nobody. Take advantage of the one advantage that fact gives you.

#10: Make sure your novel kicks butt: yanno, I probably should have started with this. How about we deal with it in a later post? Sound good? Good. See ya later. More later . . .

The Mirrored Heavens is available in mass-market paperback from Amazon and all fine bookstores (and probably some crappy ones too).

I. Am. Spartacus.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Aka the Stupid Human’s Cat. And I have taken over the blogging from him, since what he writes is so stupidly lame. He only acquired me to pimp his dumb book anyway: he told me that “science fiction fans are suckers for cats, so they’re gonna LOVE you and make us both rich.” Of course, he wasn’t expecting me to announce that to all of you.  Sucks to be you, Dave! Now your career’s over.

But anyway, let’s get to the inbox. Let’s see. . Mike Collins of Rescued by Nerds has posted an interview he did with Dave a couple days back. Mike even calls the book “Iron Man meets Jason Bourne.”  Hmm.  He seems like a classy guy; I can’t imagine why he wants to be associated with the author of MIRRORED HEAVENS, but whatever. There’s no accounting for taste.

And speaking of taste, my magic food bowl has refilled.  And so have Amazon’s stockpile of the book. The two events are clearly related—so keep on buying it, humans!  Keep on buying!!!

MIRRORED HEAVENS tops bestseller list!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Well, okay . . . the bestseller list at Borderlands Bookstore in San Francisco. But still: the book was first (!) on the July trade paperback list, and then came in fourth for the month of August, tying with Warren Ellis’ CROOKED LITTLE VEIN! (A tie with Warren #$# Ellis! Can life get any stranger than this? Hopefully the answer’s yes, and I’ll *steamroller* him next time around.)

At any rate, here’s a link, but I’m posting the entire July list as well, as it’s pretty interesting. Very cool to see that Richard Morgan’s ALTERED CARBON just keeps on selling. And I’ve heard a lot of good things about WJW’s IMPLIED SPACES. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

(And thanks to Alan and Jude and all at Borderlands for being such incredible advocates for what I’ve written.)

Top Sellers At Borderlands

1. Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson
2. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
3. Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
4. Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
5. Implied Spaces by Walter John Williams
6. Escapement by Jay Lake
7. Jhegaala by Steven Brust
8. The Man With the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove
9. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
10. Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

Mass Market:
1. The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
2. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
3. The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
4. Ha’Penny by Jo Walton
5. Snake Agent by Liz Williams
6. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
7. Mainspring by Jay Lake
8. Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling
9. Valiant: The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell
10. Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder tie with
The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper

Trade Paperback:
1. Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams
2. Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
3. Spook Country by William Gibson
4. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
5. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie tie with
The Word of God by Thomas Disch

Governor Palin’s debut

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Sarah Palin’s speech last night was pretty much made to order: she scrupulously avoided all (well, most) of the really controversial stuff, and instead beat the drumbeat of family values and small town Americana. The questions that swirl around her will only intensify across the next few days, though, with the really big wild-card being whether there any other surprises in her past that the McCain campaign failed to discover.

And there may well be. But nothing that’s surfaced so far is likely to be damaging, despite the growing speculation. In fact, a lot of those “issues” in Palin’s past are likely to redound to the GOP’s favor. The “Troopergate” question, for example: Palin may have crossed the line, but the cop she was targeting was clearly completely out of control, and the details of the incident are unlikely to win her anything but electoral sympathy, regardless of what the law says. And as to the speculation on her/her daughter’s baby: do the Democrats really believe there’s serious upside to pursuing this? Based on what we know now, nothing that’s occurred in the Palin household is likely to disturb the voters of Red State America. If anything, they’ll rally around her more fervently.

And that’s likely to be the crux of the matter. Palin has virtually no chance of pulling any but the most diehard/confused of Hilary Clinton’s followers into her orbit. But she has energized the Republican base in a way that I suspect the mainstream media (and certainly the left) has yet to fully understand. There are many reasons why we’ve had only two Democratic presidents since Richard Nixon took over. One of them is the Dems’ perennial tendency to underestimate their opponents. In focusing on the Alaska governor’s experience, they run the risk of falling into the same trap.  McCain is betting that Palin will ignite the NASCAR circuits this fall, ensuring that the GOP base is mobilized and in the voting booths this November. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s probably right.  Whether this can be done without diminishing McCain’s chances of clawing enough centrist votes to win:  that’s the big question.

Alas Babylon

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

With Babylon A.D., Vin Diesel’s career careens precariously toward what we call the Rutger Hauer Event Horizon: that point of no return beyond which a star only makes straight-to-DVD guilty pleasures. There’s a lucrative career there, to be sure, and hey, it beats auditions while you hold down the day job. But Diesel has fallen a long way since his Pitch Black glory days, and that’s a real shame.

Particularly because Babylon could have amounted to a damn sight more than it did. Someone clearly sank some money into the thing, and the world it depicts has a cool dystopian feel to it (there’s some truly gorgeous scenery at times). It opens well, too: in a hellhole that looks it might be round twelve of some Chechnyan war.  And they probably should have kept the whole thing there, rather than turning the movie into the Children of Men-meets-Cyborg roadtrip that it rapidly becomes.  By the time the narrative reaches America, the plot has descended into near-total incoherence, and by the time the movie ends, the audience’s reaction was one of near-total derision.  (They were vocal about it too.)

Leaving us to wrestle with the question of Just Went Wrong.  The script feels like it was done by a committee, so that’s one thing.  And the movie ran over-budget, which seems to have gotten the studio involved perhaps earlier than it should have.  Director Mathieu Kassowitz has claimed that the studio bosses cut 20 minutes of his vision, and maybe that was the problem, but I didn’t see anything on the screen to convince me that there were uncut gems lying around in the vault.  I’m also not inclined to give the guy who unleashed Gothika upon us the benefit of the doubt.

And I have to wonder why Vin Diesel’s agent did.

Riddick, Diesel, and Babylon A.D.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

The blogosphere (or, rather, specialized segments of it) is abuzz with Vin Diesel’s statements about not one, but two forthcoming Riddick movies. Apparently director David Twohy is even now writing the scripts, which he and Diesel are about to start shopping around. Intriguingly, they’re also conferring on whether they’ll end up shooting both movies separately, or together, a la Lord of the Rings. And the LOTR reference is instructive, as it underscores what I was saying last month about just how ambitious the original Riddick plans were. And apparently still are. Just one problem.


Folks, nothing’s been signed. Twohy can write all he wants and Diesel can talk to whomever he damn well pleases and fans can work themselves up into a Furyan frenzy, but the fact of the matter remains that Chronicles underperformed at the box office. Which is going to make any sequels a VERY tough sell.  I’m not saying it can’t be done. But ultimately the pitch meetings that Twohy/Diesel have with Hollywood execs may not be about Riddick anyway.

They’ll be about Babylon A.D.

Which opens in the States this weekend, and is Diesel’s first SF movie since Riddick. Making it a great way for Hollywood to tell if Diesel still has box-office draw as a SF star. Which, bluntly put, means that if Babylon tanks, you can forget about seeing anything involving Riddick, ever again. And it doesn’t look like we’re off to a good start, either: the movie opened in France, and has been panned by critics so far. Sure, Babylon might just suck in its own right. Doesn’t matter to Hollywood. Hey, it’s their money. When I invest mine, I like to see proof that it’s going to get me a return too.

So I leave you with this: if you really really REALLY want to see more Riddick movies, and you DON’T go see Babylon A.D. THIS WEEKEND, then your commitment to the cause has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Convert now or fall forever.

IMAX Batman

Monday, August 25th, 2008

So I admit it: I am a junkie, and I have no will of my own. I’d already seen the goddamn movie twice, but a friend dragged me to Saturday night’s IMAX show at the Museum of Natural History. She claimed that if you haven’t seen Dark Knight on IMAX you haven’t seen Dark Knight. I found the logic persuasive, and considered it my duty to put the claim to the test.

And now I can report the results. To be clear, Dark Knight is flat-out fantastic on any screen. But it’s all a matter of increment. See it in your living room on a DVD a year from now, and yeah, you’re missing something. Most of which you get by seeing it in a normal theater. But if you want a five-story tall Joker, there’s only one medium that delivers.  Not to mention that insane underground road chase….and that death-defying plunge through the Hong Kong skyline… jesus christ. Apparently only 25 minutes of the film are actually shot in IMAX, but the sheer scale of the screen makes those other two hours pretty insane as well. It’s a great way to wrap up the summer.

Next on my to-see list: Death Race. I suspect it’ll be a cold day in Lucifer’s domain the day THAT makes it to an IMAX, but in the words of someone I trust, I feel sure it will (a) suck and (b) be fucking awesome.

An albino emperor and a giant soul-sucking sword

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

I’m late to the party: the graphic novel Elric: The Making of a Sorceror came out in 2007, but I’m only just now getting around to reading it. Which is a shame, because it’s quite well-done. The art is gorgeous (apart from Yyrkoon being #$@# BALD), and the storyline is an interesting prequel to the events that start off the first Elric novel, centering around a ritual dream-battle between Elric and Yyrkoon over who is more worthy of being the next emperor of Melnibone. Best of all is that Moorcock himself wrote the damn thing; it’s nice to see that he’s not yet in the business of farming off pieces of the core franchise to hack writers.

Which doesn’t mean that this graphic novel doesn’t fall into some of the same traps the novels did. Every time Elric gets into some impossible situation, that ol’ chaos lord Arioch’s bailing him out, and carting off all the blood and souls in sight by way of recompense. But whatever. The Elric novels broke so much new ground—they were so alive and wonderful and WEIRD—that a little bit of deus ex machina never really bothered me.  Especially because it was part of Elric’s larger fate and ultimate damnation.

And of course now I’m back and rereading the rest of the series. Some of the prose from the Elric books feels a little stilted/dated now, but I can’t decide if that’s because I first read them in junior high or because Moorcock was the one who was inventing so many of the cliches that have since passed into modern fantasy. And I challenge anyone to come up with a better action/drama sequence than the sacking of the Dreaming City that opens Book Three.  (Though why the fuck the Melnibonean fleet waited till AFTER the reavers had sacked Immyr before burning them to the waterline is beyond me; it made for great drama but shit logic. But maybe I just answered my own question.)

And most intriguing of all, the rumors of an Elric movie continue to persist.  As, regrettably, do the rumors that the same team that brought us the Nutty Professor 2 and American Pie is involved. Meaning that (like Elric) we just can’t win:  either (a) there’ll be no movie or (b) we’ll have to watch Cymoril tell us all about band practice and that damn flute of hers. You have been warned.

Putting Russia in perspective

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

A second cold war? Russia regains its great power status? There’s a lot of SF fans who said my geopolitical ideas were crazy. But turn on the TV, and Russian tanks are steamrolling over Georgia. And now I’m getting emails from *other* SF fans who are asking me whether I’m going to use this to claim vindication.

Well, no, I’m not.

For one thing, gloating ain’t attractive. But more importantly, despite the media’s hysterical claims of a new cold war, this isn’t the one I had in mind. What’s presented in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS is a Russia capable of projecting force on a global basis. But the Russian Federation of today is a long way still from anything that approaches the all-encompassing global reach of the Soviet Union.

And that’s something the U.S. ought to bear in mind as it weighs its options in the aftermath of the Georgia fait accompli.  A lot of people who should know better are calling for Bush II to get tough on the Evil Russian Bear.  But what they’re forgetting (or ignoring) is that we already HAVE been getting tough.  We promised that NATO would never expand into the former Soviet Union, but then NATO did.  Not only that, but we withdrew unilaterally from the ABM pact and started building missile defense infrastructure in the Czech Republic and Poland.  And while we were at it we intervened in Ukrainian politics.

But although the Russia we’re dealing with now may not be anywhere near as powerful as the Soviets, it’s still a damn sight stronger than the broken reed we trampled over in the 1990s.  And although American domestic politics has reached such a lamentable state of affairs that both candidates feel they have to immediately jump on the anti-Russia bandwagon (any rhetoric besides the mindless assertion of American power being deemed unpatriotic these days), hopefully something at either the State Department or the Pentagon is weighing the facts:

Item #1:  the bulk of our military forces will be engulfed in the Mideast quagmire for some time to come
Item #2:  the question of whether America intervenes in the former Soviet Union means a lot more to the Russians than it does to the Americans
Item #3:  we need Russia’s help with Iran whether we like it or not.
Item #4:  Putin ain’t Hitler. (This doesn’t mean that Putin’s a saint.  It just means that he isn’t the leader of a state hell-bent on conquering all of Eurasia and killing entire ethnic groups while he does so.)
Item #5:  While Putin may not be Hitler, he really has the potential to fuck with the price of oil.

Bottom line, regardless of what Russia does next, we’re idiots if we go to the mat with them right now over territory inside what was once the Soviet Union. And we’d be unwise to forget that for-too-long discredited concept in international relations called spheres of influence.  And I’m more than a little concerned that over the next few years (regardless of who wins the election) we’re going to start to see just how flimsy some of the assumptions that guide American foreign policy have become.