Jack Lusted

Science-fiction writer

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Category: me and science fiction (page 1 of 3)

Another Progress Update or Hey Where Have I Been?

Been quiet around here hasn’t it and luckily a simple reason for that. I’ve just been busy with work and writing.

The Word is up to 48,000 words, total book length going to be between 90-110k I think. Later chapters are shaping up to be longer than earlier ones. I’m very happy with the progress I’m making especially as I took a week and half to go back and revise what I already had when I hot 30k to reflect some changes to the setting I’d thought about.

It’s certainly shifting more away from the story that was told in Oranje and was intended for the rest of the September series. The Commonwealth of Earth, the great nation behind humanities golden age – is no longer something that receded into the annals of history and then re-emerges to become the antagonist in the books. Now it is there as a lasting influence after the Collapse – the fall of the Commonwealth which happens a few centuries before the start of The Word – reduced, but a vital part of how the nations of the galaxy act and feel.

The setting is now much closer to the fall of the Roman empire in terms of the lasting influence it had after it was gone. Many nations that came afterwards tried to take up the mantle of the empire or keep its institutions running.

In the United novels the same is true at first. A lot of nations will seek legitimacy from being the appointed protectors of a region of the galaxy by the Commonwealth, and all aim to replicate its old success. But not everyone is happy with that, with the veneration and lifting up of the old days.

This results in a setting where the past has a firm grip on how people and nations act but new identities divorced from the path of following in the footsteps of the Commonwealth begin to emerge. That’s the story of the United, the nation that becomes the second golden age of humanity. The United series is all about how it starts, its conflicts with the Commonwealth, and how it comes to be the nation of humanity in the milky way.

I think this all allows for much richer storytelling so I’m really happy with it all. I hope these changes come through in the final book and the others in the United series. Now I need to just finish the first draft. End of June/mid-July seem feasible. Only time will tell. Until next time.

The #KTBookChallenge and What I’m Going to be Reading This Year

Last month K Tempest Bradford (@tinytempest) posted this great article: I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors For One Year. The internet’s reaction was of course as you’d expect, accusing her of reverse sexism and racism and completely missing the point. A lot of them rounded on her use of Neil Gaiman as an example, though he himself thinks the article is great. It certainly got me thinking about the authors I’ve read over the past few years.

Asimov. Niven. Vonnegut. Reynolds. Iain M Banks. China Mieville. John Green. Neil Gaiman. Jeff VanderMeer. The only non white male I can think of having read recently is JK Rowling via a re-read of the Harry Potter series. Even thinking back to Star Wars and Star Trek novels I’ve read they’ve all been written by men. Not the most diverse list of authors. Even when considering the ones that are my favourite – Rowling, Asmiov, Iain M Banks, Gaiman, Pratchett – there is only one woman.

So I’m going to do better this year. From this point on – with one exception I’m going to get to – I’m only going to read books by non-white, straight cis male authors. Already read one so far this year – The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – but I’m now reading more. So I’ve bought Ancillary Justice by Ann Lecki (finished that though it was really good and promptly brought the 2nd book in the trilogy), The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, and The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemsin.

After those are done I think I’m going to go with some of K Tempest Bradford’s recommendations which she’s posting on her website linked at the start of this post.

Why aren’t I doing the whole challenge? The answer is simple. The tragic news of Terry Pratchett’s untimely death mean that I have to re-read some of my favourite Discworld books this year. His writing meant too much to me not to do that.

But who knows, maybe after this year of reading I’ll have a more diverse list of favourite authors that I do currently.

What Are Colours?

K Tempest Bradford on twitter linked to an post of hers from a few years ago, Mental Noodling About Color, Ancient Peoples, and Alien Races, which got me thinking.

The fact the spectrum of colours we use to describe the world came about fairly recently (really recently when talking about the whole span of the human species) and before then people talked about colour in very different ways. The author Kameron Hurley linked to this page on Ancient Greek Color Vision that says how for the Greeks the words they used to describe colour were more than just about the tone as it were. It was about the qualities they associated with that colour, the texture of it, shadow and many other elements.

Obviously this isn’t something we think about much as we take it for granted that we have this vast vocabulary of words to paint the world around us in. But what if we didn’t? Or, perhaps more interestingly from the perspective of a budding sci-fi writer, what if that changed in the future?

It’s got me thinking about how I talk about the details of the settings in my books. Colours not only describe the world around us but also use them to define it. In stories set a thousand years in the future, where the galaxy as been colonised and interstellar travel is common, wouldn’t our concept of what colours mean have changed?

With space itself being so freaking big, and so black for the most part, I wonder if the old dichotomy of light = good and dark = bad would remain. I’d hope not given the current worrying implications it has towards skin colour but then our society as a whole still needs to deal with the racism that exists today which is something people far more qualified than me have talked about with far greater authority.

It strikes me as a possibility that with a greater part of the population being exposed to space, and with all the changes that spreading across the galaxy would bring, that a new language around colours and how the world is described might evolve, existing words used in new ways to define the world around us.

Definitely something I’m going to think about more and try and develop, but I thought it was interesting enough to share.

All Fiction has a Message

So the Hugo Award nominations for this year have been announced, but with a different kind of controversy this time round. Usually it’s about a lack of representation in the awards, or them not reflecting modern sci-fi. This time however it was about the people nominated.

You don’t want to google anything about Vox Day/Theodore Beale. He’s a truly despicable person, and incredibly racist/sexist/homophobic.

All of this has been talked about lots elsewhere by far more eloquent people. The latest post by Natalie Luhrs on Radish Reviews links to a lot of those discussions. Instead I want to talk about ‘message fiction’.

Part of this drive by the right wing/complete twat branch of the SFF community to get their own nominated seems to be to get ‘revenge’ for all the supposed ‘message fiction’ that is pushed by the more liberal part of the community. ‘Message fiction’ seems to stand for anything that reflects modern humanity. You know, diverse and fascinating instead of stuck with a 1950’s view of sexism and racism. Apparently people like Vox Day object to this being part of the community and want it to go away.

Well, I’m sorry to say, but all fiction has a message. It’s all ‘message fiction’.

The nut-job part of the community might say that the more liberal SFF books are pushing agenda because of what they say, but so are the works from people like Vox Day. They’re just giving a different, and very unpleasant message.

Every single book has something to say, from the something simple like fun is good, to an allegory on modern socioeconomic circumstances. Pretending that some books don’t does a disservice to the medium.

And I’ll go further than that, I’ll say some books have good messages and others bad ones. Those that promote sexism, racism and homophobia definitely fall into the later camp, and should have no place on the Hugo ballot. I know the awards don’t work like that, but that doesn’t change what I think about it.

Works that promote a view of humanity as it is today, as a diverse and bizarre and beautiful species, deserve to be championed and applauded (if they’re good books of course) for reflecting who we are.

Those that don’t, and try to drag us backwards should be ignored. I understand the desire to keep politics separated from the art, but you can’t with anything created by humans. Who we are filters through to what we make.

Everything we create as humans has a message in it, and I firmly believe there are good messages and bad ones. I know that is controversial to many, but frankly when the SFF community – and hell the geek community at large – is associated with so much sexism and racism, it’s time to exclude those people who peddle messages of hate and division and who don’t reflect what the community is truly like.

So I say people like Vox Day shouldn’t be allowed on the Hugo ballot. Because having him on there is a damning indictment of our community.

The SFF community and elitism, screw the concept of ‘true fans’

So there’s been a discussion going on about this article from a publisher at Baen Books. Several people have already written up excellent responses to the slightly nonsensical arguments (Scalzi, Book Smugglers, Foz Meadows) but I thought I’d write up my thoughts as someone who’s history with SFF is very much outside of the core community.

Mainly I’m angry at the idea that there is only one true history of science fiction, and that you need to have been part of it or have read certain people to be a ‘true fan’.

Fuck that noise.

I fell in love with science fiction thanks to television. I’m very lucky that when I was a teenager there were awesome SFF shows on TV almost every day. BBC2 had Roswell, Farscape, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on in the week over the years. Then on Sunday afternoon I’d watch Channel 4 for Stargate, Andromeda and Enterprise.

I then moved onto films, namely Star Wars, and videogames. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic will always hold a special place in my heart. I also read books, early ones were the Foundation series, Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Discworld.

Since then I’ve read/watched some of the Culture novels, Larry Niven, attempted Revelation Space, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly etc.

But apparently, none of that makes me a ‘true fan’, as I’ve never read any Heinlein.

Yeah, fuck that.

The SFF community (okay, I’m really generalising here, but there are definitely parts of it which do) often seems to complain that it’s not more respected in the mainstream, and then creates bullshit rules to try and keep people out of the fandom.

The logic, it makes no sense.

Obviously if you read the articles linked at the top there are people who are fighting this view point for good reason. Saying there is a singular history of the genre is a way of dividing people into us and them. Surprisingly the people in the them column often involve those in groups that have often been overlooked or treated badly by the SFF community. Women, POC etc.

Given the nature of science fiction and fantasy, of creating settings and stories for people to engross themselves in, the arbitrary nature of dividing up who is a proper and who isn’t seems to go against that. Surely, in the 21st fucking century, we can have an open an inclusive SFF community as well represented by Nine Worlds and other cons.

It doesn’t matter what or why people like SFF, they should all be welcomed as fans, whether they’re people who can speak Quenya, or others who like the latest Star Trek movies. Trying to build barriers to block people out strikes me as blatant elitism and ‘one true path’ bullshit.

SFF is for everyone, no one gets to decide who is or isn’t a fan.

And isn’t that awesome.

So fuck those who try to build barriers.

Fuck those who try to make people feel bad for not enjoying what they do in the ‘right way’.

Fuck those who use some weird singular history of the genre to continue to try and exclude those who’ve always been underrepresented by it and in it.

You like Heinlein, you’re a fan! You like Star Wars, you’re a fan! Everyone should be welcome.

Let’s keep on working to tear those barriers down.

Oh SFF Community, the SFWA Bulletin Petition

So, to refresh memories, last year there was a big hoo-hah about some pretty sexist issues of the Bulletin, the official mag of the SFWA. I blogged about that here.

Since then, to their credit, the SFWA have made several changes to how the Bulletin works, including improving the editorial oversight process for the mag to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.

Great right? The SFWA has learnt from the episode has moved forward! That would be my position, but others, it seems disagree.

A petition has started to try and prevent this new editorial process, invoking the First Amendment and other straw men. However, the one that’s going around isn’t the first version that was sent to many writers. Natalie Luhrs over at Radish Reviews has a brilliant post that covers the whole thing.

I think my thoughts can be summed up as follow:

  • That’s a damn long petition to basically say you want to keep on saying sexist crap in the official magazine for an organisation
  • The authors who signed the petition should be ashamed, this is not censorship, this is editorial control, something oh I don’t know EVERY SINGLE NEWSPAPER DOES.
  • I really hope the petition doesn’t come to anything, the changes to the Bulletin are a good thing.

I need to point out that first: the person who started the petition isn’t a SFWA member, but many of signatories are, and second: I’m not a member of the SFWA, just a fascinated outsider.

Sexist attitudes like those shown last year that caused this whole thing, shouldn’t be part of the SFF community in 20-fucking-14. It’s just not acceptable anymore. Steps to make it clear that those views aren’t welcome anymore is good. It’s not censorship, it’s saying your views aren’t welcome here anymore.

For a community that talks so much about the future, it seems to spend a lot of time trying to stay in the past. Efforts to move it forward is good, not attempts to keep it that way.

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