Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Equations of Life

Samuil Petrovich is a street smart Russian mathematical genius with an ugly past living in London twenty years after Armageddon (What I believe was a terrorist-initiated world-wide nuclear attack), who inadvertently gets caught in the middle of a war between Japanese and Russian mobsters. He even less advertently seems to kick off a new end of the world scenario brought to reality by something called the New Machine Jihad. His closest ally as hell and shrapnel rain down on all sides? A combat-trained amazonian nun in body armor.

I dare you not to read that.

I rarely pick up books these days without recommendations or at least knowing something about them, but I picked up Simon Morden's Equations of Life based solely on the back cover copy (so kudos to whoever wrote that). Even so, I expected to be disappointed because I'm a fussy reader and start a hell of a lot more books than I finish.

However, I could tell in the first chapter that I might be pleasantly surprised. Although the story opens in a near future slum that William Gibson would be comfortable writing about, Morden's writing is cool in a way that's different from the dense Gibsonian stuff that I love and am used to. I don't know exactly what he's doing but it feels fresh and I sure needed some fresh. There were one or two small slowdowns along the way, but otherwise the characters and action carried me to the end and a good conclusion that also leads into the next two books, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom, which I now own and look forward to reading

These books all came out within three months of each other this year, which surprised me. I thought that maybe they'd been released more slowly in the UK and then brought out all at once here, but I don't think that's the case. This is a good thing, because as soon as you finish one, you can grab the next.

And I recommend you do so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post: Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Hey, folks! For today's post, I'm turning the blog over to my friend and writer Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I like his philosophy of storytelling and he's going to share it with you here. Bryan's got a new novel out called The Worker Prince. Check it out! You can learn about all things Bryan at

by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Matt, thanks for the invitation to visit your blog. What I decided to blog about is my approach to storytelling. I know you’d commented that you were impressed with what I said about that on the Adventures In SF Publishing podcast. And I do think it’s an important yet very personal thing for each writer as an individual, how they approach story. So that’s definitely a great thing to share more about.

I like old fashioned stories with larger-than-life heroes. Not that they can’t have flaws. They have to have flaws or there can be no arc and nothing to overcome. They have to have flaws because how else can readers identify with them? So I don’t mean larger-than-life and perfect but, rather, larger-than-life in that they are people who rise above the capacity of normal man much easier than most of us and face danger and difficulties with a bravery most would struggle to muster.

Part of this is my Star Wars influence, because Star Wars IV: A New Hope was my childhood introduction to storytelling, and Luke, Han, Leia—are all larger-than-life characters in big ways. Yet all of them have flaws. Luke’s ego and innocence are flaws for him that get him into trouble. Han’s flaws are more obvious: cocky, carefree, selfishness and pushing the edge of the law are examples. Leia is flawed in being also prideful but at the same time very much used to being bossy. Just examples. Each has more flaws but you get the idea. Still the way they rise above their flaws makes us love them.

So my stories do tend to have those kinds of heroes.

I also believe storytelling has one primary goal: to entertain. Oh yes, stories can make you think about life and issues. Especially science fiction which is tailor made for helping us examine ourselves from new perspectives. But no amount of research, exposition, preaching, etc. replaces good clean plotting, characterization and heart. Tom Clancy is a talented writer. He came out huge with bestseller after bestseller. But he loved his research. Tom Clancy would spend pages just describing a weapon or vehicle. It was boring. It was annoying. It wasn’t important. So I’d skip those pages and go on with the story. It is challenging to keep exposition to a minimum. I have had to work hard on that. In fact, I probably do it better in The Returning, Book 2 of the Saga of Davi Rhii than I did in The Worker Prince, Book 1 which just came out. But ultimately exposition is dry and unemotional. As a consequence, while the reader may have a momentary “Oh cool” reaction to some few sentences, for the most part, exposition leaves them little to connect with and quickly to boredom.

So my approach is to try and focus not on a lot of detailed description as much as the emotional touches. And I also have great faith in my readers. So many people over write. Some do it because their prose is so beautiful. They can probably get away with it. I’m still learning my craft, so I can’t afford that luxury. And I believe if you give enough hints, the readers use their own imagination to fill in the gaps. They engage with the story and in doing so, making stronger attachments to it. We all love a story that makes us feel and think and laugh. We love to run the gamut of emotions because the story is so good we can’t help it. It makes it memorable and far more real to us. I love those kinds of stories, too.

I am very careful that what I include is done in a way to aide the story, not hurt it. For example, I have Christianity as a world building element in the saga, but it’s not preacher or proselytizing. It’s just there and explained briefly and in the Christian character’s lifestyles and they move on. There’s no room for preaching religion, politics, or environmentalism or anything else in good storytelling because show don’t tell is so core to engaging readers. And those things are preachy. Instead you have to show. You can demonstrate the effects of a bad environment or a religion or a political view. But it had better be done in context of the story or readers will see right through it and they won’t like that at all.

The goal in telling the story should be to connect with readers emotionally first then mentally. Stimulate their emotions and creative thinking so that they engage fully and completely and lose themselves in it. When they finish, they should feel like it was great escape from the everyday world. If you do that, whether your story is serious or comedic, romantic or tragic, readers will love you for it.

The last element I want to talk about is questions. For me, a core part of storytelling is a series of questions. As I write I keep track of the questions asked and when I answer them. Some are left hanging to build tension and engage the reader. For example, when Davi’s parents send him to the stars as a baby, it’s emotional and breaks their hearts. Will they ever see him again or know what happened? That question carries us through several chapters before we get answers. When Davi meets Tela, his love interest, they clash. He’s crazy for her but she seems to dislike him. Will he win her over? That carries us through a while, too.

It may seem simple, but it’s not because knowing what to ask, when and when to answer is how you create tension and pace that engages readers, holds their interest, and keeps them turning pages. And in the case of a trilogy like mine, some questions don’t get answered until the later books. But in any case, when done well, these questions and answers will keep readers satisfied that the story is going somewhere. If you let all questions hang unanswered for too long, they get bored and feel manipulated and may even wonder if anything is every going to happen. On the other hand, answering them too soon can totally remove all the momentum and tension driving your story. So it’s a delicate balance and takes practice and careful thought, although it can become more instinctual over time.

The three elements of larger-than-life but flawed heroes, tight prose avoiding heavy preaching or descriptions and questions asked and answered are core to my storytelling approach. Of course there are other elements as well, but those are key for me and I hope they’re helpful to other writers out there.

The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Oct. 4, 2011, Diminished Media Group, tradepaperback, $14.95.

Synopsis: What if everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world turned out to be wrong? For Davi Rhii, Prince of the Boralian people, that nightmare has become a reality. Freshly graduated from the prestigious Borali Military Academy, now he’s discovered he was secretly adopted and born a worker. Ancient enemies of the Boralians, enslaved now for generations, the workers of Vertullis live lives harder than Davi had ever imagined. To make matters worse, Davi’s discovered that the High Lord Councilor of the Alliance, his uncle Xalivar, is responsible for years of abuse and suppression against the workers Davi now knows as his own people.

His quest to rediscover himself brings him into conflict with Xalivar and his friends and family, calling into question his cultural values and assumptions, and putting in jeopardy all he’s worked for his whole life. Davi’s never felt more confused and alone. Will he stand and watch the workers face continued mistreatment or turn his back on his loved ones and fight for what’s right? Whatever he decides is sure to change his life forever.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the newly released space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, interviewing people like Mike Resnick, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kevin J. Anderson and A.C. Crispin. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

StarShipSofa 208

This week StarShipSofa presents StarShipSofa no. 208. Blast off!

StarShipSofa No 208 Joe Haldeman

Coming Up

Interview: Tobias Buckell
Fact: Film Talk by Dennis Lane
Main Fiction: Never Blood Enough by Joe Haldeman
Fact: Mini Meta StarShipSofa’s Monthly eMagazine (Poll) by Tony C Smith
Fact: Poetry Planet by Diane Severson
Narrator: Simon Hildebrandt

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Supakitch And Koralie

Somebody tweeted about this a day or two ago and I'm sorry to say I don't remember who. This is definitely one you want to watch full screen.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

God's War

If you're looking for a good read, I highly recommend Kameron Hurley's God's War. Hurley's heroine, Nyx, is one of the most bad-ass characters I've seen in a while. She's a bounty hunter on a world where two Islamic countries are in the middle of a three hundred year old war. Nyx has a handful of employees and other than that it seems everyone else wants her dead or at least severely beaten on a regular basis.

There are magicians and shape-shifters, though this is science fiction rather than fantasy novel. Having said that, what happens to the shape-shifters mass when changing form isn't explained and so it seems pretty magical. The magicians are mighty handy surgeons who have organ and limb transplants down to a ho-hum. And there's this thing with bugs. There are bugs and bugs and bugs everywhere and they're used for all manor of useful things, many of which - like powering semi-organic vehicles - happen without my understanding, but my understanding isn't necessary to a great story. All this weirdness just makes for lots of cool.

It's a very brutal world and Nyx is on the receiving end of much of that brutality. Her ability to get back up even when her body, her team and her circumstances are falling into shit goes beyond making her an interesting character and actually inspires me. If you like Batman or Conan, but wish they had a little more depth and humanity, Nyx is your lady.

Check it out and if you like it, the sequel, Infidel, will be out in mere days. I'll definitely be picking it up. You can get both books through Kameron Hurley's website.

Princess Bride Reunion

Via Neatorama. If my Facebook friends can't see the vid, just come here:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Friday, October 07, 2011

How to Eat Your Apple

Welcome to new follower, Joseph Patrick Pascale!

Via Cartoon Brew: How to Eat Your Apple by Erick Oh. I dig it because there's a lot of stuff going on here.

How to eat your Apple from Erick Oh on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sandhill Cranes

Welcome to new follower kaylaDawn!

A couple of sandhill cranes for you. I give my daughter driving lessons on weekends and a couple of weeks ago she was learning how to park at a local school parking lot. That's where we spotted these guys. The area is crawling with them. Best shot I could get as they insisted on staying in the shade. They even looked like they were trying to sit on this bench and take it easy.