Archive for October, 2007

I Love the End of the World

October 30th, 2007

Over in my LiveJournal someone kindly mentioned her enjoyment of The Stone War and noted that “I love a good post-apocalypse.” My first thought was: gee, so do I. ‘Kay, not certain what, if anything, that says about me personally. But as a writer I can think of several reasons to love the end of the world.

First: you get to have your cake and consume it as well, setting-wise. You can set your story in a real world, trash a couple of well known local landmarks (how often has the Statue of Liberty shown up in destroyed-New-York movies?), and use that as a base for your invention. Depending on the sort of work you’re writing, you can get as interesting as you like: when I wrote Stone War I was deliberately going for weird, which meant that I could knock a whole city block of brownstones askew, or have the West Side Highway tie itself into knots. But you can also be hard-headedly logical about what would survive and what would not, depending upon the mechanism of the apocalypse and the time elapsed since the event.

Second: There’s the memento mori factor. Seeing the world brought low is a metaphor for dealing with our own inevitable deaths–and seeing something grow out of that. Who knows what part of our lives will be remembered in fifty years or a hundred or a thousand? Shelley’s Ozymandias tells us to look upon his works and despair, but the works are gone and nothing but the warning itself remains: “Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Post-apocalyptic fiction trades in what is left behind and what meaning it has (remember that a shopping list is a sacred text in Canticle for Liebowitz).

Third: There’s the opportunity to see what an individual can do after the end of the world. Humans have at least as much interest in creating order out of chaos as they do talent for creating chaos in the first place. This can lead to Lord of the Flies scenarios, but it also lends itself to your plucky protagonist or band of protagoni going up against the Bad Tribe. A post-apocalyptic setting adds a frisson of extra meaning, with our knowledge of the past a palimpsest, the action and reality of now overwritten on everything we know about the past. In near-event post-apocalyptic settings, your characters are dealing with the disaster itself, and their own survival. Just as intriguingly, in a long-past post-apocalyptic setting, the characters deal as much with the meaning of the old world and its demise, and that can make for really interesting fiction.

Sure, I love the End of the World: what’s not to love?

How Does the Story End?

October 23rd, 2007

As part of the planning process for how I’m going to wrap up my Jump 225 trilogy of novels, I’ve been thinking a lot about the structure of story. I think it’s useful for us writers and readers to occasionally step back from the process to remind ourselves of one crucial thing: stories are artificial. They’re constructs.

I’m not just talking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. I’m talking about the very idea of storytelling itself. It’s an art form, which means it’s a product of the human intellect, which means it doesn’t exist naturally in the world.

‘Batman Begins’ posterSometimes readers get so heavily focused on plot mechanics that they mistake the plot — which is simply one element of the art, albeit a crucial one — for the story itself. What happens at the end of the Jump 225 trilogy? they ask me, as if that’s the only question worth asking. Let’s say I tell you what happens at the end: Natch vanquishes his enemies and learns to live in peace with himself. Or, Natch dies heroically. Or, Natch and his enemies join forces to take on a different enemy altogether. You know the broad strokes of any ending I could possibly think up, and you’ve seen them all a million times before. So obviously the important question is not what happens at the end of the story, but why and how.

I just watched Batman Begins for the umpteenth-plus-oneth time the other night. Spoiler alert: Batman defeats Ra’s al Ghul. He chats with Lieutenant Gordon at the end, only to discover that there’s a new villain named the Joker out there causing trouble. Roll credits.

So what happens after the cameras stop rolling? We assume that Batman goes on to defeat the Joker (and indeed, we’ll find out next summer when The Dark Knight hits theaters). And then he defeats another villain, and then another, and then another, until Bruce Wayne dies in battle, hangs up the cape, or hands the keys to the Batmobile down to the next guy in line. We can safely assume that Batman will never completely succeed in vanquishing crime, that there are certain villains that will always elude his grasp.

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ICon – celebrating fantasy in a fantastic place

October 16th, 2007

Nothing surprised me more this year – or perhaps in my writing career – than the email I received last May, asking me to be Guest of Honor at ICon, the Israeli Science Fiction Society’s annual Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Role-playing Festival. Only three of my books have been translated into Hebrew – Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration – but they seem to have struck a chord with the Israeli audience. In 2005, Transformation won the Israeli equivalent of the Hugo at this same festival, and Restoration was a finalist this year. Evidently the books have done well there.

I didn’t take long to consider my answer. The chance to travel to a part of the world so wrought with history and consequence doesn’t come every day. I had met my publisher, Rani Graff, and the multiple award-winning translator of Transformation and Revelation, Didi Chanoch, at the Glasgow WorldCon, and when these two great guys and Naomi Wiener, the foreign guest coordinator for ICon, promised to meet me at the plane, take me touring, show me a great time at the con, and send me safely home again, I jumped. (Besides, I’ve never done a GOH gig, and I thought I ought to grab the opportunity.)

I was actually surprised that almost everyone’s first reaction was: Are you really going to go there? Some were worried for my safety. Some have problems with Israeli history or politics.

I would hate the thought of people not visiting our own country because they judged us all by our national government. And no matter what my personal views on Israeli/Palestinian history or politics, I wasn’t going to become wiser or more intelligent about the issues by not going. And I sure didn’t like the thought of refusing because I was scared I’d be blown up.

I read the US State Department site that advised American citizens to stay out of the West Bank and Gaza and avoid places where large numbers of Americans gather. As the convention is conducted mostly in Hebrew (with the exception of the Guest of Honor events and the film festival!) I doubted there would be large numbers of Americans at ICon. Naomi assured me that most of the convention guests would speak excellent English, which was really a good thing as the sum total of my Hebrew comprises shalom, toda, and mazeltov!

Truly the most nerve wracking part of the anticipation was the shoes I had to fill. Last year’s GOH was Neil Gaiman. Ouch. And before him? Tim Powers. 2004, Guy Gavriel Kay. And in 2003, the man who put ICon on the map for North American authors – Orson Scott Card. Holy moly!!!

So how was it?

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October 14th, 2007

It was just over twenty years ago, as a newly-published author, that I joined the Science Fiction Writers of America. It wasn’t a difficult decision. Aside from a vague hope of discovering the Secret Pro Parties, I wasn’t thinking: What can SFWA do for me? Even less was I thinking, then: What can I do for SFWA?

Instead, I thought that I was honored and privileged to become part of the community of science fiction authors. My community.

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Advice for first-time sff novelists ?

October 11th, 2007

Some months ago I received email asking me, “Any advice for first-time fantasy novelists?”

The two short answers, which are not as contradictory as they may seem:

If you can quit, do.

Never give up.

But who ever said I wrote something short?

Really, what can you do except to write as well as you can, revise to the best of your ability at the time, allow yourself room for growth, and nurture the joy you feel in the process?

But if I were giving cold-hearted advice to a first time fantasy novelist, it would go something like this:

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