Late November Update

Is it time for another update? Why yes, I suppose it is.

Sons of the Starfarers is coming along quite well. Book 6, Patriots in Retreat, is up for preorder right now with a release date of January 19th. My editor just got back with the edits for book 7, A Queen in Hiding. Haven’t had a chance to look through those yet, but I will in the near future. Come January, that book will be up for preorder as well, with a release date of March 16th.

Right now, I’m writing book 8, An Empire in Disarray, with a hard deadline of 22 December (just before Christmas). Normally, I’d be panicking right now, but I’m trying out a new outlining method that seems to be working quite well. If everything works out the way I hope, I’ll finish up book 9 sometime in February and move on to other projects.

Looking back, it was a mistake to set out to write a nine-book series before knowing how the first one would do. If I could go back to 2009 and do it all over again, I’d stick to trilogies, where the first book stands well enough alone that I can abandon the other two books if it doesn’t gain much traction. That’s going to be my modus operandi from here on out.

So here are the trilogies I need to finish:

Genesis Earth Trilogy

This one has been outstanding for a long time. The first book did much better than I was expecting, and while its popularity has fallen off in recent years, it still gets very good reviews. For a first novel, I’m honestly surprised that this book has done as well as it has.

The second book, Edenfall, is still on the back burner for now. Partially written, partially outlined, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of months to get it done when I finally sit down to finish it.

As for book three, The Stars of Redemption, I have no idea because I haven’t even outlined it yet. Perhaps that’s what I need to get the ball rolling: outline the last book, so I know what has to happen in the second book. In any case.

Gunslingers Trilogy

Gunslinger to the Stars hasn’t done as well as I would have liked, but I enjoy this universe so much that I’m going to finish the trilogy if for no other reason than the fun of it. I’ve already written the first four or five chapters of Gunslinger to the Galaxy, and it’s coming along swimmingly. In fact, I’ll probably go right back to it after finishing up Sons of the Starfarers and call it a vacation. Expect to see more Jane Carter soon!

The Twelfth Sword Trilogy

I am super super excited to finish this trilogy—which is good, because the way the first book ends, it’s definitely not a standalone. Definitely not. Haven’t formally outlined it yet, but there’s a ton of stuff I’m going to throw into the second book, The Sword Bearer. Mercenaries, sorcerors, death mages, winged cataphracts, desert ruins, and mountain strongholds—it’s going to be great fun!

The Outworlds Trilogy

For a while now, I’ve been playing around with the idea of condensing all of Star Wanderers into a novel and then turning it into a trilogy. The first book will basically be made up of bits and pieces from all of the Star Wanderers novellas, spliced together to make a coherent novel. In particular, I’d like to expand on Noemi’s viewpoint and trim out some (or a lot) of the extraneous stuff that made the series drag on. Basically, turn it into less of a sci-fi romance and more of a classic space opera.

I’ve already started the sequel, Children of the Starry Sea, though I haven’t gotten past the first chapter. Where Star Wanderers is a series of novellas, though, Children of the Starry Sea is definitely a proper novel, and it would probably work a lot better to frame it as a trilogy than anything else.

I suppose it’s a bit like how Orson Scott Card turned a bunch of his early short stories into The Worthing Saga, which in my opinion is his very best book. I won’t unpublish any of the old Star Wanderers stuff, but I may just let it fade into obscurity as I push the other stuff.

These are the books that are on my mind. I’ve got to be honest: Sons of the Starfarers feels a bit like a ball and chain, but I’ve committed to finishing it and I’ll do my best to finish it well.

On the publishing front, there’s so much stuff I want to do that I’m having trouble keeping up with it all. My main goal is to get to 10k subscribers on my email list. Currently, I’m just shy of 4k. InstaFreebie has been hugely useful for that, but I’ve got to try other strategies as well. One of those strategies involves a new signup incentive, so if you’re already signed up for my email list, I’ve got a surprise for you soon.

So much stuff going on. I swear, this is the best depiction of what it’s like to be an indie author:

LTUE 2014

Without a doubt, my favorite sci-fi convention / writing conference / symposium is LTUE. I say this every year, but this year’s symposium was one of the best! Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson were both there, along with a whole bunch of other authors and artists, local and otherwise. It drew a huge crowd, too–around 1,800 people over the course of the weekend–but there was plenty of space at the Provo Marriott, so it never felt too crowded.

If anything, I think that LTUE has gotten better since leaving BYU. There’s much more openness, much less administrative or bureaucratic restriction. Fans can dress up in cosplay and that’s okay, panels can discuss pop culture topics without having to pretend to have academic value, non-LDS panelists are free to share their perspectives without feeling like the religious censors are breathing down their backs, and we have a whole hotel hotel to ourselves, as opposed to a corner of the student center.

At the same time, all of the stuff that makes LTUE great is still there, and there in abundance. Since the vast majority of attendees are LDS, the panels all revolve around the LDS perspective and experience. In his main address, Orson Scott Card talked about how his experiences growing up in the church influenced the writing of Ender’s Game and his views on leadership. At the banquet, Brandon Sanderson referenced Orson F. Whitney’s famous Home Literature speech in discussing Mormons’ place in the current science fiction & fantasy field.

In other words, all the good stuff was still there this year, plus a liberal helping of cosplay and facial hair. And who can say no to that?

In any case, I had a blast. I was on five panels this year, and they were tons of fun. In particular, the Writing Romance panel was really great. Since I’m not familiar with romance as a genre, I was a bit worried that I’d be out of my league. But the discussion was all about how to put romance in your sci-fi, and I know a lot about that. At one point, I argued that men have just as much of a hunger for romance as women. That surprised some of the female panelists, but I definitely believe that that’s true. We got into a lengthy and interesting discussion out in the hallway, which is how the best panels seem to go.

One major shift I’ve noticed from previous years is that self-publishers and self-publishing has all but lost its stigma, with people talking openly about the benefits of that career path. In fact, it was a major undercurrent throughout the entire symposium. In the green room, we got into some really intense discussions about the AE report, which came out just days before the symposium began. It seemed that I was constantly hearing or overhearing people talk about whether and how to self-publish, and on several panels people were openly advising to skip traditional publishing altogether.

Three years ago, people would have treated me like I had leprosy if I openly admitted I was self-published. Now, everyone seems to be embracing it. It’s so awesome that we’re past the stigma, because it means that we can all be open and supportive of each other and focus on the important things, like writing the best possible stories and connecting with our readers.

By far, the best event I attended was John Brown’s presentation on Clear and Vivid Writing. HOLY CRAP GUYS. That presentation completely blew my mind. The powerpoint is up on John Brown’s blog, so you can grab it and see for yourself. All I can say is that the man is a writing genius. The presentation completely changed the way I think about my own writing, and will definitely influence what I write from here on out.

Another great event was Sandra Tayler’s presentation on how to build a fan community around your stuff. She talked about the difference between a following and a community (basically, a community is a following where the fans talk to each other), how to cultivate a safe and inviting place for your fans, and what to expect from when you first start out to when the community starts to get rather large. I still feel as if my writing career is just getting started, but her advice will no doubt be very useful in the coming years.

The What Makes a Hero panel was really great. Peter Orullian, Larry Correia, and Lisa Mangum were all on it, so the discussion was energetic and full of awesome, juicy stuff. The big takeaway I got from that one was that as long as the reader doesn’t throw the book across the room in disgust, you can always bring back a fallen character and redeem them. There is nothing so beyond the pale that makes it impossible for a character to step up and become the hero once again. It takes skill to pull it off, of course, but it can be done–and that is one of the most awesome things about what it means to be a hero.

There was a bunch of other stuff that I took away from LTUE this year, but those are the major things. By the end of it, I just wanted to sit down and write! The climactic final battle for my current WIP, Sons of the Starfarers: Comrades in Hope came to me in all its awesomeness as I attended the various panels, and holy crap am I so excited to get to that part! It’s going to be amazing, and the cliffhanger ending is going to make you scream so horribly, but that’s okay because the next book will pick up right where the previous one left off, then take things in an even more awesome direction.

In any case, that was LTUE this year. SO MUCH FUN. If every convention can be like this one, holy crap, sign me up for them all!

Why boycotting Ender’s Game is stupid

First of all, let me just say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making a personal decision not to read a book or see a movie because you disagree with the views of the author.  We all should be free to consume (or not consume) the media we choose, and if a certain author offends for any reason, I think it’s perfectly fine to cut that author’s work out of your life–as a personal decision.

But with Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game, there’s a group of people who are taking it a step further and organizing an all-out boycott.  They want the movie to fail, because Orson Scott Card holds some views about morality and homosexuality that they find offensive–views that have nothing to do with the movie at all.  The idea is that Orson Scott Card is a homophobe, and as such everything he creates should automatically be rejected out of hand.

There are a number of reasons why this idea is stupid, many of which have been discussed elsewhere.  There are those who agree with Card’s views and make their arguments on that basis.  I don’t care to go there, because he has been a controversial and divisive figure, and I do think there are legitimate reasons for disagreeing with his views.  There are views he holds that I disagree with very strongly.  However, I do think there is something to be said about the way his opponents have twisted his words.

Laying ideology aside, there are those who say the boycott is stupid because it will send the wrong message.  If the boycott is successful (which I doubt it will be), then all that filmmakers are going to take from it is that the public doesn’t want to see sci-fi movies of this type.  There’s nothing whatsoever in Ender’s Game that has anything to do with Card’s views on homosexuality, so boycotting it isn’t a very effective way to protest his views.

Those are all valid reasons, but none of them are the main reason why I think the idea of this boycott is flawed.  I’m not concerned with the impact this boycott will have on Orson Scott Card, but the impact it will have on the writers who follow after him.

Frankly, Ender’s Game is such a phenomenon, I doubt that this boycott is going to do any real harm, no matter how loudly some corners of the internet rage against him.  If anything, it’s just more publicity, and perhaps an opportunity for him to get back into the public arena to bring attention to some of his views. As of now, it seems he’s content to ignore the boycotters, which he can easily afford to do since he’s successful and well-established.

But the message it sends to budding writers is a lot more powerful, and much more dangerous.  For science fiction writers who are in the early stages of their careers, this boycott sends the message that there is an ideological orthodoxy in the science fiction community that will do everything it can to destroy you if you challenge the beliefs that they hold sacrosanct.  It sends the message that some beliefs should never be challenged, not even in a genre that is famous for challenging beliefs and ideas.  And finally, it sends the message that if you challenge the new orthodoxy, they will not engage your ideas in an intellectually honest debate, but do everything they can to marginalize and dismiss you.

I could understand this boycott if Orson Scott Card had actually done something illegal like committing hate speech–something that clearly crosses a line that we as a society have collectively agreed upon.  But he hasn’t.  He just holds some views that a lot of people, perhaps even a majority, find hateful and offensive.  But if that’s just a way of saying that he opposes the new status quo, how is it not regressive and reactionary to attack him for that?

If you disagree with Card’s views, engage him.  Make him eat his words.  Use the movie as an opportunity to bring up these old debates and point out just how wrong and offensive he was.  Don’t use something he said fifteen years ago to sabotage what is arguably the best sci-fi movie of the year, if not the decade.  And for the sake of all the books that are yet unwritten, don’t threaten the writers who dare to challenge the beliefs you hold sacrosanct.  Don’t replace one rigid orthodoxy with another.

There was a time when science fiction was known as the genre of ideas, where writers were free to question anything, even our most basic assumptions about humanity.  Let’s do what we can to bring those days back, not shut them off forever.

Y is for Yesteryear

Star_wars_oldThey say that the golden age of science fiction is about twelve years old.  That’s definitely true for me.

My first exposure to the genre was Star Wars: A New Hope.  I saw it when I was seven, right around the height of my dinosaur phase.  Everything about the movie completely blew me away, from the Jawas and Sand People of Tatooine to the stormtrooper gunfights and lightsaber duels.  After watching Luke blow up the Death Star, I spent the next few hours running around the yard pretending to fly my own starfighter.

In a lot of ways, I’ve never really stopped.

My parents made me wait until I was nine to watch The Empire Strikes back, because it was rated PG.  Without any exaggeration, I can say that those were the longest two years of my life.  I was literally counting down days by the end, and to pass the time without going crazy, I read up on all the books about space that I could possibly find.

My father bought the original X-wing flight simulator game somewhere around then, and I soon became totally engrossed in it.  Since the 386 was our only entertainment system (no Super Nintendo–I had to visit a friend’s house for that), X-wing became the defining game of my childhood.  I spent hours and hours on that game, to the point where I knew exactly which simulated missions the characters from the books were flying and how to complete them faster and easier.

I thought The Empire Strikes Back was a little slow the first time I saw it, but it’s since grown on me, to the point where now it’s my favorite film in the whole series.  Thankfully, my parents let me watch Return of the Jedi the next day, and for the next few months my life felt utterly complete.

Around this time I discovered the Star Wars novels and soon immersed myself in them.  The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton soon became one of my favorites, as well as the Heir to the Empire trilogy by Timothy Zahn and the X-wing series by Michael A. Stackpole.

But it was Roger Allen McBride who first introduced me to a different flavor of science fiction with his Corellia trilogy.  As I mentioned in V is for Vast, those books had just enough of a touch of hard science to intrigue me about the other possibilities of the genre.  That was the last Star Wars series that I read before branching out into other works of science fiction.

The Tripod trilogy by John Christopher was my first introduction to the dystopian / post-apocalyptic genre, depicting an enslaved humanity after an alien invasion.  Those books really captured my imagination for a while.  The Giver was also quite interesting and thought provoking, though since it didn’t involve spaceships or aliens it wasn’t nearly as compelling.

I read a lot of fantasy in my early high school years, including Tracy Hickman, Lloyd Alexander, and (of course) J.R.R. Tolkien.  While I enjoyed those books and immersed myself in them for a while, my true love was still science fiction.  For almost a year, I watched Star Trek: Voyager religiously with my dad.  And every now and again, I’d pick out a science fiction book from the local town library and give it a try.  That’s how I discovered Frank Herbert’s Dune.

In eleventh grade, my English teacher had us choose an author and focus our term papers solely on their books for the entire year.  She suggested I choose Orson Scott Card, but I chose Cormac McCarthy instead.  I’m not sure if that was the worst decision of my high school career, or the best decision, since assigned high school reading tends to make any book feel like it sucks.  I discovered Ender’s Game the following summer, and finished it in a delirious rush at 3am the morning after checking it out from the local library.

More than any other book, Ender’s Game cemented my love for the genre, and showed me just how powerful and moving the genre could be.  It opened so many insights into the world and human nature, reading that book made me feel like I’d opened a pair of eyes that I didn’t even know I’d had.  Looking back, that was probably the moment when I knew I would be a science fiction writer.  I’d known I was going to be a writer ever since I read A Wrinkle in Time at age eight, but to be a science fiction writer specifically, that goal was probably cemented by reading Orson Scott Card.

After high school, I served a two year mission for my church, during which I didn’t read any novels or watch any TV or movies.  When I came back, though, Orson Scott Card and Madeline L’Engle helped me to ease through the awkwardness of adjusting back to normal civilian life.  When I left for college, I expanded my horizons even further, starting with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Princess of Mars.

When I discovered Pioneer Books in downtown Provo, I knew I’d found my favorite bookstore in Utah Valley.  I have so many fond memories sitting cross-legged on the floor in the science fiction section, browsing through the musty used books for hours at a time.  That’s where I discovered C.J. Cherryh, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, and numerous other authors who are among my favorites today.

When I discovered Spin, Robert Charles Wilson soon became one of my favorites.  I picked up that novel as a free PDF from Tor, and read it over the summer while studying abroad in Jordan.  Once again, that same hard sf sensibility I’d gotten from Roger Allen McBride touched me in an unforgettable way.  But it was the human element of that book that really moved me–in fact, it’s always been about the human element.  The world building in Downbelow Station was great and all, but the romance of Merchanter’s Luck had a much more lasting impact.  Starship Troopers had some good ideas, but it was Mandella’s personal journey in The Forever War that moved me almost to tears.  The intrigue of the Ender’s Shadow series was quite entertaining, but it was Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead that really taught me what it means to be human.

I finished my first novel, Genesis Earth, shortly after returning from that study abroad, and tried to capture the same sensibility from Spin as well as the intimately human element.  Since then, I’ve written several more sci-fi novels, some of them tragic, some triumphant, but in all of them I’ve tried to get as close as I can to the personal lives of the characters.  I don’t know if I’ll ever write a character portrait so intimate as Shevek’s in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, but I certainly hope to someday.

For me, science fiction started out as a wonderfully exciting entertainment and turned into something much more meaningful.  If there’s anything the genre has taught me, though, it’s that the two aren’t mutually exclusive–that you can have your adventure and learn what it means to be human as well.  Indeed, the more imaginative the adventure, the greater the truths I’ve taken from it.

Because of that, even though I’m almost in my thirties now, I can’t possibly foresee a time when science fiction isn’t a major part of my life.  It’s a love affair that’s grown just as much as I have, and continues to grow with each new author I discover and each new book I write.  When I’m old and grizzled and pushing eighty, I’m sure there will still be a part of that twelve year old boy in me, still running around the yard flying his starship.

Continue reading “Y is for Yesteryear”

X is for Xenocide

xenocideThis post isn’t just about the third book in the Ender’s Game series–it’s about the genocide of an entire alien race, which is actually a fairly important trope in science fiction.

Of all the evils of our modern era, perhaps the most heinous is the systematic extermination of an entire race or ethnicity.  These acts of genocide not only cross the moral event horizon, they create specters and villains that live on from generation to generation.  Just look at how the Nazis are portrayed in popular culture–even today, they are practically mascots of the ultimate evil.

And for good reason.  There really is something evil about the total annihilation of a foreign culture.  It’s one of the reasons why terms like “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are so controversial, especially in conflicts that are still ongoing–and there are so many unresolved conflicts where the systematic and purposeful annihilation of a race or culture is still happening.

Is wholesale genocide a phenomenon unique to our modern age?  Probably not, but modern science has enabled it on a scale that was previously impossible.  This became all too clear to us after World War II.  Only a generation before, great numbers of people believed that we were on a path of progress that would eventually culminate in world peace.  If there was any of that sentiment left, it was shattered with the liberation of Auschwitz and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Suddenly, we realized that systematic mass destruction and genocide were not only possible, they were a modern reality.

It should come as no surprise, then, that science fiction immediately began to explore this issue.  From Frankenstein to 1984, science fiction has been full of cautionary tales of science gone wrong, issuing a critical voice of warning.  But after 1945, it went much further, exploring the issue in ways that can only be done in a science fictional setting.

Is genocide ever morally justifiable?  In our current world, probably not, but what if an alien race was bent on our destruction?  If their primary objective was the utter annihilation the human race, and negotiation was impossible?  Wouldn’t it be justifiable–perhaps imperative even–to stop such a race by annihilating them first?

This is what is meant by the term “xenocide.” A portmanteau of “xenos,” the Greek word for stranger, and “genocide,” it denotes the complete extermination of an alien race.

Xenocide forms the core conflict of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series (hence the title of the third book) and features in The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.  Battlestar Galactica presents an interesting twist, where the cylons debate the ethical questions surrounding the complete annihilation of the humans.  And then, of course, there’s all the time travel stories involving Hitler–let’s not even go there.

The interesting thing about xenocide stories is that even though they describe a dilemma that does not currently exist in our modern world, they inevitably come down to issues of Otherness that lie at the very core of the evils of genocide.  In order for xenocide to be morally justifiable, you have to know your enemy well enough to know that there’s no possibility of forging any sort of peace with them.  And to know them that well, they cease to be quite so alien.  It’s one of the major themes in Orson Scott Card’s work–that to defeat an enemy, you have to know them so well that you can’t help but love them.

In our modern world, genocide is only possible when an ethnic group is relegated to the position of Other–when they are made out to be so different and unlike us that we can never possibly relate to or mix with them.  They become “sticks” (Germany), “cockroaches” (Rwanda), “animals” and “barbarians” (Israel).  That is precisely why it makes us uncomfortable in stories about xenocide–because it turns the well-intentioned saviors of humanity into knights templar, or possibly the very monsters they are trying to destroy.

By positing a situation in which genocide might actually be justifiable, science fiction helps us to understand exactly why it is so reprehensible–and that’s only one of the ways in which the genre can uniquely explore these issues.  That’s one of the things I love so much about science fiction: its ability to take things to their extreme logical conclusions, and thus help us to see our own real-world issues in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

Since most of my characters are human, xenocide as such isn’t a major theme in my books, but genocide certainly is.  In the Gaia Nova series, the starfaring Hameji look down on the Planetborn as inferior beings and think nothing of enslaving them and slagging entire worlds.  That’s how Prince Abaqa from Stars of Blood and Glory sees the universe at first, but by the end of the novel he’s not quite so sure.  Stella from Sholpan and Bringing Stella Home also deals with these issues as she comes to realize how it’s possible for the Hameji to hold to such a belief system.

If genocide is one of the ugly skeletons in the closet of this screwed up modern world, then xenocide is science fiction’s way of taking those skeletons out and dignifying them with a proper burial.  By wrestling with these issues in stories set on other worlds, we are better able to humanize the Other and prevent these horrors from happening again on our own.  In this way and so many others, science fiction helps us to build a better world.

Continue reading “X is for Xenocide”