Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Magazine Orders and an Open Poll

Well, the deed is done. With a budget of $25, I was able to order a single issue each from five different speculative fiction magazines I am interested in possibly submitting work to at a future date. The list of magazines for any and all interested:

  • “Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest”:http://www.apexdigest.com
  • “Farthing Magazine”:http://www.farthingmagazine.com
  • “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”:http://www.sfsite.com/fsf
  • “Analog: Science Fiction and Fact”:http://www.analogsf.com/0604/issue_04.shtml
  • “Asimov’s Science Fiction”:http://www.asimovs.com/

The first two – Apex and Farthing – I ordered in print. I was disappointed that with the last three on the list I had to suffice with digital copies, since that is the only format that single issues are available for those magazines. (I much prefer actual print over electronic; something about being able to hold the pages in my hands.)

My goal in ordering these is to 1) give myself a fairly broad and diverse range of exposure to the field of speculative fiction as a way of priming the creative juices and 2) to being familiarizing myself with speculative fiction periodicals that would suit my publication goals. It is always highly recommended that fledgling writers become familiary with the sort of fiction that various magazines accept so as not to waste everyone’s time by submitting works of short fiction that are not suitable to that magazine. So, I plan to take the time to read and do the ‘homework’ necessary to hopefully get published.

Now, time for the open poll. These are just five magazines that I’ve found that are interesting to me. I have a handful of others on the side, waiting for more money for the budget. This is where _you_ get to chime in.

What magazines are circulating out there that a writer of speculative fiction might want to add to his or her list of potentials for short fiction submissions?

Speculation on Horror

There was a period of time this morning where I actually almost felt bad about submitting my bit of “flash fiction”:http://curveballconspiracy.blogspot.com/2006/06/heritage-repaid.html, even though it obviously met “The Curveball Conspiracy’s”:http://curveballconspiracy.blogspot.com criteria for publishing it. I think what kind of bugged me about it was that I ended up doubting myself, wondering if it really fell into the category of speculative fiction. Michael O’Mahoney’s ((The creator of the site.)) focus was to have authors submit stories that are a sidestep away from reality, and my story was certainly that – maybe even a bit more than just a simple sidestep.

The horror genre can be a fascinating one to write in. Not all speculative fiction is horror, and not all horror is speculative fiction. But when the story contains elements that cannot or do not occur in real life – like magic, mystical events, paranormal happenings, etc. – then it is probably safe to say that the story has, at the very least, stepped into the realm of speculative fiction. Of course, some horror probably only briefly visits before bounding away, but sometimes that’s all you need, that one little bit of the unexplainable, the one thing that allows the reader to suspend disbelief for just long enough, and then the story plunges on, leaving the reader gasping but hanging on for dear life to find out what happens next.

I don’t consider myself a horror writer ((I definitely consider myself more of a sci-fi/fantasy writer.)), but I have to admit that a lot of my writing touches on the dark with a high degree of regularity. Maybe I’m just more comfortable visualizing the fantastic than I am with visualizing the future. Or maybe the darker tales simply speak more persuasively to my imagination and preempt some of the other, non-horror story ideas I have. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Give Me Simplicity

There are many times during the course of my immersion into the realms of science fiction and fantasy, whether it be reading books, watching shows or movies, etc., when I wish that I could experience aspects of those cultures first-hand. For instance, in the short-lived show _Firefly_, two cultures merged into one when humanity abandoned Earth. The predominant world superpowers at that time were the United States and China. So, when new worlds were terraformed and then populated by Earth’s refugees, it wasn’t long before most inhabitants of this new solar system were bi-lingual, speaking English primarily but switching over to Mandarin in moments of high emotion.

In Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, the culture of Britain in the early days after Jesu left his mark on the world was rich with history, symbolism, and faith. The mere image of the cross was enough to spark strong emotional and behavioral reactions in the followers of the Great Light, of the one True God. You can believe that nothing in their faith was taken for granted.

What it comes down to is this – I see in many Americans a shallowness that borders on being depressing. I don’t believe it always used to be this way. Early on in our nation’s history, national pride was treasured, cherished. It was important to be known as an American, important enough to die for, as many did. Today it seems that so many of our citizens are almost ashamed to be called Americans, thinking that to claim such is to be pretentious and arrogant in the eyes of the world. We are becoming American in name only, with so many having no concept of the pride that goes with being called such.

So, too, in our churches and in our faith. We are becoming Christian in name only, and that often only barely. Cultural shallowness has begun to penetrate our minds, our hearts, our churches so that our ministries become less effective, less robust. As both Americans and as Christians, we are losing our culture, those elements that root us in what we are and in what we believe. The cross of Christ has become less of an integral, necessary part of our belief system and more of a digitized placeholder of faith whereupon we look and remark in a distracted manner about how important it is to our faith.

A recent email conversation among some friends has addressed this topic from the perspective of the church’s affluence. The problem posed at the outset of the discussion is that of the presence of “fancy buildings… sound systems, and the musical instruments, and the hundreds of different colors of papers, and the power point programs, and twenty children’s programs and all associated materials.” These are all things that most of our churches today seem to think they require in order to function and minister effectively. We seem to require that our auditoriums be air conditioned and that crying children be removed from the service, that the drums not be played too loudly (or at all) and that the pastor have the appropriate level of pious humility if we are to be expected to worship at all. ((Email correspondence))

There are several things that I believe have contributed to the current state of affairs in our churches. The first is that the increased development of technology has pushed the pace of culture into hypersonic speeds. Information and data travel at a breakneck rate nowadays, and most of us have noticed that life has moved into not just the fast lane but into the ultra-fast lane. We have less time now than we ever did, and what free time we have we fill with activities that are, essentially, needless. We are constantly inundated with more and more information that we must sort through and process, and as a result we have become detached from those things that are truly important, things like God, faith, and family. This is contributor number one to the shallowness of culture.

The second contributor is the shift toward post-modern philosophy. Truth is no longer what it once was. It has become an ethereal entity that cannot be grasped. Indeed, truth has become little more than a vapor, a thing that is seen – and then only just barely – before it is caught up by the wind and blown away. We try to clasp it in our hands so that we may know it, yet it slips through our fingers and goes on its merry way, leaving us wondering if it was ever real to begin with. This is the way popular culture sees truth today, as an insubstantial, ever-changing entity that is unique to each individual. Truth has many faces, so that it may look different to each individual who views it, even changing in form to a single person depending on the circumstances surrounding its pursuit. We are continually losing the notion that truth is, in fact, static and stable, never-changing, steady throughout the ages. The Enemy attacks the idea of absolute truth because those who do not believe in it are merely sheep to be led to the slaughter. The disappearance of absolute truth has contributed to the shallowness of culture and the loss of those things which are most important. Now what is most important is determined by each person privately and may look vastly different from what is most important to the next person.

The third contributor has already been mentioned – the affluence of culture. As another contributor to the conversation stated, it seems that “the more STUFF we have around us, the more FAITH we need.” I do not believe that this is just limited to material possessions, either. I have watched as men fill their heads with more and more knowledge and ‘facts’, information that they learn and catalogue. In so doing they see less and less of God’s presence in the world and in creation and less need for something outside of themselves to provide truth and to make sense of those things that happen that we simply cannot explain. We are an affluent culture, both in the things we _own_ and in the things we _know_. The more things we have, the more we become distracted by them and the less we see a need for God. It is the _things_ that then become important because we must maintain them, maintain a certain way of life, maintain traditions that we have become comfortable with and that continue to make us comfortable. The things take a place of higher precedence, usurping God and pushing faith into the background. We continue to believe that we have faith, but all we are really left with is a dependency upon things that, when taken from us, cause us to come crashing down because, in pushing faith aside, we have struck our own foundation out from under ourselves. The acquisition and collection of things contributes to a shallow culture and a faith that is sorely taken for granted. Things are temporal; faith is not, yet we seem to have gotten the two in reverse.

I find myself yearning after some of the things I read in my fiction, not as a substitute for my faith but as a return to a simpler way of doing things, a way that eliminates so many of our distractions and restores a richness to culture and to faith that has been lost in today’s hustle and bustle of activity. I think perhaps what most appeals to me about Chinese culture, in some ways, is the richness of it, the legacy of history that inspires millions to both national pride and devotion (though even that is being lost as Western culture invades the Chinese borders). There is a power within a national legacy that the cultures of both America and American Christianity seem to lack. We have become shallow people, abhoring and rejecting that which is most important in favor of pursuing those things that are most important to _us_, our selfish and narcissistic ideals. That is what our culture has told us is important, to what and to seek out that which _we_ want, rather than what our Creator God deems important.

A return to simplicity is needed, I think, in order to return us to our roots, so that we may find again the awe of our faith and the power of God in our lives. I believe that the icons of our faith can once again become powerful, no longer taken for granted as just another pretty picture on a wall or a decorative item to be viewed and then dismissed. I also think that simplicity can be communicable, a contagion that can spread through the Church and returning it to a place where the important things are remembered and the unimportant set aside and forgotten.

Yet, I think in order for that to happen, simplicity must first take place within each one of us separately, as we extract those things in our lives that prevent us making the most of the time we have here in this life – the possessions that demand our interest, the activities that require our time, the pursuit of more knowledge and facts that only serve to distract from serving our Lord. It is in the doing and living that makes the most impact on others, that demonstrates that we do not, in actuality, require most of the things we cling to with such ferocity, that we can really be happy and content with less. It is not, and will not, be an easy process, no. But I think more and more that it is a necessary one if we as a Church in America wish to again be salt and light in our culture. We do not yet see that we need less because we are blinded by our own affluence, but there are Christians in many other countries who pray that Christians in America will face the persecution that strips away all the unnecessary things so that we will once again remember Who it is we serve and remember again what business it is we are to be about.

Less is more. Jesus knew this. It is why he taught time and again that for any man to follow Him, he must first give up all he had and then follow Him. Would that we should remember that.

Two Lights

“The Two Lights competition”:http://clarityofnight.blogspot.com/2006/04/two-lights-short-fiction-contest.html is done, the “judging”:http://clarityofnight.blogspot.com/2006/04/winners-announcement-two-lights-short.html completed, and the entries all “indexed”:http://clarityofnight.blogspot.com/2006/04/two-lights-short-fiction-contest_27.html. The objective of the contest was to use the photograph displayed as the inspiration for a work of fiction with the limitation that the work be 250 words or less. A difficult challenge that forced all participants to be very creative, since 250 words is not a lot to work with for the development of a plot. It is, essentially, the lower limit for typical “flash fiction”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_fiction.

Since I’m sure some of you probably did not click over to check the contest out (and I have had a few requests to share more of my fiction here), here’s my entry:

——————————-

“Choose the lamp on the left, see visions of the future. Choose the one on the right, taste of true madness for a spell.” The crone’s words burned in the girl’s mind like festering sores. She held her hands over the lamps but felt no heat from them, despite the frigid temperature of the small chamber. No shadows, nothing to indicate they even sat before her, despite what her eyes told her.

What kind of choice was this? Madness versus prophecy? The choice itself was madness.

Still, she plunged her hand into the light of the left-hand lamp and felt warmth from it at last as it gripped her arm and invaded her body. But then it grew bitterly cold as it wrenched her mind with visions of an impossibly terrible future. She screamed with the pain and terror of it and knew that this was far worse.

Her last thought before she succumbed to the black madness was, I should have chosen the other lamp.

* * *

Shuffling steps. A hunched figure in the shadows. The girl was half-curled in a fetal position, eyes wide and unseeing. She could have been dead, but for the tears streaming from her eyes and the trembling lower lip.

“Your problem, girl, is that you have no imagination, no ability to see the consequences of your choices. So very typical. Arrogance of youth.”

She spat and the rancid spittle slid down the girl’s cheek as the crone shuffled back into the shadows.

Megalomania

I completed my second short story last night. It’s shorter than I would have liked – only 1170 words – but it _feels_ finished. And I know from practical experience that when a story feels finished, it’s best to just let it alone. Otherwise, you risk making it less than the tale it ought to be. From here I am going to put it aside for awhile, turn down the heat and let it simmer, and come back to it in a few days or a couple of weeks so I can read it again with a fresh perspective. Maybe it will decide that there _are_ a few more details to add, a couple of things it forgot to mention that will make it a better story. For now, though, it needs to think about it, and when some time has passed, we’ll sit down and talk again and decide where to go from here.

One of the most valuable tips I’ve learned in writing is that when telling a story, you are an actor. Except that in storytelling, you act out every role and get to be multiple characters. I have discovered, though, that writing a megalomaniacal character is not as easy as it might seem. I had to continually ask myself, What would I say? How would I view the world, the universe? What opinions would I have of myself and of everyone else around me? How insane would I be, and would I be aware of my own insanity? No small task, to write a character that sees himself as bigger than life (quite literally).

So, time to move on to the next writing project (or move back to one of projects sitting in the queue). I want to end up with two or three stories that are complete and that I am satisfied with, and then I want to submit them concurrently to different places – I have a couple of SF&F magazines and writing contests in mind. With any luck, I’ll sell one, or at the least, get some feedback. Here’s hoping, at any rate….

Roller Coaster Writing

It’s always wonderful to get the chance to work on writing some of my fiction, since I don’t always get the opportunity to write every day. Last night, I pounded out another 1200-word section of a story idea and watched as about two hours just melted away. I had fun, and the time just flew by. It was such a high, getting a new idea written out, seeing the mental image I’ve been carrying with me for most of the week play out in actual written words.

Of course, on the flip side of the high is the almost inevitable low that accompanies it. I’ve “written”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=195 about the sympathetic/parasympathetic relationship before, and its influence is felt in my writing, as well. I don’t always feel low and discouraged right after writing, but it does happen with enough frequency to make me notice. In this case, I finished up my little bit of writing, printed it off for my wife to read, and headed to the kitchen to find something to eat.

In the few short steps it took me to reach the kitchen, I felt exhausted and discouraged, filled with self-doubt. Who was I kidding? What made me think I could ever hope to write as well as any of the great authors? What made me think I’d ever be any more than a hack writer, pretending to write great works of fiction, when in reality it was just garbage that no one in their right minds would read? Where did I ever get the idea that I would be able to actually _sell_ a story, let alone _finish_ one? And on and on and on it went.

It’s true what they say about writers having fragile egos that need stroking. When we write, we write from our hearts. We essentially put ourselves on display for the whole world to see, bare our inner secrets, make ourselves vulnerable is very frightening ways. It’s hard to do, sometimes, and I know that for myself, it makes me doubt my ability to write anything of any quality. The sympathetic system kicks in when I’m writing, giving me that creative high that keeps the mental juices flowing, that keeps me writing with feverish intensity, that makes me think this just may be the best work of literature yet. Then the parasympathetic kicks in and annihilates that high, and I am filled with self-doubt and discouragement.

Of course, after a night of sleep, I feel at least marginally better, and while my writing may not be the best ever, I’m sure it’s not the worst, either. I know that if I keep plugging away, eventually I will finish one of my stories and, Lord willing, actually be able to sell it. Only time will tell the whole tale…

Robots with the Ability to Power Their Own Movements

New Scientist Breaking News – Methanol-powered artificial muscles start to flex

Notable quote:

bq. “One day you could find yourself sitting in a bar next to a humanoid robot, who is taking a shot of vodka to give himself the energy to go to work,” jokes Ray Baughman, a nanotechnologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, US.

Oh, I think this might just serve as good fodder for a sci-fi milieu element. I like!

Currently Gaming

I find myself in the ‘predicament’ where I am playing way too many different games right now. On the down side, sometimes it’s hard to decide which game to play. On the up side, I have plenty of variety and if I’m not in the mood for one game, I have several others to choose from. I’m finding that I am increasingly drawn toward games with story, a far cry from the days of Pong and Super Mario Brothers. The reviews below are only partial reviews, since every single one is a game in progress currently.

Advent Rising for Xbox “Advent Rising”:http://www.adventtrilogy.com is the first in a trilogy under development. The game developers signed SF&F author Orson Scott Card onto the project to help develop both the story and the dialogue, and you can certainly see his imprint in various places (e.g. FTL(faster-than-light) communication, the ansible).

The storyline itself is captivating. Humanity is on the brink of total annihilation. A race of aliens who call themselves the Seekers have travelled the universe under the guise of peace in search of all human colonies. The Seekers see themselves as the most advanced race in the universe, and they want to keep it that way. However, certain religious prophecies have spoken of another race, humans, that will rise to a higher evolutionary plane, taking their place at the pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder. So, the Seekers are systematically hunting down and destroying all humans they find.

In Advent Rising you play the part of Gideon Wyeth, a human pilot who is fated to become the first human to trascend, acquiring the power to ultimately rid the universe of the Seeker pestilence. You fight with him through many battles and revel in the acquisition of new strength and power. ((Gideon acquires powers like Lift, Aeon Pulse, Surge, and Negate)) The story drives forward at a breakneck pace, leaving hardly enough time to catch your breath. It is a pleasure to play a game that has a great plot. The dialogue and voiceacting is excellent. Gideon even has the ability to fire at two targets at once, if you switch back and forth between very quickly.

There are, however, a handful of downsides to the game. Some of the forward movement in the story, particularly at the beginning, is a little bit rushed. It is almost as if the writers simply want to get you to ‘the good stuff’ and so hurry past some of the key development points. The mechanics are also a little bit clunky, with the auto-targetting system forcing to look somewhere that may not be in the direction you want to go. ((Though, once you get used to the system, it gets much easier to handle.)) Advent Rising also attempts to follow in “Halo’s”:http://www.bungie.net footsteps by rendering the gameplay and cutscene graphics as you go. This sometimes causes the game to slow down and stutter, an annoyance at the least and a fatal hindrace at the worst.

On a scale of 5, I give the story a 4.5 and the gameplay mechanics a 3.5. If you love science fiction and video games, I recommend it.

Burnout 3 Ok, so I don’t go exclusively for the story-driven video games. Sometimes it’s just fun to get a fast-paced game to play purely for the fun of it. In “Burnout 3”:http://www.ea.com/official/burnout/burnout3/us/home.jsp your only mission is to win as many races as possible and take out as many opponents as you can. The more gold medals you win, the more cars you earn. Races span the USA, Europe, and the Far East.

The more opponents you crash, the more cars you earn. The more points you acquire, the more cars you earn. Get the picture? It’s high-speed, high-action, and high-intensity paired with a diverse soundtrack. As the driver you get to race everything from coupes to muscle cars to circuit racers to semi trucks. If you want quick, mindless action that tests your reflexes, then Burnout 3 is the game for you.

On a scale of 5, I rate Burnout 3 as a solid 4.5 for both fun and mechanics.

Kingdom Hearts A video game that features “Disney”:http://disney.go.com/home/today/index.html characters. A kids’ game, you think, right? Not so. “Kingdom Hearts”:http://www.kingdom-hearts.com/language.html has quickly become one of my favorite games.

Someone is unlocking the doors between worlds, causing each world to blink out of existence, one by one. It is up to Sora, as the wielder of the Keyblade, to figure out why as he searches for his friends Riku and Kairi. He teams up with Donald and Goofy as they search through numerous worlds to solve these riddles, meeting dozens of familiar Disney faces along the way. The voiceactors feature many of the same people who were cast in the original films.

The mechanics of the game are very simple to learn and use, and the story so far has been first-rate. Sora has been exiled from his island home and thrust into the heart of the action as the Keyblade has chosen him to be its master. Now, Sora must track down the keyholds on each world and lock them to prevent their total destruction. He makes many friends and enemies along the way to discovering the secrets of these strange circumstances.

Disney and Squaresoft have created a believeable world where Disney and Final Fantasy characters can co-exist. I am looking forward to seeing how this chapter ends and where Kingdom Hearts 2 (scheduled for distribution at the end of this month) picks up.

On a scale of 5, I rate the story a 5 and the mechanics a 4.5.

The Legend of Dragoon This is a bit of a blast from the past. “The Legend of Dragoon”:http://www.rpgdreamer.com/lod/ is one of my favorite PSOne games. It was developed by the same people who brought us the Final Fantasy series. The story follows Dart as he strives to save the world from ultimate destruction. Along the way, he discovers his fate to become one of the legendary Dragoon, humans chosen to wield the power of the dragon in the fight against evil. He pairs up with six others, all who become Dragoon along the way, and together they move inexorably toward the final confrontation.

One of the things that I most love about this game is the ability affect the battle _during_ the actual attack sequences. Dragoon is built around the turn-based style of gameplay that the Final Fantasy series is famous for. Your character comes up, you select the action for him (or her) to perform, and then sit back and watch as the character carries out that action. In Dragoon, you take an active part in helping reinforce each of your characters attacks by helping them complete their ‘Additions’. Each successful completion boosts the strength of the attack and unlocks more powerful additions.

The Legend of Dragoon is a strong game with a great story. The dialogue is a little stilted, as is typical of any Japanese game that has been translated into English. However, I think you will find that you can overlook the awkwardness and see a terrific game with an exciting story to drive it.

On a scale of 5, I rate the story at 4.5 and the mechanics at 4.5.

I have two other games currently in progress, “Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando”:http://www.us.playstation.com/content/ogs/scus-97268/site/ and “Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory”:http://www.splintercell.com, but I think I’ll call it quits here for now. I’ll likely review these two at a later date, after I have gotten a little further through them.