Category Archives: Lawrence M. Schoen

The Truth… Now and Then

Frrom time to time the members of Novelocity like to take a step back from their regular posts here and invite a guest to step up to the podium instead. And in that tradition allow me to introduce Charles Gannon, Distinguished Professor of English, Fulbright scholar, and three time nominee for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. Speaking of novels, his latest, Caine’s Mutiny, came out yesterday.

Chuck agreed to come by and share a few words, an essay he’s chosen to call “The Truth… Now and Then.” He’s a smart guy and reading his ideas will change the way you think.


Just this past week, I wrapped up a government think-tank consulting gig. In the course of it, I encountered a lot of what is often called “straight-line” futurism, in which, aside from one or two political, cultural, or technological changes, all else proceeds forward along the vectors established by best-practice projections based on current capabilities, funding, and policies. So during what was billed as a “deep future” perspective (thirty or more years into the future), I was encountering scenarios which projected an essentially unchanged North Korea, unchanged Crimea crisis, unchanged assumptions about basic family and relationship dynamics.

Now, such a future is by no means impossible, but is it likely? Let’s take North Korea: for a (comparatively) small state with a leader whose physical and mental health remain objects of ceaseless scrutiny and dubiety, the greater likelihood is that, between now and, say, 2045, that nation’s political and cultural realities will be markedly different. And yet, that scenario was (by some, uncritically) put forward as legitimate, even likely.

As the real futurists in the room steered discussion toward a less narrow concept of “change,” I found myself reflecting that among us SF (and more broadly, speculative fiction) writers, this kind of “time is frozen” reflex is not unknown. Which is somewhat surprising, considering that exploring change is one of the most important and energizing elements of our genre—even if it does always put us on the horns of various world-building dilemmas.

Partly, this is because we speculative fiction authors live in a tricky grey zone between the “real” and the “unreal.” Many of the doyens of belles lettres still dismiss us as unworthy of serious consideration since we site our tales in worlds that only exist someplace beyond the boundaries of current events or physics. And yet, our field often invokes far more realistic character portrayals than what one may find in many of the more “realistic” genres—even in the realm of belles lettres.

This points to the vexing and multifaceted problem of “exploring the real” that inhabits all fiction, but puts a particularly challenging matrix of choices before those of us who toil in the mines of speculative fiction. In historical or contemporary fiction, authors grapple with choices such as: should one shape the unfolding plot to sustain a dramatic pace, or reduce the dramatic pace to conform to a more believable unfolding of events? Should one craft dialog for reader accessibility or for faithfulness to the spoken form of our language? How much should we be guided by what is plausible when, daily, fact routinely proves itself to be stranger than fiction?

But we in speculative fiction have all these choices to resolve, plus others such as: near future, far future, or otherwhen? Stay with or set aside the rules of physics—and which ones, and why? Invent and reflect changes in language and culture honestly, or mute these so that readers may remain adequately oriented within the narrative? These choices hardly scratch the surface of the many we confront when we choose a world we wish to present, and how we wish to present it.

As if that wasn’t a thorny enough set of choices, we must then contend how pulling on one of these narrative threads often exerts strong traction upon another. And, inasmuch as I was thinking about political and cultural change this past week, that is what struck me about much of speculative fiction—particularly that which sites itself in relationship (either by theme or chronology) to our contemporary moment.

Specifically, let us presume that I am writing a science fiction novel which explores the future as a projection (rather than a prediction: a perilously Quixotic undertaking). In such a narrative, the relationship between the passage of time and change—technological, political, cultural—becomes a crucial part of its believability, and even verisimilitude. One could choose to craft a future which privileges or dictates certain outcomes, but that a priori intentionality steers away from the open-ended cause-effect matrices that drive futurist explorations. Where the end-state is determined first, teleology, not projection, is the narrative’s organizing principle.

However, that teleological choice—whether made in the process of crafting a future world or a wholly alternative reality—is the very life-blood of novels that are motivated by allegory or advocacy. Their mission is ultimately to make a point, including the crafting of utopias toward which we should strive and dystopias from which we should recoil. Conversely, a futurist narrative is fundamentally one of discovery, a thought experiment that would be ruined by having a predetermined end-state. (The case of hybrid works is so inherently tangled by caveats and limiting statements that I must leave it untouched for now.)

Enough generalities: time for some specifics. I will use my own Caine Riordan series, (the next novel of which is released this week) to illustrate how these two (usually) distinct objectives inform and can ultimately complicate each other. In Caine’s future, (set one hundred years from now), I project that the racial and gender issues of this day are largely resolved. However, other social stigmatizations have arisen.

This projection is not arbitrary. In fact, to project otherwise would be to assume that the current trend toward demarginalization of these demographic signifiers ultimately loses steam or is reversed.

Is this unwarrantedly optimistic? I think not. Rather, I think it is the alterative view—that we will be facing the same, largely unaltered challenges—that is the harder projection to legitimate. In order for today’s social conditions to be essentially unchanged a century from now, we must project—and convincingly explain why—our century-long trend toward swiftly increasing social equity and liberality would profoundly stagnate or cease.

And of course, if in 100 years we have not progressed beyond our current bigotries and identity issues, that story would certainly demand to be told, since it envisions a dramatic reversal of our current trajectories of increasing social equity and conscientiousness. That would necessarily imply a correspondingly extensive failure in the pluralistic focus on individual rights that is not only our national hallmark, but the very foundation of Post-Enlightenment Western social evolution.

However, since I didn’t consider that the most likely outcome, the logical question might be: so then how did our current quandaries of identity politics—from the juridical to colloquial—transform or vanish?

My narrative answer grew out of the observation that as we move forward, new social crises overtake those that came before (albeit at different rates and to different degrees). In this case of Caine Riordan’s future, it was simply a function of time and demographic change; it became increasingly anachronistic and perverse to presume superiority based on identity, simply because there ceased to be any evidence for it in he workplace or domestic space. Reflecting this, new gender-neutral pronouns evolved organically (“sib/s” and “allgen”) and there is now an easy lack of presumption regarding any new acquaintance’s ethnic, cultural, sexual, or gender self-identification. On the other hand, when misperceptions or miscommunications occur, this does not create a supercharged emotional situation: mistakes no longer represent the projected power of “dominant culture’s” presumed and preferred identity formulations.

However, in many places, bigotry has now erupted over the use of cyborg implants—a prejudice, which, once again, has significant socio-economic correlations. The thumbnail sketch: genescreening has been the tool of choice for individual optimization in the wealthier nations of the world. The infrastructure necessary to shift to what is essentially an IVF process for every pregnancy was an expensive investment, with various stages of inequity to navigate before availability became nearly universal.

However, poorer communities, and particularly poorer nations, never had the wherewithal to mount analogous initiatives. So, in the rush to compete with genetically “optimized” individuals, they resort to often dangerous (and often extortion-funded) implants. Because these “cyborging short-cuts” also were responsible for a wave of disasters and dislocations during the EMPidemic of the 2080s (although most of the problems arose from hacking, rather than electro-magnetic pulses), they are now considered a hazardous alternative. Their users are presumed to be deceptive, irresponsible, unreliable, more likely to be associated with black market/criminal elements, and possessed of lower innate abilities, etc. If that sounds like a list of traits that have long been used to “validate” bigotry —well, as the axiom has it, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And this is indeed an illustration of how changes and constants weave together in a social tapestry: although the cause and identifiers of that future’s underclass have altered, the basic dynamics of prejudice and Othering persist.

Of course, advocacy novels can and have ported current issues directly into a future setting. This tends to be more easily and reasonably achieved in fantasies/allegories, where the author has absolute freedom to site contemporary quandaries or crises in a wholly fabricated environment, unconstrained by that scenario’s historical connection to our own world. If, on the other hand, the author wished to find a way to fuse a science fictional narrative with such a contemporary consideration, the projective challenge would be to present an (explicit or implicit) explanation for why today’s problems remain the problems in that future time (the shade of this hybridized approach inhabits Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I think). Specifically, the logical unspoken challenge which we must anticipate is, “why has the problem in question experienced no fundamental change?” And furthermore, how do we reconcile that with the lesson of the last two centuries: that change—social as well as technological—is increasing in both its pace and profundity?

Nowhere do we see this contrast more clearly, I feel, than when a narrative world apparently returns us to the past. Specifically, I think of Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” alongside The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilman’s tale no longer depicts a plight that must be feared by all American women at this very moment, although its harrowing scenario is hardly unknown in the U.S. So while its warning is still pertinent, its particulars are increasingly historical rather than contemporary. But Atwood, by projecting and depicting a profound spasm of cultural recidivism, illustrates that the triumph of equity is always subject to reversal and defeat, can always swing back—and in so doing, may present a future more dire than the past.

Yet the narrative challenge remains this: Gilman’s story, whatever else it may be, cannot be our future, since those days to come are, in part, a reaction to and produce of our response to Gilman’s past. And so, the challenge which Atwood shoulders and meets is to avoid simply porting past or present cultural crises uncritically into the future. Rather, successful dystopias that are also rooted in contemporary issues do not merely portray what we most hope or fear, but why and how such a scenario could come to pass. The one thing we cannot do—not without violating the axiomatic presumption that time brings change—is to simply move today’s cultural goalposts into some future world.

As professor, panelist, and parent, I have often used a Korean aphorism to invoke the determinative nature of personal perspective: “we see from where we sit.” Now, looking back at these ruminations, I am struck by a corollary: that “we see from when we sit”—whether we are attempting to understand past narratives in the context of their creators’ epochs, or endeavoring to be maximally conscientious in our attempt to project the changes that might be before us.


And that, my friends, is Chuck Gannon, sharing some thoughts that will seep into your brain and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night days later with deep and profound insights (at least, that’s what happens to me when I read him).

It’s also worth noting that he’s the Guest of Honor at AlbaCon the last weekend in March (full disclosure, I’ll be there too as “RoastMaster”). I hope you can make it.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, and WSFS awards; recently won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy, or you can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (JAN – MAR, 2017)

The New Year is coming up fast, and after you’ve recovered from the holidays and made all those resolutions that you’ll surely keep this year, your thoughts will doubtlessly drift to wondering where to find some of your favorite authors in the weeks ahead. Here at Novelocity, we want to make it easy for you, so here’s a list
:

JANUARY 2017

E. C. AMBROSE:
* January 13-17 – appearing on programming at Arisia in Boston, MA.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* January 6th, noon – will be speaking as part of the WHAT IF lecture series at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
* January 6th, 9pm – will be the featured speaker at WSFA in Washington, DC.


FEBRUARY 2017

E. C. AMBROSE:
* February 7 – Elisha Mancer Book release!! Look for appearances in New Hampshire and Massachusetts
* February 17-19 – appearing on programming at Boskone in Boston, MA.


MARCH 2017

BETH CATO:
* March 12 – appearing on programming at the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson, Arizona.

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* March 18th – speaking on Historical Research for Fiction Writers at North Texas RWA in DFW, TX.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* March 9-12 – will be the Guest of Honor at VancouFur in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Your Name in Print

I’ve been thinking lately about Tuckerization, that thing where authors will put a friend (or possibly the winner of a charity auction) into a book they’re writing. It’s kind of cool to come across, particularly if you don’t know it in advance. Our own Fran Wilde has been Tuckerized at least three times that I know of — by Steven Gould, Elizabeth Bear, and me. I routinely put the names of real people into my fiction. It just seems a fun thing to do.

All of which got me to thinking, what works other authors might wish to have been Tuckerized in. And, on the off chance that some Novelocity readers might be interested, I reached out to a few and asked them. Here are some of the replies I got back:

Alyx (A. M.) Dellamonica has already been Tuckerized, along with her wife, Kelly Robson, and their cat, Rumble. All three appear in Behemoth, by Peter Watts. Because they’re in a Watts books, they of course come to a bad end. She also points out that she’s named for Alyx of the Joanna Russ books. As for future Tuckerizations, she’s hoping one of her students will be wildly successful and stick her in a work of theirs.

Former New Orleanian James Cambias assures me he has never (consciously) Tuckerized anyone. He would have liked to have been in Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque cycle. He thinks he’d have made a good Scientific Revolution-era savant or perhaps a Jesuit.

Emmie Mears, whose latest novel, Look to the Sun, was published just a few weeks ago, says she has to go with David Eddings‘s The Belgariad/Malloreon because she would have loved to join Silk and Polgara and Mandorallen and Velvet in all their adventures.

When I asked Kij Johnson, she immediately responded that she would love to have been a crew member on the Bree in Hal Clement‘s Mission of Gravity. She feels she would have made a fantastic first mate to Barlennan.

Past SFWA President Russell Davis felt this was a really difficult question, if for no other reason than you can’t predict what kind of Tuckerization you’d get (throwaway character? villain? sidekick?) and that there are some worlds where that might really matter. Having made that point, he nonetheless picked being a character in The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Lots of opportunity to meet a bad fate in that book!

Juliette Wade, who shares my interests in matters of a linguistic nature, would love to have been tuckerized by Ann Leckie in Ancillary Mercy, and assures me it would have have been a total thrill, even if she were just a minor security character or something.

Kevin Hearne tells me he’s already had the best tuckerization: his Star Wars name was revealed by Chuck Wendig in Life Debt, where he appears as Hern Kaveen, a bearded Pantoran who is the personal bodyguard of Mon Mothma.

And the last word this month goes to Walter Jon Williams who once sought out a Tuckerization from Jack McDevitt who was auctioning off the chance to name a starship in an upcoming novel. Alas, it was a cash auction and Walter only had $65 on him and was quickly outbid. Thus the world was (for now at least) deprived of reading of the USS Walter Jon Williams.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this month, other than to point out that Max Gladstone stopped short of Tuckerizing me in his latest Craft Sequence novel, Four Roads Cross. There’s a throwaway line in there that perpetuates a Twitter gag he and I have tossed back and forth for months, to the consternation of our mutual editor at Tor Books.

Lots of different holidays are coming up in a few weeks. Take my advice, celebrate all of them. Be kind to your loved ones and to some total strangers too. Dress warmly and get plenty of sleep.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, WSFS awards; won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. By the time you read this, he should have finished the first draft of a sequel which will be landing on his editor’s desk any day now. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy. You can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter and become eligible for cool bonus “stuff.”

Mid-Week Rant About Connecting With Readers & Fans

Legends tell of a time when authors did one thing and one thing only. They wrote. Yes, they had to do it longhand, with paper and pencil or pen. I know what you’re thinking, it was barbaric, and even when technology blossomed and offered writers the opportunity to embrace typewriters and eventually computer keyboards and printers, it remained a simpler time, because authors still did one thing only. They wrote.

But the same technology that went on to give us global-find-and-replace and online submissions stole from us too. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough just to write.

Today’s authors are being told they need to connect with their readers beyond simply writing novels for them. Once upon a time this meant showing up at a convention and getting yourself on a panel or three, holding up your latest book during the introductions and bloviating to an audience for a fifty-minute hour. For the less extroverted among you this was never a good option, and in any case it’s too limiting. Here in the 21st century we need greater audience penetration across both time and space. In other words, you need an “online presence.”

What form this takes and how much time you put into it are critical questions and perhaps the best way to answer them is to talk to those who have gone before, but in the end you’re going to have jump into the deep end and see what works (and doesn’t) for you. Let’s look at some of your options:

  • Message Boards – whether the classic F/SF bulletin boards or alt.groups of yesteryear or their modern day equivalents, messages boards and listservs allow you to read through scores of posts at your own pace, responding to some, starting your own threads, getting caught up in flame wars, and never really knowing who is on the other side of some screen-name or user-handle. What’s not to love (other than the time suck)?
  • Author Webpages – some versions of popular wisdom believes authors need to have their own webpages. Nevermind whether your artistic taste is limited to words, you probably know a friend, or friend of a friend, who can throw something up for a couple hundred bucks. Imagine, a digital platform dedicated to you, replete with color images of your book covers and links (with affiliation codes) to take the hungry viewer directly to an online store to buy your titles. Updated at whatever frequency you decide, the trick question here is how are you going to lure readers to your page?
  • Author Blogs – static content doesn’t keep people coming back, I don’t care how gorgeous those book covers are. But if you’ve got something to say (or think you do), a blog gives you a soapbox all your own. As with author pages though, the challenge is reaching the people you want to hear you.
  • Social Networking Sites – these continue to evolve, some endure and some fade quickly. Who remembers Friendster? MySpace? LiveJournal (okay, I still have a LJ account, don’t judge me). The current king is Facebook. The threads aren’t quite as endless as message boardsd, but thanks to near realtime responses (not everyone is on deadline, so they’re free to hang out and patrol social networking sites and pounce!) with supporting links and NSFW images at everyone’s fingertips the vitriol can be even more vicious and escalate quickly. This to me is the irony behind Facebook’s use of the term “Friend,” but I digress. Still, a compelling post could be “shared” and circle the world in seconds, garnering the attention of readers who had never before heard of you or your work. Surely that’s worth it, right?
  • Twitter – if Facebook is the free verse of social media, Twitter is the imposition of structure associated with writing sonnets. The joy of 140 characters is that even the longest post is short (although nothing’s stopping people from rapidly posting a long string of 140-character tweets to express more involved ideas or points). Personally, I’m finding it refreshing after the ugliness growing in so many threads of older networking sites. Your experiences may be completely different (but don’t say I didn’t warn you).
  • Newsletters – If you already have a fanbase, holding on to them between books can be critical; newsletters can be key. Subscription-based, your readers opt in or out at will. Part of the allure is the more intimate tone you can achieve with a self-selected group (compare a convention kaffee klatsch to a large panel-style Q&A). More, you can keep your followers happy by doling out bonus materials not otherwise available. These can be deleted scenes, ARCs, contests for Tuckerizations, advance viewing of chapters from a work-in-progress and so on. Yes, you could offer these on a website or social network site, but a newsletter puts you in control of who’s going to see them and when. Instead of relying on your reader finding your posts, once they’ve subscribed you’ll be sending the newsletter directly to their inboxes!

There are plenty of other options I’ve skipped over but the above grouping should get you started. You may want to do only one or you may decide to dive in and try a bit of each. Your largest constraint is going to be the time you can devote to the medium. And remember, whether it’s the witty twitter bon mot, or a semi-regular blog post with entertaining content, or a themed podcast, when authors show something of their personality, readers have the opportunity to connect at a deeper level. It’s that same illusion that makes us feel like we really know that actor whose role we’ve followed on television for years. Your goal is to create a feeling of intimacy, to let the reader into your life (or at least what you’re presenting as your life). Done well, you transform from just a name on the spine of a book to a real person, someone your readers might even come to care about more than their favorite characters from your books.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, and WSFS awards; recently won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy, or you can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (OCT – DEC, 2016)

Autumn is just around the corner which means new opportunities for holiday stalking visits with some of your favorite authors. Here’s a list of where you can find us during these hectic times:

OCTOBER 2016

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Oct 7th – 9th – appearing on programming at Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD.
* Oct 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH.

E. C. AMBROSE:
* Oct 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH.

FRAN WILDE:
* Oct 7th – signing at New York Comic Con in New York, NY.
* Oct 7th – signing at Books of Wonder in New York, NY, 6pm.
* Oct 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH.

DAVID WALTON:
* Oct 7th – 9th – appearing on programming at Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD.

NOVEMBER 2016

TINA CONNOLLY:
*Nov 5th – Book Tour – appearing on programming at Wordstock in Portland, OR
*Nov 7th – Book Tour –  Seriously Shifted at Powell’s Cedar Hills in Beaverton, OR, 7pm
*Nov 14th –  Book Tour – Seriously Shifted at U Books in Seattle, WA, 7pm
*Nov 15th – Book Tour – Seriously Shifted at the Corvallis Library in Corvallis, OR, 4pm
*Nov 16th – Book Tour – Seriously Shifted at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA, 7:30pm
*Nov 18th – 20th – appearing on programming at Orycon in Portland, OR.

DAVID WALTON:
* Nov 18th – 20th – appearing on programming at Philcon in Cherry Hill, NJ.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Nov 11th – reading at Mighty Writers West in Philadelphia, PA, 7pm.
* Nov 18th – 20th – appearing on programming at Philcon in Cherry Hill, NJ.

DECEMBER 2016

BETH CATO:
* Dec 10th – appearing on programming at LibCon in Glendale, AZ.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* DEC 6th – guest lecture at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

TINA CONNOLLY:
* Dec 3rd – appearing at Another Read Through in Portland, OR, time TBD.

Beyond the Farthest Con

The day after this posts, I’ll be boarding a plane for Lithuania where I get to be the Guest of Honor at Lituanicon XXVIII, a one day convention in historic Vilnius. It’s not the farthest I’ve traveled for a con (that would be Best of Both Worlds in Sydney, Australia, where I shared billing with William Shatner!), but it got me to wondering how far other authors had traveled.

On the off chance that you might be curious too, I reached out and asked a bunch of them. Here’s what they had to say:

David Mack was the first to respond. His most distant trip was to Düsseldorf, Germany for FedCon XX. His next convention will be New York Comic Con in his city of residence.

Ada Palmer‘s farthest bit of convention travel took her to Boston, MA. Mind you, she started out in Florence, Italy, where she’d been spending the year for research. Her next event will be in Worthington, OH.

Recent first time novelist (Arabella of Mars) and red planet pseudo-resident, David D. Levine has been to Melbourne, Australia, but reports that Yokohama, Japan — or maybe Champaign-Urbana, Illinois — was his strangest convention. His next con will probably be OryCon, right there in his home town of Portland, OR.

David Brin went all the way to Chengdu, China in 2007. He tells me that since he was bringing his family along to the Yokohama Worldcon (where he was Guest of Honor) anyway he suggested the Chinese SF community they should hold their events in the preceding week.

Adam Rakunas also claims Chengdu, China as his most distant convention. His next con is Confusion in Detroit, Michigan, possibly the only convention that touts an Indian restaurant tucked inside a gas station across the street.

Winner of more Ursa Major awards than any other anthropomorphic author, Kyell Gold points out that the furthest he’s gone for a convention was Melbourne, Australia, but the oddest was a hotel in former East Germany atop a hill over the small town of Suhl. Next month will find him attending Gaylaxicon in Minneapolis, MN.

L. E. Modesitt Jr., one of the most prolific writers in the business, says his farthest convention trip was a dual visit to Dublin, Ireland for OctoCon before going on to attend World Fantasy in London. And speaking of World Fantasy, that’s his next stop, where he’s also the Guest of Honor, in Columbus, OH.

And speaking of Dublin, Todd McCaffrey admits that generally speaking he hasn’t traveled all that far from his home base. Of course, home base for many years was Ireland. Nowadays he’s in Los Angeles. He points to Stucon in Stuttgart Germany as the furthest afield he’s been.

Canadian resident Claire McCague‘s most distant convention was MediaWest*Con in East Lansing, MI, but since she’s coming from Vancouver it’s a bit of a trek (and don’t get her started on traveling east to an event in a town with “East” in its name for a convention that has “West” in its name). Sensibly, her next con is VCON, right there in Vancouver.

Michael Jan Friedman didn’t have to travel far for his oddest convention location. He reports that the 2015 Long Island Geek Con occurred at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport, where he had table in the baggage claim area, some fifty feet from the carousels. His next convention will be in Albany, NY.

Marie Brennan recently visited the French town of Épinal, near the Swiss border, for Les Imaginales, which she describes as “somebody ran a convention into a Renaissance festival at high speed.”

That’s all I have for you this month (I still have to pack!), but for those of you thinking a Helsinki Worldcon is too far to go, now you know better!


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, WSFS awards; recently won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy, or you can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: (SEP 2016 ADDENDUM)

The fourth quarter listing of when and where you can find Novelocitists will post in a couple days. But before that, here are a couple items that weren’t locked in place when the previous quarter’s listing went live.

SEPTEMBER 2016 ADDENDUM

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Sep 17th – will be the Guest of Honor for Lituanicon XXVII in Vilnius, Lithuania

FRAN WILDE:
* Sep 27th – is launching her new novel, Cloudbound at 7pm at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square Barne’s & Noble (1805 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103). Fran will read and sign copies of her new book.

Making Alien Languages Alien

Last week I had the privilege of giving a small class as part of the GenCon Writer’s Symposium. The topic was some variation on the title above, and for about an hour’s time I went through just a few of the ways in which a writer could create the feeling of aliens through language (both the one they spoke and the way they managed to utilize ours). While these ideas are still more or less fresh in my head, I thought I’d share a portion of them with you here.

Perhaps the most useful thing to keep in mind in your quest to make your aliens sound alien, is that Language (note the capital letter) can be viewed not simply as a set of rules for communicating to one another (that’s what language without the capital letter is for) but rather as the methodology by which we organize reality and determine what is and is not important in our world. Sit with that idea for a moment, really roll it around inside your head. Because if you do, you’ll quickly discover the trick to it all. Namely:

    the key to having your aliens think and act in a truly alien fashion is to tweak their language and change how they understand reality.

I recommend you attack the problem on two fronts. Select a single difference and examine how it alters the way your aliens view the universe (relative to our own organization of it) and by extension how it influences their comprehension of our own view, and the errors in understanding that result. If you’re writing humor, alien language contains everything you need for farce. If you’re writing a more serious tale, you have the seed for interplanetary conflict and annihilation. Fun either way, right?

So, if you only need to change one or two things, where do you start? Well, I’ll give you a couple gross categories (sadly, I don’t have time or space to do more) and a few examples under each of these.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE
Let’s start here, because really, once you’ve gone meta, you never go back. Figurative language includes not simply using simile and metaphor (two types which I’m going to assume you already have a passing familiarity with) but other forms of speech including personification, allusion, and puns, to name just three. These are all so commonplace in our language that many of you may not even realize that you’re not speaking literally at all.

Personification effortlessly violates the selection restriction rules of language and so much more. Inanimate objects suddenly possess agency. Abstract concepts acquire base human attributes. But what if your aliens lack this miracle of the nonliteral speech act? Such an alien, presented with a phrase like “opportunity is knocking at your door” would be confused to find no one at the entrance to their space craft and struggle to literally parse these words (and likely go looking for this elusive knocker of doors, who is all the more wondrous if the vessel is in space!).

Likewise, allusion works for native speakers of a language because of common experience, allowing large chunks of knowledge from popular culture to be compacted down into a single word or phrase, evoking more words than a thousand pictures. Alas, none of those words are apt to be contained in the aliens’ literal grammar. While you and I might utilize an allusion like “Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra” to indicate an anticipated success at working with our newly arrived visitors from space, at best they’ll process that reference to mean here are three proper nouns that might as well be X, Y, and Z. Useless.

And don’t get me started on the confusion and error inherent in homophony, ambiguity, and other forms of wordplay that qualify as puns because of multiple interpretations of meaning. You can’t expect your visiting aliens to have mastered all these subtleties, so be wary of the chaos that follows when you unleash even a minor double entendre. The classic example of course involves a book that is less a manual for our enlightenment as a guide to culinary adventure.

FEATURES OF LANGUAGE
Another approach is to take a look at the requirements we have for a system to even qualify as a language. Decades ago, the linguist Charles Hockett put forth a list of likely requirements (mind you, this list was not met with complete agreement by other linguists, but then we can’t get everyone to agree on climate change even as the waters rise around our ankles). It’s a long list but sharing even a few will make the point that any of them can give you a truly alien language; all you have to do is posit that your aliens don’t have that particular feature in their language and don’t see the need for it in ours. Consider just three of them: prevarication, traditional transmission, and displacement.

Prevarication means lying. Languages allow us not only to communicate with one another, but to communicate untruths. A popular conceit for telepathy is that it lacks the ability to prevaricate (though I’ve never really understood why, when self-deception is such a popular thing). Several authors have had a lot of fun with aliens who lack any understanding of lying (C.J. Cherryh’s amazing Faded Sun trilogy immediately comes to mind), and having human beings lie to aliens creates everything from comic scenarios of selling them bridges to propaganda that incites wars. Too easy!

The idea of traditional transmission is just as simple. It refers to the notion that language is passed down from parent to child. That’s all well and good for humans who typically rear children one at a time and have years to teach them about nouns and verbs, but what if your aliens spawn by distributing thousands of fertilized eggs and moving on, leaving their potential young to be born and fend for themselves (and presumably acquire language). What does this do to their world view, or their appreciation of ours?

And last of the three I have time to share here, displacement, is the ability to speak of things that are not in front of you. It allows you to invoke referents that are not at hand. Displacement is what lets us get beyond the old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ But what if your aliens cannot? What if they require the thing in front of them (or at least a symbol standing in for it) to talk about it? How will we manage to speak to the aliens if at its most basic level, their language strikes us as one big game of ‘peekaboo’?

I could go on and on (and maybe in a future post I will) but my point here is a simple one: you don’t need to be Tolkien or Okrand and create an entire language to make your aliens sound alien. You just need to pick one aspect of language — out of the thousands that exist and which we take for granted every day — and turn it on its head or just turn it off. The results will contradict much of what you know about how language is supposed to work, and just like that the aliens will have arrived.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, WSFS, and Cóyotl awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

Follow him at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy.

Don’t let the program get in the way of your convention

Back in another life, during the decade I spent as a college professor, I often told students, “don’t let your classes get in the way of your education.” Which isn’t to say that coursework isn’t a critical part of the college experience, but rather to stress that it’s not the only part.

The same can be said of a convention and its program items. Panels are great (and thanks in advance for coming to mine!). Readings are one of my favorite things. Kaffeeklatsches, Literary Beers, Signings, Workshops, Masquerades, Dances, all of these things have their appeal and allure. Do them, certainly, sample them with wild abandon.

But don’t stop there.

Particularly if you’re attending a convention that moves from city to city (e.g., the Worldcon, WFC, Nebulas). I’ve lost track of how many people I see at these events who fly in for the convention, check into the hotel, then fly home after checking out — all without bothering to experience the place they’ve inhabited during the span of the event.

Before you head off to your next con, go online and do a little research. Find out what kinds of activities, local sites of interest, special events, and so forth are happening in that city. Many of these options will be free or quite low cost. Often your hotel will have a free shuttle to take you hither and yon.

Best of all, these are things you can do with other people from the convention, folks with whom you already share a passionate interest. Imagine expanding those relationships to include other areas! Crazy talk, right?

Here are some of the you-won’t-find-them-in-the-program things I like to do:

  • Go to Restaurants – I’m not talking about hitting the Kansas City incarnation of your favorite chain restaurant. Go to a place that’s unique to the venue and sample the local cuisine! Every night of a convention I put together a different group of people to break bread with, old friends and new.
  • Visit Used Bookstores – I’ve long since mined out the ones near me, but who knows what treasures you may be able to bring home while visiting other cities (hint: go early, other con attendees might beat you to that autographed copy of Venus on the Half Shell
  • Walking / Hiking / Geocaching – Weather permitting, get out of the damn hotel and move! I don’t manage it every day of a convention, but when possible, I like to start the morning with a brief walk around, check out the sky, breathe the local air, maybe find a hidden cache if I can. Getting a bit of physical exercise in the midst of a con makes me feel righteous and can be used to justify subsequent acts of excess. No, really.
  • Hit A Museum – Major conventions are typically in major cities. These cities are prone to having specialty museums/exhibits that you just can get at home, even if home is a different major city. Seriously, you’ve come all this way, take some time to soak up a bit of culture. Plus, if you like, wear a fannish t-shirt and causally freak out the mundanes. Just because.

Now I know what you’re going to say in response to this. Conventions are expensive. They consume vast amounts of our limited resources. Naturally, you want to squeeze as much out of the experience as you can, so shouldn’t that mean staying at the convention and sucking every ounce out of that program book?

Thanks for asking. The answer is: No!

And here’s why. Taking a break from the convention to do other things will cause you to enjoy the con that much more. It’s just the way we’re wired. Breaking up activities, creating a little contrast, enhances the experience on both sides of the divide. The panels you attend will be more interesting for having taken a walk, that masquerade more intriguing after an hour at the museum, a reading more scintillating because of a conversation that came up the night before over a shared bowl of vegetarian yak stew.

So here’s your challenge for your next con. Pick one thing from the above list (or make up something else of your own). Choose your moment, somewhere in the span of the convention. Take a deep breath and walk out of your hotel. Better still, bring another con attendee with you. If I’m right, the two of you will enhance your convention experience. And if I’m wrong, well, at least you’ll have someone to complain with.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, WSFS, and Cóyotl awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

Follow him at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy.

What’s Your Book About?

You’d think that after being at this writing thing for 30 years, I’d have a ready answer for this question, but it’s not so easy a thing as it may first appear to be. Sure, I can go with the glib, “oh about a hundred thousand words,” but that’s not even half as clever as I like to think it is, and it leaves the questioner unsatisfied.

So, because this question recently popped up in several guises for me, I thought I’d turn it into the topic of this month’s essay. Bear with me as I break it down.

Although simple on the surface, a meaningful answer to “what’s your book about?” is going to depend on the context. Specifically, who’s asking, and why? At a minimum, I can think of four very different types of answers:

  • Elevator Pitch
  • Summary
  • Proposal
  • Synopsis

They’re all related, but they’re all different, and they serve very different needs. Let’s take them in order of likely length.

Elevator Pitch is a sound bite. Publishing lore tells us it gets its name from the span of time you have to tell an editor about your book as the elevator door closes until it opens again. An example could be something like:

    It’s like Trading Place meets Alien, set in ancient Rome!

It’s pithy, it’s catchy, it’s verbal spun sugar, all sweetness and light and no substance. But that’s fine, and it doesn’t matter that I haven’t really told you anything about the book, because I’ve left an impression in your mind, seeded your imagination with a fistful of ideas. If it works, that friendly editor will give you a chance to expand on it.

Summary is vastly different. The good news is you get more time, the bad news is you still need to pack a lot into a small space. Think of this as a spoken paragraph, one you should have prepared for when you’re out in public (say, at a convention) and someone asks you, “what’s your book about?” You’re not trying to hook an editor or agent with your reply, but a good response might sell a copy of your book. At worst, you need an answer that counts as polite conversation.

You can get there by expanding and elaborating on the Elevator Pitch. How? Simply reference your setting (either locale or context, or both), a key concept, the protagonist, and a major plot point to create conflict. Like so:

    Young Vibius Tertullus’s father has just died, requiring him to travel from Rome to Alexandria to inherit the family business. Along the way his caravan is struck by a strange craft falling from the sky. When Vibius assesses the resulting carnage, he sees a figure that appears to be himself, laying unharmed some distance away. Gazing down at his body he discovers himself transformed into as foul a creature as ever was seen in Tartarus! Worse still, he’s trapped in the wreckage and can only watch helplessly as his true body rises, directs an obscene gesture his way, and runs off! Vibius has to get free, make his way to Alexandria in the body of a monster, and convince the waiting officials to give him his inheritance.

If you’ve done this right, by this point your questioner should be gazing at you in awe and wonder, nodding enthusiastically, or pressing some cash into your hands and asking you to autograph the book.

Proposal is something else again. It’s less about the special effects and more about connecting with potential readers, but your audience isn’t the reader, it’s the editor or publisher who wants to be convinced that readers will buy into your story. This is where you stress “relatability” and demonstrate that, bells and whistles and cool SFnal ideas and Fantastic concepts aside, over the course of the book your protagonist experiences growth and change, is sympathetic and engaging. This is where you hit the motivations, reveal your narrative engine, and lay the groundwork for what will be your compelling narrative:

    All his life, Vibius Tertullus has sought to live up to the expectations of his father — a famous adventurer and military hero — and all his life he has failed. Despite earning praise as a great scholar, Vibius lacks the stamina required of a hero and the necessary grit for adventure. Indeed, he rarely leaves the simple desk in his meager office at the gymnasium. But it’s a good life, and one that suits him, even if it’s not what his father had hoped for him. Now news has reached Vibius that the old man has died and that a mysterious inheritance awaits him, but only if he can venture from the safety of Rome and travel to distant Alexandria. It should be a simple enough trip, one made comfortable and secure by traveling via a trade caravan. And perhaps that would be the case if a crashing space vessel didn’t disrupt things midway through the journey, and some menace of alien technology or design place his consciousness in the body of a hideous, slime-slavering monster from the stars. Now Vibius must embark on an adventure far beyond anything his father might have wished for him, with the stakes much more than just some family inheritance, but rather the chance to recover his simple, human life.

And just like that, it doesn’t matter what particulars our protagonist might experience on his journey, because as readers we’ve already bought into the need for a journey. We’re cheering for Vibius, in part because we can relate to his woes of a less than perfect relationship with his father, and because despite rising to the occasion and trying to do what needs doing, he’s smacked down even further. That this takes the form of a body transference is surprising, but the details aren’t what matter here. Rather, we’ve locked into the narrative that will drive everything that comes after, and we’re glad to have it!

Synopsis is that last bit, a simplification of the entire book, one which hits the high points of character and plot and lays out the entire structure in brief. Alas, there isn’t room in this space to create one for you (that, and because I have no real idea what happens in the rest of this made-up book). Many authors — and I count myself among them — have come to hate writing synopses, on the grounds that if they wanted to write a miniature version of their book, they’d have done it in the first place.

There is a certain sense of futility in turning a 100K or 200K word novel into a 5K or 10K Synopsis. And yet, all too often, if your successful Elevator Pitch has opened the door to submitting a Proposal, and that too has found favor, you’re going to be asked to do just that. And unlike the other variations on “what’s your book about?” that we’ve covered, where brevity is a guiding principle and being concise is your only friend, now you have to hold on to these same ideas while at the same time embracing the totality of your story with arms spread wide to encompass everything while both hands grasp furiously to pull all of it back into coherent form.

I can’t tell you how to write a successful Synopsis every time, I personally believe it’s a different experience for every book. I can say that it’s probable you won’t find it a pleasant experience. Nope, not at all.

But hey, three out of four isn’t bad.