Monthly Archives: November 2014

Vectors: Favorite Flying Machines

This week, we ponder our favorite flying machines across fantasy and science fiction.

eaves-dfdfdSteve Bein
The Millenium Falcon. Duh.

But if I could pick the one I want to actually own, it would be the Iowa State Police hoverbike in Star Trek. I already have a space for it in my garage, and and it would eliminate all of the most dangerous things about motorcycling. (Namely, I wouldn’t have to worry about road conditions anymore, and if any idiotic drivers wanted to change lanes without looking to see if I’m there, I could just laugh down at them while I’m cruising 20′ over their heads.)


Howl’s Moving Castle

M.K. Hutchins
I can’t hear “flying machine” without thinking of Hayao Miyazaki. His films contain dozens of fascinating, unique flying machines, but my favorite has to be the castle from Howl’s Moving Castle. Okay, spoiler: the castle ends up flying. The castle is intricate, interesting, beautiful…and it has Calcifer at its heart. What more could I want?

ChittyChittyTina Connolly
GenII, better known as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I have a copy of Ian Fleming’s book with delightful, very British illos by John Burningham. Also the film, while a bit lumpy in places (WHY did they keep that weird coochie coochie song between the Baron and the Baroness? What kid could possibly want to see the bad Baroness who’s just appeared near the end of this reeeallly long movie, flounce around in a white corsetty thing and sing “You’re my little teddy bear / My lovey lovey dovey little teddy bear” ETC ETC ETC ad nauseam, literally, AH, I have FEELINGS about this movie), anyway, the screenplay is at least partially attributed to Roald Dahl, which means you have a book from Ian Fleming, worked on further by Roald Dahl, and so there are really a lot of genuinely delightful and delightfully strange moments in the movie. I don’t think that thing I just wrote is an actual sentence, but you get the idea.

Yoshitaka Amano's artwork of the Final Fantasy V airship

Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork of the Final Fantasy V airship

Beth Cato
Final Fantasy airships. Not only did they introduce me to a staple of steampunk at an early age, but they were all cool in different ways. I was awed when I witnessed the Final Fantasy I airship rise from the desert (and jealous, because the game had only one save slot and my big brother always hogged it). Final Fantasy IV’s Red Wing fleet played a pivotal role from the very first scenes of the game, and other airships had specialized purposes such as hauling a hovercraft or being able to fly over lava. Of course, there’s the Blackjack in Final Fantasy VI, a mobile casino.

Possessing an airship was always a changing point in the game. It meant exploring new cities and shopping pricey stores, and encountering nasty enemies that delivered instant death. But it was all awesome. There was an incredible sense of accomplishment and freedom. I mean, heck, who doesn’t love to announce, “I have the airship!”

WINDSMichael R. Underwood
I love the quad-sailed windships in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s The Lays of Anuskaya series. Since they’re magical windships, but use square-rigged sails, they have sails not only on top of the ship, but jutting out both starboard and port sides, and coming out of the bottom of the ship.

The windships cut an impressive figure, as you can see on the gorgeous Adam Paquette cover for The Winds of Khalakovo, but they also tie in to the inventive magical systems in the world, where the ships are buffeted along thanks to the assistance of air spirits, and with lanes of traffic guided by magical currents that are controlled by giant magical spires.

So with the windships, I get tall ships (yay!) cool magic (yay!) and cool fantasy setting details (yay!). A win all around.

Vectors: Best Writing Advice

There’s a lot of advice out there for writers. Today we discuss what worked for us. The question:
“What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?”

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
This is an easy one because the advice is still as true today as it was when I first received it years and years ago. Credit where it’s due, and while the advice didn’t originate with her, I had it directly from Nebula-nominated (and former ROC editor) author Laura Anne Gilman, and I will forever be in her debet because of it. It even comes with a handy acroynm: A.I.C.

Ass. In. Chair.

That unpacks a little bit to mean that each day, every day, a writer puts his/her butt in the chair and writes. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, the point is that you do it every day. Weekdays. Weekends. Holidays. Vacation days. Days when you’re sick in bed. Days when you’re away working a convention. On your honeymoon. The day of a loved one’s funeral. The day when every other aspect of your life is exploding. The day when your book comes out, or your name shows up on an award list, or you get the best review you’ve ever seen. Every day, no exceptions.

You want to be a writer? Then write. Don’t just talk about writing. Don’t hang just out in the bar at cons with other authors and swap war stories. Put in the time. Each and every day. And it start by putting your ass in that chair.

Grace_of_Kings_cover_blogKen Liu
The one bit of advice I heard that has stuck with me and turned out to be really useful is from Tobias Buckell who said that writers need to learn the difference between milestones (“things you’d like to have happen to you”) and goals (“things you can actually achieve”).

As writers, we have little influence over milestones—winning an award, getting a movie deal, selling a story to a prestigious magazine—so it makes no sense to obsess over them. Goals, on the other hand, are things we can control, and the most important goal of all is to “write more.” (And in that way, this bit of advice links up with Lawrence’s point.)

IronskinTina Connolly
My favorite advice has always been to figure out what things you like best and put lots of them in. (Or, put another way: write exactly the story you want to read.)

Clockwork DaggerBeth Cato
I’ll go back to my 4th and 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Quist, at Lee Richmond Elementary in Hanford, California. Her advice: “write whatever you want.” My writing flourished during her writers’ workshop times. I drove my poor classmates nuts because I was so prolific, especially in 5th grade when I wrote my extremely long nonfiction account of my family’s disastrous trip to Sacramento.

I had Mr. Quist as my newspaper teacher in 7th and 8th grade; he passed away a few years ago. Like his wife, he encouraged us to write whatever we wanted. He wasn’t afraid of controversy–“it makes them read and talk,” he said.

I dedicated my next book, The Clockwork Crown, to Mrs. and Mr. Quist.

Elisha_Magus(1)E.C. Ambrose
Your muse works for you. There are those who say they are “waiting for the muse” so they don’t write for long periods of time. I find that, when I show up for work, especially on a daily basis, my muse shows up, too. The “muse,” the drive to write and the enthusiasm to do so, are often linked to the writer’s exercising the creativity and craft of writing, not to some nebulous inspiration outside in the universe.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
Three great pieces of advice, from various wise people:

1. “Don’t cheat on your book” – Chuck Wendig (ok, he said it slightly more colorfully, but you get the idea.

2. Vylar Kaftan’s super-cool magic short story formula (not exactly advice as much as it is a lovely way to kickstart creativity).

3. “That’s not a short story. That’s a novel.” ~ Numerous lovely people, including James D. Macdonald at the Viable Paradise workshop. (Spoiler: they were right.)

The Golden CityJ. Kathleen Cheney
My favorite piece came from Steven Savile: When an editor asks you to do something, you say, “I can do that.” He actually meant that in terms of new projects, so that if an editor says they want a piece on dinosaurs with semi-automatic weapons, you should always accept the challenge. He wasn’t saying that we should slavishly follow editor’s tiniest tweak. But it’s good advice in general anyway.

Steve BeinSteve Bein
The most useful advice I’ve received is something I’ve quoted often enough that I’ve now seen the line attributed to me. So just for the record, this isn’t me, this is Charles Brown, the late, great editor of Locus magazine: “One of three things is going to happen to you in this business: you quit, you die, or you get published.”

This fits in nicely with my personal motto, “Pessimism is the new optimism.” Brown was right: repeated rejections will make you want to quit. But if you refuse to quit, then it’s just a matter of time; either you’re going to keel over or you’re going to break through. (Actually, even that is a little too optimistic. You’re definitely going to keel over. The real question is whether you break through first.)

I know, I’m a ray of sunshine. But I do think this is good advice.

M.K. Hutchins
Most important advice: writers write. Everything else is secondary.

I’m not sure who told it to me, but “figure out what works for you” has been immensely helpful, too. Half of this sentiment is anti-advice — ignore stuff other people tell you. Sometimes it’s not helpful. For years, I believed other writers who claimed that no “good” writing could take place in a writing session less than four hours long. True for them? Certainly. But I’ve discovered I have a hard time drafting for such a long stretch (if I can find a chunk of time like that to begin with). Writing in little chunks gives me time to outline the next chapter in my head and write better scenes.

“Figure out what works for you” also encourages me to try new things. Like a story bible. Or outlining. Or writing from prompts. Or setting goals. Of course not everything actually works for me, but being willing to push myself in new directions has helped me discover better ways of working and writing that I would have missed if I were staying in my comfortable routine.

One Night in SixesTex Thompson
I’ve heard this so many times in so many contexts that I don’t know if I can attribute it to one person, but here’s my golden chestnut:

Listen to people.

It works on so many levels. Want to write better dialogue? Park yourself in a public place and listen to people. Want to do a better job of writing people who aren’t you? Get outside your advertising demographic, and go listen to people. (This probably should involve talking to them at some point, but the magic of the Internet means that we can smarten ourselves up with a whole pantload of listening before we ever open our mouths.) Want to improve your writing? Show it to other people, ask for their feedback, and listen to what they say.

Listening is more intimidating than we like to admit. Giving our attention to someone else, and especially to a relative stranger, means exposing ourselves to unpredictable, sometimes uncomfortable new information. But the act of writing fiction requires the ability to inhabit characters who are by definition *not us* – to empathize with another person’s point of view – and listening to real-life people is essential for learning how to speak through their fictional counterparts.

So there you have it: go forth joyfully, and expose yourself to as many people as possible…!

Translating The Three-Body Problem

Translating The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, is the first volume in a best-selling Chinese hard scifi series. The English edition is being released by Tor Books on November 11, and I was the translator.

Three Body Problem (2)

From the publisher’s description:

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

You can follow this link to read more about the book on, including excerpts and author interviews, and buy the book from your favorite bookstore.

Though I’ve translated over twenty short stories from Chinese into English, this is my first novel translation, and the challenges I faced felt qualitatively different.

One set of challenges involved becoming sufficiently knowledgeable about various subjects discussed in depth in the book so that I could understand the nuances and render the relevant passages accurately in English. The Three-Body Problem is filled with grand ideas based on scientific speculation as well as very human-scaled stories steeped in China’s ancient and modern history. To properly discharge my duties as a translator, I had to do a great deal of research, including reading papers on pure math and astrophysics, gleaning relevant historical details from books about the Cultural Revolution and Classical Chinese, and interviewing scientists and individuals who lived through the Cultural Revolution to fill in gaps where book research was insufficient. In a lot of ways, translating this book required as much background research as writing a book myself.

Another set of challenges involved going beyond merely linguistic features to ensure the integrity of the translated work. When working with a large, complicated novel like this, a translator’s job isn’t just to re-create the work in a new language; he or she also needs to act as fact-checker and editor. Chinese readers have different expectations about narrative conventions and the desired level scientific detail, and I struggled to strike a balance between preserving the flavor of the original and making the book appealing to a new audience.

For example, to make aspects of the book dependent on knowledge of Chinese history and culture accessible to Anglophone readers, I had to decide how best to integrate the necessary background explanation with the text—a footnote is a very intrusive device, and I resolved to keep their use to an absolute minimum. Similarly, to make sure that I could make the technical parts of the book sound plausible to specialists as well as read fluently for general readers, I had to replicate the calculations in the book, look up the original scientific papers, and consult working physicists to determine the necessary jargon to use to ensure precision without sapping narrative energy. I ended up learning a lot about how to craft a compelling novel in the process.

As difficult as the translation process was, I found it very rewarding. The necessity of consulting Cixin Liu, the author, on many of these decisions deepened the friendship between us, and I’ll be forever grateful to my thoughtful beta readers and Liz Gorinsky, my editor at Tor, who helped me figure out the best solution for many of these conundrums.

While The Three-Body Problem itself is a thrilling hard scifi ride, the sequels (one of which I’ll also be translating) are even more grand and imaginative as they continue the story of humanity’s journey to the stars. I hope readers have as much fun reading these books as I had working on them.

World Fantasy Con

Six of our members will be attending World Fantasy Con in Washington D.C. The event runs from November 6th through 9th. If you’re there (or doing the Bar Con thing), please say hi! Here are our set schedules, with data from the WFC site:

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen:
Language and Linguistics in Fantasy
Time:  10 a.m. – 11 a.m., Friday, Regency E
Panelists:  Lawrence M. Schoen (M), C. D. Covington, Matthew Johnson, Sofia Samatar
Description:  Foreign languages are often used in fantasy literature to add atmosphere, to show cultural backgrounds, and to bring a richness to the world, as can be seen in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Richard Adams’ Watership Down.  Some authors rely on real languages, while others, such as Tolkien, have invented entire tongues.  Which stories incorporate other languages successfully, and where have authors stumbled, making much of the work incomprehensible?


Beth Cato

Will be working at the SFWA table in the exhibit hall on Saturday from 10am to 11am.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly

Adoption and Fostering in Fantasy
Time:  12 p.m. – 1 p.m., Friday, Regency F
Panelists:  Susan Dexter (M), Tina Connolly, Delia Sherman, Edward Willett
Description:  Adoption or fostering is often used in fantasy and horror literature, from Oedipus to Jon Snow, from young Wart helping in the kitchens before that fateful day when he pulled a sword out of a stone in Londontown, to the most famous orphan of them all, Harry Potter.  Dozens of fantasies feature young orphans who do not know their parentage, from Richard in Wizard’s First Rule, to Will from the Ranger’s Apprentice series, who is a ward of the state, to even Frodo, who was an orphan, albeit an older one, at the beginning of his adventures.  There is even one beloved character, Taren from the Prydain Chronicles, who never learns his parentage, and this mystery itself proves to be his key to assuming the kingship.  How do adoption, bastardy, mixed parentage, and long-lost relatives all contribute to epic quests for self-knowledge in literature?


Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood
Time:  4 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Fairfax


Fran2014Fran Wilde
Fantasy Food: The Food in Fantasy
Time:  8 p.m. – 9 p.m., Saturday, Tidewater 2
Panelists:  Fran Wilde (M), Brenda Clough, Diana Peterfreund, A. C. Wise
Description:  Elaborate feasts versus alien worms: is Fantasy Food really better than science fiction food?  Adults report a life-long love of mushrooms dating back to an early reading of the Fellowship of the Ring.  Meanwhile, the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, featuring butterbeer and pumpkin pasties, has sold more than 150,000 copies.  There are also cookbooks available or in the works for The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Tolkien’s works, and Narnia.  Why does fantasy literature often have a gourmet palate?


E. C. AmbroseE.C. Ambrose
Guns, Gears and Wheels: Medieval Technology in Fantasy
Time:  12 p.m. – 1 p.m., Friday, Regency E
Panelists:  Michelle Markey Butler (M), Scott H. Andrews, Elaine Isaak (E. C. Ambrose)
Description:  One frequent complaint about fantasy is that it ignores technological progress in favor of magical exploration.  Over any sufficiently epic period of time, technology will advance, and in exploring the medieval era we often seek to emulate featured all sorts of improvements and innovations.  So where are the water wheels, windmills, and incendiary devices?  Many fantasies focus on the natural or magical world and its inherent power.  Tolkien envisioned industry as part of the evil.  Roger Zelazny played magic against technology in Changeling and Madwand.  Neil Stephenson directly examined the place of technology in a monastic society in Anathem.  What are the continuing prospects for technology in fantasy?

November News

Clockwork DaggerBeth Cato
The Clockwork Dagger was reviewed in the New York Times and was likewise featured in the print edition.
– attended the Arizona Taco Festival in official capacity as High Priestess of Churromancy. No, really!
– had flash fic “Hatchlings” published at Daily Science Fiction
– had one of her favorite stories “Red Dust and Dancing Stories” re-published at Escape Pod in glorious audio edition

Calendrical RegressionLawrence M. Schoen
– delivered Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard to Marco Palmieri, his editor at Tor Books. The novel, once described as “Dune meets The Sixth Sense, with Elephants” may well undergo a title change before its debut in December 2015.
– happily announces that Calendrical Regression, the latest novella in his Amazing Conroy series, is being published by NobleFusion Press, a small press in eastern Pennsylvania. There will be a launch party at Philcon on Friday, November 21st. A complimentary ebook copy of the novella is available at this link.
– is pleased to announce the formal opening of a Bid to host the 2019 World Science Fiction Convention in the Most Serene Republic of San Marino. Details can be found at, or by attending the opening bid party to be held on Saturday, November 22nd at Philcon in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (just across the river and stateline from Philadelphia). Ribbons will also be available for anyone attending WFC earlier in the month.
– will possibly be in attendance at Loscon during the last weekend in November, though whether or not he’ll be on programming or just hanging out in the bar or by the pool is still up in the air. Check the blog page at for updates and a possible schedule as the convention date draws nearer.

ThreeBodyProblemKen Liu
The Three-Body Problem, the first book in a best-selling Chinese hard scifi series by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken, is being released by Tor Books on November 11. You can find out more about the book, including excerpts, at
– has a story, “Saboteur,” in the latest issue of Analog

Fran2014Fran Wilde
“Welcome Briefing at the Obayashi-Ragan Youth Hostel” appeared at Abyss & Apex.
Geekadelphia interviewed me for Geek-of-the-Week. That was fun and I’m psyched they liked the Topaz Marquis.
State Liminal, my Storium ready-to-play world, has been sent off to the editors. Soon, the world…
– had a fantastic time at Capclave in October! Thanks, Capclave!

Seriously Wicked by Tina ConnollyTina Connolly
– my story “Super Baby-Moms Group Saves the Day” is available in the new humor SFF anthology, UFO
, ed. Alex Shvartsman
– is currently finishing up a play called Box, co-written with Matt Haynes, which will run in Jan/Feb in Portland as part of the local fringe festival, Fertile Ground.

Drift by M.K. HutchinsM.K. Hutchins
– I sold a new short story, “A Dragon’s Doula” to IGMS.
– And I had an interview with LitPick.