Monthly Archives: February 2015

Vectors: Our Favorite Robots

This week we confront a fun scifi trope and ask, “”What/who is your favorite robot/android in scifi?”

Tex Thompson
One of the things I like best about robots and AI is that these days, there’s one for every purpose: they can be fussy, benevolent, heroic, homicidal, or just sit in a darkened movie theater and thelmathrow wisecracks at the screen. 2014 was an especially great year, as we got not only the huggable Baymax, but also Interstellar‘s scene-stealing TARS, who is fantastic for all sorts of reasons.

Still, my softest of spots is for Thelma, from a 90’s Nickelodeon show called Space Cases. (Think Voyager, with an alien ship and a crew full of teenagers – including the future Kaylee Frye.) She was the android they found on the ship, whose memory chip was damaged when one of the kids stepped on it- and as a result, she was ‘not quite right’. It was a useful plot contrivance, for sure: she could give the crew some useful information, but not enough to completely solve the given problem or ruin the mystery of the ship’s origins. More than that, though, Anik Matern played her as this peppy, pleasant, “cheerfully broken” soul – a little bit Amelia Bedelia, a little bit Harley Quinn – whose penchant for misunderstandings and well-meaning failures didn’t prevent her from being an important, valued member of the crew. Flawed, lovable, non-sexualized women are a perennial favorite of mine (and still far too thin on the ground) – so while Thelma was technically artificial, she was also incredibly real.

Guest: Aaron Rosenberg
My favorite android in SF? That’s actually a pretty easy one. He’s melodramatic, angsty, whiny, and terribly British—and it’s not C3-PO! It’s Marvin the Paranoid Android, from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Part of that is because I imprinted young—I was in junior high when a friend introduced me to Marvin via the 1981 BBC TV series, and then immediately loaned me the books so I could read it in more detail. But Marvin’s also just a fun character. Too often androids are made out to be “better than human,” basically perfect in every way—at least until they malfunction and try killing everyone. Marvin wasn’t better. He also wasn’t perfect—he was obviously, outrageously flawed. But that only made him more believable as a character, and more sympathetic. Of course Hitchhiker’s is comedy, so things are played up for laughs, but the idea that flawed characters are both more realistic and more interesting than “perfect” ones has been and continues to be true today.

A close second for me, by the way, is Marvin’s spiritual successor, Kryten from the Red Dwarf series. I guess I just really like funny, snarky androids with oddly shaped heads.

Bio: Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the bestselling SF comedy series The Adventures of DuckBob Spinowitz (No Small Bills, Too Small for Tall, and Three Small Coinkydinks), which does not include a single android but does feature a man with the head of a duck. Aaron also writes the Dread Remora space-opera series and, with David Niall Wilson, the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. He has written for Star Trek, StarCraft, WarCraft, Warhammer, Eureka, and other franchises, and also writes children’s books, educational books, and roleplaying games. Aaron is a founding member of Crazy 8 Press, and lives in New York with his family. You can find him online, on Facebook, and on Twitter as @gryphonrose.

Steve Bein
R2 makes my compooter workTough choice! The first to leap to mind are R2D2 and Marvin the Paranoid Android.

True story: so I just typed that sentence, then looked away from the monitor deep in thought, and lo and behold, I saw the R2D2 USB hub sitting right here on my desk. I guess that means R2 wins.

Marvin is hilarious, but R2 is practical. He helps me get along with all the electronics in my office — no mean feat, as I am the very opposite of a computer geek. (Another true story: I’m writing this on a computer I purchased in 2004.) In truth, I can’t even remember why I need a USB hub in the first place. I bought it because my partner of 18 years, who is also my tech support, told me I needed one.

So now R2 is the reason I can print stuff. (Among other things, I’m sure.) May the Force be with him.

M.K. Hutchins
DataTNGI grew up watching Star Trek:TNG. Reading this question, I can think of little else but Data dealing poker, Data with his cat, or Data singing about searching for lifeforms. Data is really at the heart of TNG, in my opinion. He embodies the question of what it means to be human. I think the writers and the actor did a marvelous job of making him relatable and sympathetic while also making him different from his warm-blooded companions.

Beth Cato

gonkThere are so many great droids. I love Data and R2-D2 and so many others, but I have to call out one that doesn’t get enough love these days: Gonk.

Gonk, you say? What is Gonk? Let me tell you of our power droid savior.

Gonks first made an appearance on the sandcrawler in Star Wars Episode IV. They look like big rectangular trash cans that say “gonk” as they walk around. They have cameos throughout the movies and lots of related media. “Gonk” was a fan name that became official in the 1990s, with toys and such now bearing the name.

I first discovered Gonk in the wee days of home internet, thereabouts of 1995. I prowled around on various Star Wars boards and became aware of the Cult of Gonk, which believed the droid was almost like a god-like figure within Star Wars. I was amused and delighted, as was my brother.

So there you go. Now you know about Gonk. Rectangular trashcans will never be the same to you again.

Guest: A. Lee Martinez
robotMy favorite robot in sci fi would probably be The Robot from that classic TV show Lost in Space. Yes, the show is goofy, cheap, full of contrived plots and broad characterizations. Why the Robinsons didn’t just eject Dr. Smith into the cold void of space is a mystery, but that’s a topic for another day.

I love The Robot (as he was always called) because he actually had a surprisingly subtle character arc. This was because The Robot became a surprise favorite of the audience. Like Stephen Urkel, but without the creepy stalker vibe that we didn’t seem to notice back then. Initially, a villain in the service of Dr. Smith, The Robot eventually became a loyal friend to the Robinson family. He became smarter, more sarcastic, and surprisingly sly. All while waving his arms around wildly and using that same monotone voice.

He’s not just my favorite Robot in sci fi. He’s one of my favorite characters of all time, and I make no apology for that. The Robot is awesome, and I wouldn’t mind being marooned in the depths of a pitiless universe if I could have him by my side. Heck, I’d even tolerate Dr. Smith for a while. At least until that unfortunate “airlock accident” came along.

Bio: A. Lee Martinez is the author of books such as The Automatic Detective and Emperor Mollusk vs. The Sinister Brain. His website is aleemartinez.com.

Fran Wilde
1. Boomer.
2. The Iron Giant.
3. Wall-e.
4. Mars rovers. They’re not fictional, but we dreamed them before we made them real.

Lawrence M. Schoen
As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have a hard time picking favorites. In this instance I have to give you two, one from my childhood, and one that appeals more to my adult sensibility.

In 1964, I was five years old, and along with Speed Racer, the big animated import from Japan was Gigantor. Here was this huge and powerful robot whose every action was dictated by a 12-year old boy using a remote controller, fighting to make the world a better place.

And let’s not forget the theme song:

Gigantor the space aged robot,
He’s at your command.
Gigantor the space aged robot,
His power is in your hand.

Bigger than big, taller than tall,
Quicker than quick, stronger than strong.
Ready to fight for right, against wrong!

klaatu-300x225The semantic possibilities raised by those lyrics alone were probably enough to set my literal-minded younger self on fire!

But for a more adult choice, I have to go with Gort, the robotic companion of Klaatu in the 1951 film classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still.

I like the irony of a robot protector who, on the one hand is there as part of a mission of peace, but who is empowered and ready to reduce our planet “to a burned out cinder” (and it would have too, if not for the actions of an Earth woman uttering those three little words Klaatu barada nikto.

Yeah, they just don’t build ’em like Gort any more.

Congratulations Novelocity Nebula Nominees!

Three Body Problem (2)Congratulations to team Novelocity members Ken Liu and Lawrence Schoen on their Nebula nominations!

Ken Liu’s translation for The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (Tor 2014) was nominated in the novel category, and “The Regular,” (Upgraded) was nominated in the novella category.

Lawrence Schoen’s Calendrical Regression (NobleFusion) was nominated in the novella category.

The 2014 Nebula Nominees were announced on Friday, February 20.

Vectors: Favorite romances

Valentine’s Day is this weekend. With romance on our minds, we confront the question, What’s your favorite romantic couple in genre fiction/comics/movies?

Steve Bein
I’m not a big romance guy, so I guess if I were really going to get into a love story, it would have to be a wanna-be samurai super-mutant’s love story.  That, or a love story set on the coolest spaceship ever, or else the story of a very unsexy human getting it on with a very sexy alien who happens to have a giant beetle for a head.

han leia babySo that said, I think I’ll answer for all three categories.

In movies, Han and Leia.  That one’s easy.  (And props to Kidt82 for this awesome old-timey photo of Han, Leia, and one seriously ugly baby.)
logankillsmariko
In comics, it’s got to be Logan and Mariko.  (I like that one so well that I named the protagonist of my trilogy after Logan’s Mariko.)  I love the way these two are drawn together yet constantly pushed apart.  I don’t know what it says about me that I like that, but if it had been up to me to write the expanded universe Star Wars stuff, Han and Leia would never have gotten together either.  Despite his best efforts, Han would remain Solo, and Leia definitely wouldn’t settle down to raise kids.  She’s an ass-kicker; I’d have her running around the galaxy kicking ass.

lin khepriIn genre fiction, I’m going to go with a really weird choice: Lin the khepri and Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin from PERDIDO STREET STATION.  I’ve written about their amazing relationship in more detail elsewhere, so here I’ll just give you a brief sketch.  Isaac is an Edison-like genius with a blimp-like physique. Lin looks like a very sexy naked human woman, except her skin is bright red and she has a giant beetle for a head.  Not a beetle’s head; a beetle for a head, like with legs and everything.

Again, I don’t know what it says about me that these are the love stories I like.  There’s something inherently interesting about people who seem like they shouldn’t be together, and who have to overcome a lot just to stay together.  But that describes Romeo and Juliet just as well as Isaac and Lin, and no one needs to invent words like headbody and headlegs.  So yeah, I guess you could say it’s a good thing that Hallmark never hired me to write Valentine’s Day cards.

E.C. Ambrose
LordoftheRingsI’m going to say Aragorn and Eowyn, from the Lord of the Rings, which later evolves into Eowyn and Faramir. She is a lady of courage and strength, clearly worthy of a king, but the king’s heart is already claimed by another. I really enjoyed the delicate way that Tolkien establishes both relationships, and I think that we can all relate to having fallen for someone who’s just not available.

It is both her courage and her grief that sends Eowyn onto the battlefield, where she proves herself as heroic as any man, and nearly dies in the act. When she wakes in the Houses of Healing, she is recovering not only from her injuries, but also from her broken heart–and finds Faramir there beside her, on a similar journey.

And yes, I had that passage read at my wedding. Didn’t you?

M.K. Hutchins
Luthien and Beren, from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. The story itself is epic enough — Beren sets out on a quest to win Luthien’s hand, gets captured by Sauron, and then Luthien rescues him. Together they face Melkor (Sauron’s boss). Beren dies completing the quest and Luthien dies of grief soon thereafter. Then she convinces the gatekeeper of death to restore herself and Beren to life (she’s amazing like that).Tolkien's_grave

But I love this story because of its history. The character of Luthien was inspired by Edith, Tolkien’s wife:”She was (and knew she was) my Luthien.” When I read this story, I don’t just imagine lofty elves and mighty men. I see a lifetime of love, from two orphaned teenagers taking bike rides together to an old couple, hand-in-hand. Beren was a mortal man, and the immortal, eternally graceful Luthien loved him, saved him, and chose to stay with him.

J. Kathleen Cheney
GoblinMoonSeramarias Vorder and Lord Francis Skelbrooke

This duo appears in two books by one of my favorite writers of fantasy, Teresa Edgerton. The two books in which they appear, Goblin Moon and The Gnome’s Engine, came out in the early 90s. Although the author is in the process of reissuing them as ebooks, only the first is available, under the title Mask and Dagger 1: Goblin Moon.

The setting on this is similar to the Georgian Era, although with magic, and our heroine, Sera, is certain that she’s making all the right decisions in her life. Enter Francis Skelbrook, the mysterious gentleman who seems intent on undermining her. Through the books we’re left to wonder whether Francis is, as one reviewer aptly put it, “either a very bad good man, or a very good bad man.” Sera gets a reasonable grasp on that question throughout the process of the two books, wrapping up in an ending that I just found….well, perfect.

This is one of the rare series that I want to have on my kindle, specifically so that if I’m standing in line or taveling on a plane I can whip out a device and dive into that story. It will always be one of my favorite Fantasy romances, and I cannot praise it enough…especially for those fans of Heyer out there!

Beth Cato
UrbanShamanI’ve given this question a lot of thought but I keep coming back to two couples. Within fiction, I adore Joanne and Morrison in C.E. Murphy’s Walker Papers series. I’m pretty picky about the romances I like–especially within the romance genre–because I can’t stand alpha males. Jo and Morrison’s chemistry is there from the start, but Morrison is police chief over Jo. There are clear lines of propriety; Morrison is just plain a good, chivalrous guy. Their banter feels real, and the chemistry grows book by book. Jo copes with all kinds of supernatural mayhem as her role as shaman forces her straight-laced boss to become a believer, too.

Within movies? Han and Leia. It’s great because there is so much said in so little. It tickles me to see that there’s a whole line of merchandise that says “I love you” “I know” at places like Think Geek.

Fran Wilde
1.
2. Nahadoth and Yeine
3. Hermoine and whoever she darn well pleases.
4.
5. Molly Millions and Johnny Mnemonic, from the story in Gibson’s Burning Chrome, not the movie.
6. Agrees with Steve on Perdido St. Station.

Cover Reveal: THE CLOCKWORK CROWN by Beth Cato

Clockwork Crown

Beth Cato here. I’m super-excited to share with you the cover for my next book, The Clockwork Crown. It’s due out on June 9th, 2015. This is the sequel to The Clockwork Dagger and completes the duology.

Narrowly surviving assassination and capture, Octavia Leander, a powerful magical healer, is on the run with handsome Alonzo Garrett, the Clockwork Dagger who forfeited his career with the Queen’s secret society of spies and killers—and possibly his life—to save her. Now, they are on a dangerous quest to find safety and answers: Why is Octavia so powerful? Why does she seem to be undergoing a transformation unlike any witnessed for hundreds of years?

The truth may rest with the source of her mysterious healing power—the Lady’s Tree. But the tree lies somewhere in a rough, inhospitable territory known as the Waste. Eons ago, this land was made barren and uninhabitable by an evil spell, until a few hardy souls dared to return over the last century. For years, the Waste has waged a bloody battle against the royal court to win its independence—and they need Octavia’s powers to succeed.

Joined by unlikely allies, including a menagerie of gremlin companions, she must evade killers and Clockwork Daggers on a dangerous journey through a world on the brink of deadly civil war.

Cover Reveal: BARSK: THE ELEPHANTS’ GRAVEYARD by Lawrence M. Schoen

Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Internet, may I present for your anticipation, gradual build-up of ultimately brain-wrenching desire, and immediate viewing pleasure, the cover of my forthcoming novel, Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard.

My editor informs me that the release doesn’t happen until December, but the way I choose to spin that is it creates an opportunity for a solid ten months of buzz, and a cover reveal is an awesome beginning.

The cover art is by Victo Ngai, a Society of Illustrators NY Gold Medalist (she actually has a stack of gold and silver medals), and depicts her conception of one of the artificial “vents” that occur within the rainforests of the islands of Barsk. Specifically, a shaft visited by Pizlo, a young boy whose very existence is outside the strictures of Barsk culture.

He hung in open air, ruminating, suspended upside down in a well-tended shaft walled on all sides with living green. Seven such chimneys existed on the island of Keslo; every island on Barsk boasted at least one. Fant society created the insubstantial monuments as part memorial and part warning. Few reached all the way to the uppermost limits of the forest, or ran all the way down to its roots.

Barsk is a world of almost constant rain and breaks in the cloud cover are infrequent. Rarer still are the times when the clouds happen to part and allow a glimpse of any of the planet’s moons. In the scene Victo Ngai referenced for the cover, Pizlo has gone to a specific chimney at a specific time, following the urging of the voices in his head, to see his third of Barsk’s seven moons. Pizlo is a weird little kid, and he’s convinced the moon not only speaks to him, but tells him secrets.

And that’s going to have to hold you for a while, but I promise, there’ll be more hooplah in the weeks and months to come.

 

Vectors: Our Favorite Parts of the Writing Process

This week we answer the question: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Disciple of the Wind by Steve BeinSteve Bein
Hm. I think I have to say the writing itself.

I have to start with “hm” because so much of the creative process is frustrating and painful. I am reminded of the guy who bangs his head on the wall for an hour because it feels so good when he stops.

The hardest part for me is figuring out what it is I’m going to write about. I’m a plotter, not a pantser, and I’m a philosopher, not a writer by training. I start with the ideas I want to play with, but ideas don’t have any characters, worlds, or plot devices built into them. They’re naked. It takes a long time for me to figure out how to transmute the ideas into stories—months, usually, and sometimes years.

So that’s the head banging part. At the end I’ve run a bunch of pens dry and I’ve got a stack of quasi-legible, largely disorganized notebooks. I also have a cast of characters, and most important of all, I have a detailed outline.

Then it’s off to the races. Once I can see where I need to go, the writing itself is a lot of fun. I love it when characters surprise me. I often indulge them, and let them take me far off the path, sometimes into much more interesting scenes than I’d planned for in the outline. I’ll take writing over watching TV any day, and I think what I get out of writing is about the same as what people get out of playing video games. I’d do it every day if I could.

Seriously Wicked by Tina ConnollyTina Connolly
My most favorite thing is revision. This includes work done on the 1st draft (About 75% of the time, I am very fond of the part where you stop and muddle out more plot, and refine what you’ve got, and revise the world) as well as all subsequent drafts. I love editing on a line by line level (it takes me forever to send an email somedays) and I love looking at the big picture and tweaking things to make it fall into place.

I loathe putting down words for the first time. I’m a somewhat slow first drafter, and I sit and think about all the worldbuilding things while I’m putting down a single sentence. I know, I know, there’s plenty of good advice about how not to do this, but while writing the first draft there’s so much I don’t know yet, that I often have to start by just putting some words down and seeing what they look like.

It turns out that, probably because I love working with half-formed stuff, that I’m actually quite fond of plotting out sequels. If I’ve already got a world and characters and a general idea of the sort of stories that I tell in that world…it is SUPER FUN to arrange them in new configurations. I could do that all day. But unfortunately, there still comes a time when you have to put down the actual words to make them into a first draft…

Grace_of_Kings_cover_blogKen Liu
My favorite part of the process is the first major revision pass, the pass that I call “going from draft -1 to draft 0.” This is a time when the story still feels new and fresh in my head, and when the possibility of actually making something as good as the vision in my head seems achievable. Nothing is settled: entire new subplots can be added in, I’m still learning new things about my characters, and I’m not in love with any of the words I’ve written so anything is negotiable.

There are things I like about stages of the process both before and after this one, but if I had to pick, I would pick this stage, the stage of magic.

Clockwork DaggerBeth Cato
I hate rough drafts. Yes, I’m allowed to say that as a writer. I’m very OCD (not bandying-about the term–an actual diagnosis) and rough drafts spur my anxiety, big time. I have a strong sense of “there’s something wrong wrong WRONG I must fix it but I need to finish the draft first MUST FIX.” People have wondered how I write rough drafts so quickly, like when I did The Clockwork Crown‘s 83,000-word first draft in 31 days. That was an anxiety-driven race. My husband says I become a different person when I work like that. I’ll let you insert the adjectives on what kind of person.

Once I start to revise, I feel better. I’m actively plugging the holes. I get worried again when it comes time for critique feedback because I know there are still problems I can’t see, and I really admire and respect my first readers, and I hate to look stupid. Once I delve into their advice (and this often involves working up the nerve for a few days) I enter my favorite stage: when things are almost there. The story is structurally sound, the characters are fleshing out, and it reads like a story should. The broken thing is fixed and shiny.

Elisha_Magus(1)E.C. Ambrose
I am stunned and amazed to see how many people actually *like* the revision phase. Ugh! But maybe someday we should do some collaborative novels and pair up those of us who are drafters, with those who are revisers and see how we do!

For me, it’s the first draft. Taking the ideas and characters I’ve been creating and spinning their yarn onto the page. This is when I really get to know them, making discoveries, having adventures, obsessing about what will happen next, and thinking up terrible things to do to them. It’s brilliant fun, and totally absorbing.

To me, this has always been the heart of writing–creating the story from beginning to end. Not the idea, or even the outline, which is merely the logical extension of the idea, but when that idea becomes substance, becomes a thing that readers can experience, with all the sensory detail and emotional investment I imagine when I’m in the dreamtime.

Fran WildeFran Wilde
Well, I *used* to love revision, but now that I’m neck-deep in a revision, I love first drafts and **finishing**. I’m the queen of grass-is-always-greener writing.

For real, my favorite part of the writing process is when everything goes ‘CLICK’: that moment when I’ve been wrestling with a concept, a voice, or a scene and suddenly everything shifts — I realize this character wants to do A, not B; this scene needs to go this way, not that. Then I look at my work and realize the story’s known what I was supposed to do all along, and was just waiting for me to get it. The click can hit at any point during the process and is glee-making. That’s my favorite part.

Drift by M.K. HutchinsM.K. Hutchins
I love worldbuilding — the research, the jotting down of cool ideas, tossing two ideas together, brainstorming out the ramifications of technology or magic or setting. Super-fun.

And I’m also one who loves revisions. After a first draft, I have a much better idea of what I want to do. Then I can finally cut and sculpt to tell the story I know I want to tell. First drafts can be painful, because I’m still figuring out the story.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
I’ve just finished responding to the copyedits of my next novel, and that may be biasing my answer, but I have to say it was at one and the same time a terrifying and giddy experience.

The terrifying part (at least for me) stems from the uncertainty when first looking at page after page of notes and comments and corrections. Is the copyeditor going to find huge, gaping holes, or embarrassing bits of grammatical flaws, or perhaps just not get the point of the book or the voice and style.

The giddying part though (again, at least for me) is seeing how someone new responds to the book, and realizing how the copyedits actually improve the reading experience and make me look damn clever!