Monthly Archives: October 2015

Would I Lie To You, Baby?

Novelists are liars.

Many fiction writers like to say we “lie for a living,” because we tell stories that didn’t really happen.  We spin yarns from whole cloth, incorporating as many details of time and place as possible–sometimes even footnotes–to convince you that what you’re reading is true.  We connect our stories to things you know to be true–historical events, scientific discoveries–to make it difficult for you to tease out fact from fiction.

Not only that, but we deliberately deceive you.  We try to make you think the wrong person is the killer, or the wrong people are falling in love, or the rescue isn’t going to make it in time.  We lead you down one path, then twist everything you thought you knew so it turns out differently than you expected.

And you love it.

The question is, why?  Why do we enjoy stories about people that never existed in situations that never happened?  Why do we relish the whiplash of a convincing red herring?  The shock of an unexpected twist?

The answer, of course, is that the lies we tell are true.  If fiction is told well, it conveys deeper truths: truths about what people are really like, how they’re different and how they’re the same, what makes them good or bad or brave or afraid or loving or cruel.  Not only that, but it puts us behind the eyes of people we will never be: those of a different gender, a different race, a different nationality, class, age, education, religion, profession, or financial situation.  The lies of fiction tell us the truth about the people around us: that despite our differences, you and I have a lot in common.

An unfortunate tribalism seems hardwired into the very core of humanity.  We separate “us” from “them” as easy as breathing.  My sports team’s fouls are aggressive play, while yours are intentional attempts to injure our players.  My company bids fair prices, while yours intentionally underbids and hikes rates later.  Your religion is ridiculous, your sexual preferences disgusting, your race has always hated us.

More than anything else, fiction gives us the opportunity to experience life as others experience it.  If I read a story about a character unlike myself, then for a few hours I become that character.  I see what she sees, feel what she feels.  I know what’s it’s like to have that background, that pain, that longing, that relationship.  This is where lies become true: when by reading, I understand more about what it’s like to be you than I did before.

The lies of fiction entertain, but they also accomplish something deeper.  They train us to empathize with those around us and see the truth that each of us has a story to tell.

David Walton is the author of several books of lies, including the quantum physics murder mysteries Superposition and Supersymmetry.  You can read more about his work at http://www.davidwaltonfiction.com.

 

 

Five Not-Horror Books to Creep You Out for Halloween

It’s the season of pumpkin spice everything! Maybe that alone will horrify some folks. Me, I don’t go for books that are exclusively labeled horror, but I have encountered some delightfully dark books that go right to that creepy edge.

It’s worth noting that all of these books are either first in a series or stand alone.

Diabolical Miss Hyde

Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr

The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
This steampunk retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde follows the crime scene investigations of the prim Doctor Eliza Jekyll.. and her counterpart Lizzie Hyde. Victorian England was a smelly, dangerous place, and Carr doesn’t hold back in showing London’s seedy side.

Miserere by Teresa Frohock

Miserere by Teresa Frohock

Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock
It’s highly misleading that Amazon has this book categorized as Christian lit. Anyone who buys it for that reason will be really surprised/traumatized by this decidedly dark fantasy tale of redemption as forces battle for the boundary between Earth and Hell.

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore
Call this urban fantasy. Call this Los Angeles noire. Call it seriously creepy. Necromancer Eric Carter sees ghosts and can even cross over to the land of the dead. His sister’s murder drags him back home, and it’s not a homecoming with happy balloons and fuzzy unicorns. Nope. Imagine a lot of death and a rather unpleasant marriage.

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
This has about the simplest pitch line ever: Lizzie Borden meets Cthulhu. It features a slow, macabre build-up of tension as nasty creatures from the sea totally justify Lizzie’s handiwork with an axe.

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
James Stark returns from Hell to good ol’ Los Angeles, but Hell (and Heaven) aren’t done with him yet. Kadrey’s writing is visceral and intense. The 7th book in this series recently came out.

 

 


 

 

 
Clockwork Dagger
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN from Harper Voyager.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

SF Linguistics: Aliens Speaking English

Welcome to the first in what I hope will be a series of short rants about a range of topics loosely involving the use (or misuse), consciously or not, of linguistics in science fiction. I’ll delve into some more abstract issues in future posts but today let’s start easy with aliens speaking our language. And here’s the question I want you to ponder:

Why do they all sound the same?

Now sure, you can trot out the old, overused (hey, I’m not judging… much) bit about the aliens learning English from space, listening to our radio and television broadcasts, and that’s why they all speak with British Received Pronunciation or a US Midwestern dialect, depending on whether they had cable or were just watching the major networks. The point behind this thinking is that the aliens that come to visit us all learned to speak based on the same standard dialect, so naturally they all sound alike. Right?

Well, let’s think about that a moment. Look around you and apply that same standard to yourself. Do you sound just like everyone else — your parents, your siblings, your offspring, your co-workers, your friends, your doctor or letter carrier or dry cleaner? No, you don’t. And yet, to some extent you’ve watched those same television shows, grown up inundated by those same standards of speech. Why don’t you sound like them, like everyone else? Why don’t they sound like you? Why don’t they sound like one another?

When you take the time to look at the problem, you quickly see that it’s a lot more complex than just what speech did you (or our hypothetical aliens) imprint on. But I don’t want to put you on the spot, so let’s shift focus to our aliens and consider but a single factor (and trust me, there are many others we could choose from) that may be in play: education

How educated are our aliens? And by this I mean, how educated relative to one another. Assuming they don’t share a hive mind, they have different ranges of experience within their native tongue born out of what they’ve learned. Think about how reading poetry or technical journals or the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs can color a human’s language. Is that going to have an impact on an extraterrestrial’s use of a (to them) alien language?

Now, before you say, “hey, wait a minute, that may be true of their own language, but all the aliens share the same English vocabulary (as acquired from our broadcasts) so none of that should matter.”

Except it does. Because I wasn’t talking about vocabulary, I was talking about language. Whether a result of an advanced degree from a University on Ceti Alpha V or simply the education from the silicon-based lifeform school of hard knocks, experience is going to change the way our aliens use language. Those exposed to poetry may be more florid in their prose or strive to find just the right word or just show a greater tendency to use figurative language. Having a background in peer-reviewed journals or technical manuals may result in an alien who forms simple, unambiguous, and precise sentences in neat little rows, eschewing ambiguity and misunderstanding at every opportunity. And alien lovers of ERB may have acquired a realization that any noun that is worthy of a modifier must surely deserve at least two in a row (or more!) to be complete.

Again, all three of our alien examples acquired their command of English sampling our broadcast signals. But they all potentially bring their own experience, interests, skill sets, values, and so on to their language acquisition. When the dust settles it may be true that they all have access to the same vocabulary, but we should expect wildly different manifestations of how they string their words together. You know, kind of like all the people around you in real life!

The point of this rant is that SF authors shouldn’t have to remember to ask the question “does the captain of the alien ship have the same background/education/experience as the engineer, or the physician, or the cook, or the barber, or the poor bastard in waste reclamation and recycling?” Because the answer is always going to be a resounding “no!” which then sets up the next and much more embarrassing query of “then why do they sound alike?”

And if all of this — asking yourself that one question about one facet of your characters —feels like too much work, well, there’s still always the hive mind to fall back on.

A Handy-Dandy Guide to Literary Halloween Costumes

Halloween is fast approaching! And of course, your friends are tired of you going as Jane Austen or a Sandworm or The Unbearable Lightness of Being. So, presenting five new choices for the literary costume lover:

 

Literary Halloween Costumes - Tina Connolly

Literary Halloween Costumes – Tina Connolly