Tag Archives: scifi

Winning Mars – Jason Stoddard is giving it away

As already noted at T3Aspace and reported by Gareth L. Powell, Jason Stoddard has decided to release an entire unpublished novel for free under a Creative Commons licence. Winning Mars is an expansion of the novella by the same name that appeared in Interzone #196.

Winning Mars by Jason Stoddard

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Jason and I are friends, that he helped me out by building my concrete compound of doom in Second Life for me (and made a fine job of it too), and that I may have started this habit by convincing him to release his short story “Fermi Packet” in a similar fashion.

But in case you’re thinking that means you should take my recommendation with a pinch of salt, bear in mind that as well as being published in Interzone (more than once), he’s also sold short stories to Futurismic, Talebones, Darker Matter and Strange Horizons, among others.

What I’m trying to say is that this guy writes great science fiction, and that Winning Mars will be well worth your time. At this price (you know, like, free), how could it not be? All he asks is that you let him know what you though of it after you’ve read it, positive or negative.

So, what are you waiting for? Download the PDF of Winning Mars now, while stocks last!

[Cross-posted to Futurismic]

Friday Photo Blogging: summer sunsets

Just because I’m a lame photographer doesn’t mean I can’t have a go at the photography clichés … so here is a shot from sunset last Sunday:


If someone reading has the m4d-1337 sk1llz0rz with GIMPshop (not Pshop, I can’t justify that sort of expense), and can tell me how to adjust for overexposure after the fact, please make use of the comments field at the bottom (or email if you’re shy).

Justifying the silence

So, no FPB last week due to the (as yet unexplained) server failure. Personally, it was a very weird experience; this weekly download of my life has become quite a ritual, and it felt very odd not doing it. One less load of waffle for y’all to scroll through, though, so the karmic balance probably works out quite neatly.

Nose to the editorial grindstone

I’ve also been pretty quiet between then and yesterday as far as this blog is concerned, because I’ve been fully engaged in the administrative end of my first stint as fully-fledged reviews editor for Interzone. Sandy Auden has stepped aside (with what sounded suspiciously like a sigh of relief), the training wheels are off, and from now on I have to keep my balance if I want to avoid breaking my nose (or overextending a metaphor).

So I’ve been sorting through the huge list of books that get sent to TTA Press over a two month period, working out which ones to offer to my team. This is less a science than a combination of gut feeling and arcane calculation. We only have so much space to work with, after all. The whittled list is with the reviewers, so now I wait for responses and divvy the titles out next week. It’s a lot more work than it sounds like (honestly, it is), but quite satisfying nonetheless.

(Plus I get to exercise my editorial privilege once again and cherrypick a title I really want to cover … Karl Schroeder’s Queen of Candesce should do nicely, methinks.)

Andy (Ed-in-Chief) also asked me to write an editorial for the next issue, which I have done. I think that’s what’s made the reality of the position sink in – it’s quite scary to think that my opinion on book reviews will be the first thing that people see when they open up Interzone #212. I hope I’ve managed not to sound like a total arse.

Books and magazines seen

OK, a fortnight’s worth of incoming materials. So, magazines first:

  • F&SF August 2007 –  (About a fortnight after the last one. I’ve totally given up trying to predict when these will arrive; the vagueries of the transAtlantic postal system are utterly opaque to me.) I’ve actually read most of it, too; very heavy on the ‘funny’ stories, which aren’t necessarily bad as such, just not really my thing. I enjoyed the Gwyneth Jones, though.
  • Murky Depths #1 – I’d totally forgotten about subscribing to this until it turned up in my letterbox. It’s an interesting idea; a genre fiction mag that takes a mixed media approach. Comic-book size, heavily illustrated, leaning more toward the shorter stories. A bold experiment, from the flick-through I’ve had so far, and I wish it the best of luck.
  • Locus August 2007 – my last issue, I think, as I’m not renewing my subscription. I simply don’t get enough out of it for the money, especially now the prices are higher for postage. Would that I were richer, but so it goes.
  • Vector and Matrix from the BSFA – the former featuring, among a number of far more qualified and erudite commentators, yours truly waffling on about Glorifying Terrorism (the book, not the practice), and my favourite short and long fiction of 2006.

And the books:

  • Dagger Key and Other Stories by Lucius Shepard (ARC) – a bit of a change of pace for me with this latest assignment from Vector. As regular readers will know, I don’t read much fantasy, so Shepard’s work will be an interesting expedition into new pastures. I often read high praise of his work, though, so I’m hoping to be impressed.
  • Halting State by Charles Stross (ARC) – George Walkley at Orbit knows me too well already, I feel! It’s all I can do to not drop my current books-in-progress and tear straight into this title immediately … if I find myself with a spare afternoon, that shred of discipline may dissolve. I get the impression from other reviews that this is the book I’ve been waiting for someone to write.


So, there we are, and here I am. It’s the end of the week, the sun is shining, and my stomach is growling, which by the calculations of any sane person surely means it’s time for The Friday Curry.

So, I’ll bid all and sundry a good weekend – I’m hoping the unusually seasonal weather holds out, myself. Whatever you have planned, I hope it works out well for you. Peace.

Meet Joe Haldeman in Second Life

Just logged in to SL and found a notecard in my inbox that I thought I should share with the science fiction community. Joe Haldeman is doing a book reading in Second Life this Sunday coming:

I’d like to invite you … to a meetup with science-ficiton writer Joe Haldeman [on] Sunday [August] 12th at 9 am SLT [that’s 1pm GMT BST, UK people]. Joe will give a reading from his upcoming novel, “The Accidental Time Machine,” if the voice client is feeling like working Sunday.

If the voice client is not working, we’ll just do the meetup as a text chat.

Either way, Joe will be talking about his novel, science fiction, writing, science, art and more, and answering questions from me and from the audience.

I hope to see you, and your group, there.

— Ziggy Figaro

Landmark to the event location – the Amphitheater at Dr. Dobb’s Island:


I think I’m going to be at a family gathering on Sunday, but if not I shall certainly be logging in. If anyone wants to tag along but is new to SL, drop me an email and we’ll arrange to meet up, or I’ll put you on to someone else who can chaperone you.

Subscription drives alone will not save the short fiction magazines

OK, first off let me make one thing perfectly clear – I do not want to see science fiction and fantasy short story print magazines die off. It is not a thing that would bring me any sort of joy.

Secondly, let me make it clear that Doug Cohen’s suggestion that everyone make a point of subscribing to a short story publication is well-meaning and good-spirited, and that I think anyone who can afford to do so should do exactly that.

(I recommend Interzone, myself, but then I’m biased!)

But I think that subscription drives are a short-term solution that fails to look at the long-term issues.

Where have the readers gone, and why?

Subscription rates are falling; this is undeniable. And the genre needs the short fiction markets to nurture new talent; this is also undeniable.

What we are missing are the cold hard facts. Why are subscriptions to short fiction magazines dropping? Subscription drives are an admirable thing, but until the source of the problem is located, it’s like adding more water to a leaking bucket. We need to find the hole and patch it.

Now, for all I know, the magazine publishers may well be hunting for the leak. I certainly hope so. I know some of them are looking at methods of patching the leak, too, if not already rolling out potential patches and strengthening. This is a good thing.

But what worries me is this; subscription drives may cause an unfounded short-term sense of security. If publishers look at the next twelve months and breathe a sigh of relief, they may not think ahead to the next five years. Beating the wolf away from the door is great, but it would be better to chase him back into the forest.

What should we do to save the short fiction markets?

I don’t have all the answers, sadly. Alhough I have my opinions on futureproofing the genre short fiction scene, which were not universally popular when I announced them, they are only opinions – and they are the opinions of someone who isn’t a publisher of short fiction magazines. In an absence of facts, all I can do is throw theories into the air.

So here’s what I suggest:

Follow Doug Cohen’s advice, and subscribe to a magazine if you can afford to do so.

But while you’re at it, or if you can’t afford to, or even if you don’t want to, get in touch with the magazine publisher and tell them how you feel.

Tell them why you weren’t subbed before, or why you lapsed, or why you’d like to subscribe but can’t (or won’t). Give these people some feedback, and help them find a solid path to a lasting future.

You can’t fix a problem simply by throwing money at it. We need to think smarter than that.

Science fiction is a floating point variable

Ah, the wranglings of the genre; the coincident arrival of a report from a con panel and a new column from esteemed critic Paul Kincaid seems to have revived the perennial ‘what is science fiction’ debate.

In which case, I can’t see any reason that I shouldn’t add my little dose of noise to the signal, and reiterate my belief that science fiction is a floating point variable, not a binary.

A programming metaphor

OK, so that may not make a lot of sense to someone who has never been foolish enough to teach themselves computer programming, so I’ll unpack it a bit.

When you write a computer program, you create variables – little discreet data points which can be assigned a value by the programmer or by various external stimuli. But all variables are not created equal.

A binary variable can have one of two different values: a ‘1’, or a ‘0’, an ‘on’ or an ‘off’. No other options are available. A binary variable is either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. That’s it.

A floating point variable, however, can be assigned any numerical value that can be made to fit inside the amount of memory allocated to it. Positive, negative, large or small – any number whatsoever, even decimal subdivisions thereof.

Can you see where this is going?

The rock music metaphor (again)

OK, so maybe you can’t. Despite the assumptions of outsiders, not all science fiction readers are computer geeks. So, I’ll deploy a metaphor that long-term readers will find familiar (maybe even distressingly so)*.

Long ago, it may have been possible to say that a particular song was a piece of ‘rock music’. It either partook of what were considered to be the tropes of rock music (the then fairly new and strange phenomena of distorted guitars, for example, or the wearing of tight trousers) or it did not.

Nowadays, that simply isn’t the case. The canon has fragmented, and the definition depends on the perspective of the listener and their conception of what the term actually means – a term whose definition has been mangled and stretched by fans, critics, marketing departments and the mass media alike.

Throw in some cliched stereotyping, and the inherently tribal nature of subcultures, and you’ve got a whole raft of cultural schisms on your hands. ‘Rock’ is in the ear of the beholder, you might say – it’s what I point to when I say it, to paraphrase Damon Knight.

Can you see where this is going now? ‘Rock’ was once a binary variable. Something either was rock, or was not rock. Now, it’s a floating point variable – each piece of music partakes of the idea of rock to a certain dgree, be it tiny or huge.

Science fiction is a quality, not an object

For me at least, it’s that simple. A book is not, in and of itself, science fiction. But it may well partake of science-fictionality (science-fiction-ness?) to a lesser or greater extent – and that extent is, at least partly, determined by my perception of the book inquestion, as well as my perception of the canon of works that inform the term ‘science fiction’.

You see? Floating point variable.

And I think the same applies to subdivisions of the genre concept – as, it appears, do several other persons considerably more learned and qualified to pontificate on such matters than me, if the discussion at Torque Control is anything to go by.

The plurality of subcultures

It’s almost like Zeno’s dichotomy paradox – no matter how much you keep dividing the set into two, you’ll never reach the final destination of a concrete definition that puts the item under discussion clearly within the set or beyond it. You can’t make a floating point number into a binary. The genie will not go back into the bottle.

This is just the way culture works. We humans develop an idea, or a concept or label, and we apply it to things. Then, humans being humans, we decide that some of the others don’t have quite the same idea of what the label really means.

And so, back in the sixties, ‘rock’ music split into ‘hard rock’ and ‘heavy metal,’ and so on; bi- and tri-furcating in endless iterations, up to the current point where there are almost as many different genres as there are bands – none of whom are ever happy with the labels that get slapped on them.

If you can’t see the resonance between science fiction literature and that preceding paragraph, then either I’ve failed to explain myself properly, or I’m utterly unhinged in command of a keyboard …

… but, that said, one of the things that appeals to me about science fiction fandom is that I can actually take part in a conversation as abstract and ultimately irrelevant to the fate of the universe as this one, and in all probability have someone take me seriously enough to argue back. And that, as far as I’m concerned, rocks. 😉

[* In the process of fetching that link, I realised that I started that particular rant almost a year ago. Probably time for a rewrite … or at least a reassessment.]