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“Researching the Science in Science Fiction” was probably my favorite panel at FenCon this year. The panel was moderated by William Ledbetter and included Science GoH Marianne Dyson, fellow authors Kristi Hudson (not pictured) and Patrice Sarath (not pictured). Photo credit: C. Stuart Hardwick.
While all the panels were great, I really enjoy discussing the craft of writing. For a sci-fi writer, that often means research. Sometimes it means going down the research rabbit-hole and getting lost. We discussed our own experiences, i.e. how we approach it, as well as the best methods.
Doing research may sound easy. Google is your friend, right? Problem is that everything correct is on the internet; along with everything that is incorrect. The search for facts can be as muddied as the search for truth.
As a writer one must know when to stop. Research is a great way to procrastinate and still pretend that you’re “writing.” Research can also be the death-knell for your premise, your idea, and your story. So how do you handle the story-slayer? Do you write around it? Do you pull out your handwavium and unobtainium? Do you just ignore it? (Think about the sounds that spaceships in Star Wars make in the vacuum of space where sound cannot travel).
Lots of factors come into play, depending on what kind of story you’re writing. There is more rigor in a hard SF story than a soft SF one. Consistency becomes a challenge, as well as knowing how much of your research to include. After all, you did all that work. Hours and hours. Weeks and months and years. The longer you spent toiling away in the research salt-mines, the more you want to include. But that’s not necessarily the best thing for your story.
Only about 10% of what I learn via research makes its way into my stories, even the hard SF ones. It has to be absolutely vital to the story, but more importantly, it has to be something that the viewpoint character knows. I think that including things the viewpoint character cannot possibly know is one of the worst mistakes I see consistently across all genres, not just sci-fi.
Number two would be the dreaded, tension-less, “As you know, Bob” exposition via dialogue. Number three is straight up exposition, usually via author voice. We hashed out some of the best strategies for avoiding not just research pitfalls, but best practices when it comes to incorporating that research into our stories.
I’m hoping FenCon will continue to offer this panel at upcoming conventions, and if you’re an aspiring writer, I hope you’ll attend. I certainly learned a lot from my fellow panelists.
I can’t believe it’s just a few days away, but FenCon XV starts this Friday.
I will be reading from “Bellona’s Gift,” (Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation, edited by Tom Kratman, August 2019). It’s a half hour slot and the opening scene is about half that, so I will also be talking about what it’s like to get to play in someone else’s universe and the origins of this story. The reading starts at 4:30pm in the Pecan Room. Hope to see you there.
The rest of my schedule is:
|Before Their Time: Technologies that didn’t make it (yet)
Saturday 1:00 PM Irving Lecture Hall
|Researching the Science in Science Fiction
Sunday 10:00 AM Irving Lecture Hall
|Outlander Season 3 – Voyages in Time and Space
Sunday 11:00 AM Trinity VI
|2050 & Beyond: Four Futures
Sunday 2:00 PM Irving Lecture Hall
I’m also looking forward to meeting Larry Niven, the guest of honor and getting him to sign Fallen Angels. I remember reading Fallen Angels shortly after it came out. I was working on my physics degree. I was also taking astrophysics at the time (it was my minor). His book had such a profound influence on me (even though at the time I was not part of what one would call “fandom”) that it has stayed with me to this day. Time has proven his mockery of radical environmentalism. It has proven the ignorance of journalists. I can’t wait to meet him. [Note to self: Don’t fangirl. Don’t fangirl. Don’t fangirl.]
Well, it’s official. I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending FenCon XV. Schedule forthcoming, and many thanks to William Ledbetter, the science track director, for the invitation. I’m also working on getting a new publication out in early September just in time for this event.
What is FenCon? Who’ll be there? Why should I go?
Answers below. Hope to see you there!
Join us September 21-23, 2018 at the Westin DFW Airpport. See the hotel link for reservations and directions.
2018 marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Join us as we celebrate 200 years of classic and modern SF! Of course, we’ll have panel programming, concerts, hands-on workshops, and more! All the good stuff that makes FenCon theTexas destination convention!
Oh, and did we mention SCIENCE? You can’t put the “S” in “SF” without it! Oh you could try, but would it be as much fun as FenCon?
Advance memberships are on sale now!
FenCon XV Guests of Honor
As promised, in honor of Father’s Day, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity is live. If you pre-ordered, your eBook is available for download now.
Whether you like science fiction, fantasy, military sci-fi, historical, or contemporary, adventure, humor, interesting characters, or even thought pieces, this anthology has a story for you.
My story, “Cooper” is a tribute to Jeff Cooper, one of the iconic, real-life figures associated with the M1911 and the 45ACP. This story was inspired not just by the idea of a sentient/sapient gun. I also found inspiration in The Wizard of Oz, in the fact that the Tin Man had in him, what he was so desperately seeking–a heart. Like the Tin Man, my protagonist is in search of something he thinks he’s lost.
Scott Bell‘s gritty cop story, “Earning It” explores the meaning of valor and honor. A writer with a unique voice, Scott balances out the grittiness with his trademark humor.
J Trevor Robinson‘s “Let the Chips Fall Where They May” doesn’t give us the “gentlemen thieves” of the typical pop-culture casino heist story. Inspired by his own father, it is instead the story of a commander, a role model, and a father responsible for the lives of so many others.
William C. Burns answers the question “So, what are wizards doing in the 21st century?” in his fantasy, “The Heaven Beasts.”
Michael W. Herbert, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, wrote two stories for this anthology, both based on real life events–one about dealing with rape, and another about defending a gay shipmate. I’m particularly fond of the way he handled both of these controversial subjects. As Michael says, “A mature man does not always know what to do, but he will do what he can to help.”
Richard Paolinelli gives us a dystopian story, “The Last Hunt.” Unlike so many other zombie stories, this one is about one man’s devotion to his duty and his country.
If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, I think you’ll really enjoy Ann Margaret Lewis‘s “The Affair of Miss Finney.” Holmes pursued many dark crimes, but Doyle never addressed the crime of rape. So, how would Holmes deal with the worst crime a woman can suffer?
In “For Man or Beast,” award-winning science fiction author Brad R. Torgersen, plunges us into a story about a future, untamed frontier where we discover that it is about being men and women that makes us essential not just to each other, but to civilization.
In “Bring the Pain,” veteran and writer T. L. “Tom” Knighton, delights and entertains us with a story about a guy who is, quite literally, a tank.
In “The Messenger” Lloyd Behm II makes us cheer for an aging green beret who keeps his oaths, even in a post-apocalyptic world where the US no longer exists.
Marina Fontaine‘s “Picture Imperfect” is set in the near-future dystopia of her Chasing Freedom novel. Her hero is forced to choose between protecting his family and complying with a system that provides him with comfort and power.
Jon Del Arroz‘s military sci-fi adventure, “Compassion,” shows us that we must continue to fight the good fight, to fight for what is right.
Newcomer Jamie Ibson‘s story, “Priorities” takes us into the world of the school resource officer, the cops that investigate offenses involving students and schools.
No speculative fiction anthology would be complete a werewolf story, right? Julie Frost‘s “Man-Made Hell” mixes science-fiction and the supernatural, giving us a character who embodies virtus (the manly virtues) no matter his form.
I’ve been a reader for far longer than I’ve been a writer. Not once, during my most voracious phase as a reader, during those summers spent at the library, did I go, “Hmm, I want to read a book by a/an [insert identity group] writer.”
What I was looking for, was escapism, entertainment. A good story, well told. Interesting characters. Interesting milieu. Romance. Adventure.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I spent a lot of time discussing books with my fellow geeks–and to be honest, if you want to get all PC about it, they were a diverse lot. When it came to reading, they wanted the same things I did.
I didn’t need to have a woman as the protagonist in order to identify with a character. I didn’t need that character to be of the same national origin or race either. Why? Because well-crafted characters (and stories) transcend all those things.
I don’t have to be bisexual for Friday Jones to be one of my favorite of Heinlein’s characters. I don’t have to be a gay sadist to love Augustus (one of the minor characters in R. M. Meluch’s wonderful space opera series, Tour of the Merrimack (6 Book Series)).
Believe it or not, I didn’t pick up my first Honor Harrington novel because it had a woman on the cover–shocker, I know!
I don’t go out seeking stories with protagonists of Romanian, or Hungarian, or Greek, or Italian descent. I don’t seek out stories written by immigrants. Or women. Or any of the “identities” or associations some people would love to pin on me.
That’s one of the reasons I am proud that my short story “Cooper” is part of To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity. You see, there was no requirement that you be a man to submit a story. Or that the story even be from a man’s perspective.
Marina Fontaine, one of my co-authors, put it best, when she wrote:
We were going to give them good stories.
Stories about men as heroes and role models, fathers and mentors, hardened warriors and even fantastic creatures. Men who are interesting, capable and worthy. Characters whom you’d want to meet, to spend time with, to learn from, and whose stories will stay with you after the reading is over.
And just like that, the authors’ gender became irrelevant.
The rest of her excellent article on how this anthology came to be can be read here. Give it a look. And buy the book. See what can happen, when stories are about Story [rather than the author’s identity].
I’m thrilled to announce that the print version of To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity is ready to go, just in time for Father’s Day.
This anthology features the stories of Scott Bell, J Trevor Robinson, William C. Burns, Karina L. Fabian, Michael W. Herbert, Richard Paolinelli, Ann Margaret Lewis, Brad R. Torgersen, C. J. Brightley, T.L. “Tom” Knighton, L.A. Behm II, Marina Fontaine, Jon Del Arroz, Jamie Ibson, Julie Frost, myself, and an essay by Megan Fox.
Tired of stories about men as bumbling idiots? Of fathers as incompetents? Of masculinity as “toxic”?
Tired of misandry?
Ready for some real masculine role models?
Stories about heroes and men who do the right thing? Stories about real men? The kind that provide for their families, love their wives and children, and make sacrifices. And save the world.
A collection of seventeen stories and two essays, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity pays homage to men and masculinity.
Fun. Action-packed. Thought-provoking. Whatever your tastes, you will find enjoyment in these pages.
Each story embraces, in its own way, virtus–the concept of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth.
The sentient Colt 1911 destined for the smelter.
A courageous werewolf who embodies virtus no matter his form.
The wizard raising a family in the 21st century.
Sherlock Holmes’ newfound respect for women.
A future untamed frontier where “women and children first” proves itself a timeless maxim.
The hero who identifies as a M1A2 Abrams tank.
A Vietnam War sailor defending his gay crew mate, because when bullets are flying, only what you do matters.
The police chief in a noir-style world where Fae, dragons, and humans live, love, and break the law.
These stories will delight and entertain you.
Just click on “Shop.”
Both ribbons are in stock, ship out the next business day via 1st class mail, and the price includes S&H as well as sales tax. You must use PayPal.
No, I will NOT be selling them at LibertyCon (or any other con). You have to go through the website (i.e. link above).
As far as I know, they are single use.
So get yours now, and thank you!
I think this is one of those questions that comes up a lot in writing circles. I think a better question is “How do you come up with your characters?” When it comes down to it, stories are not so much about ideas (those are called documentaries) as they are about characters and setting (especially for speculative fiction, which is what I tend to write).
I’ve spent the bulk of last week running around with gun people, some of them old friends, many others new ones. And I have a lot of new character ideas.
Some are a bit cliché, but a cliché is a cliché for a reason. For example, the reporter who pretends to be sympathetic until they get you in front of the camera and then pops off a weasel-worded question that’s so inane, you can’t help but look at him with a “dafuq” expression. BTW, the chances you’ll see a “good” character that’s a reporter in any of my stories is somewhere around less than zero.
I do have new character ideas for a family of shooters, including a 10-year-old kid with more personal responsibility in his little finger than most adults today have in their entire bodies. Absolutely amazing. I wanted to stick superhero capes on him and his older siblings. An absolutely amazing — wait, I already said that, didn’t I — set of people. If the rest of America was like this family, raising their kids this way, we’d have a much better, and very different, country.
Also got to see the entire spectrum of gun owners, from what some consider the “marginalized” populations to the stereotypes, all in the same space, getting along swimmingly, enjoying a shared passion, having a good time. It was wonderful.
Of course, once I write these characters, I fully expect to get all sorts of blowback, i.e. they’re unrealistic, but I don’t care.
I know the truth.