Tag Archives: dystopian

Writing: To Shine or Not to Shine

It’s been a while since I posted anything on my own writing. Partly because I’m in a slow stage and partly because well, I guess because I’ve been plugging at one story for a bit and revisiting an old novel. Earlier this year I polished up the long running story (long running in that it took me 15 years to write) and sent it off to the Shine anthology being edited by Jetse de Vries in the Netherlands.

It’s an intriguing anthology because the point is that the future is bright, not the dystopian worlds so often shown in SF and fantasy, and especially in short stories. The subgenre (or maybe getting back to the grassroots genre) of “mundane SF” looks at the world within the next 50 years, on our planet (mostly) and with a possible, believable extrapolation of future science and technologies. No bug-eyed aliens, no extra worlds or space-faring races.

For Jetse’s anthology, he also wanted a future world that was better than this one. My world starts out worse but with a hopefully uplifting future, so it didn’t fit. But there have been discussions of late, on the SF Canada writers’ list, as well as at Worldcon about all the dystopian SF that’s being written. How, some editors were asked, do you get people to write something uplifting that takes place in the near future?

A good question and I think one reason we are writing so much dystopian fiction is because of the inundation our culture receives of news stories about the terror and horror and pollution and the fall of civilization. In some ways, today is no worse than it was fifty years ago. In other ways, it is worse. There are more pollutants, more severe forms of crime (even if there is less crime), more illnesses and allergies. Or is there? Some yes, but we have 24-hour news channels, and as they say, no news is good news.

With the constant fear-mongering, the visuals of graphic crimes, the devastating natural disasters, the “wars on terror” we find our mindset dwelling on THE END, or the present and how to survive it. We have no faith of a good future. We have no pretense that there will be endless resources. We’ll run out of water, oil, food and space. So how indeed do we write utopian fiction?

This discussion and Jetse’s comment to me has got me thinking. My own fiction is often dark but not always. Yet I’ve never sold the two humorous pieces I’ve written, but then they’re fantasy more than SF. Still, part of bringing our future, our tangible world to a brighter place is to not succumb to the gloom and despair but to hope and work towards a dream, not a nightmare. I’ll consider this as I write some of my future fiction.

So with that in mind, Jetse de Vries is planning some contests for the pre-release of his anthology, Shine. Here is what he said:

 

Shine is slated for an early 2010 release, and until that time I will keep several features (‘Optimistic SG around the World’, ‘Music that Makes You Feel Optimistic’, etc.) running on the Shine blog, while adding new ones. 

First, I will be running a number of stories that came very close, but didn’t make the final cut for a variety of reasons (I’ve tried to walk the tightrope of getting maximum quality while also obtaining great variety in tone, content, characters and setting). This to promote Shine and optimistic SF in general. I’ll probably be setting up a new site for that.

Second, I will be holding a competition where people need to guess the correct ending of a certain paragraph—choosing from four alternatives: three bogus, one real—and this for 16 paragraphs, each from one of the 16 accepted Shine stories. Extra points for guessing who the author is. I’m working on interesting prizes. Depending on the actual launch date of Shine, I intend to hold this competition in November or December 2009.

Jetse de Vries
Editor, SHINE anthology & OUTSHINE Twitterzine

 OUTSHINE guidelines: http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/outshine-submission-guidelines/  Shine: http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/ Personal blog: http://eclipticplane.blogspot.com/

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Defining Science Fiction

There has long been a battle, an attitude, a snobbery in the writing world where literary or mainstream fiction is real writing, and all that “genre” fiction is done by hacks and of little merit in the tales of the world. Anyone who writes in a genre knows this and has felt it. But what is a genre? It is the categorizing of a novel or story by some of its strongest elements.

No longer in favor but once very popular were westerns. They obviously took place in a time of the Wild West where cowboys and indians ran amok and pioneers struggled to survive while men maddened by gold-rush fever lived little better than animals. Romances are tales about love and obstacles to happiness, and almost always have the predictable ending of the man and woman (or man and man, woman and woman) finding each other. But the tales of how they get there are varied. Harlequin books has one of the most steady sell-throughs of any publisher. Publishing romances is a good business.

Erotica is obviously taking content into a more sensual or erotic tone. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, have elements integral to the story and were those elements removed the story wouldn’t hold up. Horror also fell into disfavor and is better known as dark fantasy these days. Still, there are blends of tales that aren’t all one thing. There are stories that are erotic and science fiction, western romances, literary fantasy, magic realism and politics (actually that one is a typical mix), and then there are literary, erotic, science fiction tales.

I wrote one story, “Hold Back the Night,” which I called my literary, lesbian, erotic vampire story. Vampire was never mentioned in the tale and it dealt with the wife burnings that happen in India. But labeling fiction is what we do; we the readers, we the writers and we the publishers. Publishers choose genres so that they can market to a specific demographic mindset. We’ll sell more of these books if we make it look like a cookbook or a romance and market to those people specifically interested in this. Publishers hate books that don’t fit in the neat categories.

Most of all they want to market books in mainstream, literary fiction because it is the largest readership and therefore the biggest sales. Writers of course would love the same. Readers can be a bit like sheept and think that if they only like a mystery book, they’ll never look in the romance section, but then there are thousands of books to look through so it can be difficult to find them. So, in mainstream, the more sales the more money, and the more awards available than in a specified category. A book that can’t fit into a category, or a story, may not be bought for a long time. I have a story that is not quite fantasy, and not quite mainstream and will circulate for a long time because it falls into the cracks.

But genres cause their own problems and as we see, narrow the readership. Many stories are not all of one shade. So Margaret Atwood, multi-award winner, always says she doesn’t write science fiction, yet some of her books extrapolate into a near future and ask what if. Seems pretty science fiction to me, many other writers, and readers. Yet she denies. Ursula Le Guin, multi-award winner writer of SF disagrees with Atwood’s view.

Le Guin gives an intriguing review of The Year of the Flood, which takes place after the events in Oryx and Crake. Both of these books are nearish future, with a crumbling of society, dystopian novels, because that’s what Atwood does best. But yet, she, like many of the literati, those who hold themselves above mere genre writers, says it’s not science fiction. And I must ask, what’s she afraid of, or is her viewpoint so narrow that in fact she only sees science fiction as squids in space?

Le Guin and Atwood are giants in their own rights, both award-winning authors whose stories span boundaries in some ways. Speculative fiction (an all-encompassing term for horror, fantasy, science fiction and really, literary fiction as well) doesn’t have to be shallow and it often looks at worlds and attitudes and how people change in regards to the pressures of life, species, invasion, change and technology–very valid commentary into our humanity, or inhumanity. So perhaps Atwood needs to accept that she has a narrow viewpoint of SF, get down from the pedestal and just accept that she writes it, sometimes. It’s not like it will hurt her rep, but the adamant head in the sand denial still doesn’t change that she writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it. Maybe she just hates the labels and codifying of writing.

I have not read The Year of the Flood, though I did read Oryx and Crake and where I felt it was a long setup for the story that wasn’t in the book, maybe Year is that story. And maybe not. For a very thought-provoking review by Ursula Le Guin of Atwood’s book, click on the link and be your own judge. And read the book, or read Le Guin’s books and see if the literary writer outweighs the SF writer. In the end, do you think Atwood writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it?

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/29/margaret-atwood-year-of-flood

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Waterpod and Floating Villages

Awhile back I posted an article on the Freedom Ship, basically a floating condominium that would tour the world. Ritzy, high end, super expensive and still a pipe dream ten years after the first idea hit the blueprints. 

And interestingly enough I finished writing a story this year that took fifteen years to finish. It takes place around New York, where people live on and farm barges in a very near future where pollution and toxic waste have poisoned a lot of the land. Impossible? Maybe but the idea came to me because of the prison barge that is docked on one of Manhattan’s shores, as well as the stories in the past of the boat people, immigrants not allowed to dock anywhere and having to live on the boats in which they escaped their native countries.

The movie Waterworld was pretty much a dystopian, road warrior style movie where people lived on ships because there was so little land. These ships seemed to be filled with crazy people and pirates and when we get down to it in a world where resources are limited, will only our bestial natures surface?

So is my idea and the Freedom Ship too farfetched to be true? Maybe. But I certainly don’t want my vision to be true. However, there are other visionaries today who are looking at old barges and ships and rethinking their uses. These people are looking to a future 50 to 100 years from now.

The Waterpod, is a barge that’s been refitted and made as a floating artists’ colony. This barge is waterpod2being towed from spot to spot on the Hudson and to each of New York’s boroughs. But it’s not just a bunch of artists floating on the river. It’s been made to be sustainable, to recycle and to provide a living space. Water is purified from the Hudson River, as well as utilizing grey water recycling. Hydroponics are set up to grown edible plants. A composting toilet is being used but must be able to compost waste from six people. Waterpod relies on its own power sources such as a vertical wind turbine, solar PV panels, bicycle power, and a picohydro system. The hybrid solar/wind system will be their main source of power, along with some marine batteries.

The floating habitat has chickens for eggs (and maybe protein but I’m not sure if they’re butchering). A “rocket” wood-burning stove will be used for cooking. It’s supposed to be super efficient but I’m unclear as to where they would get the wood if self-sustainable. This pod was only launched in June so some of these issues will be worked out as the barge continues its journey.

As well the Waterpod will have lectures, discussions, workshops, performances, shows, and other exhibitions. It is meant to entertain, educate and provoke discussions on sustainable living as the world becomes more overpopulated and renewable resources become limited. Science fiction or science in spite of fiction? The pod people, those involved in making this idea a workable and interactive system are many. Mary Mattingly a visual artist and photographer first conceived of the Waterpod in 2007. Her photographs are ethereal, beautiful and intriguing. http://www.marymattingly.com/ But to realize this idea took many people.

The website for the Waterpod project is extensive, with pages of information, a blog, a calendar of events and shows (and links to the artist websites), a progress report and schedule and the vision waterpod1of this project. My story was a what-if, that also took place around New York. Freedom Ship is a what-if that may never work. The Waterpod is a reality. It floats, there are people living on it, raising chickens and plants, purifying their water and composting, and holding interactive shows and performances on something made of recycled materials. Even the barge was an old piece of junk that was refitted.

 If nothing else the pod people of Waterpod are looking at various ways to work with and adapt to our changing environment. They have a lot of supporters and donors right now and the pod was only launched in June. In the future we could see more of these pods as people look for affordable living spaces.

http://www.thewaterpod.org/about.html  (Images are borrowed from Waterpod’s site.)

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