Science fiction – have we forgotten what it should be?

susannahjbell:

Am I not a science fiction writer after all?

Originally posted on Nail Your Novel:

Pioneer-10-and-11-plaqueWhat makes a story science fiction? Is it an otherworldly location, the science, the time in which it is set?

I’m thinking about this because of a review I saw this week of a novel billed in The Times as science fiction, which sounded rather disappointing – and it’s put me on a bit of a mission.

I haven’t read the book so it would be wrong of me to name it, but it concerned a new planet populated by humanlike aliens. The main threads are the bringing of God to the indigenous people, and the exploitation of its resources by mining companies.

It seemed this story could have been set anywhere. The human challenges were no different from those in a historical novel. The other-world setting didn’t add anything fresh, except maybe to save the writer some research. (I see a lot of science fiction – and fantasy –…

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Accidently got my new book published on Super Thursday!

I wasn’t trying to get V.GOMENZI published on Super Thursday – I didn’t even know the date!  I had dimly thought about it, but then decided it was a marketing gimmick that wouldn’t do me any favours.  After all, I’m only a completely unknown self-pubbed author.  Whose going to notice?!  I decided to try out Amazon’s pre-order facility instead and picked 3rd November as publication day, mostly because I happen to have taken the day off from work that day and also, it gives people a chance to find out about my “Meet the Author” event on Face Book.  If it sounds like I’m doing hardcore marketing stuff, you’d be right:  I’ve failed dismally so far at promoting my work so thought I’d have a go at it this way.  I really, really don’t like this marketing business.  The main reason I write is because I find it difficult to engage with people – not because I don’t like them, but because I’m crippled with shyness.  It’s interesting that when I hang out with my teenage daughter, I’m hysterically funny, super witty and can act out anything.  This side of me is never seen otherwise!  But I digress:  V.GOMENZI is an enormous novel.  It took several years to write and I’ve recently done a huge edit PLUS a complete rewrite of the first chapter (which recently troubled me so much.)  I’m utterly thrilled that it’s finally out there.  I’m also quite drained after the months of hard work…..really looking forward to that day off!

You can pre-order here:  V.GOMENZI

Meet the Author on 3rd November:  FaceBook Event

What’s wrong with Doctor Who?

I’ve tried really hard to like the new series.  In the most recent episode, however, I found myself wandering off to the kitchen to get more chocolate.  I was that bored.  I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it.  Is it the new Doctor?  Peter Capaldi’s Doctor doesn’t seem that well-defined.  Or he isn’t to me.  He isn’t particularly likeable and his words and intentions seem to lack clarity.  I might have been able to put up with him, though, if it wasn’t for Clara.  God, I hate her.  She has to be the worst companion ever.  She may be pretty, young and thin.  But that’s all she is.  She has no character to speak of and her life is of no interest to me whatsoever.  She was at her ghastliest in The Caretaker with the boring boyfriend and the Doctor’s misunderstanding – so seriously not funny.  Really not funny.  Not even interesting.  It might just be the writing that is paltry but it’s also the acting.  Compare Rory who was brilliant.  In fact, it’s hard not to compare ClaraDanny with AmyRory – this has been done.  Why is it being done again?  And so badly too.  My favourite companions have been the ones who didn’t fancy the doctor.  Donna didn’t and please note, she wasn’t in her twenties and wasn’t super-thin.  She was normal.  She was funny.  She didn’t take any bullshit and didn’t bat her stupid eyelashes at him.  Clara might have a boyfriend now but she is still vapid.  It isn’t enough to be pretty.  She wasn’t interesting when she was impossible and she still isn’t.  Her story arc is unfolding like a shit soap.  Since she her arrival, the writing has become tired and the direction limp.  Doctor Who seems to be eating itself up with derivative, cannibalistic plots.  It’s become the Downton Abbey of sci-fi.

Another reason for loathing Clara is that apparently she is to blame for the Doctor’s mental state.  In Listen, it’s Clara who tells the Doctor as a child that fear will always be with him.  My 14 y.o. thought that was horrible.  What a way to screw up someone.

And yes, I know I’m treading on toes.  I know Clara is popular.  She’s pretty, she’s scared.  She’s courageous.  What’s not to like.  I’d rather have outrageous, like River Song, but that’s another story….[see interesting blog link below]

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/01/the-problem-with-river-song-doctor-who

What do you do when you realise you are a terrible writer

Give up?  Start over?  Get a job stacking shelves in some shitty supermarket?  Turn into the dull, grey, dying-inside person you’re afraid of?

I’ve spent all summer editing.  Both the third and fourth Fleet Quintet novels were already written but needed work.  I deliberately didn’t get a summer contract so that I could concentrate on this, without distraction.  (I also had a health problem to overcome.)  This has meant a very long summer with very little money and quite a dreary time of it in over-baked London.

Only one section of V. Gomenzi really needed work, while Commences needed quite a lot of re-shaping.  Now that it’s officially the fourth Fleet novel and not the first, there could be more revelations and explanations.  This really helped what had always been a difficult and obfuscated story.  Finally I was done editing and formatting (unbelievably tiresome but it has to be done) and could get on with the final step:  proofreading V. Gomenzi.  The best way, I’ve found, to approach a novel freshly is to send it to myself on Kindle and read it there.  The novel looks quite different to a computer screen and errors leap out at you very quickly.

I began proofing today but didn’t get very far as I realised – with horror – that the first chapter is terrible.  It’s heavy and overwritten and slow and dull dull dull.  How could I not have noticed this?  Is the rest of the novel like this?  Years and years of working on this, on countless drafts, countless reworkings.  I thought it was my best work, the most mature, the most complex, the most defined – and it’s SLUDGE?

Worse than perceiving myself to be a failure of a writer is that there are SO MANY bad writers, traditionally published and self-pubbed.  In the latter sector, only porn makes money. There was once honour in being a failed writer – they were always the most interesting, the most tortured characters in murder mysteries.  What is the point of a bad writer now?  Or doesn’t it matter if you think no one is going to read it anyway??

Firefly vs Defiance

I wouldn’t normally compare two sci-fi series.  After all, the genre is big enough to encompass so many styles that there is something for everyone, but the SyFy Channel parked these two series alongside each other at peak viewing time and it was impossible not to find the one better than the other.  I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Firefly, considering that I used to be a huge Buffy fan.  Why was it cancelled?  It’s excellent stuff.  And WAY better than Defiance which is, admittedly, in a different sci-fi category altogether.  It’s interesting how the words “mass appeal” are akin to “brain-dead crud.”  I tried to like it, I really did, but it’s just not smart enough.

PS  I’ve been checking to see what Joss Whedon has been up to recently and he seems to have been working on something called Agents of SHIELD.  Looks interesting.  Why don’t we get that?  Or is it on a channel I don’t get?  I’ll have to wait for it to get old so that it can turn up on SyFy.

Elation and Revelation

A loaded gun won’t set you free (Moby cover)

It’s rare in a writer’s life that it happens:  a moment that is so beyond coincidence it would seem you are connected with the Truly Divine.

Not to appear too slack, I thought I’d work on two novels over the summer, instead of just the one.  I plan to publish the third Fleet novel, V.Gomenzi, in October and was well on track, having already made extensive notes to get it into shape.  I realised at a particular point that the fourth Fleet novel, Commences, has scenes that run very closely to V.Gomenzi.  All four Fleet novels run in parallel, like train tracks, but sometimes those tracks veer so close that they overlap.  When bumps began to appear in the overlaps between V.Gomenzi and Commences, I decided to work on Commences as well – and to publish TWO novels in October.

Commences, however, needs a lot more work.  I wrote about it here some time ago and remember how disappointed I felt when submitting it to Authonomy (what a stupid waste of time that turned out to be.)  Quite a lot has happened since then!  I began making notes for Commences while working on V.Gomenzi and in a flash of inspiration, mentally restructured the entire novel to make it more accessible.  This week I began to Big Read and have made further notes.  Many, many notes.

The novel is still patchy and there were times when I thought how tired I was of this novel.  I’ve been working on it, off and on, for nearly two decades.  There are parts of it that have no interest for me.  Until about a third of a way when suddenly I found myself looking forward to the daily Big Read, when I couldn’t wait to sit down and get to the next few chapters.  It may be patchy, it may need work, it may need reconstruction, deconstruction, reshuffling of chapters, an entire section rewritten in the first person, a wholly recreated denouement, a whiff of a character jacked up to full main character status…….but – wow – there’s some magic here that I had forgotten.  There is power here that amazes me and I’m the bloody writer.

And then, this morning, I was wondering to myself – just as I sat down to begin my next Big Read session, armed with barley cup and every single window open to the broiling hot summer – what music goes with this novel?  Every novel I write seems to have acquired a soundtrack, music that I listen to so often during the pre- and post-writing, that it becomes part of the novel.  Oh, how about this one, I thought, randomly selecting the Heat soundtrack.  Off it went until it reached Moby’s New Dawn Fades, which I utterly love.  A loaded gun won’t set you free.  Then it was time to do some work.

The section I read today sees the formation of the most evil character in the Fleet Quintet.  There’s no mention of him in Transference, a brief glimpse of him – unacknowledged – in Flesh for Sale, and a hint of a lot more to come in V.Gomenzi.  In the fifth Fleet novel, the Huge Showdown obviously involves him, and the set-up begins here.  The six consecutive chapters in Commences that deal with this character are filled with the most unspeakable violence – though not the usual comic-book TV violence – and the most unspeakable pain and fear and disappointment and unrequited love.  Revelation comes towards the end of this section when he has a stray though:  “No, a loaded gun won’t set you free.”

It’s not the fact that I’ve pinched this line (and yes, I will change it), it’s the fact that I had already selected a soundtrack for this novel and I had forgotten it and the day I decided to find a soundtrack was the day that I found the lyric staring at me from the pages I had written exactly five years ago.

This is beyond coincidence.  This is elation.  Commences is the novel that set me free as a writer.  It just took twenty years to get it.

 

ps.  Okay, so this is just too fucking weird for words:  I just went and found the YouTube link for Moby (so you can listen to New Dawn Fades too) and the picture on the video IS MY SCREENSAVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am made from gossamer and the wind is howling

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled to write anything as hard as “Experienced.”  I even wondered if I had writer’s block or if I just too stressed to write or was perhaps even all written out.  I thought I might be losing my touch until I remembered how easily (and how recently) I’d been able to write “Woken” and the final story for the first volume of The Exodus Sequence.

Writing “Woken” was a writer’s dream:  most of it was written during that unbelievably hot bit of the summer last year which made the creation of a love story burning with desire really quite remarkably easy to write.  The summer was still going strong when I got the freezing cold parts of the south pole – a huge relief after all that sweat and heat and passion.  The story itself seem to fall from my fingers.  I had no trouble at all getting inside the head of the main character.  I could feel everything he felt, quite literally, as it’s a very tactile tale.

The final story for the Exodus Sequence (the title remains under wraps until I publish it) was quite different – much more starkly written after the lush, slightly overblown fantasy style of “Woken.”  The main character was female and couldn’t have been more different.  It took a couple of goes but I found her “voice” quite quickly.   She couldn’t have been further removed from Meridian and Nimue in “Woken” who were both sharp and intelligent and extremely sensitive.

Having produced these two stories with such ease left me feeling quite confident – it seemed time at last to tackle “Experienced.”  I had started it at least a year before but abandoned it soon after the main character reaches the Circle.  I knew exactly where the story was going but didn’t know how to get there.  Also, I wanted it to be a series of drug trips (though not the sort of drug you find on Earth, you understand), yet I seemed to be writing everything BUT the trips.  Also, the fact that it went through several title changes didn’t bode well – this seemed to tell me that I didn’t really know what the story was about, which rather unnerved me (I ALWAYS know what my stories are about, though readers might not.)

Having taken time off work especially to work on “Experienced,” it soon became a harrowing ordeal.  I restarted it about seven times.  I changed the third person to first person (disregarding the opening few pages which is in, er, actually I don’t what it’s called – when you write as if in the first person but use “you” instead of “I.”  Perhaps some clever soul can tell me what that is…) and then rewrote what I’d written several times – and STILL I could not find the main character’s voice.  This was soul destroying as this is the most important character in the entire Exodus Sequence.  He is, truly, the main character.  He’s the one it’s all about.  And his voice inside my head was silent….

…..which made me realise (at last) that he was silent.  He was the one that never spoke.  Things took off from there – finally – though it was still difficult.  The ending, just as in the beginning, was rewritten several times too before I got it right.  And throughout the entire story, all I wanted to do was write the ending.  It was the most important part.  For me, it was the most powerful.  Nearly twenty thousand words to get to the last sentence.  When I was done, though, at last, I felt elated.  It was a day when everything went right, when the world was a beautiful, sunny place, when I was happy and joyous and loved everyone –

It’s been two weeks since that lovely day and my life has CRASHED around me.  Three days later, I had just managed to work out that I might have a computer virus when my broadband died.  A day later, after the Virgin engineer had been, I found the virus and killed it (hopefully.)  I also had to battle the housing benefit office (a battle that is STILL ongoing), the taxman sent me a demand for my next assessment, the shoulder specialist told me that the only way I was going to have a pain-free life was to have a ghastly operation (no thanks), and I got my head bitten off by the H & S guy at work which caused untold problems when I complained (bravely, I thought.)

Some weird stuff is going on here.  I finish the most difficult story I have ever written, feel real joy for the first time in a VERY long time and then my life collapses uncontrollably.  I’m left feeling I can’t cope with anything, that I’m utterly all alone, I cannot speak because no one can hear me – who does this sound like?  The main character – he who does not speak – from “Experienced.”  It wasn’t that I couldn’t find his voice, it was that his voice was mine.  I was writing a character that was too close to me.  I’ve struggled with this before but here, at least, I can take heart because the last character that was essentially me was Vincent Gomenzi and in the end, I got him right.  It took me two gruelling years but I got a nearly-full first draft down after ten thousand edits (and another one to come this summer when I get it into a publishable state!)  But still.  I am made of gossamer and the wind is howling.

I’ve published “Experienced” free on my website for all to read.  It’s still needs work, not least some paring down of the more lumpen bits.  That elation has long, long gone.  I have almost no confidence at all in this story now and my life continues in the kind of chaos I can’t deal with (much ostriching). I would be delighted if any of my blog followers could comment on “Experienced.”

http://www.susannahjbell.com/short-story-experienced.html