Shineanthology’s Weblog

An anthology of optimistic, near future SF

Archive for February, 2009

The Week in Tweet, Week 8

Where @outshine teleports across the Twitterverse:

Tuesday February 17:

[Ed] I was so knackered yesterday that I forgot to put up your Quote for the Monday. I ask forgiveness, and here it is (in the next tweet):

“I don’t consider it an insult but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I don’t pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure.”

[Source] Clarence Darrow (1857 – 1938)/U.S. lawyer/Speech at the trial of John Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee.

[Ed] Outshine slush stats: 36 subs in week 7; 19 by men, 17 by women. 3 acceptances. Word to the wise: I’m in dire need of humourous ones!

The high-tide mark for histrionic emo-pomp; theatrically shallow, overwrought and overwritten. Painful, but your angsty teen will love it.

[#SoundBytes] Bone Palace Ballet: Grand Coda by CHIODOS – http://www.chiodos.net/ Warner Bros. Records – http://www.warnerbrosrecord

Wednesday February 18:

She blew into the lab like the warm breath of an approaching storm, holding the secret of physical immortality in a simple glass test tube.

[Bio] Gareth Lyn Powell has appeared three times in Interzone and his first collection is available from Elastic Press. http://is.gd/fLAx

Thursday February 19:

Jared Padalecki is out-acted by his pecs—this movie proves that Michael Bay, Producer is the same mark of quality as Michael Bay, Director.

[#Spitballs] Friday the 13th/Directed by Michael Bay/ http://is.gd/h8ey

Friday February 20:

[Quote for the Friday] “When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.”

[Source] Henny Youngman (1906-1998)/American comedian.

Saturday February 21:

The shoes’ nanoturbines charge up all my gear as I walk./Nice. How much?/Free, as in beer: you donate excess electricity back into the grid.

[Bio] Tony Noland is @TheFunGuy. He writes fiction and non-fiction in Philadelphia. Follow his writing blog at http://is.gd/eK5R

Sunday February 22:

Out of the battery box and into a light and amusing done-in-one adventure, this time it’s E-Man facing down idol-possessed Nova. Fun!

[#ShineComics] E-MAN: CURSE OF THE IDOL by Nicola Cuti, Joe Staton & Randy Buccini (story), Joe Staton (art); Digital Webbing, 2009.

Enjoy!

Kindred Spirits, part 3

It’s been quiet a while on this topic, but recently I chanced upon two (or three, depending on your viewpoint; make that five as news develops…;-) kindred spirits:

  • Author Mat Coward has a new website. He has posted the first two chapters of his novel Acts of Destruction on it, and I would especially point writers thinking about submitting a story to the Shine anthology to read them. I most particularly like the world-building Mat is doing in there: a future where a more sustainable kind of living has taken place, purely out of necessity. (Disclaimer: this is just one example of the kind of world-building I think works very well for Shine. But for Pete’s sake don’t copy Mat’s writing style and ideas: do it your own way. This is a good signpost).
  • (Via John Klima): Positively Good Reads, feel-good fiction with substance. Or, as the site has it, an upbeat reading list for people who often find serious novels depressing. OK: this list is about literature. But it seems that — when Marianne Goss has written an article in the Chicago Sun-Times called “Literary fiction doesn’t always have to be downbeat” — they have a similar imbalance between down- and upbeat fiction.
  • Vincent Chong has a new website. OK, while he provided artwork for a broad range of works (not specifically optimistic), Vinny is simply very good and his new site is spiffy. Check it out!
  • UPDATE ONE (via Twitter): the Spring 2009 issue of h+ magazine is out. H+ is definitely a kindred spirit, with articles and features like  “Is the future cancelled or just postponed” — on page 32, Howard Bloom on space-based solar collectors on page 44, “5 paths to unlimited solar energy” on page 48 (even though it echoes a New Scientist article on that of a few months ago), “What do we do about water” on page 52 (Clean H2O will become a sought-after resource), “Nanotechnology, for better or worse” on page 56 (by coincidence — or not — a Prometheus book  Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for Biotech Revolution is next on my reading list), “First steps towards postscarcity’ — on page 38 or ‘why the current financial crisis is the end of the world as we know it (and why you should feel fine)’ — and “Five positive science fiction novels’ — on page 67:  — both the latter pieces by Jason Stoddard. Also a Peter Watts interview and pieces featuring Vernor Vinge and John Shirley. Another new magazine venture that  is web-based, free and thus full of ads: I hope it succeeds, even though an article about “Things to do with your body while you wait for immortality” might even be a bit too optimistic;
  • UPDATE TWO (via Edinburgh Whisky Blog — post titled “Whisky and Optimism“: what more do you want? — via Twitter): Compass Box Whisky have made a special whisky called Optimism. Inadvertently mimicking SF, it’s very special and very limited: 170 bottles only, available at Whisky Live London today & yesterday (February 27/28), bottled on location. Get yours while supplies last! The main message of the optimism project is to ‘be brave, be optimistic and envision wild success‘. I stand behind that!

optimism-whisky

The Week in Tweet, Week 7

As @outshine continues to be a beacon in the Twitterian maelstrom:

MondayFebruary 9:

[Quote for the Monday] “The best that an individual can do is to concentrate on what he or she can do, in the course of a burning effort to do it better.”

[Source] Elizabeth Bowen (1899 – 1973)/Irish novelist and short-story writer/Seven Winters.

Tuesday February 10:

[Ed] Outshine slush stats: 22 subs in week 6; 12 by men, 10 by women. 2 acceptances. Cruising along: don’t be afraid to send something!

Post-rock, poetry and paranoia meet up to talk drunken malice and dark deeds dreamt. A portrait gallery in brittle guitar and spoken word.

[#SoundBytes] Tundra by Enablers http://www.enablerssf.com/ / Exile on Mainstream Records / http://www.mainstreamrecord…

Wednesday February 11:

Anxiety: heart pounding, I scream. Mommy comes and gives picopill. Now, NanoGargoyle guards dreams: no more nightmares. Sound sleep. Peace.

[Bio] MD, writer, co-editor in French SF mag GALAXIES. Spends too much time dreaming and her house is always a mess. http://is.gd/gdmv

Thursday February 12:

A Lifetime movie passing as a horror flick about two sisters who wear bikinis and bicker a lot. Unexciting, uninvolving, and unendurable.

[#Spitballs] The Uninvited/Directed by Charles & Thomas Guard/ http://is.gd/jkrG

Friday February 13:

[Quote for the Friday] “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes. It’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it.”

[Source] John Belushi (1949 – 1982)/U.S. actor and comedian/As Jake Blues/The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Landis).

Saturday February 14:

He kicks his shoes off the cliff: “Good riddance—not planning to land. Ever.” His new design wings gleam in the sun, as his stomach grumbles

[Bio] Grant Stone lives in New Zealand. Which is handy, since that’s where all his stuff is. http://d1sc0r0b0t.blogspot

Sunday February 15:

[Ed] Announcing a graphic novels review feature by David Alexander McDonald called ShineComics. First review after this!

Flash cards of the Apocalypse: by turns brilliant, frustrating, surreal, confusing, polarizing and challenging, the DCU as magician’s work.

[#ShineComics] FINAL CRISIS 1-7, SUPERMAN BEYOND 3D 1-2 by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, et al; DC Comics 2008-2009 / http://twurl.nl/t7ajcm

Now there is a crazy project in the works — let’s call it a Saturday Night Special for the moment — that, if it comes to fruition, will blow some minds into tweet ecstasy. Watch this space, or @outshine or @shineanthology

Good news from around the Globe, part 3

Where we keep trying to show the other — often neglected — side of the coin.

untitled

First, a simple process that turns raw plant material into fuel (via the tweet feed of Green Options, who linked me to Gas 2.0 ). I realise that biofuels are controversial, and I personally agree that turning edible food into fuel while many people around the world still starve is madness (not to mention the amount of food that is thrown away in the west). However, if we can turn the non-edible parts of crops into fuel, then it might become interesting.

frog-westernghats

Second, while climate changes is causing species extinction on the one side, we still find unexpected biodiversity: 12 frog species discovered in India (also via Green Options).

dynamo-gadget

Third — via New Scientist — a personal dynamo gadget for power-depraved countries such as in sub-Saharan Africa that can feed cellphones, which are increasingly becoming key to economic activity in many areas around the world with poor infrastucture.

locales

Fourth, filed under civil disobedience, green version, local residents of San Francisco, Mexico stage a sit-in to halt the destruction of local trees.

mit_shockabsorbersFifth, MIT undergraduates develop a shock absorber that generates energy. Basically the heat from the absorbed shocks is fed back, and this can save up to 10% of fuel, especially on trucks.

entangled-h-images

Sixth, researchers demonstrate ‘quantum data buffering’ scheme. The quantum computer comes closer, step by step, day by day. Obviously, it’s a tool, not something evil or good from itself: like the internet, it’s how we use it. As an optimist, I think the good uses will overcome the bad.

Finally, a few days after the 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, a post about ‘survival of the weakest‘. This not to say — as New Scientist did, somewhat tongue in cheek in the lead article of their January 21, 2006 issue — that Darwin was wrong, but to highlight that evolution is not just a simple ‘survival of the fittest’, but a highly complex, dynamic and highly interesting process.

UPDATE: A new gang comes to Los Angeles: Solar-Panel Installers. This is the kind of synergy I love.

The Week in Tweet, Week 6

A bit late due to some less happy tidings in my personal life, here’s the ongoing saga of @outshine on Twitter:

MondayFebruary 2:

[Ed] Outshine slush stats: 24 subs in week 5; 12 by men, 12 by women. 2 acceptances, 1 rewrite request. Some hard choices.

[Quote for the Monday] “To achieve great things we must live as though we were never going to die.”

[Source] Vauvenargues (1715 – 1747)/French soldier and moralist/Réflexions et maximes.

Tuesday February 3:

[Ed] New feature starting today: @PaulGrahamRaven ‘s SoundBytes: music review tweet every Tuesday.

[Ed] Also, suggest albums @PaulGrahamRaven should review, especially those with an SF flavour (tweet Paul or email me: http://is.gd/fywS ).

Mars Volta guitarist skiving the day-job; a hyper-prog maelstrom of frantic rhythms and mangled guitar tones. Wear a helmet while listening.

[#SoundBytes] Old Money by Omar Rodríguez-López / Stone’s Throw Records / http://www.stonesthrow.com/

[Ed] Outshine slush stats: 24 subs in week 5; 12 by men, 12 by women. 2 acceptances, 1 rewrite request. Some hard choices.

Wednesday February 4:

Ecclesia is social, networked. Borderless, we’ve currency. Weaponless, we’ve teeth. Metanation creed: union in the interstices. All welcome.

[Bio] Eric Gregory’s stories have appeared in Black Static, LCRW, and Sybil’s Garage. He blogs on SF matters at is.gd/eMCg

Thursday February 5:

[Ed] Another new feature starting today: Lucius Shepard’s Spitballs: movie review tweets every Thursday!

Teenage TK mutants hunted by a government agency. The movie that proves a post-pubescent Dakota Fanning is even more annoying than as a kid.

[#Spitballs] Push/Directed by Paul McGuigan/ http://is.gd/ig5w

Friday February 6:

[Quote for the Friday]Today it is necessary to use two images every five seconds of writing so that tomorrow we can use three in the same five seconds.

[Source] Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888 – 1963)/Spanish novelist/Ismos.

Saturday February 7:

The singularity is here!/ Birth and death, both at a tangent and an asymptote/ An emotional curve with insane geometry/ What’s next?!

[Bio] Colin Lamond swims, cycles and runs against the tide in Glasgow, and holds down a job in advanced idea mechanics; http://is.gd/hpwB

Sunday February 8:

[Ed] Music that makes you feel optimistic, part 3: the use of dynamics in music, images & words: http://is.gd/iPQs . Another montly series.

There is something brewing for the Sunday slot. Watch @outshine and this space!

Music that makes you feel optimistic, part 3

Your monthly dose of musical inspiration (I know, it’s not quite monthly yet. As soon as I have Outshine running smoothly I intend to put up posts here with more regularity).

Images and Words_1

Dream TheaterImages and Words

Actually, I don’t play this album that often, which might be one of the reasons that I still like it so much when I do put it in my CD player. If it had had the spontaneity and spunk of When Day and Dream Unite, and the sheer production values of Awake, then it would have been a huge classic. It’s a classic, nevertheless, albeit just that little farther away from perfection.

For one, I can understand drummer Mike Portnoy when he says he has troubles listening to Images and Words because of the triggered, electronic drum sound. It’s indeed a far cry from the fat, thundering drum roll that opens “6:00″ on Awake. For another, though, the production as a whole is a step up from When Day and Dream Unite.

I also recall an interview in (Dutch magazine) Aardschok where Portnoy mentioned that David Prater — the producer — had them cut “Pull Me Under” from a much longer version to the 8:15 it is now. I think that was a good decision: “Pull Me Under” became a cult hit and brought Dream Theater in touch with a larger audience.

Images and Words_2

I love the superb interplay between the music and the lyrics (especially in the Kevin Moore songs), the way light (or the play of light) is woven through the album like a red thread, and — obviously — the upbeat tone.  The album’s greatest strength, though, lies in its great melodic range and the sheer dynamics that implement it.

The dynamics in a song are immensely important (and are under serious threat ever since the loudness war rages through the music industry), and I think Dream Theater composed a number of eminent examples throughout the album, to wit:

  • The opening chords of “Pull Me Under”: a classic example of how a sequence of higher notes following a lower one evokes a surge of optimism;
  • The way the buildup from the refrain (‘lost in the clouds’) to the pre-chorus (‘this world is spinning around me’) to the actual chorus (‘pull me under’), in combination with the speeded-up interchange between keyboards, guitar and pounding rhythm section both mimick a feeling of floating in the sky, and an increased feeling of spinning, to the sheer guitar euphoria preceding the chorus;
  • How “Surrounded” manages to evoke a feeling of rising from the darkness, of eventually being surrounded by light;
  • The intro of “Metropolis, Part 1″: a simple yet effective keyboard sequence contrasted with a threatening guitar riff, the subtle intrusion of drums. An opener rife with tension and promise, and the song delivers;
  • The fine balance of “Metropolis, part 1″ between virtuosity and songwriting: on the one hand it constantly threatens to become an indulgence of musical showmanship, while on the other hand the rapid tempo changes and instrumental bravura make the song work;
  • The tremendous build-up in the instrumental part of “Learning to Live”: first with the acoustic guitar and drums crescendoing into an exalting rush, then with the piano preluding the second rise into ecstasy;

There is much more in Images and Words, but these are the most telling examples. On top of that, the band makes this combination of a musical magnum opus through a lyrical pièce de résistance seem almost effortless. Like tour de force writing, though, it is anything but.  Also, the album has an overall upbeat tone which I think is part of its enduring allure. Which brings me to the use of dynamics in SF writing.

images-and-words_3

I think we need more, much more, contrast and a greater dynamic range in SF writing. As Kim Stanley Robinson already mentioned at the New Scientist SF special, SF tends too much to extremes. It’s either dark or light; black or white; relentless dystopia or all-out utopia. Much too little in between.

That, in my humble opinion, is plain wrong: a positive development shines much brighter when it takes place against a dark background; a descent into chaos is more involving if there are a lot of good people trying to prevent it. SF isn’t quite reflecting the complexity of the real world: in reality — with precious little exceptions — things aren’t all bad, or all good, but rather a highly intricate mix of those (also depending on what one finds good or bad). A flatness of tone, a lack of dynamics not dissimilar from the loudness wars in music. In order to grab attention, everybody’s trying to scream from the top of their lungs, drawing what might have been a marked pessimism in contrast with a value-neutral world into relentless dystopia and apocalypse wars: my apocalypse is bigger and better than your apocalypse.

It’s not just a lack of chiaroscuro in theme and subject matter: it’s also the writing itself that so often lacks in dramatic tension. It seems that consistency of tone, tense and viewpoint have become sacrosanct, and this has led to a lot of fiction lacking that something special, that ingredient X, that je ne sais qua that would make it unforgettable. To paraphrase my good friend Lou Anders: a lack of exuberance.

chiaroscuro_6It’s possibly a matter of writers not willing to deviate from the lessons they learned (often the hard way, admitedly): don’t change your point of view (PoV) in a short story, keep the tense the same throughout the narrative (and preferably use past tense, as most SF is quite conservative) and don’t, for the love of Pete, change the tone of your short fiction. It leads to pieces that are perfectly competent, but not memorable.

Therefore, dare to rise to the next level: experiment. If you’re aiming for a ‘middle-of-the-road’ career, then that’s exactly what you’ll be getting.

So shift a PoV, tilt reality to an oblique angle, change the tone of your narrative and change the tune to which your characters sing. Such contrasts can — if applied judiciously — build great tension arcs in a story. Combine them with a change of meaning — like, for example, the way the Rush lyrics of “Force Ten” (from the Hold Your Fire album) shift from ‘Look in … to the eye of the storm’ to ‘Look in … look the storm in the eye’ and so support a dramatic viewpoint shift — and you have dynamite. Or you might fall flat on your face, but at least you tried.

So imbue your fiction with an air of joie de vivre, infuse it with a huge dynamic range, and inject it with a change of meaning. A young band (at the time) like Dream Theater did it with their music, and the results were spectacular: why are so few new, young writers trying it?

Hold Your Fire

The Week in Tweet, Week 5

A bit late due to some less happy tidings in my personal life, here’s the ongoing saga of @outshine on Twitter:

Monday January 26:

[Ed] Outshine slush stats: 32 subs in week 4; 18 by men, 13 by women, 1 unknown. 4 acceptances, 2 rewrite requests. Particular strong batch.

[Quote for the Monday] “He started to sing as he tackled the thing/ That couldn’t be done and he did it.”

[Source] Edgar A. Guest (1881 – 1959)/British-born U.S. poet and journalist/The Collected Works of Edgar A. Guest, “It Couldn’t Be Done”

Wednesday January 28:

She wanted to hold to this, no matter what: the time when her mind first merged with a dolphin’s, letting her taste the joy of the waves.

[Bio] Writer and slave to a benevolent cat dictatorship, with a disorganized blog at mariness.livejournal.com or twittering at @mari_ness.

Friday January 30:

[Quote for the Friday] “Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies come to life and fade away. What care I how time advances; I am drinking ale today.”

[Source] Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)/American writer.

Saturday January 31:

Scientists cheer. People scream. The stars spell out, “Mars needs women”. The aliens have arrived, and they brought chocolate!

[Bio] BJ Muntain: Canadian SF writer, blogger, and linguistics enthusiast. <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 21 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–> http://pointsonstyle.blogspot.com .

Sunday February 1:

[Ed] “Optimism in literature around the world, and SF in particular, part 1″ on the Shine blog: http://is.gd/i0p5 Start of a monthly series.

The reveal on the new developments: starting week 6, each Tuesday will feature a music review tweet called Paul Graham Raven‘s SoundBytes; and each Thursday will feature a movie review tweet called Lucius Shepard‘s Spitballs.

Which leaves only the Sunday to be filled…

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