Well, not sure if there will be a part 2, but just in case.
Anyway, over the past couple of days I’ve been writing responses to the first one hundred (102 to be precise) unsollicited submissions I’ve received so far. I’ve now responded to all submissions up until May 28, except for a single one of which I haven’t made up my mind.
Two breakdowns, one by suitablility and one by setting (and keep in mind that both breakdowns add up to *more* than 102 as for some stories more than one [un]suitability factor applies or as some have more than one setting):
By Suitability; number of stories that are:
1) Not Suitable (in general): 41
2) Dystopia Lite: 14
3) Technofix: 9
4) Flight Forward: 16
5) Alien Saviours: 15
6) Superheroes Save the Day: 8
7) Hold/Rewrite Request (held over for a second read, rewrite or serious consideration): 8
(A small clarification: Dystopia Lite = First the world goes to the dogs, but in the end there is a small light at the end of the tunnel [and I’m deliberately using the American (mis)spelling here as this is also basically soothes the effect of a problem rather than addressing the cause]; Technofix = A lone genius invents cold fusion/universal nanotech/immortality/whatever and all our problems are solved (this is a variation of the old deus ex machina); Flight Forward = We go into space, without solving the problems we have on Earth [note that the latter is true for all examples 2 up to 5]; Alien Saviours = Alien intervention will solve/has caused our problems. )
Then there are stories that have the right intention, but use a flawed or clichéd execution, like:
–How people from the future (or an alternate reality) show the protagonist how the world will go down the drains unless she/he mends her/his ways (already old since the days of Charles Dickens);
–A future where outer appearances have changed (people have become animal hybrids, androids, half-robots or uploaded avatars) while internally they’re still the (bickering) same;
–How machines (robots, AIs, car accessories, household appliances, sexual aids) learn to really understand the human condition (where the underlying moral unvariably teaches how superior humans are: I strongly suspect, however, that an artificial intelligence that’s truly more intelligent than humans would either be very sad or laugh itself silly);
–How humanity will be accepted by enlightened aliens if they just pass this test;
–And even *several* stories that combine future medical developments with basebal;
By Setting; number of stories that are set in:
–Rest of Europe: 4
–Latin America: 4
–Imaginary Setting: 2
Now a few tips on how to increase your chances of acceptance (apart from the bleedingly obvious, that is: write a superb story):
- Try to come up with a story where things actually change for the better with respect as to how they are now. A story that implements a solution for one of the great problems of our time, or that dies trying. And no: starting with an apocalypse and then showing a little light at the end of the tunnel (see point 2 above: ‘dystopia lite’) does not count: that world is, in general, much worse off than we are today;
- Try to come up with a story where humanity itself (partly) changes; that is: where humans change their behaviour, voluntarily, in order to address a huge problem (or several huge problems). As noted above, in the majority of stories I’ve seen so far either no big problems are addressed at all (Dystopia Lite, Flight Forward), or something else (Technofix) or someone else (Alien Saviours) does it for us, so we don’t change and haven’t learned a thing. In my viewpoint, SF is the literature of *change*, ideally of unexpected, deep-seated, paradimg-shifting change, both internally *and* externally;
- Be ambitious: most stories only change a minor thing for the better, as if the author was too afraid to tackle the really big subjects. If the antho would be an accurate reflection of the slushpile, then it would be full of nice little stories where good things happen to decent people. That might be very plausible, but is also boring as hell. I highly prefer to get a story that’s incredibly audacious, reaches for the sky, and spectacularly fails rather than all the competent ones that barely take any risk at all. Dare to be gloriously wrong!
- A setting that’s not in the western world. As is clear from the above count, less than 6% of the stories I get are set in the developing world, while I would very much like to see such settings represented in Shine;
- Similarly, while I do get about 40% of the stories seen from a female point of view, I would dearly love to see more stories from the viewpoint (or with main characters) of people of colour (I received only four of those, so far, of which two are held over) and from a GLBT standpoint (I received two of those, and am considering both seriously);
- Finally, I’ve only seen five humourous stories, so far. While most of the Shine anthology will be serious (although a light tone or funny moment won’t hurt), I do intend to add a few humourous stories for both variety and light relief.
As I hope is very clear now: I would like to see variety, as much variety as possible within the remit of the anthology. So not just optimistic, near future SF stories set in North America or Europe, but also those set in the other continents. Not just white males solving (or trying to solve) our problems, but females, PoC and GLBT characters fighting the good fight, as well.
It’s why I’m doing a series of “Optimism in Literature around the World, and SF in particular“, and inviting people from all over the world to contribute. It’s why I’m mentioning places like Chili, the Pacific, Africa and the Islam world in my “Crazy Story Ideas” series. It’s why I’m doing the @outshine Twitterzine: to demonstrate in miniature what I have in mind.
Finally, a few remarks about the dystopias I see in the Shine slushpile (one would expect that an anthology that clearly proclaims that it’s looking for near future, *optimistic* SF would not get dystopias. Well, see point X above: you’d be quite wrong) and dystopias versus utopias in general.
The lovers of doom, gloom & apocalypse never tire to mention that utopias, in general, are naïve at best and extremely implausible at worst. Yet those same critical minds accept, without a second thought, that everybody in that dystopian setting (and I don’t care what caused the apocalypse: nuclear war, huge asteroid impact, massive volcano eruption, floods, catastrophic climate change, whatever) is armed to the teeth.
Think about it for a minute: the whole modern infrastructure has come down, people are starving and have almost (or already partly) turned to cannibalism, hardly have any decent clothes or housing to speak of, yet there is no shortage of guns. Rather the contrary: in your average dystopia, both the heroes and the villains have more weapons, and often highly sophisticated futuristic weaponry like plasma guns, fragmentation bombs and even rocket launchers in abundance. Your average street gang would drool at the weaponry those dystopian people have at their disposal.
And nobody runs out of ammunition, ever. Somehow, as the modern industrial complex has come crashing down, weapon factories keep running at top production. And no ragnarok aficionado ever calls that naïve or extremely implausible.
You can quote me for saying that the average dystopia is at least as implausible as your average utopia. Both are extreme extrapolations that will never happen in reality. Yet the verisimilitude of the former is never questioned, while the credibility of the latter is always called into doubt.