Elizabeth Bear's Blog
July 18, 2015
You will not know what your mothers and your grandmothers knew;
you will not know how they fought with no true hope for their own salvation.
You will not know how they cursed and kicked to make a better world.
A world that would honor
your mind, your ambition, your desire
to be something more
than a servant, a subject, a decoration.
How they clawed and they
fought to build a world where
you could be human.
You will not recognize their grief and
pride when you stand up,
and accept what was impossible for them as your due.
You will not recognize it.
You will not remember it.
But you will live it.
When you fight for your own
daughters and grand-daughters,
and see them one step higher on the spiral.
One step closer to unquestioned,
How tall is the stair?
June 16, 2015
May 17, 2015
You know what? It's great advice for some writers, with some stories. But like all one-size-fits-all advice, it actually doesn't necessarily fit most very well.
Me, for example. My first drafts tend to grow by 10-20% on redraft, because I tend to write my first drafts without things like transitions, exposition, dialogue, dramatization, and setup for thematic developments. They're more or less nothing except plot and character development, and all the other stuff gets put in later. I also have to insert white space a lot of the time, because at novel length extremely dense narrative becomes exhausting, and that's what I naturally tend towards.
My earliest decent short stories were all around 1500-3000 words. It wasn't until I learned to unpack those, to get the interesting bits out of my head and trust that I wasn't going to make them boring by explaining them, to write them at 5000-7000 words for the same sorts of ideas, that they started selling well and attracting positive comment.
I've several times shown my students the first draft of "Shoggoths in Bloom" as well as the published version. The story won a Hugo in its longer, published version. The first draft was largely opaque and hasty, and I know this for a fact, because I took it to Sycamore Hill and sat in a room while a dozen of my colleagues told me exactly how much of it was incomprehensible twaddle.
(Not always: sometimes I need to cut things. But it's incredibly rare for that to happen, and feel free to ask my editors.)
In my experience as a teacher of writing--going on ten years of it now--this is true for a good third of my students, as well. Some of whom have struggled extensively because of this advice, which gets parroted around as if it were true for everyone, all the time.
It's not. Just as the advice to "expand that--dramatize that--explain that better" is not true for everyone all the time.
(In point of fact, I suspect that there are no generally applicable answers even for particular writers. Sometimes we'll overwrite, and sometimes we'll underwrite, and experience and good editors will eventually teach us which is which.)
The trick is not to apply some magic metric like "Oh, cut 10% of everything you write." The trick is to learn what information is necessary and what information is not, and provide the former--and as much of the latter as is entertaining and fun.
May 15, 2015
So, today, May 15th, 2015, a day which happens to be my mother's 63rd birthday, the jury in the Tsarnaev bombing trial sentenced a young man to die.
I live here.
Not in Boston. no. But in the Bay State. I'm in town once or twice a month. I'll never be fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but I run. I have friends who were there when it happened.
When the attack happened, I was at my partner's house, which is in Wisconsin, and I spent... days... following the unfolding events.
What I'm saying is this is my back yard.
I have lost family members to murder. I am opposed to the death penalty nevertheless, for a variety of reasons I don't feel like discussing here.
This hurts. This all hurts. This isn't the decision I think should have been made. But I am proud of my home for bringing this man in alive, and for providing due process and a civil trial (and there was pressure to do it otherwise.) I am also, simultaneously, deeply saddened that we have chosen a course that I think reflects lingering barbarism in our society.
I read this.
85% of Boston residents would have preferred a life sentence, and so would I. Even understanding that it would have had to have been a life sentence in protective custody, which amounts to a life sentence in solitary confinement.
Is that more humane than death?
I don't know.
I do know that I am not one of the twelve people who will have to live with the decision that was made today, and I know also that I am a coward, because I am grateful for that fact.
May 12, 2015
May 4, 2015
Now back to the word mines.
2015 Locus Awards Finalists
The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top five finalists in each category of the 2015 Locus Awards.
Winners will be announced during the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 26-28, 2015; Connie Willis will MC the awards ceremony. Additional weekend events include author readings with Willis and Daryl Gregory; a kickoff Clarion West party honoring first week instructor Andy Duncan, Clarion West supporters, awards weekend ticket holders, and special guests; panels with leading authors; an autograph session with books available for sale thanks to University Book Store; and a lunch banquet with the annual Hawai’ian shirt contest, all followed by a Locus party on Saturday night.
SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
The Peripheral, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Lock In, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway; Jo Fletcher)
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (Viking; Arrow 2015)
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US)
YOUNG ADULT BOOK
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey; Voyager UK)
The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Waistcoats & Weaponry, Gail Carriger (Little, Brown; Atom)
Empress of the Sun, Ian McDonald (Jo Fletcher; Pyr)
Clariel, Garth Nix (Harper; Hot Key; Allen & Unwin)
Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett (Aqueduct)
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias (Tor)
The Clockwork Dagger, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager)
The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert (Sourcebooks Landmark)
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (Tor; Tor UK)
“The Man Who Sold the Moon”, Cory Doctorow (Hieroglyph)
We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Regular”, Ken Liu (Upgraded)
“The Lightning Tree”, Patrick Rothfuss (Rogues)
“Tough Times All Over”, Joe Abercrombie (Rogues)
“The Hand Is Quicker”, Elizabeth Bear (The Book of Silverberg)
“Memorials”, Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 1/14)
“The Jar of Water”, Ursula K. Le Guin (Tin House #62)
“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane”, Scott Lynch (Rogues)
“Covenant”, Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph)
“The Dust Queen”, Aliette de Bodard (Reach for Infinity)
“The Truth About Owls”, Amal El-Mohtar (Kaleidoscope)
“In Babelsberg”, Alastair Reynolds (Reach for Infinity)
“Ogres of East Africa”, Sofia Samatar (Long Hidden)
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-first Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin’s Press)
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Rose Fox & Daniel José Older, eds. (Crossed Genres)
Rogues, George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, ed. (Bantam; Titan)
Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Head of Zeus; Tor)
Questionable Practices, Eileen Gunn (Small Beer)
The Collected Short Fiction Volume One: The Man Who Made Models, R.A. Lafferty (Centipede)
Last Plane to Heaven, Jay Lake (Tor)
Academic Exercises, K.J. Parker (Subterranean)
The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine: The Millennium Express, Robert Silverberg (Subterranean; Gateway)
John Joseph Adams
Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Ray Bradbury Unbound, Jonathan Eller (University of Illinois Press)
Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!, Harry Harrison (Tor)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore (Knopf)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better: 1948-1988, William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)
What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton (Tor; Corsair 2015)
Jim Burns, The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal (Titan)
The Art of Neil Gaiman, Hayley Campbell (Harper Design)
Spectrum 21: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, John Fleskes, ed. (Flesk)
Brian & Wendy Froud, Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales (Abrams)
The Art of Space: The History of Space Art, from the Earliest Visions to the Graphics of the Modern Era, Ron Miller (Zenith)
I've just finished reading Jeff Guinn's The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West.
He's got a really aggravating tendency to claim an understanding of motives and leave out words like "perhaps," "probably," and "allegedly" that should be liberally sprinkling this text, and he's got that annoying tendency that many male historians and biographers of generally lionized male historical figures have of getting all possessive of his boyfriends and either dismissing the women in their lives as insignificant, hysterical, clutching, or entirely out for the main chance; or of editorializing on how irritating their men must have found them.
Also, I quibble some with his description of the forensics of the infamous gunfight (this is one of those places where "perhaps" would have come in really handy), especially as he misses my pet theory about how Tom McLaury managed to take a load of shotgun pellets in the armpit (my favorite reconstruction of the fight has the unarmed Tom reaching over the saddle of Billy Clanton's horse to retrieve Clanton's rifle from the saddle sheath, and being dragged around in a circle when the horse spooks, thus exposing his side and underarm to Doc), but at least Guinn does point out that it's pretty implausible for Doc to have put down the shotgun, pulled his revolver, shot Billy Clanton in cold blood, picked the shotgun back up, killed Tom with it, then dropped the shotgun and picked up the pistol and proceeded to miss Frank in the <30 seconds of the entire fight.
However, the book is pretty impressive on historical context and backstory, and presents one of the clearer pictures of the tapestry of interwoven motivations, politics, social considerations, and economics that drove the tensions in Southeast Arizona at the time.
Guinn also makes really good sense of the stagecoach robberies, and rightly points out that gunfight was the top of the second act in this particular narrative, and not the climax at all. (The actual climax is kind of an anticlimax, as is so common the real world and why the end of the story gets rewritten when it's fictionalized for film. Curly Bill and John Ringo have to be foregrounded a heck of a lot more, and Ike Clanton kicked back to his admittedly rightful place as a second-stringer for something closer to the real world narrative to work as a story.)
What we learn from the lives of the Earp brothers, in the end, is if you have to be an Earp, be James. Live quietly and more or less without notoriety, show up for work, and die in your 80s in bed, contented and comfortably well off.
What we learn from the lives of historians of the Matter of Tombstone is that anybody who wades through the John H. Flood manuscript of Wyatt's memoirs deserves hazard pay. You can read the PTSD between the lines in every single account that mentions it.
A representative sample:
Earp could feel the warmth of the conspirator's body as he leaned against him; the pulsations beat against his own and then there was a throb; something that felt like nerves, and the tenseness of muscles at the drawing of a gun. Earp was watching Allison and the movement of his forty-five; gradually, it was slipping forward from its holster while the marshal stood silently and looked on.
Now the assassin's thumb reached towards the hammer - quietly - then he felt a thrill, something that made his side turn cold, the side against that of the city marshal. Then he raised his eyes to another pair of eyes, and flinched, and dropped his gaze to the ground; he saw a movement at his side and he thought his end had come. Earp was two seconds ahead of him on the draw, and Allison knew that he had lost his play, and he edged out onto the walk...
May 1, 2015
April 27, 2015
The book is at 20,000 words, which is a sixth of the estimated length. And I just broke 100,000 words for the year to date. And a project that had turned into an endlessly returning zombie is finally laid to bed.
Just keep chipping.
April 16, 2015
The things this blender does to kale. The things it does to rolled oats.
My enemies had better watch their backs, is all I'm saying.