- What caused the Crash? Does it feel credible?
- Are we too caught up in origin-storytelling & backstory?
- After the apocalypse, we carry on — apocalypse as literary tradition (biblical?)
- Why does this work best as a comic? Or does it?
- How does it compare to Day After Tomorrow or The Road, etc.?
- Contrasting politics
- “Cli-fi,” Buckell, etc.
- Comics as “maturing” medium
I am beyond pleased to announce the recent sale of my short story “Nootropic Software Blues” to the speculative fiction-themed fourth volume of Spark: A Creative Anthology, now available for pre-order in both print and e-book format. The piece marks my fifth short fiction sale at the industry-standard professional pay rate, and is probably my favorite story (of mine) to see publication thus far.
This story has a history I’m pretty proud of. It earned me my first Writers of the Future finalist status; it’s received kind words and positive feedback from the likes of Sheila Williams, Jack McDevitt, and John Clute; and, last but certainly not least, it’s one of the sample pieces that accompanied my application to Clarion West — the very reason, I’m told, that I gained admittance to the noted writing workshop.
There’s so much gratitude wrapped up in this bit of news: to everyone who read and commented on the piece over the past eighteen months or so, to all the people who helped me make it to Seattle this summer. To anyone who has ever encouraged me to keep sending my work out there.
I’m so glad people are going to be reading this one. And I will get to share the pages with the likes of Annie Bellet and Brad R. Torgersen, a talented pair of writers who were kind enough to show a Worldcon first-timer around during Chicon 7, to say nothing of all the help and support they’ve both lent me over the years. I’m glad to count them among my writer-friends.
Oh, and Kevin J. Anderson, author of the Terra Incognita series, the Batman-meets-Superman novel Enemies & Allies, as well as numerous books in the Dune and Star Wars universes, will be penning the anthology’s introduction.
The table of contents hasn’t been finalized as of yet, but here’s a peak at the cover art:
So, yeah. I’ve begun work on the script for the first issue of a potential comic book series called Doomster, based around the stories I’ve been writing in a kind of Midwestern dark-fantasy mythos. I’m going to structure the first issue as a one-shot that serves an introduction to some key characters from a much larger story that I plan on writing, either as an eventual novel or as a handful of graphic novel arcs, depending on where things go and how much I end up liking the format.
My reading has leaned heavily on the comics side of things these past two months, probably as a result of all the time I spent immersed in fiction while at Clarion West in Seattle, and my ability to produce new fiction has really suffered as a result. But never fear — I’m trying somethin’ new and loving it so far. It’s like wading into an ocean of art and mystery.
Anyway, have a taste. This is the beginning of what I hope will become Doomster #1: “Wayfarers” (Part 1 of 1). I have no freakin’ clue what I’m doing, but I’ve read a ton of comics and written a ton of other things, so it feels a lot more natural than expected. It should look familiar to at least eighteen people:
PAGE 1 (three panels)
Blue-and-pink bar lighting is cast upon everyone and everything. Close on a crinkled twenty-dollar bill as it’s being slapped down on a polished wooden countertop. Thin hairs curl from the small but masculine hand whose fingertips hold it in place. A row of empty, overturned shot glasses gleams nearby.
Kosciusko, Illinois. The Bijou Pub–a couple years back.
Now we see the bartender, SIBYLLA ROSE. Early twenties. Her wavy bleach-blonde hair falls like white smoke around her roundish face. She wears a row of silver earrings along her left cartilage, and a round black stud in each earlobe. Also, a necklace: one made from leather string that supports a narrow shard of crystal, icy blue. A floral tattoo forms a half sleeve on her left arm. She’s wearing a red bandana in her hair; her wardrobe consists of distressed jeans and a loose, black long-sleeve top emblazoned with the band name A HILL TO DIE UPON. She holds an empty glass in one hand and a hose from the tap in the other. She’s looking up at the patron who has just approached the bar, and in her bright brown eyes it’s evident she has never seen him before. She offers the hint of a smile.
Getcha somethin’ to drink?
Medium-close on COLE STECKEL, a young man about SIBYLLA’s age, as he settles onto a barstool. He’s wearing a zippered black jacket with the collar popped, a gray T-shirt visible beneath. His dark hair is trimmed to a meticulous high-and-tight cut, and despite the late hour his eyes are masked by a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses: lenses tinted an impenetrable black, rims the color of red wine. He’s sliding the crinkled twenty forward.
Um, s’pose I’ll take a G&T. Tanqueray if you’ve got it.
Looks like my short story “Fragile Magic,” an old personal favorite, will be appearing in Dark House Press’s forthcoming anthology Exigencies, edited by Richard Thomas. Here’s the full lineup, which includes my dear friend and fellow Clarion West ’13 grad Usman Malik:
We are thrilled to finally announce the full TOC for EXIGENCIES. I’m honored to have so many fantastic stories in this anthology. Over 400 submissions. Out in early 2015. Here you go: David James Keaton, “Queen Excluder;” Letitia Trent, “Wilderness;” Kevin Catalano, “Ceremony of the White Dog;” Usman Malik, “Going Home;” Faith Gardner, “My Mother’s Condition;” Axel Taiari, “Blood Price;” Pela Via, “After Lo;” Kenneth Cain, “Heirloom;” Amanda Gowin, “The Owl and the Cigarette;” Jason Metz, “Single Lens Reflection;” Joshua Blair, “Monster Season;” Rebecca Jones-Howe, “Cat Calls;” Brendan Detzner, “Figure Eight;” Sarah Read, “The Eye Liars;” Bill Johnson, “Searching for Gloria;” Barbara Duffey, “And All Night Long We Have Not Stirred;” Adam Peterson, “Everything in Its Place;” Marytza Rubio, “Brujeria for Beginners;” Nathan Beauchamp, “The Mother;” Heather Foster, “The Armadillo;” Alex Kane, “Fragile Magic;” and Mark Jaskowski, “Desert Ghosts.”
Read the first issue of Dark Horse Comics’ new adaptation of The Star Wars last night, and in a fever of fannish passion unlike any I’ve felt in ages I composed the following e-mail:
from: Alex Kane <email@example.com>
date: Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 9:12 PM
subject: The Star Wars #1
I’d like to congratulate everybody at Dark Horse for their phenomenal work on The Star Wars #1. Although I only got into reading comics a few years back, while in college, George Lucas’s universe has been a part of my life since I was just old enough to operate my parents’ VCR. When my dad took me at age seven to see Empire and Jedi during their Special Edition rereleases, at my hometown’s now-defunct Rivoli Theatre, Darth Vader’s revelation on Bespin felt like a religious experience. The Emperor and his Force lightning, given my vague understanding of the Dark Side, left a similarly lasting impression.
Not long afterward, the three-year wait between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones left me feeling starved for the Force. So, like a lot of fans, much of my childhood was spent scouring the Internet—in its dialup-modem era—for whatever artifacts I could find from that galaxy far, far away. One of them was a .txt file alleged to be Lucas’s original draft of a screenplay called The Star Wars, and it began precisely as the first issue of last month’s comic does: with a “Jedi-Bendu” named Kane Starkiller and his two sons encountering a Sith warrior.
I never gave that plain-text file much credence. Half of me assumed it to be fake, maybe the longwinded imaginings of a zealous fan. And it didn’t feel like the Star Wars I knew and loved anyway; its DNA seemed . . . different, somehow.
Your comic succeeds so admirably in this regard. You’ve managed to take the rough draft of the story we all know and treasure and imbue it with the life that Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, Dennis Muren, and so many others gave to Lucas’s seminal vision back in ’77. Nick Runge’s gorgeous cover simply oozes Tauntaun blood—in the same way that his incredible movie posters always have. Mike Mayhew’s drawings? They cut to the heart like a lightsaber, sharply rendered and bursting with the power of the Force. And writer J. W. Rinzler, as always, speaks Galactic Basic with that distinct Coruscanti accent; his is the voice of a fan as well as a writer.
My wholehearted thanks to Dark Horse, for making that faraway galaxy seem suddenly so much closer.
I recently rewatched The People vs. George Lucas, which I think is a fabulous documentary about geek culture and the Star Wars phenomenon in particular, and it gets at the heart of some of the places where Lucas went wrong with his franchise. But I have to say this: when we see Dark Horse or Lucasfilm doing something that reminds us why we were fans in the first place — things like The Force Unleashed, Knights of the Old Republic, or a novel by somebody like Drew Karpyshyn or Matthew Stover — we really ought to let the creators know about it.
If all the fans ever do is complain, well, I don’t think that’s very healthy for either the property or the people who seem to have this immense love/hate relationship with it. Personally, I don’t have much use for all the negativity that comes with being a Star Wars fan. Life’s too short to begrudge somebody like Lucas, who’s given so much fun and creative energy back to the world, the occasional artistic misstep.
I’ve been putting this off for a while. To sit down and try to sum up my experience at Clarion West in a single, immediate blog post is just a ludicrous idea — it can’t be done. I won’t try. But you might notice that my online presence has been scaled back quite a bit since June, and there’s a reason for that: Clarion West was exactly the kind of life-changing affair everybody had claimed it would be. Being a fairly young, impressionable dude, and not very confident in my art in the grand scheme of things, those six weeks in Seattle really did quite the number on me.
All the negative crap we tell ourselves as artists? Most of that has been swept aside, for the time being. Replaced with the sense that all that impostor-syndrome garbage, all that doubt, is both a universal and necessary evil. And it goes away when you sit down and do work, rather than just sitting around and bemoaning your station.
And all the positive stuff, too. Those milestones we cherish, and quantify, and constantly try to make sense of? They’re not terribly important. Past a certain point, I’ve seen that none of those things ever satisfy the artist. Especially in the context of an emotional low period.
Thankfully, I was happy and having the time of my life in Seattle. No regrets there. You hear the consensus that these kinds of situations — eighteen strangers sleeping in a house together, creative work happening, the occasional whiff of friendly competition in the air, alcohol being imbibed — might lead to drama of various kinds. To my surprise and delight, there was little of that for Clarion West’s 2013 class.
We became family. I think most of us would be comfortable saying that we share a pretty unconditional love for one another, far as I can tell, and that’s an amazing thing.
So many egos, so many national and cultural backgrounds melding together to form a household-sized society, might’ve been an ordeal for any other workshop, class, retreat, what have you. But what we had in common with each other won out over our differences, in a big, inspiring way. We became a sort of microcosm for the creative-intellectual types of the world; regardless of America’s political climate, or the idiosyncrasies of the Pacific Northwest specifically, we forged our own small utopia.
Saying goodbye to everyone, and leaving those friendships behind to return to the so-called real world, was maybe the hardest thing I’ll ever have to endure. Now, crying is not a thing that I do. Born and raised as a young man in the Midwest, where masculinity is so unaccountably prized, tears are not the norm. But I found myself locking the bathroom door and sobbing for a couple minutes, once most of my friends had departed for SeaTac, you betcha.
We’d talked for weeks about what it might be like to have to say goodbye, and see it all end. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the letdown.
I owe them all so much. Or you all, if you guys happen to be reading this. I’m so much wiser for having met each and every one of my Clarion West classmates.
(If you haven’t read their work, keep an eye out for them. David Edison’s The Waking Engine is forthcoming this February, from Tor, and Jenn Giesbrecht’s phenomenal “All My Princes Are Gone” is in this month’s issue of Nightmare. You can find a handful of other CW ’13 alumni in recent issues of Clarkesworld and Daily Science Fiction. The world certainly hasn’t heard the last of us.)
Kim Stanley Robinson had some interesting things to teach us about online presence, blogging, social media, and balancing the work of fiction writing with life in general. Hence this blog being dormant from mid-June until tonight. But I’ll save the full elaboration of my thoughts on his provocative Mystery Muse lecture for another time.
Suffice it to say, I needed to hear Stan’s ideas about blogging right now, and most of my online thoughts will be found on Twitter (@alexjkane) from here on out, barring the occasional “necessary” update, such as this one, or news about my writing, etc.
Other voices floating around in my head at the moment, other than my classmates’, include Joe Hill’s, Neil Gaiman’s, Margo Lanagan’s, Ellen Datlow’s, Chip Delany’s, Liz Hand’s, Paul Park’s, Cat Rambo’s, and Ted Chiang’s, among a host of others. Lot of interesting ideas on storytelling and the artist’s journey that will take a lifetime to fully understand, I suspect. Those will provide fodder for future blog posts, if I decide to talk much about craft from here on out. I may take some time off from talking about process for a while.
Meantime, I’ve had another space opera story accepted by Deorc Enterprise, as a media tie-in for their Dark Expanse MMO real-time strategy game, and I’m working on an all-new story I can’t talk about just yet. Not to mention all the revision that needs done on my six or seven Clarion West pieces, two of which are out making the rounds at places like Daily SF and Nature while the rest sit broken and in need of mending.
There are things outside of writing, as well: I’m gonna put more effort into gaming, for instance. Everything from my Xbox to my 3DS, and trying out Pathfinder and Magic: The Gathering for the very first time. I’m going to deemphasize writing to a degree in order to read more.
And, of course, I’m gonna make a more conscious effort to be healthy and spend time with the people I care about. Because writing’s only fulfilling if all the other stuff is in order, I imagine.
I’d like my work to be a celebration of this road we’re on, rather than an escape from it.
All my love and thanks to everyone who helped me get to Seattle, and where I am in my life today. You know who you are. It’s been a rich endeavor from the very first story I ever wrote, back in Kindergarten. And it feels surreal to have so many of my literary heroes and exemplars, having read my work, be out there rooting for me.
The Clarion West program is a worthwhile one, and it has empowered me in countless ways to keep at this thing that I’ve always loved doing, regardless of any doubts or setbacks that might come my way. For that, I owe the organization — and especially people like Les Howle and Neile Graham — my eternal gratitude. I am so honored to be a small, humble part of the incredible legacy you’ve built over the past three decades.
Warning: Minor Man of Steel spoilers follow.
In all fairness, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a beautiful movie. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a “New 52”-era DC Comics adaptation: loads of fun, generally on par with Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, light-years beyond lesser attempts like Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern (2011), and far more mature than its ho-hum predecessor, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (’06). I found myself engaged with the story, caring about the sense of literal alienation David S. Goyer builds around Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), and loving every tense, gorgeous minute of the CGI spectacle.
It is easily the best-looking, most visionary of all the DC films to date, and will in all likelihood serve as the company’s flagship blockbuster, in much the same way as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man launched the Avengers franchise into existence.
But unfortunately, in light of a number of recent controversies within geek culture, I had my feelers out for gender bias last night, and what I noticed about the film’s portrayal of women left me enormously let down. How could a film released in 2013, in the wake of Snyder’s own widely-criticized Sucker Punch, reduce the role of women as much as Man of Steel does?
For starters, the film effectively bombs the Bechdel test. Two women, Diane Lane’s underutilized turn as Martha Kent and Amy Adams’ similarly underwritten Lois Lane, talk to one another on-screen for just a single scene—in which the topic of discussion is, well . . . Superman.
The remainder of the film finds women in largely trivial, or at least traditional, roles, with the possible exception of Faora: a murderous Kryptonian sociopath. No, I’m not kidding.
While Kal-El’s (Superman’s) father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), achieves a kind of ghostlike immortality through his world’s cerebral upload technology just before a heroic on-screen death, his wife Lara dies afterward during Krypton’s destruction—and is never seen or heard from again. Barely mentioned, in fact. While Clark tells his Earth mother, Martha Kent, near the movie’s end, “I found my real parents . . . ,” the truth is, he only communes with the phantom consciousness of his deceased father. He doesn’t even bother to ask Jor-El about his mother.
As much as I loved the film, and no matter how perfect some aspects of its otherwise rich story are, I can’t help but lament the fact that all women in the film but one are reduced to the roles of damsels-in-distress and childbirthers. It’s more than disappointing; it’s downright sexist. And appallingly so, given the age we live in.
Even the gender-flipped Jenny Jurwich character (Goyer’s version of Superman’s longtime pal Jimmy Olsen, evidently) exists solely to get trapped underneath some rubble, and then be rescued by men. Lois Lane begins her journey in search of the alien who will become Superman as just a curious reporter, but quickly becomes enamored with him . . . without much explanation, really, except for meeting the demands of the formulaic Hollywood plot.
After boldly following Kal-El aboard General Zod’s Kryptonian warship, Lane carries out her single biggest contribution to the film by discovering how to defeat the superhuman invasion force; but it’s Jor-El’s consciousness, the mind of a man, who shows her—and then the rest of her efforts take place off-camera, while the audience is spoonfed some more flashy shots of Superman fighting Zod and making a catastrophic mess of Metropolis in the process.
Even from a less critical, more—(sigh)—traditional view, Kent’s inevitable relationship with Lois Lane ultimately feels thoughtless and forced; they appear to care for one another simply because that’s what they’ve always done. Not because there’s any genuine character development taking place between the two, or because the story serves to build their love.
When you’ve got an actress of Amy Adams’ caliber at your disposal, that’s more than a little disappointing, frankly. But that’s no fault of the performers. Doubtless the unquestionable demands of the studio kept the script and final edit as lean and fast-paced as possible, leaving little room for more than a few minutes’ worth of genuine humanity and on-screen chemistry. So why have a love subplot at all? Save it for the sequel.
As it stands, Lois Lane in Man of Steel is left utterly objectified. Despite a few good lines—and some truly awful ones (“If we’re done measuring dicks . . .”)—and regardless of how convincing Adams is in the midst of what must have been an ocean of greenscreen. An object of affection, and a damsel to be rescued when the plot demands more overdramatized peril.
Last night, my inner child felt ready to proclaim to the world that cinema had found its new Greatest Superhero Film of All Time, superior to the works of Nolan, Snyder’s own Watchmen, and the now-classic Donner outings. But I can’t ignore the trivialization of women’s roles in popular entertainment any longer. What might have been a near-perfect, grand vision is marred by the absence of anything new, commendable, or progressive. Man of Steel plays it safe in its political message—and does a great disservice to twenty-first-century notions of gender.
Want to add to the discussion? Let us know what you think of the trend toward male-centric superhero films and the damsel-in-distress stereotype in our comments section below, or send an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Science fiction and fantasy are taking over the realm of the Hollywood summer blockbuster, no question about it. Marvel Studios is gearing up to launch the Avengers franchise into space with the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film, Neill Blomkamp’s about to wow audiences with his sophomore full-length feature, Elysium, and Christopher Nolan’s next movie is reportedly a high-concept SF epic called Interstellar. Roboticist-cum-novelist Daniel H. Wilson’s works seem more or less destined for film. And let’s not forget about Ernest Cline’s nostalgia-heavy Ready Player One.
We here at Amazing Stories have a lot to look forward to. Between the Ender’s Game film adaptation, slated to be released this November, and that of Cherie Priest’s alternate-history, zombie steampunk novel Boneshaker, I think it’s safe to say we’ll all have plenty to geek out about in the coming months—and years.
So: what other science-fiction and fantasy novels deserve the movie treatment?
Here are some of my own ideas about what stories might look great (and benefit the field by broadening its audience) on the silver screen. Add your own suggestions in the comments section below, and let’s get a discussion started.
Minor spoilers ahead!
1. Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse) by James S. A. Corey
This one’s got a cast of characters you can’t help but love—the Rocinante has just the sort of memorable crew that belongs in a space opera tale of this scale, and even the bit players along the way seem to live and breathe the processed air of this richly-drawn world coauthors Abraham and Franck have dubbed “The Expanse.” Not to mention the diabolical alien presence that reveals itself about halfway into the story. If some studio goon actually greenlit the Battleship movie, why can’t we have Leviathan Wakes? Give it to Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski. Or Ridley Scott, James Cameron, really any of the usual suspects.
2. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor manages to believably bridge the two most polarized elements of speculative film: a plausible future world, and magic. The author does so by drawing no clear distinction between spirituality and metaphysics, nor between primitive technology and sorcery. It’s all in how the reader chooses to explain the narrator’s harrowing story—and that’s half the fun. The mysticism feels authentic. But it’d be significantly darker than pretty much anything in its genre, given its subject matter. Harry Potter it ain’t. David Fincher could make it into the film of his career.
3. Crystal Rain (The Xenowealth Saga) by Tobias S. Buckell
I don’t know who would be the ideal director for Buckell’s Xenowealth novels (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose, and The Apocalypse Ocean)—anybody from Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) to Anthony Hemingway (Red Tails) could do artistic justice to this fun postcolonial universe, which is equal parts steampunk and galaxy-spanning space opera.
4. Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell
Another one by Buckell—this one far more timely and realistic. I could see this ecological technothriller becoming a kind of zeitgeist work, in which the line between industry and government becomes further blurred by the boom in new resources, and new ways to go about getting them. And it’d be really nice to see a story about climate change and technology that’s not entirely apocalyptic in nature.
5. Mainspring (The Clockwork Earth) by Jay Lake
I enjoyed this idiosyncratic steampunk (clockpunk?) novel for its confidence and unique vision. The tale of a young apprentice going out on a quest to save the world isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff—but it’s a mythic story that includes clockwork angels, an Earth whose axis winds and ticks like the movement of a clock, and dirigibles. Somebody like David Fincher or Martin Scorsese could turn this already beautiful novel into a visual masterpiece.
6. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
According to the author’s Whatever blog, this one’s already in development. Wolfgang Petersen’s name was attached as a likely director at one point, but the author reports that the script is being rewritten as we speak, so that leaves open the possibility of someone else taking the helm of this one, depending on what happens through the rest of pre-production. Anybody who’s read the book knows this one is tailored to fit the mold of big-screen cinema, and I think it’ll be loads of fun.
7. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
But this one could be even better. I like Redshirts a great deal, as well, but Scalzi’s touching homage to golden-age SF author H. Beam Piper reads like a far superior version of James Cameron’s Avatar, on a more intimate, more believable scale. And there isn’t a single character in the novel who wouldn’t blow audiences away, given a few solid casting choices. The novel brings the pop-culture cousinhood of the Fuzzys and the Ewoks full circle with a little tongue-in-cheek reference to Return of the Jedi, and in today’s very postmodern, somewhat jaded entertainment world . . . honestly, I think this courtroom drama in space would kill at the box office.
8. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Hard to think of a more memorable vision of the future than Bacigalupi’s debut novel. His young adult works may be more likely to receive the eventual big-screen treatment, but there’s something deeply profound about the story of Emiko the windup, a genetically engineered sex slave in a world ravaged by rampant “genehacking” and various resultant foodborne plagues. Either the Wachowskis or Danny Boyle could turn this haunting vision into a believable reality. Who knows—it just might happen someday.
9. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Here’s a beautiful mythpunk fairy tale that begs for the animated treatment. Try and imagine the folks behind stop-motion masterpieces like Coraline or Frankenweenie bringing this book to life. Or Hayao Miyazaki, who did the sublime animated adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle. Not that this book couldn’t be filmed; I just think that its marvelous witches and spirits, and all the shapeshifting that goes on in the novel, would look stunning in mostly grayscale, old-school animation.
10. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
This is the book I’m reading right now, and I can’t believe it’s been out for so long without being adapted into some form of visual medium. It’s an inevitability, I think—but let’s hope like Hell it gets the witty, literate treatment it truly deserves. Before the End Times come and wipe our slate clean, we should all be so lucky to see so many angels and demons working in harmony to bring about Armageddon. Maybe Gaiman could collaborate with Kevin Smith on the script, and then get Todd Phillips to direct? I don’t know. Who could do a masterwork like this one justice?
Sound off in the comments section below. I’m dying to hear what you guys are hoping to see in theaters as the field of fantasy and science fiction continues its global invasion of the multiplex.