First post-Campbell review

An interesting one. It was posted April 5th, the day after the Hugos and the Campbell was announced.

Standing Desk Treadmills in space … and other bits of fun.
I picked this up this book because the author, Rolf Nelson, is on this years Hugo Awards ballot for best new author. I read the author’s notes, looked through Appendix 1 at the schematic for the ship, started reading, and all of the sudden it was 4 AM and I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. I am currently 48% of the way through the book (Kindle) and I just realized that I might not be able to finish it today. When I start considering the possibility of taking a day off from work to finish a book, it is time to give that book a 5 star rating.

There is more there, detailing why he likes it. It’s worth reading. It will be interesting to see how many more reviews it picks up after the full membership packet goes out, and people start really looking things over in preparation to cast their vote. Something tells me I’ll be at least a little bit polarizing, between Rabid Puppies, format, and plot points. Time to stock up on popcorn!

Why I wrote what I did

Growing up I read a lot. Historical things, fantasy, hard sci fi, space opera, novels, short stories, everything from Heinlein to Gibbon. I liked the ideas, the characters, the action, the adventure, the speculation about people and technology, as well as the facts and amazing people in real life history. I got a degree in computer science in part because computers were the future.

But then, gradually, I found it harder and harder to find new books I liked. I wasn’t sure why it was. I looked at the vast array of things on the shelf and saw nothing that appealed to me. An awesome cover would catch my eye, then I’d read the description, and put it back down. I ended up rereading older things, and got busy with a life of my own, and  went browsing in bookstores ever more rarely because the gatekeepers were not producing much of anything I wanted. If I wanted angst-ridden dystopias filled with mental sickness, hopelessness, corruption, and bad writing, I’d pick up a newspaper. Continue reading Why I wrote what I did

Well, what do you know…

It looks like I made the final ballot for the Campbell Award for best new sci-fi writer. With only one published book (and one short story, also in the same universe) I figure I’m a long shot, even if I have a sequel, a prequel, and a children’s historical book scheduled for this year. In any case, even getting to the final ballot short-list is an honor… Well, interesting, anyway. No clue what the competition is like, but it should be fun to watch unfold. I can almost hear some brains exploding from here.

Also on the list: Wesley Chu*, Jason Cordova, Kary English*, Eric S. Raymond (*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.)

Mixed words on making the short list for the Prometheus. But as I hear the competition is strong this year, so I’m a long-shot there, too. But how many people manage to make both a “best new X” list at the same time they make the list for some other category in the field competing against long-time pros?

Just getting nominated for either award is proof the universe has a twisted sense of humor. If I happen to win, I know that my little corner of the cosmos is a very strange one. Not a bad one, mind you, just more than a little bit odd.

Editing

Not completed, but done enough to have an editor give it a first pass read-through to look at inconsistencies, plot holes, places that need fleshing out or alterations, etc. Roughly 122k words. There are a few places I’m not really happy with, but not sure exactly what to do about them. Paul thinks it’s fine, but then he doesn’t know what all has been rolling around in my brain (likely a good thing).  So, for the moment, it’s >95% done, and I’m letting someone that hasn’t a clue where it’s going or what I’ve cut or how I’ve switched it around thinks about it. No idea how soon I’ll hear back, but some people are very fast readers. Might be a day or two, might be a month. Then I can talk it over, see what I need to tweak, then we can do the serious nitty-gritty editing.

In unrelated but significant news, I got a long-term subbing job at a local middle school, teaching math and science. That is GREAT for income (I made about as much from TSCB, in total net, as I make from two months teaching), but it also means less time to write. So I’ll be rather busy, and not making huge leaps of progress. But I also plan to keep picking away at “Komenagen: Slog” for a while, and it might be finished by the end of summer.

Campbell

Some days the universe decides I need to be surprised. Apparently it’s Sci-Fi award season, and now Vox has me on his list of people to vote for in the John W Campbell award for “Best New Writer.”

I asked him if he was sure. I mean, I’m flattered, but really? His reply:
Rolf, there is literally no new writer who better illustrates the importance of story over style than you do. What so many people fail to understand is that while technical skill is nice, it’s a secondary, if not tertiary aspect of good writing.

We don’t still read Asimov due to the beauty of his prose. We read him for the stories. And while technical skill can be developed and improved, you’ve either got stories to tell or you don’t.

Great. Even my publisher thinks my style sucks. 🙂 . On the other hand, if the story is good enough to do well in spite of such a great handicap, maybe it’s something. We will see. Be a bizarre twist of fate if it happened. Looking at the winners of long ago, there are some impressive names there. Looking at more recent years…. not so much.

Prometheus

Cool. Very cool, and very unexpected.

Just got word from Vox Day that The Stars Came Back has been nominated for a Prometheus Award for this year. It’s the award given by the Libertarian Futurist Society.

Past winners include Sarah Hoyt, Harry Turtledove, L. Neil Smith, Vernor Vinge, Terry Pratchett, Ken MacLeod, Poul Anderson, James P. Hogan, J. Neil Schulman, and many more big names. Even if I come in last place, just being nominated to potentially stand amid such a group of names is quite an honor.

ESR

I got an email from Eric S. Raymond, often known as ESR in the open source software movement, asking for a review copy of my book, saying he’d heard it was just exactly the sort of thing he plugs on his blog from time to time.

Uhhhh, yes! What format would you like?

So, at some point in the not-to-distant future, there will hopefully be a plug for the book to his ~22k followers. That would be a heck of a Christmas present…

Merry Christmas

Have a good one, may your family and friends be healthy and happy in the new year.  May your enemy’s schadenfreude be minimal, and your plans be effective. Illegitimi non carborundum (don’t let the bastards grind you down), and may you be as lucky as Helton for at least a day 🙂

A thought regarding style versus content

Over at Vox’s blog he had a post about Amazon’s editor’s pick for books. Among other things he said “a novel consists of four elements, Style, Story, Characters, and Ideas.”

I worked a long time on TSCB, and I thought it had some great characters, a solid story, and some interesting ideas, and the writing style was what I like to call “serviceable,” that is, clear and easily read and understood. Not particularly flashy or eloquent, more Hemingway than highbrow.

I knew it needed polish, so I hired an editor, and I think I got a good one. She worked hard on it, and she definitely improved it, but it was a process that definitely raised my blood pressure whenever I received an email from her. She made a lot of very good criticisms, and my writing absolutely improved. But when she started making a second pass to polish it up a bit, I suddenly realized after struggling mightily with a massively rewritten paragraph that I liked my original version (well, slightly modified by the first pass) much better. And, more importantly, I was able to put my finger on what exactly the problem was. I like simple, clear, easy to read and understand prose that means exactly what it said, and the heavily rewritten version was what I saw as being much more “literary.” It didn’t sound like me, or my characters, at all. I said “I’m done.” I finished up by rejecting many of the most recent edits, asked her what I owed her, made sure the formatting looked good, and hit the big PUBLISH button.

I like clean, simple, easy-to-understand sentences. I like having likable characters. Occasional poetic passages to capture a mood are fine, but an unending series of bad things happening to bad people in a depressing story? No, I’ll take a pass on that. I don’t care how great the style is, if I don’t like the characters, I can’t learn anything useful from them, and there is no significance or value or cool ideas in the story, then it’s a waste of my time.