TGOK News and Gift Suggestions

I’m working on the final edits for TGOK II and the book is coming along great. As I mentioned before, official release date is November 2016.

The Grace of Kings made it onto B&N SFF blog’s “The Best Science-Fiction & Fantasy of 2015” list as well as NPR Book Editor Petra Mayer’s “Books To Give As Gifts This Year” list.

Looking at the other entries on these lists, I’m in disbelief—many of the writers listed here are my literary idols! My debut has certainly found its audience, and I can’t be prouder of what it has accomplished.

Also, on December 3, 2016, the UK edition of TGOK is going to be published by Head of Zeus. The hardback has a gorgeous cover that really pops when you see it in person. I’m really pleased with how this one came out.

Cover for UK edition of TGOK

Since it’s time for year-end shopping for gifts, I figured I’d make some book recommendations:

  • The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson — The most original book I read all year, a nuanced, layered exploration of concepts about black masculinity. Here’s my blurb for it: “Lyrical and polyphonous, gorgeous and brutal, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is an unforgettable tale of love that empowers.”

  • Flex/The Flux, by Ferrett Steinmetz — I loved Flex, and the sequel The Flux is even better. (Imagine video game players as wizards…) Anyone who loves video games, Fight Club, and bureaucracy will simply whoop in delight. So. Much. Fun.

  • Black Wolves, by Kate Elliott — This is a massive, massive epic fantasy (and it’s only the first volume in a trilogy!). The world is rich, complex, textured, as are the characters and their relationships. Features some wonderful twists on epic fantasy tropes: women and men both fight, old and the young are equally valuable, cultures are not monolithic, and the politics isn’t pseudo-Medieval. The best epic fantasy of the year.

  • Updraft, by Fran Wilde — Human-powered flight in a world of giant bone-towers in the clouds. The engineering in this world is awesome and the characters are utterly sympathetic. Plus, there are some excellent action sequences. Fran is also giving a lecture on December 3 at the Library of Congress about human-powered flight in literature. If you’re around, definitely go hear her talk.

  • The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard — A lush fantasy set in alt-20th century France that explores magic and the flow of power in a colonial landscape. The writing is particularly beautiful and atmospheric. To be savored.

  • First Last Snow, by Max Gladstone — Another entry in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, which are novels about law and economics recast as magic. If you haven’t read the Craft Sequence before, this is a good place to start (the books are written to be read in any order). There’s a scene involving BATNA that’s simply delightful.

  • Black Easter, by Dario Ciriello — A supernatural thriller that takes place in WWII and the present day. The plot is tight and Ciriello does some really interesting things with the conventions of the genre. I felt shivers as I read it.

And if you’re into short stories, I can recommend two collections:

  • Selected Stories, by Jake Kerr — Kerr’s stories are moving, experimental, fun, thoughtful, and fun. This debut collection (available exclusively on the Kindle) is a good intro to his work. He’s also a YA novelist, and his novels are definitely worth checking out for YA fans.

  • H. G. Wells, Secret Agent, by Alex Shvartsman — a collection of three novellas/novelettes set in a steampunk spy-thriller world. Fast-paced and humorous, this collection ought to delight any steampunk fan.

Short Fiction News

I didn’t write many short stories this year (working on TGOK II took up most of my writing time), but I did write a few.

War Stories From the Future cover

One of them is “Article I, Section 8, Clause 11” (of the US Constitution, of course), a story I wrote for the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project. My contribution, along with stories by David Brin, August Cole, Linda Nagata, and many others, are collected in an anthology called War Stories From the Future, which is free for the public to download and read. Certainly I hope the anthology stimulates discussion about the evolution of warfare, but I also think these stories are fun to read.

Cover for Altogether Elsewhere

I also made one of my favorite stories that’s never been reprinted online before, “Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer” (originally published in F&SF, May/June 2011), available on the new online publishing platform Moozvine under a Creative Commons license. This post-Singlarity story about math and poetry is free to read on Moozvine, and I hope you enjoy it. (If you do enjoy this story and others on the site, please consider pledging a few dollars to support me and other artists trying to contribute to Creative Commons.)

Beautiful Dreamer

Back in 2012, I wrote a flash story called “Memories of My Mother,” which was published by Daily Science Fiction. It’s a tale about a mother who makes a pretty unusual decision to be able to spend more time with her child. It’s very short and won’t take you more than five minutes to read.

The director David Gaddie then approached me about turning it into a short film. I said, sure, not really sure what to expect.

Well, I’ve now seen the film, and it is AMAZING. The best film adaptations strip away most of the source material and keeps only the kernel, re-presenting it in a new visual language that fully takes advantage of the medium. That’s what David has done here. There are so many things he’s added that I just love, and the effects, acting, sound, and cinematography are all top notch. You can see the first teaser trailer below.

David is going to show the film on the festival circuit before distributing it online. (So if you go to film festivals, keep an eye out for it.) Meanwhile, you can follow the film’s progress on its Facebook page.

Beautiful Dreamer Trailer from AfterPartyVFX on Vimeo.

“The Arab of the Future”

Just bought Riad Sattouf’s new book (it’s just been released in English). I’m looking forward to it.

There’s an interesting profile on Sattouf by Adam Shatz in The New Yorker:

Sattouf himself seemed to want people to read as little into his work as possible and insisted that his project was to write about his childhood in a remote village, not about Syria, much less about the Arab world. “If I had written a book about a village in southern Italy or Norway, would I be asked about my vision of the European world?” he said. “This idea of the Arab world is a mirage, really.” Perhaps it is. Yet that mirage, which Sattouf’s father mistook for the future, is the subject of the memoir. And Sattouf didn’t call the book “The Boy from Ter Maaleh”; he called it “The Arab of the Future.”

The excerpt from the book in the article sold me on it.

The Right to Move

Nicholas Schmidle writing for The New Yorker:

Once his wife arrived, they would have children and he would raise them as Swedes. He didn’t care if his kids spoke Arabic. He added, in broken English, “I worship Sweden.”

‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’

The right to free movement through borders and to live wherever one wished is a fundamental human right.

Steve Jobs, the Movie

From The Hollywood Reporter:

“Since the very beginning, Laurene Jobs has been trying to kill this movie, OK?” (Laurene’s character does not figure in the film, while Jobs’ daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, from another relationship, plays a prominent part.) “Laurene Jobs called Leo DiCaprio and said, ‘Don’t do it.’ Laurene Jobs called Christian Bale and said, ‘Don’t [do it].’ “

Reps for Bale and DiCaprio were unable to verify that, and Laurene Jobs did not return calls. A Sony executive confirms, however, that: “She reached out; she had a strong desire not to have the movie made. But we said, ‘We’re going to move forward.’ My understanding is, she did call one or two of the actors.” Another source says that Laurene lobbied each major studio in an attempt to kill the project.

I haven’t seen the film, but many who knew Jobs have said that it fails to capture what was most interesting about the man, and it’s understandable that Laurene Jobs would be pained by a project that seems to trade off her late husband’s fame while rejecting the principles that bind a biographer. It’s no secret that Sorkin has said that “Art is not about what happened”. This is a sentiment that I’m generally somewhat sympathetic to, though with deep reservations in this case.

While it is true that most of us approach most art with an understanding that the rhetorical mode on offer is not about “facts” but “Truth” — emotional or metaphorical — a film like Steve Jobs is different. The reason many (if not most) viewers are going to see this film is because they’re fascinated by the real Steve Jobs, and it seems odd to claim that the art on offer has no responsibility at all toward the facts.

Writers wrestle with this problem all the time — especially those of us who write fictionalized accounts of historical events. When I wrote “The Man Who Ended History,” I felt the heavy weight of responsibility to the victims of the mass atrocities. In that case, the art was definitely about what happened because it was the reason why I was interested in writing about it in the first place.

I don’t have a good answer for how much fictionalization is “too much.” Like most questions of this sort, the “right” answer(s) vary by subject, by the subject’s distance (temporal and physical) from the audience, by the politics of the real world, and so on. Personally, I hew to the principle that I should try to minimize suffering — I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Who Should Take Credit for The Martian?

Lisa and I got to see The Martian last week, and I did enjoy it (as have 93% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes), though not as much as I had hoped. Among many other problems, the most egregious issues with the adaptation are these:

  1. Almost every single interesting episode in the book has been either eliminated or drastically simplified, which made them less engaging and dramatic. For instance, contrast the “rover hacking” and “blown airlock” episodes from the book with the film versions.

  2. The adaptation failed to give a sense of the long delays required for communications between Mars and Earth — an important contributor to the threat facing Mark. (NASA and Watney couldn’t just IM each other, as the film seemed to imply.)

But rather than going on and on about how the film came up short, I want to talk about something else: most critics are treating this film as though the writer, Andy Weir, was irrelevant to its success.

Take this bit from Christopher Orr of the Atlantic:

In this, the collaborators who put together the film—Scott, Goddard, the cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, the entire cast, and on down the list—resemble the NASA folks and Hermes crewmembers of the movie itself: They are all pulling together toward the same goal, and doing so with extraordinary skill and tenacity.

Conspicuously absent in this list is the author whose novel was the foundation of the film. Is it really right for his name to be left off here, placed below “and on down the list”? (To be fair, Weir is mentioned once in the beginning of the review: “Drew Goddard’s screenplay is a sharp, nimble adaptation of the novel by Andrew Weir” — but the very phrasing here minimizes the value of Weir’s book.)

Even more curious is the fact that almost everything Orr liked about the film was sourced directly from the book:

There are no tedious backstories, no leaps of rampant illogic, no poorly cast performances, no tacked-on romantic subplots, no extended narrative lulls.

These praises are far more accurate when applied to the book than the film.

The Martian has a degree of humor uncharacteristic of a Scott film, including a running gag about the awfulness of the disco tracks that were left behind with Watney … But perhaps the movie’s best joke involves the love for J.R.R. Tolkien that is apparently encoded into the DNA of every living male nerd.

These clever bits are all from … you guessed it, Weir’s book.

I have long been puzzled by our obsession with assigning credit for collective endeavors to a single individual (e.g., scientists who get Nobel prizes are rarely single-handedly responsible for those discoveries). In film criticism, we worship the director as though they’re single-handedly responsible for all good ideas in the result, but in the case of The Martian, this is just wrong. If we enjoy the film, it’s because Weir wrote a great story that could be simplified into a film without too much loss.