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 Laura E. Reeve, Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

 

The Eclectic Speculative Fiction Reader

I believe anyone who wants to publish in a genre, should read in that genre. So I read science fiction, fantasy, and some horror, which I call "speculative fiction." For a definition of speculative fiction, however, I can only mumble about futuristic or fantastic elements, then point to the SF/Fantasy section of the bookstore. The genre is defined by the readers who buy it, which isn't such a bad idea, is it?

Every reader has a different definition of this genre and subgenres. I have a friend who says Science Fiction is the Star Wars Universe, period. Another thinks my Kedros series is Fantasy (Has she seen the Vigilante cover? Is that fairy dust shooting from Ari's honking big weapon that she's never used?) The point is, under the sign that says "Science Fiction & Fantasy," you can find anything...

Laura, at her desk

The Eclectic Reader

 

Seven Crucial Elements of Military SF

Seven elements military Science Fiction should contain, from the perspective of a former servicewoman and lifelong SF reader.

 

I read Best Military SF of the 20th Century because I was curious whether military SF worked well in the short form. The preface, by Harry Turtledove, was a historical perspective of military SF. But as I read this collection of reprints, I realized that many weren’t military SF.

From those I considered military or military-flavored SF, I answered my question. In my opinion, military SF doesn’t work well in the short form. In this “best of” collection, some selections felt like novellas and two were the beginnings of what would be best-selling genre novels (Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card, and Dragonrider, by Anne McCaffrey).

After that I read Brandon Sanderson’s short story (or novella) Firstborn, which was fairly good—then went on a novel-length military SF reading binge. I find the novel-length military SF gives me my “fix,” what I need, and the shorter forms aren’t as satisfying. BTW, I’d never read Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet series, but now I’m hooked with the first book (see sidebar).

Through this binging I began to wonder: Why does military SF usually need a longer form? What are the identifying elements of military SF? I came up with seven essential elements military SF should have. The first element covers extrinsic values, while the remaining are intrinsic:

1. The minimal extrinsic requirements, a.k.a. “the Editor’s laundry list for military SF”

These are the features an editor ticks off when reading a synopsis. As with all building blocks of fiction, they’re tools and they’re only as good as their wielder: Read more »

Any opinions?

  • Illuminating (12)
  • Interesting (16)
  • Useful (7)
  • Ho-Hum (6)

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Rumination Warning)

I’m behind on my reviews. It’s obvious when I look at my pile of already-read books on the corner of my desk. I pick up the oldest—when I suddenly realize that I read The Hunger Games before this one.

The Hunger Games couldn’t be in this pile because it was the first e-book I got for my Nook. Barnes & Noble offered it, free, when buying their e-reader. For the sake of expedience and my frazzled memory, here’s a list of (somewhat) unrelated points I’ve learned as a result of reading this book:

1. It’s really easy to put down (and forget) an e-Book

The Nook isn’t my first e-Reader. We also have a Sony, which is used by hubby when he travels. Up until Hunger Games, however, I hadn’t finished a novel on either e-Reader… Why?

First, there’s no nagging book cover sitting on my bedside stand at bedtime (I do my reading in the 15-30 minutes before I go to sleep). Sometimes the e-Reader itself is missing: hubby helpfully moves e-Readers back to the charging station in the other room and, apparently, nothing but a real page-turner will remind me to go pick it up.

So The Hunger Games was the first novel I finished on an e-Reader because it is a page-turner. But I don’t remember it that well–its story seemed more ephemeral than others I’ve recently read. E-ink and other e-reader display technologies were supposed to solve the “comprehension and retention problems” with “electronic screen” reading (look it up), but maybe they’re not solved yet?

2. It’s about the pacing conflict tension

I wanted to nail down the reason(s) why I couldn’t put this book down. At first, I thought it was due to good pacing (how much action is in each chapter, the use of short chapters, cliff-hangers at chapter endings). But no, action and chapter structure aren’t enough of an inducement to read.

Then I thought it might be due to internal and external character conflict. But no, there’s hardly any internal conflict. The protagonist accepts her situation (rather easily) and runs on automatic, letting her survival skills drive her decisions. Also, I didn’t consider her that likable, which works directly against the page-turning urge. The external conflict is artificial and a product of the “Hunger Games”—themselves the result of a very contrived world—which the heroine acknowledges and accepts. Read more »

Any opinions?

  • Illuminating (0)
  • Interesting (5)
  • Useful (1)
  • Ho-Hum (0)

The Fuller Memorandum, by Charles Stross

Sometimes life swats you around and you don’t have time to update your blog. ‘Nuff said about my problems, which are nothing compared to Bob Howard’s issues in Stross’s The Fuller Memorandum.

Bob Howard is your garden-variety drab IT professional—until he stumbles upon the truth: there really are Lovecraftian monsters out there in other dimensions. They usually break into our world through computational algorithms or when misguided minions call them through via arcane sacrifices and ceremonies. The only thing protecting the ordinary British citizen from the gibbering brain-eating monsters that linger in the shadows is a secret organization called “The Laundry” (sort of an MI-6 that’s got the computer support of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, but the lumbering protocols of the Internal Revenue Service.)

The Upshot

I’ve already covered the two previous books in this series, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue. Once again, as the front cover states: it’s Bob Howard versus Evil—and Evil cheats.

In this third book, computational demonologist Bob Howard will “run afoul of Russian agents, ancient demons, and the apostles of a hideous faith who have plans to raise a very unpleasant entity known as the Eater of Souls.” He’ll investigate the mysterious (and missing) Fuller Memorandum and it’s connection to his boss—learning plenty of things he probably didn’t want to know.

What worked: Stross’s world is delightfully drawn with dry humor and irony. I liked the characters and the story (as well as the historical puzzle/story within a story).

What didn’t work: I wasn’t so enamored with the “frame.” An author uses a frame to give the story context, as well as make the beginning and ending of a novel connect. In this case, it wasn’t a frame story, but starting and ending monologues. These monologues didn’t seem necessary and they complicated the novel instead of clarifying it. But this frame consisted of about four pages, so it was a small nit that I ignored in favor of the contained story.

And I’d rather talk about Charlie Stross’s successful use of humor… Read more »

Any opinions?

  • Illuminating (1)
  • Interesting (2)
  • Useful (3)
  • Ho-Hum (0)

Cursor’s Fury, by Jim Butcher

Why start with the third novel in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series? Well, it’s the best way to evaluate a series: how strong is the overall story, how complete is the world, how engaging are the characters, and how capable is the author (particularly with backstory)? In this case, Butcher excels in all areas.

From the (lackluster) back cover blurb:

When the power-hungry High Lord of Kalare launches a merciless rebellion against the First Lord, young Tavi of Calderon joins a newly formed Legion under an assumed name. And when the ruthless Kalare allies himself with a savage enemy of the Realm, Tavi finds himself leading an inexperienced, poorly equipped Legion—the only force standing between Alera and certain doom…

An Aside on Back Cover Synopses

I called it lackluster, but the back cover synopsis is pretty much the norm for epic fantasy. Is the main character loyal and honorable? Check (after all, he’s joining a Legion.) Facing a ruthless and merciless antagonist? Check. Facing savage enemies of the realm? Check. Standing between the realm and certain doom? Check.

Unfortunately, the mid-series blurb is hard to write and it rarely conveys much about the series. There’s no space to explain the overarching conflict (just a reference to the “power-hungry High Lord of Kalare” rebelling against “the First Lord”), a conflict which must be composed of intrigue, politics, power struggles, and warfare—because this is epic fantasy. And, unless we’re familiar with Tavi and why he’s so integral to this (epic) conflict, the blurb will merely reinforce the book’s sub-genre. That’s also the biggest job of the cover—telegraphing it’s sub-genre and type to the readers who will be interested in it. At the least, the blurb and cover must promise epic deeds and warfare, generally in a world rife with danger and magic, even if we don’t yet understand the specifics of the plot.

Backstory: A Necessity, But Not an Evil

What generally can’t be related in mid-series blurbs or synopses is backstory. Most beginning fiction writers groan when they try to season their beginning chapters with backstory. Likewise, most craft books treat backstory like it’s a necessary evil—something that must be provided to the reader, as well as being onerous and tricky for the writer (well, it’s certainly onerous for the reader if the writer isn’t doing a good job).

Here’s another take: I submit that backstory is what makes a character interesting and drives the story forward. Backstory forms questions about the character that the reader wants answered. Backstory builds mystery about a character and drives character motivation.

When we read stand-alone romances, thrillers, or mysteries—we can’t form attachments to characters without the author providing tidbits of backstory. Why should we care if Amy isn’t interested in the hunky hero? (Hint… her previous relationship ended in tragedy). Why should we care if Sarah is being followed and watched at night? (Hint… she might be under Witness Protection). Why should we care if Hank is missing? (Hint… he’s a great husband and father but he has a dark past…) Read more »

Any opinions?

  • Illuminating (1)
  • Interesting (4)
  • Useful (2)
  • Ho-Hum (0)