Jan 162015
 

OK, I’m finishing up my week of talking about Red Legacy. I’m sure everyone’s bored of it by now. I considered just stopping and not posting today, but hey, this blog is as much an archive for me as anything else, and I wanted to keep this next part around.

(oh, and yes, this story is the one that led me into the weird moral intuition)

So, before I do my final blogging on this, I will acknowledge that I’ve heard it’s extremely stupid for a writer to ever comment on reviews of his/her work. And honestly, it’s best for everyone involved if the writer doesn’t even read them. But I dunno… I think you just shouldn’t be like Teddy Bear Noir guy. I mean, Larry Correia responded to my review of “Warbound” and I thoroughly enjoyed being engaged, and think everything was very civil and cool. This was the sort of discourse I enjoy! So in that vein, I’m going to try this. If nothing else, I hope I can get a pass under the “first time published” newb-excitement excuse.

That being said, here’s some reviews!

Jarred Bretts says

> the ensuing story of the infiltration of the facility is rather cartoonish and marred by lots of unnecessary violence and gore.

This is absolutely true. I am glad he pointed this out, because the sort of people who dislike this sort of thing will really dislike the story. They should be warned away from it – I don’t want to waste their time, and I don’t want to leave them with a negative association with my name. I thank Jarred for doing what a good reviewer should do.

Farther down on the same page, Nicky Magas says

> Sleep is a luxury and secrecy is everything, but there’s nothing Marya won’t do to keep her daughter alive. Nothing.

Emphasis in original. This makes me extremely happy! This is exactly what I was going for and I’m so glad I managed to touch the right nerve! :) She continues:

> The combination of gene manipulation, social evolution and a mother’s obsessive love makes for an interesting, if at times disturbing story.

The warmth and happiness that I’m feeling at reading that cannot be overstated. I’m very happy when I’m disturbing people. :)

 

Lois Tilton also reviewed Red Legacy, but didn’t have much to say one way or the other, basically just a summary. I assume that means it didn’t touch anything and the story was forgettable. Really the opposite of what a writer hopes for. Ah well, not everything is for everyone.

 

Sam Tomaino says

>A very good debut. I will think about Eneasz Brodski for a future Campbell Award nomination.

Aaaaah, omg omg! Am I jinxing it? Should I not say anything? I mean, holy crap! I’ve heard you shouldn’t fantasize about things you really want, because that feels sorta like getting it, and you’re less motivated to pursue it when you’re getting that happiness-hit via fantasy. But damn, that is *so* everyone’s fantasy! I’m just going to leave this here and walk away, and have silly, silly dreams tonight.

 

EDIT: One more. Mark Watson says “Brodski packs some detail and some depth of the type you rarely see in a first published story, which bodes weill for the future. To be honest if I’d read this, and Michael Bishop’s “Rattlesnakes and Men” without knowing which was written by which writer, I’d have guessed this was the Bishop story, and the other was the novice writer’s story.” I am honored/flattered. :)

Jan 152015
 

twitterSo I’ve finally created a Twitter account – @EneaszWrites. Don’t worry though, I have no plans to engage the wider twitosphere. This is purely a tool for those who want to follow my writings without having to check this lame blog all the time. Whenever something of mine is published, I will tweet the news there. Based on my current track record, this means one tweet every 34 years. :) Hopefully I’ll be able to improve on that with time.

Jan 132015
 

When I first wrote Red Legacy it was a villain origin story. An origin story cuz I felt like writing an origin story, and that of a villain rather than a hero because hero origin stories are played to death and boring, and villains are awesome and interesting. Back then it was called “Red Menace: Origins.” Marya’s super-villain name was going to be “Red Menace” (cuz she’s Russian. Comic books were always subtle like that :) ), and she was going to glow red (that subtlety thing again). That’s actually the primary reason that the radiophage is bioluminecent and glows red – it’s the thing that was going to give her her super-powers and her red glow.

Warning: the rest of the post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the story! Turn back now if you plan to read it later and dislike spoilers!

Like, seriously major spoilers.

OK.

When Sheila Williams wrote me about the story she said (strongly paraphrased) “I like the story, but the ending is no good. How’s about Marya dies instead?” I was reluctant. I enjoyed the whole pulpy comic-book feel of the story. But it was an origin story for it’s own sake, I was not planning to ever write in this universe again, so I decided to go along with it. Plus – it’s mother-fucking Asimov’s, I’m not going to blow my chance to be published there!

And I discovered something crazy – the ending I had written was complete crap. It added absolutely nothing to the story, and it inserted a HUGE distance between the climax and the denouement. I had gotten married to my premise of an origin story and it had led me into ruin. I hacked it out with abandon. I cut 1000 words and replaced them with a single paragraph. And the story was SO MUCH BETTER I can’t even describe it.

That is what a good editor can do. She sees this big ugly mess, spots this tweak that can fix it, and suddenly – bam! With a simple change that no one had been able to see before it’s transformed into something… well, decent, at least! I am immensely grateful for her help. I couldn’t put a price tag on that sort of thing if I tried. So many thanks to Ms Williams, and to all the amazing editors out there.

Jan 122015
 

Testing_bulletproof_vest_1923Things I Learned While Writing – Red Legacy edition.

These are things I didn’t know before, and found out while fact-checking for Red Legacy.

People have been trying to stop bullets for as long as there’ve been bullets. Early black-powder guns were relatively weak, and the lead balls could sometimes be stopped by a good silk shirt. In the 20s gangsters made vests out of multiple layers of very thick cotton, which were effective enough against pistols that the FBI (and presumably rival gangsters) switched to more powerful guns. Flak jackets from WWII were decent at stopping relatively-slow-speed flying shrapnel, but not much use against rifle rounds. After WWII the height of bullet-stopping tech was nylon webbing that held plates of steel or aluminum or ceramic (thus Marya’s upgraded lab coat). Kevlar wasn’t invented and made into armor until the mid-70s.

Every female name in the Russian language ends with the letter “A”. Or at least the ones that don’t are so rare that searching the standard “Russian Names” lists doesn’t produce any.

Chernobyl wasn’t actually a nuclear explosion. I know that this is probably common knowledge to most people, but all I’d really known about it before was that it was a nuclear reactor and a huge tragedy and there was an explosion and the area is still glowing (note: it’s not actually glowing), so of course I assumed it was a nuclear explosion. In fact, the explosion that tore the facility apart was an enormous steam explosion, and the nuclear disaster was when the fuel rods ignited and sent highly radioactive material pluming into the atmosphere for hours. The deaths via radiation sickness of those in the facility directly exposed were gruesome, but there weren’t many of them. The biggest effect was the large area of the nearby country that had to be abandoned for decades, and the still-high prevalence of cancer and genetic disorders among those who were the surrounding populace.

Chernobyl was also a complete cluster-fuck. It was due to a bungled test of a safety feature which didn’t have enough approval, was delayed to a shift that wasn’t prepared for it and then switched to third shift of workers mid-test, and had several mistakes and equipment failures exasperate it. Quite a few things had to all go wrong at once for this to happen, enough so that if it was in a fictional account the readers would groan and say “Are you kidding me? There’s no way that level of incompetence and misfortune would coincide in real life! It would make more sense as the result of enemy action or internal sabotage.” (note that I only very loosely based the Arkhipov incident on Chernobyl. I did the reading more to make sure that what I wrote wasn’t completely preposterous.)

100,000 volts is indeed enough to jump a 1-inch thick rubber sole.

Jan 072015
 

Asimovs Feb 2015Asimov’s Science Fiction has purchased one of my stories!!! This is the first thing I’ve written to be published. I’m very proud. :)

Edit: So excited I forgot to say: It is “Red Legacy”, on page 48.

I’m not sure one can call it Rationalist Fiction, but it is at least rational. It follows a Soviet mad scientist during the Cold War era.

It appears in the February 2015 issue of Asimov’swhich is actually out right now. It is pictured in this post. You can find it in any fine bookstore. [edit 08/04/15: you can now read it online free, at my Fiction page. Or buy it almost anywhere that eBooks are sold.]

Since writers are an egotistical bunch and love talking about their work like parents love talking about their kids, I’ll be posting a few more times over the next week about writing this piece. Sorry about that, but at least I’m warning you in advance. :)

Dec 182014
 

getting-published-introduction (1)When I was a kid, SteamPunk basically didn’t exist. The Difference Engine had come out, sure, but there wasn’t a recognized genre. Nowadays even people who aren’t big into SF/F know what SteamPunk is.

We like Rationalist fiction. I would like for it to be a genre, so I could go and pick up a novel marketed as “Rationalist,” rather than having to hope someone stumbles across one and shares with the rest of us. We’ve adopted several books/author’s as Rationalist (Watt’s “Blindsight”, much of Greg Egan, most of Ted Chaing), but it’s not a recognized genre in the wider culture, and none of them self-identify as Rationalist writers. There are those who could accuse “You’re just appropriating especially well-written SF and trying to use it to make your genre look good!” We currently only have one really exquisite and shining example of self-identified Rationalist fiction, and it can’t be published via traditional means for legal reasons.

So what can we do to promote rationalist fiction? I think the most important step is to continue what we’re already doing – promoting HPMoR via word-of-mouth. It is/will be to Rationalist fiction what Perdido Street Station was for New Weird – the amazing ground-breaking work that gets a core base excited and wanting more. But this alone isn’t enough. Right now, only rationalists read Rationalist fiction. OTOH, a fair number of people regularly read SteamPunk and New Weird, even if they aren’t hardcare fans of the genres, because the genres exist and are accepted in the SF spectrum. They are genres that writers write in. They are genres that publishers publish. And both of these things are true because people are willing to pay money to read those genres.

To expand from a niche internet interest to a full genre there must be money in the game. There are people whose job it is to find stories that they think readers will be willing to pay money to read, and buy those stories from authors. If they are right, and the works are popular, and readers start asking for similar stories, those editors will start to pay attention to the label being used to describe that type of story. “The last rationalist story was well-received. I should try getting another one of those.” And as other authors are exposed to the same works, and find them intriguing, they’ll want to write stories in that style as well. Most SteamPunk writers didn’t create the idea Ex Nihlo, they discovered it via reading and decided “This is really cool, I want to do something like this too!” And when this happens enough times, a genre comes into being.

Right now a lot of us are cutting our teeth, figuring out how to write a thing. But eventually we need to up our game. Maybe you don’t much care if it becomes a recognized genre, you prefer the close-knit community of internet publishing. If you’re like me though, and you want this to bloom, take that next step – try to get published in a recognized market, while publicly identifying your work as “rationalist fiction.” Ideally in a pro-paying market, which SFWA guidelines say is $0.06 per word or more. Failing that, semi-pro is a good close-second.

Yes, it’s hard. It’s painful to be rejected over and over again, often after months of waiting. But it makes you better. It makes the writing better. And it will help the genre to become established. We can’t all be Eliezer (some people would claim only one of us can be!), but we can help expand the genre in other ways.

Jul 012014
 

rejections(skip to bottom for the big reveal if you get bored)

In some of my spare time, I try to write Speculative Fiction. I’ve written a half-dozen stories, and every now and then I get people asking me “Why don’t you just self-publish online?” At the most basic level it isn’t terrible difficult, and I already have three years experience publishing this podcast thing. What’s the hold-up?

And my answer is always that I don’t know if I’m good enough to be worth it. There’s already tons of free fiction out there (some of it very good!), and I don’t need to be clogging up the inter-tubes with crap. Of course I think what I write is great, but I’m probably the least qualified person in the entire world to judge the quality of my work. And I can’t entirely trust my friends/loved ones either, as they also have a vested interest in not hurting my feelings. Even when trying to be impartial, simply knowing the author can often make things seem cooler than they would be to a neutral 3rd party.

It’s probably well-known that 99% of authors don’t make crap for money. Almost all of them have day jobs, the money from writing is not enough to support even a single person. We write because we love writing, not because there’s money in it. So why try to get money at all? Why not just self-publish everything?

Because the barrier that is money keeps you honest. If I just put up anything I write, I don’t know if it’s any good. In fact I had a very visceral demonstration of this once… I went back to the first story I’d written about 6 months after I first put it to paper and re-read it. When I’d first written it I thought it was amazing and brilliant and would win all sorts of awards. Upon re-reading it 6 months later I saw how crappy it was, and how much work it needed simply to get to not-being-pure-suckitude. Never had I been happier that instead of simply publishing it online I’d sent it around to get rejected by several magazines.

“Will an editor pay money for this” is a bit of a lower-boundary on quality, for me. I still don’t know if my stuff is good. But if someone is willing to shell out a few hundred dollars in the expectation that they’ll make that money back, it says to me that it is at least not terrible. It is the most honest barometer I know of right now.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying: I just sold a story for the first time! :D I’ll post more when I know more, but it’ll be coming out in Asimov’s sometime in the near future!

(In the tradition of Racheal Acks, above is a picture of all the rejections I’ve received up to the date of my first sale. Not all for the sold story, of course.)

Apr 152014
 

writeAn acquaintance asked a group of us to motivate him to finish his story for a writer’s workshop in a few days rather than attending the local book festival coming that weekend.

Ahem.

There will be other book festivals. If you go to this one, what lasting impact will you have on the world? What will be left of your life after you are gone? If you go to a book festival – nothing. Temporary enjoyment, and then it’s gone in a flash. If you work and produce something – possibly a great work of art. Perhaps not this one that you’re writing, but it will be one more stone laid in the foundation for what will become your legacy.

Do you want to fade to nothing like almost everyone else who’s ever lived? Or do you want your life to mean something?

Write.

Feb 252014
 

burning_rage_final_by_shadowphoenix88-d48hqdnCurrently there’s a trend in writing to avoid direct descriptives. Saying “he collapsed in exhausted” is a no-no. You describe his actions and let them speak for themselves, or you describe the physical sensations of exhaustion to let the reader feel the exhaustion. Such as “He dragged his leaden feet to the couch, eyes straining to stay open, until he could collapse in a heap on the cushions.” or “a deep ache suffused his body. It sunk to his core with a dull, constant pressure like weights pulling at his bones.” (respectively).

I don’t have an opinion either way on this. A trend is what it is, you go with it until it passes. But it does have two effects.

On the logistical side, it increases the word-count of stories. That’s irritating for someone who already struggles to fit within the limits most markets set, but it’s not that interesting.

The more fascinating part is that you begin to realize that writers have made up a veritable cornucopia of repetitive, unnecessary vocabulary.

As far as I know it’s always been considered a bit gauche to use the same word twice in quick succession. So if you’re trying to describe the faux pas of some maladroit bungler without looking awkward yourself, you need a plethora of words to do it gracefully. But really, how much difference is there between them? If they could be swapped willy-nilly without changing the meaning of the sentence, were all those extra words even needed?

I’m not trying to pick on fancy-pants writers in their ivory towers here. I think all humans in general over-imbue meaning onto simple subjective experiences. Consider something as simple and concrete as pain. We have a lot of words to flavor our pain. “Pain” is just pain, but misery often connotes a long, drawn-out process, and torment generally implies pain inflicted by an outside source.

But when you embrace the current trend and start describing the physical sensations of being in pain, you come to realize that this complexity is a conceit we force onto the concept. There are only a handful of ways we experience pain on the physical level. Our bodies are fairly simple organic mechanisms, with a few standard ways of throwing out distress signals. Because these signals are so simple and limited, they are often confused with each other and misinterpreted when their sources are not easily identifiable. (quick pro tip: get enough sleep, and exercise. That’s nearly half of emotional suffering.)

This doesn’t apply just to pain. Our emotional responses are really quite basic, and there’s only so many times you can describe a jump in heart rate or a tightening of the muscles. We humans like to think we’re so much more than basic stimulus-and-response. It’s the reason we invented all these words in the first place, isn’t it? To flatter ourselves. Now that the fancy words themselves aren’t enough we’re spending more and more time coming up with elaborate metaphors to paint a picture of what the word was originally supposed to evoke.

We no longer say: “I pushed through the pain of speaking those dreaded words.”

Now it’s “I forced up the core of dread that had been smoldering inside me for the last month, coals of hot regret. They burned me when I spoke.”

The second is certainly more poetic. But does it detract from the story to focus so much on the wording?

There is likely a happy medium which I, in my beginner’s exuberance, am entirely unaware of. Perhaps with time I’ll find it. Until then, my prose will alternate between stilted and purple. :)

Feb 212014
 
Not me

Not me

I recently had a story workshopped. Which, BTW, is the best thing ever, and every aspiring writer should do this. I gained three levels in one day. Anyway, in the story a male character is introduced and described by a female character as “tall, but not uncomfortably so.” A workshopper of the female persuasion asked me what the heck that meant.

“it isn’t clear who would be uncomfortable with (his) height or why (she) is considering potential uncomfortableness.  In what context is she making this observation?

(She) could be thinking that (he) is quite tall but not so tall that it would be awkward for him (socially? physically?) […] (She) could be thinking that (he) is quite tall but not so tall that it would be awkward for her (psychologically? romantically?)”

It took me a bit of thinking to understand this. I am a somewhat tall man – 6’2” (188cm for the non-Americans). When I run into someone more than a couple inches taller than me (over 195ish cm) I get a sort of instinctual “grrrrr” reaction. It’s stupid and I try to ignore it, but I’m wary of them. Who is this person daring to be that much taller than I am? What are they planning?

I should have realized this ages ago, but most women don’t have this reaction. Upon considering my workshopper’s questions I was reminded of something my SO told me not too long ago, which I obviously never internalized. Height is for women what boob-size is for men. The person can’t control it; it’s objectively stupid; and the sex appeal is undeniable and deeply ingrained. It’s very hard to ever reach the limit of “too much”. Swapping the two around when trying to think like the other gender can help quite a bit.

With that in mind, I suddenly saw exactly where the confusion arose. If I read “Her boobs were big, but not uncomfortably so” I’d immediately have the same questions. I had failed deeply at understanding a non-me POV. That line was atrocious.

I have much to learn.