Worlds to Live In: Atmosphere

Ray Nayler, whose story “Incident at San Juan Bautista” is on sale in our current issue now, visits the blog with insight—invaluable to emerging science fiction writers—on how to achieve that je ne sais quoi that is the atmosphere of a good science fiction story.


When I was a kid, I didn’t look for stories to read: I looked for worlds to live in.

We were feral kids, girls and boys with parents too caught up in their own slow-motion disaster marriages to notice or care what we were doing. So my friends and I spent long summer days and after-school afternoons walking around our sprawling town of Fremont, California, scraping together change to buy comic books and reading them in our “clubhouse”—an abandoned van down by the railroad tracks that sliced through the town. We watched two-dollar triple features of second run science fiction, horror, and action films at the crumbling old movie theater downtown, an art-deco cave that was almost empty most days: during quiet scenes, you could sometimes hear rats battling over ancient Milk Duds up on the balcony.

What we wanted most from the books and comics we read, and from the films we watched, were worlds to escape into. When I began writing, I didn’t start with writing stories: I started with trying to make up worlds for my friends. I started with describing the places we fantasized about living in—haunted forests, space stations, moon bases, drowned cities beneath the waves.

Continue reading “Worlds to Live In: Atmosphere”

Everybody Wants to Live Forever . . .

by Julie Novakova

What would you do if you could live forever? I recently got into a debate on the personal consequences of immortality with a friend of mine. For me, seeking change and novelty seemed natural; after all, if you stack in years after years, don’t you become bored with things that remain the same? For him, almost the opposite rang true—he imagined perfecting one art and yourself with it. Meditating, getting to know yourself deeply, and becoming better still through it. I found it interesting. If taking these approaches to the extremes, you would find running from yourself on one end, and contemplating yourself on the other.


What would most people choose—deliberately or not—if given the chance to become immortal?


Immortality is by far not a new topic in speculative fiction. Already in its roots such as myths or fairy tales, we see immortal beings of all kinds. We’ve got countless depictions of vampires, elves, ghosts, gods, and demigods each dealing with eternal life in their own way. Some struggle because of loss, boredom, or on the other hand unwelcome change; some simply “enjoy the ride”; some are as constant as Earth revolving around the Sun; some experience personality shifts to the extent where they practically become a new being. In popular culture, I especially liked the different takes on immortality in Doctor Who—the Doctor him/herself, Jack Harkness, Lady Me . . . Each represents a different way to deal with eternity, and each also possesses a different kind of “immortality”—the ability to regenerate into another person retaining the previous one’s memories, indestructibility, and eternal youth and health, but with the potential to succumb to deadly injury.

Continue reading “Everybody Wants to Live Forever . . .”

An Accidental Poet

by William Shunn

 

     I never set out to be a poet. Everything that led to poems like “The Golem” [on sale in our September/October issue now] appearing in print happened by accident.

     All right, sure, I did have ambitions to publish my poems when I was in high school in the early ’80s. I even submitted a few to Asimov’s. But looking back over those early efforts, it would appear that my technique consisted mostly of flipping through a thesaurus in search of ten-dollar words I didn’t quite understand and cramming them into sentences where they didn’t quite fit. Those poems still languish, deservedly, in the darkest recesses of my filing cabinet.

     I did always intend to publish fiction. From college on, that was my main focus, and poetry fell by the wayside. I started selling stories here and there, including one to Washed by a Wave of Wind, an anthology of science fiction from the Intermountain West, edited by M. Shayne Bell. When the anthology was published in December 1993, Shayne and I and several other contributors set out in a big van on a book tour to obscure corners of Utah.

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How to Make a Weak Saturday Night Live Skit into a Solid Twilight Zone Episode

David Erik Nelson’s terrifying story “In the Sharing Place” is in our September/October issue on sale now. Join him below as he demonstrates how a genre-switch can save a mediocre piece of writing.


Craftspeople, as a class, spend a lot of time annoyed.

Why? Imagine that you love a thing so much that you want to create more of that thing. But creating that thing is hard; it takes skills you don’t have and time you don’t have, pays very little, and opens you up to criticism and abuse from a lot of armchair generals. But you love the thing a lot (and are a great fool), so you invest a lot of energy in honing the skills need to create more of that thing you love. Meanwhile, since you love the thing, you keep seeking the thing out. Noting the immutability of Sturgeon’s Law, it is inevitable that as your skills improve and tastes grow refined—and you keep devouring ever more of the thing—you’re going to hit an ever-increasing number of examples of imperfect executions of that Thing You Love.

Profound, near-constant annoyance is the natural consequence.

You can do two things with that annoyance:

  1. You can kvetch about it (probably on social media, and almost certainly preaching to your choir)—or
  2. You can rewrite it the way you would have written it (i.e., the Right Way, Dammit!™)

PRO-TIP: Every working artist I’ve asked about this sits squarely in Group #2. The Phantom Menace alone has spawned at least seven published novels penned by hella annoyed sf/f fans.

Consider this SNL skit—which comes so very, very close to being The Best Twilight Zone Episode Never Written that it just about makes you want to weep with frustration. Take five minutes to watch it now:

This piece could be great—it starts out so solidly!—but ultimately falls flat and is unsatisfying. Why? What went wrong?

What Went Wrong with the Greatest Twilight Zone Episode Never Written

Continue reading “How to Make a Weak Saturday Night Live Skit into a Solid Twilight Zone Episode”

Q&A with Mary Soon Lee

Accomplished poet and fiction writer Mary Soon-Lee is in the pages of Asimov’s this month with her poem “Packing for the Afterlife” in our slightly spooky September/October issue.


 

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

MSL: The person doing the packing in the poem isn’t me, but there is an overlap between us. The poem’s first stanza is colored by childhood memories: my mother was Irish; my father would sing hymns while slowly picking out the notes on the piano. The remainder of the poem draws on things I’ve loved since I moved to America: the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope.

 

AE: Is this piece part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

MSL: I often write sets of poems with a thematic or narrative connection, but this one is a stand-alone piece.

 

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

MSL: I began submitting to Asimov’s back in 1992, and continued for years without success. Following the birth of my second child, I took a long hiatus, first writing very little at all, then, when I did write, working on mainstream poetry. In 2013, I returned to writing fantasy and science fiction, and so also returned to submitting to Asimov’s. “Packing for the Afterlife” is my first piece to appear in Asimov’s, but I’m happy to say I have another poem waiting in the inventory. Continue reading “Q&A with Mary Soon Lee”

Q&A with Carrie Vaughn

As she mentions below, Carrie Vaughn’s novelette “The Huntsman and the Beast” is her fifth appearance in our magazine [on sale now], making her a regular contributor—and our readers are grateful for it! In this blog post, she gives us an insight into her writing process and her recent forays into new genres.

 


 

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

CV: To be completely honest, the idea for “The Huntsman and the Beast” came from watching the live-action Disney Beauty and the Beast film last year. This is a story that’s had dozens of retellings, novel, and film versions. One of my favorite writers, Robin McKinley, has written several novel-length retellings. They’re all great and all have something interesting about them, but I suddenly wanted to see something really different. It’s traditionally such a feminine story, with women at the center of them dealing with women’s perspectives on relationships, I wanted to put a man in the center of the story and see how that changed things. How does he deal with being a prisoner, the monstrousness of his captor, etc.

 

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

CV: I relate to both Jack and the Beast, who are both doing the best they can in an unusual situation. They’re both quite practical and down to earth, and I like that. The fun in writing the story was seeing how I could get them to realize that they’re well suited for each other, despite their trust issues. The story really has more in common with a modern romance than a traditional fairy tale. Continue reading “Q&A with Carrie Vaughn”

Q&A with Rick Wilber

Rick Wilber’s latest (Could it be his last? Read on to find out!) Moe Berg story, “The Secret City,” is in our current issue [on sale now]. Here he discusses the conception of the series and describes the many other writing and teaching projects that keep him busy.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece? How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

RW: The back story of “The Secret City” starts with my friend Ben Bova, the novelist and editor. Ben and I had collaborated some years ago on a screen treatment about a fictionalized version of Moe Berg, a famous baseball player who became a spy during World War II. That ultimately came to nothing, but Ben’s deep baseball knowledge and his familiarity with Moe’s fascinating story got me started on writing about him. I grew up in a baseball family—my father played for the Red Sox and Phillies and Cardinals, and was a coach, a scout, and a minor-league manager until he retired in his 60s—but for some reason I hadn’t heard about Moe. So I read Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent biography, The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, and that was it, I was hooked. I started reading everything I could find on Moe, including another excellent book, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb by Thomas Powers. That book explores German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his leadership of the German A-bomb program during World War II.

There’s quite a bit in the book about Moe Berg, including passages about the famous Zurich incident where Moe was incognito in the audience at a lecture by Heisenberg in neutral Switzerland, with orders to assassinate Heisenberg if it looked like the German program was close to building a super bomb. The incident has been fictionalized a number of times by some great writers, but I wanted to take my own my crack at it and I did so in the story, “Something Real,” which appeared in Asimov’s in the April/May 2012 issue. I set it in an alternate history and got pretty wild with it. It was a great pleasure to write, and I was absurdly pleased when it won the 2012 Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History—Short Form.

Continue reading “Q&A with Rick Wilber”