The Superversive is Everywhere. Join the Chorus!

Since I began writing here at SuperversiveSF, I’ve emphasized already-existing examples of the Superversive. The reason is simple: so that, when you’re talking to others, you have ready examples to point to of existing works that are popular, influential, or both. This matters when persuading others, because if they can associate the Superversive concept with things they already know (and, hopefully, like) then getting them to look into what the Superversive Movement has to offer becomes easier.

By the same token, we should seek out others working in those other media and encourage them in creating their own Superversive works. Comics, films, poems, statuary, paintings- whatever. As the word grows (and it will), so will more flock to the banners, and with that change comes the opportunity to make visible the invisible damage done to our cultures worldwide- and then to present the replacements that repair and rejuvenate it.

Which is why I’m making a shift in my posting topic. Rather than show you more of what is already there, I want to show you how to add your voice to that mighty chorus and sing forth again the Song of Creation that made this beautiful world possible.

You’ve seen where the Superversive exists, and have taken from there into yourself. Now? Now we make our own, here, and bring it forth unto there and harmonize with that infinite chorus to carry the music forward yet another generation and drown out the discord of the subversive that seeks to reduce one and all to nameless goo under some disposable psuedo-culture. Write, draw, sculpt, play- however you do, do here and do now. Come join the chorus.

Signal Boost: Good to the Last Drop

Live and Let Bite is the second book of the Love at First Bite series to be nominated for a Dragon Award. And yes, when half of my quartet is nominated for an award, it’s the award nominated series. If I recall correctly, Brian Niemeier had gotten away with it when it was just Nethereal nominated.

So what does this nomination mean? It means business as usual.

Book four of the Dragon Award Nominated series is coming: Good to the Last Drop is coming, August 28th. Why the 28th? It’s coincidentally right before DragonCon. Funny that.

And yes, it’s the last book. This is a quartet. Marco and Amanda are going to have one last ride, and when I say that the armies of darkness are coming for them, I’m not exaggerating.

Of course, you know what it means when it’s the end of a series, don’t you? That’s right! It’s time to up the body count!

For the Whedon fans out there, let’s just say that it’s time to …. Wash the cast.

The final war is about to begin, in this conclusion to the Dragon Award Nominated series

 

Merle Kraft, Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt have battled against the mythical Council, a supernatural conspiracy that monsters fear. This war has brought them up against vampires, minions, and demons from Hell.. Along the way, they have accumulated allies among the police, the military, the mafia, college students, lowly street gangs, and even other vampires.

 

Marco and Amanda have overcome their biggest terror — their passion for each other.

 

But now, they face the final threat, one that is the culmination of every threat before them. This creature from Hell has powers beyond anything they’ve ever seen before, and has allies of his own: including SpecOps minions, an army of vampires, and packs of werewolves.

 

And that was before Marco got bit.

Yeah. This ending is going to be epic.

Pre order TODAY

Can We Go Back To Good Story Telling?

It seems my rant on Strong Female Characters hit a chord with people. I was not expecting that at all. Usually, I am the minority opinion when it comes to just about everything.

I thought I’d follow that up with a game plan of where I think fiction should be going. (This may end up in multiple parts because I don’t want it to end up with a novel length blog post.)

The simple answer is we should be producing fiction that is less superficial and with more substance. We should be rediscovering the basics of good storytelling.

I have to admit, I haven’t had as much time to read as I’d like the last few years. Much of my reading has been via audiobooks while I’m cleaning or working on manual tasks. That dwindled when the variety of books took a sharp left turn. Movies aren’t any better, I’ve only watched the occasional movie when I force myself to slow down that long for a movie that looked good. Going to the theatre helped, because popcorn, with all its buttery goodness.

But, I digress.

I miss the days when I could walk into the library and walk away with a dozen books worth reading. I’m terrible with names, but I recall going through the entire section of John Saul books and hundreds of historical romance novels. Then I moved on to the fantasy genre and some science fiction. Then, somewhere along the way, popular fiction lost me. Romance became more about hot sex scenes and less about romance. Horror turned to gore. And science fiction and fantasy took too much LSD or something. Vampires became the good guys, religion became a bad thing and agendas trumped good stories.

I finally discovered good storytelling again in indie books.

Complicated Characters Make For Good Stories

There are a number of authors who do an excellent job of creating characters that could step off the page fully formed.

Mandy from Codename: Winterborn and Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn is one of my favorites. She is tough, but believable. She compensates for her size with weapons and her disadvantages are evident when in direct confrontation. Close combat is not her thing. Besides being tough, she’s also compassionate and loyal and somewhat of a daddy’s girl. Her moral code is a bit lacking in places, which helps round out her character.

Another character by Declan Finn that I’m in love with is Marco from his Love At First Bite Series. That is one very flawed character, who gets his butt handed to him a few times. It’s rare that I find a character who is the hero, who could pass for a villain. He’s got anger issues (not unlike a few people I know), but he’s also very protective of those he cares about. He also thinks that his penchant for violence makes him a monster. Instead of becoming the monster he thinks he is, Marco directs all of that hostility towards the menace that is trying to take over and trying to do what’s right.

Others authors who have great characters are Amie Gibbons, author of The Gods Defense and  Marina Fontaine, author of Chasing Freedom. In both books, I could pick out characters that reminded me of people that I know. And even though Amie’s characters wield power or shape shift, the motivations, feelings, habits and personalities of the characters are familiar and relatable.

In my recently released novel, Path of Angels, my goal was to tell a good story and to have relatable characters. I have to admit, I failed at first. My draft had my lead female character, Aadi, too weak and whiny and my male lead lacked a purpose other than to keep Aadi from getting herself killed. It made the story weak, even though I had a good deal of action and adventure. The characters brought the story down.

I had to go back in and find that purpose for Mischa. His storyline had to be something that was not all about Aadi. He had to have his own goals and ambitions. His antics and those of his other friends he kept hidden from Aadi, because she wouldn’t agree with him being so openly rebellious. His motivation for accompanying her on her quest was not as altruistic as it had been originally. It was more pragmatic. I also, ended up separating them in part of the story to give Aadi a chance to grow and learn on her own rather than being coddled the entire journey.

With this being my first novel, I know there are likely still issues that I need to work on in the next books. There are places that aren’t as strong as they could be in the story, but I have tried to follow the basic rules of storytelling and making my characters as real as possible.

It think you get the picture. So what is my point in all of this?

I propose that we go back to the basics of good writing again.

  1. Build characters that could walk off the page fully formed. Whether that is a homeless man on the streets of NYC or a superhuman with powers to move the Earth. Deep down, they all have motivations, feelings, flaws, strengths and weaknesses that make them relatable.
    .
  2. Give them purpose. Characters learn and grow through obstacles, so give them some. There should be the question of whether they will overcome the obstacle or not.
    .
  3. Make sure the story is theirs to tell. The strongest stories come from the characters with the most to gain or lose. Find that character in your story and follow them.

To be continued….

Romance! As Understood By Little Girls

With Valentine’s Day coming up, and our theme on this month’s Roundtable being romance, I thought it was apt to write a little something about romance. But we don’t need just little old me talking about it. Oh no no, we need some fresh, young perspective! And so I decided to interview my little sister and her friend. Who better to give romantic advice than little girls? Cianna is 6 and her friend Chastity is 9. Let’s see what they have to say about this whole love thing, and about what makes a good romance story.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Chastity: No

Cianna: Yes

Oh? Why do you, or don’t you believe in love at first sight?

Chasity: I think it’s really really weird. I don’t think you can start a relationship before you actually have a relationship as friends.

Cianna: Because it’s cute

Tell me about your favorite love story.

Chastity: I really like the love story of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. And I also like the love story of Aladdin.

What is it about those love stories that make it your favorite?

Chastity: Um, I don’t know. They’re really cute and adorable and sweet how they… they just meet and grow in their relationship together, and um…. it’s really adorable.

What is it they do together, or for each other, that strengthens them and makes them a good couple? Like, do you think making sacrifices for each other is a good thing?

Chasity: Yes yes. Like I watched a Tarzan video last night, and Tarzan sacrificed his life for his whole family, and for the girl that was killing him.

Wow, that’s pretty intense. Why did he sacrifice himself for the girl that was killing him?

Chastity: Because he’s such a nice person. *giggles*

What about you Cianna, what’s your favorite love story?

Cianna: Robin Hood. (note: She is referring to the old classic with Errol Flynn from 1938… she’s obsessed with it!)

What makes Robin Hood your favorite love story?

Cianna: ummmmm….. Robin.

What is it about Robin?

Cianna: Well he’s nice and practically the main character in this story.

Is it because he’s brave and dashing, and puts others before himself?

Cianna: Uh huh!

And what do you think of the maid Marian?

Cianna: Well she’s cute.

Why do you think they fall in love with each other?

Cianna: Well…. it’s kinda cute….

Chasity: We it’s probably because they are both really caring and loving to other people, and put others before themselves. So they have a lot of similarities so… them um…

Cianna: Yeah that’s what I was gonna say.

Chastity: *giggles* Yeah right!

I was just watching it, and I think when maid Marian saw that Robin Hood was actually the good guy and really helping people, that opened her eyes. And then when maid Marian helped rescue Robin Hood, he saw how much she cared about him. And so he fell in love with her, too.

Are there any stories that it didn’t make sense for the people to fall in love?

Chasity: Uh…. I think in a dream? Oh I remember! It was in the Braidy bunch, when a guy just met the girl that day. And they get married in the guy’s house.

Then the girls started talking about something else, and laughing and giggly, and the conversation was at an end. Ah well, I managed to get some good thoughts.

 

The first thing I noticed is that in Chastity perspective, the best relationships start small. Growing from a friendship into something more. Cianna likes ones that are cute. I think these things relate- that is, I think having a relationship that grows from the bottom up is what makes it cute.

See, Cianna used to not like kissing. She would be the first to say “eww” and hide her face when the characters kissed in a movie. But that has changed recently, and I think I have my oldest brother and his new wife to blame for that. Because she used to think kissing was weird (which it kinda is, I mean if you really think about it….. kissing is really weird!) What makes it not weird is when there’s meaning and intimacy behind it.

Cianna, from basically the day she was born, has seen Jubal and Bethany together. First as friends, then as best friends, then dating, then engaged….  Now that Jubal and Bethany are married and can kiss, she doesn’t think it’s weird at all. Because their kiss has a lot more meaning to it. Part of that being that they saved their first kiss ever for their wedding day, and the other part that they really have grown together. Something my little sister has seen and picked up on.

In a good story, a character is not the same from the beginning to the end. It would be boring and disappointing if there was no character development. That goes for relationships as well; the two characters, and the relationship itself, need to change and grow. I believe the strongest relationships grow from friendship and a genuine care for the other person. But in a story, you might not have time to lay out the relationship from the very beginning. That’s where some skillfully placed back story comes in handy, with the present taking place where the relationship is changing. Also, a dramatic life or death situation is great for bounding!

Another theme I noticed from our short conversation, is that the principle of sacrifice makes for a strong romance. Now it doesn’t have to be a total self sacrifice in which one person gives their life for the other. (That can be very dramatic and good, but it’s also very sad, so be careful, you don’t want the fans and shippers coming for your neck.) It can be any sort of sacrifice: spending time helping them with something instead of something you had planned to do, caring for them when they are sick, putting yourself at risk by going and seeking out help to free them from a hanging, or fighting off the deep space pirates to protect them. Anything that shows they care enough to put the other person’s needs and safety before their own.

Good love is selfless, and grand acts of selflessness make dramatic love stories. Drama is good for stories, and selfless love is good for love stories.

However, be sure not to portray a flawless couple. Perfect couples don’t make for good romance in stories. No one would be able to relate, and you need conflict to make a story. But as long as you work into your story the idea of them growing and changing together, and include selfless acts and sacrifices they make for each other, you’ll have a couple that readers will want to root for.

 

How to Design Magic Systems

Souldancer of FIre
When two magic systems love each other, sometimes they hug.

A speculative element is what sets the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror apart from literary fiction. There’s no element more speculative than magic, and it’s become a common term of art to speak of an SFF universe’s “magic system”. By reader request, here is my philosophy of magic in genre fiction–with advice on how to handle magic in your secondary world.

Changing depictions of magic in SFF

Historically, there have been two general approaches to depicting magic in speculative fiction.

  1. The old-school way: Magic is mysterious, ineffable, and unpredictable.
  2. The new-school way: Magic works like a technology that we can systematize.
The first way can be seen in works as late as Tolkien and going back to the Matter of Britain and before. Tales like these make little if any effort to explain where magic comes from–other than perhaps hinting at divine (sacramentality; not magic) or infernal origins. Nor do they define any explicit limits on what magic can and can’t do.
Wizards in these stories are almost never central protagonists. Instead they pop into the narrative at key times to aid and advise the main protagonist before exiting the stage for lengthy intervals. Think of Gandalf and Merlin, and you’ll get the idea.
In terms of story mechanics, the reason why wizards like Gandalf and Merlin don’t protag much  is due to the needs of dramatic tension. A well-made story should elicit suspense in the reader over how conflicts will be resolved. Being on the edge of your seat wondering how the hero will get out of this one is the main ingredient for good pacing.
The difficulty with old-school wizards in lead roles is that there’s no inherent reason why they can’t just magic themselves around obstacles. Sure, you can set limits on a wizard’s magic to set up situations he can’t just cast his way out of, but you’ve got to establish those limitations early on to avoid cheating the reader.
And if you do set limits on what magic can accomplish, guess what? You just systematized it a little.
That’s why Tolkien’s wizards are kind of old and new-school hybrids. Gandalf is a superhuman spirit, but he’s explicitly forbidden from drawing upon his angelic power. Instead he’s got to work with the skills available to his human form. That’s a pretty big limitation!
New-school, aka Sandersonian magic
No, Brandon Sanderson didn’t invent contemporary SFF magic. But he is the most prominent advocate for new-school, systematized magic, so I’m sticking with the “Sandersonian” description.
A better candidate for the father of new-school magic is the venerable Jack Vance (though yes, others did it before him, but again, he’s more popular).
If you’ve ever played D&D, you know how Vanceian magic systems work. Magic spells are 5th dimensional formulae of such complexity that a human mind can only hold a limited number of spells per day, and when the knowledge is actualized, i.e. a spell is cast, it’s totally purged from the caster’s mind. If a Vanceian wizard wants to cast that spell again, he has to memorize it all over again.
The upshot of this system is that it allowed Vance to use his transient amnesiac wizards as protagonists while maintaining dramatic tension. A Vanceian wizard can still use magic to escape from sticky situations–but not if he’s used all of his daily spells or memorized the wrong ones.
Categories of Magic
I like to put the various types of magic systems into a few broad categories.
Actual Magic: the original meaning of the term “magic”, using preternatural powers to achieve natural ends. In its archetypal form, magic means asking demons to do stuff for you with their superhuman powers. Old-school authors usually meant this when they wrote about magic.
Technology: this can be anything from Clarke’s sufficiently advanced tech to methods of turning invisible or making things go boom that are otherwise indistinguishable from actual magic. The key difference is that the users aren’t petitioning demons but manipulating “forces”.
Here;’s the tech vs. magic litmus test: if your characters are channeling and shaping created or emergent energies, they’re dealing with an esoteric technology; not real magic.
The vast majority of “magic systems” these days are actually cosmic force-driven technologies. The Force and Sanderson’s allomancy are examples of technology-style magic systems.
Superpowers: this category is rather nebulous and tends to overlap with technology-based magic systems. I distinguish between the two as follows: technological magic is a skill that can be learned. Superpowers are abilities beyond the natural powers proper to humans which are intrinsic to a character.
Super strength, invulnerability, psychic mind-powers, super intelligence, unaided flight, eye lasers, etc.–all are commonly recognized as superpowers. But like I said, sometimes this category overlaps with technological magic systems, such as Star Wars characters who are born with Force-sensitivity (an innate superpower) that lets them learn Jedi skills (a technology).
Designing your own magic system
To design an original magic system for your book, ask yourself these questions:
  • How do I want the presence of magic to affect my story’s mood and tone?
  • Will there be magic user-protagonists?
  • Is my cosmology purely material, or are there beings that transcend the natural?
  • In my world, is magic the result of a pact with preternatural entities, a skill which harnesses natural forces that anyone can learn, or innate to certain characters?
The answers to these questions, in light of the info we already covered above, should give you a basic starting point for setting up your own magic system–if you want a system at all.
It’s also perfectly fine to have multiple magic systems. The Soul Cycle series features all three categories of magic, because I’m greedy that way.
Priests and Teth disciples deal with gods and demons.
Factors learn how to draw on cosmic prana energy to fashion Workings.
Nexists are born with the power to directly affect the world by will alone.
And because clearly delineating these systems would be too simple, there’s considerable overlap between all of them.
Here’s the takeaway: in magic as in everything else, make it fun for the reader. Dramatic tension is a key ingredient of fun, so if you’re going to put magic users in lead roles, make sure to give them obstacles they can’t just magic their way out of. And if you’re going to limit their magic, make sure you clearly lay out what magic can and can’t do as early as possible.
I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I’m not willing to do myself. See these principles in action in my award-winning Soul Cycle.
thesoulcycle1

And the Soul Cycle tie-in short story “Elegy for the Locust”, available in the new best selling anthology Forbidden Thoughts!

forbiddenthoughts

New Around These Parts

Hello! Hola! Hey! And all other greeting that start with the letter H.

This is just a quick post to introduce myself. I am a new blogger for Superversive Sci Fi, however I am not a total stranger. I have a short story Here and a short article Here, that were both graciously shared by Mrs Wright. But now I have my own little space here, so howdy and how do ya do!

A little about me. I am a young whipper-snapper of 18 and the third oldest of six kids. I live on a farm, and I enjoy riding and loving on my mustang that I have trained since she was a filly. I am a ballerina and dance both in classes, as well as spontaneously wherever there is good music. I do a lot of other things, like work in a deli, knit, draw, read, teach ballet, teach a Sunday school class, stare at the stars….. but most relevant, I write.

I’ve had a love for stories for as long as I can remember. Reading came slow to me, but I was blessed to live in a household where we were constantly having stories read aloud. This not only helped me nurture a deep love for stories, but was instrumental in developing my imagination to really see and live in the world of the story.

This is either a blessing or a curse, depending how you look at it. Having an overactive imagination and uncontrollable desire to write stories has doomed me to a life of arguing with imaginary people. But at least it’s a life full of wonder!

I had been trying to write since before I could read or spell – which I wasn’t able to do until I was ten – but it wasn’t until six years ago that I finally got a story going. Then in the past four years, I’ve gotten serious about writing. As of right now I don’t have anything big published – only the stories on my blog and one that will be in the Sci Phi Journal. However, I have a lot written and many projects in the works.

Anyway, that’s the end of ‘My Rambly and Casual Introduction Post’. More from me later this week.

Take care y’all!

Fandom Is Dead. Long Live Fandom!

the medium is the message

If you change the medium, you change the message.

Philosopher of communication Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively that advances in media, regardless of content, can incite dramatic, culture-wide effects.

A best selling print book can reach millions of people, but turn that book into a hit movie, and you increase its sphere of influence by orders of magnitude. Consider The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Or, for a meta-example, In the Mouth of Madness.

Now throw in digital technologies–the power to instantly connect with anyone or everyone, everywhere. The effect is compounded exponentially.
A media paradigm shift is playing out in SF fandom.


Dragon Con

Getting back to McLuhan, saying that he was ahead of his time would be an understatement. In fact, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to call his work prophetic. Let’s put it this way: the dude predicted the internet in 1962.

McLuhan noted that print technology caused a massive societal shift away from the more tribal, logic-focused outlook of the Middle Ages to a more individualistic, rhetorical worldview. He expected the web to swing the pendulum back toward tribalism.

Let’s take a look at SF fandom through the lens of McLuhan’s “medium as message” theory.

In the early days, science fiction enthusiasts:

A. Got their fix almost exclusively through the printed word in the form of novels and short stories circulated in magazines.

B. Were a pretty nonconformist, iconoclastic bunch. As Andy Duncan recently said on the passing of the great David Hartwell:

Even in the mid-20th century, David continued, science fiction was a haven for gay and bi and trans people, for people in open marriages or triads or even more complex domestic scenarios, for people with physical and mental disabilities, for shameless exhibitionists and unapologetic recluses, for anarchists and socialists and Birchers and libertarians and Weathermen and CIA operatives, for cosplayers and gamers and creative anachronists and people who crafted wholly spurious biographies for themselves that were accepted and therefore became sort of true, for channelers and Scientologists and orthodox Jews and pre-Vatican II Catholics and Mormons and New Agers and heretics and atheists and freethinkers, for Ph.D.’s and autodidacts, for writers of COBOL and speakers of Esperanto, for Forteans and CSICOPs, for astronomers and astrologers, for psychics and physicists, for basically anyone who was smart and passionate and willing to pitch in somewhere— though talent certainly helped, and curiosity, and a zeal for argument, and a sense of humor.

C. Subsisted as a relatively small subculture within larger Western society.

It’s often been remarked how sci-fi fandom burst out of the basements, niche bookstores, and cramped con suites of its birth to win new legions of adherents with the 1977 release of Star Wars.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

–Brad R. Torgersen

Most commenters usually emphasize this event’s unprecedented effect on C, take A largely for granted, and so gloss over–or misattribute–the causal relationship between the change in the primary medium of SF consumption and B.

Brad is an outlier in his astute recognition that newer media (movies, TV, video games, etc.) contributed to the disruption of old fandom. But he focuses more on what kinds of SF contemporary fans prefer than how they prefer to experience it.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom.

My explanation for the conflicts that have shaken fandom of late differs slightly from Brad’s. I agree that relative innovations like movies and TV, and recent developments like video games (which are all reasons why there is no universal canon of SF touchstones), lie at the root of the turmoil.

But I don’t think that fandom is tearing itself apart. Instead, what we’re seeing is various sub-tribes of SF fans vying against each other to establish the identity of an emerging, consolidated fandom.

Brad gives a good description of this phenomenon: “It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.”

That, my friends, is the shape of the future. But what will be the content of its character? What sort of men will these post-fans be? Or will the Amazon servers and mega-convention halls of tomorrow be populated entirely by omnisexual, non-binary otherkin?
Fandom will become more communal, but what sort of community will it be?

Star Trek: The Apple

Watching a movie requires less personal effort than reading print. Even eBooks engage readers’ senses and though processes differently than print books do.

Audiences watching the same movie share a much more uniform experience than readers of the same book. Everyone who’s seen Star Wars knows what Luke Skywalker looks like, but no two Neuromancer readers have exactly the same mental image of Case.

The film industry dwarfs print publishing. As more people come to SF through movies, their shared experience will restore fandom’s sense of community. What the values and customs of this community will be remains undetermined.

The outcome is being decided right now, by self-appointed makers and high priests of culture. If we would have a say in the destiny of fandom, we must wield the new technological tools at our disposal. And we must establish a presence in film.

Currently, I am at best a lowly squire in the battle royale for fandom’s soul. Who are the warring tribes, and who are the chieftains that champion their visions?

We’ll meet them next time.

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