sci-fi

The Stars Seem So Far Away – Margrét Helgadóttir

I’d like to introduce you to Norwegian-Icelandic writer, Margét Helgadóttir, whose first book, The Stars Seem So Far Away, has just been released through Fox Spirit Books. Congratulations, Margét! Let’s talk about the book.

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What is The Stars Seem So Far Away about?

The Stars Seem So Far Away is a story set in a distant future, where plagues, famine and wars rage across the dying Earth. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. The story is told through the tales of five survivors: One girl who sails the Northern Sea, robbing other ships to survive; one girl who guards something on a distant island; one guerrilla soldier; and finally, two siblings who become separated when the plague hits Svalbard.

It’s not a novel, but it’s not a collection of stories either. It’s a hybrid, a fusion of linked tales that together tell a larger story.

What inspired you to write the book?

I think the idea of this alternative future for the northern parts of the world has been dormant in me for many years.I have long pictured a world where humans, due to climate changes, must flee to the northern world, and where places that today are sparsely populated could become covered with cities. I’ve had the image of the skyscraper city on Svalbard in my mind for many years. But mostly it’s the small details of this dark and apocalyptic world I have mulled over for a long time. I have for instance been fascinated by the doomsday vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, ever since it was built. Also, the image of the killer whale in Nuuk has stayed with me for a while.

 

It’s such a beautiful cover. Could you tell us a little about it?

The lovely cover is by the talented Sarah Anne Langton. I am very happy about it because I feel it reveals some of the atmosphere in the book like I picture it. The cover has ice, snow, ocean, a giant bear, a crashed Hercules, an apocalyptic city and the human who longs for the stars. Sarah even made sure it’s the correct star maps on the cover.

 

What is your relationship to the speculative genres?

It’s more about what mood particular books/stories put me in, rather than who wrote them or what genre they are within. I’m the same with movies. Fantasy and science fiction are always good choices when needing to escape real world and seek comfort.

But I also find that these genres challenge the readers/audience, force them to think in new ways, be it space exploring, new species, new ways of thinking, new technology. They turn the world as we know it upside down, and few things are impossible. I love this. There are of course often used tropes and clichés in these genres too, but still, now and then I can read something or watch something which is so challenging, so brilliant, I almost can feel my brain cells squeal in delight. I love the space opera subgenres and I adore the science fiction classics from 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, filled with optimism and confidence. But my favourite science fiction is the narratives close to contemporary fiction, often about power structures and dystopian societies. They are not new, but we have seen these stories more often the last decades. I am also increasingly fascinated by stories within ‘the weird’, twisted and dark stories, often very surreal and surprising.

Could you tell a little about your writing and other stories?

It was only two and half years ago that I found confidence enough to start writing fiction for publication. A few of the stories in the book are actually amongst the first stories that I wrote. I have chosen to write fiction in English, which is not my native tongue, so working on the book has also been part of a tough language-learning process. Today, when I read through the book, I can see clearly how I have developed as a writer; the later stories flow better and have a more sure voice.

I know my writing and language can’t compete with Hemingway or other great authors, but I’m very concerned about telling a good story, so I hope I have succeeded in this and that people will like the stories and the characters.

My stories have appeared in several magazines and journals, including Gone Lawn and Luna Station Quarterly. My fiction has also been or will be published in nine print anthologies, including Impossible Spaces, six volumes of Fox Pockets, and two more Fox Spirit publications. I am co-editor of the coffee table book European Monsters, a collection of fiction and art released from Fox Spirit Books in December 2014. It is the first of an annual monster series. In 2015 I will co-edit the second volume in this series, African Monsters, and I will also edit an anthology of winter tales. Hopefully there will be time to continue writing as well.

 

You have an unusual background, can you tell a little about yourself?

I’m born in East-Africa to a Norwegian mother and an Icelandic father. I grew up in East- and West-Africa and in Norway. On my webpage you can find small musings about different aspects of being a third culture and cross cultural child. I moved to Denmark two months ago, where I will stay for a few years due to work. I am a movie junkie and a book worm, and can often be found in the history museums and galleries in the weekends. Learn more about me at my webpage, or on Twitter, where I am @MaHelgad

Thanks so much, D.D., for inviting me to talk about my debut book.

The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by Fox Spirit Books and released on Valentine’s Day. It can be ordered as paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Epub is coming soon.

Amazon UK (paperback): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767

And Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stars-Seem-Far-Away-ebook/dp/B00TSR8U6W

Amazon US (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767

And Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-Far-Away-ebook/dp/B00TSR8U6W

 

Thanks so much, Margrét, and best wishes for the success of your book!

Future Sci-Fi

More random bizarro thinking on my part.

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I suddenly started wondering what science fiction of the future will be. Today most science fiction is focused on colonizing other planets, alien encounters, high-tech taking over, dystopias, the fall of civilization, robots, AI, time travel, extending human life. Ok, that’s a whole lotta stuff.

In say, a thousand years, when we’ve conquered space and how to travel millions of light years, encountered alien races and survived the fall of civilization and rebuilt, AI will be pervasive, robots old-hat – what form will science fiction take? What will future sci-fi writers write? Presumably by then the question of “are we alone in the universe” will have been answered. Possibly not, but my gut says another thousand years will see things we haven’t even dreamed yet; finding extraterrestrials will be small potatoes.

There’s been some discussion lately that science fiction no longer deals with the ‘big questions’ of what-ifs, that it’s focused on the immediate future: There’s some truth to this. Most of the sf I see lately is riffing on some current political issue, detours in tech that derail us, terraforming planets.  These topics will seem like baby steps to future generations. :::just gave myself an idea…:::

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I wonder what the ‘big questions’ will be a millennium from now. Or am I being too optimistic? Will we still be consumed by the things that concern us today: overpopulation, diminishing resources, pollution, corruption, greed, religious wars, politics. Will we be Borg? Will cyborgs be passé by then? DING! (another idea) John Steinbeck was right:

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

I would imagine all these topics that we spend so much time writing and thinking about today will be as normal to future humans as telephones and electricity are to us. I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what future science fiction will consist of, and I guess I’m no visionary because at the moment I have no idea what people will be wondering about in a thousand years. If you look back at what people were doing a thousand years ago in 1013… The Norman Invasion hadn’t even happened yet. Brian Boru had not yet fought the Battle of Clontarf (that would be the following year in 1014).  The Black Death, The Crusades, Copernicus, Columbus, Magellan, Galileo, Da Vinci, Gutenberg, the Protestant Reformation, Henry VIII, Mozart, Beethoven, the bicycle, the automobile, Kitty Hawk, Apollo 11… all that and so much more in just the last thousand year.  Imagine even the same rate of advancement  taking place over the next 1000 years. And at the rate technology increases and the fact that so much more is being done in general makes it almost scary to think where we’ll be in a thousand years. Or two thousand.

But wow, would I like to see it.

Why Don’t Women Like Sci-Fi?

All this brouhaha over “John Carter” being a flop and the reasons for it hit a new low this morning. Here I was, minding my own business, reading my Twitter timeline, when I see a retweet saying “Men are from Mars, and Women are Nowhere in Sight.” I had a bad feeling but I went to the link and read the article. Sure enough, it’s a blog about romance in sci-fi.

The article started off promisingly enough, but quickly devolved into pointing out that the trailers for the movie had not shown the romantic angle, the relationship between Dejah Thoris and John Carter, and that was its downfall, and why isn’t Disney trying to market to women…

Seriously?

It has to have romance to be attractive to women?  Do you understand what you’re saying? This is exactly why studios do NOT market science fiction to women. Are we putting 2 and 2 together here? Not all sci-fi involves a romantic plot, or subplot. Nor does it need to. I just want to beat my fists on the wall here. Nothing other than romance is attractive to women? This is what the author seems to be saying, along with most of the commenters.

And then women wonder why there is such a small female presence in sci-fi books and movies.

IT’S. NOT. ROMANCE.

Science fiction is about exploration, space, science, the future of humanity. Look, read whatever you like, but if all you want is romance, don’t whine that everything else isn’t romance, and that you’re being left out accordingly. I, for one, do not want all my science fiction stories to be ‘romance in space.’ Women are capable of more than fainting and being ravished. John Carter showed that nicely.

It already kills me that women can’t see anything other than the romantic elements of Jane Austen’s books. My god, she was so much more brilliant than that. You short her, and you short every woman with this absurd reductionist outlook on literature.

It is no longer a mystery to me why sci-fi is marketed almost solely to men. I guess I must be less girly than I thought, since the marketing for John Carter worked for me. It’s just a shame that some women seem to have such narrow interests. John Carter may be a financial disaster for Disney, but it is still a very good movie. Don’t cheat yourself out of seeing it.

Calling All Cyberpunks on Twitter

Just a short note for those on Twitter who are also fans of, writers of, curious about, or cowboys of cyberpunk, there is a moderated (meaning there are actually topics that the ringleaders try to keep to) cyberpunk chat on Saturdays from 1:00 – 3:00PM PST (2100-2300UTC) or longer, if people are exceptionally chatty. If you need to find your time zone you can check here: The World Clock).

For those unfamiliar with the sci-fi genre, think The Matrix, TRON, Bladerunner. It’s dark, it’s edgy, it’s the little guy using computers and technology to fight The Man. In books, the granddaddy of them all is William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It was in that book that Gibson coined the term. (although Gibson is on Twitter, he does not join our merry little band. I think I’d fall out of my chair if he ever did). Other authors who write in the genre include Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Philip K. Dick. Cory Doctorow’s YA novel Little Brother pits a group of tech-savvy teens against Homeland Security.

Here are a couple of Web sites devoted to all things cyberpunk: Cyberpunk Review, and Cyberpunkbooks.com.

This past week we discussed Virtual Worlds-Metaverse, Matrix, Cyberspace, augmented reality and its role in cyberpunk. The mods are Josh K. Evans (@JoshKEvans), Sean Francis (@SeanDFrancis) and Johann Carlisle (@johanncarlisle). You can use the hashtag #cyberpunkchat to follow along, or better yet, log into Tweetdeck.com and enter the same hashtag, and it will essentially drop you into a chatroom and insert the hashtag term with every tweet so you don’t have to. Easy! Drop by if you can.

I need to pay more attention

How did I miss the beginning of this?

By a roundabout route I won’t go into and bore you with, I found an amazing thread going on at Black Gate magazine, initiated by Robert Sawyer on his own blog, posing the question, “Are the days of the full-time novelist numbered?”. If you’ve not read any Sawyer, I suggest his “Calculating God.” It was the first book of his I read, and I loved it. Sawyer also gave us “Flash Forward” which was made into a tv series that only marginally resembled the book. I liked “CG” better, though.

Anyway, back to Black Gate. Robert Silverberg (yes, him) has posted his own blog response about the subject raised by Mr. Sawyer. Then, Jerry Pournelle joined the convo.

The whole thing is a who’s who of the sci-fi world, from the 1950s onwards. Wow. If you’re interested in meditations on the future of sci-fi, and the future for writers, head on over. Makes me feel a little better, actually, knowing that now-famous writers struggled with day jobs as carpenters, professors, and various other jobs, and the advice has ever been “don’t quit your day job!” Maybe it’s that misery loves company, but it somehow feels less like I’m doing anything wrong, and just need to keep plugging away.

I Boldly Went

Where everyone was going today: Back to the stores. I have never in my life ventured out on the day after Christmas, but I felt a burning urge to get out of the house today. The weather, while not idyllic, was not bad. It was a bit blustery and chilly, but sunny and dry. Good enough, I’ll take it. So where did I have to go so badly that I dared risk life and limb among the post-holiday shoppers? The bookstore. More specifically, my home away from home, Powells. I was on a quasi-mission, hoping to locate a copy of a Tarot deck that has recently become scarce, due to some sort of copyright war. Anyway, there were none to be had at Powells, but there were certainly more than enough books.

I treated myself to a book that Harlan Ellison has stated is “One of my favorite nightmare novels.” It says so, right on the front cover of The Book of Skulls, by Robert Silverberg. The edition I picked up is the 2006 edition (it was originally published in 1972 and won a Nebula Award), and the cover says “Soon to be a major motion picture” although I can’t find anything about it online. There is no information at the mother of all movie sites, IMDB.com. Probably just as well, Hollywood would doubtless turn it into a splatter-flick, gore-fest. It tells the stories of four friends who discover a book, the titular Book of Skulls that leads them to a secret sect in the Arizona desert who, for a horrific price, will grant immortality to two of them. There’s been some criticism of the book’s classification as sci-fi (it was nominated for a Nebula in 1972, and both the Hugo and Locus awards in 1973), but sci-fi and fantasy/horror have long been lumped into one category. People still debate about the genre Frankenstein belongs to. Is it horror? The first sci-fi?

I also picked up Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space . This one is a hard sci-fi novel, originally published in 2000. Reynolds has a PhD in astronomy, and worked at the European Space Agency which informs his work. The story concerns a scientist who is on the verge of uncovering the reason for the annihilation of an advanced civilization 900,000 years ago. Sounds like someone doesn’t want him to find out what happened to them.

I finally picked up John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War after reading about it now for ages online and how Scalzi used the internet to create a fanbase, which aided him in getting published. The premise is a decades long war in space for the few habitable planets out there. In this universe retirees, senior citizens, are recruited to serve two years in the military, allowing the green troops to benefit from their wisdom and experience. In exchange for two years service in combat, provided you survive, you get your own little homestead on one of these planets.

And last but not least, I also took home Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which, while it’s not classified as sci-fi (it was in the Mystery section), I think it could easily fall under sci-fi, as an alternate universe story. From the back cover:

Welcome to Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

I picked this one because I’ve never read any Jasper Fforde, but he contributed a Pep Talk to NaNoWriMo this year that I really enjoyed and thought I’d like his writing. It sounds almost Pratchett-esque, although I don’t really like comparing authors to each other all the time. Fforde even has introductory notes and material at his Web site.

Now I just have to decide which one to read first…

Procrastination Technique #1

500x_evenmoreamazingbooksThis will appeal most to the science fiction fans (what is the proper shorthand for that these days? Sci-Fi? Skiffy? SyFy? anyway…) but this week io9 will be doing a series they are calling the Book Vortex. Leading off with what appears to be an M.C. Escher-esque view of a library twisted appropriately into a vortex (click the image for a larger, more stomach-churning view), Annalee Newitz says:

Books are stealthy and portable and will outlast the data apocalypse. With a book, you can hide in the middle of a field with no electrical outlet and still escape to Barsoom or Downbelow Station or Dune. The written word implants a story in your brain, but lets you imagine all the details of how people look and move and speak. Even a comic book leaves room between panels for you to fill in an entire world of your own devising.

So after the Apocalypse when you can’t get any more batteries for your Kindle you’ll have to resort to the old skool way of reading: Turning pages. (Ok, sniping at Kindle done.)

They promise to bring us book lists, “agonizingly bad book covers” and I know we all love checking out the cover art, along with places to find free books online, essays, interviews, and more. io9 generally focuses on electronic media so I’m delighted to see them spotlighting where all those shows and movies come from: the written word.

You know, just in case you need a new excuse to put off doing something else.

NaNoWriMo’s Chris Baty talks to io9

I just ran across this interview with our fearless leader, Chris Baty, at io9. For those unfamiliar with io9, it’s a sci-fi smorgasbord of television show reviews, movie reviews, books and generally anything sci-fi related. The interview is targeted to that genre, but still very much worth a read. And some schmuck down in the comments section who calls himself “robocop_is_bleeding” hit his 50,000 yesterday. Grrrr.

Borders Books Dropping Some Sci-Fi?

I just found this article over at io9, and am dismayed by Borders decision not to stock some new titles and even debut novels in the genre.

Gregory Frost discovered that his new book, Lord Tophet, follow-up to the successful Shadowbridge, is not being picked up by Borders. At all. Apparently it didn’t “sell as well as anticipated.” But no one seems to know what well enough is.

So the publishing world is becoming even more narrow, always looking for that next blockbuster that will earn them bazillions of dollars, and get picked up by Oprah as her latest book club pick. God help us. Frost has a following, more than most of us will ever dare to dream of. And he’s not the only respected author to be so slighted. It’s bad enough I don’t like ordering books through Amazon anymore after their “join or die” ultimatum to self-published books, forcing them to use Amazon’s inhouse publishing or not be carried (but that’s another story). But are we losing yet another book source?

I am sorry to see the business model come to this. Literature is no longer revered in our culture. If you like books you’re almost considered some kind of walking anachronism. If it’s not electronic, beeping and whirring, you’re out of touch. Reading takes effort, imagination, learning. Book sales have been in decline for years, to no one’s surprise.  J. K. Rowling almost single-handedly brought it back into fashion, but that was an anomaly, there probably won’t be anything like that again for twenty years. We need something to read in the meantime. Most books, in any genre, are not going to generate that kind of sales revenue. I wonder who’s next after SF. I don’t know if boycotting Borders is the answer, if book sales are already down that may be counter-productive.

I miss the old days of the independent bookstores. I’ve even ordered stuff via the web from an out-of-state independent bookstore. I miss the feel of wandering a store stocked with nothing but books. They don’t have to be huge, just have books. My local favorite is Powells. They are a real, brick and mortar store (with several locations in the Portland, OR area), and although they do sell stuff like cards, calendars, some very interesting Hindu religious statues, Buddhas, incense and so on, they are for the most part a bookseller. It’s quite an experience to visit, they actually have maps of the store to find your way around.  Perhaps we should all remember to patronize our local indie booksellers, they may be all we have left.