WorldCon 2016: Political worldbuilding in science fiction

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

PoliticalWB

Panellists: Bennett Coles, Christopher Kastensmidt (moderator), Ken Liu, Ada Palmer, Mari Kotani

Joined in progress …

KL: I’d recommend Malka Older’s Infomocracy.

AP: Historically, monarchy is attempted repeatedly. Even after the French Revolution there have been two monarchies. There have also been failed attempts at democracy. There was a Polish city that became a haven for heretics. All of this successive change creates layers of symbology.

KL: Narratives of the past inform the future. The ideal of the Roman Republic is the basis of modern democracy but the reality of ancient Rome was nothing like the ideal.

MK: Godzilla is a political movie at heart. It grew out of the horror of Hiroshima. Now we have Fukushima.

CK: What about the process of political worldbuilding? What makes it effective?

BC: The vast majority of any worldbuilding will never appear on the page but you have to work it all out. Wars are started for reasons. Those reasons could be economic, religious, political, or ideological. Battlestar Galactica is such a political story. Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers from this question: what if our heroes are fighting on the wrong side?

KL: You have to explore and categorize the problems of your milieu. How does political technology, like lobby groups, solve some of those problems? What other problems do they bring to bear? Look to history. Coups d’états are not used in the west (why not?), but other countries elsewhere in the world have them all the time.

AP: Work out more political detail then you need. Compare the world two centuries ago to the world that exists now. The structure of a family has changed over time. The family used to be not just the extended family, but also the servants. Then the nuclear family became the dominant domestic arrangement. Extend that into the future. Sometimes not mentioning something is telling. If there is news from every country but America—what happened?

BC: You have to be consistent. You have to know your world well enough to accommodate creative change. Starship Troopers has fascist trappings.

MK: Shin Godzilla. Shin means this Godzilla is true or new. It’s a katagana character, not a hiragana character. Disaster in diaspora stimulates nationalism.

KL: In “Folding Beijing,” the city itself is a metaphor. There are three dimensions, one for each class. The largest class is the useless class. By journeying through the three dimensions, the protagonist gains a deeper understanding of the way things are. He finds hope without change.

AP: The Gundam series was a way to discuss WWII. Gundam Seed was the same for 9/11.

And that was time.

Next weekend, it’ll be April and time for another next chapter update.

Until next I blog, y’all be well, be kind, and stay strong.

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, March 12-18, 2017

Just a little thoughty for you this week.

Grace Bains likes doing things alone and thinks people should stop worrying about it. ScoopWhoop

Ozymandias statue found in the mud. The Guardian

Phil Plait reports about astronomers who found a black hole “eating” a white dwarf. Blastr

Robert Lang, the origami master and physicist. Great Big Story

 

Is the future of AI chatbots that speak in their own language? Cade Metz for Wired.

Clive Thompson: how being bored out of your gourd makes you creative. Wired

Holly Riordan: Anxiety makes you look like an asshole. Thought Catalog

Jenna Birch reports on the German research that has found the cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Teen Vogue

Laurie Stras shares radical motets from a 16th century nunnery. The Guardian

March 17th is also St. Gertrude’s Day. She’s the patron saint of cats. Mel Campbell for Junkee.

How the Norse described their history. Oxford University Press

 

I hope that got your mental corn popping.

See you on the weekend for more WorldCon 2016 reportage.

Until then, stay well.

Hugs.

thoughtythursday2016

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, March 12-18, 2017

This week is filled with informal writerly learnings 🙂

K.M. Weiland shares five rules that will help you write a sequel. Helping Writers Become Authors

Becca Puglisi adds another entry to the character motivation thesaurus: pursuing justice for oneself or others. Writers Helping Writers

Jami Gold returns to the Writers Helping Writers coaches corner: what does it mean to raise the stakes?

Jami follows up on her own blog with three steps that raise your story’s stakes. And later in the week, she posts about balancing rules and voice.

Lisa Cron offers some ways pantsers can use the Story Genius method. Writers in the Storm

David Corbett: emotion vs. feeling. Writer Unboxed

Annie Neugebauer suggests changing up your reading patterns to gain more. Writer Unboxed

Dan Blank shares some great social media tips for writers on The Creative Penn.

Sara Letourneau continues her developing themes in your stories with part 9: the midpoint. DIY MFA

Stacy Woodson looks at mysteries, thrillers, and suspense: does the label matter? DIY MFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews Ben Blatt for DIY MFA radio.

Rachael Stephens shares her new favourite plotting method: Dan Harmon’s Plot Embryo.

 

Dimitra Fimi: inventing a whole language. The Times Literary Supplement

Chris Winkle lists five worldbuilding mistakes to avoid. Mythcreants

Jenna Ireland: racism in a fantasy landscape.

Kobo interviews Margaret Atwood on woman-crushes, feminism, and advice for her younger self. Medium

In the wake of his passing, Richard Wagamese: what it means to be Ojibway. Anishnabek News

Michael Moorcock: what is the new weird and why is weird fiction so relevant to our times? The New Statesman

What “White Rabbit” really meant (with an awesome, vocal-only track). Dangerous Minds

Wil Jones thinks this literary map of the world is simply brilliant. The Indy 100

Cracked lists 21 movie lines nobody actually says. Several commenters have refuted this, but they say these things because they’re said in movies …

Elodie shares one-sentence summations of every literary genre. Sparklife

Angela Watercutter presents the “Jane Test,” a new way to tell if your scripts are sexist. Wired

Patricia Cornwell unmasks “Jack the Ripper.” Tom Bryant for The Mirror.

Beth Elderkin shares the new Wonder Woman trailer: how the girl became the legend. i09

Katharine Trendacosta shows us the latest American Gods trailer. i09

And, phew. We’re done.

Come back on Thursday for some thoughty.

And, in the meantime, be well.

tipsday2016

WorldCon 2016: Alienbuilding

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Alienbuilding

Panellists: Caroline M. Yoachim (moderator), G. David Nordley, Ctein, Larry Niven, Sheila Finch

Joined in progress …

GDN: To build aliens, you have to start with the system, planets, and so on down.

C: When it comes to the aliens themselves, a top-down approach means psychology first.

LN: I’ve created aliens with handles on the skull. Humans have bilateral symmetry on the outside. Inside, not so much. An alien can have two dominant arms for fine manipulation, or one extra-muscular arm for heavy lifting. Why not a dwarf elephant with two trunks and fingers on the trunk-tips?

SF: It happens all at once for me. I have an image of the alien. I take a step back and consider what environment might have produced it. Then, I develop the psychology and language. The metaphors used are linked to physiology.

C: I’m happy to steal if it works. I have a species I based on puppets.

CMY: Do you have to balance strangeness with relatability?

GDN: I’m not bothered by aliens that have commonalities with humans. Our basic drives are all the same.

C: There are special, species-related characteristics. Will aliens have religion? Will they be acquisitive? Are they into body augmentation?

SF: Corvids are acquisitive.

LN: I ask myself, what’s the weirdest thing about an alien? Then I extrapolate back.

SF: Sentience and self-awareness have been proven to exist in animals.

C: One notable characteristic of humans is that we build. If there’s an advanced species out there that doesn’t build, what do they do?

LN: What’s the process of adapting humans to their environments?

CMY: What pitfalls do you see? What are your pet peeves?

GDN: Characters that don’t have survival value.

LN: There was a story based on a hospital station—everyone got sick. [Mel’s note: not every disease will attack every species by the same vector. Zoonosis is not common on Earth. And then, there’s immunity.]

SF: Plant aliens that aren’t done well. Sequoias, for example, would have a chemical intelligence.

C: When the physical worldbuilding isn’t related to the story. If it’s all about the display of worldbuilding prowess, it’s essentially scenery.

CMY: When all the aliens are the same, are they truly “alien” aliens?

GDN: Silicone and oxygen might be able to produce something similar to DNA and RNA. Truly alien aliens are difficult to figure out physiologically and biologically.

SF: With truly alien aliens, their physiology becomes the story. It’s all about explaining how they function.

And that was time.

I’ll have one more WorldCon 2016 session to share with you this month, and it’s more worldbuilding (are you sensing a theme?). Next weekend: Political worldbuilding in science fiction.

Be well, be kind, and stay strong until next I blog.

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, March 5-11, 2017

Time to get that mental corn popping!

Some lovely pieces for #InternationalWomensDay

Today I rise. Films for Action

Jina Moore shares 16 stories that will expand your mind on IWD. Buzzfeed

Australian school boys share the stories of their female friends: why feminism is important to me.

 

Courtney Shea: why sports psychologist Dr. Peter Jensen works like he’s a smoker. The Globe and Mail

A Danish psychologist says “positive thinking” has turned happiness into a duty and a burden. Olivia Goldhill for Quartz.

Jen Schwartz says the secret to happiness is to simplify. Outside

The Usual Routine: why empaths act strange around inauthentic people.

Artists have structurally different brains. Melissa Hogenboom for the BBC.

Susan Storm profiles the INTJ personality. Psychology Junkie

Olivia Goldhill: Blaise Pascal understood that people are best convinced by their own data. Quartz

Rutger Bregman makes the case for universal basic income. The Guardian

The Medievalist think these ten Medieval women are worth knowing about.

Explore Canada’s great women on Canada’s History.

Paul Dalby writes about Maria Lindsay Cobham, Canada’s pirate queen. Canada’s History

Nanaboozhoo and the Wiindigo: An Ojibwe History from Colonization to the Present. Bezhigobinesikwe Elaine Fleming for Tribal College: Journal of American Indian Higher Education.

A rabbit hole in a farmer’s field leads to “mystery caves.BBC

Farah Halime profiles the millennial who might be the new Einstein. Ozy

Katherine Hobson: what going to Mars will do to our minds. Five Thirty Eight

Mark Malloy reports on scientists who have discovered how to upload knowledge into your mind. The Telegraph

Ryan F. Mandelbaum reports on the observation of time crystals. Gizmodo

Dana Dovey: scientists identify the first sign of Alzheimer’s Disease. MSN

Patton Oswalt explains why pop culture gets grieving wrong. Ari Shapiro for NPR.

The second sight among Scots Irish. McCain’s Corner

George Dvorsky shares the first footage of one of the most reclusive whales in the world. Gizmodo

It’s been a long day, and you’ve earned this video of Sir Patrick Stewart greeting his new foster dog. William Hughes for the A.V. Club.

Hope you got your fill of thoughty.

Until next I blog, be well.

thoughtythursday2016

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, March 5-11, 2017

The writerly goodness just keeps on coming 🙂

K.M. Weiland offers the next in her most common writing mistakes series: dead end relationships. Helping Writers Become Authors

John J. Kelley: the care and feeding of relationships. Writer Unboxed

Bryn Greenwood explains hot bunking for writers. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Craft explores the power of unexpected elements. Writer Unboxed

Emily Cavanaugh helps you take yourself seriously as a writer—before anyone else does. Writers in the Storm

Orly Konig-Lopez explores living with writerly self-doubt. Writers in the Storm

James Scott Bell is in the Writers Helping Writers coaching corner: conflict and suspense belong in every kind of novel.

Dan Blank guest posts on Writers Helping Writers: the daily practice of growing your audience.

Jamie Raintree examines authenticity and the discomfort of vulnerability.

Robin Lovett extols the merits of happily ever after. DIYMFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews Clare Mackintosh for DIYMFA radio.

Jami Gold: right brain vs. left brain vs. creativity.

What’s the purpose of story structure for readers? Jami Gold

E.R. Ramzipoor guest posts on Janice Hardy’s Fiction Univerity: token or broken? Writing LGBT.

How to outline your novel, part 2. Jenna Moreci

 

Susan Spann lists ten questions you should ask before you accept a publishing deal. Writers in the Storm

Nevertheless, she persisted: a Tor.com flash fiction project. Awesome stories by awesome writers.

Margaret Atwood: what The Handmaid’s Tale means in the age of Trump. The New York Times

Molly McArdle takes a look at the rise of Roxane Gay. Brooklyn Magazine

Mary Walsh is coming out with her first novel! CBC Books

Kathleen O’Grady reports on the discovery of a true language universal. Ars Technica

David Schultz: some fairy tales may be 6,000 years old. Science Magazine

Robert MacFarlane considers Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising the eeriest novel he knows. 1843 Magazine

Twenty questions with Ursula K. Le Guin: The Times Literary Supplement

Simon Tolkien writes about his grandfather and how WWI inspired The Lord of the Rings. BBC

Here’s a literary cold case for you: Jane Austen may have died of arsenic poisoning. Christopher D. Shea and Jennifer Schuessler share the evidence, and the theory, so far. The New York Times

And that was your informal writerly learnings of the week.

See you Thursday!

Be well until then.

tipsday2016

WorldCon 2016: The art of worldbuilding

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Peter Tieryas, Carrie Patel, Luke Peterson (moderator), Amanda Downum, Greg Bear

Worldbuilding

Joined in progress …

GB: Edgar Rice Burroughs was the first worldbuilder. He delved into culture and economics. Read Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker.

LP: Where do you start?

AD: Use the character as the starting point. Develop the city, country, and world around them. Move outward to weather and so forth.

CP: Ask, what does the society value most and what does it fear the most?

PT: If you see a movie with a good story but bad effects, it’s ok. A movie with good effects but a bad story is just bad.

GB: I work from the top down. Sometimes a complete vision of the world will take years to form.

LP: How much do you need to know?

GB: I’m an English major.

CP: You don’t need to tell your readers everything. What’s important to the story you’re telling?

AD: Have a friend ask random questions and build your world or research based on that.

PT: sometimes the best research is done by people who have no expertise.

AD: Find someone who doesn’t read your genre. That’s the acid test.

LP: How do you set your limits? When do you stop?

AD: It’s hard to tell. When you’re drafting, it’s okay to leave some things undefined for later. Get the bones of the story down first.

CP: You might have to dive back in, mid-draft, if you write yourself into a situation only worldbuilding can get you out of.

PT: Hitler exempted artists, and later scientists, from war. It was dark material I had to research for my book. I didn’t want to continue, but I needed to get a grip on the story.

CP: Does the research or detail of the world tell the reader something about the character or the plot? If not, it shouldn’t be in there.

And that was time.

Next week, we move from worldbuilding to alienbuilding 🙂

Be well until then, my writerly friends, and work to make your dreams come true.

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Feb 26-March 4, 2017

This week’s mental corn popping fuel is all—or almost all—about the ladies 🙂

Nicole Mortillaro: Oldest traces of life on Earth discovered in Quebec, dating back roughly 3.8 million years. CBC

Elon Musk to build three more gigafactories to change the way the world uses energy. Lorraine Chow for EcoWatch.

Ellen Dolgren: why don’t women talk about perimenopause? CBC

ASAP Thought: being a woman.

 

Chimamanda Adichie’s 15 suggestions on how to raise a feminist daughter. Audie Cornish for NPR.

Madison Pauly provides a brief history of men taking credit for women’s accomplishments: “I made that bitch famous.” Mother Jones

The Daily Health Post gets down and stretchy with your piriformis.

This week’s kawaii: baby sloth talk. Bright Side

We’ll see you on the weekend for more WorldCon 2016 reportage.

Be well until then!

thoughtythursday2016

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 26-March 4, 2017

Ah, another lovely batch of informal writerly learnings for you 🙂

K.M. Weiland: the lazy writer’s six-question guide to writing an original book. Helping Writers Become Authors

Kathryn Craft shares seven ways to get rich from writing (it’s not quite what you think). Writers in the Storm

What a sensitivity reader is and how to hire one. Natalia Sylvester guest posts on Writer Unboxed.

Julia Munroe Martin tells us how to get by with a little help from our (writer) friends. Writer Unboxed

Sarah McCoy: a hard change will do you good. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass says, impossible odds for everyone! WriterUnboxed

Jo Eberhardt: how to (not) overcome fear. Writer Unboxed

Laura Drake: the angels are in the details. Writers in the Storm

Chris Winkle lists twelve traits that help create loveable heroes. Mythcreants

Oren Ashkenazi examines five great characters from horrible shows. Mythcreants

Chuck Wendig never fails to crack me up (while sharing awesome advice). A very good list of vital writing advice—do not ignore! Terribleminds

Jenna Moreci: how to outline your novel, part 1.

 

Angela Ackerman shares the news about the new worldbuilder tool on One Stop for Writers. Looks amazing. Writers Helping Writers

This feels weird, but also awesome. I’m curating myself! Why I write speculative fiction. DIYMFA

Bess Cozby embarks on an experiment in minimalism. DIYMFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews Dale Wiley for DIYMFA radio.

Michelle Chalkey shares five benefits of aromatherapy for writers. DIYMFA

Ruth Harris examines stress and burnout, how they’re different, and why it’s important to know the difference. Anne R. Allen’s blog

Dr. Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein asks us to, um, stop demonizing filler words. Quartz

Check out this year’s Latitude 46 line up. The North Bay Nugget

Stephanie Convery reports on Ali Cobby Eckermann, the unemployed, indigenous poet who just won the $215,000 Windham-Campbell Award. The Guardian

George Saunders: what writers really do when they write. The Guardian

Zen Pencils: Stephen King’s desk.

Hillel Italie: Ursula K. Le Guin among authors inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. SFGate

George Gene Gustines interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates about creating black superheroes. The New York Times

Don Pittis: machine intelligence lessons from science fiction. CBC

Swapna Krishna pits science against The Expanse: is it possible to colonize our solar system? Tor.com

Genevra Littlejohn critiques Iron Fist. The Learned Fangirl

If you liked the movie Arrival, Phil Plait wants a (single) word with you. Blastr

In the latest Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 trailer, Peter gets to meet his dad. Katharine Trendacosta for i09.

And that’s it until next week!

But you can always come back on Thursday for a little thoughty 😉

tipsday2016

The next chapter: February 2017 update

And here we are at the beginning of a new month.

It’s been a month of big decisions and rearranging goals and priorities.

First, the good news.

After discussing the issue at length with Phil and Mom and some of my writer friends, I’ve made the decision to go to WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland … and I’ve registered for the Writing Excuses cruise that immediately precedes it!

You can’t see me right now, but I’m so excited and nervous (it will be my first time to Europe) I’m vibrating on a higher level. I might be worn out before August even gets here.

Though travel arrangements are still in flux, and we haven’t even gotten to leave requests at work (which is always a concern), I’ve made the leap. I’m confident the net will appear.

I’ve also joined the DIYMFA team as a semi-regular genre columnist. My genre? Fantasy and science fiction, of course 🙂 This is another squee-worthy achievement and I hope I can live up to the DIYMFA brand.

Finally, I’m on the program committee of the Canadian Authors Association.

Add that to my newsletter-er gig with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild, and ye olde day job, and my schedule is getting pretty full.

Writing-wise, I’ve finished drafting Wavedancer and am now moving on to the mapping.

This is a bit of a change for me. In the past, I’ve left the mapping for my first revision pass, but I want to keep the novel fresh in my mind as I map this time. What’s happened in the past is that the first revision pass has ended up being primarily about the mapping because I’m reading to refamiliarlize myself with the story. Not much actual revision happens.

By mapping it out before I let the draft rest, I hope to be able to dive into more substantial structural issues with the first true revision. We’ll see how this tweak to my process works out. So far, I’m liking it, because I’m making notes for the revision and cutting extraneous stuff as I go. It’s so much easier when the story is still fresh in my mind.

I had hoped to make a mentoring connection to work on Reality Bomb, but this has not come to pass. There are some significant issues with the story and the science that mean research and rethinking. So I’m going to let that project simmer for a while longer while I conduct the requisite research and return to it later in the year with more objectivity.

I missed the first anthology call I’d identified for the year. I’d have had to write a new story for it and while an idea did eventually pop into my head, it was too late to execute. I’ve now identified several contests, magazines, and anthology calls that I’d like to try for, and I’ll see if I can’t organize myself to meet some of them at least.

Here’s how the numbers worked out:

Drafting Wavedancer – goal 14,000 words – actual 13,191 words

Blogging – goal 5,600 words – actual 4360 words

While I had planned to write a piece of short fiction, it didn’t work out because reasons.

Total writing goal for February: 19,600 words

Actual words written: 17,551

februaryprogress

Wavedancer worked out pretty much as I expected it would. The total draft is just over 100K words. I was able to wrap it up earlier than I thought, though, thanks to a number of days in January and February in which I wrote more than my daily goal of 500 words.

I don’t mind not having blogged so much. While I want to continue to curate and create useful content, I don’t want it to become a chore or to take over my creative time.

For the foreseeable, I’m going to be researching for RB, mapping Wavedancer, and working, yet again, on a brand new opening chapter for Initiate of Stone in preparation for another revision pass on that novel.

This time, I’m writing the first chapter out by hand and except for the major events, I’m going to abandon all past versions. We’ll see if this works. I’ve been too bound to what I’ve written and it doesn’t work. My unsuccessful queries and various first page/first 50 page critiques have all led me to this conclusion.

Actually, the conclusion was always there. I was just ignoring it. Delusional Mellie is delusional.

So there may not be a lot of actual words counted for the first part of March because it’s too labour and time intensive to capture hand-written work.

I’m also going to revise a piece of short fiction for a contest. It’s another problematic piece that may require a return to the drawing board.

Long story short, all this experimentation and process tweakage has meant a substantial reorganization of my writing goals for the year. I’ve shuffled and we’ll see how things go.

In other aspects of this writer’s life, the sun is finally coming out. Literally. It’s been a dull and gloomy winter up here in northern Ontario and, as a result, a lot of us are experiencing more-than-usual levels of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I’m feeling better than I have in a long time and I thank Sol.

I’ve also been experiencing persistent health issues due to being a woman of a certain age. I think that, too, is working itself out. Finally. I still have a referral to a specialist this month and I’m going to keep it. I still want to explore my options in the hope of maintaining my recovered health.

Phil’s doing well, and is still planning to tackle further renovations this year. Exactly when these might happen is up for discussion, but, as he often reminds me, he’s not getting any younger.

It looks like problems with the pay system at work are not going to be resolved in time for me to consider a self-funded leave in the spring. So I’ll defer it, and puppy plans, until the fall (again).

But I have a lot of good stuff to look forward to in the meantime: Story Masters in May with Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and Christopher Vogler, a possible workshop with Gail Anderson-Dargatz or CanWrite! in June, and Writing Excuses and WorldCon in August.

And, of course, lots of writing in between.

Next week, I’ll be resuming WorldCon 2016 reportage. This should continue on the weekends until sometime in April and then I’ll have a bit of a break until my next workshop, conference, or convention. I might fill it up with some series discoveries or movie madness posts.

Until next I blog, be kind, be strong, and be well.

The Next Chapter