25 Jul

I’ll be signing and reading in South Carolina and North Carolina tomorrow and later this week

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I’m spending the week in Spartanburg, South Carolina, teaching at the Shared Worlds two-week long writing camp.

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I’m here with with visiting writers Julia Elliot, Nathan Ballingrud, Terra Elan McVoy, and Leah Thomas as well.

It’s the sixth time I’ve been here (I came last year at the last minute to help out due to a cancellation) and I’m quite honored that they keep bringing me back to teach writing and critique stories written by some amazingly talented teenagers.

As part of this, I’ll be doing two book signings where you can come out to see me if you’re in the area.

The first is a reading/signing at Hub City Books that I’ll be doing with many of the above-mentioned authors:

Join us on Tuesday July 26 for a reading with Tobias Buckell, Julia Elliott, Leah Thomas, Nathan Ballingrud, and Terra Elan McVoy.

That’ll be from 6:30-8:00 PM in Spartanburg, SC.

The second signing and reading will be July 30th at 5pm in Asheville, North Carolina at Malaprops:

We’re excited to host an afternoon of readings from the instructors of Wofford College’s Shared Worlds program, a murderer’s row of sci-fi, fantasy and weird fiction. MC’d by Shared Worlds founder Jeremy L.C. Jones, this event will feature authors Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, Asheville’s Nathan Ballingrud, Tobias Buckell, Julia Elliott, Terra McVoy, Thomas Olde Heuvelt and Leah Thomas, who will each be reading from their personal favorite passages for an event that promises to be strange, fast-paced and even a little competitive.

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10 Jul

Media consumed: Midnight Special

I watched this last night. Directed by Jeff Nichols, this is a strong echo of two of my favorite childhood movies: Firestarter and Race to Witch Mountain.

But like, moodier.Images

The basic tension is the same, with a modern twist. A young boy with what seems like supernatural abilities is on a car race across the US. The news is reporting he’s kidnapped, but it is by his dad. They’re fleeing a cult that seems to believe the kid has some inside scoop on the end of the world. They’re well armed.

The NSA, the FBI, and a couple of well-armed dudes from the cult are all after them (plus tipsters who spot them as they run on).

There’s a lot of sense of wonder. Some core mystery (what is the kid? Where are they going. Why do they have to get there? What’s the ticking clock). The movie is built and crafted quite masterfully to match the structures of Firestarter and Race to Witch Mountain (the original, the remake was a little less exciting, but with 100% more The Rock).

There was some pay off at the end, much like Close Encounters or Race. But the movie held back as much as it could, as long as it could. I read an interview with the director where one of his earlier movies did well because he refused to over explain to the audience.

That’s fine for Indy films, where critics pretty much masturbate over inconclusivity because it lets them ponder. It’s regularly annoying for mainstream audiences who often prefer the story teller have the conviction of the story they’re telling. While Nichols does have the conviction, by holding off so long the cross country chase drags on a bit and it affects the pacing of the film. That’s because it then puts a tremendous load on the two characters who hold this up on their shoulders. And the two adults (until a third joins, a woman, Kirsten Dunst, who has next to no lines or history or personality to add) have all the interaction and spark of a dead fish.

Because they’re all very moody and serious.

Over at Chuck Wendig’s site S.L. Huang pins something that might explain why I think Midnight Special doesn’t work too well: manpain.

When this trope is in effect, The Man’s pain is the one we are focused on, as readers/viewers, and meant to sympathize with. If his family is murdered, if his girlfriend is turned into a vampire — it is still his pain we are shown, his drama that is the important fallout.

There’s an even more disturbing subset of manpain that starts to set itself apart after you see it enough times. It’s the “Man Is ‘Forced’ To Make A Horrible Choice That Hurts Someone He Loves Just To Wring Angst For His Own Emotional Journey” trope.

The whole movie is about the dad, who is all serious and in serious pain about the risks he’s taking by kidnapping his kid to go on this journey to get the kid to a certain location.

Even when it looks like the kid is dying, he presses on. Because, it’s a hard choice damnit.

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…like, the movie is a couple hours of these two guys making these faces. All the time.

What makes Firestarter and Race to Witch Mountain so engaging, particularly to the audience with the disposable income and ability to nag their parents into going to see it, is that the child characters are (and this is important) fully developed characters within their own rights. They react constantly to the crazy shit going down on the road trip. Not so here (even thought the kid is on the poster for crying out loud).

Here it’s 100% focused on the parent character (played by Michael Shannon) and all their feels. Which are fine, but we don’t know if the kid is scared, or even if he loves the dad, and the kid is pretty damn robotic all throughout. Even DARYL in the 1980s, movie about a family that adopts an *actual godamn robot* that looks like a kid that’s on the run from the government, even DARYL has more emotions than the kid in Midnight Special.

As a result, because of both manpain and the exclusion of the kid as a character to us (I’m sure Nichols has answers, as the movie is well crafted), at some level of depth, even despite the well crafted nature of the movies, it therefore lacks a heart it needs to level up as a movie.

It lacks joy. It lacks the full depth of emotions and full depth of characterization of all its characters.

The dark sets, the grim seriousness, the empty characterization of the characters other than the father, it becomes oppressive. Even Firestarter, a straight up horror movie, had more of a sense of joy and depth of character in it.

The movie in some ways is a masterclass in how you can still create something that is an amazing bit of craft but yet still fail to create something with heart.

I wanted to feel something at the end, when the young boy leaves all the people who risked their lives to take him on this trip. But I didn’t.

I’m not surprised that people who watch it rate it highly, but that it hasn’t taken off. Not surprising it only made half of what it cost to make.

I read an article about the directors dreams and hopes for the movie and what he was trying to learn with it. It is why I watched the movie. I was hoping to love it. But it does serve to remind us to put some heart into our projects and remember that audiences need to see more character.

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29 Jun

How to collaborate on fiction in 2016 using pair programming, Skype, and Google Docs

I just finished a new collaboration. It’s a short story of nearly 10,000 words that will be in Bridging Infinity (you can pre-order here), edited by Johnathan Strahan “The latest volume in the Hugo award-winning Infinity Project series, showcasing all-original hard science fiction stories from the leading voices in genre fiction.”

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The writer I collaborated with was Karen Lord, who currently lives in Barbados (author of Galaxy Games, Redemption in Indigo, you’re reading her, right?).

There are a lot of different ways to collaborate. I’ve done many of them. But for seamless and rapid writing, one method stands out to me that was first introduced to me by Karl Schroeder.

In 2007 Karl and I spent a weekend in Toronto writing a short story called ‘Mitigation.’ The story would eventually spark my time spent on the novel Arctic Rising a couple years later. To write this story, Karl invited me to spend a three day weekend at his home while we worked on the story (also a 10,000 word story).

We spent the first night there drinking scotch and spitballing ideas, and the next morning in a diner scribbling ideas on the backs of paper mats. The fun, world building stuff that could go on and on.

But back at Karl’s office the work started. Karl had a plan, one he said he’d done with another writer before, where we would share the keyboard. One of us would write a single sentence. Then the other would revise that sentence, then write a next one. Other writer would revise that sentence, then write another.

Starting can be the hardest, but with one line at a time, swapping in and out of the chair, we soon had a few paragraphs. In fact, it was starting to get hard to stick to just a single line. Karl commented that once we started being unable to stick to a line, we’d switch to paragraphs.

This had the effect of blending our styles. It also forced us each to check in with each other, live, line by line, on what we thinking and trying to do. Get stuck? Jump out of the chair and usually the other writer could jump in.

We did this until we had 2-3 pages in short order. We broke for lunch and spitballed some outline ideas, coming up with upcoming scenes.

At that point, we then each took alternate scenes, not paragraphs, concurrently. I’d work on my laptop, Karl on his desktop, and email the scenes into a final document and edit them. In three days we had a clean, tight, 10,000 word short story that ended up being in a Year’s Best anthology.

I’ve done many other forms of collaboration. Handing the document back and forth, outlining for others to write, muddling through it on an ad-hoc basis. But Karl’s method really jumped out at me and I proposed trying to use it despite the fact that Karen and I are thousands of miles apart.

The methodology we used is something programming friends of mine indicated were similar to the idea of ‘pair programming.’ According to Wikipedia:

Pair programming is an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator,[1] reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.

While reviewing, the observer also considers the “strategic” direction of the work, coming up with ideas for improvements and likely future problems to address. This frees the driver to focus all of his or her attention on the “tactical” aspects of completing the current task, using the observer as a safety net and guide.

Karen was willing to try it. To write the document we used Google Docs as we could both use it at the exact same time, creating that concurrent use atmosphere and live ability I found so fascinating when I worked with Karl.

To get the live Pair Programming aspect, we used Skype. To write like this, I really found the live ability to talk to a partner to be killer. The reason is this, in past collaborations, I’ve found a lot of communication can be lost in text, emails back and forth, and people going around in circles without realizing it.

I found that just talking live to the person, I can see their face the moment I suggest an idea and more accurately assess whether we both truly love it, or whether they really love it and I don’t, or whether it’s something we’re both ‘meh’ on and should keep talking about. There is so much more you can figure out, and faster. You can tell when someone is just spitballing, as opposed to really hung onto something.

Karen and I spent a two hour Skype spitballing ideas on the first day, from which we came up with a skeletal idea for plot, some world building, and what we wanted to accomplish from the story.

The second Skype session was a half day of using the same method I described Karl and I did, but with Karen and I meeting over Skype and using Google Docs. One of us wrote a line, the other edited it and wrote the next. Then the other would come on and edit that then write the next. Soon we were doing paragraphs. Then sections.

The next two days we traded off sections, and then we did a series of revision passes that were not done live on video.

It took about four or five days to create a 10,000 word story called The Mighty Slinger for Bridging Infinity. Calypso singers, hard SF megastructures, idea SF. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I’m pleased to see that for a second time this process of ‘pair writing’ in a near-live situation works well, and that fact that it can work over great distances was a pretty amazing experiment, I felt.

Writing can often feel isolating. Being able to spit ball ideas and gain energy from another writer’s enthusiasm over the project made this a great experience.

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27 Jun

Node has a collection of interviews with science fiction writers, of which I’m one

James Cambias, Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, Vandana Singh and I all responded to a number of questions about SF/F for Node:

Do you think that science fiction can or should predict the future?

I think science fiction should engage with the future. That doesn’t mean predict it, though that’s often the common perception. We also warn about the future. Beg you not to go down a certain path. Warn incessantly about horrible possible futures. Wonder if a certain future would be interesting. Dream about a certain future. There are many different ways to engage.

(Via Can science fiction predict the future? A collection of interviews with science fiction writers : Node.)

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23 Jun

Tumblr crossposting test post

Okay, so I don’t have a Facebook page (I don’t know why, I hate Facebook, I grudgingly use an account for local and family stuff, but that’s it), but I have set up a Tumblr account and am testing cross posting from this site.

That is all this is.

update: The Tumblr is here. Testing what happens when I update a post after the fact!

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23 Jun

Ratcatcher a Best Science Fiction of the Year: Recommended Reading List

Neil Clarke at Clarkesworld posted a short list of 2015 short stories recommended for reading, and that included my short story Ratcatcher:

All of those stories are represented in the anthology, either as a reprints or in the recommended reading list at the end of the book. They were all great stories that deserve attention, so with my publisher’s permission, I share that list with you now:

(Via Best Science Fiction of the Year: Recommended Reading List – Neil Clarke.)

Rat catcher is the original story available in Xenowealth: A Collection.

Not bad for a story that Kickstarter backers helped usher into the world.

Thank you to both Neil and to everyone who helped Xenowealth: A Collection become real.

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20 Jun

I’ll have a story in Fractures: Extraordinary Tales from the Halo Canon

This may have been dropped between the cracks as I was in the middle of another deadline when news dropped. But one of the more frequent questions I get is, is anything more Halo coming out from me? Well, I can reveal that on September 20th, I have a novelette coming out in a collection of Halo stories called Fractures:

Launch once more into galaxy-spanning conflict and legendary heroism…shards of an ever-expanding journey where human and alien alike find their finest hours in facing their greatest challenges. These scattered stories span untold millennia, from the age of the ancient custodial race known as the Forerunners…to the aftermath of the Covenant’s bloody war against humanity…and even the shocking events surrounding the resurrection of the mysterious Guardians. Halo: Fractures explores mythic tales of bravery and sacrifice that blaze brightly at the very heart of the Halo universe.

(Via Fractures: Extraordinary Tales from the Halo Canon: Various: 9781501140679: Amazon.com: Books.)

The short story I have in it will be called ‘Oasis.’

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25 Mar

San Francisco Book Review reviews Xenowealth: A Collection

Pepper makes an appearance in each of the stories in this collection, but the rest of characters – some readers will recognize from Buckell’s Xenowealth novels – are developed, fascinating people of color that readers soon care for and want to do well. But in this tough world, it is often hard to get by.|

Xenowealth: A Collection is a great diving board for new readers to delve into this world and quickly get hooked.

(Via Xenowealth: A Collection – San Francisco Book ReviewSan Francisco Book Review.)

Xenowealth: A Collection

Xenowealth: A Collection

Series: Short Story Collections, Book 5
High concept, adventurous science fiction stories featuring the beloved characters and settings from Tobias S. Buckell’s popular Xenowealth novels. More info →
Buy now!

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17 Mar

A reminder: All Her Children Fought, the Snugboro film of my short story, is eligible for the Hugo. Just saying

Hey, the people at Snugboro Films worked really hard on the 15 minute short film of All Her Children Fought, and we released it to the internet on Youtube last year.

That means it’s eligible for the Hugo.

Most folk voting are looking at series television made in New York or L.A. But this 15 minute film might be of interest, and I just wanted to signal boost that if you’ve seen it and liked it, and you vote for the Hugos, then I’d love it if you considered it.

The people at Snugboro worked really hard on it, so I just wanted to shill a bit harder than usual to make sure I get this bumped back up to people’s attention:

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