New, just for fun, on the SWF: Space Strategists

One of the folks on Baen’s Bar posted a link to a list of the “Greatest Space Strategists In Military History,” featuring characters from some famous science fiction print and film franchises. So of course I cross-posted it in the “Space Warfare Strategy” portion of the Space Warfare Forum.

It fit right in, even though it’s 😉 just for fun.

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The View From (Under) the Slush Pile

Some of my writing friends asked me about what I look for when I read slush for Baen Books; especially, what makes a book a good potential fit for the Baen line.

Before I answer, let me point out that if a manuscript is at all close to being publishable, I pass it to the publisher, Toni Weisskopf, and let her make the call. She instructed me early on that she only expected me to send her the top 1% of submissions, but I’ve actually sent her more than that. Some I’ve only marginally recommended, if I thought they were good books but might not be quite right for Baen.

That being said, I don’t know if this characterizes any kind of Baen “profile,” but I look for:

1. Stories that are adventurous and fun at their core. Think “golden age of SF.”

2. Stories that are exciting, if not actually action-packed. (Lots of people believe a Baen book must have a battle, brawl, barfight, gunfight, knifefight, or fistfight on every other page. That’s not entirely true, but it’s not entirely false either. Baen fans appreciate action; and what’s more, they know well what makes for realistic action and are ruthless about inconsistencies.)

3. Stories that make sense — e.g., with science, economics, etc., that ring true — and are internally consistent. (This requirement is quite clear in the Baen guidelines.)

4. Stories in which characters’ actions and the consequences of those actions make sense and seem plausible.

5. Stories that, under all the events and characterization, are essentially hopeful. Basically, in a Baen book you should know pretty well who the good guys and bad guys are, and the good guys need to win. Dark and difficult things may happen in a Baen book, but the whole story can’t be dismal.

Note that manuscript mechanics — spelling, grammar, and punctuation — aren’t on the list. That’s because, as Toni puts it, “Story trumps all.” So a good story (i.e., a good SF or F story) has a chance even if the manuscript isn’t pristine. But you still need to proofread well and correct all the typos you can, because you don’t want us to get distracted from the story you’re trying to tell.

When I ran this list by Toni, she wrote,

You can also add that I want to be charmed by the author. Slush is like a blind date — heck, it’s like speed dating — first impressions count. And there won’t be a second date if we don’t see something that could sustain a longer relationship.

Respectfully submitted,
the GrayMan

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91 pounds of slush in the box, 91 pounds of slush …

Okay, there were two boxes, not one, waiting for me when I returned to the land of sweet tea.* But the latest shipment of unsolicited manuscripts, proposals, and queries did come to 91 pounds, and right now they’re spread all over the floor as I try to catalogue them. (I try to maintain the FIFO approach — first in, first out — whenever possible.)

So, back to work ….

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*The South, where sweet tea comes standard. Although I was pleased to find that Famous Dave’s BBQ sells sweet tea even out west in Utah.

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Star Guardians

My son’s painting, “Star Guardians,” is in the “Show Us Your Art” contest on Brickfish.com and as of this typing is ranked #169 out of over 4200 entries. I think it’ll be on display in Raleigh this weekend, but if you want to see it now, it’s at this page.

And if you want to vote for it, that would be nice, too ;).

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The Candidates and SF

On her “Fabianspace” blog, my friend Karina Fabian posits the candidates’ positions on the crucial issue of Science Fiction:

Let’s take just one point: the return of Firefly. I can understand McCain not addressing this — though he’d love the guns and horses, his staff would have to work him into the idea of science fiction as a whole.

But Obama? He’s a democrat — how can he not be aware of a television show? Oh, that’s right. It was on Fox.

Hilary, I think hinted at it with her campaign ad: It’s 3 AM and the terrorists strike. Who do you want in the White House? The answer is obvious:

Malcolm Reynolds.

I love it.

Karina also graciously supported my “Anti-Campaign” in the same blog entry. And even though the Anti-Candidate didn’t get any votes in yesterday’s big primaries (I haven’t seen the results from lower-level races), I vow to stay out of the race until the bitter end! 😉

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Clear Skies in Utah, But No Meteors

At least, none that I saw this morning as I walked and jogged near the hotel area. C’est la vie.

After a day of travel that was 4 hours longer than it should’ve been — one flight cancelled, missed the shuttle bus and had to wait for the next one — I arrived here late last night for Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop. Hopefully I got enough sleep that I’ll be able to pay attention. (Wish me luck.)

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P.S. It occurs to me that posting this is something of an OPSEC violation. If I thought anyone cared, I might desist.

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The State of Science Fiction

My fellow Codex Writer, Rick Novy, posted a pair of blog entries on the relative decline of science fiction compared to fantasy. He made a clear distinction between the written word and movies: both genres do well in theaters, but for some time F novels have sold better than SF. I think the revitalized LOTR franchise and the wildly successful HP franchise explain some of the current popular interest in F as a genre, but they don’t explain the decline of SF.* (Read Rick’s comments: F Vs. SF, and Who’s Right?)

I agree with Rick that the “new wave” of SF, while it freed SF to tackle things it hadn’t tackled before, also hurt the genre in a fundamental way. I discussed this with Alethea Kontis and Edmund Schubert last year at Dragon*Con, and said then I’d like to see some research into the number and circulation of genre magazines year-by-year from the pulp days to today. I contend that the numbers — which no doubt fluctuated year-by-year due to natural variation — probably fell off precipitously around the conjunction of the “new wave” with the success of the Apollo program. That is, just as the core readership of SF saw the realization of a SFnal dream, their own literature seemed to turn against them and delivered a completely new reading experience that they didn’t appreciate as much.

Maybe I’ll do the research myself, in my copious spare time. [:rolleyes:] Oh, yeah, I’ll get right on that.

With respect to the movies, I’ve pointed out to many people that a great many of the top grossing films are SF or feature SFnal tropes, and they’re usually surprised to realize it. It’s easy to say that movie audiences tolerate SF because the movies make the SFnal elements more accessible than do books — you can see the starship, rather than just imagine it — and that’s why SF readership has declined. But I think there’s more to it than that. If most of us read in order to escape our humdrum, workaday world, F now offers us a clearer escape path: we see items every day that populate many SF stories — computers and cell phones and other gadgetry from which we might be happy to escape for a little while — but not many of us see elves or wizards in the office or the house.

I hope Rick is right, and SF as a genre has matured rather than having died. After all, the novel I’m trying to write is pure SF about environmental engineers working to keep a lunar colony alive. Not exactly riding the current wave, am I?

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* For non-fen, LOTR = Lord of the Rings, and HP = Harry Potter. For the really acronym-challenged, F = fantasy, SF = science fiction, and SFnal = science fictional.

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Keep Watching the Skies

This weekend’s meteor shower is supposed to be a good one, with its peak in the early hours of Monday morning. The earth will be passing through one of the denser portions of the trail of debris left along the orbit of Halley’s Comet.

[:rolleyes:] Of course, some of those comet pieces probably have water in them, which will contribute to rising sea levels … I guess we have to take the good with the bad … [cough, cough].

Anyway, hopefully it will be a good show. More details are in this New Scientist story.

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Mayday, Mayday

Not that I’m really in distress, just a little frazzled.

I’m back from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership conference, and trying to get lots of loose ends gathered together — tying them will have to wait — before I head out again for Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop. At least today I got my web site updated, and bills paid.

Onward …

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