What a Wild Week

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darkI innocently (Okay, maybe not so innocently) wrote a blog post on Sunday fisking a two-star review for the sci-fi anthology Dark Beyond The Stars. Thew review was unfair, specifically targeting the writers of the anthology just because their organs differ from his. So…I struck back. I tried not to be mean-spirited, but things needed to be said. Things I could not ignore with a pre-teen daughter growing up in my household.

And wow…I guess this is “viral” — at least for me. In the past couple days, I’ve had WAY above average views on this blog. The authors of the anthology got behind it and it was viewed organically that way, but then yesterday I started getting massive hits from two places.

One — The Mary Sue.

logo-typeI don’t think I ever considered that I would be quoted on a Feminist website. Frankly, I just never really thought about it, but why not? (Technically a Feminist Geek Culture site). Regardless, it was a kick, reading my own words in an article condemning the DBTS review. The link back to my own blog got me some traffic, but not as much as…

Two — Reddit.

reddit-logoOh my. If you aren’t familiar with Reddit, I have two pieces of advice: wade in carefully and/or run away. Reddit can be a great place (I’ve seen the community gather together to make sure an autistic kid had a phenomenal birthday party) and as Obi-Wan Kenobi once put it about another place, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Anyway, someone linked my review on the FemmeThoughts subreddit and suddenly I started getting dozens of hits. I wandered over and found a few people discussing my attempts to eradicate “sexism with more sexism.” Well, that was NOT what I intended, so I commented in an attempt to clear things up. Suffice it to say, in a world of ambiguity, there are people on both sides of the aisle who want to deal only in absolutes.

But two other things were bigger to me than blog hits.

  • Four of the authors in DBTS reached out to me personally last night to thank me. Like I told all of them, I was sticking up for friends, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  • But also…John Freakin’ Scalzi. The author of Old Man’s War and Redshirts among others (both would qualify as Space Opera, I believe), chimed in as a commenter under the now infamous review. (which, by the way, had about 9 comments a few days ago, then all were mysteriously deleted. Oops…now there is 68 as of this morning.) But…back to Scalzi, that means…probably…that whether he read my blog, or the Mary Sue piece, JOHN SCALZI READ MY WORDS. *faints*

scalzi

OK…gonna go recover now. If you haven’t read Dark Beyond the Stars yet…what are you waiting for????

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Applauding the Ladies — An Exercise in Fisking

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A blog I often enjoy reading is that of J.A. Konrath. Once there, one of my favorite activities of his is when he fisks a letter, blog post, review, whatever. The Internet is a fantastic place. In fact, just the other day, I posted my blog post about my grandmother. That night, I got a message from my uncle’s cousin. Turns out he was the best man at the wedding about 50 years ago of the man who lives in my town who used to be the funeral director. About 10 years ago, I worked with that man’s daughter. I put them in touch, shrinking an already contracting world.

That’s one of the things I love about the Internet.

One of the things I don’t like is the ways we can hurt each other.

darkA few weeks ago, I published my review of Dark Beyond The Starsand then a few days after that, an interview with anthology curator Patrice Fitzgerald. I was enthralled with the anthology, but when I saw the book’s line-up, I was afraid that the trolls of the Internet would somehow find their way out from under the various bridges and sewer grates to attack the collection. You see, DBTS has an entirely female author line-up. The lone man to be involved was editor David Gatewood. When I mentioned the composition of the anthology to Fitzgerald, she really didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. They were all authors — sci-fi authors no less — who all just happened to be women. Good enough. They didn’t seek out that line-up, but it happened somewhat organically.

I love it. As my daughter grows and matures, I would love for her to be able to emulate one of these fine women with their grace and style in the publishing world that sometimes holds their gender against them.

Case in point, one of the latest reviews of the anthology. A previous look at this review by Brian K. Lowe discussed the review, but didn’t name the reviewer or link it. No matter, the review is easy enough to find, but the writer of the review deserves to be named. He did purposefully leave his name there, complete with the name of one of his latest books as well.

But let’s look at that review, line by line, with my reaction in bold.


I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.

First off, if you are truly sorry about not wanting to offend the female portion of the earth’s population, maybe you shouldn’t have left a review in the first place. But, you did, so let’s take a look at the rest of his statement. “When it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.” 

Now this being an Amazon review, I can’t necessarily expect him to quote statistics or anything, but this is actually true. Changing, but true. Well…we don’t have up-to-date stats, but according to a 2013 blog posting by an editor with Tor Books, the percentage of women submitting to the publisher was just 32 percent for genre fiction (22 percent for just sci-fi). So yes, the numbers are lower. BUT…they are improving. The percentage of female writers in the 1940’s was pegged between 10-15 percent. 

That doesn’t even take into account indie publishing. And as we know, the two years since 2013 has been a lifetime in the course of publishing, indie or traditional. So while we can’t say that women are publishing more, we certainly CANNOT say it remains a purely male domain. I myself was a big fan of Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton as a child and women were very influential then, just as they are now. 

I bought the above book the other day, hoping to be proved wrong. It is a collection of stories under the banner of science fiction by an all female group of writers. They are: Patrice Fitzgerald, Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker and Jennifer Foehner Wells.

So he was looking to be wrong about women in science fiction. I doubt that. In fact, with the context of the review, it reads more like someone looking for things to pick out to prove their case. As for the rest of that paragraph, good job. You correctly identified all the writers. 

While the stories are expertly edited by David Gatewood, without exception, sadly each one has that special something missing to make them true scifi, let alone memorable. Not one of the eleven writer’s offerings got my undivided attention.

Each was missing that special something. Let me tell you what women bring to the table that men struggle with: EMOTION. I think I am pretty in touch with my emotions, but I will probably never be able to write some of the scenes found in Jen Well’s story in DBTS. Women tend to bring out a tone of compassion and empathy, an aspect that MEN sadly usually cannot nail. While not all are mothers, there is a connection to motherhood in many of the stories and many of the tales women bring to science fiction. 

If you want to talk about what men to in science fiction, we can talk about the typical “space opera” with lasers in space and faster than light speed and whatnot, but sadly we often get hollow characterizations. Women know characters because they usually understand emotions better than we do. 

As for “not one of the eleven writer’s offerings got my undivided attention,” I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe turn off the soccer match or put down Angry Birds? 

For the publisher to make the claim that the anthology is space opera is laughable! Obviously neither Gatewood or anyone else connected with this collection of stories has a clue about what constitutes a space opera. Think Starship Troopers, District Nine, Farscape, Star Gate, even Star Wars and Star Trek. To borrow a quote – “I associate the idea of space opera with appallingly bad writing,” which is the perfect description of this book’s content.

OK. I googled the definition of “space opera” and got: a novel, movie, or television program set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature. 

Based purely on THAT definition, you can rule out one of your examples. While District Nine is a fine science fiction story, it is in NO WAY a space opera. Set on Earth. Unless you consider South Africa to be a separate planet. Maybe you do. 

As for some of the others, Stargate (that’s the correct writing of that) isn’t your typical Space Opera either, with the teams established on Earth, and not getting space ships until the latter half of the series. As for your quote: if you knew that going in, why did you even bother? 

For any scifi story to be considered to be a space opera, it should always be a mixture of fast paced action combined with a large measure of the shoot-em-up mentality.

Again, I’ll refer you back to the definition. Your definition doesn’t even include some of YOUR OWN examples. Most of Star Trek is introspective, imaginative, and social boundary pushing. My favorite episodes (as is many people’s) are the ones were NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS. Picard plays a flute. Data has dreams. Odo discovers who he truly is. All great shows, but nothing “space opera” about them according to your definition. So, we go back to the original definition, where we are allowed stories merely set in space. All in this collection fit that example, many with stories that would fit very well in most any series Gene Roddenberry produced. 

I applaud the ladies for giving it a try, but I would suggest they forget going any further. Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances…

YOU APPLAUD THEM? 

Ugh. 

I applauded my kitten when she used the litter box for the first time. Women don’t need your applause, nor do they want it. There are plenty of people out there who appreciate good stories with well-developed characters. With this final statement, it’s convinced me that you, sir, are jealous. I saw this collection hover just outside the Amazon Top 100 for a few days, and I’m sure you did, too. You have written a couple of science fiction books that have gone nowhere. When a book written by women comes along and anihilates your “works of art” in days in terms of sales and reviews, you can’t stand it. You read, thinking you have an open mind, but your mind is the furthest thing from it. 

And you can’t even take criticism, either. Last I checked yesterday, there was nine responses to your review on Amazon (none by me, by the way). Today there are NONE. I imagine you sent Amazon a sob story how these people are ruining your reputation and soiling the Internet for you. 

Get real. Your review just shows that you are a caveman who looks at the stars and wonders how far you can go when the women in the cave next door have already developed the wheel and fire. 

Jack Eason, author of The Guardian

And there you go. There’s his name and his book. Look it up and you’ll find it has some decent reviews, but a ranking above 900,000, meaning no one has purchased it in months. This man wants recognition, and I suppose you could argue he got it here. But it isn’t good recognition. 

People like you are who I will warn my daughter about. When I send her out into the world, she will be told that people will doubt her. She will be told there are some that believe she cannot achieve things simply because of the chromosomes in her cells. She will be told this, and I will tell her to ignore them. Women can write science fiction. They can write it well, and if you don’t believe me, go pick up your own copy of Dark Beyond The Stars. If short stories aren’t your thing, pick up one of their full length novels. These women can write — and write better than me. 

Keep it up. Show the girls out there that men like this have no say in their lives. 

Will Swardstrom, Husband, Father, Author

Author Interview — Patrice Fitzgerald (Dark Beyond The Stars)

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Dark Beyond The Stars is a wonderful new science fiction short story anthology just released this week. I reviewed it early on and highly recommend the collection for space opera buffs. (Find my review here.)

I was curious about how the collection came about. I’m friends with Patrice Fitzgerald all the way back to our days writing WOOL fanfic and think she is a great person to know in the current day in indie publishing. As it turns out, Patrice took some of the lessons she learned seeing Samuel Peralta shape The Future Chronicles series and decided to play around as the curator and publisher of her own science fiction anthology. I think she’s done an amazing job, taking the things Future Chronicles does well, and adding in her own touches of flair.

Here are some words from Patrice on how the anthology came about and all the amazing talent that went into it:

darkWhat’s the story behind the anthology?

The truth is that this idea came from many of us knowing each other and having great enthusiasm for all the wonderful stories we were reading by our friends. The idea of a space opera collection was so wide open (literally!) that we decided to jump in and explore it. Kind of a “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” mentality. So we did.

And it’s fair to say that the results have been stunning. Fabulous stories, an incredible response from readers, and a bestseller right out of the gate. DARK BEYOND THE STARS jumped to #1 in SF Anthologies on the Amazon charts on launch day, and was also in the top spot in SF Time Travel. The same position showed up in the UK and Germany. Maybe other countries, too, but we were so busy collecting accolades we didn’t see all of them!

What inspiration did Samuel Peralta serve?

Sam Peralta organizes a dozen anthologies in the time it takes the rest of us humans to choose a title. He made it look easy. Turns out, there are lots of moving parts!

But after watching the Future Chronicles explode onto the science fiction radar screen, we knew it was doable. And it is truly an amazing time to be writing and publishing when you can come up with a concept, act on it, and have a finished product on sale within less than a year. Boggles the mind… and yet, here it is. A real book, and people are reading it in droves.

I don’t want to ignore that all the authors are women. Was that a conscious decision and why?

It wasn’t so much a decision as a group of friends saying we wanted to create an anthology together. And we did, while coincidentally remaining female.

We don’t mind at all that we look cool and radical in staking out our position that women can write science fiction. But that’s not news. From Mary Shelley of “Frankenstein” fame to Octavia Butler, P.D. James, Margaret Atwood, Ursula Leguin and beyond, women have been writing in this genre for a long time. It just happens that there is some conversation about this at the moment.

How important were the ancillary parts — David Gatewood, Julie Czerneda, the cover?

We love that cover!  Julie Dillon, who just received her second Hugo Award, had several pieces of original art available that were created in connection with a glorious book of illustrations she financed through Kickstarter. I found her art and the only challenge was deciding which piece to use of all her excellent work.  We may try to purchase another for the next book in the Beyond The Stars series, which will come out in November.

The text on the cover was done by the talented (and patient) Kendall Roderick.  She was recommended by several of our authors, and she did satisfying and professional work.  We will definitely go back to her.

Julie Czerneda was gracious enough to write us the Foreword that helped pull the entire collection together.  A wonderful author in her own right, she hopes to be able to contribute a story to one of our anthologies in the future.

And David Gatewood?  What can you say about David?  He’s the editor you want when you need to have every story shine.  He put a lot of his own heart and soul into this anthology.  And of course, he’s the only man we let into the clubhouse.  So you know he’s special.

In truth… we will have male writes in the next anthology, including Sam Peralta.  At least, he is welcome into the November anthology if he can find a moment in between spearheading new anthologies to write us a story!

What do you hope people get out of the collection?

I would love to think that they are surprised by some of the stories, and even disturbed by some. And certainly entertained.

The great gift of science fiction is to bring to life new worlds and new ways of contemplating the world we know. The great joy in writing it is to have a huge canvas on which to paint bold ideas.

Are you pleased with the response to the anthology?

The debut of DARK BEYOND THE STARS is beyond (I had to say it!) anything we could have dreamed of. We are humbled by the response from fans old and new, and encouraged by the reviews and the number of books sold.

Both of those realities make it easier to dig in and get ready to do it again for the November release. But the primary reason I’m going to publish another one is that it is great fun to get together with your friends and create. The fact that it gives joy to others is just a side benefit.

Thanks, Will, for having me!


Patrice Fitzgerald is the Series Editor for the Beyond The Stars anthologies as well as an author, publisher, attorney, and occasional opera diva. Her books include Karma of the Silo, a dystopian story based on Hugh Howey’s WOOL, Running, a political thriller about two women competing for the U.S. presidency, and a boatload of sci-fi shorts, including three included in the first several Future Chronicles.

You can find DARK BEYOND THE STARS in digital and print form at http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Beyond-Stars-Patrice-Fitzgerald-ebook/dp/B0147F216Y.