Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writers of the Future

This blog generally focuses on promoting other authors' fiction, but today I hope you'll forgive me a bit of self-promotion.

My story "The Dualist" is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest!

The star-studded judging panel of Tim Powers, K.D. Wentworth, Jerry Pournelle, and Doug Beason picked my story as third-best of the Second Quarter 2010, out of the untold boxes of submissions they get. As one of the top three, "The Dualist" will be in Writers of the Future, Volume XXVII next year, and I will be invited to a week-long writing workshop with Powers, Wentworth, and others.

Appearing in a Writers of the Future anthology is rather a big deal. Past volumes have included early stories by such outstanding writers as Stephen M. Baxter, M. Shayne Bell, Tobias S. Buckell, Mark Budz, Jeff Carlson, Aliette de Bodard, Nicholas DiChario, J.R. Dunn, Nancy Farmer, Marina Fitch, Eric Flint, Karen Joy Fowler, Carl Frederick, Valerie J. Freireich, James Alan Gardner, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Howard V. Hendrix, Jim C. Hines, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Michael Jasper, Jay Lake, David D. Levine, Ian McHugh, Syne Mitchell, John Moore, Jamil Nasir, Scott Nicholson, Nnedi Okorafor, Michael H. Payne, Tony Pi, Ken Rand, Robert Reed, R. Garcia y Robertson, Bruce Holland Rogers, Patrick Rothfuss, Matthew Rotundo, Diana Rowland, Steven Savile, Ken Scholes, Dean Wesley Smith, Martha Soukup, Jason Stoddard, Eric James Stone, Sarah Totton, Mary Turzillo, K.D. Wentworth, Sean Williams, Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland), Stephen Woodworth, and David Zindell. The list goes on, but I think 50 names is enough to make my point. Of course, the list of former winners who did not go on to a noteworthy writing career is even longer, and I have no particular reason to expect to join the former list rather than the latter, but still . . .

To have something in common with all these amazing writers is a huge thrill. It's also strangely unsettling. I have the impression that many of the writers who enter the Writers of the Future contest are young, energetic people determined to become professional authors. I, on the other hand, am a middle-aged fellow who has never thought seriously of a career in fiction, because I never believed I had the talent. I've never even entered the WOTF contest before, figuring that none of my previous feeble efforts would have a chance.

I have always had an absurd hero-worship of professional authors, and so never dared to think that I could do what they do. But in the past couple years I've had the pleasure of meeting some of the local Colorado writers like Paolo Bacigalupi and Ed Bryant, and as much as I admire their work, they are actually not fifteen feet tall. They are very friendly and interesting people, but do not seem superhuman at all (but then, I haven't checked Paolo's closet for capes). I still don't imagine I have it in me to write quite like Paolo or Ed -- who does? -- but somehow it's feeling less ridiculous to think of at least publishing some stuff in the same field. I am looking forward to this workshop next year more than I can say.

Congratulations to my fellow winners for this quarter, Patty Jansen and Ben Mann (both Australian), and the winners for the first quarter, Brennan Harvey, David D'Amico, and Ryan Harvey (no relation). Good luck to everyone in the third and fourth quarters of the contest. Hope to see you next Spring!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders by Aliette de Bodard

Age of MiraclesThis week's story recommendation is for "Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders" by Aliette de Bodard, from the September-October 2010 issue of Interzone. Aliette de Bodard is the first three-time SROTW recipient, which will surprise no one who has read her work. Lately I've been trying to teach myself to write decent short fiction, and so I have a mental list of very good authors to read and learn from. Well, de Bodard has moved off that list, onto the list of writers I don't dare try to emulate or I might hurt myself.

"Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders" shows us a fascinating, original setting, where the Aztec Empire has been replaced by a strange, machine-dominated culture that never (quite) existed in our world. (Note that this is not the setting of de Bodard's debut novel Servant of the Underworld, although it could be in the same universe at a later date.) Even better, the story doesn't just use that setting for scenery, but to frame important questions de Bodard would not have been able to convey through a mimetic setting or a conventional medieval fantasy background.

In "Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders," the new god-machine has done away with the sacrifices and brutality of the former empire and its bloodthirsty deities. A mechanical "heirarch" arrives in a small mining town with the last of the old gods in chains, to conduct a symbolic execution of the god, who will only be resurrected for the next stop on their tour. But the ordinary people of this town are beginning to question whether they are any better off under the machine-god, which demands their hard labor in the mines to sustain it. We see the points of view of the old god, the heirarch, and the townspeople, all of whom are conflicted in different ways, but de Bodard offers no simple answers to their conflicts.

"Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders" is set after the time of the Aztecs' human sacrifices, but it prompts us to wonder what sacrifices we are still making, for which we will never be able to atone.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: You Dream by Ekaterina Sedia

Dark Faith cover"We can get over the wrongs we do, but we cannot forgive ourselves for the wrongs done to us, for our own helplessness."

My story recommendation of the week is for "You Dream" by Ekaterina Sedia, from the Apex Publications anthology Dark Faith, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon.

Dark Faith is an anthology of horror fiction involving religion, although in "You Dream" both the horror and religious elements are rather understated. It includes contributions from such excellent authors as Catherynne M. Valente, Gary A. Braunbeck, Brian Keene, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jay Lake, Nick Mamatas, Jennifer Pelland, Tom Piccirilli, Lucy A. Snyder, and Lavie Tidhar. (There is also a limited edition companion chapbook, Dark Faith: Last Rites, with stories by Sara Genge and others.)

Written in second-person, for reasons that do not become apparent until late in the story, "You Dream" follows a Russian woman, perhaps middle-aged now, who was abused in her youth and learned to detach her mind from her body:
You sit up in your bed and want a smoke, and whisper to yourself, It was never sex. Never. It was a defensive reflex, the same as a lizard that aborts its tail and escapes while some predator dumbly noses around the mysteriously wriggling appendage. You'd learned to do it with your entire body, and only the spirit escaped, not watching from the distance, running instead for the hills and the razor slash of the distant horizon.
Our protagonist is haunted by the dream of a young boy from her childhood about whom she remembers little except that he was kind to her. Her fixation with and confusion about this boy tells us a great deal about her, and about all of us.

Ekaterine Sedia's first novel According to Crow flew under the radar, but her next two, The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone, have been very well received. Her latest novel, The House of Discarded Dreams, is due out from Prime Books in November. Sedia was raised in Moscow, but you would never know it from her wonderfully elegant writing style, of which "You Dream" is a terrific example.