genre stuff


Mars Simulation in the Utah Desert

This is a bit weird, and there’s more detail on Mashable, but essentially a six-person team lives in the ‘Mars Desert Research Station’. Crews pay $500 to rent the module and pretend they were living on the Red Planet. I suppose it might be fun for a little while and, though the psychological impact probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as close, at least you’re away from the distraction of social media.


Article of Note

I’ve often been one to scoff at the media’s suggestion that violent video games lead to violence in culture. But it turns out there is quite a lot of academic evidence linking video games to aggressive behaviour:

C. A. Anderson et al.’s (2010) extensive meta-analysis of the effects of violent video games confirms what these theories predict and what prior research about other violent mass media has found: that violent video games stimulate aggression in the players in the short run and increase the risk for aggressive behaviors by the players later in life… Yet the results of meta-analyses are unlikely to change the critics’ views or the public’s perception that the issue is undecided because some studies have yielded null effects, because many people are concerned that the implications of the research threaten freedom of expression, and because many people have their identities or self-interests closely tied to violent video games.

That’s just one. It’s also worth hitting up Google Scholar to see the number of papers on this issue. Food for thought.


My Reading, Gender Quotas

About a year ago I said I wanted to read more books written by women. This was largely to identify whether or not I was being sexist (unintentionally) in my reading. I tend to interact with books in different ways – some I’ll read parts of some for research, whereas others I’ll blast the whole way through. I had an ambitious “aim for 90% women writers” target for my reading, in which I failed miserably. In my vague record I seriously interacted with just under 50 books for 2013, and ended up with an approximate skewing of 60% male writers to 40% female.


1) For many historical topics (this year’s fascination was on Anglo-Saxons as well as Romans) there are virtually no female writers. It’s so utterly male-dominated you would think it a 19th Century gentlemen’s club, and not publishing in 2013. That’s part of the reason I read more men than women this year.

2) Same goes for British nature writing. It’s absurdly skewed towards men – there are a handful of great female writers (Kathleen Jamie today, Ella Pontefract in yesteryear), but it was hard to find any books not written by men. There are publishers to a great job of bringing back writers of the past, such as Little Toller books. But when their list is 95% men, you get to see the problem isn’t anything new.

3) Sexism is invisible in publishing, for some genres more than others. You might not need to be sexist to reinforce sexism, because it’s such a part of the industry. Perhaps more specifically, women are invisible in some genres of publishing more than others.

4) This is, of course, most certainly not unique to publishing, but many facets of society. Or rather, it is society. Only by making a conscious choice – a quota – could I get close to a balance. But even then some areas of my reading are so dominated by men that it was almost impossible to get balance.

5) Making quotas exposes you to new writers. This is good for so many reasons.

6) Things are just as bad, if not worse, for non-white writers. I dare say that the ethnic diversity of the UK is not reflected in publishing.

7) I’m going to try harder next year. I’m going to actively contact publishers in my own areas of interest and ask them why they aren’t publishing more women writers. Imagine how cool it would be if more people did that?

8) Apologies that this deals with gender in a binary sense.


In which I interview my editor

Over at Fantasy Faction. We talk about editing, books and general genre stuff:

Yes, in part the post had been to point out that we weren’t getting much in the way of submissions from women, in any category of genre, although SF and horror were the worst, and to say ‘hi, we’re here, we’re women and we’re looking for good SF’. It was supposed to act as a shout out for any female writers who may have thought that publishing was a patriarchal establishment, to disabuse them of the notion that they wouldn’t be taken seriously and to let them know that the majority of SFF editors are women, actively looking for female writers. I got a lot of replies from women saying that they’d submit and over the next few weeks we did see an increase in direct submissions from women – so for that alone I’m glad for that post.

Read the rest.


Writing Locked-Room Mysteries

I wrote a guest post over at A Dribble of Ink on the art of writing Locked-Room Mysteries:

To create this set-up, though, I had to completely change how I approached a novel. Not only was I using a different narrative voice, but the whole process was entirely new – it had to be. And it was really, really difficult – by far the most difficult thing I’ve done in prose. However, I learned plenty of things from this process and from my research into locked-room mysteries, particularly from writers such as John Dickson Carr, the master of the genre.

So I’ve handily transformed my learning into an Internet-friendly list.

If you’re interested in writing, or reading crime fiction in general, you can read that list here.


Portrait of a Man in Armor with Two Pages

Paris Bordon

By Paris Bordon, c. 1530s. Taken from the absolutely fascinating Tumblr account, People of Colour in European Art History, which is an eye-opener. For me, it highlights that no matter how loosely based on ‘history’ many fantasy novels are, they do tend to be fairly whitewashed. (As in, if realism is the excuse, seems it’s a pretty poor defence. That blog shows why.)


Geek Links

Sad news that Frederik Pohl, legendary SF writer, has died at the age of 93. The Guardian has a nice obituary.

On the Tor UK blog, my editor asks if book browsing is a lost art:

“But I’m curious to know whether with the saturation of information, have we all taken the fun out of book browsing? Or have we just shortened the odds in ensuring that in our hectic lifestyles, we have a better chance of picking up a book that we know we’ll enjoy rather than finding one we think we might enjoy?”

For hard-core genre types, the Hugo winners are announced, and questions are asked of the award’s validity.

And finally, via Daniel Abraham on Twitter, a ‘geek’ boy makes misogynistic comments, and ends up making a complete idiot of himself in front of the world.


Geek Links


Sophia McDougall has very good things to say in New Statesman about why she hates Strong Female Characters. I tried to find a quote to read in isolation, but you should probably read the whole thing now.

Omni Reboot has some super old-school and rare Dune illustrations.

That link was via io9, which also had a very interesting article on whether or not villains should have to commit taboo acts for us to hate them:

“Do villains need to rape, torture or mutilate people for us to hate them? Or maybe the reverse is true: Sometimes we can invest more in a villain, if his or her evildoing is creative and leaves more to our imaginations. Sometimes with villains, brutality is the lesser path. Here’s our plea for more subtle monsters.”

Indeed. The over-the-top nature of some villains can be done well, but for the most part it does indeed feel lazy on behalf of the author. That is unless you’re trying to get the reader to like a psychopath, but even then, beware of the dodgy shorthand.


Geek Links

A few geek links of note. Firstly, the Guardian has a good video feature on 2000AD, to coincide with the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The dark side of geek culture goes more mainstream as the New Statesman looks at what lies behind “fake geek girl” accusations.

And while I continue highlighting how tough things are for women in geek culture, the LA Times looks at comic writer Mark Millar’s comments on rape in narratives. Which is best summed up by this response from Laura Hudson:

It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.