Endangered Languages Project

I’m not a linguist, but I’ve always had a mild fascination with languages. I don’t know many, and my memory’s too bad to retain any I don’t use regularly. But I’ve picked up bits and pieces from a bunch and still occasionally go on a kick to pick up bits and pieces from yet another new obscure one. Plus, I have used two very different languages for fiction, which I believe is a sign I have a good enough handle of these two languages to go beyond using them for rudimentary communication. (and I’ve also created my own two separate writing “systems” and one “language” I’ve so far populated with about twenty or so grammar rules and several hundred words, that I fairly proud of)

So, needless to say, when I stumbled onto this website, it struck a chord with me. I don’t know if I will (and how I can) get involved, but I’ll definitely be on the cheerleading squad for it!

A Quick Thought On Genre

SF/F Utopia: Where Spaceships are Just Means of Transportation and the Existence of a MagicChild™ Doesn’t Automatically Turn Everyone Else into a Fucking Idiot.

MagicChild™ includes, but is not limited to: children with special abilities or disabilities, children professed to overthrow current governing system or leaders, reincarnations of goddesses, peasant boys seeking their fortune, mysterious orphans, hobbits, ewoks, village idiots, and any protagonist’s pet. Parodies may be permitted on a case by case basis.

Highlights of Yesterday

So, first and foremost — I wrote last night! And I don’t mean that I nibbled at a story. I actually sat down and the scenes unfolded, easily and naturally, like they do when I CAN write. This is a big deal, because it had been a while. I think I needed to get some of that piled up lelf-brain energy off my chest before I could dive back into writing.

So — yey!

Other things that are happening:

1. I’m not a big tech-geek. I know my way inside and out of a computer, I generally follow new developments in electronics for the hell of it, but you won’t see me getting all excited about gadgets. Well, ok, you might, but it wouldn’t be in the “I-want-one” sort of way, unless it’s, lets say, a spaceship. Or a teleport. Or a time machine. Or an eternal youth generator. You get the idea.

BUT! I just ordered a Entourage Edge, and I’m hyper-excited about it. Now, I wouldn’t call it a cutting-edge technology device. It’s pretty much a tablet netbook combined with an e-reader.  It’s not even that fancy. Or sleek. Or even feature-loaded. But, you see, when e-readers first started coming out, I said “What a neat concept!” I have a tough time reading on backlit screens, so this promised to be the perfect solution for me to go paperless without going blind. Then, however, came the blow. What do you mean, I can’t store or edit my stories, or see or touch up my artwork / photos in color on the damn things? Or, considering it’s the 21st century, what do you mean I can’t access Wikipedia or my online dictionary, or search the net, or check my email, or, or…

You get the idea. I didn’t want yet another dedicated piece of electronics sitting around my place. Yes, modern e-readers have a lot more flexibility and features nowadays, but they still feel like limited purpose devices with some bells and whistles to make the marketing team happy. The Entourage Edge promises to be a different story. I can’t wait to play with it!

2. I’m going on a trip kick. Traveling to Asia and not having any free time to explore maybe reawakened the bug. Or maybe wrapping up some stressful projects at work has given me the peace of mind to think about wandering around the world again. Don’t know. Anyway. Right now, I haven’t even settled on a destination yet. But I’m starting to look into it. More to come.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] Subtlety In Fiction

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sporadic entrant into the Writers Of The Future contest. So, I occasionally check out the contest’s forum. Just recently, the contest announced the newest winners, so one of the current topics of discussion is what kind of stories win the contest.

One thing that struck me is a winning author’s blatant admission he picked a standard theme (in his case, slavery) and wasn’t at all subtle in his treatment of it. Now, I haven’t read the guy’s story, and it may be a brilliant piece, or it may be the standard pile of junk. But his statement hit on another of my frustrations with what’s published nowadays, at least in short fiction.

I like (some) short fiction. I know it’s a hard beast to do right, but a well-done short story can have as much impact as a novel — and sometimes, even more, considering how concentrated this impact can be. The shorter a story is, however, the more it lends itself to preachiness. And a lot of the short stories that I’ve read lately (especially the science fiction ones) have preached with a heavy hammer.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like stories that are all about the message. But all stories have a message (or several, which are of the type I prefer, but see very rarely), so today I’m bitching about the variation of stories where, regardless of the storytelling/message balance, the moral of the story is so obvious that it becomes pointless to spend the time to actually read the story.

There’s one too many stories out there where as soon as the reader is presented with the problem, the resolution becomes not only predictable, but also requires no thought to process. And, frankly, who wants pre-chewed messages? I personally want a story that grabs me with “what happens next?” and leaves me with a bone fresh enough to gnaw on for some time after I’ve finished reading it.

What scares me is the thought that authors may be purposefully dumbing down their stories in order to get published. Is this what the science fiction reader wants? I understand that in the modern fast-paced society, most people prefer instant gratification (for certain things, I fall in this category too). But I’ve always thought that fiction is supposed to have two possible deliverables to its customer (the reader) — one is the instant enjoyment of going through the events of the story, and the other, one or more different perspectives to consider through the lenses of your own thinking.

So, how can the latter happen if the story has a blatant message? My reaction (and I don’t consider myself that unique) to a Statement is either “yeah, way to go, stating the obvious” or “boy, are you full of shit.” My reaction to an argument in favor or against a certain topic (which is what I believe a subtle message to be in a work of fiction) is to consider the argument against my own position on the topic. I may still get to the “full of shit” conclusion, but at least there will be thinking involved.

Thus — why, oh, why are preachy short stories so widely supported by the publishing industry? Are writers really encouraged to dust off their 1-ton hammers just to have a chance at recognition? Especially in science fiction, where the stories are supposed to challenge our imagination and intellect — I’d have thought subtlety would be a trait highly sought after, and not a recipe for rejection.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] On Gender And Science Fiction

A few days ago, some dood published an internets article about females (and gays) ruining the genre of science fiction. Again. Causing yet the next wave of widespread backlash against ’em moronic bigots who dare voice their cock-eyed mind. (I will not provide links to either side of this argument, out of principle)

I tend to stay out of these, because all I usually see are two self-righteous extremes launching crusades at the slightest sign the Other Side may be Expressing An Opinion. Sometimes, the fireworks are fun to watch. Typically, it’s just frustrating to see otherwise reasonable people going feral over inane, often childish insults. But today, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on the topic, especially since I don’t have much else to put on this blog.

First, what I think is common knowledge: save for a few notable exceptions, the genre of science fiction was dominated by male writers and readers for the first several decades of its “modern” existence. A large chunk of the early science fiction was written by non-writers, often giving it a dry, almost academic quality, with a slant towards problem-solving and with a Marty Stu in the spotlight — which readers tolerated and eventually accepted as a norm of sorts. Even when science fiction overlapped with other genres (action/adventure, mystery, westerns, romance, etc.), it still kept its stigma as a geek playground. And, at the time, geekdom was a primarily boy affliction.

Then, these geeks had children (or younger siblings, or protégés, etc.). And because geekdom is, indeed, a non-gender-specific, transmittable affliction, girls, just like boys, fell to it. They too wanted to play. And brought along their non-geek friends. So, as every time the popularity of any given playground grows, the rules changed. And in the case of science fiction, they changed to reflect the tendency of modern western societies to focus less on problem-solving and hard fact, and more on relationships and internal strife.

So, the way I see it, the changes in the genre have little to do with the gender (or sexual orientation) of its writers and fans. I see plenty of bad attempts at relationships in science fiction coming both from straight, man’s-man male authors, and from frilly, girly female authors. As I see the occasional problem-solving focus from both male and female authors.

To be completely honest, I do get frustrated with some of the more prevalent themes in science fiction (and fantasy) nowadays. The engineer in me does want more problem-solving in my stories, and, as a product of my past, I often find the tone of mainstream fiction too naive, detached, and pink (or, alternatively, purple). When this happens, I tend to revert back to 50s and 60s sci-fi, even if I realize that most of it IS pretty bad prose.

But to whine that girls ruined my genre? That’s just silly trolling. If anything, the influx of new blood saved science fiction as a genre. Sure, it’s different than it was fifty years ago. So are people. So is the society we live in. So is our science. If you don’t like where we’re going, debate the facts, propose intelligent alternatives, or contribute to whatever changes are to come. Whining just makes people want to kick you.

To the Other Side — get off your soap box. You aren’t special because you’re wearing the shirt. Especially since your “prefaded” label’s sticking out. By seeking every little excuse to flaunt your Enlightened Mind, all you’re doing is kicking whining puppies. Plus, your buddies from your 2:30pm Wednesday Save-The-Whining-Puppies activist club may take offense to it.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] The Fighting Thirteen

I’ve just returned from the Viable Paradise XIII workshop — and, wow, what an experience!

I wasn’t certain what to expect, so I was hopeful, but prepared to find it a waste of time and money. So, I was very happy when I found my hopes fulfilled and my preparations unjustified.

Viable Paradise is an intensive week of critiques, lectures, collegiums, writing, and interaction with other aspiring and established authors and editors (and some mandatory fun). It was exhausting. It was very hard on the ego. But it was also very insightful, fulfilling, and, boy, were there some really excellent folk there, both on the student and on the instructor/staff sides!

I originally intended to write a detailed report of the week, but I’ve decided against it. (As they say, what happens on the island, stays on the island). So, that’s that.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] Progressive Fiction

Recently, I submitted a near-future hard-ish sci-fi piece to an “Optimistic Sci-Fi” anthology. It was rejected with the explanation that what the editor looked for was sci-fi that tackled “current” issues, and mine (centered on spaceflight, and, to a lesser degree, social alienation at the work place and the nature of what drives humans to explore) simply didn’t.

I don’t mind the rejection — only an editor can decide what is right for their publication, and there’s no guarantee that my story was written well enough even if it were the correct material — but his justification of the rejection got me thinking about what I perceive science fiction to be, versus what I’ve been seeing in certain “serious” publications and other writers/readers’ opinions online.

To start, the greater whole of science fiction is as diverse as literature itself. If it contains a relevant to the story speculative element (from an unlikely piece of technology in modern times or a twist on a historical event, to a whole world that is based on principles of physics that stretch our imagination), then the piece of prose can be classified as “sci-fi.” Everything else, adventure, heroism, romance, mystery, drama, humor, high-concept, introspection, political or social commentaries, etc. etc. — is fair game, as long as it works with the speculative element and helps turn the concept into a story. And what is popular today is merely a subset of the greater whole, and is fickle as any other fad.

Furthermore, different media nurture different flavors of science fiction. So, to make sweeping generalizations about the essense of “modern” science fiction is impractical and any generalization will be most certainly incorrect as soon as I put it down in a sentence.

But here are some of my observations for the traditional print markets (POD and small press are a different matter, and I’m afraid I don’t know enough to comment on them).

Longer form seems to be, as always, dominated by the Big Names, who can do whatever they damn well please, but, thankfully, mostly stick to the old and tried, whatever that happens to be for them. Then, you have a smaller batch of Fad Cronies (are we out of the silly vampire/werewolf phase yet? wassdat, steam punk?), some of whom will fade into oblivion as soon as their sub-genre is replaced by the next fad, and some who will go on to grow into Big Names and do whatever they damn well please. And then, you have the few Wild Cards, who may be lucky enough to initiate a fad and become Big Names, but will most likely either carve out a niche for themselves, or crash and burn (or just be dismissed and quickly forgotten). (by the way, I’m not including the existing universes books not because I don’t consider them science fiction, but because they come with preset tropes and topics, and are only slightly influenced by the passage of time and editor/audience preferences)

Shorter form seems to have a similar distribution, except that the Big Names experiment a little more, Fad Cronies tend to have a smaller page-share and sometimes only restricted access, and the Wild Cards appear to be encouraged to go shorter than short, but have more slots. Also, shorter form publications (especially anthologies) sometimes attempt to resurrect old fads, or call for specific themes that aren’t usually a focus in the mainstream of the genre.

All that said, I’m still talking about science fiction. Which means, no matter the tradition, fad, experiment, or unlikely theme, it still needs to have that speculative element central to the story. And, after having taken the scenic route, I’m finally arriving at my point.

I’ve been seeing a lot of thematic fiction (gender/racial/etc. oppression, environmental decline, overpopulation, large-scale aggression, etc.) with barely a touch of speculation in it, in science fiction publications. Not that these themes aren’t important, poignant, actual, and so on. On the contrary. But I’ve often felt these don’t belong in the genre. It’s like slipping on a pair of medieval boots with that super-nice tux and going to a ren faire. Sure people will notice the tux. You may even get a compliment on the boots. But you’ll get the tux dusty — and you probably won’t get quite the same reception as if you had gone to that formal social mixer. That is, such thematic fiction may get a lot more attention and appreciation outside the genre of science fiction. Not because it stains the genre or something silly as that. But because fiction in the genre is supposed to be built on its speculative elements, not on the message.

To take the quite worn-out example: yes, Starship Troopers (the book) had a lot of political and social commentary in it. But at its core, it was a story about humans dealing with aliens. You change the bugs to people and bring the action to Earth, your circumstances, strategy, and resolution change to the point where you have a different story. Does the commentary change? Not necessarily, but that’s what helps a science fiction story resonate with its readers — it still needs to have underlying themes that, whether or not the reader agrees with the messages, are related to universal or current topics.

But, nowadays, from comments on blogs, webpages, and forums, I’m getting the impression that there are many people out there who cringe at aliens as if they’ve just found a cockroach in their breakfast, think space is so 50’s, believe science and math are boring unless they are somehow twisted into “art,” consider technology and gadgets fine for flakes like Bond, but not much else, find fifty years into the future to be too far out to bother with … and, for whatever reason, still call whatever they want to read/write “science fiction.”

Er?

I don’t read only science fiction (or fantasy) — actually, most of the books I’ve purchased lately haven’t even been fiction. I believe that there’s fine reading outside the genre, and I just don’t understand why some people are dead-set on pushing for “progressive” science fiction, when, in fact, they are just asking for contemporary fiction with a touch of speculation in it.

The science fiction genre is quite rich in itself. It already has its traditions, its culture, its cycles of fads, and baselines and classics, and constantly evolves within its own — granted, pretty fuzzy — boundaries. We, as the fans of the genre, may sometimes get frustrated with certain fads and their Cronies, become disappointed with Big Names, and yearn for Wild Cards to our tastes. We sometimes may think the market is going to hell and claim to have the best solutions for its “revival.” But, at the end of the day, I think that we still want our stories to require us to take an often times quite literal leap of imagination — that precious geek-out moment, if you will — and we still want the speculation at the core of our story, with all its controversial or heart-warming messages in tow.

Or, I guess, I do.

And if I wanted to read a handbook on current world issues and possible solutions (for the optimists) or aftermaths (for the pessimists) in fiction format, I’d be more than happy to walk over to a different section of the bookstore. “Progressive fiction” sounds like a good term, I think. Any takers?

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] Excuses, excuses…

I’ve been a sporadic entrant into the Writers of the Future contest (and sometimes the Illustrator part too) for the last two years. Today is the last day to submit for the 4th quarter for this year’s round. I had considered submitting both art and writing. But, my printer decided to not cooperate and printed everything purple (I just moved, so I probably need to reset and recalibrate the thing), and I didn’t finish the story I planned on sending till 1:20am last night — and I usually need it to sit for a few days before I can give it a final edit and have the confidence it’s not complete garbage.

So, I’m not entering anything this quarter. Ah, well.

I still haven’t heard on my submission for last quarter. I know my art submission bombed (my friend, the super-cool M.O. Muriel, got finalist, so I know the winners have been contacted — and I’ve heard zilch), and my story was on the sucky/experimental side, so my expectations for it aren’t high.

On the other hand, after the final edit on the short, I can go back to my longer writing. I expect I’ll come back from Massachusetts with a serious amount of notes for the Viable Paradise piece (the beginning of my novel Brief Horizons), so I’ll probably end up on focusing on this. But I guess I’ll see when I get there.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] So, now that the first post is out of the way …

Four more days, and I’m flying out to Massachusetts, to attend the Viable Paradise XIII workshop.

Needless to say, I’m duly panicked. I’ve never attended an official workshop before, and I’m not really sure what to expect. I understand there will be some tearing apart of the writing I sent as my application, and also tearing apart other people’s writing. I attend (and currently host and organize) a writing group, so I’ve had some experience with critiquing fiction, although my group uses more of a conversation style, rather than “the reviewer talks and writer stays quiet” format I’ve seen recommended across the internet. But I also understand there will be on-the-spot writing, which I’ve never had to do and I’m really nervous about. And I tend to be intimidated by Names. And Names there will be.

So, I’m counting days and fretting away. I’ve let the piece of writing I used for my application sit untouched, and it’s taking quite a bit of willpower to do so. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’ll think it’s the worst piece of crap under the sun when I hear other people talk about it or read it at the workshop. Harboring severe lack of self-confidence makes life fun. I can’t wait!

Either way, I’ve decided to start this blog to follow my experiences at the workshop, my adventures as an aspiring author, and more or less anything else that strikes my fancy. I’ve attempted other blogs before, but have never been good at keeping them up to date. I sincerely hope I’ll do better with this one.

So, to get my “introduction” to the whole wide world out of the way: My given name is Irina Ivanova. I’ve been contemplating using a pen name for a long time, and think I’ve finally settled on adopting “Rilan White.” All my decisions are subject to change, of course, but right now, this name feels right for several different reasons that I won’t go into here. (if you’re still curious: for one of the reasons I don’t want to use my given name, do a Google search for “Irina Ivanova” — I’ll just tell you that I’m not Russian, and then you’ll probably understand)

I’m an engineer by profession. I wrote my first science fiction story just over twenty years ago. I drew my first fantasy scene at around the same time. I think all history before steam engines is fascinating. I’m cautiously hopeful and love speculating about the future. However, in my own fiction I tend to put aside the likely and instead explore the unlikely. I love adventure and I love stories about overcoming (or manipulating) the odds. I also have a very soft spot for lone wolf tales. Generally, I’m attracted to grittier stories with realistic, darker characters in extraordinary (from our point of view) situations. That’s where I like to keep most of my writing, though I’ve also tried my hand at high concept shorts, hard sci-fi, and lighter tone prose.

Until about two years ago, writing was only a hobby for me. Since then, I’ve grown hopeful it may become more. Whether this notion is at all realistic remains to be seen, of course. And I hope to use this blog to show my progress.

[From “Six Strides Counter-Spinwise”] Update

However many months later, I still remain unpublished. After trying multiple stories at the “Big Three,” I only have a kind personal rejection from Analog and many, many, form rejections from everyone else, to show for the whole shebang. I still have one story out for consideration for an anthology, and an entry for the Writers of the Future Contest. My expectations aren’t very high.

Well, that, and I’ve been accepted to the Viable Paradise Workshop. I think I’m going, but I haven’t had confirmation they received my payment. I suppose I should check on that before I book flights and all.

But! I’ve actually had a really good time writing. For the last nine days, I’ve added almost 20K words to a novel. I know that’s not necessarily impressive for most writers out there, but these nine days included about 48 hours spent on busses and airplanes, the obligatory jet lag and the ton of sleep it usually requires to fix, a full 40-hour non-writing-related work week, and catching up with friends after a month out of town. But the best part isn’t the word count. It’s that I’m actually feeling quite positive about what I’m writing. Hopefully, this little splurt of joy I figured I’d share won’t jinx me. =)