2009 SF/F Humor Roundup is Live!

Here we go!  This is the link for the 2009 roundup of humorous science fiction and fantasy.  Let this be the first step toward a new age, an age in which humorous books can walk proudly beside their literary brothers and sisters, an age in which puns and nose-picking jokes shall be treated with the respect and accolades they deserve!

http://www.jimchines.com/humor-2009/

If you’ve read some amusing science fiction or fantasy from this year, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

If you’ve written something funny, same deal–but please note that I’m only listing work that appeared in paid/commercial publications.  And no, that $1.00 advance from Publish America doesn’t count.

Finally, if you have feedback on the page itself, please let me know.  This is a work in progress, and will probably evolve as it goes.

Please feel free to spread the word to anyone you think might be interested, and thanks!

Friday Updates

• As insane as this week has been at work, it’s been a very good writing week.  I just found out that my German publisher is picking up both Mermaid’s Madness and Red Hood’s Revenge.  Excellent!

• Also exciting, Red Hood’s Revenge is up for pre-order on Amazon!  I’m told it’s been there for a few weeks, which shows how distracted I’ve been.  Normally my obsessive surfing habits would have uncovered that much more quickly.

• Neil Gaiman has given me permission to make T-shirts of my 20 Neil Gaiman Facts.  All that remains is to decide where.  I’m leaning toward Zazzle over CafePress, but I’m open to suggestions–any experiences with these or other online vendors, good or bad?

• Based on your responses, I’ll definitely be doing the 2009 SF/F Humor Roundup.  It shouldn’t take too long to put together; I just need to make the time to sit down and do it.  Hopefully by this time next week…

• Finally, your weekly LEGO.  Anyone who’s seen Howl’s Moving Castle should recognize this one, built by Imagine’s Brickzone.  (And anyone who hasn’t should go rent the movie.)  Click the pic for the full Flickr set, including a better view of Turnip Head there on the right.

The Enchantment Emporium, by Tanya Huff

Happy news!!!  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] was the #1 paperback bestseller at both Mysterious Galaxy and Uncle Hugo’s–two wonderful and well-known SF/F bookstores–for the month of October!

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I just finished reading The Enchantment Emporium [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] the latest novel by Tanya Huff.  I consider myself a pretty big fan of Huff’s work.  She was doing awesome urban vampires when Stephenie Meyer was still learning to type. I love her Keeper series, her military SF … yeah, I’m a fan.

In many ways, The Enchantment Emporium feels like a typical Huff book.  You’ve got the strong female protagonist, Allie Gale, a witch who inherits her grandmother’s shop when grandmother disappears.  You’ve got fun, interesting secondary characters popping up.  You’ve got the snappy dialogue, the humor, the Canadian setting, and all of the little touches that make a good story even more fun to read (I loved the yo-yos!)  Allie is away from her family for the first time, trying to find out what happened to her grandmother while dealing with an immanent dragon invasion and worse.

Warning — minor spoilers follow!

I’m still thinking about this one, and would love to hear from anyone else who’s read the book.  I think my biggest hesitation comes from the intertwining of sexuality and magic, and the way that’s written.  The Gale family of witches is … let’s call them highly liberal.  Like the royals of old, there’s a lot of inbreeding, mostly to keep the magic strong within the family.  I’m okay with that part of the story.  It makes sense, and it’s hinted several times that the Gales aren’t 100% human.  Different species, different taboos, right?

But then you have scenes of group spellcasting, where the males go rather staglike from so much power, and have to be brought back down, sexually.  I.e., “That was a big ritual.  I’d better do Bob to keep him from exploding.”

Like I said, I’m still thinking about it.  The characters are all written to be open and comfortable with the situation.  So what happens between consenting adult mostly-human witches shouldn’t be a problem, right?  But I guess the fact that magic essentially forced them into sex troubles me, and I wish Huff had gone a little deeper into that.

I’ve heard complaints that there isn’t enough explanation or exposition about the magic system, other dimensions, and so on, but I didn’t have that problem.  I think most experienced fantasy readers will be okay, but newcomers to the genre might be better off starting with one of Huff’s other works.

So if you’ve read the book, what did you think?  If you haven’t but read the whole post anyway, I still want to know what you think 🙂

Annual Roundup of Humorous SF/F

October kicked my ass, but man, what a ride.  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of the month.  I did my first-ever guest of honor stint at Icon.  There were signings and readings. I also did a final revision on Red Hood’s Revenge, which I turned in on Sunday (woo hoo!)

I’m probably going to be playing catch-up for a while longer, but wanted to talk about one of the panel discussions we had at Icon, about humor in science fiction and fantasy.  I’ve thought about this a fair amount, having published a number of rather silly stories over the years.  One of the things we chatted about was the style of humor in some SF/F stories and circles–the puns, the in-jokes, the puns, the Star Wars and Monty Python quotes, the puns…

One of the reasons I think a lot of us enjoy this sort of thing, whether it’s competitive punning or protesting, “You keep using that word–I do not think it means what you think it means,” is that it’s a group identity thing. It’s a shibboleth, a way to identify fellow geeks, to affirm that yes, I belong.  Every family has its quirks, its unique language and vocabulary.  Geek humor serves the same purpose.

Another thing we discussed is the fact that humor is hard to write well.  Trying to balance the funny with the needs of the story, learning where humor will have the most effect in a story, using it as a counterpoint to the serious moments to balance and strengthen both … there’s a lot to learn.

Sadly for those of us who broke in with bunny knives and nose-picking goblins, humor doesn’t get taken that seriously. (Go figure, right?) I’m not saying every pun-filled title deserves to be on the New York Times Bestseller List, but can someone explain to me why the heck Terry Pratchett hasn’t taken home a Hugo or a Nebula yet?

So I’m thinking about starting a roundup of humorous stories and books published in a given year, including links and information to make it easy for anyone nominating or voting on the Hugo and Nebula to read the funny stuff that’s eligible.

Sure, this is partly self-serving, as it gives me the chance to share my muppet werewolf story.  (On that note, if you’re in SFWA or registered for Worldcon, and if you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll e-mail you a copy of  “Creature in Your Neighborhood”.) But I think it would be good to build more awareness and recognition for the humorous side of the genre and the writers doing it well.

For now, this would probably be a page on my site that I’d maintain myself. I’m thinking of restricting it to paid publications–an arbitrary choice that would eliminate self-published stories, but something I’m willing to reconsider.

So, thoughts about humor in general or an annual humor round-up in particular?  Good idea? Lame idea? Pitfalls I should be aware of?

Deadline Crunch

Red Hood’s Revenge is not done yet.  Red Hood’s Revenge needs to be done. Ergo, I will be unplugging (mostly) until this sucker is turned in.  I probably should have done this a few days ago, but ah well.

Have a great Halloween, all.  In the spirit of the holiday, have a haunted house, courtesy of Starwarsboy5.  Click the pic for the full set, as usual.

Rapists and Abusers

I’ve been reading various discussions about the gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl in California and the aftermath. (Warning: the article is intense and potentially triggering.) One constant, as with almost every such conversation, has been the mindset when it comes to rapists and abusers.

There’s a strong sense of us vs. them.  How could they do this? How could the bystanders just watch? I’ve come across various theories–they were poor and desperate, they were in a gang, they were drunk…

We want our villains to be easy to identify, like on TV.  We recognize the bad guys the instant they enter a scene, complete with foreboding music. We cringe as the poor victim is attacked, but we rest easy knowing we were smart enough to recognize the villain for what he was. He’s one of them. Because humanity is broken into two distinct groups:

 

There’s a clear boundary between the groups. That works for me, because it excuses me from having to worry about my own behavior.  I’ve never gang-raped a girl.  I’ve never beaten my wife.  I’m safely in the “normal” circle.

It’s comfortable. The evil rapists and abusers are over there, and us normal folks are over here.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work like that. People don’t fall neatly into categories. I’ve found it more helpful to look at behavior, like so:

There’s no “us” vs. “them.” No neat boundary separating good guys from bad. We all fall somewhere on the curve, and that position isn’t constant. Do you think the guys who gang-raped that girl woke up one morning and decided to be rapists? In most cases, it’s a behavior that changes over time, moving further and further to the right side of the curve.

One day it’s a shouting match with my girlfriend. Maybe I use body language to intimidate her into backing down. Eventually, when that doesn’t work, I grab her. Not hard enough to bruise, just enough to let her know who’s boss. A month later, I’ve stopped being quite so careful about the bruising. Step by step, my behavior becomes more abusive.

Likewise with rape. Maybe it starts by trying to pick up a girl at the bar. Trying to talk a woman into going home with you is just part of the game, right? If that fails, I can buy her a few more drinks to loosen her up. Then maybe a few more–it was her own choice to get drunk, right?  Or maybe I just spike the drinks to speed things along…

Our society has strong attitudes about what it means to be a man. Real men are strong and in control. We go after the things we want. We’re assertive, even aggressive when necessary. We’re determined, and we don’t take no for an answer. Given all that, do you think it’s coincidence that men commit 95% of rapes?

How could they stand by, refusing to call 911 while a girl was raped in front of them? We’ve all stood by and done nothing at one point or another. Every one of us has heard someone making sexist comments and failed to call them on it. We’ve wondered if someone was being abused, but kept silent because we didn’t know what to say or how to ask.

If your response to all this is “But I’m not a rapist,” “All men aren’t rapists,” or the ever-popular, “Why do you hate men?” congratulations–you’ve missed the point. It’s not about you. It’s about recognizing that the “me” vs. “those people” approach doesn’t really work for understanding or ending rape and abuse.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Book Roundup

I picked up a copy of Kelly McCullough‘s Cybermancy [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], in the dealer’s room this weekend and read it on the plane ride home.  I reviewed WebMage [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], earlier this year, and Cybermancy was even better (which is how it should be).

Basically, if you liked the first book, you should definitely pick up the second.  Cybermancy brings back magical hacker Raven/Ravirn and his webgoblin companion and throws them into even more trouble than last time. It’s got the same fast pacing, the same humor, but McCullough also shows a more serious side, taking an unflinching look at the story of Persephone.  I really appreciated his take on that one. Ravirn’s relationship angst felt a little too predictable, but nowhere near as bad as your average sitcom, and overall I really liked this one.  Book three is already on my wish list 🙂

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Other new books to check out:

Bitter Night [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Diana P Francis.  Book one of the Horngate Witches Books.

Indigo Springs [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by A.M. Dellamonica.

By the Mountain Bound [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Elizabeth Bear. This is the prequel to All the Windwracked Stars.

So, anyone have any thoughts or comments on these?  If not, what else is out there that we should all be reading?

  

Icon, Part 1

• Garden Ninja is holding a sale–30% off everything, including Goblin Quest miniatures (as well as their nifty new Schlock Mercenary mini)!

• I’ll be at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids tonight at 7:00 (the Alpine Ave. location) reading my muppet werewolf story and signing copies of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] and anything else you’d care to buy or bring.

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So I survived my first Guest of Honor experience at Icon, and I’m still processing the whole experience.  I had a wonderful time and came away completely wiped, which I think is exactly the way it should work.  How cool was this weekend?  Let me put it this way: they brought me a shrubbery.

They also gifted me with a drawing of Jig the goblin, done by Kurt Wilcken.  Not to mention the opening skit, which included three of my goblins and my three princesses. And don’t forget that jacket in the art show (pictures below). Oh yes, I could definitely get used to this 🙂

Huge thanks to my liaison and fellow CatsCurious author Catherine Schaff-Stump, who spent the weekend spoiling me rotten and pointing out those annoying little details like the fact that it was 3:02 and I was supposed to be at a 3:00 panel. (And for reminding me how to spell liaison.) Thanks also to everyone involved with the planning, as well as the folks actually making things happened.  This was one of the better-organized cons I’ve attended, and I had a blast.

I’ll have more musings on the whole experience, but I still need to sort it all out and recover my coherence, which started abandoning me about mid-morning on Sunday. So for now, here are a few pics from the weekend.  (If anyone else has pictures from the con, I’d love to see ’em!  For some reason I didn’t get much time for taking pictures.)

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Guest of Honor Tips

I wanted to say thanks to everyone who chimed in on yesterday’s post.  One of the things I love about my online community is that it’s wonderful for support and for reality-checking–in this case, the reminder that envy is human, and that in fact I’m not the only author in the whole wide world who isn’t getting the six-figure advances 🙂

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So tomorrow I fly to Iowa, where I’ll be doing my first stint as Guest of Honor at a convention. Thank you, Icon!

In order to avoid embarrassing myself too much, I’m compiling a list of suggestions for what notto do as GoH.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

  • “I’m your guest of honor, and I’ll wear pants when I’m good and ready!”
  • Guest of Honor Speech: Two hour PowerPoint of I Can Has Cheezburger pics.
  • “Oh, handler?  I would like you to bring me … a shrubbery!”
  • Insist that all filkers sing “The Song of Jig” whenever I enter a room.
  • “I’m here today to tell you about ShamWow! Call now, and I’ll throw in an additional set of ShamWows absolutely free!”
  • If any former guests of honor attend, stalk them back to their hotel room and proclaim “There can be only one!”
  • Respond to all questions with quotes from Ghostbusters, Princess Bride, and Monty Python.
  • Anyone who wants an autograph must first prove they’re not a brains-hungry zombie.

Please feel free to suggest your own.

Writer Envy

I debated whether or not to post this, but in the interest of keeping myself honest and talking about all sides of this writing thing, I decided to go ahead.

My friend Seanan McGuire’s debut novel Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of September.  It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled for her success. Yet there’s a part of me that compares her Amazon listing–50+ reviews, a ranking in the 1000 range, and #99 of all fantasy titles at Amazon, all more than a month after her release–to my own, and comes away feeling envious.

I hate comparing myself to other writers. A friend gets a $30,000+ advance, and while I’m truly happy for them and excited for their news, there’s also that tiny whisper asking why I’m not earning the same.

I hate it because it makes me lose sight of what I already have.  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] has a month-long face-out display at most Barnes and Noble stores.  Mermaid’s first week’s sales were the best of any of my books so far.  Publishers Weekly called it “a witty, well-constructed adventure tale about powerful women stepping up with skill and cleverness.” I’m the freaking guest of honor at Icon in Iowa in two days!

But then I compare my web-only PW review to Laura Anne Gilman’s starred PW review for Flesh and Fire [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] (which looks like an awesome book, by the way), and suddenly my good news feels … deflated, somehow. Even if only for a moment.

Screw that. The fact is, I’ve got an awful lot to be proud of.  I have five books in print. The first three have earned out their advances and gone back for multiple printings. They’ve been translated into a half-dozen languages. I even have miniatures of my characters. How freaking cool is that???

The self-doubt and the insecurities are insidious, and they don’t magically disappear once you get a book deal. It’s only three years since my first book with DAW hit the shelves; I’m still a fairly new writer. Maybe this is normal. Maybe it takes a good track record with 10 or 15 books to start earning those higher advances, and for the big review venues to really sit up and take notice.

I love what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t trade it. Fairy tale princesses might not be as hot as My Little Pony with Steampunk Zombies*, but I love these stories, and I’m proud of them. I know there will always be more successful writers, and that to compare myself to everyone who does better than me means I’m creating completely distorted expectations for myself. I know all of this, but the emotions don’t always listen to the logic.

Fortunately, I also know the envy is a transient thing. I’m proud of my friends, and happy for them. The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success. I’m happy for myself, too–happy and proud, and that will still be there after the envy fades.


*Yes, now I want to write it too.

Jim C. Hines