chizine

Book review: The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess

I've just finished reading The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess, published by Chizine Publications. It's a deeply disturbing story, and I hope that Burgess is seeking professional help.

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This book was very unsettling. It dives deep into a sea of depravity. Burgess enumerates, with disquieting precision, a whole host of vile and disgusting acts. This is a book for a rather particular audience, and I found some parts of it to be rather difficult to get through. At several places in the story, I paused to think that this story is exactly the kind of thing that people envision when they talk about censorship as a means of protecting culture. This story would get book censors excited in all the wrong ways.

Burgess paints the reader a post-apocalyptic world where hypochondria becomes reality, where the whole world is dying, one by one, or in vast groups awaiting a new rapture. The narrative is compelling, tightening in on the protagonist, drawing his world tighter as his personal agency is reduced, until he becomes as powerless as the reader.

Let it be made clear The n-Body Problem is not for most people. If you are easily offended, it is most definitely not for you. On the other hand, if you appreciate dark fiction, can handle obscene content, and are looking for something new, give it a try. The ebook is available through ChiZine, as well as through Amazon.ca, Amazon.com or Kobo.

In the end, the zombie apocalypse was nothing more than a waste disposal problem. Burn them in giant ovens? Bad optics. Bury them in landfill sites? The first attempt created acres of twitching, roiling mud. The acceptable answer is to jettison the millions of immortal automatons into orbit. Soon Earth’s near space is a mesh of bodies interfering with the sunlight and having an effect on our minds that we never saw coming. aggressive hypochondria, rampant depressive disorders, irresistible suicidal thought—resulting in teenage suicide cults, who want nothing more than to orbit the Earth as living dead. Life on Earth has slowly become not worth living. and death is no longer an escape.

I received an ebook version of this book from ChiZine's marketing department.

Ad Astra 2013

Ad Astra is a speculative fiction convention in the outskirts of Toronto (specifically Markham) that I've attended now for several years. (2012 and 2009 recaps). Last year they moved to a new hotel for the convention, and it looks like they've started to fix some of the problems with last year's event. There were fewer tracks of programming this year, which was helpful. This reduced the heavy load on the elevators from last year, and made panel decisions easier.

Panels scheduled in the smaller rooms on the lower level were a real problem for me, as the rooms seem designed to devour sound. There are no microphones or speakers, and the panelists tend to be soft spoken. I had to bail on one panel because the sounds of people in the hall were far louder than the people at the front of the room.

Book launches and readings

Book launches are always fun to attend. This year, I attended a reading by Kitchener author Suzanne Church. Suzanne read a piece from her upcoming anthology Elements, as well as a few chicken stories that the anthology editor decided didn't fit with the anthology. They were amusing, but don't match the tone of the rest of her work. They would probably fit in with an anthology of Derek Künsken's stories though... He's written about monkey assassins and clown farts lately. Which, now that I've mentioned it, is going to draw some strange searches to my site.

Speaking of Derek, there was also a Bundoran Press launch party for the digital editions of the Blood and Water anthology (review forthcoming), as well as one of Matthew Johnson's stories. A number of authors read selections from their stories in Blood and Water, including Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Ryan McFadden, Kate Heartfield, Douglas Smith, Derek Kunsken and Julie E. Czerneda.

Julie E. Czerneda also had a reading from her new novel A Turn of Light. Something which I will have to pick up the ebook for shortly.

I didn't attend the reading from Robert J Sawyer's Red Planet Blues. He will be in Kitchener later this month, when he's not competing against other panels.

Doctor Who

A Dalek in the halls of Ad Astra

Wandering the floors of the convention, I turned a corner and almost ran into a life-size Dalek. Thankfully, it did not try and exterminate me. Later in the night, there was a group showing of the night's episode of Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten. A number of Whovians were in costume (mainly the fourth and seventh Doctors), and sonic screwdrivers were waved at the projector to resolve technical issues.

The Dealer's Room

I spent more time in the dealer's room this year, as I was helping out at the Bundoran Press table. Sitting next to the ChiZine table was fun. Brett Savory has a sharp wit, as does the rest of the CZP posse.

This was also the first year where I didn't walk out of the dealer's room with a backpack full of books. Since I started using my Kobo Glo at Christmas, I have read mostly ebooks. This decision was difficult at the con. Some new releases from authors for whom I have their entire backlist signed. This was a struggle between the collector, and the reader. For now, the reader has won.

Panels

I did manage to attend a number of panels, although not as many as previous years. Ad Astra has become more of a social event for me, catching up with friends from the Internet.

Alternate realities

This was a fun panel, and I wish that I had taken more comprehensive notes. There was some good advice, including suggestions to look outside the traditional Western European history. Post colonialism at work.

Building an audience

This was a solo lecture featuring Rob Sawyer. A few people bailed when they realized it wasn't a discussion between multiple panelists. There is of course a difference between a discussion and a lecture.

For the most part, Rob's advice makes sense. You're not trying to sell a particular book or story to everyone. Just like a particular story won't be right for a given editor, a story can also not be right for a particular reader.

Rob instead advised the audience to sell a brand: yourself. It's more of a soft-sale technique, where through exposure to your brand, and a continues, personal interaction, fans will buy your books. Some of the folks in the dealer's room should have been here. Some vendors were trying the hard-sale.

How to write high fantasy

While I'm not trying to write high fantasy, I found the panel on this topic entertaining. Some good perspectives by K.W. Ramsey, Catherine Fitzsimmons, Gregory A. Wilson, and Marie Bilodeau. It did end up going a little off topic, when the panelists started discussing ways to create believable female characters with real motivations.

How do you know it's done

This panel included Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Gabrielle Harbowy, Marie Bilodeau, and Douglas Smith. It was a really good discussion of the merits an limitations of Heinlein's third rule of writing, limiting the endless editing of finished work. It was really quite fun to see Gabrielle and Marie joking with each other. This is what a really good editor/author relationship is like.

I'm going to come back to this topic in a later post, after I've had time to organize my notes.

Space propulsion

As interesting as this topic is, without a story driving particular research on my part, I really didn't get much from this panel. Escape velocity requires expensive thrust, and can't be nuclear. When in orbit, interplanetary transfers can be fast and expensive (major talk about nuclear options) or slow and efficient for non-human transport. Some interesting facts about solar sails. The guys on this panel would be great people to query with particular story questions. It's all really great information, it's just not very useful to me now.

The parties

a shot of our Aliens game in action

While waiting for the parties to start up, I met up with Adam Shaftoe, James Bambury (who does not yet have telekinetic powers while drinking), Beverly Bambury and David Lamb for an Aliens board game. It was pretty epic. Shaftoe in particular had some awesome moments, even if the acid splash from the Alien caused someone else to fall down the elevator shaft.

The ChiZine party has an epic event. Just like the TARDIS, it must be bigger on the inside, judging by the number of people there. I bet the Doctor has stronger air conditioning though, although perhaps not as free-flowing of a bar.

Book Review: The Inner City by Karen Heuler

Karen Heuler's collection of short stories, "The Inner City", published by ChiZine, is a wonderfully bizarre set of stories. Reading the author's biography, I learned that her dog is named Philip K. Dick, and I can see a Dickian obsession with a world out of joint, a phantom reality that hides something sinister in these stories. Inner City Cover

The lead story, "FishWish", is a great opening piece. Originally published in Weird Tales in 2011, it takes the standard three wishes tale in an unexpected direction, plumbing the depths of unfulfilled desires.

Also rather Dickian is "The Inner City", from which the collection derives its name. A hidden power of distrust and chaos lies just beneath the surface of reality, directing the lives of others. Kind of reminiscent of The Adjustment Bureau, only with a much darker spin.

"Down on the Farm" touches on genetic manipulation, with a dark undercurrent. It's a rather uncomfortable story, dipping into several unsavoury topics.

"The Escape Artist" explores the relationship with fear. Does one run from fear, or confront it? And if we face our fear, is it to overcome, or to welcome the cold embrace?

Perhaps less disturbing than some of the other stories, "The Large People" is a story with ecological concerns. Ecology tends to take a longer view on things.

"Creating Cow" has clear parallels with Frankenstein, but in this case, the creature has far fewer redeeming characteristics. I wouldn't recommend reading this one right before lunch.

"The Difficulties of Evolution" is another little gem, which looks to our sense of humanity. The ending was quite appropriate.

There aren't any duds in this collection, although some didn't challenge my sense of reality as much as others. It's a well constructed collection which follows a common theme. If you're familiar with ChiZine, this should match your expectations.

Disclaimer: I received an advance eBook copy for review from ChiZine Publications. 

Writer pay rates

There have been two stories going around recently, about writers and publishing. The first was the whole harlequin vanity press. The more recent story has to do with pay rates for different markets. I'm a beginning writer. I have submitted a single story to the Tesseracts 14 anthology, which pays $50 for stories under 1500 words, rising to $100 for 5000 words. That works out to 3 cents a word for low word-count stories, and 2 cents a word for longer stories. This doesn't meet SFWA requirements for a pro market -- although it would have prior to 2004 -- but it's certainly better than the 1/5 of a cent per word that Black Matrix is offering.

The fact that Tesseracts is a well respected anthology of Canadian imaginative literature (SF/F/H etc) year is great. The editors of the anthology this year are John Robert Colombo, a much respected editor of Canadiana, and Brett Alexander Savory, publisher of ChiZine publications. I believe that having a publication in Tesseracts would enhance my career. Do I think this particular story will make it? I'll find out soon, as they have a short reading period, but I'll likely receive my first rejection.

As Jim C. Hines notes, "most of us suck when we’re new". Rejection can be horrible, but it's also a reason to get better. It's one of those Calvin and Hobbes "character building" exercises. I would rather submit a reasonably good story and have it rejected than submit crap that does get published. Don't get me wrong, I look forward to seeing my name in print someday, but I'm not looking for fast self-validation.

One thing that Scalzi notes, but which has been overlooked in some cases, is that there is a difference between "for the love, no one is making money" publications, and businesses launching multiple magazines, as well as two book lines.

Shaun Duke has thrown his two bits in. Small markets, such as the Survival by Storytelling magazine, are perfectly justified in their pay scale: a portion of royalties only. In fact, from their magazine's submission guidelines, 2/3 of all profit goes to the issue's contributors, while the remaining third goes to Young Writers Online. Duke isn't making anything from this.

In regards to publishers such as Black Matrix, I can't currently justify submitting a story to a for-profit company that pays so poorly. This is no longer a "for the love" market. Rachael Swirsky guest-blogged on Jeff VanderMeer's blog about the value of certain publishing credits. I would have to agree with her, and with Cat Rambo, editor for Fantasy Magazine. Too many unknown credits on a cover letter are a possible sign that the author may have been underselling their work, and may be used to lower standards. As a slush reader, I have anecdotal evidence to support this.

Markets like this exist. They will likely continue to exist. The moral question here, is whether the publisher is making money without paying their writers adequately. What else do they offer? Why would an author submit to markets like this? I won't, but others have and will. So long as they know what they're getting into, that's great.

Scalzi may have come across a little harsh. But really, when has he ever shown gentle softness and tact? This is the man who has published a Hugo-winning essay collection criticizing the hate mail he's received. He may have seen a few more hits on his blog than usual from this incident, but he already has a big audience. Instead, he's using his platform to call out a group that appears to be underpaying writers for profit. He's trying to help the community out. It's unfortunate that this comes across as an attack on all publications.

Jeff VanderMeer writes about goals in Booklife, suggesting that "many writers never progress in their careers -- except in a shambling, two-steps-forward-one-step-back way -- because they always focus on the moment, and the moment after that" (p 20). What does submitting to a market such as this accomplish for your long-term career goals, that submitting to a better paying market doesn't? Maybe having to wait a little longer by submitting to multiple, more discriminating markets first might be worthwhile? After all, the story is written, you can start writing the next while shuffling the manuscript between markets. Writing and publishing books is a lengthy task. Use some discretion, and some patience.

New blog posts to this story include another Fantasy Magazine slush reader, and also now assistant editor, Molly Tanzer, which is full of fantastic advice.

Another post is from Nick Mamatas, a very "to the point" kind of response.

There has also been a followup to Rachael Swirsky's posting on Jeff VanderMeer's blog.