My nominations for Speculative Fiction 2014

Criticism and non-fiction writing seem to play an ever bigger part in science fiction and fantasy. Consider the issue of diversity in these genres, which has reached some kind of apogee in 2014. And a great deal of the energy driving that change has been generated online by non-fiction writing. Most of this writing is made by fans (those fans may also be pro authors, editors and agents, but writing first and foremost as fans) and it’s in online non-fiction writing like reviews, essays, blog posts and forum debates that the fans shape the genre. I honestly can’t think of a healthier and more open democratic way to shape our culture.

Following on from the success of Speculative Fiction 2013 it’s organisers have now made an open call for submissions to the 2014 volume of the anthology. Speculative Fiction 2014 will bring together some of the best online non-fiction writing on SF/F in to a handy, highly readable format. I highly recommend you nominate those pieces which stand out for you this year. I have just done so, and thought I would share my nominations to encourage more people to participate. Please chip in and tell me your favourite non-fiction of the year in the comments. I’m sure there are many I’ve missed.

Silk Road Fantasy and Breaking the Great Wall of Europe by Paul Weimer – Silk Road fantasy is such an evocative term for non-western oriented fantasy. Weimer may not quite have coined it but I think in this well researched post he brings it to new popularity. As the comments explore it doesn’t fit all non-western fantasy, but for the parts of the world the Silk Roads ran too, I think it’s rather lovely. I also have a feeling we’re going to see some great Silk Road fantasies in the next few years.

A Great Castle Made of Sea: Why Hasn’t Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Been More Influential? by Jo Walton – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was a major bestseller, but the fantasy genre has largely ignored it in favour of the grimdark vision. Walton explores the many reasons for this, in her usual subtle and amusing manner.

12 Fundamentals of Writing “The Other” (And the Self) by Daniel Jose Older – “The baseline is you suck”, strongly worded and supremely insightful, this post cracked open one of the toughest issues in fiction writing. How do we write characters who have been cast as The Other by our culture? There are no easy answers, but Older makes some strong suggestions.

How Censors Killed The Weird, Experimental, Progressive Golden Age Of Comics by Saladin Ahmed – I had no concept of how many diverse superheroes there were until I read Ahmed’s superbly researched insight in to early 20th century comics. And the shock of course is how these characters were eliminated by top down censorship. A must read.

Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction by Alex Dally Macfarlane – this essay set off one of the most valuable debates in the genre this year. SF/F should be the natural home of characters who do not conform to enforced gender norms. So why isn’t it? The answer to this question is still being argued, and likely will be for some time.

Now, go an make your own nominations for Speculative Fiction 2014 here.

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Writer’s Digest cuts links with Author Solutions

David Gaughran reports that Writers Digest has cuts its partnership with Authors Solutions. This is highly significant as a bellwether of publishing industry attitudes to the controversial vanity publishing operations run by Author Solutions.

Author Solutions aggressively pursues strategic partnerships to lend credibility to its scammy practices. More importantly, these partners help keep the pipeline of email addresses and phone numbers flowing. As I detailed two weeks ago, Author Solutions needs huge numbers of leads because it only converts 5% of queries into customers.

via Writer’s Digest Dumps Author Solutions  | David Gaughran.

Beyond the specific ethical questions surrounding Author Solutions is the wider question of industry attitudes to writers. Put simply, are emerging writers a valid income source for publishers? Are writers a part in the publishing process, or merely a part of the product? There is a burgeoning industry of experts and business’s aiming to serve the needs of writers seeking to publish their books. Especially debut authors who may lack industry knowledge. By and large these editorial, design and marketing services, often offered by freelance professionals, are entirely legitimate. But Author Solutions have faced intense criticism that their packages, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, do not return real value to the authors who purchase them, leading to a class action lawsuit against the business and its parent company Penguin (now Penguin Random House I believe).

The purchase of Author Solutions by one of the big international publishers gave their operations a vast credibility boost. But it has always begged the question, do publishers see vanity publishing and charging authors for sevices as part of their core business? If the news from Writers Digest is any indication, then industry opinion on that question may be swinging towards ‘No’.