Why is Rey such a great hero?

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Heroes are an interesting character type. Not every protagonist is a hero, far from it. Most stories are about relatively ordinary people going on journeys and overcoming challenges. But there is no challenge too great for the hero. Need a dragon slain, an innocent rescued, a Death Star explodeyed? The hero is your man. Or woman. Or non-gender binaried person.

READ MORE : What is the Kenobi Theorem?

Anyone who tries writing the archetypal hero eventually hits the the Hard Question of all epic narratives. Why is this human, among all these other humans, the hero? What makes them special? From whence do their powers come? And buried inside this Hard Question is an even harder one…why should we the audience care? We know heroes are never what they seem, so why should we for the timespan of this story believe that this one hero is?

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Haynes’ Star Wars Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual

This little essay is going to get to Rey, the young hero of The Force Awakens, soon enough. But in preparation lets just acknowledge that Rey is, without argument, the most perfect hero of 21st century storytelling to date. Throw some other names in the comments if you wish, you won’t find one that beats Rey for absolute raw heroic brilliance. We’ll get to why.

There have, in the history of epic storytelling, been a few answers to the “why” of heroism. The most common, by far, is fatherhood. And it is always through a father that the heroes heroic lineage is established. Epic heroes from Rama to Arthur have been defined by being the son of a king or lord of some kind. In Star Wars Luke Skywalker is of course the son of Anakin Skywalker, that bloodline being the source of his strength with The Force.

“Contrast that with Kylo Ren, whose upbringing has given him, to say the least, crippling daddy issues.”

How many sons of rich fathers do you know who are heroic? How many powerful men can you name who are heroic? Even if we accept that occasionally some spoilt trust-fund kid MIGHT be heroic, experience suggests it’s despite their bloodline, not because of it. Snowboarding holidays in Aspen, yes. Sacrificing all for a noble lost cause? Not so much. Even though we continue to repeat it endlessly, the patriarchal inheritance myth doesn’t really hold water today, if it ever did.

God. Or gods, are the other source of heroic powers. Like many classical heroes, Theseus is said to be the son of the god Poseidon, which in turn gives him strength to rescue the city of Athens. Many heroes of Indian myth were avatars of the gods Shiva or Vishnu (an interestingly modern idea, the avatar, in our era of virtual realities). George Lucas roled out the Christian version of this one by making Anakin Skywalker a “virgin birth”. I probably don’t need to work too hard to dispel the credibility of divinely sourced heroism. Few now believe in gods of this kid, or in heroes as their children.

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New hope…or chosen one trope?

 

The Chosen One is the modern, secular equivalent of these outdated origin stories. Neo (Or Neil as I call him) in the Matrix isn’t the hero for any reason other than he just is, alright? He’s been chosen by…someone…to save everybody. The problem with The Chosen One trope is, it doesn’t actually answer the question. Why has THIS random dude been chosen? What is it about them that means they can triumph against the odds? This trope is used in wish fulfilment narratives like the recent, utterly awful Armada by Ernest Cline, where the only point of the hero is to stand in for the reader and let them fantasise about effortless success and glory without sacrifice.

Dull.

Rey’s heroism is built on a very different foundation, that has two main pillars.

The first is adversity. Director JJ Abrams spins a red herring narrative to make us all ask who Rey’s father is, but the answer is, it doesn’t matter. The Rey who kicks ass isn’t the child of that father, they are the child of almost twenty years spent alone as a scavenger on Jakku. That adversity has shaped Rey’s spirit into a strong form. Contrast that with Kylo Ren, whose upbringing has given him, to say the least, crippling daddy issues. It’s never in doubt that Rey will kick Kylo’s pampered butt when they finally get to it, because she has had to live the life of a badass, while Kylo knows deep down that he’s only a pretender.

The second is choice.

 

Both Rey and Finn become heroes because they choose, again and again, to throw off power. And it’s the choice that is key here. They aren’t born to this, it isn’t a matter of fate. Finn, in particular, has been conditioned from birth to comply to power, but CHOOSES not to. Every choice Rey and Fin make takes them a step further on the heroes journey, and every step is freely chosen. The outcome is a story of a young woman and a black man beating the hell out of patriarchal power structures, a truly contemporary heroic tale if ever there was one.

It’s not surprising then that some people haven’t reacted all that well to Finn and Rey. People who’ve been brought up to believe that being a rich white male will automatically make them the hero of the story face a rude awakening in a world where it’s the adversity we overcome, and the choices we make on the path, that truly define our heroic value. There’s still plenty of stories about indolent princes with god complexes for those spoilt boys to enjoy, Star Wars just isn’t one of them any more.

The rest of us can find new hope in Star Wars. We can’t change the circumstances of our birth, and we certainly can’t claim to be children of gods. We aren’t the chosen one, because there’s nobody in the real world with the power to choose. But we all face adversity, and we all have the power of our own choices. The reason our hearts sing when Rey finally takes up the lightsaber in The Force Awakens, is because the heroic part inside us all wakes up to watch. That’s why we need heroic tales, because once the hero inside is awakened, they can never truly sleep again.

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Hope you enjoyed this little essay on heroism. Come follow me on twitter! @damiengwalter

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So. Who are Rey’s parents? ***SPOILER WARNING***

***SPOILER ALERT***

Watch The Force Awakens before reading this. It won’t mean much to you if you haven’t. If you have and you see an option not listed here…put your argument forth in the comments.

UPDATE – courtesy of the very talented Dean E S Richard we have solid evidence of a romantic relationship in Ben Kenobi’s past that supports The Kenobi Theory. From the Wookiepedia entry on Obi Wan Kenobi under Mandalore’s Death Watch (source is the Clone Wars which is SW canon) :

Maul let Satine go, but stabbed her with the darksaber. She ultimately died in Obi-Wan’s arms saying with her last breath, that she always loved him and always would. Maul, then, had his guards escort Kenobi to a cell where he could “drown in his misery” and “rot.”

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So. That question everyone is asking about Rey? I have an answer. No inside knowledge here, just a careful consideration of what we know from the film, and how the archetypes of Star Wars may play out.

The question of course is…who are Rey’s parents? We have a young girl abandoned on a desert planet, who is the hero of a story that smartly riffs on Star Wars : A New Hope, but gender flips the boy hero into a girl hero. As you must know by now (or where have you been?) Luke’s parentage provides a big shock in the original trilogy. And now literally everyone is asking…who is Rey the daughter of exactly?

Before we get into this…NOBODY IN THE STR WARS UNIVERSE HAS HAD THEIR MEMORY WIPED. If your explanation of parentage relies on mind-wiping…you are wrong.

Lets knock out the obvious candidates first.

Rey Skywalker

rey-the-force-awakens-jakkuForce Awakens leaves us with the very strong lead that Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker. From Rey’s strong ways with the Force, natural piloting ability, her being called by Luke’s saber, and final journey to find the last Jedi, it would surprise nobody if Rey turned out to be Luke’s daughter.

Which is why she most likely isn’t. First, daughter with who? Aren’t Jedi basically monks with vows of chastity? And then, why would Luke just dump his own daughter on a desert planet then runaway? Sure, it’s possible, but add it all up, and Luke seems more of a mentor than a father to Rey.

Rey Organa-Solo

daisy_ridley_99867Han Solo turns up suspiciously quickly when Rey is in trouble. And the Millenium Falcon is just sitting on Jakku waiting for her? Likely story. This and many other clues suggest that Rey is the daughter of Han Solo and Leia Organa. They get on well, and as Daisy Ridley hinted in a interview, Rey is a “SOLitary” character.

But COME ON! If General Leia Organa had a daughter, is there any chance in hell she would leave her stranded on Jakku. No. Leia would tear the fucking galaxy apart to get her daughter back. This theory is a non-starter. But, if she’s not Luke or Leia’s daughter…where exactly do Rey’s Jedi powers come from?

Rey Nobody

It’s always been a weakness of Star Wars that the Force was so related to genetic inheritance. It’s possible that JJ Abrams and team are throwing us off the scent and that Rey is just a young woman of no particular importance, who happens to awaken as a Jedi as she’s being sucked into an galactic adventure.

Possible. But in storytelling terms, it seems very unlikely. Close relationships are fundamental to epic storytelling. If Rey is just the daughter of some random folks who forgot to put her back in the shuttle after stopping for petrol at Jakku…it’s going to be an anticlimax…and Hollywood does not like anticlimatic anything, ever.

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Rey Kenobi

This is my speculation, and the more I think about it, the ore it makes sense to me. We now that Luke was training new padawan to become Jedi. We also know that Kylo turned darkside, and was leading the Knights of Ren, who we might guess are the other padawan that turned with him. It would take all of them to defeat Luke.

Now think. Where did these padawan come from? Luke must have collected up children with latent Jedi abilities, and they would most likely have come from families with some Jedi heritage. And what other family name do we connect with the Force ad Jedi.

Kenobi. Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi was a super powerful Jedi. He defeated both Darth Maul and Anakin Skywalker in single combat. A girl of his family, perhaps a granddaughter, maybe a grandniece, has the potential to be a Jedi as powerful as anyone. And Rey’s characterful accent…sounds more than a little like a female Alec Guiness!

And here’s the real thing. Luke loved Ben Kenobi like a father. It makes perfect sense that just as old Ben Kenobi mentored a Skywalker, old Luke Skywalker might now mentor a Kenobi. Rey Kenobi.

My point. I believe it is proven!

Go ahead. Prove. Me. Wrong.

PS – I really want this.

 

 

 

Is watching Star Wars a religious experience?

Star Wars : The Force Awakens continues a tradition of spiritual storytelling that has existed for thousands of years.

A week out from the premiere of Star Wars : The Force Awakens and there is barely a word to describe the public excitement preceding the event. At a nearby cinema a dedicated big screen plays the latest trailer on infinite repeat. There are never less than a score of people watching the loop. As new clips hit the internet they go viral instantly, gathering up to seventy million views in a matter of hours. A recent news story revealed that a young man dying of cancer was allowed an exclusive showing of the new movie, and died five days later, his final mortal wish fulfilled.

Read more @ Medium.

Book piracy is likely a thing of the past

Most writers are still getting used to the idea that almost anybody can get a copy of almost anything on the internet, including the book that took the writer months or years of effort to create. Understandably, many writers get very angry about this, while others think constructively about how copying can help writers and creators build new business models.

Books are actually much less affected by piracy / file sharing / copying than other media. Reading audiences are smaller in size and generally more loyal. The general wisdom today is that copying brings more upsides than downsides, and that even if it doesn’t, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. But even as authors are adapting to the 15 year old reality of file-sharing, technology is disrupting the digital paradigm in what might be exactly the opposite direction.

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin as a new kind of money that fluctuates wildly in value, leading to multiple suicides and suspicious deaths. It’s a cryptocurrency, each “bitcoin” the outcome of a complex calculation. Bitcoin in turn is built on a technology called Blockchain. And it’s highly likely that Blockchain, or a technology similar to it, are about to effectively end digital file sharing.

All you need to know to understand why is that Blockchain allows people to track online transactions with a very high degree of accuracy. The how isn’t profoundly complicated, you can read about that elsewhere. Imagine that every time a digital music film, film or book was copied, the creator could see the exact details of that transaction. That’s the promise of Blockchain.

A number of startups are currently attempting to lever Blockchain type technologies as a way to limit, control or stop file sharing. Currently these are music centric, but there’s every reason to think this will be applied across all digital media types. It’s early days, but here are a few Blockchain based models you can easily imagine emerging.

Limited Editions – writers might choose to limit the number of copies of a book to create artificial scarcity. This is impossible with ebooks currently, but an ebook integrated into a block chain can be tracked to limit its distribution.

Trust Systems – writers give readers access to a book, perhaps for a set fee, but if it’s then discovered that user has made or passed on copies they are knocked out of the trust system and don’t get future access.

Collectables – the Blockchain system could make all kinds of digital assets collectable, in the same way they were in the print era. Signed editions, first editions, variant cover and all kinds of merchandising, all become possible for artists to make income from.

The implications of Blockchain for creators are staggering. To get a deeper insight pick up a copy of Blockchain : Blueprint for a New Economy by Melanie Swann.

This conspiracy theory will change how you see Star Wars…forever!

FINALLY! The true hero of the Star Wars saga…REVEALED AT LAST!

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Our story begins on a forest moon in a distant sector of a a faraway galaxy. For generations this diverse world has been protected, a sanctuary, home to dozens of sentient and semi-sentient species. Now the Galactic Republic has fallen, an Empire has risen to replace it, and pivotal to Imperial power is a new class of space battle stations. The first of these “Death Stars” is to be built in orbit of a distant planetoid named Yavin. The second, far larger, will soon take shape in the blue sky over this sanctuary world – Endor.

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Watch Star Wars : A New Hope now.

An Imperial research team dispatched to Endor comes under attack from a curious race of furred bipeds whose name for themselves is best translated as “Ewok“. Long have the Ewok elders observed the human presence within their forests, fearing its spread, knowing that any action may bring down wrath upon them. A hot headed Ewok warrior, who shall remain nameless for now, ignores all warnings and launches a secret attack on the Imperial researchers. In the ensuing Imperial bombardment millions of Ewoks die. The few survivors flee from their towns and cities to hidden forest tree villages. Little did they know that this tragedy would forever alter the course of galactic history.

Is watching Star Wars a religious experience? READ MORE

Decades later, and a Corellian Cruiser is blockaded by an Imperial Star Destroyer above the desert world of Tatooine. Aboard are two droids, one a protocol model of golden colour who bears little significance to our tale. The other, by outward appearance only, an astromech droid of the R2 series, R2-D2, whom we shall call henceforth by its correct name – Artoo. As Storm Troopers lead by Darth Vader board the ship, these two droids escape to the world below. But not before becoming embroiled in a desperate mission.

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Consider the incredible series of events that Artoo will go through as this story progresses, events no ordinary R2 droid could respond to with such warrior guile. First. What can possibly explain the decision of Princess Leia Amidala, a senior leader in the Rebel Alliance, seasoned diplomat, and latent Jedi master, to entrust the entire future of the cause for which she fights into the the hands…or rollers…of an astromech droid? What does she know at this time that we do not? Ask yourself that question.

Stranded in an unforgiving desert, captured by slave trading Jawas, and fitted with a restraining bolt, Artoo is nonetheless able to exert a mysterious influence over its captors that persuades them to take the droid to the only person on the entire planet who can help it complete its mission – Luke Skywalker. Artoo then displays advanced psychological manipulation skills, playing only part of Leia’s message to General Kenobi, thereby tempting the young farm hand into action. Kenobi claims never to have owned an R2 unit, but is careful not to press the point. What does he see in Artoo that we do not? What does Kenobi…fear?

Artoo’s role in the infiltration, and later destruction, of the first Death Star is well documented. But the droid’s true significance has never been recognised. Consider these events. Upon exiting the captured Millenium Falcon, Artoo’s absolute focus is on accessing the Imperial computer systems, so much so that he almost allows his entire team to be garbage compacted. Why? What could Artoo being doing, other than scouring for every kilobyte of available data on BOTH planned Death Stars? A true spy thinks well ahead…and a true warrior always takes revenge.

Consider this. ALL of the data on the Death Star, both the stolen secret plans, and the additional material from the hacked Imperial computers, comes from Artoo. Are we to believe that one skilled X-Wing pilot after another failed to hit those exhaust ports – a shot no harder than “bullseyeing a womp rat” – or is there a simpler…if more sinister…explanation? Is it not more believable that the location of the exhaust ports, misrepresented in the data handed over by Artoo, allowed a long held vendetta to be played out?

“To what end did Artoo radicalise the young Skywalker, and deploy him as a weapon in its personal vendetta against the Empire?”

The official narrative tells us that Luke Skywalker was guided by the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi to use the Force to destroy the Death Star. On which I am here to call BULL SHIT. We already know that Artoo has access to holographic visual and audio projection capabilities. Seated behind Skywalker, Artoo was more than capable of fooling this impressionable youth into closing off his sensors AND SHUTTING HIS EYES then using its own superior astro-mech capabilities, and the accurate location data, to take the shot itself.

But why? Only a being intent on revenge would go out of their way to bloody their hands with the thousands of Imperial lives who perished on Death Star #1.

Remember the words of Vader as he, the galaxy’s greatest pilot, closes on Luke’s X-Wing. “The force is strong in this one.” Remember also, it is Artoo, not Luke, that Vader then hits (but fails to knockout, Artoo’s pretence at being unconscious in the crucial moments only strengthens its cover. Remember also, the celebratory medal giving event? Picture the R2 droid rocking on its wheels as Luke is given his medal? That’s not joy, that’s the suppressed rage of a true warrior who can not claim its victory!! !

Artoo is merciless in its ongoing manipulation of the young Skywalker. Time and again it conjures visions of the dead Ben Kenobi to send the young Jedi warrior in the direction that Artoo’s true agnda requires of him. Artoo’s skills are so great, it can even prime Skywalker with hypnotic suggestions that manifest at a later time, as when Skywalker “sees” Kenobi on the icy plains of Hoth, and receives the message to visit the enigmatic Master Yoda.

If any creature suffered at the hands of Artoo as the “droid’s” plot unfolded, it was the swamp dwelling creature, his true name unknown, that was made to pretend the identity of a great Jedi Master. Using its projectors on the tightest setting, focussed to whisper directly into the dumb creatures cerebral cortex, Artoo used this “Yoda” as a puppet and then, at the last, disposed of it without mercy. The potential for humiliation at the highest levels of the New Republic forced authorities to retcon the official history of the Jedi Order to include the improbable figure of a swamp dwelling sub-sentiet toad as it’s greatest ever Jedi Master! From the green lips of “Master Yoda” came the lies that gave Artoo absolute control over the soul of young Skywalker.

Anakin Skywalker murdered Padawan children. LIES. The Empire arose from a Sith conspiracy. LIES. Vader intended to turn Luke, his own son, to this dark side MORE LIES. Evidence is strong that Vader’s true plans were for a largely democratic galactic government. It was only the terrorist threat from the Jedi Order itself, best on a return to theocratic religious dictatorship, that forced Vader to institute such draconian security measures. The conflict between competing Republican and Imperial power bases had raged for centuries, with BOTH sides committing atrocities when it suited their purposes.

To what end did Artoo radicalise the young Skywalker, and deploy him as a weapon in its personal vendetta against the Empire? It was as a radicalised terrorist that Luke walked into the throne room of the Emperor aboard the second Death Star, as a weapon primed and set to murder both his own father and his father’s mentor, a decapitation strategy that…against all odds…succeeded in crippling the far superior Imperial military forces. All of it guided by the intelligence of Artoo Deetoah, for that indeed is her true full name.

But why? Why? WHY??? Think back to those tragic events on Endor. For where, ultimately, do Artoo Deetoah’s actions lead us but there? It is here that the Skywalker plot reaches its fulfilment. It is here that a Rebel Fleet is lured into a trap that forces a conforntation with Imperial forces. It is above Endor that the second Death Star is destroyed, ending forever it’s threat to the world below. Whose agenda does this play to? Do you not see?

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A once great people reduced to refugees

Artoo Deetoah was none other than the young warrior maiden who sought to safeguard her people against the military threat of Imperial colonisation. Mortally wounded in her ill considered frontal assault, grieving the many Ewok lives lost through her miscalculation, Artoo Deetoah has her shattered body placed into the shell of a scavenged astro-mech, and heads to the stars to take her bloody revenge.

We may question Artoo Deetoah’s methods. We might mourn the tens of thousands dead from her actions. We may sympathise with the calculated destruction of the Skywalker clan and its once great reputation. But could we truly ask a great warrior to do anything less to protect the innocent indigenous people of Endor? Thanks to Artoo, they have peace, which neither side – Imperial or Republican – might have otherwise given them. Those who know the truth now fear the Ewok as a fearsome foe. Is that not the ultimate evidence that Artoo Detooah is the true hero of Star Wars?

Joseph Campbell on why we must create our own mythologies

Myth still conjures a strong negative reaction in many of us. For most of the millions of people awaiting the release of Star Wars : The Force Awakens, myths are an entertaining diversion. For the rigorously scientific and many people of a skeptical mindset, myths are nothing moe than glamorous lies. But for millions of others, myself included, myths have a meaning so profound we find it almost impossible to express.

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

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The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The words of Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth inspired an entire generation to think in new ways about myths. In discussion with Bill Moyer, Campbell found the ideal format to communicate his complex ideas to the widest possible audience. Published almost forty years earlier, The Hero With A Thousand Faces was the first full of expression of Campbell’s ideas on myth. It would ultimately inspire storytellers and filmmakers including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg among many others. Campbell’s thoughts on how modern myths are crafted echoes much of the best advice given to writers today to seek a sacred space in which to create.

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

In his great history of world religion, The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell articulated the most inspiring idea of his long and fascinating career. As the great religious traditions had begun to collapse and lose credibility, a process he dates back as far as 1600, humanity had reclaimed the true power of myth. No longer would myth express the monolithic ideas of Christianity or Buddhism. Instead writers and storytellers of all kinds would create new myths that captured the uniqueness of each ones transcendent experience. Campbell named this reversal of the old ways, “creative mythology”.

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The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell

“…the individual has had an experience of his own–of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration–which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realisation has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the value and force of living myth – for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.”

It’s the value and force of living myth that bring so many millions of people to a story like Star Wars, The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. And surely it’s our own desire to find new symbols for own experiences of order, horror, beauty and exhilaration that inspire so many people today to create their own mythic stories using ancient formulas of myth. If you’re on the path to getting your own creative mythology down in words, read about Alan Watts and the myth of security to help keep fear at bay.

If you found value in the post, please think about supporting as a patron, and getting access to my essay series on conquering creative fear in return.

 

 

The sci-fi books that inspired Star Wars

It’s remarkable how many science-fiction fans hate Star Wars. To those who like their SF grounded in science, Star Wars is reprehensible “skiffy” in the pejorative sense, a flight of fantasy cloaked in science-fiction’s clothes. For most under-40s, Star Wars is where their love of sci-fi began, but for those who remember the genre’s golden age, George Lucas’ blockbuster creation isn’t quite so original.

Edward Elmer Smith, best known as EE “Doc” Smith, was one of the early bestsellers of the pulp science-fiction era. Today it’s easy to take the familiar trappings of sci-fi – space rockets, ray guns, alien empires and more – for granted. But authors such as Smith, Leigh Brackett and Hal Clement, writing serialised fiction for Amazing Stories and other magazines, in large part created the iconography of sci-fi.

Read more @ The Guardian.

Fans! Writers! Publicists! Tell me about the best sci-fi in 2016

I write a regular column on sci-fi & fantasy books for The Guardian. About this time every year I sit down and think what the year ahead in sci-fi publishing has to offer. And right now, I’d love you to help me with that. It’s a big field, and while I do keep a burning eye in a high tower that can peer into the hearts of men, even that can’t read everything!  But collectively you folks can and do.

  • What are the books you’re looking forward to in 2016? They can be genre sci-fi (by which I mean anything even slightly fantastical), or mainstream with a sci-fi flavour. They don’t have to be published only in 2016. For instance, I’m really excited to see readers discover Last Song Before Night by Ilana C Meyer, published late this year.
  • Who are the indie published authors I should be looking out for? The field is huge, the gems are rare. Feel free to tip your own book, I will find time to look.
  • Also, I want to know about sci-fi related projects. Kickstarters for RPGs. Small press ‘zines with Patreons in need of support. Anything you think I should know about. Sci-fi is a great community, I try and support it every way I can.

Please drop a comment below, and help spread the word by sharing this post with your friends.