Friday, December 19, 2008

IGMS presents: "The Absence of Stars" by Greg Siewert


Notes on “The Absence of Stars”

I’m not sure if I remember having the initial idea for “The Absence of Stars.” I definitely remember being fascinated by Stephen Hawking’s notion of microscopic black holes and the idea that a black hole is a function of the density of matter, not its total mass. I was also interested in black holes because although they have properties that border on the fringes of known physics, they can also be viewed as simple, massive objects and therefore, they can move around and orbit just like any other planet or asteroid.

As a relatively new writer, I’ve been doing my own versions of some familiar sub-genres. I’ve got a “demon escapes from hell” story, a “futuristic war-scape” story, and “The Absence of Stars” was my version of the well-tread “big thing is heading toward the earth” story. I have a laymen’s interest in relativistic physics and this novelette allowed me to air out some of my pet opinions and theories (yeah, they’re probably wrong—I’m a winemaker). It also allowed me to create a version of this scenario without some of the irritating clichés that I always see presented in films. You know that part of the movie where humanity has to struggle with the weighty decision of who should be evacuated to create a new society and who should remain on Earth? I don’t know why, but I find that really irritating. I took great joy in sidestepping the issue completely.

Another thing that bothers me in such movies is how unrealistic the technology always is. The government always has seems to have some secret rocket program that nobody knew about. Although my story is set in the future, it’s meant to exist in roughly the present day from a technology standpoint. As a fan of the US space program in general, and the International Space Station in particular, I was really excited to set a story on the ISS. I think the station became a character of its own. Speaking of characters, it was also very satisfying to craft the personalities of the astronauts as serious-minded scientists, and not the cartoonish super-heroes that I see in the movies. I’m sure that someone more knowledgeable then myself could poke all sorts of holes in my depiction of the station and the events of the story, but I can assure you that I tried to make it accurate and plausible wherever I could.

Since I mentioned plausibility: The speed of light is infinitely fast. If you’re looking for a fistfight, say that in front of a physics student. Light has been measured many times traveling at 300,000 Km per second. Say you’re standing under the night sky and you turn on your flashlight at the same time you start a stopwatch. Your flashlight is pointed at a planet ten light years away, where the light bounces off a mirror and comes back to you 20 years later. You stop your stopwatch, get out your calculator and figure the speed to be 300,000 Km per second. What’s the problem? Well, here’s the thing: My understanding of relativity is that if you repeated this experiment with the stopwatch riding on the beam of light (go with me on this) and waited for it to come back to you 20 years later, the stopwatch would still say zero; special relativity, being what it is. If velocity is distance over time then if you travel 20 light years (or any other distance) in zero seconds then your speed is infinite. Right? So how fast does light travel? Is it 300,000 Km/sec or is it infinitely fast? I suppose it depends on your point of view. At least I think it does, one day maybe I’ll get a real physics education and know for sure.

Enjoy the story,

Greg Siewert


Part One of Greg's story, "The Absence of Stars," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now. Part Two will appear in issue 11, due out in February.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cue Twilight-Zone Music Here...

I don't know what dark forces are at work in the universe to cause things to work out this way, but about a year or two ago I realized that good things always happened to me in the publishing world right after bad things happened to my poor wife in the real world. It's uncanny.

In 2003 she got laid off from her job, and within mere days I sold my first short story. Then right after she found out she was going to get laid off a second time (in 2006), I had my first novel, Dreaming Creek, accepted for publication.

Well, as I was writing our family Christmas newsletter tonight, I realized it had happened again. This summer my poor, suffering wife had major reconstructive surgery on her shoulder -- they actually did two different procedures while they had her under anesthesia -- and in the space of fewer than of ninety days this autumn I had two books published.

It would appear that my wife is suffering for my art.

As I said, cue Twilight-Zone music here...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Revenge of the Penguins

A few months ago I did an interview where I admitted to having a taste for fire-roasted penguins (read the full monstrosity here), and that certain authors had had stories published in the IGMS anthology by virtue of having bribed me with said fire-roasted penguins.

The problem is that apparently people actually read that stupid interview, and now the whole penguin thing has taken on a life of its own. And it would appear that the penguins are having the last laugh, because the following list is only of the most recent cases of penguinalia (whatever the heck that means). In the space of about a week, I received:

1) a story submitted to the magazine wherein the author admitted in the cover letter that the scene in Antarctica with Satan kicking a bunch of penguins was written specifically because of the aforementioned interview,

2) an email from an author whose story I had just accepted, whose first words were not "Cool!" or even "Thanks," but "Where do I send the penguin?" and,

3) This, handed to me by writer just the other day:

Even now, from thousands of miles away, I can hear the penguins, laughing...


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"The Tile Setters" - by Ami Chopine

The Tiles Setters was born in a car dealership. I’d been given the assignment to go out and search: find ideas for stories. Learn about
something you’ve no interest in. Meet people. Observe.

I wandered into the dealership with my partner from the class, and we
decided to pretend to be interested in a car. The somewhat lecherous
salesman turned out to be uninteresting, except for the fact that he was the perfect representation of the cliché. So I looked around. The tile caught my attention. It wasn’t magnificent, being a simple cream and white ceramic with gray grout. But it started me off on a route I’ve found myself taking many times since.

How did this tile get here? Who laid it? What were their lives like? How was it made?

That last question lead to visions of clay being kneaded and rolled out and cut. I knew that clay sometimes benefits from different things being added. What would happen if this process were magic? What if the additives imbued some kind of power to the tile? I imagined that the magic artist might use snippits of themselves. Some of the things in those jars are dead skin cells and even dried blood, as well as other plant, animal, and mineral materials with certain properties.

Initially, my idea was that the tile makers worked for a prince of long ago. But someone suggested I bring it to the modern age. It was brilliant idea and I wish I remembered who it was to thank them. My husband had worked in an advertising agency. These places really do spend lots of money on their own image and their office décor.

I wrote the story in about seven hours. Then, I couldn’t get my laptop hooked up to a printer so I retyped it in an hour onto the school computer so I could print it out. Good times.


Ami's story, "The Tile Setters," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Book Signing with Orson Scott Card, Edmund Schubert, Scott Roberts, and James Maxey

Last Friday (Dec. 5) we held a joint signing at the Barnes & Noble in Greensboro, NC to promote the InterGalactic Medicine Show anthology, as well as new novels by three of the four people involved in the anthology.

Orson Scott Card (far left) is, of course, the linchpin of the anthology, serving as the magazine's publisher, and contributing stories set in the Ender Universe to each issue.

The unimaginably handsome devil next to OSC is the editor of the magazine (that would be me, Ed Schubert).

Next in line is Scott Roberts, a Writer's of the Future winner and contributor to the magazine and the anthology, and at the far right is James Maxey, also a contributor to the magazine and anthology. James' most recent contribution, "Silent As Dust" was recently selected to appear in The Year's Best Fantasy 2009, edited by Rich Horton, so a big congratulations to him.

Orson was also signing his newest novel, Ender In Exile, while I was signing copies of Dreaming Creek, and James was signing copies of Dragonforge, which came out last August. We just about sold out of the IGMS anthology, and sold about three-quarters of the case of Dreaming Creek my publisher sent, so I was pleased with that. I have no idea how many of the other books were sold, but judging by the line in front of Orson (which lasted over ninety minutes after the rest of us were done), he had to have sold two or three hundred thousand copies.

I was very happy with my part of the sales, largely because the bookstore was happy. They said I could come back any time and do a solo signing, and they also asked me to autograph the remaining copies of Dreaming Creek and then they put them out in the store, not on a shelf, spine out, but on a table, face up, where everyone could see them. That was very gratifying.

So thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks to everyone who bought all of our books, whereever you may have purchased them.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Sweetly The Dragon Dreams" by Dave Farland (and a few tidbits)

A few notes: First -- Tomorrow I'm doing a joint book signing with Orson Scott Card, James Maxey, and Scott Roberts at the Barnes & Noble in Greensboro, NC. All four of us have the InterGalactic Medicine Show anthology in common, with OSC being the publisher, me being the editor, and James and Scott having stories in it. Plus James had a novel published a few months ago (DragonForge), OSC has his new Ender novel out (Ender In Exile), and of course I'm still flogging Dreaming Creek. So we're all going to be at Barnes & Noble, autographing our respective tomes. The event starts at 7 pm and runs until we run out of books or customers. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello.

Second -- I did an interview with the fine folks at Novelists Inc., which is now posted on their website. Read and take notes; there will be a quiz next Tuesday.

And now for our regularly scheduled Story Behind The Stories:

"Sweetly The Dragon Dreams" by Dave Farland

When I was asked to write a story for this issue of IGMS, I immediately thought back to an early anthology of short stories that I read which was edited by Orson Scott Card called Dragons of Light. The anthology was published in 1980 and had a number of great writers in it—from Card himself to George R.R Martin and a dear friend, Val Lakey.

At the time that I read it, I was 23, had recently returned from being a missionary, and I was struggling to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I was in college studying medicine, but I’d always wanted to be a writer. Man, I wished that I had been able to write a story for that anthology!

So I wrote a long poem about dragons, and showed it to some family members. My brother-in-law liked it so much that he asked if he could frame a copy to put on his wall. I think that that gave me a good kick-start into writing. A line from the poem gave rise to the title of the story. The line goes, “But truth is the theme of the dragon’s dreams. . . .”

Somehow in the past 28 years, having written dozens of novels and short stories, I’ve never actually written anything with a dragon in it. After all, they’re pretty cliché. So I decided to write a dragon story for this magazine, though my dragons aren’t quite like the dragons you might find in other tales.

Yet this isn’t much of a dragon story. We never even really get to see one of them alive.

Beyond that, I’ve been hankering to write a science fiction story lately, and I realized recently that it has been twenty years since I’ve written a novella length tale. Originally, I thought about keeping this much shorter, but that subconscious desire to write something longer kept pulling at me.

So I wrote a long story, the beginning of a larger tale, similar in tone and style to my Golden Queen series. I don’t know if this will be the start of a novel yet, but probably not. Right now I have too many other stories that I want to write.

Best Wishes

David Farland


Dave's story, "Sweetly The Dragon Dreams," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"A Heretic By Degrees" - by Marie Brennan

Creating a Heretic

Driftwood is, hands-down, the weirdest setting I have ever invented. It started from the idea of borders: a place that is nothing but borders, where worlds come together so closely that you are constantly crossing from one to another. In other words, Driftwood started with the Shreds, the region Qoress traverses in his quest to heal his king. The Edge, where his world currently resides, came later -- when my subconscious told me that Driftwood is where worlds go to die.

So that established two things about the setting. The first is that it's kind of inherently nihilistic: everything comes to an end there, and there's nothing anybody can do to stop it. Your world has its apocalypse, its Ragnarok or whatever, and the last surviving fragments come to Driftwood to finish collapsing into nothingness. Cheerful, huh? This is the first story I've published in the setting, but I have others I'm playing around with, and it would be easy for them to all be grindingly depressing. But there's a whole wealth of stories to tell about how people choose to face that end: some despair, some adapt, some live in denial.

(And then there's Last. When I said everything comes to an end, I lied. You'll see more of him in future stories.)

The setting may be nihilistic, then, and all the stories in it will have to deal with that in one way or another. But really, it's just an exploration of entropy. I realized after I had created the setting that there were two concepts at the heart of Driftwood, those being liminality and entropy. Borders, and the eventual breakdown of any closed system. I'm glad I didn't think of that until after I had the world in mind -- if I had created it with that in mind, I'd probably have something much stiffer and less interesting -- but as an after-the-fact observation, it's one with near-endless potential for exploration.

The second thing my idea established is that this is my world-building playground. I was trained as an anthropologist, and I try to build detailed, coherent worlds, where all the elements fit together. But you know, that's a lot of work, and sometimes you just have random wacky ideas that don't fit with much of anything. Driftwood lets me fling those around at will. It's a place of fragments; if I come up with some weird religious custom or clothing style or type of dance, I can toss it in there and not worry about what it means, or how it relates to anything else. I can't tell you anything about the magic of the place where Qoress meets Last except for the thing with the spit, and I don't have to; heck, that might be the only functional piece of magic they have left. Who knows?

Writing in this setting, I often feel like I'm getting to indulge much more than usual in one of the features of our genre: I can make up weird and colorful things, anything that sparks my sensawunda. (Or amuses me. Which is sometimes the same thing.)

As I said, this is the first Driftwood story I've published, but I have several others half-started, and I hope to do more. After all, there's always more worlds to destroy . . .


Marie's story, "A Heretic By Degrees," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.