General

Another Reading Roundup

As some of you may already know, there’s been a lot of discussion about how publishing treats its authors of colour in the wake of the protests about the murder of George Floyd. The #PublishingPaidMe hashtag has really made the disparity in advances between white authors and authors of colour, and many people have been sharing their stories about working with white publishers and agents who have actively held them back.

I’ve included some links to articles if anyone would like to read more about this. Unfortunately this isn’t really something I can talk about freely: I work in publishing and my contract has a confidentiality clause. But what I can do is explain how this part of the process works, and what you can do to help.

When a publisher is trying to decide how much of an advance to give an author, the first thing they do will be to look at sales figures. If the author has had books out before, they’ll check how many copies have sold; if it’s a debut author, they’ll look at the sales figures of similar books to see how well readers responded to that kind of story. Obviously there are other factors as well: whether the author has a following, whether there’s a rights deal in place for film or TV, whether the editor, sales team or publicist feels that this particular book would do well in the current market, but sales figures are the hard data which a lot of advance levels are based on. If you would like to see more books by authors of colour, one of the best things you can do is buy the books that are already published – or read a library copy if buying it isn’t a financial option, as most authors should still get some income from library loans.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s some of the ones I’ve enjoyed:

image: en.wikipedia.org

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

I’m 90% sure that if you’re into SFF someone has already recommended this book to you, but that’s because IT’S SO GOOD. The Fifth Season is set in a world where certain people have the ability to control energy, usually the energy found in rocks, but sometimes accidentally kill people in the process. The novel is the first in a trilogy which deals with how society responds to this (hint: they’re not 100% on board) and every book won a Hugo Award so you know it’s dead good.

image: broadwayworld.com

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Ever wondered what would happen if zombies showed up in the American Civil War? Well you don’t need to, just go read this book! It’s set in the aftermath of the war, in an America which forces its Black and Native American citizens to protect white people from the restless dead, and it’s all based on a lot of real-life American history which I didn’t know about. Also the protagonist, Jane McKeene, is charming and funny and the best and I love her. I usually can’t deal with zombies at all, even Shaun of the Dead is too much for me, so the fact that I love this book as much as I do legit surprises me.

image: amazon.com

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

This one is really fun! It’s a YA fantasy set in a world inspired by West Africa – it can get pretty dark at times but that is exactly my thing. The protagonist, Arrah, is a girl whose magic hasn’t arrived so she chooses to trade years of her own life for magical power. Isn’t that such a cool premise?? I really loved the magic system in this one as well – I have such a lot of respect for authors who put so much work into worldbuilding.

image: goodreads.com

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I’m currently reading this one at the moment so no spoilers, BUT I LOVE IT. It’s set in 1920s Mexico and it’s about a girl who sets free an ancient Mayan death god and they have to go on a quest so that he can reclaim his throne. The setting is gorgeous, Casiopea is a wonderful main character and I love the way it draws on Mayan mythology. It gets a bit dark at times so it might not be for everyone, but that just means it’s absolutely definitely for me.

image: hypable.com

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Ah man this one is just GREAT. It’s a YA fantasy set in a world inspired by Imperial China and it’s just wonderful. The main character becomes empress when her father dies in suspicious circumstances and it kicks off a massive chain of drama when she decides to investigate his death. I’m usually fairly good at guessing the twists in books, having worked on so many of them, but there was a twist halfway through this one which COMPLETELY blindsided me. It’s great and everyone should read it.

And there you have it! If you’re looking to support more authors of colour, here are five places to start. Also, if you have any recommendations please feel free to leave a comment! I would encourage everyone to sign petitions, write to your political representatives and donate to organisations supporting Black people if you’re financially able as well – these things are way more important than books. However, if you aren’t able to do any of these things, supporting authors of colour is another way that you can help.

Book Recipes

Book Recipes: How to Write a Military SF Novel

This is the first of my new Book Recipes series: a short look at how silly and cliched different genres can be – or at least, how people think they can be. To kick things off I’m looking at military science fiction. Pack your laser gun and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One lantern-jawed hero
  • One beautiful yet feisty token female character
  • One authority figure you can ignore
  • An assorted mix of sidekicks, all of whom can be described as ‘wise-cracking’
  • So many lasers
  • All the consonants from the awkward bits of the alphabet
  • A generous helping of background aliens
  • A thinly-veiled political allegory
  • One sneering villain (cape-wearing optional)
  • SPAAAAACE

 

Method

  1. Give your lantern-jawed hero a manly, monosyllabic name, a random military title and a big gun.
  2. Have the authority figure send him on a mission. This will be the only time the hero actually listens to his boss.
  3. Time for your political allegory. Put it in space, change the names a bit and you’re good to go.
  4. FIGHTING.
  5. Introduce your hero to the female lead. They’ll disagree at first, but sexily.
  6. Battle plans. These are very serious and important, so you must use the word ‘glower’ and make sure that people bang their fists on the table.
  7. The villain appears. There’s a tense conversation where smirking is involved.
  8. MORE FIGHTING. The sidekicks can come too.
  9. The hero returns – wounded! Use this opportunity to have a flirty yet meaningful discussion with the female lead, instead of tending to the shoulder wound all heroes get when they’re not really in serious trouble but want to look tough anyway.

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Target shown here. (image: tvtropes.com)

  1. Want to spice things up? Why not kill off a sidekick?
  2. The hero and heroine confess their love/attraction/general unspecified tingly feelings…
  3. …just before the final battle! Don’t forget to keep ignoring the boss.
  4. LASERS EVERYWHERE
  5. EXPLOSIONS
  6. ALIENS AND THAT
  7. Was the hero given a specific order? Time to COMPLETELY DISREGARD IT BECAUSE INSTINCT
  8. Time for the final showdown! Punctuate the hero and villain’s tense conversation with bits of the fight. A kick in the teeth is as good as a paragraph break.
  9. Worried about the female lead? Don’t be. She’s either captured by now or helping, but from a safe and feminine distance.
  10. The villain is defeated! Hurrah!
  11. Make sure your hero is proved right about everything, ever. Medals help with this, as does making out with the female lead.

THE END. Serve with a generous dusting of lasers.

 

Tips:

  • Finding it difficult to write a realistic setting? Just don’t bother. Tell your readers where and when they are at the beginning of every scene. It’ll look like a ‘star-date’ and it’s less work!
  • Not sure what rank to give the hero? It doesn’t really matter, as long as it sounds sexy. Captain and Lieutenant are always safe bets, but anything with the word ‘Brigadier’ in front of it is just going to sound crusty.
  • Stuck on naming your planets? Don’t be! Just smash together some of those awkward consonants and say it’s an alien language.
  • Want to show how tough your hero and his friends are? Only ever refer to them by surname. The one exception is attractive women – people might forget how hot they are if you treat them just like everyone else!
  • Struggling with describing futuristic technology? Say hello to your new best friends: the prefixes ‘holo’, ‘cyber’ and ‘techno’. Slap them on the front of any random word and it’s immediately clear that we are in THE FUTURE.

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Don’t forget to dress everyone in tinfoil. (image: pinterest.com)

  • Having trouble with your alien background characters? Just make them like people, but green (or blue). Actually coming up with your own unique culture completely from scratch that depends on an ecosystem, society and physiology that is utterly different from humanity would be haaaaaaarrrrrd.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

The Pinnacle, 4570 AD

Somewhere near the Krebluk System

“Cole,” the Commander said, leaning back in his holo-chair, “do you know why I asked you here?”

Captain Brett Cole, 7th Laser Gunner Corps, stared straight ahead, his chin casting a small shadow on the Commander’s desk. He tried not to look at the red-haired Dr River Kamara, who stood behind the Commander’s chair, holding unnecessary papers and pouting. “No, sir.”

“Dammit, Cole!” the Commander yelled, slamming his fist on his cyber-desk. Something sparked. “You know damn well why you’re here! You took a risk! You snuck into the Kmyth base on Krebluk-6, armed with nothing but a small spoon, and single-handedly blew up Imperator Qrump’s technoport access generator! You put us all at risk! What would the Star Fleet have done if you’d gotten yourself captured?”

River gasped, sexily.

“I didn’t get captured, Commander,” Cole said, “instead, I blew up the whole damn base. Qrump’ll be sitting on his ass for months.”

River leaned forward. It was hot. “Commander,” she breathed, “you know I disagree with Captain Cole’s methods. He’s unorthodox. He’s a renegade. He’s a maverick, a tall maverick who looks good covered in space dirt. But be that as it may–”

The Commander held up a hand. “Thank you, Dr Kamara. But what you fail to realise is that Cole here not only got himself wounded–”

River gasped. It was still sexy. “Wounded?”

Cole nodded. “My shoulder. It’s nothing.”

“– not only got himself wounded, but he also jeopardised our position and put the safety of the entire Star Fleet at risk. He’ll be cleaning the latrines for weeks.”

The Commander got out of his holo-chair and stared out of the technoport viewing area, his hands clasped behind his back. The great purple moon of Gyk-jyk 5 twinkled at them, nearly obscured by the harsh rocks of the Jlkusa Asteroid Belt. A Krebluk spacecraft drifted past. The driver was blue, and he made a rude gesture when he saw them staring.

“Qrump is on the move,” the Commander said. “He’s planning something. Something big. I’ll be putting a strike team together – and you, Cole, will not be anywhere near it.”

“But sir–”

“Dammit, Cole! One more wrong move and you’re court-martialled. Do you understand me? If you go anywhere near the strike team’s secret training facility, you’re finished.”

Cole glowered at the Commander.

“Yes, sir.”

With one last look at River – who was still totally hot, by the way – he left the office.

He was going to break into the strike team’s secret training facility.

 

Take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)