Skip to content

Why SFF: A Reading List

February 11, 2015

Please welcome my friend M.K. Hutchins, whose YA fantasy novel Drift is both a Junior Library Guild Selection and a VOYA Top Shelf Honoree.  I asked her why she wrote science fiction and fantasy, as opposed to other genres, and she responded with this delightful set of book recommendations and musings about the value of the genre.

I write fantasy and science fiction for a very simple reason: it’s what I love to read. But explaining why in the abstract proves beyond me. So here’s a list of novels and short stories that exemplify what I love best about the genre. Of course other genres can do these things, but the blend of these elements is the reason I come back to fantasy and science fiction over and over again.

ghostbrideSense of Place: It’s okay, in SFF, to lavish a little extra love on the setting and description. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo does a remarkable job of creating immersive settings — when I think of this book, I still smell coconut. The novel takes me across the world, back in time, and then drags me into a supernatural realm. J.S. Bang’s short story, “The Judge’s Right Hand”, likewise transports me with careful use of details and voice — this time into an eerie Western frontier.

whatsleftIdeas. When I was a kid, my family played a game at the dinner table called PMI: Pluses, Minuses, and Interesting Points. We’d start with a question — what if all cars were blue? — and go from there. SFF asks what if? all the time, extrapolating technology and culture from simple starting points. Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me is an alternate history where everyone is born with two souls; it delves into the PMIs of sharing a body and never being alone. This was great fun. Leah Cypess’ “What We Ourselves Are Not” explores a fascinating what if? about culture and memory.

naturalhistoryRemoving Contextual Bias. It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Prohibition without talking about the 1920’s. Place a story in a fantasy world or a space station, and suddenly it’s possible to take a fresh look at government control, the social cost of alcohol, and maybe even make me look at the 1920’s in a new way.

I’m enamored of Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons in part because in taking me to new places, it makes me think about my own world — both about how culture interact and clash and about how science happens. There’s also a delightful narrative voice and dragons. Dragons are awesome. “Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer” by Megan Grey takes a familiar situation — being a high school student — and makes me revisit it with fresh eyes because, well, that old neighbor next-door is a demon. It’s not exactly my world anymore.

crescentmoonAdventure. This probably doesn’t need any explanation. I love a great adventure. The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed has heart-pounding action, intrigue, and mystery, along with compelling characters, tight worldbuilding, and really scary monsters. I also heartily recommend Eric James Stone’s “Rijiggering the Thingamajig.”

herosguideSheer Fun. Maybe when there’s magic and spaceships in the manuscript, it’s easier to step back and laugh at yourself. I really don’t know why, but whether it’s smiling at a hobbit’s understated wit or laughing out loud at a purposefully-zany plot, I enjoy the humor I find in SFF. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy is ridiculous and over-the-top in the best possible, Middle Grade kind of way. I also love Oliver Buckram’s “When Robot Mermaids Attack,” and his “Un Opera nello Spazio” and “Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside an Enormous Sentient Slug”. Oliver Buckram’s an expert at this.

desertofsoulsNostalgia. So, I’m a sucker for things like fairy-tale retellings. It turns something well-know and much-loved into something fresh that I can experience again for the first time. The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones isn’t based on any particular story that I know of, but it feels like it belongs with Arabian Nights. “The Light Crusader’s Dark Desert” by James Beamon makes great use of ancient deities and a post-apocalyptic world and creates something new and amazing from them.

I suppose I love speculative fiction because of the way it makes my brain work — it gives me wondrous settings and ideas to experience and explore, along with an emotional ride that is thrilling, thought-provoking, or hilarious (or all in turn). Whether I’m reading it or writing it, this is what I come to SFF for.

M.K. Hutchins’ YA fantasy novel Drift is both a Junior Library Guild Selection and a VOYA Top Shelf Honoree. Her short fiction appears in IGMS and Daily Science Fiction. She studied archaeology at BYU, giving her the opportunity to compile ancient Maya genealogies, excavate in Belize, and work as a faunal analyst. She blogs at http://www.mkhutchins.com.

Your Other-Dimensional Doppelganger

February 6, 2015

A very cool review of SUPERPOSITION over at Starburst Magazine:

“…an utterly addictive murder mystery with a fantastic twist.”

“…a compelling and carefully woven sci-fi murder mystery.”

“If you don’t read this book, chances are that your other-dimensional doppelganger will, and you don’t want it having all the fun.”

Thanks for reading, Starburst!

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma

February 1, 2015

Please welcome my friend and talented author Alex Shvartsman, whose short story collection “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories” comes out today!  Alex is particularly known for his humor, and for good reason, but I can tell you that his serious fiction is pretty gripping.  You’ll find both in this collection.  To celebrate the release, I asked Alex a few questions to find out a little more about him.

Why do you write science fiction, as opposed to other genres?

I discovered science fiction when I was around ten years old, and I never looked back. With quality books of any genre being as difficult to procure as most other luxuries in the Soviet Union, I’d scoured our personal library, those of our friends, and every other source I could access for more books. By the time my family emigrated from the Soviet Union, I’ve read most of what was available in the genre at that time, and the embarrassment of riches in reading material became a strong incentive for me to learn English quickly.

I’ve written an occasional mystery, and I’ve certainly read widely outside of genre, but I have little interest in writing fiction that strays too far away from science fiction or fantasy. These are the stories I’ve always wanted to tell.

You’ve gained a reputation as a humor writer, but not all your stories are funny.  Do you think the reputation is accurate?  Do you prefer writing funny stories or serious ones?

I very much enjoy having developed the reputation as a humorist. Certainly not everything I write is humor, and some of my stories are really dark, but it’s nice to be able to have that range. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I edit the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. To that end, being recognized for my own humor writing is a huge boon!
When I set out to write fiction, I never pictured myself developing this sort of a reputation. However, when I tried writing humorous or sarcastic stories, I discovered those come more easily to me. While writing humor is generally more difficult, it is something I enjoy very much. Writing straight-up horror, on the other hand, is nearly incomprehensible to me.

You emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union when you were 13 years old.  How have your experiences learning a new language and culture affected your writing?

There are both pluses and minuses to writing fiction in a language other than your native tongue.

On one hand, my English isn’t perfect, and it never will be. My friends beta read my stories and lovingly correct my numerous sins against the English language before any editor might see them. I also work harder on revisions and perhaps write slower than most of my colleagues. Not that I’m complaining — writing fiction had always been a dream of mine, but it was a dream I gave up on at a young age, because I never expected to learn the new language well enough to write fiction in it. Needless to say, I’m glad to have proven myself wrong.

On the other hand, growing up multilingual and multicultural can be a great boon when it comes to storytelling. I get to mine my background and experiences for story ideas and, hopefully, realistic portrayal of people who are transplanted to another culture. A number of my stories deal with such issues. Many of my other tales are set in Russia, or have Russian characters in them, as I believe I can write those with much greater degree of realism than the portrayal of Mr. Chekhov on Star Trek. Or at least I can give them more realistic Russian accents.
What’s your favorite story you’ve written?

You know that’s like asking a parent who his favorite child is, right?

I think the most powerful story I’ve ever written is “The Rumination on What Isn’t,” published in Nature. It’s a very short piece, so I’d rather link to it than spoil it for you.

Ken Liu, who’s one of the smartest people I know, feels my strongest story is to date is “Icarus Falls” (Daily Science Fiction.) It deals with space travel, memory loss, and the ethics of telling lies.

And then there’s, of course, “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma” (Intergalactic Medicine Show), by far my most successful story, and a good example of the kind of humor I write. It’s set in the world’s oldest magical pawn shop. It won the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction, an accomplishment I’m super-proud of.

Tell us about your new short story collection!

I’m so very excited about the release of “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories,” my first short story collection which launches on February 1. The paperback edition contains 40 of my best short stories, but I’ve also included a bunch more in the e-book: it literally has all the stories I wrote since I began writing fiction in 2010 that have had their rights revert to me. I like the “completist” approach because as a reader I love collections that get me every possible story by authors whose fiction I enjoy.

The three stories I mentioned above are included, as well as two previously-unpublished stories. “The Hourglass Brigade” is an action-packed story that offers an unorthodox take on time travel and “Small Magics” is a fantasy tale about a clan of pixies under attack by the huge gnomes (because size is, of course, relative.)

Launching a short story collection by a relatively unknown author is always difficult, but I was fortunate enough to have a lot of much better-known friends who were willing to help. Ken Liu wrote an introduction so kind, I blush when reading it. Mike Resnick, Esther Friesner, Jody Lynn Nye, Gini Koch and Henry Gee were all kind enough to read the manuscript and write blurbs for the book. And the early reviews are starting to come in too; notably Tangent Online posted a very kind and favorable review of the book.

So all the pieces are now in place. Now it’s just a matter of whether the readers like it, which is the most important metric of all.
Thanks, Alex!  And good luck with the book!

Praise for Superposition

January 9, 2015

Some wonderful quotes from other authors have been rolling in for Superposition.  These authors received Advance Review Copies (ARCs) of the book from the publisher, and were kind enough to give the book a read and tell us what they thought.  I’m pretty thrilled by what they had to say!

“Walton delivers fast-paced action, suspense and riveting mystery—all of it spinning about a core of vivid, speculative science. Enjoy some tense, imaginative fun.”
David Brin, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Existence

“Superposition is a wild ride into the quantum world, a fabulous twist on the murder mystery. In Walton’s hands, physics comes to life, literally! Like nothing you’ve ever read before.”
Will McIntosh, Hugo award-winning author of Defenders

“A mind-bending science fiction murder mystery that will appeal to fans of Michael Crichton and Philip K. Dick. I devoured it in one sitting.”
Tina Connolly, Nebula-nominated author of Silverblind

“A smart, fast-paced juggernaut of a read, this techno-thriller is as intelligent as it is action packed.”
Ted Kosmatka, Nebula-nominated author of The Flicker Men

“Walton’s captivating writing will draw you in, the murder mystery will keep you reading, and you’ll finish with a better understanding of quantum physics.”
William Hertling, author of the award-winning Singularity Series

“David Walton takes a huge leap of imagination and spins an engaging, sometimes dizzying, web of ‘What if?’”
Stanley Schmidt, author and long-time editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact

“Superposition is a fine blending of high tech science fiction and the mystery novel, a concept that Isaac Asimov might have come up with were he alive today.”
Mike Resnick, Hugo Award-winning author of The Fortress in Orion and the Eli Paxton mystery series

“The most thrilling and ingenious adventure in quantum physics you’ll ever read!”
Joel Shepherd, author of Originator: A Cassandra Kresnov Novel

Thanks so much to all these authors for giving the book a try!

A Declaration of War

December 19, 2014

The birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem is often portrayed as a quiet, pastoral scene, a contemplative moment when shepherds and barn animals alike gaze in adoration on the newborn child. In terms of spiritual warfare, however, it was the equivalent of a fifty megaton bomb. This is the moment when, after thousands of years, the one with the power to fight against evil and win had finally arrived. The battle had not yet been engaged, but the lines were drawn and war was declared. Christ’s birth began an inevitable series of events that will only end when evil is completly defeated and those enslaved by its tyranny are set free.

It’s a classic fantasy story, and all the more exciting for being true. This is the original version of the prophesied hero story: a man born in obscurity, destined to save the world. Bethlehem is no quiet moment. This is the point in the tale when the protagonist steps forward, accepting danger to protect others from evil that would destroy them. It’s Frodo, taking possession of the ring. It’s Lily Potter stepping between Voldemort and her child. It’s Katniss volunteering to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games.

This isn’t the part of the story when the full sacrifice is made–that will come later. The final battle hasn’t arrived. The hero is destined to give up everything to save the world, but this isn’t the end. It’s that moment when the gauntlet has been thrown down and you know that from this point, it’s inevitable. Nothing will stop the final battle. The forces of evil have been given notice, and it’s too late to back down.

So was it a Silent Night? Not exactly. It may have been quiet and peaceful on the streets of Bethlehem, but the bomb that was dropped that evening ignited the events of the greatest story the world has ever known.

 

Why Can’t I Walk Through Walls?

December 8, 2014

Hey, hey, hey, it’s the first installment of “Ask Dr. Quantum”, where I answer those questions you’ve always wondered about the subatomic world.  [Consumer Warning: I am a science fiction author, not a physicist.  I just think this stuff is cool.  If any real physicists wander by, feel free to slap me around and tell me what I said wrong.]

So here’s today’s question.  If I’m mostly made of empty space, and walls are mostly made of empty space, why can’t I walk right through them?  For that matter, what don’t I fall right through the floor?  Why do fists stop when they hit my face?  And why do people hit me so often?  (I can’t help you with that last bit.  Sounds like a personal problem.)

For one thing, the whole “mostly made of empty space” thing depends a bit on your perspective.  If you’re thinking of the size of a nucleus (in the range of a few femtometers, which science-speak for really, really small) and the size of an electron (even smaller), compared to the size of an atom (measured in picometers, which is like *way* bigger than femtometers), then yeah, you’re like 99.9999999999998% empty space.

BUT electrons aren’t really like planets orbiting a sun.  There’s a reason their orbits are referred to as an electron “cloud” or “shell”.  In the weird way of quantum dynamics, the electrons are everywhere in their orbits, with some probability, in this continuous probability waveform.  So you can also think of the atom as completely encased in the “shell” of its electrons.

It’s kind of like a spinning fan (except, you know, not really).  If you toss a ping-pong ball into a spinning fan, it’ll get knocked back at you every time.  It’s moving too slowly not to get hit by one of the blades, so the probability of it bouncing back is 100%.  On the other hand, if you fired the ping-pong ball at the fan from a fast enough gun, you would have some chance of making it through.  This is more or less what’s happening when you try to walk through a wall–the particles that make up your body aren’t moving fast enough to pass through each other.  The atoms knock up against each other and repel each other.  If you fire a particle at an atom fast enough, though, then whoosh… most of the time, it just flies right through.

Which means, in order to run through a wall, you just have to go faster!  That’s it!  Keep trying!  Just a little more speed next time…

 

A Taste of What’s To Come

December 5, 2014

Hot off the presses!  For the first time ever, you can read the first chapter of my new novel, Superposition, which will hit bookstores on April 7.

In this chapter, you’ll meet Jacob Kelley and his family, and get a glimpse of the technology that will soon tear their lives apart.  By chapter 3, some will be dead, some running for their lives, and one will be arrested for murder.  It’s the calm before the storm.  Though as you’ll see, their lives are anything but calm… even before an old colleague walks into their house with a wild story and a gun.

Read it here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.