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Remember the stories in the news about exploding phone batteries? Well, Writers of the Future winner (Vol 33) Stephen Lawson turned the “Lithium-Ion Batteries exploding” phenomena into a terse rescue effort on the planet Titan. The story is “Homunculus” and it was this year’s grand prize award-winner in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story category.

Alumni Update – Stephen Lawson

Remember the stories in the news about exploding phone batteries?

Well, Writers of the Future winner (Vol 33) Stephen Lawson turned the “Lithium-Ion Batteries exploding” phenomena into a terse rescue effort on the planet Titan. The story is “Homunculus” and it was this year’s grand prize award-winner in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story category.

Stephen recently posted a link to the story on his blog so you can read it for free. He also includes in that same blog the proofs of concept for the scientific stuff he has in the story. And if you are into the geeky side of stories, you will find it is a fascinating read all on its own. It shows the level of detailed research he does in order to create new universes for his readers.

Bestselling author and contest founder L. Ron Hubbard will tell you from experience how research pays off in his article “Search for Research.”

Likewise author and WotF judge Larry Niven, in his trademark succinct style, gives this advice to new writers, “Always do your research. One mistake in hard science fiction, in particular, will be remembered forever. Remember: you’re on record.”

Obviously, Stephen is on the right track as his propensity for research is paying off in both entertaining and award-winning stories.

Take, for example, his short story “Moonlight One,” which garnered him a Writers of the Future Award (published in Volume 33). This one is a murder mystery set on the moon. What sets this story apart from the normal who-done-it, is there are only two people on the moon. When the protagonist wakes up to find her husband murdered, she has to find the real killer. But behind the story are all the science facts that make it all work, as Stephen explains in this video.

Being one of the Writers of the Future winners, Stephen attended the 2017 Writers Workshop. In addition to studying articles by L. Ron Hubbard on writing and getting sage advice from bestselling authors and workshop instructors David Farland and Tim Powers, there were also guest speakers providing profession tips, for new writers including: Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress, Robert J. Sawyer, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Nnedi Okorafor, Jody Lynn Nye, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, to name but some.

What additionally makes the Writer Workshop unique from others is the 24-hour story that each writer has to submit. The clock starts and the pressure is on as each writer has to turn out a complete story in one day. But Stephen, with his military background, is used to pressure as he explains here.

Looking forward to seeing what new worlds Stephen’s research will take us to next.

Another article you may be interested in: Brand New Science Fiction

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle at a book signing

Building Plausible Futures by Jerry Pournelle

The first thing you must do is decide whether you want to build a plausible future. Many writers don’t. Some write fantasy and have no interest in building futures with sharp edges and rivets. Some, like Harlan Ellison, don’t exactly write fantasy but are successful largely because what they write is implausible. Others aren’t interested in futures at all.

Then there are writers like Frank Herbert. Dune convinces you that the implausible is real. Frank simply evaded most of the tough questions: computer and space science are dismissed with handwaving and religious mumbo-jumbo. He made a fortune with Dune and if you can write like Frank Herbert you don’t need advice from me.

This essay is about classical science fiction stories, the kind that built and even defined the genre during the Golden Age when John W. Campbell, Jr. was editor of Astounding. Those stories generally presented a future that seemed real and plausible; a future in which science, engineering, technology, and the social structures were self-consistent; a future the reader could believe in, at least until he had finished the story. The best of these stories taught the reader something about science and technology, and held up under real-world scrutiny.

Building those futures was never easy, but it was a lot easier in the old days than it is now.

Things were a lot simpler then, and more predictable. Space travel was inevitable even if most people didn’t believe it. All you needed was the courage to accept your own analyses.

For example, Robert Heinlein’s “Requiem” and “The Man Who Sold The Moon” are about a businessman whose ambition is to go to the Moon, and who uses business techniques to get a Moon colony started. Today those stories may be dated, but we can still read them. In their time, they were the epitome of hard-science science fiction,

Heinlein used a simple technique: he took everyday familiar objects and events, projected them into the future, and subtly modified them. One of the most famous lines in science fiction: “The door dilated.” In this one line from Beyond This Horizon, Heinlein takes us into the future.

A dilating door would still be the future to us. “Requiem,” though, begins at a county fair. In Heinlein’s time the barnstormer pilot, or the aeronaut, really did go to county fairs and offer to take passengers for short rides for a fee. Most readers would be familiar with that. In “Requiem,” fair-goers have the opportunity to fly in a privately owned, obsolete, and nearly unsafe rocket ship.

“Requiem” was written in 1939, long before the real space program became a government monopoly. More importantly, though, it was written before the skies were crowded with aircraft; before lawyers dominated the world; before the Environmental Protection Agency; before OSHA and Medicare and the busybody government put a stop to risky entertainment like barnstorming, whether in biplanes or rocket ships—and before TV put an end to county fairs as a standard medium of entertainment. The central theme of “Requiem” could make a good story today, but every one of the details, both technical and social, would be different. In its day, though, “Requiem” was as fine an example of projecting a plausible future as we have. Those who want to learn how to build plausible futures could do a lot worse than study early Heinlein’s ability to link technological and social changes and weave them into a seamless whole.

Technological Projection

Technology projection isn’t particularly easy, but the science fiction writer doesn’t have to do it. We don’t need to predict the real future; we’re only interested in a plausible future.

Even in the real world of professional technology projections, some things are easier than others. For example, you can have a lot more confidence that some development will happen sometime in the next thirty years than you have in predicting when. It’s usually easier to project twenty to thirty years ahead than it is five.

Before you can project technology, you need some understanding of what technology is. You needn’t be a scientist or engineer, and in fact, scientists and engineers often don’t understand the nature of technological development. Technology as a phenomenon is easier to understand than most of its components.

The first principle is that technology goes by “S” curves. When a new scientific or engineering principle is discovered, things go pretty slow for a while. It takes a lot of effort to make small changes. An example would be aircraft speeds and ranges from the time of the Wright brothers until after World War I.

Then a breakthrough is made. The curve shoots upward. Aircraft speed and performance made astonishing gains just before and during World War II. After that we reached the “sound barrier” and the gains came much more slowly. We had reached the top of the “S.” That, in turn, became the base of a new “S.”

Computer power went the same way. Early science fiction had a dismal record of predicting what computers would be like and what they could do. The best SF writers based their future computers on things they knew: fire control computers for warships, and primitive IBM machines. Real world computer technology crawled along so slowly that it was plausible to have stories in which humans could take the place of a damaged or destroyed computer, or even out-perform one.

Then came the breakthroughs, and most of those stories were made instantly obsolete. Even after the breakthrough, when writers were frantically trying to revise their thinking, the sheer speed of real-world advances made most of their stories obsolete within a year of publication.

We are now in the sharp upward slope of the computer technology “S curve: computing power doubles every year while component prices fall. Eventually, we will reach the top of that curve. Meanwhile, plausible stories require that future societies not only have advanced computer technology but that the technology be widespread through the culture. The notion of the computer as hulking giant hidden in a basement and attended by high priests simply can’t hold any longer: everyone has computers now, and will in any plausible future.

The second principle is that technology is interdependent. Advances in one sector influence all the others. New molecular chemistry techniques led to micro-miniaturization which led to the computer revolution. New computer techniques led to new developments in chemistry—and in nearly everything else. It is now possible to do computer simulations of medical and dental problems; economic systems; aircraft. Little remains unaffected.

In the military field miniaturization made possible onboard computers for missile guidance. This brought ICBM miss-distances down from miles to hundreds of feet in a decade. That led to increased research in silo-hardening, which led to hard-rock silo designs, and that development made it possible to conduct certain mining operations that were previously not financially feasible.

Examples of interdependence can be given without limit, and you can’t know too many of them. Burke’s Connections is worth a lot of study.

The important thing to note is that you can’t change just one thing; if you’re constructing plausible societies, you must not only project technologies but think through what effects those technologies will have on other fields—and also what they will do to the social order.

After all, the sexual revolution owes more to cheap motor cars than anything else. Before the motor car it was very difficult for young people of opposite sex to be together without adults; after the motor car, adult supervision became nearly impossible. (And for that matter, the adults had new opportunities.)

We’re now in an era of bifurcated morality: high tech people generally aren’t perceived to be motivated by religion and haven’t found another philosophical basis for faith in law and justice. Meanwhile, we have the new rise of fundamentalism, both Christian and Moslem, at precisely the moment when all knowledge is available to just about everyone. It makes for interesting times.

Tools of the Trade

In order to keep the present from overtaking your future before you have finished your story, you have to keep up with current trends. This isn’t easy. After all, I live in a world that was science fiction when I was in college. I sit at a computer console that connects me to tens of thousands of highly educated technologists; I can get the answer to nearly any question in minutes to hours. The Soviets have built the space station the US would have built in the 70’s if it weren’t for Proxmire and his ilk. Terawatt lasers of high efficiency have been developed for strategic defense. Technology pours out, and if you’re not careful you can write a story about a future invention that’s already available in your DAK mail order catalog.

The indispensable tools of the trade are High Technology magazine and the weekly Science News. These aren’t enough, but you can’t do without them. A magazine that used to be useful and isn’t now is Technology Review. Scientific American used to be indispensable; now it’s useful, but just barely. Both these magazines succumbed to the notion that politics was more important than science.

Perhaps the best of the science magazines is the British publication New Scientist. It isn’t cheap. Because of its political slant, and its British origin, it cannot and should not be the only science magazine you get.

From there you will need some specialty publications. Business trends are best tracked in The Wall Street Journal, which also follows commercially important technology trends. Fortune will do a good job of condensing and summarizing business developments. Aviation Week and Space Technology is valuable to most science fiction writers, but it’s expensive. BYTE summarizes the latest trends in consumer-available computer technology. All of these are available in the libraries.

There are also books. Writing and Selling Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America, available from Writer’s Digest Books, is one of the best. It contains my longer work on this subject, as well as essays by many other writers. Science Fiction Today and Tomorrow, edited by Reginald Bretnor, (Harper 1974) is I think out of print but well worth the trouble of finding it.

Once a writer becomes established by publishing a few stories and books, he will find ways to get on various mailing lists, such as NASA’s news briefs, and the technology announcements that pour forth from university and commercial laboratories. Indeed, the problem may be to avoid getting too many of these publications; but they’re indispensable for finding out what’s happening at the cutting edge.

A Sense of Structure

The most important prerequisite to inventing a plausible future is to have an understanding of the way the world works. That’s not easy since no one knows how the world works. On the other hand, if you don’t think you have a fairly good idea, you’ll have no framework to build your future on.

It used to be that the whole purpose of education was to give students a working knowledge of how the world works. We have since opted for “educating the whole child,” meaning that we teach people nothing. Unless you had an atypical modern education, you’ll have no choice but to teach yourself.

You learn by getting around and doing things, asking questions, and watching other people do things. Writing is never a full-time job. You’ll also have to read books. Arthur C. Clarke used to counsel writers to read at least one book and one newspaper each day. If that’s too much, make it a book a week; but you must read and read a lot.

The books needn’t be on technology. The only way I know to project the future is to know a lot about the past. To see what impacts new technologies will have, look at what the old ones have done. It also helps to read biographies and especially autobiographies: of scientists, to be sure, but also of people like Albert Sloan and Henry Ford, movers and shakers who have turned technology into social change.

How I Got This Way

I’m told I do a reasonable job of creating plausible worlds. I like to think so, and people I respect confirm it. What I am not an expert on is teaching anyone else how to do it.

In my case I spent a lot of time in universities studying nearly everything except English literature; then more years in space science, working at the edge of technology and sometimes making technological forecasts. I also wrote research proposals for aerospace firms. The experience was invaluable; I used to tease my SF writer friends by saying that I wrote science fiction without characters or plot and got paid more per word than they did.

When I got out of the aerospace business to write full time I ended up writing a weekly column for a national newspaper. I’d answer questions like “what is a laser?”, and “what caused the Ice Ages?”, in exactly 700 words. I guarantee that three years’ experience at that will give you a broad base in the sciences, and teach you not to waste many words.

In other words, I had a fair amount of education and training, and experience, in understanding this world before I started building new ones; and I don’t know of any easy substitute for that.

Nobody ever promised it would be easy.

This article by Dr. Jerry Pournelle was originally published in Writers of the Future Volume III. Timeless advice then and now.

 


Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Jeffy Pournelle was that legendary figure, the Renaissance Man. It included his mastery of the épée as well as other deadly weapons, but it also covered his two Ph. D.’s, his master’s degree in statistics and systems engineering, his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and his chairmanship of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy. Then, of course, there were his definitive regular columns on computers for Byte and InfoWorld. And all of that wasn’t even the half of it.

In the world of SF, his contributions included editorship of many anthologies, any number of nonfiction pieces for the SF media, the presidency of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and, of course, his stories and novels. Those he wrote alone and in collaboration with others, notably fellow Writers of the Future Contest judge Larry Niven. He was a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list, with such blockbusters as The Mote in God’s Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall and Oath of Fealty.

Galaxy booth at Dragon Con 2017

Dragon Con 2017 – Day 1

Today was the first day of Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA and it was jam-packed all day long.

Sales at the convention started at 10:00 AM and it was a full booth at the start all the way to the end of the day. Both Battlefield Earth and Writers of the Future are in great demand. Books-A-Million staff are also on hand helping with sales for the release of Battlefield Earth mass market edition.

As sales were going on, we went to CBS46 in Atlanta and did an interview promoting our new release on Atlanta Plugged In. You can see that segment here:

Following that, we had our Writers of the Future panel with several of our Writers of the Future judges including: Rob Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Todd McCaffrey, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Jody Lynn Nye.

Writers of the Future panel at Dragon Con

Writers of the Future panel at Dragon Con

Then the President of Dragon Con, Pat Henry, having seen the 9′ tall Terl in the hall, wanted to make sure that he didn’t get in without a badge. So he was provided a ladder that he climbed up to put a badge on him. Along with him was Jonnie Goodboy Tyler making sure he was safe as he placed the badge on Terl’s chest.

President Dragon Con Pat Henry giving Terl his badge

President Dragon Con Pat Henry giving Terl his badge

Terl, being Terl, also didn’t waste any time creating trouble. He grabbed Larry Elmore and his wife Betty thinking he could get some leverage. Fortunately, both were rescued from the clutches of the 9-foot monster in time for dinner!

Larry & Betty Elmore captured by Terl!

Larry & Betty Elmore captured by Terl!

The evening completed with a dinner with almost all the attending Writers and Illustrators judges at the Dragon Con.

Writers and Illustrators of the Future judges at dinner

Writers and Illustrators of the Future judges at dinner

Stay tuned for Day 2.

 

Diana Rowlands

Before there were White Trash Zombies

I first met Diana Rowland several years ago, back when she was an unpublished writer, fresh off a stint at Clarion. She was excited and working hard. Life intervened, however, and she took a step back from fiction to begin working in law enforcement.

Along her path (to quote her bio), she has worked as a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss, a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant. She won the marksmanship award in her Police Academy class and has a black belt in Hapkido. To hear her talk about her life as a cop is to listen to dedication. She is a powerful person.

And yet, it seemed clear to me, even then, that Diana Rowland was not done with fiction. As she said in a “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s website:

“My big wake-up call came after I won the Writers of the Future contest in 2005. I came back from the workshop ready and eager (again) to set the publishing world on fire. But now I was able to see how I’d put myself in a rut by staying so focused on writing fantasy. By this time I’d been working in law enforcement for over seven years, and everyone (including yours truly) had me convinced that I should write suspense or crime thrillers. I had a full “well” of incredible life experience to draw from and it seemed a crying shame to waste it. [So] I went for it.”

"My Life as a White Trash Zombie" by Diana Rowland

“My Life as a White Trash Zombie” by Diana Rowland

Indeed, she did. But, after fiddling with crime fiction, she realized that fantasy was in her blood, and began cooking up a new recipe that resulted in the highly popular White Trash Zombie series and Kara Gillian series. You knew we were going to get there, right? Both series have been nominated for or won awards in the Urban Fantasy field. Legacy of the Demon, book 8 in the Kara Gillian series, was published in October 2016, and White Trash Zombie Unchained, book 6 in the Zombie series, will be published in September 2017.

Diana Rowland receives award from Larry Niven at Writers of the Future

Diana Rowland receives award from Larry Niven at Writers of the Future

Her prizewinning story, “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird” (published in the volume XXII of the annual Writers of the Future anthology), depicts a mother playing around with time itself.

Today, it seems like Diana plays with time every day—though, thankfully not in order to find any of her children, nor her husband—a family that continues to live in Louisiana. (No, she says, she does not have an accent).

Looking at her publication history will show she puts out a couple books a year. I asked her about her schedule during a quiet moment at a recent convention, and she smiled. “Mostly I try to outsource anything I don’t want to do.” What this means is that if you mow the grass or clean house you can probably get a gig at Diana’s place, and if you do that you’ll probably see her sitting in her office researching or plotting or generally trying to figure out what’s coming next in one of her projects.

Either that or she’ll be out and about town soaking up life in order to put it back on the page.

So, yeah, I first met Diana Rowland back when she was a struggling newbie. That’s changed now.

What hasn’t changed, however, is that she’s still full of energy, still looking for ways to live life more fully, and still quite the powerful person.  You can learn more about Diana Rowland at www.dianarowland.com

 


Ron Collins

Ron Collins

Guest blogger, Ron Collins.
Ron Collins was a Writers of the Future published finalist in 1998 and a prize winner in 1999. He has gone on to publish about 100 short stories in prominent magazines and anthologies. Each volume in his fantasy serial Saga of the God-Touched Mage, hit the top 10 on Amazon’s bestselling Dark Fantasy list in the US, UK, and Australia. His short story, “The White Game” was nominated for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2016 Derringer Award. The first four books of his current SF series, Stealing the Sun, are available now. Find out more about Ron at typosphere.com

Larry Niven

Writers of the Future Workshop 2017 – Day 6

Saturday is essentially a “Cavalcade of Stars.” For the winners, this means that today they don’t have to go anywhere except the classroom, but about every hour or so a new judge stops by to give them something new to think about (luckily, the brains of the winners are infinite storage cells for all the stuff that’s going on).

Nina Kiriki Hoffman starts the morning out with a fun exercise for creating idea, which gets C.L. Kagmi (3rd place, Q3) pumped. “I loved that exercise,” she said. She has this great idea, now, you see, but she has a problem: All she wants to do is go writer, but there’s a whole day’s worth of learning to sit through. Somehow, she manages. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with, though. Very little is more fun to see than a writer with an idea burning in her mind.

Doug Beason was next up. He talks about focusing on characters and relationships in science fiction. “It’s not good enough to just put cool technology and ideas into pieces anymore,” he says. Nancy Kress and I have a little conversation about this in the cracks of the session. My own little pin on this kind of thing is that, as time moves forward, what used to be considered harder science fiction has turned into contemporary fiction. But then, what do I know, right? Doug spends thirty minutes answering questions that range from the use of metallic hydrogen to the kinds of programs available to get kids interested in space.

Jody Lyn Nye talks about conventions. Specifically, how to work with a convention as a professional writer, giving our winners tips a steady stream of ideas and advice. She echoes Kevin J. Anderson’s talk a few days back about how to be a professional writer. It’s a solid hour filled with great stuff.

Then the group gets to sit with Nnedi Okorafor, who starts by asking “what do you want to hear from me?” and then spends the next 45 minutes answering non-stop questions. She discusses her own journey to becoming a professional writer—which is a topic almost every new writer I know loves to hear. The paths we take are all so different. I mean, there are similarities, of course, but it helps to hear that there is no one “right path.” She talks about writer’s block—or at least why she doesn’t believe in it. “When things aren’t coming, I’m not blocked. But I know I just have to wait. It always comes.” I love this thought pattern. This was an energetic conversation that would probably still be going if Tim Powers hadn’t kept a semi-firm handle on the agenda!

And the highlights keep coming.

Next up is Jerry Pournelle, and then Larry Niven. It’s clear to me that there are more than a couple of our winners who are doing their best not to go into full-out fan mode. Jerry talks about the difference between being an author and being a writer, coming back to that point often, but focusing on the work. “Concentrate on the story,” he said. Larry spent most of his discussion on the act of collaboration. He talked about respecting the other writer, and he talked about matching skillsets. Both he and Jerry talked about using each other’s strengths while creating their stories together.

Then came a session with six past winners including Megan O’Keefe, Laura Tom, Steve Pantazis, Martin Shoemaker, Kary English, Brennan Harvey, and myself. As might be expected with seven voices, the result was a scatter-shot of ideas that were all primarily focused on what happens next. Megan passed around an approach to story structure, and everyone picked out things that struck us as valuable to think about as the winners go home. Questions came in about web presences, how to use critique groups, how to deal with an audience and the pressures that come from having a bit of notoriety. Among others.

Since I participated directly in this session, I found myself looking around the room and thinking of the people I came to the program with back in volumes 14 and 15. Amy Casil and Scott Nicholson were at the forefront. Jim Hines, Steve Mohan, Jason Schmidt. I was remembering Carla Montgomery, who helped me title “Stealing the Sun.” Stephano Donati and Franklin Thatcher, who were my roomates. Don Solasan. Bill Rowland, Scott Huggins. I could go on, but this isn’t meant to be about me, right? (too late, I hear you say, too late!)

Much of the conversation focused on this new community that these winners are stepping into. And it is a great community. But I wanted them to look around the room now and realize that this is their class. These are the people who can still be around year after year. “These are your people,” I tried to say at the end of the session.

And that was that.

Except, of course that since this is Writers of the Future week. There’s always more to do even when the workshop comes to a close.

Next is a session for Q&A on the award ceremony, then a break for dinner, and finally a trip to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre for a rehearsal.

Yes, friends, the Awards Ceremony is tomorrow. [April 2, 2017 – 6:30 PM – Pacific Standard Time]

I think the gang is ready.

Here’s the link to the photos for the day.

 


Ron Collins

Ron Collins

Guest blogger, Ron Collins.
Ron Collins was a Writers of the Future published finalist in 1998 and a prize winner in 1999. He has gone on to publish about 100 short stories in prominent magazines and anthologies. Each volume in his fantasy serial Saga of the God-Touched Mage, hit the top 10 on Amazon’s bestselling Dark Fantasy list in the US, UK, and Australia. His short story, “The White Game” was nominated for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2016 Derringer Award. The first four books of his current SF series, Stealing the Sun, are available now.

Now a National Bestseller Writers of the Future Volume 31

Writers of the Future Vol 31 a National Bestseller

Publishers Weekly bestseller list

Publishers Weekly bestseller list

The latest edition in the Writers of the Future anthology hit Publishers Weekly‘s Sci Fi bestseller list at #7 on their w/e July 6, 2015. This officially makes all 13 of our published writer winners and 12 illustration winners national bestsellers!

Congratulations to all our authors and winners here who made this a bestseller! Authors: Martin Shoemaker, Auston Habershaw, Tim Napper, Scott R Parkin, Samantha Murray, Kary English, Michael T. Banker, Amy H Hughes, Daniel Davis, Zach Chapman, Krystal Claxton, Steve Pantazis, Sharon Joss, Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven, Rebecca Moesta, Editor, David Farland and Illustrators: Tung Chi Lee, Michelle Lockamy, Emily Siu, Shuangjian Liu, Taylor Payton, Amit Dutta, Alex Brock, Quinlan Septer, Choong Nyung Yoon, Nyung Yoon, Megen Nelson, Megan Kelchner, Daniel Tyka, Greg Opalinski, Trevor Smith and Bernardo Mota.