I recently picked up one of those “Best blah blah blah of 2012” books hoping to gain some insight into what’s hot in the way of topics and modes of storytelling. This particular one is meant to deal with fantasy and science fiction.

While I certainly don’t know everything about either of them, they have both been staples of my reading since I can remember. I read the heck out of every book on mythology and everything by Ray Bradbury in our small town local library in grade school. In high school I got into Dungeons and Dragons and read a number of books by Gary Gygax (the creator of D&D.)

One of the stories in this collection, however, left me a bit stumped. Where is the sci fi or fantasy element? I asked myself. Where are the dragons or ghosts or robots? In lieu of these more obvious, even trite tropes, I expected something recognizable on some level as involving a different set of laws of physics, magic, high- or different-technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Sandal-Bride by Genevieve Valentine, to name names. I thought the imagery and emotion in the story was great. These characters were believable and acted in reasonable ways. It also could have easily happened in any of a thousand places on Earth as we know it(or knew it, literally thousands of years ago, there is little to tie the story to specific time or place except an arduous journey across arid terrain), only with a few changes of place names and the creation of this custom.

Is that enough to create fantasy? Is it perhaps something to consider ‘soft’ fantasy as stories which do not attempt to explain or use technology we might see tomorrow, but kind of create on the fly are considered ‘soft’ sci fi? (rampant use of faster than light travel, light swords, antigravity vehicles, etc.)

So help me out, let me know what you think. Is genre dead? Are there so many things that fit along a vast spectrum that they are erasing the lines between one and the next? What is the minimum requirement to call something fantasy or science fiction?


Tell ’em “Joe sent me” to be able to Submit.

While I’ll get back to the subject of submitting to publications at some point, my process and finding places which are looking for things like the ones I’ve written and all, this is actually a call for help on the subject of the Submittable web service.

A number of publications whose guidelines I’ve looked at recently accept submissions through this service (and only through this service, which I guess makes sense if you’re going to shell out the cash to open an account.)

This last bit is the source of my quandary: as a submitter, do I have to pay? If so, why? For me, at any rate, paying for a service which will allow me to submit to journals and ezines and such which a) may or may not accept my work and b) may or may not pay me even if they do accept my work and which c) may also charge another fee on top of the cost of my ‘subscription’ to cover their subscription simply isn’t worth it.

Maybe I’m being especially sensitive due to my poor employment status and everyone’s just used to getting nicked for little fees like $10 a month( the lowest subscription tier- allegedly when they started, one could sign up as an indy magazine or whatever and get in free. I find no link or reference to this now, and only found this info on a third-party review of the site.)

Every article and tidbit I’ve seen about this site is a rave, but I don’t see the appeal for the submitter, the writer. Some try to talk about saving postage and paper, but I submit strictly by email or e-form on the pub’s site. There’s only one market I might break this rule for, since they’re still living in the 19th century and take only snail mail submissions, but I don’t think I’m up to sending to them yet, anyway.

So, I guess the second part of my query is this: does anyone use this service and is it free for submitters through some secret-knock and a password given through the tiny sliding window in the back alley entrance where they also serve bootleg whiskey?

In space no one can hear you write.

A number of history teachers told me that “nothing happens in a vacuum,” meaning of course that any particular event, problem or thing came from some previous events and relied on the system around them. This brings me to today’s subject: World building. This is a huge topic and I’m going to tackle it in future installments such as: the world itself(physical laws of science and magic, weather/climate, landmasses, the living environment/biomes) and the social world( social structures, belief system(s), etiquette, the size and organization of groups, from tribes to empires, architecture.)

Why bother? Good question. It’s one I wish someone would have answered for me in school. It may seem like a lot of work, and it is if you’re just writing a one shot story. You won’t be able to explicitly state most of the above information as it won’t relate to your tale. However, in a novel or a setting you may use again for other short stories, it can be invaluable and take your story from the void of uncertainty into the fleshed out world of someplace that might be. Which of these do you think will be more engaging, especially over the long-term?

Let’s take simple geography/ landscape as an example before I let you go. A land with many lakes or rivers may rely more heavily on fish, know a lot about boats, even have groups which live on boats. They would be more concerned with tides and snowmelt(if there are mountains to gather lots of snow in the winter… is there winter? if your fictional world has a different or no axial tilt, the seasons may be different/longer lasting, more or less severe, or lacking altogether) causing flooding.

A land which has only cold may only know snow and ice, only heat may never see snow and may be threatened by drought, or a long rainy season.

A land which is large and connected, unobstructed by mountains, may have great herds of beasts roaming across mighty plains and traveling people who live off them. At any rate, roads from one place to another would be common, where in a mostly water world or area made up of a series of islands, boats may come back into vogue or perhaps bridges if the islands are close enough and the people have the technology.

Availability of food, types of food, types of weather which are the greatest issue or even in existence can inform the attitudes of the people, the characters. Quite often, a focal or main character will be a bit different. Perhaps, in a place where it rains all the time and people are tired of it, they love the rain, or they hate the beans everyone eats to get by, or they want to be a great merchant, building their own caravan across the plains.

Even the literal vacuum of space isn’t really that empty in a story. The proximity of other planets, moons, asteroids, etc, ships, stations, other civilizations in any number of forms will have direct effect on the formation of the society, norms, and psychology of the characters. That is what stories are all about.

International TableTop Day — Reactions, Day One

I attended two TableTop events this weekend in (relatively) nearby towns. One was on Saturday, the other, Sunday. Both ran for four hours, from noon on and were organized by the Game Master himself, Wayne Moulton. This man likely has more board games than any twenty of your friends. His basement is a veritable museum of tabletop fun, strategy and variations on the concept of what a game is.

Personally, I played a handful of games at each event. I’d like to review each briefly and recommend them all. Bear in mind a proper game review would require running through the game a few times, at least. I only had the opportunity with most of these to see the game once, from one player’s point of view.

Day 1: Langdon Public Library in Newington, NH

The Resistance: Avalon
This is a mafia/werewolf style hidden role game where each player is dealt a card setting them to the role of Merlin, one of Arthur’s good and true knights, or Mordred and his evil cabal.
The Good: For those who have played this type of game before at parties with handmade cards, this game offers both a step up in production value and complexity, as it has cards and tiles with nice art for use in dealing out characters, voting on teams to be sent on quests (the presence of an evil character may cause the quest to fail, telling you that there’s someone working for Mordred in that group, but they can also vote to let the quest succeed, so it takes deduction to determine who is working against Arthur.)
The Bad: The learning curve is steeper than with other games of this type I’ve played. One game was not enough to create a strategy, so I was just flailing about, trying to be observant until it was over. Also, the bad guys get the chance to gang up, because instead of one at the start of the game, there were three, and they all immediately knew who the others were, having the advantage from turn one.

Love Letter
My first exposure to this game was with a thematic shift one might not expect: Breaking Bad. I’m not a TV watcher these days, and it’s not one of the shows I’ve taken to watching online, but the game is straightforward and quick enough that it didn’t matter. The next day, I got to play the original.
Game play was dictated entirely by the cards, of which there are a mere 16. There are varying numbers of each cards, each of which has a power, such as ‘compare cards with another player, the player with the lower card is out of the game.’ Seems harsh, right? Well, the game moves pretty quickly and you play a number of games/hands based on the number of players to determine the final winner.
The Good: Quick play, straightforward rules, even when you’re out, you’ll be playing again in two minutes unless someone gets the final point and wins, then you can play again or do something else.
The Bad: There’s nothing really bad about the game, it’s quick and easy to learn. For more depth, there are thousands of other games. For those five minutes waiting until that game of Munchkin is over so you can regroup into new games, it’s perfect.

This is a card/ knowledge/paying attention game. Essentially, everyone takes turns drawing cards. Most of the cards will have a symbol and a subject on them. The symbol links you to any other player with the same symbol in front of them and you have to name something from _the_other_person’s_ subject when your symbols match. You have to pay attention to see when your symbol comes up (or in the case of a wild card being in play, your symbol or the other symbol on the wild card.)
The Good: It’s an information based game. Much of it is trivia centered around things you may learn in everyday life or at school. Types of fish, cities in various countries, etc. Thus, it’s accessible to people of similar age groups.
The Bad: Less ‘bad’ and more a weakness of any trivia game, the very young often haven’t been exposed to the information, though they do have fun trying most of the time. Also, by the same token, information can sometimes be questioned, which slows down the game during discussion/hitting up the Internet or some other reference.

Bodger Mania
This was a very different kind of game for me. It centers (nominally, the theme has little to do with actual game play, unfortunately) on goblin wrestlers. Each round, players are dealt cards, from which they choose one to keep and one to play on one of four ‘matches’ with different win requirements and rewards. This is a drafting games, so the cards are then passed to the left and the process continues.
The Good: Once you get the rules, it would be pretty quick to play. The first time it was just about stumbling through, as with many of these games.
The Bad: The developers missed an opportunity to home in on their chosen theme and add more than flavor text to the game play. There’s also almost no player interaction.

This French game requires no language but that of emotion and facial expression. The cards have only pictures on them, from which can be interpreted many scenarios and emotions. The art is beautiful, with each expansion featuring a different artist. Game play is similar to Apples to Apples or Malarkey in that one person chooses/has the ‘right’ answer and others guess what that is while trying to get others to choose their answer.
The Good: It’s lighter and set up a bit more democratically than Apples to Apples, as well as inviting interpretation of the images and allowing for creativity in making up a sounds, story or gesture to represent what you think the card evokes.
The Bad: Unlike some games where you can limp along even if you’re not very good at the particular mechanic the game uses, one can easily be left in the dust.

Overall, I believe a good time was had by all. We played cool games and interacted with people of varying ages for good socialization.