Review: Nature “Futures” April, May, June 2013

Nature magazine publishes flash science fiction under the collective title “Futures“. They accept unagented submissions, pay a pro rate, and have an interesting target word count: 850-950 firm. Overall, I was less impressed than I expected. There were stories that seemed to be badly told copies of common tales we’ve heard a hundred times before.  I thought there’d be a lot more working science, too. But there were also brilliant pieces that are absolutely worth reading. (My favorites were by Lin, Liu, Spruck Wrigley, Stanger, Shvartsman, Starks, and Powers-Smith.)

June 2013

Probability-1: termination” by Euan Nisbet. (Alt history. Scientists plan to change a single molecule in the fertilized eggs that would become King George and Queen Victoria, in order to save America from worldwide sanctions.) The story seemed based too much on name dropping the alt-world’s leaders, and relied too little on plot. Plus, a scientist has a workable machine that can change molecules anywhere in time, paid for by government funding, and yet has free range to use the machine without any supervision? 2/5

Buzz off” by John Grant. (Aliens arrive to help humans become civilized, are surprised to find we won’t listen.) Straight-forward, common tropes. Relies on a joke reveal at the end. 2/5

Mortar flowers” by Jessica May Lin. (Artist in a war zone making beauty out of desolation.) Lovely. The backstory is subtle but clear, the mood sombre with the memory of lost hope, and using the scientific names for flowers–instead of a description of what they look like–works perfectly. It’s a moment with a history, a beginning, and a believable end. 5/5

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What I’ve Been Reading: Comics (O’Malley, Chao, Kim, Talbot, Cooper)

Have you seen the introductory essay for my new indie comics column at SF Signal? Though I am aiming to keep myself to speculative fiction comics for them, because that fits with the scope of what SF Signal talks about, I read a lot of other comics each week. I’m particularly into semi-(and)autobiographical and realist stories, which rarely have a speculative element, but I still think are worth reading. In the last two weeks I’ve read:

Lost At Sea, Bryan Lee O’Malley – This book, by the creator of Scott Pilgrim, comes early in O’Malley’s career, drawn when he was just 24. Though SP fans will be able to see the evolution in O’Malley’s style from here to there, I actually prefer Lost at Sea. It’s not as directed toward the 20-something gamer geek crowd, which I am tangentially affiliated with (being both a gamer and a geek) but not quite a member of.

Lost focuses on the story of one girl looking for her soul, which was stolen by cats, or traded to the devil. Or she could be looking for friends, or a salve for her broken heart, or a ride back to Canada. There are a lot of possibilities. O’Malley mixes a strong but cute style – grounded in his use of dark line work and sometimes-dynamic panel placement – with a not-entirely-linear story line that was so intriguing I read the whole book in one sitting.

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Dear Jackass, The Book Review Edition

Dear Jackass,

So you want to get your book sold, do you? And you think that a glowing review of your work will get readers interested? I have to agree with you there. There have been several books that I purchased based on a strong review by someone whose opinion I trusted.

Oh, you don’t want to show anyone the reviews where the reader thought you could have used a better editor, or thought your female characters had no agency, or bemoaned your complete lack of a believable plot? Well, sure, I can understand that. A good review tends to sell more books than a bad one. Your only choice is to keep sending your books out until you’ve found your market, and then post the good reviews you do get.

What? That takes too long? And no one likes your book? And you’re going to do what now? Buy a review?

Hello, jackass. This one’s for you.

First off, if you couldn’t be bothered to have your book edited, or didn’t want to spend the money on a cover by a professional artist, or included in your anthology stories by people you know (as opposed to people who could actually write), chances are you deserve that bad review. You can’t just throw a $50 cover on a first-draft novel that your Grandmother thought would be a “big hit” (but no one else would publish) and expect that mess of a manuscript to make you rich.

But you’ve done it, you’ve gone and gotten it published, and now you realize it’s going nowhere. Your solution is to turn to one of the many pay-for-play review services and throw money at them until they put stars next to your name. Do you honestly think that we, other writers and readers, don’t realize that Kirkus* is letting people buy positive reviews? So what if they said that you were going to be the next Tolkien. What they meant was that your check cleared.

Perhaps you think that the answer is to hold on to your money and just have a friend or relative review your book. Authors, editors, and even small presses do this all of the time – when they have no self respect or respect for their readers. As another example, I know an editor/author whose assistant writes glowing reviews of every book she’s worked on or written for. Now, it’s possible that the assistant genuinely loves her boss’ work; after all, she’s got a choice, doesn’t she? I mean, there are millions of well respected, famous authors dying to take on a young, inexperienced intern and make her a star, right?


What’s worse than the person writing the reviews (for money or other gain) is the fact that small press publishers link to these reviews on their websites, Twitter feeds, and so on, hoping that no one will notice the questionable provenance of those kind words. They’re assuming that we’re stupid. That we, as readers, won’t know any better, and will fork over our hard earned cash without caring where the review comes from.

Now who’s the jackass?

* For example. Not to single them out, as other magazines do this as well. Pro tip: if a magazine sells its review services, don’t bother reading their reviews.

** As a publisher and as a writer, I only post reviews of my books or stories when I feel they come from unbiased sources. Plenty of my writers talked about Cthulhurotica, for example, but you won’t find those on our Reviews page. Hell, my mom loves pretty much everything I write, but do you trust her opinion to be unbiased?

*** I should point out that my mom is bound to read this. I love you mom! #coveringmyass