Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.

16Oct/13Off

Ursula Pflug – My thoughts on Optimistic SF

Ursula Pflug

Ursula Pflug is author of the novel Green Music and the story collection After The Fires. Her new story collection, Harvesting the Moon, is coming out in fall 2013 from PS Publishing, with a preface by Candas Jane Dorsey and an afterword by the author.
Also in fall 2013, Blue Denim Press will be releasing a new novel, The Alphabet Stones.
Pflug teaches creative writing to adults at Loyalist College and organizes Cat Sass Literary Nights, a reading series in Norwood, Ontario. Her home page is at http://ursulapflug.ca

My sister and I, a year apart, were childhood reading buddies. Sometimes, we literally read the same books at the same time, over each other's shoulders. We switched from British juvenile fantasy to juvenile and YA science fiction in grade six, discovering Heinlein and going on from there. We were nerdy science lovers and SF offered a community in which that didn't mean social ostracism, as, I think, it still can. Science fiction has often been called a literature of ideas; it's imaginative scope, often in terms of setting, appealed hugely to my curiosity and thirst for adventure. I love to travel off the beaten path and some of my thirst for the unfamiliar surely stemmed from my reading material. When I was a little older, I was impressed by how writers including Maureen McHugh and Ursula K. Leguin explored issues including gender and economic disparity. Such works can give us hope--what if, in other places and times, folks have found solutions, however provisional, to problems we are still struggling with, here on earth. It doesn't matter if they're invented--the important part is the hope. It's difficult to act without hope.

Folks have occasionally said my work is a little on the dark side, but melancholy might be a better descriptor. I feel that we don't always need happy endings--we're grown-ups, and real life is full of ups and downs. I've noticed lately that people who watch incredibly violent television can be the same ones who browbeat writers for not being optimistic enough. Deconstructing the dark in the world and in ourselves is the first step in the process of transformation. We cannot change what we don't understand and haven't yet named. One example of a dark writer I find inspiring for his darkly scintillating intelligence is the 20th c. literary giant Kafka, who, of course, wrote speculative fiction by any other name. He predicted the incomprehensible bureaucratic hells of the current period in ways that are both subtle and scathing. Was it "dark" of him to warn us where we were headed? I don't think so--I think it's the opposite--that to warn, or even just to draw clearly, are forms of optimism--they infer that we have the power to change things we're not afraid to look at. Fahrenheit 451 is another classic example--look at Bradbury's remarkable prescience: the decline in reading, the prescription drug abuse, the greater and greater immersion, to the near exclusion of all else, in electronic feeds of various forms including interactive screens. To me this is optimism, because it requires the courage to not pull the wool over our own (or any one else's) eyes. So I take a kind of backward approach. As well, it seems to me anything that boosts reading, writing and literacy is in itself a project in optimism. I'm personally not particularly drawn to horror fiction, but if that's what people want to read--well, the important part is that they're reading.

26Mar/13Off

Campfire: Excerpt from Without Bloodshed by Matthew Graybosch

According to official records maintained by the state of New York, I was born on Long Island in 1978. I also troll people by telling them I am in fact Rosemary’s Baby, the result of top-secret DOD attempts to continue Nazi experiments combining human technology and black magic, or that I sprang fully grown from my father’s forehead with a sledgehammer in one hand and a copy of The C Programming Language in the other — and that I've been giving the poor man headaches ever since.

Bad jokes based on obscure allusions aside, I'm the author of Without Bloodshed, a Starbreaker novel coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I'm also a generalist software developer with over a decade of professional experience earned at such companies as TEKsystems, Deloitte Consulting, and Computer Aid, Inc.

My thoughts on optimistic SF.

I don't claim to write optimistic SF for the same reasons I don't call myself a hacker or a feminist. I think "author of optimistic SF" is a title which must be bestowed upon me by others, rather than claimed. To do otherwise seems presumptuous.

Despite my reluctance to apply the term to my own work, I don't write dystopian fiction. While the backstory for my invented universe contains what I promised my wife I wouldn't make my characters call a "nanotech-induced zombie apocalypse", Nationfall is part of the backstory for Starbreaker. The series itself takes place later, in the society the survivors rebuilt after learning from the past. It's an open society where people are free to live, work, and prosper without unnecessary fear of violence or discrimination. It's a world where liberty, justice, and equality under law for all aren't just empty words or hollow ideals.

However, it's not a utopia. Corruption and abuses of power remain a problem, and must be opposed by those willing to uphold their rights and those of their fellows with diplomacy and force of arms. Reform and further progress are still necessary, but in my imagined society both are possible, and can be set in motion by individuals. And my own tendency towards cynicism and misanthropy results in a tone which might be more appropriate to film noir.

Why do I write such fiction? I do it as both an act of rebellion against the current popular trend towards the depiction of dystopian societies, and for my own sake. I don't want to write about real life in real America as I understand it. I don't want to depict a society in which corruption, discrimination, inequality, widespread poverty, and perpetual war for nothing of lasting value might as well be part of the status quo. Depending on where you get your news, dystopian SF might as well be a new form of realistic literary fiction.

I refuse to be part of that. I refuse to write such fiction. Instead, I choose Romanticism; or, if you prefer, optimistic SF. .

Introduction to Excerpt

Naomi Bradleigh is one of the central characters in my Starbreaker sequence. Her exotic coloration (normally pale skin, white hair, and scarlet eyes) is not a result of albinism, but of her ancestry. She thinks of herself as human after growing up in human society and participating in human culture. She lives in London, is a classically-trained dramatic coloratura soprano and pianist, and until recently one of the driving forces behind the progressive metal power trio Crowley's Thoth. It is her association with the band's deceased founder, Christabel Crowley, which places her in a delicate situation nobody should have to face.

Excerpt from Without Bloodshed

Naomi Bradleigh pressed a hand to her belly, hoping her empty stomach's snarling remained unheard. Two constables took her from her home and brought her to MEPOL before breakfast, which meant her only food today was a handful of hothouse strawberries eaten before her shower. She refused all offers of coffee or water, afraid of a ruse to get fingerprints or genetic evidence without a warrant or her consent. "Do you make a habit of starving your suspects into submission, Inspector?"

She considered the office as she waited for her captor to deign to answer her. The constables who came to her home did not bring her to one of the bare interrogation rooms she expected from watching the occasional police procedural drama, but directly to the office of Inspector Alan Thistlewood. Thistlewood's right hand trembled as he held the phone to his ear, and his gaze lingered on her in a manner which made her wish for a weapon. "No, not yet. I got evidence of motive and opportunity. She'll incriminate herself if we keep up the pressure. Everybody does."

Thistlewood hung up, and studied Naomi until her urge to draw her cardigan tight around herself threatened to overwhelm her. "Hungry, Ms. Bradleigh?"

"Lunch would be pleasant, Inspector. I would also like to speak to my attorney."

"Why do you keep mentioning your attorney? Trying to hide something?"

"I would hide everything from you, Inspector." He leaned towards her, as if sharing a confidence. "The more you tell me, the more I can help you."

I used to be an Adversary. How can I just sit here and wait for rescue which might not come? I should be my own savior. Naomi eyed Thistlewood's revolver, which rested in a shoulder holster under his right arm. The belt holding his service gladius hung from a coat tree by the door, out of his reach. She entertained the notion of overpowering the inspector, taking his weapons, and using them to force her way to freedom. The revolver held only six rounds, but the short, broad-bladed sword suffered no limitations save those of her own strength and stamina. Let violence be my final resort. I can do much to resist before resorting to arms. "I will tell you nothing without my attorney, Inspector."

"You were Christabel Crowley's neighbor, which afforded you opportunities to get close and kill her." Naomi shook her head, unable to believe Thistlewood insisted on beating this hobbyhorse of his into the ground. "Crowley kicked you out of the band, and believed you seduced her boyfriend, which gave you motive. I bet she hated sharing the spotlight with a freak like you."

Thistlewood wasn't the first to call her a freak. Life with congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder, or CPMD, meant she grew up around people who called her worse names. Her eyes had slit pupils, her ears resembled a cat's despite being flat against her head like a normal human ear, and her fingernails curved over her fingertips to create claws. "Now you're just being tiresome." She kept the rest to herself. You think I seduced Morgan? I count the days to every Winter Solstice and an excuse to kiss him.

Naomi ignored Thistlewood's questions, for she deflected each of them half a dozen times already. Morgan would call even the deflections a mistake. So would Edmund and Sid. They kept telling me I should treat the police as my enemy and give them nothing but name, rank, and serial number if I ever found myself in their custody. His aftershave reeked of alcohol as he leaned over her, staring into her eyes. "You might be a freak, Ms. Bradleigh, but you got a hell of a body. Do you work out?"

She suppressed a shudder, and considered Thistlewood's revolver again. The weapon waited within her reach, its polished wooden grip a dull gleam beneath the antiquated florescent lights. No. This is just a new tactic. He hopes to use my revulsion in his favor. Naomi narrowed her eyes as his hand gripped her thigh too tightly to be a mere caress. "When did groping a woman become an acceptable interrogation technique?"

Thistlewood loosened his grip, and smoothed her skirt with a lover's delicacy. However, he continued to lean over her. His hand trembled through the layered chiffon and the silk of her stocking. "I hoped you'd incriminate yourself, but we can convict you on the evidence alone. Juries hate women like you." The hand slid up a bit. "But I can suggest a plea bargain which will get you a very lenient sentence if you cooperate."

"For your sake, Inspector, I hope you don't use that line at pubs." She slid her hand behind his head, and gently pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear. "You don't need a line with me. I'm in your power, right where you want me. Morgan Stormrider never had me like this." He wouldn't want me this way, which is why he's a better man than you'll ever be.

Naomi held her need to fight back at bay as Thistlewood's creeping hand slipped between her legs. I dare not kill him. His death would bring rest of them down on me, and he might stop me if I go for his gun now. I need to lower his guard. I bet Claire would seduce him, or at least let him think she was seducing him. She shifted in her seat, parting her thighs a little, and arched her back. "Am I the reason your hand trembles, Inspector."

"Are you telling the truth?" Thistlewood's voice was lower, rougher. He strained against the seam of his uniform trousers, and for a moment Naomi wished Morgan was leaning over her, his lips inches from hers. "Stormrider never had you like this?" "He never had me at all." Naomi let her voice settle into a seductive purr as she slid her other hand along his waist, before letting her fingers curl around the revolver's grip. She slid the weapon free of the holster, and dug her nails into the nape of Thistlewood's neck when he tried to pull away. Smiling as he yelped in pain, she ground the muzzle of the revolver into the soft flesh beneath his jaw while thumbing the hammer back. "Neither will you, Inspector." She kicked his feet out from under him, and her claws, which she filed so that they would not interfere when she played a keyboard, tore into Thistlewood's flesh as he fell. She sprang out of the chair and retreated before he finished collapsing to the floor. She adjusted her grip as he rose to his knees, glancing at the sword; she held the weapon in both hands, as Morgan taught her, despite her insistence on needing only a sword for self-defense. I should have told him I was an Adversary.

He stared at the weapon, stared at her, and could not get the words out right away. "You stole my gun, you treacherous bitch."

"You violated my rights and tried to extort sexual favors from me, but you insist I'm the villain here? You certainly think highly of yourself." She smiled behind the iron sights, and put her teeth into it. "I can be reasonable. If you do as I tell you, I might forget this ever happened." "That's blackmail."

She shrugged, and the revolver pointed at his belly instead of his groin. "Now you have cause to arrest me. Try not to make a complete botch of it."  

16Jan/13Off

Thoughts on Optimistic SF by B. Pine

B. PineB. Pine is an award-winning fantasy and science fiction author who keeps her days full by writing, gardening, reading and raising her little ones. She is an avid reader of fantasy, science fiction, and vampire novels, particularly stories with backgrounds based on medieval culture from Western Europe and England, where she lived for four years. Her passion for writing was born after taking a college course in creative writing. She graduated from the University of Maryland and Wilmington University with degrees in Business Management and Accounting, respectively. Her debut novel, Familiar Origins, has won two Royal Dragonfly Book Awards, and her Draca Wards series will be continued in 2013. She also has a short story published in The Imperium Saga: Anthology with fellow authors from Silver Leaf Books, LLC. She is currently working on the next installment of her fantasy saga.

My thoughts on Optimistic SF

Our world today is a wondrous place. It is not perfect; there is still too much hunger and suffering. Still, as the saying goes: “There is no time like the present.”

Yet despite all we have accomplished this past century alone, many still worry about our world ending horrifically. The media and speculative TV documentaries have convinced people that we are one disaster away from the end of the human race. Or at the very least, we will experience an apocalypse that will set us back to the Dark Ages.

This does not have to be the case. Technology has evolved at an exponential pace. One hundred years took us from the Wright Brothers to the International Space Station. The planet is now connected in a way no one would have even tried to comprehend when two computers were first hooked up together in UCLA forty-three years ago. Humans are problem solvers. This is why we are not extinct.

We have to believe that we will continue to evolve, not devolve or die out. We have to work on solving problems instead of blaming others for those problems and trying to maintain the status quo.

And how do we solve our problems? By using our imagination.

Stories should fire up the imagination and give readers a sense of hope instead of futility. And that is what I want my stories to do. Once we stop believing we can someday reach the stars, we have doomed ourselves to never doing so.

B. Pine bpine@dracawards.com

twitter: @B_Pine

www.dracawards.com