Call to Action, Nomination

Over at Indie Author Land they are holding a contest to find fifty indie books worth reading. There is a short list of potential candidates, but for each genre they are still taking suggestions. Science fiction, I mean real, honest to goodness stories in space, are still be written. Written well, and often by independent authors. But, and no offense to people writing in other genres, there’s a lot of not-science fiction on this sci-fi list. Take a look.

Indie Author Land asks the following question:

Is the Space Opera dead? Our shortlist of the best self-published science fiction novels of 2013/14 is packed with great, world-building novels from Hugh Howey, Charity Tinnin and Michael Bunker; we have a clever spin on time-travel, and scifi that comes with a touch of other genres. But not one laser gun in sight.

I don’t know, you guys tell me. Is Space Opera dead? What does the category science fiction even mean any more?

  • BLOOD DOUBLE by Conie Suttle: A vampire novel. What do the undead ever have to do with science fiction? Yeah the answer is “not very much.” Haven’t read this, but the fact that it’s in Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction sorta chaps my hide. It’s not already hard enough to find readers in the genre without including every zombie, apocalyptic survival story and dystopian teen love affair in the same bucket with authors who know what retro-rockets are for.
  • CHOOSING RILEY by S.E. Smith: So after reading the description of this one I’m just confused. Is the ruling King of Sarafin, Vox d’Rojah, an alien or an angle? Does he fly around in a spaceship? At least there is an attempt here, albeit a somewhat confusing one, to write in-genre. I sort of lost interest when I read this description of the main character. “Riley St. Claire from Denver, Colorado was born. She was one of those who always saw things a little differently, had a heart as big as Texas and a mouth to go with it.”Come now, she is from Colorado and the simile compares her to Texas? For a Native this is a lot like a choking. By aliens. With slimy claws.
  • THE SOWING by K. Makansi: I ask readers to consider this question for the moment: “Is Walter M. Miller’s A CANTICLE FOR LEBOWITZ science fiction before it is a tale of dystopian culture?” THE SOWING seems to be written for the same audience as THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT per the description so I’m torn. You’d think that Amazon would, at a minimum, have as a robust classification system as your local library wouldn’t you? But no, their taxonomy is hosed and to make matters worse there is plenty of new MA romance tales with elements of the future in them to confuse the subject so completely that it’s difficult to draw lines without spending vast sums of cash to read these manuscripts cover to cover. Based on my interpretation of the description, however, I’m going to go with tale of dystopian culture before I’d wager space opera.
  • EYE CANDY by Ryan L Schneider: One in four, and the first in the list to be undeniably science fiction. Schneider has penned a cyber thriller with robopsychologist and artificially-intelligent beings. The blurb is a bit wordy, but it might actually be an interesting cyber-punk, boy-meets girl thrill ride. I am, however, disturbed to make note of the fact that this is the first in the list that’s unquestionably science fiction.
  • GATHERING STORM by Victoria Danann: Can I just say that paranormal romance series are not my thing. No offense if you enjoy them, I know that everyone has their preferences, but I’m just not that interested. Per the lengthy description this is a “romance, fantasy, science fiction, strong female characters, alpha males […] complex” serial. Book five to be exact.
  • HAUNTED by Charity Tinnin: Tinnin calls this a dystopian story. It is about a character that must “carry out justice for the Elite”, ends up running into the wrong side of a God, and presumably must eventually make an “unforgivable choice.” It could have flying cars, laser pistols and super computers, sure it could.
  • IN THE DAYS OF HUMANS: THIRD EXODUS by Terry R Hill: Yeah! We’ve encountered our first space opera. Without going into the backstory, this tid bit from the blurb says it all. “Col. Adamini, commander of the Yamakarā and its crew are tasked to explore and to make a new home for humankind. Millions of kilometers from Earth and faced with growing corruption within the space agency that could lead to the downfall of them all, Adamini must decide where his loyalties lie. Unknown to them, they may be Earth’s last hope when forces threaten the total annihilation of the human species once again.” So exploration of deep space. Machine intelligence. A human story of survival. Folks we have a second!
  • KRAC’S FIREBRAND by S.E. Smith: Boy oh boy, S.E. Smith must be a fast story teller. This is the second in her extensive back list that is on Indie Author Land‘s short list, and the first that we can unquestionably say is science fiction. Or, at the very least, includes some elements of science fiction. Its also listed under Romance and Fantasy which spins my dial. It also makes me swear that sometime soon I’m going to write a “sex in space” series. Seemingly, you guys only have one thing on your mind.
  • ORDER OF THE DIMENSIONS by Irene Helenowski: Stories set in a multiverse are tales I am interested in reading. But that said, are they science fiction? Helenowski’s work appears to be a portal story, what appears to be a recollection of divergent outcomes post some singular event and the struggle to reconcile these often conflicting realities. We’ll be generous, and go along with the author/publisher on this one, choosing to include stories primarily about a multiverse within the scope of science fiction.
  • PENNSYLVIANIA by Michael Bunker: First, I’ve read the first in the series, but I’m waiting for the omnibus edition. And yes, it is unquestionably, science fiction. Michael Bunker does an excellent job of telling the tale of “plain” people as they colonize the planet of New Pennsylvania. You can see some of his own struggles in this tale and I quite look forward to reading more of it as time allows. Well written, well edited and cover art from Jason Gurley.
  • SAND by Hugh Howey: With all his usual grace Hugh Howey took great pains to classify his latest omnibus in the sub-categories Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian. This book has been on my Want To Read list since it was announced and the description make me salivate for a taste. Alas, with only so much time and a stack of words waiting to come out, it must wait. I’m guessing, based on the description, that the story takes place in the future. Obviously too, there is technology which allows deep diving under “infernal sands” sort of DUNE style perhaps? Don’t tell me, I want to read it.
  • THE CLAY LION by Amalie Jahn: This story is a time-travel tale. Time travel, muck like multiverse writing, tends to hover over that fuzzy boundary between science fiction and fantasy. Nonetheless it looks to be a very well written tale. She’s got some very good reviews. So again we’ll give it a thumbs up and include it as a tested positive.

So, where are we at? What are the sums? Is Space Opera still alive? The split is 50-50 by my count. And let me be clear, I’m not trying to tell you how to think. If you believe in your tender heart of hearts that all MA vampire romances with an ample helping of zombie witches floating around on decrepit broom sticks in hot pursuit of sexy, shirtless werewolves qualify that’s just peachy by me. I would, however, like to point out that if we perform classification of books, according to shared qualities, we tend to run into a few annoying problems when we review this “short list” of potential candidates.

But in some small way I think that this problem is showing us perhaps a couple of minor deficits that we, as independent authors, need to address.  Some indies, having written their masterpiece in a genre will attempt to cross pollinate by playing the SEO game with their books taxonomy. It’s nothing terrible egregious, sure it might even win a few new readers. There are likely people browsing sci-fi who actually want to read a vampire or romance tale. And sure authors cross boundaries, in fact, that’s an excellent thing. But it also tends to water down the lists considerably. Because, well, everyone ends up doing it. And that’s a bugger.

And while I wouldn’t suggest that any of these books might be lesser than the others, it is my contention that at least some of them are not actually science fiction. Of these we can objectively say that they’re not Space Opera. And that’s a bit of a shame in my book because Space Opera is such a fun thing to write and read. It’s a bit sad to me to see that it is in decline.

But now some good news, and the call to action I’m hoping that you’ll consider.

(As always, if your favourite science fiction novel from 2013/14 has not made our shortlist, vote for it by choosing Other.)

Yeah, I’ve written a hard science fiction Space Opera. A tale of daring on a little red planet outside Earth’s orbit. It involves all sorts of excellent technology and even happens to have a very compelling and entertaining story line. A few really excellent reviews, I know, but in some small way that’s what contests like this are about. If you’ve read THE BIG RED BUCKLE. If you liked the THE BIG RED BUCKLE then you’re on the ground floor of something really new and exciting.  Right now is your chance to help me get some much needed exposure for this book.

Friends and family, right now is an excellent time to click on over to Indie Author Land and click on the “other” button. Make certain you copy and paste “THE BIG RED BUCKLE by Matthew Alan Thyer” into the text field. Seriously, I’ve got 555 friends on Facebook right now, its the least you could do.

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4 thoughts on “Call to Action, Nomination

  1. Hi,

    I really appreciate your analysis. I enjoy science fiction, but can’t claim to be an expert in it. Which is why I wondered about the lack of space operas and the infiltration of other genres. But since the novels self-identified as scifi, I let it slide. After all, scifi has always had the widest of definitions.

    But still it’s really interesting reading the thoughts of someone who knows more about the subject.

    David

    • Thanks David, I wouldn’t call myself any sort of an expert on the topic although I really enjoy reading speculative fiction, science fiction, and Space Opera specifically. My wife and I named my second son after the protagonist of one of our favorite Space Opera series, for instance. Yeah, we’re that kind of geeks.

      At the moment I’m writing a great deal of variety, but my primary focus has been Space Opera. And I burn the candle at both ends trying to update and contemporize this particular sub-genre of fiction. Flash Gordon lacks a certain verisimilitude now that Humanity has been to space. And most everyone who writes in this field seems to me at least somewhat preoccupied with non-human pursuits and technologies. The Sports in Space series is intended to bring a very human activity to the future and make it relevant.

      And, as a consumer of science fiction, I do have a problem with the very broad definition outlets like Amazon and self-identifying authors like some in the short list presume membership. From this point of view it makes finding what I want very difficult. I believe that this is primarily laziness on the part of outlets, but their taxonomic neglect impacts consumers nonetheless. There is a reason consumers fall back on names they know, why they make easy choices from well funded and promoted traditional outlets. It’s because of the nightmare of trying to locate something new within their search space. When I consume science fiction I don’t want to have to sort the noise. If it’s almost, but not quite, entirely unlike science fiction, it is not science fiction. Zombie stories need to be in their own Post Apocalypse > Zombie category so that I don’t have to sort through the endless gore.

      As a writer, and a struggling indie at that, I find the all too common predilection of some to self identify in this space as a major impediment. My current novelette has two very specific themes in it, Science Fiction > Adventure and Fiction > Sports. I could, using the same mental judo, also self identify my book into Romance > Science Fiction (there is a “romance” in this story) or even Kindle Books > Sports & Outdoors and Kindle Books > Political & Social Sciences. While these ideas are elements of the story I have crafted they certainly are not overt themes. And I am struck by all the noise I have to compete with in Science Fiction > Adventure and would not necessarily like to return the favor. Like I said in my earlier blog post, I might get a few new readers with this strategy, but honestly when I encounter it as a reader it pisses me off to no end. This practice isn’t good for indies and ultimately it isn’t good for the authors who perpetrate it on their readers.

      Finally, it is my sincere belief that stories should be classified by a limited number of well chosen themes. The emphasis the author places on certain elements of story is an important driver to the success of the story. Example: if I write a story about George the lawn mowing vampire and his sexy Wiccan girl friend Angelica, have I written a science fiction story? The answer to this question is probably “no”, as an author I’m going to focus on enriching the story with excellent descriptions of George’s ivory skin and the challenges he has romancing his one true love, who happens to be a member of a coven which seeks to destroy the undead. Change the focus to George’s excellent space fairing lawn mower and his adventures knocking down the epic growths of crimson grasses in parks on the planet Zymorg and we’re getting somewhere. But, as the reader should note, we’re not paying attention to George’s lust for blood or the complications that arise as a result of his insatiable desire for someone who wants to kill him.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment. Seriously, I really enjoy this kind of conversation and I hope to provoke more of the same.

    • Oh, one more thing, if you wouldn’t mind suggesting THE BIG RED BUCKLE by Matthew Alan Thyer you’d be doing me a huge favor and you’d necessarily being balancing the Space Opera scales.

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