Fine Line Between Fact & Fiction

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by Peter Cawdron

Science fiction is make-believe.

Even at its finest, it’s nothing more than conjecture and hypotheticals, and yet people flock to movies where characters flash lightsabers and fly around in exotic spacecraft. Why?

I think science fiction speaks to our longing for the horizon, our nomadic nature yearning for something beyond the hum drum and repetition of daily life. We’re adventurous by nature, but real-life adventures carry costs and risks. Fiction satisfies this itch, allowing us to explore far-flung worlds from the safety of an armchair.

When it comes to science fiction, our dreams can become reality.

While America was engulfed in a civil war, an obscure French author penned a story called From Earth to the Moon. At the time, steam engines were in vogue. Sailing ships and the trusty horse and cart dominated commerce. The idea of launching to the Moon was a flight of pure fantasy on the part of Jules Verne, and yet just over a hundred years later Neil Armstrong stepped out on the dusty lunar surface.

During the early 1960s, a struggling writer developed a story about a wagon train going to the stars. He struggled to secure finances for his wild, new concept. When Lucille Ball heard the title “Star Trek,” she thought it was a reality show following USO performers around the world as they toured for US troops. Lucille overruled her own board to get the pilot made without realizing she was helping make science fiction history.

Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek gave the world a glimpse of the future.

Handheld communicators eventually became the smart phones we enjoy today. Paperless tablet computers on the show inspired iPads. Automatic sliding doors became common place in malls and shops. Non-invasive medical scans found their future in MRI and CT scanners, but beyond that, Star Trek spoke of a new world. Racism was relegate to history, as was nationalism. Reason, it seemed, would dominate the future, not tribal superstitions.

We still have a way to go before the dreams of Gene Roddenberry are realized, but the fiction of today is often the facts of tomorrow. So whenever you read science fiction or watch a scifi movie, pause to consider which aspects may lie in our future.


Peter Cawdron is the author of Retrograde

Top Ten Sci-Fi & Fantasy Series

by R.R. Virdi

Sci-fi and fantasy books have millions of fans around the world, and it’s fair to say in the world of self-publishing, those numbers are being published yearly as well. So, with an endless number to read, growing by the second in fact, how do you pick where to start next? This guide is a completely subjective top ten list on where to begin to sate your SFF cravings. This list will also be excluding The Lord of the Rings for obvious reasons. It’s a bit too well known and goes without saying as a great series to read. Same with Dune.

  1. The Wheel of Time: Robert Jordan

This epic has been so successful, Jordan went onto be known as the American Tolkien. The Wheel of Time is an epic high fantasy of unparalleled writing, world building, and stakes. The series spans 14 novels and totals well over 4,000,000 words. The Wheel of Time focuses on a multiple point-of-view journey among characters battling against the return of Shaitan, the dark one or lord, and his endless minions. A mythical figure, The Dragon Reborn, is supposed to be reborn and walk the line between madness and clarity, and use his gifts to banish the darkness, hopefully for good this time. The struggle has continued throughout the ages, will this be the final time? Will light finally conquer the dark, or will the cycle continue?

  1. The Mistborn Trilogy: Brandon Sanderson

The Mistborn series is beloved by many, and for good reason. It’s an epic fantasy of hard, codified magic known as, Allomancy, the manipulation and consumption of metals. Yes, you read that right, in the dystopian world of Scadrial, Allomancers have the ability to ingest certain metals that will give them temporary abilities. A certain subgroup of Allomances called, Mistborn, have the rare gift to consume any metal and use the corresponding abilities. The characters are beautifully written, the plot amazingly executed, and the world building goes beyond anything else, so much so, you’ll have to read many of Sanderson’s other works to fully grasp the breadth of it all. That’s not a bad thing. If you love hard magic, evil empires, action like out of things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ll love this series.

  1. The Kingkiller Chronicle: Patrick Rothfuss

This series isn’t complete, something many fans have bemoaned about for nearly a decade. But, don’t let that deter you. The first two books are well worth it. The prose is near-poetic, almost song-like. Rothfuss weaves a wonderful picaresque following a roguish legend in his own world as he tells his story to a travelling chronicler over the span of three days. The audience knows and impending doom is coming, the protagonist, the mythical, Kvote (pronounced: Quothe), lets us know he’s expecting to die soon. That doesn’t stop him from regaling us with a tale of mischief, heartache, trauma, ambition, love, loss, and the stuff epics are made of. A wonderful blend of hard and soft magic make up this series. The story continues to pull you along smoothly, page-after-page, as you navigate Kvothe’s early years, up until the end of book two. It’s been said the man has killed an angel, spoken to gods, killed a demon, burned a town, and so much more. Does he live up to legend? You tell me.

  1. The Dresden Files: Jim Butcher

My personal number 1 favorite. This hard-hitting, noir, semi-automagical series follows Harry Blackthorne Copperfield Dresden, professional wizard, and he’s in the phonebook. It’s urban fantasy at its best. Flawed, hope-inspiring characters battling themselves just as much as the forces of supernatural evil, and sometimes just plain mortal darkness. The fae, gods, vampires, werewolves, all your favorite mythological creatures, along with many lesser-known ones. Harry’s day job is as PI in Chicago, and magic doesn’t pay the bills all that well. He lives of consultancy work for the local PD, and the series begins when a magical drug sweeps through streets, and a grisly penthouse murder requires his expertise. 15 books in, and 8 more to go, The Dresden Files is a must read magical fantasy set today. Magic. Monsters. Mischief.

  1. The Lost Fleet: Jack Campbell

This interstellar military sci fi focuses on a century-long war between two human groups divided by culture. Our main character, Captain John Geary, also known as “Black Jack”, is a legend for a last stand he led 100 years ago. Now out of suspended animation, he’s put up to the task of winning the war. If only it was the easy. This is one of the military sci fi series that has led to a string of imitators because, well, it’s brilliant.

  1. The Black Company: Glen Cook

A grim dark military fantasy that was killing off beloved characters long before the name, Martin, was uttered for doing so. The series focuses on an elite mercenary company doing the hard jobs, the dirty ones, and the ones that lead to an early grave. Spanning nearly 10 books, the Black Company’s story is wonderful told, reveals gritty and gorgeously complicated/flawed characters, and the horrible things they have had to and will do. It’s not a pretty series. There isn’t always a happy ending. And sometimes, bad things do just happen, but in this world, a lot of the times their done by bad people. Get used to it. If you want a hardcore and gruesome military fantasy, this is what you’re looking for.

  1. Discworld: Terry Pratchett

A master of humor, whimsy, and hitting you on the nose with philosophy wrapped in sarcasm and wittery, Terry Pratchett’s work is nothing short of brilliant and masterful. Discworld is in fact a collection of stories from multiple series focusing on different protagonists set in, yes, Discworld. It’s a flat world resting on the backs of four elephants standing atop a giant space sailing turtle. Yes, you read that right. It’s hilarious, tackles all manner of complicated socio-political issues with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, is full of parodies of fantasy clichés and tropes, and just so much more. Don’t worry, Discworld consists of only around 40 novels. Get reading. You’re going to be busy for a while.

  1. Redwall: Brian Jacques

Welcome to a world where animals are the main characters, a world spanning 22 years and with 15 novels published so far. Travel to Redwall Abbey and meet the peaceful residents who’ve lived a pleasant life…until a ship of pillaging/pirating rats lands in the distance and its crew seeks to kill/enslave all those in their way. The novels are written in a nonlinear fashion, jumping through time to tell the tales of legends past, and heroes coming after the original novel: Redwall. The books are entertaining and easy to get swept up by, and they appeal to all ages.

  1. The Icewind Dale Trilogy: R.A. Salvatore

One of the earliest fantasy greats I can remember. Most fantasy nerds do not need an introduction to one of the most iconic characters ever, Drizzt Do’Urden, dark elf, hero, and legend. This trilogy, only a small number of the books penned by Salvatore and following the journeys of the famous dark elf rogue, is what started it all. Any Dungeons and Dragons fan must read these. But, if you’re one of those, chances are you already have. And, if you haven’t, fix that now!

  1. The Expanse: James S.A. Corey

Set in a future where we humans have colonized much of our solar system, the various groups among our galaxy are taking issue with one another, raising tensions. The series carries all of the story plots you want to see out of a space travelling/space ship series: pirates, space battles, political scheming, machine organisms, aliens, and new sorts of space travel.

Gearing Up for the Apocalypse

by Joshua C. Chadd

James and Connor Andderson are two brothers who’re patriots and outdoorsmen. They’re suddenly thrown into the apocalypse, but unlike most, they’re prepared. Or so they thought. They have a plethora of badass gear throughout both of the Brother’s Creed books so far. They’ll also be getting more awesome gear as the story progresses in the next couple books. In this blog, I’ll go over that gear (a lot of which I own, so I have a working knowledge of it). Here we go!

Both brothers wear Kryptek hunting/tactical gear. Not only is it the best camouflage in both industries, but it is owned and operated by All-American Heroes. The brothers have full sets of the Highlander hunting line, but will later get suits more oriented toward the tactical side in the Typhon pattern. Check out Kryptek at https://kryptek.com/

Both brother’s also wear a typical tactical vest for their spare magazines and a few other assorted items.

James, the oldest but smaller brother, carries a Smith & Wesson M&P 15. This is an AR-15 style rifle that shoots .223/5.56 rounds. He has a foregrip, tactical light, IR laser, bipod, suppressor and Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 variable scope on it. It’s a very accurate and deadly weapon that is perfect for taking down the pesky zombies! He is also very capable shooting it, although not as much as his brother. James also carries a Remington 1911 handgun in .45 ACP.

Connor, the younger but more bulky of the brothers, carries a Bushmaster AR-15 that also shoots .223/5.56. His is equipped with a foregrip, tactical light, IR laser, bipod, and suppressor, but his scope is a Trijicon ACOG 4×32 BAC. He is an ace shot and his Marine training pays off as they face more than just zombies. He carries a Kimber Custom Pro 1911 handgun in .45 ACP.

Oh, another thing they always carry is a tactical tomahawk on the opposite hip from their handguns. Perfect for crackin’ skulls!

Now, the next stuff is gear that (more than likely) they’ll be getting in the next book. This stuff is awesome because I don’t have any experience with it and had to research it. This gear is on my wish list and way badass, get ready!

The Bushmaster ACR. This awesome gun not only looks slightly futuristic but has some awesome features. One of which allows you to change out the barrels without losing your zero! There are some other cool guns in this article as well, so check ‘em out! http://www.tactical-life.com/firearms/top-20-next-gen-combat-rifles/3/#bushmaster-acr-dmr-gen-evergreen-lead

Also something they will be finding is this tank of a vehicle! My sister-in-law actually found this and said it’d be awesome to have in the books, she was right! The Terradyne Gurkha is a force to be reckoned with and is perfect for the end of the world! I mean just check out these awesome specs! https://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/terradyne-gurkha-rpv-civilian-edition-news-specs-pictures/#ixzz4fVw2wKI1

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope you have enjoyed this look into the Andderson brothers’ gear. If you’d like to know more about their gear or how they use it, be sure to check out The Brother’s Creed series on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073HGF2YK/

PS- Here is the cover of the latest book, as it shows the characters with all their gear.

Speculative Fiction: A Safe Space for Exploring Topical Issues?

 

by Chloe Garner

I don’t know if you’ve looked around recently, but the world is kind of a tricky place. Issues concerning race and cultural identity live at the forefront of everything in the American news cycle, and I know that different versions of the same conversations are going on all over the world. Problems that I wouldn’t even imagine for the sake of my own fiction are very real, and no one wants anyone else to tell them what they are, what they should want, who they should be.

And I get that. There are no good answers.  Most of us have been mistreated at some point, and no one wants to see things they identify with painted as villainous, either in the real world or in fiction. It creates a situation that – I’ve gotta tell you – is challenging for a fiction writer. Fiction is about the way the world is, the way the world could be, the way the world has been, and the way the world should be. Underneath of that, there are statements, theories, ideas, perspectives, pictures of what it means to be human.  Thoughts about the way humans are, what’s normal, what’s not, what’s okay, and what really isn’t.

And those are really, really important to me, as a person, as a reader, and as a writer.

Conversations among authors are hot with passionate opinions about how to treat characters by type. I was in a class where a woman argued that describing a woman as ‘small’ was sexist, and I’ve more recently seen a statement that creating a bisexual assassin character plays on negative stereotypes about bisexual individuals. And sensitivity here is important. It’s also paralyzing. No one wants to see their people set up as villains. Even if the evil of the character has nothing to do with their race, class, or cultural associations, they don’t like it, and that’s perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable, and something I’m wholly empathetic to.

But fiction needs conflict.

And some women are small. And thieves exist most everywhere in the world.  As do cheats and liars and busybodies.

Add to this a genuinely held belief that a writer does not have the ability to speak from a perspective that he has not experienced, be it racially, culturally, economically, or elsewise, and I often find myself at a loss. Because fiction remains important.  Stories about people, regardless of where they come from or what formed them, they’re critical to empathy and our ability to look outside of ourselves and understand how others might experience the world.

We must tell stories.

More and more, both as a reader and as an author, I find that I take refuge in the world of fantasy. The things that are true about fantasy characters are also true about real people, but the divide between who is allowed to tell a story and whether or not their perspective is biased or inappropriate vanishes because we are now talking about races that do not have a real history – indeed, they have a complete history that exists solely in the head of the writer. Conflicts can be as complex as they need to be, but without the risk of underplaying a dynamic that is core to someone’s real life. Without the risk of speaking for the collective experience of a group, authors are free to create an experience that has an authentic and instructive perspective.

For much of my life, the grown ups have looked at fantasy as a form of childish play. Something that I would outgrow, that I would join the adult world in its pursuit of more adult fiction.

As I sit here today, thinking about what I want to write, what I care about, and the things that I believe are true, I wonder if maybe more childish play is exactly what we need.  Play is where we learn to interact safely and healthily with others, and it’s about instruction more than agenda. The things that we have always needed fiction for remain true, today, perhaps even more than ever, but we close doors and condemn them as venues of conversation. Some writers are simply brave, but in being brave, they take on an additional layer of responsibility for being fair to all of the parties and types and groups that they’re representing.

I love speculative fiction. I always have. I don’t want to write fiction that is necessarily fair: I want to write fiction that is authentic and real and meaningful, even if it is about vampires and demons and aliens and magic. I think that, rather than being a barrier to reality, these separations from the real world form a protective shield, a barrier that protects these stories from the pressure to conform to sincere, well-meaning rules, and just tell the story that needs to be there.

Urban Fantasy – What is It and Why Should You Be Reading It?

by R.R. Virdi

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of the traditional fantasy parent genre in literature. You know, kings, horses, courts, monsters, magic, mayhem, and typically a roguish hero. The genre’s come about in the last thirty or so years even though the term has been used since sparingly since the early 20th century. Urban fantasy has one notable difference from its sister genre, Contemporary fantasy. So long as—you guessed it, the genre takes place in an urban environment with some level of fantastical qualities, it counts as urban fantasy. Contemporary requires the story to be set in present day times.

This subtle difference allows people to play with the genre in ways to niche it into other genres and widen its appeal. The Daggers and Steele series by Alex P. Berg is a wonderful example of this. It’s a bit of a spoiler to give this away, but the great twist and wonderful part of this series is that it’s an alternative history like fiction with an urban fantasy emphasis. You’re aware of the genre from the get-go. The cover and blurb tell you all you need to know:

Elven side kick, tough guy investigator who sleuths into mysteries that defy normal convention, and urban setting. It’s a concentrated does of some of the urban fantasy tropes that old readers will resonate with and find familiar, and new ones will be sucked in by and glean understanding of in what makes the genre. Daggers and Steele is a series that helps show the flexibility of the urban fantasy subgenre and how far or…back (see what I did there) the setting can be taken and tweaked to add to the fantastical elements already within this brand of fiction.

The name really stuck to the style of fiction and began to describe it in the late 1980’s with a few scattered pieces of work then, to now with hundreds of series between traditionally published and indie.

Some of the earliest and most notable authors in the genre who helped it find its feet are: Laurel K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake series—often considered one of the most substantial works in the genre, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, Neverwhere (the urban fantasy adventure set in London and a twist off parallel London Below), and another in the genre that’s developed a major cult following: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. A series that follows the grizzled and snarky, self-abasing wizard, Harry Dresden.

All three of those works are some of the best examples to show the variances allowed in setting and style within the genre while all falling under its umbrella. Laurel K. Hamilton’s series follows a necromancer, Anita Blake, living in a world where the supernatural are widely known about and have rights. It’s a dark and seedy version of Missouri following the paranormal side of things. While it’s urban and set in a present day setting, the world is vastly different than ours on a series of levels.

Butcher’s Dresden Files takes a different route—set in modern day Chicago where the supernatural elements are mostly kept under wraps by their own powers. For the most part, his Chicago is pretty much along the same lines as ours. The paranormal lurk, are unexplained and unbelieved by most people. Freak accidents and occurrences are just that. The boldest and most shocking bit of overt magical presence is none other than the protagonist himself, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He’s in the phonebook as such.

And then Gaiman’s work falls somewhere, and lovably in between. Richard, the main character, crosses path with a young woman, Door, who possesses the uncanny ability of opening up doorways between the modern (at that time) London, and a twisted version, London Below. She accidently ends up dragging him along into her weird world of odd people selling odder things, a portal fantasy set within a major city where monsters and myths are real. Members of the normal world apart from Richard aren’t aware these places and things exist. In fact, as time passes and Richard becomes more immersed in London Below…people forget he exists.

All three references offer just a hint of how fluid the genre can be as well as welcoming to readers with different tastes and a want of setting that might be different and resonate with their personal interests.

My own series, The Grave Report, follows a disembodied soul, Vincent Graves, murdered by the paranormal and tasked with inhabiting the bodies of those killed by the supernatural and using their minds, bodies, memories, and skills to solve their murders. The series is predominantly set in the burrows of New York. Given that urban fantasy allows for so much flexibility, I wanted to play with that. So, the series shifts urban locales per novel/story, and yet always retains the urban fantasy vibe tinged with the classic noir investigator hints that permeate many novels in the genre. Given that he’s a soul that can bounce into any body murdered anywhere…the series isn’t limited by setting all. And, it still qualifies as urban fantasy.

That series has gone onto land award finalist positions alongside giants in the genre: Jim Butcher and Larry Correia, last year at the inaugural DragonCon Dragon Awards under the Best Fantasy (Paranormal) category. As noted, two other urban fantasy writers all with their own spins on the endlessly workable genre.

The urban fantasy subgenre has no limits on what can be done, and so very few constraints. So, make sure to dive into it, readers. I’m sure you’ll find something more along the flavors you yearn for. There’s certain no shortage of material and takes on the genre. Go looking, read on, I know there are works out there for you, and I’ve only named a few.

The Cosmic Train Schedule, and Getting Science Right

by Jennifer Willis

During the Q&A following my author reading at Orycon in November, I was asked a question I’d not gotten before:

“What was the coolest thing you learned while researching your Mars books?”

What an awesome question, right? I had to think quickly on my feet and sort through all of the fun stuff I got to dig into while working on these three books. The answer that sprung to mind, though, was the Cosmic Train Schedule. And I promise that’s not something I just made up.

The Cosmic Train Schedule is an online resource that includes real-world transit times between Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. It’s a massive timetable that spans centuries and gives exact dates for departures and arrivals as well as information on aphelion, perihelion, and other fun geekery.

And I did geek out over this. I opened up a new project in Aeon Timeline and mapped out all of the (fictional) manned missions to Mars for my series, including both the government-sponsored trips crewed by trained astronauts and the waves of colony missions that are central to my stories. This helped me get a better sense for the lengths of missions, a reasonable timeline for sending people on interplanetary voyages, and a hard schedule for overlaps between missions and gaps when there would be no human beings on the Red Planet. While I had a lot of nerdy fun pulling that together and inserting more mundane elements like future Super Bowl dates (because I also mapped out a fictional NFL expansion as background material), I also needed this information to construct and drive my stories—particularly for the third book, Mars Heat.

So why go to all this trouble? Because actual science matters in science fiction. This can be tricky for authors, because sometimes real-world limitations and physics can get in the way of what would otherwise be an awesome plot point. But I try not to use handwavium too much if I can help it. This is a big reason I’m still excited that I got to participate in the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers at the University of Wyoming in 2011, even though my brain melted as we tried to absorb what amounted to a college course in astrophysics in the space of a single week. It’s no coincidence that Mike Brotherton—founder of Launch Pad, UW physics and astronomy professor, and sci-fi author—is the one who directed me to the Cosmic Train Schedule.

Sci-fi authors have a unique opportunity to promote science literacy through our work. Countless astronauts, scientists, and others credit their early sci-fi reading for inspiring their studies and careers, and scientific understanding is important for everyone. Plus, it’s fun to learn something new while you’re in the middle of a great read. My SFR books aren’t hard science fiction, but I do try to get the science right where possible.


A chronically optimistic nerd, Jennifer Willis writes urban fantasy, sci-fi, and sci-fi romance. She is also the writer behind the Northwest Love Stories feature in The Oregonian and has a byline in the Hugo Award-winning Women Destroy Science Fiction from Lightspeed.

5 Kick Ass Women Warriors in Japanese History Who Fought in Battles

by K. Bird Lincoln

Part of what drew me to women warriors in Japan is that Japan has had very rigid, traditionally defined gender characteristics and roles for long periods in its history. Yet when I first encountered Onnagatta actors (boys/men who play women characters in the 1600’s) and Okama entertainers (transvestite or transsexual TV stars) I was surprised by how Japanese society accepted a chosen gender as long as the person abided by those rigid stereotypes.

The men are treated as women. The very rigidness of how to dress, how to speak, how to act actually seemed like a framework that allowed the men to be women in society’s eyes.

I was fascinated to see if the opposite held true. Could women also be accepted in a man’s gender role? Historically, there have been many women in Japanese history who picked up a sword, but that didn’t necessarily make them men. And to this day, the famous Takarazuka actresses who play male roles retain a sense of their femaleness.

But in creating my main characters in Tiger Lily, I wanted to delve into the lives of women, who born according to the twelve-year cycle zodiac calendar in the Tiger year, express their gender in unconventional ways. Here are some of the most famous historical women warriors in Japanese History that inspired me.

Empress Jingu

As the wife of an emperor sometime around 160-260 AD, Jingu has some historical legitimacy, although her exploits as regent after her husband died are somewhat in the legendary category. Apparently after taking power around 200 A.D, she invaded the Korean kingdom of Silla, starting a long-standing troublesome relationship between historical Korea and Japan. She’s depicted as a warrior and shamaness, using both sword and her ocean-controlling divine jewels to invade Korea. Jingu’s legend is intricately tied up with Japanese Nationalism, so it’s hard to tell what’s legend and what’s propaganda, but along with Himiko, who we’re not touching upon here, she’s one of the foremothers of women warriors in Japan.

Hangaku Gozen and Tomoe Gozen

These two women warriors (onna-musha or onna bugeisha) lived around the same time period but weren’t related. Tomoe is the more famous of the two, and noted in the famous 12th Century chronicle of battles called the Heike Monogatari. She is depicted artistically as wearing battle armor, was famed for her horsemanship and archery, and considered extremely brave. She went into battle for her master/lover Minamoto Yoshinaka with a sword, not just the traditional female bladed pole naginata.

She is also described as being beautiful, so despite her leading battles and wearing armor, she still was seen as primarily female. There is controversy over how her life ended. Some say she was forcibly married to another warrior, some that she was beheaded, and another that she died a nun. Tomoe has been immortalized in anime, videogames, movies, and books, including a historical science-fiction-fantasy trilogy written by Jessica Salmonson, titled The Tomoe Gozen Saga.

Hangaku Gozen rode into battle with naginata and bow with her nephew during the Kennin Uprising against the main military government in Kamakura. She led 3000 against a force of 10,000 warriors. Hangaku is said to have been ‘fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower’, so despite her male leadership role, history cast her into a female role. Her ending quite firmly teaches her a lesson about females daring to get mixed up with political battles: married off to an enemy warrior after she is wounded and taken prisoner by the Kamakura military government.

Nakano Takeko

Here we have our first entirely historical woman warrior who fought on the losing side of the Boshin War. Although not officially allowed to join the fight, Nakano teamed up with 20 other women, including her mother and sister, and formed a counter-attack to break the siege on her castle. She killed 5 enemy soldiers before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. But here’s where she doubled down on her kick-assery: fearful the enemy would take her head as a trophy and she might risk disgracing her family even in death, she asked her sister to cut off her head and bury it.

Rui Sasaki

Rui was a sword instructor in the mid-17th century. Although a known female, she would walk around town in men’s clothing and her hair in an unfeminine style on her way to her martial arts school. She would occasionally tangle with sword-wielding hoodlums. This got around, and apparently wasn’t considered the appropriate behavior for the daughter of a samurai. This meant certain authorities made it their business to find a husband to keep her in line.

So there you have 5 really kick-ass women warriors in Japanese history. None of them were able to shed their femaleness completely even when going into battle—and several of them experienced the subjugation of a husband figure to firmly put them back into their less powerful, female place. But their legacy of strength and honorable resolve is one I hope informs my characters who also have to find ways to battle despite not quite fitting into the rigid lines of what females should be—whether shamaness or warrior.


K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her first novel, Tiger Lily, a medieval Japanese fantasy, is available from Amazon. Her debut Urban Fantasy, Dream Eater, was published in April 2017 by World Weaver Press. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews on Goodreads, ponders breast cancer, chocolate, and fantasy on her What I Should Have Said blog and hangs out on Facebook.

The Venn of Sci-Fi and Fantasy

by LC Champlin

Twenty years ago, when I was starting to read fiction, I gravitated toward Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Times were simpler then, and so were the genres. If you picked up a Fantasy book, it had dragons, swords, magic, and castles. If you grabbed a Science Fiction book, there were spaceships, aliens, and strange planets. But we live in a different world now! Click on Fantasy on Amazon, and you’ll get more subgenres than there used to be main genres in all of fiction. Same for Sci-Fi.

This Tribble-like multiplying of subgenres didn’t rain down on me, though, until I attempted to select a genre category for my novel series. You see, I hybridized genres, which makes for a fun read, but is tough to class. My story is a fusion of Thriller (terrorists attack), Horror (terrorists unleash a plague that turns people into cannibals), Action-Adventure (running and gunning galore!), and Sci-Fi (the man-made contagion doesn’t reanimate corpses, and it comes with some technologically-advanced features). And those are just the conventional, main categories.

As I explored categories, I started to see an overlap of my two favorites, Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Could it be, I thought, that the two are not as diametrically opposed as they once were? In my quest for answers, I Googled “sci-fi subgenres” and “fantasy subgenres.” Taking the first sites on page one gave more info than I ever wanted.

These are the common Fantasy subgenres, according to Thoughts on Fantasy.

High Fantasy / Epic Fantasy

Low Fantasy

Portal Fantasy

Urban Fantasy / Contemporary Fantasy

Paranormal / Paranormal Romance

Fantasy Romance / High Fantasy Romance

Young Adult Fantasy (YA Fantasy)

Children’s Fantasy

Fairy Tale Retellings

Sword and Sorcery / Heroic Fantasy

Medieval Fantasy / Arthurian Fantasy

Historical Fantasy

Comic Fantasy

Science Fantasy

Grimdark Fantasy

Gothic Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

The New Weird

But wait, there’s more!

These Sci-Fi subgenres are from SciFi Ideas.

Hard

Soft

Military

Robot

Social

Space Opera

Steampunk

Cyber/Bio/Nanopunk

Superhero

Voyages Extrordinaires

Scientific Romance

Gothic Science Fiction

Mundane Science Fiction

Horror

Comedy

Science Fantasy

Apocalyptic

Post-Apocalyptic

Zombie

Alien Invasion

Alien Conspiracy

Time Travel

Alternate History

Parallel Worlds

Lost Worlds

Dystopian

Space Western

Retro Futurism

Recursive

Speculative F

Slipstream

Pulp

Fanfiction (or ‘Fanfic’)

Erotic

Make it stop!

How to make sense of this mess? How are you the supposed to find what you want to read? You can look up the definitions to all these genres, but I wanted a more overarching view. Why? Because nowadays, Sci-Fi and Fantasy have begun to fraternize with each other. I compared the descriptions, and found that no longer can you grab a Sci-Fi and know 100% that you won’t run into wizards. Or if you get a Fantasy, you won’t find aliens.

Thus, I bring you the down-and-dirty infographic, the Venn of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Like any Venn diagram, the overlapping bits hold items that can belong in either category, or have elements of the other category. Purple text are the subgenres that blend Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

What do you think of the proliferation of subgenres? How about the crossing of genres? Are there any you believe shouldn’t be classed together? Did I miss your favorite? Then comment!

PS: If you’re curious what I ended up with for my book Behold Darkness, I chose:

Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic

Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thriller

But I’m still experimenting.


About LC Champlin: I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls. As a lover of all things Geek and Dark, I admire villains, antagonists, and rogues more than a little. My books’ characters are antiheroes, not angels.

Fantasy from Cradle to Grave

by Andy Peloquin

Imagination is such an important element of childhood. The more imaginative a child is, the more their brains grow and expand. Imagination and daydreaming fosters critical thinking skills, creative problem-solving abilities, and opportunities for cognitive growth. Simple things like painting, drawing, playing outside, and making messes gives children the opportunity to expand their imagination.

One article on Psychology Today says, “Fantasy-prone children (those who daydream and have imaginary friends) tend to have positive interpersonal, creative, and cognitive capacities. They tend to be more outgoing, better able to focus their attention, and more effective at seeing things from the perspective of others.”

The day they discover books is the first day they discover just how big the world is. Infants and toddlers learn about new countries and places they could never have imagined possible. They are taught about animals: fish in the sea, birds in the sky, mammals of such wondrous shapes, colors, and sizes.

As a child grows, they begin to find their own interest in books. They hear stories that teach them vital life lessons, lessons that will shape them into the men and women they will become. They learn that they are the hero in their own story, and that the only limits to possibilities exist in their minds.

Fantasy gives children a way to “put themselves in the mental shoes of others”. It goes beyond simple fiction—as one expert says, “this cognitive ability to adopt other perspectives is what makes elaborate pretend play so easy even before our brains are fully developed.”

As children grow into teenagers and adults, their imagination waxes and wanes depending on how much it is engaged. By the time they reach adulthood, many begin to seek out the escapism offered by fiction. With all of our daily troubles, nothing offers that escape like speculative fiction—fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and more.

But that vivid imagination can follow us through the years, as we become adults. One psychologist drew an interesting comparison: “The joys of becoming caught up in entertainment are a big part of what many of us live for. In this sense, we are like those of firm religious faith who believe that a genuine paradise awaits them, except that we don’t even have to die to get there.”

As the narrative of our stories transport us to other realms—realms filled with monsters and aliens, wizards and space captains, heroes and villains—we step outside the limits imposed upon us by society and stretch the boundaries of “possible”. Even if we have to return to Planet Earth when we close the pages of our books, we know those worlds of impossibility are still there, waiting for us.

And, as we mature through our adult years and enter the later stages of life, that hunger for imagination follows us. We think back to our “glory days”, when we were young and strong and carefree. When we read about mighty heroes and warriors of renown, we get that sense of “I was like that once”. It brings back memories of the good times and the bad, and gives us hope that we had a live worth living.

From birth to death, cradle to the grave, imagination and the realms of fiction give us a way to step beyond our limits and experience something marvelous!

Space Opera – Are You a Fan?

by Milo James Fowler

The original Star Wars trilogy, Star TrekBattlestar GalacticaBuck Rogers, even comedies like Galaxy Quest and Guardians of the Galaxy are all examples of space opera, which, according to Merriam Webster, is “a futuristic melodramatic fantasy involving space travelers and extraterrestrial beings.”

Notice how it’s not referred to as science fiction? Probably because there isn’t a whole lot of actual science in this fiction. According to the Urban Dictionary: “Generally speaking, [space opera] refers to an epic adventure in space that focuses less on the technical details and more on good vs. evil and action.”

That’s fine by me. Sure, I enjoy cerebral sci-fi too, but there’s just something about the swashbuckling bravado of space opera that makes me feel like a kid again. (Cue Star Wars theme.) Which is probably why I’ve written so many tales featuring Captain Bartholomew Quasar and company. I can’t get enough of this stuff, so I have to write it myself!

But not all space opera is science-free. One has only to look as far as Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series to see hard science coupled with the intergalactic trappings of classic spacefaring adventure stories. The Expanse series of novels by James S. A. Corey, while mainly character-oriented, includes plenty of real science in the fiction, as do the occasional space opera tales published by Analog every month. I find them just as enjoyable—maybe even more so, than the hard science stories. And while reading this variety of science fiction, I can’t help but feel like I’m being educated (or re-educated) in the process.

In the latest issue of Analog, James Gunn delineates what he perceives to be the difference between print science fiction and the variety we see on the screen. In many ways, the contrast is the same as that between space opera and traditional science fiction. Screen sci-fi (and space opera) is often about big ideas, character arcs, and genre tropes, while print sci-fi (hard science fiction) echoes more from the cutting edge science itself. Some critics have said that space opera stories could easily be recast as westerns if you took away the ships, lasers, aliens, and bounty hunters and replaced them with horses, pistols, natives, and banditos. The science just isn’t as integral to the plot.

Regardless, science fiction in all its forms looks at what’s ahead for humanity. Space opera in particular is often optimistic, for the most part. The Expanse and the latest incarnation of Star Trek can be dark at times, but there are still those characters we can get behind and root for. Sure, we’ll still have our struggles getting along with each other out in the deep black, but there will always be heroes to lead the way: kick-ass men and women like Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne from Firefly. And between you and me, those are the sort of folks I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

Because I’m a big fan of space opera—as long as we’re not talking about anything operatic—and I’m proud to say it’s here to stay.


Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. Over the past 5 years, his short fiction has appeared in more than 100 publications including AE SciFi, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and the Wastelands 2 anthology. Find his novels, novellas, and short story collections wherever books are sold.

http://www.milojamesfowler.com/