So, I do in fact have a tumblr. If you are a fan artist who wants me to notice Imperial Radch art, tumbl it and tag it and it’ll end up on my Pinterest board.

But, long story short, there are some things I say and do over there that don’t generally get posted here. Mostly silly, as it happens, but there was a recent concentration of silly that I figured I’d share outside of Tumblr.

So. This happened: The One Esk Annoying Song Playlist. Which is more or less what it says on the tin, but includes this:

And if Seivarden tries to start an earworm war, she has NO IDEA the forces she is unleashing.

Except that she probably does have some idea, because I have the feeling someone found out the hard way how long an ancillary decade can keep singing 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall.

“Wait!” says I. “Wait, I really want to share with you a thing from Ancillary Mercy at this point!” But I can’t, really, can I? Book’s not out till October and this is waaaaay to early for previews or teasers or what-have-you.

Well, maybe it is. But. So, I tumbled:

Actually, it was probably that song about the thousand eggs, hatching into chicks one by one by one by…

Oh, wait, nobody knows that song yet.

Which led to someone observing that it must be the Radchaai equivalent of “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” and then I thought to myself, well, in for a penny and besides it’s not actually much of a spoiler and I’m having too much fun, so. For your delectation, The Egg Song:

1000 eggs all nice and warm
Crack crack crack! A little chick is born
Peep peep peep peep! Peep peep peep peep!

I suggested that I might release one verse a day until AM comes out.

Then this happened. Content warning: pictures of adorable fuzzy chicks, plus non-Twinkle Mozart earworm link.

And then I got to thinking more, which is a hazard, and this happened. Content warning: delicious marshmallow chicks, plus silliness.

Peep peep peep peep!

But then, I thought, all those identical Peeps. Oh. Of course.

And then, also of course, this.

I probably got all there was to get out of that. I am not going to promise not to make any more Ancillary Peeps jokes, though, because really, why would I do that. I will say that Peeps are only available during Easter, which is almost upon us, and so once the sun sets on Half Price Easter Candy Day and all my Anaander Peepanaais and Peepsarwats meet the inevitable fate of delicious marshmallow chicks, I won’t actually be physically able to for another year.

I said this just now on Twitter, and I’ll say it here, too, for maximum reach.

Word to the wise: when a venue changes editors, you want to double check the guidelines–do they still say what they said before? What are the changes?

And double check contracts. If you’ve sold there before and think you know what’s in the contract, you might not.

In my experience, nine times out of ten nothing changes in guidelines or contracts. Maybe tweaks to the guidelines, right? But that tenth time, you might see something that would give you pause. And never take that contract for granted.

So, the other day I was ranting to a friend about how much I’d hated the godsforsaken five paragraph essay torture they put high school and college students through (in the US, at least) over and over again. And then I clicked on some article or other where someone said something like “Oh, see, you have to know the rules in order to break them!” and I banged my head against the desk for ten or fifteen minutes because I hate that, too.

And then it occurred to me that it’s that stupid E-comp class that made me so vehement about the whole “rules of writing” thing. (Spoiler: THERE ARE NONE. Don’t trust anyone who tells you otherwise.) I think it must have been.

So, it’s like this: that five paragraph essay structure? It is never used outside the classroom. (Okay, once, a couple years out of college, I happened to pick up an issue of Student Life that was lying around (I worked at my alma mater’s faculty club for several years, right out of college. In a pinch I could probably still wait tables and tend bar) and saw a movie review that was, I shit you not, in five paragraph form. I actually laughed aloud at it.)

So, aside from undergrads writing for school papers who have taken the form way too seriously, nobody except undergrads writing papers for class writes that sort of essay. It is useless for anything else.

And if it were just a question of specificity, that wouldn’t bother me. There are a number of forms that are only used for one particular sort of thing, in one particular field. Query letters? I had to learn to write a query letter, and it’s a form that I will never use for anything else, ever. No sweat.

No, the problem is, it’s presented as “this is how you write a good essay. This is how you write clearly.” And then you’re given things to read, that are meant to be models of clear writing, or good essays.

That part, actually–the reading models and examples–I am a hundred percent behind. It’s how I learn to write things, to be honest. When I needed to write a query letter, I read the Query Shark archives from beginning to end. Not all of those examples are good ones, but Query Shark comments on every single one of them. Where they work, where they don’t. By the time I was done, I knew what sort of thing I needed to produce.

When I decided to try my hand at short fiction, I went and got the most recent Dozois years best antho out of the library and read it cover to cover. Yes, I even scanned the honorable mentions. Then I went and got the one from the year before. And got some issues of Asimovs and F&SF. And…basically, I read short SF until my eyes bled.

So hooray for giving students models! Except for one thing–those essays handed to us to read, to see how a good essay was written? Not one single one of them was in that ugly-ass five paragraph form. I could not learn to write an ecomp essay by reading them.

Looking back, I’m sure there was nothing stopping me from just following the instructions (first do A, then do B, then C, type your name across the top and hand it in!). But the dissonance produced by the supposed examples that we were told to learn from and what we were actually specifically assigned to produce was distressing to me–I couldn’t resolve it. And I was given no access to my (I realize now) preferred method of learning how to write something–that is, I was not given a sheaf of grade A five paragraph essays to sit down and digest. The instructors all seemed to think they were doing this, though, with the reading assignments they were giving us.

This didn’t matter to most of my classmates. They read and wrote as assigned, with no feelings of contradiction or distress. And I’m not sure why it bothered me in this class, where it didn’t bother me in others–it’s quite common, for instance, for the “rules” presented in elementary and high school grammar instruction to flat out not match actual well-written or well-spoken English, and this was something I’d noticed fairly early on, but had realized quickly that if I just kept my head down, replied as requested in class and on tests, and not worried about it otherwise, I’d be okay. Of course, I had the advantage of already speaking a prestige dialect of American English so the deviation wasn’t as large as it could have been, and I didn’t worry too much whether my English was “proper” or not.

But when I first encountered that five paragraph essay, in high school? The huge mismatch between that and the actual examples of good writing presented to us was almost painful.

I struggled on through, of course. I tried the “keep my head down and follow the instructions” course, but it never quite worked. I couldn’t feel the form in the way I wanted, and could not, as a result, produce very good examples of it. Then again, the occasional “just put some writing on the page” assignments always got high marks and prompted my high school English teachers to sigh sadly at my wasted potential, my obvious lack of application the rest of the time.

I began to notice more and more, where people would say “Things work like X” but, in fact, they didn’t actually work much like X at all. And yet, somehow, no one seemed to notice, people just kept saying “Things work like X” even when it was not working anything like X right in front of their faces. This is really very common, actually.

Anyway. Fast forward to my decision to try short fiction. I had two means by which to learn to write short fic–advice from various sources and the fiction itself. And just like freshman comp, there was a huge mismatch between what the advice said and what I was seeing in the actual fiction–fiction that was allegedly the best of all the short SFF produced in that year.

So, if you’re a writer trying to get published, you already know what those rules are. You’ve heard them over and over again. Maybe you’re trying to follow them. Maybe you’ve got enough verve in your writing to have gotten somewhere by following them, but maybe you haven’t gotten quite as far as you wish you would. I’m going to suggest that you have been doing the equivalent of sending out five paragraph essays, or mild variations thereof.

I have seen these, in slush. These are the subs that, sometimes, an editor or slushreader will say, “No, actually, most of the subs I get aren’t that bad. They’re well-written and all, they just don’t shine, they just aren’t quite there. That’s the majority of my slush.” It is. Yes, it is. It is sub after sub of the exact same form told in the same way with the same techniques following the same “rules” over and over and over again. Oh, there are minor variations. After all, if you know the rules well enough you can break them! And I know from conversations in various places that there’s a lot of concern about whether or how to break such rules. I cannot tell you how often I have privately headdesked after overhearing yet another conversation about whether it’s permissible or advisable to do a whole novel in first person, or how desperately someone is trying to avoid pure exposition, or the difficulty of omniscient POV and the inadvisability of trying it. I’ve seen writers lectured on how novels must be structured in a particular way, or particular things must be present in the first chapter.

And rather like the elementary school “rules” of grammar, quite a few writers never actually follow those rules, but they carefully hand them on to new writers, insisting they’re useful and true, that if you know them well enough you can break them. That when you can’t actually map those rules onto more than maybe one or two (if any) of the stories in the year’s YB anthos, or the stories that you yourself love best, that’s because those writers “knew how to break the rules” and besides “the exception proves the rule.” Except, when most of the year’s best stories break the rule, how much of a rule is it? And “proves” in that proverb doesn’t mean “establish the truth of.” It means “tests.” After so many failed tests, how is it the rule still stands?

I suspect that if I hadn’t been faced with that weird disconnect in high school and college I might not have noticed. I also suspect that if I’d had just a bit more confidence in school, I’d have just written whatever the hell I wanted and turned it in. To be entirely honest, I got much, much better grades on college papers in general than I did in freshman comp–there was no requirement I stick to that stupid form, and suddenly I started getting As on papers. From my vantage point now, I suspect I could have done that for most of freshman comp, too, and done much better. I wonder if the teachers would have even noticed I wasn’t following the template?

I know that five paragraph essay form has a specific historical origin and context, and I don’t necessarily object to teaching the form itself. I just wish teachers were more up front about what its purpose and context is, or were more aware of it, and aware of the ways that to at least some students, that mismatch between examples and what’s being asked for in writing assignments is really difficult to navigate.

And I wonder if being up front about that might not help more students learn the things that course is trying to teach? I suspect it would. I am not a teacher, though, and have no expertise there.

Anyway. Because it was such a pain in the ass to me, I’ve ended up with a severe allergy to similar sorts of writing advice in the world of fiction. Or, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. So, you can blame all my “there are no rules!” rants on Sister Sheila (God rest her), and my college comp instructors.*

___

*Instructors, not instructor. I failed my actual first attempt at Freshman Comp, and had to take it again the next year. I’d done it twice in high school and hated it. The second time would allegedly get me college credit–but my college flatly refused to let any student skip e comp. And I’d had more than I could stand already. I managed to pass the second time by the skin of my teeth. Like I said, in hindsight, I realize I probably could have winged it and gotten a decent grade. I didn’t have the confidence to do that, though, and ended up with a long-simmering repressed urge to burn freshman comp to the ground.

**Yes, that means that I, who won multiple awards for my first novel, failed freshman comp in college. And got lackluster grades in high school English, for that matter. If it helps you to know that, I am, as always, happy to be of assistance.

Disclaimer! Ferrett is a friend of mine, who I met when I bought his (Nebula nominated!) story “Sauerkraut Station” for GigaNotoSaurus.

Anyway. Ferrett has a book coming out on Tuesday! It’s called Flex (amazon|B&N|Indiebound|Powells|Kobo)

So, I got to read Flex some months ago. In fact, I fully intended to blurb it, but the best I could offer was “Do you like magic? Do you like drugs? Donut-based psychological theories? Video games? Do you like PAPERWORK!? Read this book!”

Yeah, I’m not so good at the blurbing thing.

So, in the world of Flex, the ability to do magic is a function of obsession. Are you a huge fan of something? Eventually your fan-ness will bend the universe around you. Except, of course, the universe will do its best to bend back, so using your abilities can be profoundly dangerous. For extra, super danger, you can distill that magic into a drug–the titular Flex–that the un-magical can take, and really cause some havoc.

Paul Tsabo, the main character of Flex, works for an insurance company. He pushes paper–he is, in fact, of the firm belief that bureaucracy is (properly used, properly followed) the instrument of justice in civilization. You could argue the accuracy of this, but there are several things that I find really appealing about it. For starters, often in fiction (and in everyday conversation) the minutia of keeping things going–accounting, record keeping, cleaning, what have you–gets short shrift. Accountants are very nearly a byword for the unimaginative and uncreative. And yet. Where would we be without those things? Without paperwork and proper procedures for things, records of things, receipts and certificates and applications? No, don’t just unthinkingly say “way better off” because actually that’s unlikely to be true, not without a lot of other massive changes to our lives. Don’t forget that writing wasn’t invented for poetry or literature or even history–the oldest examples of writing that we have are receipts and inventories. Writing was invented for paperwork.

Paul’s intense focus on paperwork has made him a bureaucromancer. You’d think this was an insignificant sort of ability, but it’s not, not when so much runs on documentation and permits and forms. And he’s got a problem–his young daughter has been badly injured in a flex-related incident, and the insurance company doesn’t want to pay up. And this is where the Breaking Bad comparisons you may have seen come in. Except I so strongly disliked what little I saw of the characters in Breaking Bad that I couldn’t watch much of it. But I really liked Paul, and I loved the hardcore gamer (and consequently game-mancer) Valentine who he teams up with. Together, they…uh, make crime. And fight it!

Flex comes out Tuesday, like I said. Give it a read! It’s great fun.

It’s a huge honor to find my story closing out Podcastle’s Artemis Rising month. That story is “The Creation and Destruction of the World” which has not appeared anywhere previously. Yes, it’s a new story!

Well, sort of. I actually included this story in my application for Clarion West. Which means I wrote it more than ten years ago. This is the story that netted me my first, treasured non-form rejection (I am ever grateful to Jed Hartman for that!), and got lots of nice comments from editors. But no checks. At Clarion West, Andy Duncan, our week two instructor, said he’d enjoyed it very much and I should have no trouble selling it!

Yeah. Ten years pass.

Anyway, check it out! It’s read by Diane Severson and…y’all, she actually sang the songs! That’s her music, I didn’t write any for this! It’s pretty awesome, check it out!

So, I’ve known about this for a couple of days, but of course could say nothing. The ballot for the Nebula Awards is out, and Ancillary Sword is on it! Along with a lot of fabulous books and stories. Congratulations to all the nominees! It’s a great ballot. Rather like last year, I’m amazed at the thought that someone–some number of someones!–thought my book belonged among those others. It’s incredible to find myself in such wonderful company.

So, the shortlist for the BSFA Awards was announced on Friday. Turns out, Ancillary Sword is on it! Also a lot of fine work that you would be well-advised to check out. It’s an honor to find my book in such company.

Personally, I plan to get a lot of vicarious enjoyment out of this year’s awards season. It’s amazing and wonderful to have your work nominated for an award, even more so to actually win, and so I see a lot of delighted moments ahead of a lot of folks this year, and a lot of my knowing how that feels and being happy for them. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy the heck out of the BSFA nomination (excuse me while I do a little happy bounce), but there’s no way in seventeen hells this year is going to be anything like last year for me. And honestly, that’s a good thing.

In other award related news, the Kitschies shortlist was also announced on Friday. I have a particular fondness for the Kitschies, since that was my first award nomination ever, and I have a particularly happy set of thoughts for the folks whose first award nomination this might be. Most of this year’s Golden Tentacle titles are unfamiliar to me (though one I had just the day before gotten a copy of, it having been recommended to me as something particularly up my alley), and I suspect you wouldn’t go far wrong if you picked one or two of these to read.

Lastly! And also awards-related! I chanced across a conversation in which folks were thinking about award-eligible short fiction they might want to nominate, or at least consider nominating, and the possibility of my story “The Nalendar” being eligible in the novelette category was brought up. Someone else correctly pointed out that in fact, the issue of Uncanny Magazine in which it appeared came out this year, in 2015.

That is definitely the case–but as it happens, the story is a reprint. “The Nalendar” originally appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #36, in 2008. So it won’t be eligible even next year. I’m quite flattered that anyone finds the story worthy of award consideration, though. Thanks for that!

So, word on the street is that Jupiter Ascending is a hot mess. But remember Speed Racer? That nearly all the reviewers panned and a few years later folks were watching it on DVD for the lulz and went “Oh, wait, this is actually pretty good”? And they’d missed seeing it on the big screen? Which is a real pity because SR on the big screen was freaking awesome?

Right. Nothing was going to keep me away from Jupiter Ascending. We went to see it last night.

Now, I’m not any kind of reviewer or critic. I’m generally at a loss when it’s time for reviews. So I really won’t be able to tell you much more than “Gosh darn it, I really enjoyed that a lot!”

Well, I can tell you that you need to be willing to accept a high level of amazingly ridiculous and gorgeous stuff. The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time letting you know this. Basically, JA says to you, “Look, you see this giant ship we’re on? And the depthless abyss of ocean beneath us? And this rail, here, that would keep us from going overboard in a very large scale way? Yeah, fuck that rail. Let’s put on our antigravity rollerblades.”

I’ve seen reviews complain about Eddie Redmayne’s acting job here,but honestly, I enjoyed Redmayne, up to and including the pieces of scenery that stuck in his teeth. I’ve seen reviewers complain about the chewed scenery here, as though somehow that’s automatically bad, but all things in their place. This sort of thing really does call for tooth marks all over the set, if you ask me. The question isn’t “was scenery chewed?” but rather “how artfully, enthusiastically, and grandly was the scenery chewed?” It’s a matter of what mode you’re working in. And I’ve seen snickers about the “I like dogs” line, but in context actually it worked, at least for me. Various things weren’t explained during the course of the movie, and various things were just kind of thrown onscreen to be admired and enjoyed momentarily without accompanying explanation–yeah, so what? I admired and enjoyed, and while there’s a kind of SF that revels in explanations (and I enjoy that), this wasn’t that kind of SF–and I enjoy that kind, too.

And honestly, you know, it was obvious from the get-go that it was never meant to be a Serious Science Fiction Film of Great Seriousness. Honestly, I feel like complaining it’s filled with familiar motifs and over the top and silly in places is like being presented with a gigantic meringue-topped everyberry trifle and complaining that it’s the worst roast free range chicken you’ve ever tasted.

Okay, I’ll admit the “Bees recognize royalty” thing was a step too far even for me, but the rest? Pure meringue-covered, sabayon-drenched fun.

Now, this is not to say it’s perfect–the aforementioned royalty-detecting bees for one, and yeah, seems to me that screenplay was edited to within an inch of its life and various plot threads kind of appeared and disappeared. You will have to pay attention to make any minimal sense of the plot. Or not, if that’s not a thing for you.

But anyway. My advice–if you liked Speed Racer (inexplicably, not everyone did. I gather for some the colors and motion is headache inducing, which it’s understandable you wouldn’t enjoy that, I guess) anyway, if you liked Speed Racer (“yes, one racing team dresses like fake Vikings and has a beehive hidden in their car to launch at competitors. Just go with us on this!”) then you might be onboard for Jupiter Ascending. And if you’re half-thinking about maybe seeing it on DVD–see it now, on the big screen. Like SR, the visuals are half the experience.

Oh, but the previews beforehand. OMG. They just kept going on and on and they all were dreadful. There was this one, about some boy and some girl (there were title cards to helpfully let you know this, because otherwise you’d have taken the actors for adults) and she said “you make it seem impossible!” and some wise motherly figure advised our supposedly romantic lead that “if you don’t run after her you’re not the man I’ve taken you for” and about four hours into it I leaned over to the 15 yr old and said “This is endless. We’re in Hell.”

Anyway. Wretched previews or not, seriously, Jupiter Ascending was a lot of fun.