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.


Reading the ORU: Matthew Graybosch

Part 4: Throne Price - Okal Rel Saga

Part 4: Throne Price

Sent Matthew Graybosch ORU titles to say "thanks" for his collaboration. Sharing early feedback with permission. Throne Price is part 4 of the Okal Rel Saga, and the heaviest going of the ten.

"I'm currently on Chapter 3 of Throne Price. It's reminiscent of Dune, some of C.J. Cherryh's SF like Foreigner and her Faded Sun trilogy, and of C.S. Friedman's In Conquest Born. I normally read faster, but I'm taking my time to make sure I don't miss a cultural detail that will prove crucial to understanding the story."

-- Matthew Graybosch, author of Starbreaker, Curiosity Quills Press

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Ethics in SF #5: Joe Mahoney

This week Joe Mahoney takes us behind the scenes with a mini essay that addresses the topic of ethics in the marketing of Speculative Fiction.

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Joe Mahoney

Joe Mahoney is a broadcaster with the CBC, an author of short stories, and a member of SF Canada. His Blog, Assorted Nonsense, is online at

Ethics of Self-Promotion in Speculative Fiction

A while back I had the pleasure of meeting Speculative Fiction writer David Brin in Toronto at the World’s Biggest book store, where he was promoting a new collection of short stories. I’m a big fan. His book The Postman is one of my favourites, one of a handful of books I’ve read in a single sitting.

Lucky for me there were few people in the World’s Biggest that day, so I had little competition for Brin’s attention. We had a long, wide ranging conversation about many things, including Kevin Costner’s movie adaptation of The Postman, which is so inferior it may as well be based on a whole other book. Brin told me that the movie nailed just one element of the book, and that was the novel’s heart. Which, happily, was the one thing he would have chosen to get right, if he’d had a choice. (He also told me the production team never spoke to him once during the making of the movie, which is just sad, and no doubt contributed to the movie’s failure...and is an ethical question for another time.)

I purchased a copy of Brin’s short story collection, he signed it for me, and I left the bookstore with a positive feeling for the man. So, mission accomplished for Brin. He’d sold a copy of his book and assured the distinct possibility of future sales, all in a friendly, warm fashion. It was a successful soft sell.

Some time later I attended a science fiction convention, where at one of the convention’s ubiquitous parties I met Brin again. To my surprise, he remembered me, and ushered me aside to a quiet place where we could talk. I wondered what he could possibly want to talk about. It turned out he had just finished his latest project, a graphic novel, and he wanted to show it to me. This time when we parted I thought, gee, that was unfortunate. I had felt like all he wanted to do was promote his work. It felt crass. I was disappointed in the man.

However, I did not persist in this opinion. For one thing it would have been hypocritical of me. I had recently produced an SF radio show, a copy of which I’d sent to Brin. He had been quite generous, not only taking the time to listen to the show but responding with positive comments. For another, Brin seemed genuinely excited about his new graphic novel, hot off the presses. Who could fault a guy for that? And if he was in fact just flogging his work...well, he was only doing what he had to do.

Because there is a fundamental difference between David Brin and me. I have a full time job. I draw an annual salary. I’m not particularly hungry or concerned about my future (although in this economy perhaps I ought to be). When I write, I do so for pleasure, not because I absolutely have to. I am not required to self-promote, whereas a full time writer like Brin makes a living on what he writes. His income is based on selling sufficient copies of his work. It’s a job requirement to continually flog his wares. And it’s not fair for someone in my position to judge him harshly for that.

Or is it?

Is it possible to promote one’s work (or one’s self) too much? Is any amount of self-promotion justified? If no one gets hurt it can’t ever be unethical, right? Except -- what if your self-promotion backfires, turning people off, ultimately hurting yourself? What about writers who are better than you, but not as good at self-promotion? Is it right that you should succeed while they do not?

I’ll leave you to ponder these questions while I go check out Brin’s latest bit of perfectly justified self-promotion. (You can follow him on Twitter too: @DavidBrin1).

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

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Books as Canvas and 10 Things to Do Before I Die

Book Discards

Story of a dicarded book

The Stimulus Last time I was on the phone to ORU contributor Craig Bowlsby, who works in the 2nd hand book business, he mentioned seeing my books show up among the heaps of those getting cleared out or re-purposed. And I wondered: Does a book in this position still possess the power to connect two minds? Days later, while visiting with SFU colleague and dance-performance polymath Kathryn Ricketts at her office on SFU's Woodward's campus, I idly picked up a slim, hardcover book with a plain blue cover and began to read it while waiting for Kathryn to return from a chore. By the time she got back, I was hooked on Daniel Ehrenhaft's 10 Things to Do Before I Die.  I saw myself in think-too-much Nikki with the soulful eyes and wanted to know what guilt-by-self-assocation-troubled Ted Burger would make of his life: whether or not he'd been poisoned by french fries. When Kathryn returned, I learned the slim blue book was a discard destined for [defacement | creative re-purposing] (pick one) through its participation in some rather cool "book as canvas" activities. She loaned it to me and I devoured it before going to bed that night. It was a good read. I suppose I'll give it back to her because my life at the moment will only support a small book shelf. And who knows?  Maybe this particular copy of 10 Things to Do Before I Die has a better chance of snagging another reader waiting to be re-purposed than sitting on my book shelf. As to my own books, I can only hope they manage to brush minds with someone like me as they make their way through many hands. And that they end re-purposed rather than simply thrown out. Book as Canvas: Celebration or Insult?
Re-purposing books as canvas

Re-purposing books as canvas

I have mixed feelings about the whole phenomenon of the book as canvas. No creator can control the receiver's reaction to a creation, of course, but I find myself startled by a response that destroys a book's role as a vector of distilled thought. Think about it this way: could a visual artist be comfortable seeing beautiful prints covered in words that destroyed the artist's vision?  Of course, no one has to care how I or any other book-person feels about anything: which is possibly the point. Books have dominated too long, for reasons that were not always good, and they are feeling the lash of frustrated creativity from other quarters.  I do believe "defacing" books can be a loving act, like wearing a book out with re-reading or drawing illustrations in the margins, but as I understand it, the 'book as canvas' phenomenon doesn't typically encourage anyone to relate to the content. So I suppose I find the whole thing fascinating in much the same way as I do the Bodies Exhibition. Ultimately, whatever our feelings might be, it is silly to imagine every print book will be revered in a world awash in them. Re-purposing is a good idea: from second hand book stores, to door stops, to books as canvases. But I will assert this much: it wouldn't be fun to [deface | re-purpose] a book if there was no [magic | power] in them to lend a tinge of [trespass | empowerment] to the act. That much is true, I think: whether the [magic | power] belongs to the past or will continue into the future, and regardless of whether it has been exercised more for good or evil, overall. And perhaps the bigger questions are only bogging down in emotional enganglements with the medium of self-expression. But that's a topic for another post. :-)
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Ethics in SF #4: Going Too Far

This week we take a break from guest features and let Lynda share her opinion on limits and going too far.

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Lynda WilliamsLynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga, published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. Part 7: Healer's Sword arrives in November 2011. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science.

Q. As an author, have you been feeling the pressure to send the 'extreme' message about your work to make it stand out? If so, take a moment to reflect, with me, on whether it might be time to acknowledge that some push back might be more exciting.

I just made a mistake that changed me. I approached a writer for an article on 'Ethics in SF' thinking I needed to frame questions in a bold way to encourage the person to identify limits. Why? Because I'd filtered what I heard said at a con through my presumption that 'extreme' is what everyone is striving for more of: darker psychology, more brutal betrayals, uglier sex and more violent death.

Okal Rel Universe
The ORU is a 10 novel series, published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I have done my share at exploring the nasty side of life, from the banal villainy of spoiled-brat H'Reth in The Courtesan Prince, to the self-conscious sadism of Ev'rel in Throne Price. I claim no moral high ground in the matter. But I have identified what disturbs me about the 'dark' trend in SF literature. The balance of power is shifting from glimpses of evil, briefly indulged and swiftly punished, to ones in which the transgressing character is exonerated and even glorified. Vampires can be cool people even if they have to murder innocents regularly. It's not their fault, they're predators. Horror should expose the stupidity of 'girl next door' values and adventure should demonstrate how life is futile and good guys die pointlessly.

Because that's life.

Amel admits as much, to himself, in Throne Price, when the worst is happening. But even then, he knows he would rather cling to his faith in better possibilities than accept a reality so ugly that existing in it has no value to him. If that's pathetic, rather than brave, then I'm pathetic because I feel the same about writing and consuming literature. Maybe I'm just dumb. Certainly, like Amel, I do not always win. But there's a win in this experience because I have decided it is time to open my eyes to the possibility other people might be equally troubled and the brave thing to do is to expose my offended sensibilities. Even to the extent of being 'uncool' if necessary.

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

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Food for #BAD11

What's World Food Day have to do with a science fiction saga about larger-than-life characters who fly around their universe in spherical ships by means of a faster-than-light technology called reality skimming? Well, partly I just wanted to link in with a good cause. I have always believed we should harness our genius, as humans, to make a better world, and a world in which no one starved to death would certainly be a better one. So I wanted to take part in Blog Action Day on the food theme. And there is an Okal Rel connection. I designed my saga's setting to personalize issues that troubled me and one result is the great value placed on the produce of "green worlds" as opposed to inorganic forms of wealth. It's easy to get hold of nearly any mineral if you can fly at FTL displacements all over the universe. But good planets are few and far between. And food is a valuable commodity. Sure, it's possible to grow it in vats in subterranean Gelion, the planet at the hub of the Sevolite empire, but there's never enough. Many places in the ORU depend on "groceries" flown in by reality skimming pilots from green worlds. In fact, in Part 6: Avim's Oath, it is disruption to food shipments that heats up tensions on FarHome, a so-called "brown world" -- habitable, but not verdant. Getting back to our world, it is good to see blogs unite behind a humanitarian idea. It fans the embers of my faith in that dream of progress improving the world, for all, and not just the powerful and greedy. Cheers.
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Ethics in SF #3: Nancy Jane Moore (2 of 2)

This week we conclude Nancy Jane Moore's two-part feature on Ethics in SF.

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Nancy Jane MooreNancy Jane Moore is the author of Changeling, originally published as part of the Conversation Pieces series from Aqueduct Press and now available as an ebook from Book View Café; Conscientious Inconsistencies, a collection from the UK press PS Publishing; and Flashes of Illumination, an ebook collection of short-short stories from Book View Café. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous print and ebook anthologies as well as in magazines ranging from The National Law Journal to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

She is a founding member of Broad Universe and of the online writers’ co-op, Book View Café, as well as being a member of SFWA. Currently she’s revising a novel at the request of an editor and working on a story for the third volume of the Book View Café Shadow Conspiracy steampunk anthologies. She blogs each Thursday on the Book View Café blog, and can be found on Facebook and Google+. See her author page at Book View Café.

Q. Doing the right thing can have a high cost. How do you make the pain real for your protagonists?

In “Gambit,” the main character ends up in serious trouble with the military authorities. There’s a chance she might get away with what she’s done, but only if it fits into a larger strategy. That’s a typical scenario for me: the character who does something right and ends up paying a price. In “Homesteading,” there’s the possibility that by doing the right thing she’s also done the most practical thing, made the choice that will make her safer. But neither she nor the reader know if that’s the way things will work out.

"Homesteading" appears in Conscientious Inconsistencies

My characters don't always do the “right thing,” but when I write stories like that, their decision haunts them as well. I've had my characters follow their orders, even when they thought they were wrong. They’ve decided not to rock the boat, even though they knew injustice was being done, because it would do no good and would only harm them. "Borders," which appeared in the anthology Treachery and Treason, and "In Demeter's Gardens," which appeared in the anthology Front Lines, are good examples of this. I suspect this is the kind of ethical challenge many of us confront in our daily lives: We see something wrong being done at work, for example, but we do little or nothing because taking a stand would likely harm us without righting the wrong.

Rocket Boys and the Geek Girls
Rocket Boys and the Geek Girls

But I’ve also been known to let the characters take a futile stand, even though the end result is painful. In "Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars," which appeared originally in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and has recently been reprinted in the Book View Café ebook anthology Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, my main character must choose between loyalty to the man she loves and loyalty to a man who fought alongside her in a failed revolution. She's on the run, and choosing the lover is not only her preferred choice, but choice that will keep her safe. By showing how much her lover means to her, I make not just the decision, but the aftermath, painful. In that story, she will suffer no matter which man she chooses.

As I think about it, when my characters are presented with a moral choice, odds are they’re going to suffer whether they do the right thing or the wrong one!

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

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