Magic systems and my world building process

Hi everyone, this is Aliette de Bodard peeking in from Paris. Charlie's been kind enough to let me borrow a spot on his blog while he recovers from jet lag (we both went to Worldcon in Spokane, but I have a big advantage over him: I wasn't in the US long enough and actually never really adapted to the 9-hour time difference, so when I came back I was basically functioning normally. On the minus side, I was a pumpkin in Spokane!). Anyway... *clears throat* Today, I wanted to talk about magic systems and how I built the one in my novel.

Magic systems, for me, are a bit like the air you breathe: I've found out (much to my dismay) that I can't start writing a story without having an idea of where the magic is coming from and who uses it. Magic conditions so much of the fabric of a fantasy universe for me that not working it out in advance feels a little like setting out across a blizzard without skis, warm clothes or a distress flare.

When it comes to magic systems, there is (of course) an entire spectrum between magic as the numinous, the fundamentally irrational and illogical (JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the magic of the sea in Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea), and magic as a quasi-rational system (Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere). The former, again, has a range between magic permeating the entire world (for instance, Elizabeth Bear's The Eternal Sky, where the celestial bodies hanging in the sky depend on which country one is in), and magic as an incursion, a break in the ordered surface of the world through which the numinous and outright scary can intrude (the eerie, quiet otherworld of Kari Sperring's The Grass King's Concubine is effectively contrasted with a gritty and very real Industrial Revolution). The latter, in turn, is what Brent Weeks characterises as an attempt to make magic closer to science, to prevent Deus Ex Machina endings aka getting characters out of any scrape: it sets very clear limits on what magic can and cannot do.

This, of course, raises the issue of differentiating magic and science, notably when you happen to have both in the story. Very often, magic is the province of a select few: not always a hereditary system (though Adrian Tchaikovsky's Guns of the Dawn, for instance, has two magical ruling dynasties), but certainly one of chosen people, those born with magical abilities (Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time differentiates those who can be taught and those with the spark, who will express that talent without being taught, but it remains that you're either capable of magic or not). Science, in turn, is meant to be more "democratic", in that anyone can, for instance, operate a car, or be trained to be an engineer.

But is it? Affinity for science is also the province of a select few (you tend to be either good at, say, maths, or not); and, while you might not have cars in most fantasy books, they are replete with magical or quasi-magical artefacts which can be used regardless of whether you're a magic user or not.

A last major question is whether to have different magic systems: again, they can run the gamut between a unifying principle to various and completely disparate sources of magic. Two common medium points are different flavours of magic as the expression of the same underlying source (the various flavors of spree-magic in Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings), and different flavours of magic tied to different races such as humans and faeries (Kate Elliott's Cold Magic and sequels in the Spiritwalker trilogy). If there are different flavours of magic, they can be complementary (Fitz in Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy can use both the Wit and the Skill), or completely antithetical (wizardry vs artifice in Juliet McKenna's Tales of Einarinn: a wizard cannot become an artificer and vice versa).

I was very aware of those things when I developed the magic systems for my novel, The House of Shattered Wings. In particular, I wanted to tackle issues of power and abuses of power without leaning in too much on narratives of exceptionalism and chosen ones--which is a tricky maze to navigate!

I ended up settling on a two-tier magic system. In the novel, Fallen (angels) are amnesiac magic users, with an affinity for magic which means that they're natural magicians (much like humans are natural at standing up on two legs). The twist is that Fallen are also walking magical sources: they can pass on their magic to anyone with a breath or a touch; or it can also be harvested from their body parts. The opening scenes of the novel have people hacking off fingers from a newly Fallen to sell them on the black market, and someone else stealing off Fallen bones to distil them into angel essence, a potent drug that grants enormous magical power (and rots the lungs as a side-effect, because what good is magic if there's no price?). So you can be a Fallen and be a "natural" at magic, or you can be anyone and have access to borrowed power (and some human magicians are pretty freaking powerful, because they're more desperate and driven than Fallen).

I also made this magic an integral part of the world rather than an incursion: the novel is set in an alternate, turn of the century Paris devastated by a magical war. In this dystopian universe, magic becomes a precious resource and a contributing factor to the safety of refuges. The main structure of the society is Houses, magical factions (generally headed by Fallen but not always) which offer safety and power in the ruins. I made the choice to leave it partly numinous, but with clear limits such as the absence of instantaneous healing spells, in order to evoke sense of wonder without coming off as though I were cheating. The clearest limit I actually gave on magic was the equilibrium of terror (a la Cold War): factions limits themselves on the use of magic because overuse of it already triggered a first, devastating war that no one really wants a repeat of.

The other thing I did with the book--as you might have guessed!--was running parallel magic systems. I wanted to avoid folding everything into the same overarching principle, in part because that had always felt too neat to me, and also more than slightly problematic when said magic was derived from Christianity. I set up my second magic system as a deliberate counterpart to the first. Instead of Falling down to earth and being granted magical powers, essentially by amnesia, my second system involves tiên (Vietnamese Immortals, based on Daoism).

It is not by birth, but by choice: anyone with the willpower to do the required initiation can gain access to it, and ascension to Immortals is essentially based on knowledge. Rather than be the province of ageless, deathless beings from Heaven, it raises ordinary humans to Heaven; rather than be given in scraps to other people, it can only ever be achieved for one's own self. I use this one as a contrast and counterpoint, but also as a source of similarity: as one character points out in the book, once ordinary people have attained immortality, they're as prone to arrogance and lack of compassion as powerful Fallen. I guess one of my not-so-secret themes for the book was how power changes and sometimes corrupts (a venerable tradition in fantasy, aka the Lord of the Rings approach).

(I also mention a lot of other magic systems that essentially got erased by Fallen domination, but don't go into detail on them).
So that's my magic system, and how I got there. What are your favourite magic systems, and what do they entail?

Introducing guest blogger: Aliette de Bodard

(Charlie here. The season of guest bloggers continues with Aliette de Bodard, an incredibly talented writer, who I unaccountably forgot to introduce at the same time as Fran Wilde.)

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. She studied Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, but moonlights as a writer of speculative fiction. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories, which garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Recent/forthcoming works include The House of Shattered Wings (August), a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, and The Citadel of Weeping Pearls(October), a novella set in the same universe as her Vietnamese space opera On a Red Station Drifting. She lives in Paris with her family, in a flat with more computers than warm bodies, and a set of Lovecraftian tentacled plants intent on taking over the place.

Not-so-Invisible Ninjas

Or: Recent and Upcoming Debuts in Fantasy and Science Fiction... that just happen to be written by women.

Charlie invited me to come by and join in the posts helping those who may not already be in the know to find the wealth of writers who also happen to be female that they can't otherwise find when they are writing those excellent "where are all the women writers of fantasy and science fiction" posts.

I began to make a list of 'next-generation writers' who also happen to be women. (Since we don't write with our gender identities or genitalia, I figured it would be fine to not modify the word "writer," but for the search engines, I'll add it at in the end, so you know, they can find us. When they look.)

The problem seemed to be that there were so many of us who were otherwise hard to find! The entire list would crash the Internet out of pure hard-to-findness! And so Charlie set me a boundary, limiting me to 20, leaving off many excellent writers. I've thus kept this list focused on 2014 and 2015 English-language debut books in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and YA SFF. Many of these authors have new books coming out in 2015 and 2016 as well. I'll let the comments about those I've not put on this very short list stand as a reminder to you that we are NOT, in fact, hard to find.

  • Andrea Phillips - Revision (Fireside Fiction 2015) Science fiction
  • Zen Cho - Spirits Abroad (Fixi Novo, 2014) Linked short stories/Fantasy
  • Silvia Moreno Garcia - Signal to Noise (Solaris 2015), Fantasy/Slipstream
  • Ilana C. Myer - Last Song Before Night (Tor, 2015) Fantasy/Epic
  • Stephanie Feldman - Angel of Losses (Ecco, 2014) Historical Fantasy/Slipstream
  • Genevieve Cogman - The Invisible Library (Tor, UK) Fantasy/Alternate Worlds
  • Beth Cato - The Clockwork Dagger (Harper Voyager, 2014) Steampunk
  • Alyc Helms - The Dragon of Heaven (Angry Robot, 2015) Fantasy
  • Karina Sumner-Smith - Radiant (Talos, 2014) Fantasy
  • Stacey Lee - Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015) Alt-Historical Western, fantasy
  • Sabaa Tahir - An Ember in the Ashes (Razorbill, 2015) YA Fantasy
  • Jacey Bedford - Empire of Dust - (Daw 2014) Fantasy
  • Susan Murray - The Waterborne Blade (Angry Robot 2015) Fantasy
  • Carrie Patel - The Buried Life (Angry Robot, 2015) Fantasy
  • Heather Rose Jones - Daughter of Mystery (Bella, 2014) Romance/Historical Fantasy/Queer
  • Nicola Yoon - Everything, Everything (Delacorte, 2015) YA Science Fiction
  • A.C. Wise - The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again (Lethe 2015) Linked short stories/Sci-fi/Queer
  • Monica Byrne - The Girl in the Road (Crown, 2014) Science Fiction
  • Camille Griep - Letters To Zell (47 North, 2015) Fantasy
  • me - Updraft (Tor, 2015) Fantasy

As I stipulated above, this list is defined purely by time, debut-status, and the number 20.

I'd love to add the writers who debuted in the years before us - including but not in any way limited to: N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Marjorie Liu, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Jodi Meadows, Genevieve Valentine, Justina Ireland, Jaime Lee Moyer, Stina Lecht, Jacqueline Koyanagi, V.E. Schwab, Mur Lafferty, Nene Ormes, Sarah McCarry, Leah Bobet, Natania Barron, Aliette de Bodard, Emma Newman, Alyx Dellamonica, Jaye Wells, Emily St. Jon Mandel, Kameron Hurley, Charlie Jane Anders...

AND the writers who came before that, including Nnedi Okorafor, Elizabeth Bear, Nisi Shawl, Kate Elliot, Kandace Jane Dorsey, Jo Walton, Martha Wells, Laura Anne Gilman, Amanda Downum, Gwenda Bond, Suzanne Collins, Nalo Hopkinson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Sarah Monette, Naomi Novik, Caitlín R. Keirnan, Rae Carson, Linda Nagata, Catherynne Valente, Kelly Link, J.K. Rowling,...

And those who came before that: Emma Bull, Judith Tarr, Elizabeth Lynn, Jo Clayton, Robin Hobb, Suzy McKee Charnas, Pamela Dean, Ellen Kushner, Brenda Cooper, Tanya Huff, Janet Morris, Robin McKinley, Michele Sagara, Tricia Sullivan, Delia Sherman, Sherwood Smith, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Karen J. Fowler, Cecelia Holland, Nicola Griffith, CS Friedman ...

And the Grands and Great Grands and so on, like Pat Cadigan, Joan D. Vinge, Margaret Atwood, Kate Willhelm, Jane Yolen, Connie Willis, Andre Norton, Nancy Kress, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Doris Pischeria, C. L. Moore, Carol Emshwiller, Leigh Brackett, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., Anne McCaffrey, Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken, C. J. Cherryh, Andre Norton ... all the way to Mary Shelley and beyond. AND everyone here:, here:, and here:

AND the coming wave of 2016: here are just a few - Ada Palmer, Laura Elena Donnelly, Mishell Baker, Malka Older... And the editors. And the critics. And the publishers.

And and and... (honestly, I asked five friends to list their favorites and after fifteen minutes had to beg them to stop because my buffers overflowed.)

Oh my goodness, you would think it hard to find women writing fantasy and science fiction given those blog posts and articles.


How I learned to stop worrying and love the concept of punitive slating....

Hi ho, Elizabeth Bear here, coming to you with a special report from deep in the wilds of eastern central North America, just underneath the left end of that wobbly looking blue bit that looks kind of like a kersplotchy asterisk. And I'm here at Charlie's Diary today to talk about slate voting for the Hugos, and what some potential developments of its tactical use mean to the individual artist.

By slate voting, in this case, I mean the practice of some person, generally an internet pundit or personality of some sort with an interest in the outcome of the Hugos, presenting an organized "slate" of nominees consisting of exactly as many nominees as there are nomination slots on the ballot. This, if the organizer can manage to procure a fairly small minority of voters, can have the effect of driving all disorganized (that is to say, non-slated) works off the ballot, because those non-slated candidates are being simply chosen by people who liked their work best out of the available options and weirdly enough, different people tend to like different things.

Slate or bloc voting is not technically forbidden under the rules. But I think it's damned poor sportsfanship, and the Hugo outcome indicates that an overwhelming majority of my fellow fans, of nearly all political stripes, agree.

This is what happened with the Hugos this year. The Hugos have a built-in nuclear option fail safe, the "No Award," option, by which the voters (self-selected members of the World Science Fiction Society, who pay a membership fee that includes voting privileges) can deal with either works they deem unworthy of the nomination, perceived cheating, or both. It was deployed heavily this year to counteract the slates. As a result of the slates a number of works were never given a chance at consideration—including a very good story by the late Eugie Foster that may have been her last chance at a Hugo nomination—and as a result of the "No Award" option, a number of Hugos simply were not handed out.

While there are some rules changes in the works to make it all more difficult to pull off in the future, they will take an additional year to ratify because that's the way the World Science Fiction Society constitution works, so the 2016 Hugos have the same vulnerabilities as the 2015 ones did.

I'm not particularly concerned at this juncture by the Rabid Puppies' threat to "No Award" every category in the Hugos, because in my opinion they just can't marshal the votes. (It takes a lot more individual ballots to force a "no award" than it does to get something on the ballot in the first place.)

And I'm not particularly concerned by a repeat performance of an all-slate ballot, because I suspect that it'll be hard for the people who failed to push a slate winner through in 2015 to muster a lot of interest from the people they recruited this year to drop an additional $40 to vote next year. (I could be wrong. I often underestimate the human capacity for spite. But I wouldn't do it, in their shoes, over something I have no particular emotional investment in.)

Also, with a little luck, most of the record ~6000 Hugo voters (or even better, most of the record ~11,000 Worldcon members!) this year will turn out and nominate and vote, which would be an absolute game-changer for the awards, their legitimacy, and their relevance. It could be a renaissance for the Hugos, in point of fact, and the deliciousness of that emerging out of attempts to co-opt or destroy the awards is indescribable.

There's my preference right there: If you love science fiction and fantasy and you have the money for a supporting membership, or if you already signed on in 2015, please please please if you read something you like, nominate it. You don't have to nominate in all categories. You don't have to read everything published. The nomination process is specifically designed to create a consensus out of the partial knowledge of many people, and the more people who participate, even with partial knowledge, the better it works.

And once you've nominated something, tell your friends you liked it. I have absolutely no problem with Hugo rec lists, Hugo "Here's my ballot" posts, or even Hugo "Here's what I have eligible this year" posts. Those are not slates, and they don't concern me in the slightest, because they do not act to spoil and thwart the process in the way that slates do.

There are two things I am concerned about. One is other concerned groups in fandom mustering and voting their own slates, in direct competition with the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates. (Assuming there is going to be a Rabid Puppy slate next year, rather than just an attempt to block vote No Award on every category, as threatened. Based on the existing evidence, the Rabid Puppies and internal consistency are not exactly chocolate and peanut butter.)

I think this is a terrible idea, for exactly the same reasons I think the Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy slates are a terrible idea, and I cannot support it.

The other is the concept of punitive slating. I have talked with a lot of the Sad Puppy voters, and I really believe that many of them were acting in good faith and voting for work they really liked. I don't believe they'd go in for this.

The Rabid Puppies, though, are self-declared reavers out to wreck the Hugos for everybody. I think their organizer Vox Day has made himself a laughingstock, personally—he's been pitching ill-thought-out tantrums in SFF since before 2004, and all he ever brings is noise. But he and his partisans seem to be too ego-invested to admit they're making fools of themselves, so they'll never quit.

So it's totally possible that the Rabid Puppy organizers and voters, in the spirit of burning it all down, would nominate a slate consisting of the sort of vocal anti-slate partisans who could conceivably swing legitimate Hugo nominations on fan support, having a track record of the same.

I'm talking about people such as our good host Charlie Stross, John Scalzi, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and myself. Or just, you know, people they hate—the categories overlap. The goal here would be to then attempt to either force us to withdraw or refuse nominations to prove our lack of hypocrisy, or for fandom to again No Award the whole process. This is the Human Shield option, which—in a slightly different application—is what led to the inclusion on the Rabid Puppy slate of uninvolved parties such as Marko Kloos, Annie Bellet, Black Gate, Jim Minz, and so on in 2015.

This possibility concerns me a bit more, but honestly, I think it's pretty easy to manage. First of all, I'm going to state up front that I will never willingly participate in a slate. If I learn that I have been included on a slate, I will ask to be removed, and I will bring as much force to bear on that issue as I legally can.

Additionally, I'm going to rely on the discretion of readers and fans of goodwill, who I think are pretty smart people. If you see my name on a slate, please assume that it's being done by ruiners to punish me, and that whoever put it there has ignored my requests to remove it. I have nothing but contempt for that kind of behavior, and I'm frankly not going to do anything to please them at all.

My colleagues, of course, are free to deal with the situation as they see fit, up to and including refusing nominations. As for me, well—while I reserve the right to turn down an award nomination at my discretion, I'm not about to be forced into it by the action of trolls and reavers. I expect my readers to be able to make up their own minds about my work, and decide for themselves if it's worthy of an award or not, and vote accordingly in a fair and sportsfanlike fashion.

I expect Charlie's fans—that would be you guys, reading this on his website—can manage to do the same.

New guest blogger: Fran Wilde

I'm still recovering from jet lag. But in a desperate attempt to hang on to your attention—and to continue the discussion on women in SF that kicked off here over the past month—I've invited another guest blogger, first-time novelist Fran Wilde. Her first novel, Updraft, debuts from Tor Books on September 1, 2015. Fran's short stories have appeared at, Asmiov's Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, and Nature. Fran can program digital minions, set gemstones, and tie a sailor's knotboard. She also interviews authors about food in fiction at Cooking the Books, and blogs for GeekMom and SFSignal. You can find Fran at her website, Twitter, and Facebook: and, shortly, here.

A Storm Of Stories

Filmmaker and comic author Hugh Hancock here again. Charlie's in mid-flight over the Atlantic at present, so I'm here to entertain you in his stead. And I brought statistics.

How many notable feature films can you think of that came out last year? Really good, solid movies?

Take a moment. Count. Maybe make a list.

How about really good TV shows, or computer games? Again, make a quick list.

I'll explain why we're doing all this list-making in a minute.

I've been considering the state of storytelling media in 2015 for a little while now, and one thing keeps cropping up in my personal media consumption: I'm consuming more media that wasn't released in the last year than ever before.

Indeed, my default reaction to something interesting arriving has become "I'll get around to it in a year or so".

So I started digging to find out why.

How Many GOOD Stories Are Being Released?

It's become a truism to say that there is a lot stories - in every storytelling artform - being created than has ever been the case before. </p> But the sheer scale of the influx is still pretty astonishing. </p> Since this time last year:</p>
  • 9,992 new feature films have been completed, according to IMDB.
  • 5,000 new seasons of TV shows have been released. It's hard to figure out how many of them are fiction, but it's almost certainly over 1,000.
  • 5250 games were released on Steam alone last year. Across all platforms there wasn't a single month where less than 1,000 games were released, according to Metacritic.
  • 4,445 books were released on Amazon in the SF&F genre alone. Across all fictional genres, 36,099 novels were released since this time last year.
To put it in perspective, assuming 8 hours a novel, you'd need 32 years reading non-stop - no sleep, no food, no toilet breaks - to read this year's output of fiction alone. </p> Now, my default assumption is that nearly all of those releases are crap. After all, they must be, right? If they were really good, I'd have heard of them. </p> Fortunately, it's very easy to check that, as all the outlets above have ratings. </p> I defined "crap" pretty harshly - anything that got less than a 70% rating:</p>
  • 1,374 of the feature films released last year scored above 70%.
  • 208 of the 600 "Drama" TV series scored above 70%. That implies at least 333 fiction TV series scored over that number.
  • 877 of the computer games listed on Metacritic scored over 70%.
  • Amazon's advanced search only shows 100 pages of results: at page 99, all the SF books were still listed with well over a 70% score. So that's over 1,200 novels in SF&F
Even excluding the last one, which looks a bit dubious, those are some remarkable results. 877 games in the last year that are at least worth a look? Over a thousand feature films?</p> OK, let's get harsh about this. How many of these are really notable? I reset the search results to anything getting above 8.5 / 85%, and tried again: </p>
  • 72 feature films released in 2015 are rated above 8.5 on IMDB. That's not just blockbusters with massive fan communities, either - fan favourites like Age Of Ultron often scored less than 8.5.
  • 35 drama series were rated above 8.5. Of the ones I've watched, all seem to be appropriately rated - I might not like "Mr Robot", but it's pretty clear it's universally acclaimed.
  • 114 games were rated above 85 on Metacritic. A couple of those look dubious (Arkham Knight? Really?), but most of them clearly deserve to be there: Pillars Of Eternity, Kerbal Space Program, et al.
  • And finally, approximately 300 SF&F books are rated above 4.5 - actually closer to 90% - from this year's crop.
And this is why I asked you to make a list at the start. </p> Those numbers are way higher than expected. Not the number of storytelling projects that are coming out - we know that there are tons of those, and we know why - but the number that are actually incredibly good. </p> There are at least three seperate fields that I've heard being referred to as being in a "golden age" right now - books, TV and games. (That's from the perspective of the consumer, not the creator.). </p> And this is where my perception that I'm consuming more of "last year's media" comes in. </p>

A Growing Tidal Wave

So how does a narratophile - someone who loves stories - react to this? </p> Well, let's do some crude modelling. Surveys put an American's total leisure time per day at 4.09 hours. </p> Let's assume that our narratophilic exemplar spends fully 50% of that leisure time doing nothing but consuming media. Let's further assume that she doesn't bother with anything created before 2015, or puts her "older media" consumption into the other half of her time. </p> In 2015, she has 750 hours. She's very picky, so she only bothers with media that fits our "truly excellent" criterion. And even then, she only fancies playing/watching/reading a small percentage of those admittedly excellent stories - let's say 35%. And furthermore, let's say she's a hardcore sci-fi fan, and simply isn't interested in reading any books outside the SF&F genre. </p> Given all of that, in 2015 she has: </p>
  • 49hrs of feature films, assuming 2hr average runtime.
  • 437hr of TV, assuming 10 hr for an average series.
  • 798hr of gaming, assuming 20hr of play time, on average, per excellent game. (It actually may be far longer, but we're being conservative here.)
  • 840hr of books, assuming 8 hours a book.
That's a total of 2124hr of entertainment to get through in one year. </p> So what does she do? Well, she reads/watches/plays some of it, but she puts much of it on a list of things she'd like to read/watch/play in future. </p> And then in 2016, assuming the same amount of output, she splits her choices between the stuff she has left over from 2015, and the new hotness in 2016. And in 2017, the same. And so on. </p> Here's how that looks: </p>
  • Year 1: 49 hr of feature films. 437hr of TV. 798hr of games. 840hr of books. 2124hr total. Has 750hr free time. Leaves 1374hr worth of consumption.
  • Year 2: 2124hr of new stuff + 1374hr of "leftover" from last year. Buys approx 3/5 as much new storytelling this year as last . At the end of the year, has 2748hr of media in her backlog.
  • Year 3: 2124hr of new stuff + 2748hr of leftover. Spends approx 2/5 as much on new stuff this year. Leaves 4122hr.
  • Year 4: 2124hr new, 4122hr leftover. Spends approx 1/3 as much on new stuff this year. Leaves 5496hr.
  • Year 5: 2124hr new, 5496hr leftover. Spends approx 1/4 as much on new stuff this year.
And that pattern's repeated over virtually all consumers. Sure, one person might be more into TV than games - but that just means that maybe they consume the top 60% of TV shows. Another's a gamer who doesn't care about all that "old media" - but they play all the top games.</p> And all of this is complicated further by the fact that the number of shows, games, novels and films that we can consider "elegible" to be viewed is far greater than just the top-reviewed ones. </p> The top-grossing films of the year so far - Jurassic World and Age of Ultron - were rated at 7.3 and 7.8 respectively on IMDB. Of the top-viewed TV shows, only one - Big Bang Theory - was at or above 85%. And the top-selling novels of the year so far are Go Set A Watchman (average review 3.6) and The Girl On The Train (4.0). Only in games were the two top-selling titles also top-reviewed - Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain and Grand Theft Auto V. </p> It's pretty clear that what the average viewer - or even a narratophile like me - considers viewable, playable or readable is considerably wider than just the top-reviewed offerings. There's a massive, growing tidal wave of amazing content for all of us to consume. So what effects can we expect that to have?</p>

The Impact Of The Awesome

Well, the first thing is obvious. Given this data, there's absolutely no question that there are hidden gems aplenty out there - games, films and TV shows which are good, but which aren't getting anywhere near mass exposure. </p> We might assume that getting a really positive response from consumers will still lift you above the masses - indeed, I've heard the argument time and time again that no really good games, films, books, etc are being ignored. </p> But a very brief look through the lists of media I've found above puts the lie to that. For example, how many of us have watched The Algerian, a massively-acclaimed, complex international spy thriller with a string of film festival awards? It's right up my alley and I'd never heard of it. </p> What about Over The Garden Wall, a dark animated series in the style of "Adventure Time", starring the voices of Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd amongst others? Reviews are dribblingly enthusiastic, with an average rating of 9.2. </p> Or Tomb Of Tyrants, a fascinating pattern-match / strategy cross-over game with 98% positive reviews on Steam and a small but very dedicated community? (EDITED - Juan Raigada pointed out my original example was flawed - thanks, Juan!) The backlog of genuinely fantastic storytelling that you've never heard of - and often no-one really heard of - and so quite often the creator's no longer creating or unable to get funding - is only going to grow, and it'll grow fast. </p>

So what does let stories succeed? Well, I've written about the power of modern-day myths before, and that's a large part of it. Note that of the best-selling stories I mention above, 5 out of 7 are sequels. And obviously, marketing is a large part of it.

Another way that games creators, novelists, and no doubt soon filmmakers are trying to cut through the noise and get noticed is by being featured in sales or bundle packages - Humble Bundle, Steam Sale, and so on. But the sheer volume of content means that consumers are increasingly arbitraging their purchases to get the sale price. There's a subreddit called Patient Gamers, with 60,000 current subscribers, devoted to just this phenomenon - gamers who wait until games become cheap, because they "just haven't had the time to keep up with the latest releases."</p> That has a double-whammy effect. Not only are your sales likely to be delayed, but where you might have originally expected to take in a $15 or $30 purchase price, you're now getting $5, $10 or less. </p> So how are readers, watchers and gamers reacting to this? Well, we might expect that with the deluge of new material, we'd start to see people individualising their purchases more, heading into sub-sub-genres that better fit their tastes. But that doesn't seem to be happening. It's easiest to see this in films, where peak box office numbers remain as high as ever. It's the middle tier of filmmaking that has been hollowed out in the last couple of decades, not the top: 4 of the top 10 box office numbers of all time have happened in the last 5 years, and it's 5 out of 10 if we extend to 2009 and "Avatar". </p> My theory - and it's only a theory - is that the deluge, plus the incorrect assumption that most of what's being created is now terrible, is meaning that people are actually sticking tighter to what they know. If there are only 20 SF novels a year from new authors, most SF fans will be willing to try a few of them. If there are 20,000 new SF novels, paradoxically, the sheer volume of choice and difficulty of knowing what to pick means that we just say "screw it" and re-read Accelerando instead. </p>

What's The Future Of Abundant Stories?

So what's going to happen? Well, in the near future, it'll be ever harder for new voices to break in. As my fictional narratophile above shows, after 5 years of this sort of output even people who do consume new authors or directors will be spending 1/4 of what they normally would. </p> On the upside, if you can hang in there for a few years as a new creator you'll see sales start to rise, even of your older stuff. It's absolutely no longer the case that 75% of the people who would ever buy your Thing will do so in the first year. </p> More optimistically, I expect to see some sort of breakthrough on discovery in the near future. As I've demonstrated above, at this point it's trivial to find and recommend really great material that your audience may not have heard of. This is already, to a certain extent, the model that's keeping games blogs like Rock, Paper, Shotgun in business, and I can see it extending to other media. (It's notable that of my examples above, the unknown movie has about 50 votes. The unknown game has 4,000. The games world is genuinely already better at discovery, even if it still has a long way to go.) </p> Unfortunately, for film and TV any kind of revolution in discovery will be incumbent on solving the entire distribution mess that's currently festering. Currently, as I've mentioned before, all the credible marketplaces for film and TV are a nightmare to get into. I couldn't even tell you how to watch "The Algerian", short of "Pirate Bay and hope". But sooner or later a big player is going to pull a Steam or a Kindle and just throw open the doors of a trusted platform to all comers in film or TV - and they'll make an absolute killing. </p> And I suspect we'll see an increased segmentation in the landscape, but not along more narrowly-defined genre lines. People will be looking for fault-lines between which to pitch their own personal fan tents, and ways to differentiate the media they do want to consume from the media they don't. We're already seeing genres segment along political lines, of course. In film some of the most successful indie directors are those serving niche communities that don't get much love from the mainstream - faith-based, LGBT, etc. </p> Rather than a sub-nicheing, I think we'll see more of this sort of segmentation, both around core values like sexuality, religion and politics, and around practical issues like income, available time, and multiplayer preference. There's already effectively a "job simulator" genre in gaming - EVE Online, grindy MMOs, etc - and a rapidly growing "I have 15 minutes and I want to play a quick game of something" genre too. Hundreds more "practical genres" like that are waiting to be created. </p> And in the long term? In the long term, we're going to be in a weird place. There will be more active storytellers producing media per head of the population than there have been for a few hundred years - arguably since the age of the Skald or the bards. We're already at a point where - just looking at the stats above - there is about one working novelist per 20,000 people in the English-speaking world, and about one game developer and one filmmaker per 60,000. Those numbers aren't going down, despite the difficulty of finding an audience. </p> We might end up with a society where one in a thousand people is producing professional-quality, professional-length art of one kind or another. If we get Universal Basic Income, that'll put a rocket under the entire process. </p> At that point, we really will be back to bards and skalds. With an average audience of about 500 people each, the obvious way for our future-storytellers to differentiate themselves will be by personalising their stories to their tiny audience - which is small enough for them to know each member by name. </p> That might be tremendously freeing in some ways. As a roleplaying GM of 30+ years experience as well as a filmmaker, the personal nature of roleplaying is one of the things that keeps me in the hobby. It's far easier to design a story for a small group of people whom you know than a large, impersonal mass. And for those who want to sit at the fire and hear these stories, rather than craft them, it's going to be an unprecedented age of having narrative tailored specifically for you. Imagine an MMORPG with only 300 players, for example, or a feature film series that reflects all your preferences and concerns. It won't be a case of boggling when a TV show manages to get the basics of hacking right - there'll be an entire canon of drama series focused around Stallmanesque characters fighting for freedom of software, tailored specifically for people who really care about those issues. </p> (You might be wondering how artists get paid enough to live in this model. My answer is "Other than UBI, no real idea". However, it's worth noting that the cost of producing any storytelling medium except books is currently plunging downward phenomenally fast.) </p> I hope that's the direction we're going in, anyway. Because the alternative's not too pleasant - a world where 99.99% of all artistic creation is unpaid, often expensive, and where most art is created by patronage or by people wealthy enough to not need to worry about their expenses. Or a world where somehow a Guild Of Storytellers manages to shove the genie back in the bottle, and contain the number of people who make stories, regardless of how many could, down to a managable level. </p> What do you think? Where's storytelling headed in the next 10, 20, 50 years?</p> If you'd like to read more of my insane predictions, you can find me at @hughhancock on Twitter, read my blog or follow my current projects via email.</p>

Bad puppies, no awards

I'm still at the worldcon, so too busy to blog regularly; won't be home until the back end of the week.

But for now, if you want to know what the sound and fury over the Hugo awards was all about, you could do worse than read this WIRED article, Who Won Science Fiction's Hugo Awards and why it Matters (which gives a pretty good view of the social media context), and if you're a glutton for punishment File 770 has kept track of everything (warning: over a million words of reportage on the whole debacle).

Also, props to George R. R. Martin for talking sense, keeping a level head while everyone was running around shrieking with their hair or beard (sometimes both) on fire), and for salving the burn of injustice with the Alfie awards at his memorable after-party.

I've been seeing a lot of disbelief and anger among the puppies (and gamergaters—there seems to be about a 90% overlap) on twitter in the past 12 hours. They didn't seem to realize that "No Award" was always an option on the Hugos. They packed the shortlists with their candidates but didn't understand that the actual voters (a much larger cohort than the folks who nominate works earlier in the year) are free to say "all of these things suck: we're not having any of it". By analogy, imagine if members of the Tea Party packed the US republican party primary with their candidates, forcing a choice between Tea Party candidate A and Tea Party candidate B on the Republican party, so that the Republicans run a Tea Party candidate for president. Pretty neat, huh? Until, that is, the broader electorate go into the voting booth and say "no way!"

They packed the primary. The voters expressed their opinion. The problem is, the Hugos aren't an election, they're a beauty pageant. And my heart goes out to those folks who found themselves named on a puppy slate and withdrew from the nomination (such as Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos), those who were on a slate but didn't know what was going on and so lost to "no award", and to those folks who would have been on the Hugo shortlist this year if not for a bunch of dipshits who decided that only people they approved of should be allowed to compete in the beauty pageant.

Chilling Effects

When Charlie offered a guest blogging slot, I didn't plan on writing a women-in-science-fiction post. It's not a subject I address very often. As some who commented on Judith's post have mentioned, the issue is complicated--more so now, I think, than when I started writing back in the 80s.

Back then, it never occurred to me to use a man's name. It never occurred to me I couldn't succeed as a woman writing the hard stuff. Of course I knew that any kind of success was a long shot--writing is a tough gig--but I didn't see my name as a liability that could hold me back.

But after six US-published hard SF novels (only one UK-published), I finally started to wonder if I'd been a bit naïve. My work had convinced agents, editors, and reviewers. It won a couple of awards. But outside of a small, albeit devoted, readership, my novels remained invisible to most SF fans. My sixth novel, Memory, is the one in the Women-in-SciFi Storybundle; it was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. And it was my last novel for a long time. I just didn't see the point of writing another, so I stopped. Hey, sometimes books and authors just don't hit, right?

But many years later I was told that I was used as an example of why it is unwise to write hard SF under a woman's name. I have to imagine that a warning like that must be a very discouraging thing for a young and ambitious woman writer to hear. And that's what I want to talk about today: the chilling effect of all the negative statistics regarding women and science fiction, particularly high-tech, hard SF.

Judith has addressed the past and present of the genre. I want to consider the future.

In the current climate, any logical young woman, no matter how predisposed she might be to write at the technically plausible end of the SF field, will surely pause to seriously consider the wisdom of a foray into high-tech/hard SF--and if she decides to focus her talents elsewhere, what will we have missed?

I can already hear the objections. After all, if someone isn't interested enough in our genre to take some risks, why worry about it? There are plenty of other writers out there.

But I do worry about it, because the best writers can write in any field they choose, and if they don't choose our field, that's potentially great work that will never exist.

Don't think the risk is real? Consider this. After a ten-year hiatus, I finally returned to writing. I was shocked to learn that, a decade into the 21st century, women were still using pseudonymous names to sell SF. One writer related how an editor had told her bluntly that hard SF would not sell under a woman's name. And social media is full of negative statements and stories--enough to convince any sensible woman to be wary of science fiction, and of hard SF in particular. This is my field, and I was wary of it!

The climate had gotten so bad that by the time I got around to writing a new hard SF novel--more precisely, a near-future, high-tech military novel written in first person from a male point of view, because why not max out the degree of difficulty?--I had no doubt I was making an illogical choice. I knew this was not what I should be writing if the goal was to further my career and grow my audience.

I wrote the novel anyway, because I needed to write it. And then I self-published it, because I didn't want to deal with what I perceived as the negative environment of traditional publishing. Two years ago I was here on Charlie's blog with a guest post about that decision. Since then, The Red: First Light was nominated for both the Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial awards, and went on to sell to Simon & Schuster's new SFF imprint, Saga Press, with the sequel, The Trials, just out. It would be easy to say my fears were baseless and it all turned out okay--but how many of you have actually heard of these books, or read them?

And more to the point, how many talented women more sensible than me will decide not to bother writing a hard SF novel after considering the statistics and realizing that the odds of success are so very slim?

I want to see our genre thrive. I want to see amazing work that addresses our world in a way that is exciting, thought provoking, meaningful. I want our genre to welcome terrific new writers, not frighten them off. And a lot of those terrific new writers could be women and they could bring women readers with them, growing our genre to the benefit of everyone--but that's only going to happen if we can figure out a way to change both the climate and the reputation surrounding science fiction.

The easiest first step is for fans of the genre to seek out both books and writers new to them. It's never been easier to sample a new book. With ebooks you can usually read at least ten percent for free, and that's generally enough to know if the book is for you. And if you do find books you like? Talk about them. Especially for lesser-known writers, word of mouth is the best promotion there is. Also consider giving those books you like a positive review at online vendors. And the next time there's a request for writer recommendations, volunteer the names of women writers whose work you've enjoyed, as several commenters have already done on Judith's post. No more invisible ink. Right?