Mind Meld

On the website SF Signal they often have this thing called ‘Mind Meld’ whereby a question is asked and various characters from the SF world answer it. I’ve been asked for my take in a recent one in which the questions are: What is the appeal of the planet Mars in SF and fantasy? What is its appeal to you? I’ll let you know when that appears.
I knew I’d done this a few times but couldn’t remember how many so I went trawling through the SF Signal site in search of them. Here are three of my rambles: 
The Best Aliens in Science Fiction
For me the best has to be H R Giger’s creation…no I refuse to misuse the word eponymous…from the film of that name. In my time I’ve ranted about what I consider to be art and generally have seen very little I could call both art and truly original (Maybe that’s because I hadn’t see enough art, and certainly my view is changing now with what I’m seeing produced by the CGI crowd.), but way back in years of yore when I opened up a copy of Omni, turned over a page and saw my first H R Giger picture, I felt I was seeing something truly original and bloody good. I’m not sure if I even knew, when I went to see Alien, that Giger was the designer of both alien and weird sets, but I certainly knew afterwards. At that point I felt that the curse of the rubber head had died. The alien in that film and its sequels was not something you could laugh at – aliens had just grown up.
As for aliens in SF books, in them there seems to be a general failure of imagination, perhaps because the roles the aliens fill are so often too human: aliens as oppressed natives, the subject of bigotry, dominant overlords, invaders etc. Whilst they are often described in loving detail, that which is alien about them only goes as deep as the bone (or structural biology of choice) and very often doesn’t extend to the mind. There’s still some damned good ones out there – Niven’s puppeteers spring to mind, as do the manta in Piers Anthony’s Of Man and Manta – but generally that which is alien falls foul of story, which can be hampered when, to retain the essentially alien, the writer must not allow the reader to understand it.

Taboo Topics in SF/F Literature
Well, every writer has had trouble getting stuff published, but probably because they breached the publishing world taboo of writing crap. For me, beyond 2000 when I was taken on by Macmillan, I’ve been censored all the time in that respect – it’s called editing. But no, I don’t really have much trouble getting stuff published and I don’t self-censor … except all the time in regard to that first publishing taboo. Doubtless, in years to come some minority group lobby will run out of larger targets and focus its attention on SF books, and then violence, drinking, smoking and excessive consumption of beef burgers will be a no-no. I just hope I’m in a position to give them the finger by then.

Is the Short Fiction Market in Trouble?
I know that when I was throwing out my short stories in the 80s and 90s there were numerous small press magazines about, but to see any of them survive longer than ten or twenty issues was unusual. As for those publishing anthologies, there seem to be more now, but that just might be a matter of accessibility. In the 80s I only found out about other short story markets in the advertising sections of each magazine. I think I started with Interzone (I don’t know how I got hold of a copy of that), found out about the likes of Back Brain Recluse and others in its pages, and proceeded from there. Now most short story writers can google ‘short story markets’ and find them all across the world. Also we have the rise of online magazines, which maybe means that those would-be publishers who couldn’t sustain a paper magazine can now survive for longer. To sum up, I don’t think the market is in any more trouble than it has been over the last quarter century but, for writers, finding magazines or anthologies to target is much much easier. Also, if the publishers concerned are prepared to accept email submissions, easier still – my first short story publication involved real cutting-and-pasting, photocopying and then postage. I still have international reply coupons sitting in my draw. Must try to get my money back on them.

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