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Alec Austin

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New story in BCS [Aug. 20th, 2015|02:32 pm]
Alec Austin
So my story "Fire Rises" is in this week's Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

There's a lot of stuff going on in there, like satellite magic (with actual artificial satellites), entire tomb complexes conjured out of myth, and Kung Fu/wuxia battles fought on top of a moon that's rising into the sky. There are also !Phoenician communists with artificially created great destinies, !Manchu imperialists, !Russian death cultists, and more. It has some of my favorite lines I've written in a while in it.

Anyway. New story. I hope that you'll read and enjoy it.
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Putting the Fun back in Fungus [Jul. 14th, 2015|07:47 pm]
Alec Austin
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So in addition to today being release day for Last First Snow, mrissa has a new story up on Strange Horizons: "It Brought Us All Together".

As I've said elsewhere, I'm particular fond of this one, because I feel that it gets many things about the performance of grief and the ways compassion is and isn't extended in the wake of tragedy exactly right. Plus, y'know, administrative freakouts in school contexts. It pretty much nails that part too.

Anyway. Highly recommended. Go check it out.

ETA: Apparently today is the day for two mrissa stories! Her Gnome Genomics story just came out. It has a very long title, and is very funny. So go read that too.
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Premise vs. Structure vs. Text [Jul. 11th, 2015|11:59 am]
Alec Austin
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So this year I was on the pre-convention Seminar before Fourth Street. Despite covering professionalism, voice, and critique in 3 separate discussions, we barely got through half of the things we had notes for, which is about par for the course. So here are some notes on one of the topics we didn't get to.

Premise problems vs. structure problems vs. text problemsCollapse )
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Do not approve. Still not resigned. [Mar. 23rd, 2015|08:56 pm]
Alec Austin
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So I gather from twitter (of all the ways to find out) that irishninja died today. I only met him once in person, in San Francisco when he was in town for the weekend, but he was someone I could talk anime and symphonic metal with, and who seemed genuinely happy editing the website for Magic: the Gathering. I would say he had a good heart-- and he did, in the metaphorical sense-- but it was probably the organ which gave out on him.

I wish that I had the words and the focus to write something like this for him, but it was a long day and a long weekend and a long week before that. So instead I find myself bereft, and inarticulate, and full of rage, and wanting to kick something. And linking to poems, because that's all I have it in me to do at the moment.

(Title from "Dirge Without Music" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Like I said. Linking to poems. It's what I've got.)

ETA: I guess I have this, also.

A Cage of Eloquence

What words are there, when hearts betray
our mortal flesh, make still
our lips, empty our lungs, yield ground--
the field-- to gravity, and entropy, and time?

All words are dross; a cage
of eloquence, to gag
our lips, choke off our wails
of defiance and
our love.

The universe, implacable and deaf
to our small cries, grinds on, muttering
"All will be dust", its voice
a susurration on
the solar wind.

No matter. While we yet live
we howl, and rage, and weep.
Let no friend descend into the dark
unmourned, unsung,
unheralded.
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Minicon panels [Mar. 17th, 2015|12:01 am]
Alec Austin
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So I'll be at Minicon 50 this year, and should you want to see me on panels (or at my reading with mrissa) here are the times and places and topics involved.

Friday, April 5, 1:00 PM - Anime and Manga for Speculative Fiction Fans: From the days of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy and its intelligent robots, manga and anime with science fiction and fantasy themes have been popular. Let's discuss some of the most interesting ones for speculative fiction fans, both current and vintage.

John Stanfield, Alec Austin, Ozgur K. Sahin, Scott K. Jamison

Saturday, April 6, 3:30 PM - Marissa Lingen & Alec Austin Reading: Mris and I will read things. Aloud, even.

Sunday, April 7, 2:30 PM - Middle Grade Optimism vs YA Dystopia: Magical wonder abounds in middle grade lit but seems to disappear once stories make the jump to the next age bracket. Does pessimism go hand in hand with the advent of hormones? Is middle grade more than it appears?(from both reader and writer perspective)

Donna Munro, Adam Stemple, Alec Austin, Brandon Sanderson, Jane Yolen, Marissa Lingen

...I know it's not nice to argue with panel descriptions before the actual panel, but srsly, lolwut? at the unexamined claims in the YA/MG panel description. We should be able to have an interesting conversation, at any rate.
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Not a review: Foundational Narratives and the Grace of Kings [Feb. 25th, 2015|09:28 am]
Alec Austin
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So. Let's talk about foundational narratives.

There are stories that twine through a culture's literature, through its idioms, its metaphors, its self-image. It usually doesn't matter if they're true or not, because they're so deeply embedded. The tropes, structure, and incidents of these stories become the building blocks of future stories: not just direct retellings, but stories set centuries or millennia later, in dramatically different contexts.

The English-speaking West has lots of these foundational stories. You know what I'm talking about: Achilles. Odysseus. Julius Caesar. Jesus. The Fall of Rome. Arthur. The list goes on and on.

These stories and their derivatives have been told again and again through the years, recycled into mimetic literature (I see your protagonist's initials are J.C.-- how clever...) as well as genre. Quest fantasies have their roots in Arthurian legend, when they aren't explicitly modeled on it; the Hobbit drew on Beowulf in much the same way Game of Thrones draws on the Wars of the Roses.

Don't get me wrong. I love many of these stories. But they aren't mine in the same way as The Romance of Three Kingdoms, or the rise and fall of the Qin Empire, or the Chu/Han contention. (One exception is the story of Alexander the Great, because I was told the famous episodes-- Bucephalus, the Gordian Knot, his defeat of Darius-- very early, and in the same way I was told about Cao Cao.) The history of Sengoku Japan is in many ways more my story than that of Arthur, because the way it's told means it uses a lot of the same building blocks as the stories my great-aunt told me about Cao Cao and Guan Yu and Zhuge Liang. I mean, look at Koei's Musou (Warriors) games. Cao Cao and Nobunaga's character models look very similar, because they're drawing on the same narrative archetype.

A brief digression: Most Chinese immigrant narratives aren't my story, or the story of my family, either. I know there are lots of people for whom the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and/or Gene Luen Yang is powerful and resonant. But I (mostly) grew up in Hawaii, in a context where I was surrounded by Asian and hapa people. The fact that my high school girlfriend was Hakka and I was half Han meant more than the fact that we were both 'Chinese'.

This matters because, until now, I'd never really felt the shock of recognition-- of feeling like something that was one of my stories-- in English-language media which wasn't translated.

The closest I'd come to having that experience before was in reading Ken Liu's "The Man Who Ended History". I can't be objective about that story, because to me, the science fictional elements of it are the least compelling part of it. The parts about the Second Sino-Japanese war and the medical experimentation and war crimes of Unit 731, on the other hand, hit close to the bone. My family was nowhere near Manchuria during the war, but my grandfather built airstrips for the Flying Tigers, while my grandmother barely escaped cities before the Japanese captured them on several occasions. There's a lot to be said about Western narratives of World War II versus how things went in Asia, but this isn't the place for it. The point is, that story really worked for me, and it was clear that Ken Liu and I shared cultural reference points.

Now that I've read his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, it's clear that we share many foundational stories as well.

Before I go any further, let's be clear about something: When you have different foundational stories, you get different derived narratives. The archetypes you draw on aren't the same. The tropes and set pieces you draw on aren't either. The story structures and forms which seem natural to you can vary drastically. And it's very easy for people to tell you you're doing it wrong, or that a choice you've made is somehow bad or that a character is unsympathetic, when you're just drawing on a different tradition than what they're used to.

These are all challenges that Ken Liu had to take on in writing The Grace of Kings, which retells, in the form of Polynesian-tinged fantasy, the fall of the Qin Dynasty and the Chu-Han contention. The source material here is literally epic, both in scope and in terms of the stories and mythic resonance that have accreted around its cast over the years. There are bandits turned generals; divinely inspired strategists; titanic construction projects; crushing taxes; decadent courts; and people threatening to make soup out of their rivals' relatives. To this, Liu adds an archipelago, helium-filled airships, sentient narwhal-whales, clubs studded with shark teeth, a brilliant female general, fighting kites, and the occasional steam engine.

As of this writing, I am utterly incapable of either being objective about The Grace of Kings or judging how someone who was not raised on stories about Qin Shi Huang Di (aka Emperor Mapidéré), Zhang Liang (Luan Zya), and Liu Bang (Kuni Garu)-- to say nothing of King Kamehameha and his conquest of Hawaii-- would respond to the book.

Personally, I loved it.

Moreover, I'm impressed with how Ken Liu dealt with the many, many challenges which crop up when trying to adapt classical Chinese narratives for a western fantasy audience. (Trust me, it ain't easy.) Pick a naming scheme that's too familiar, and people will mentally cast everyone in your book as white; pick one too true to the source material, and readers won't be able to tell your characters apart; or engage in literal translation and exoticize your characters by calling them things like "Little Blossom". The naming schemes which are used The Grace of Kings dodge many of these pitfalls (though I will confess the Japanese-inflected names sometimes threw me a little).

Similarly, there are challenges which arise when trying to convey the degree to which historical and classical allusions were used as both conversational gambits and to convey coded messages among bureaucrats and the literati. The frequency with which the sage Kon Fiji (an approximation of Confucius) is cited in the text, and the range of ways in which his works are interpreted go a long way towards achieving the right effect. So does the strategic use of adapted songs and poems, and the deliberate unpacking of the symbolism around the names of Kuni Garu's children. (The list of challenges goes on and on-- I've barely scratched the surface here.)

The Grace of Kings is, to my mind, a tremendously important book. I don't just want it to be successful; I want it to open the door for more books which are built on non-default foundational narratives. I mean, I would gladly write a novel that takes what The Grace of Kings does for the Chu/Han contention and transposes it to the Three Kingdoms period. But I also know what it feels like to never have your stories told, and to be told you should engage with stories that are built on another culture's assumptions, or aimed at an audience which is only superficially similar to you.

More than that, I want multiple versions of each story to be viable. It's not like we can only have one King Arthur novel, after all. The Grace of Kings shouldn't be the only version of the Liu Bang/Xiang Yu conflict on the shelves, any more than On a Red Station Drifting should be the only rendition of Dream of a Red Chamber.

Foundational narratives are just that, after all: platforms to build off of.

Let's get building.

--

(Author's note: I sat on this for a week and a half before posting it. There are so many caveats I want to give: yes, obviously I work in and use the Western narrative tradition; no, I know my experience-- that anyone's experience-- of being ethnic Chinese and/or hapa in America is far from universal. But it seems more important to get the words out there than to adhere to the conventions of this sort of essay, or to fret about people challenging my authenticity, or whatever. So I'm going to pretend that this post isn't about me, just long enough to hit 'post', and then go to work. Right then. Pretending real hard.)
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Year in Review 2014 [Jan. 2nd, 2015|09:42 am]
Alec Austin
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So it's a new year, and I'm up early for no discernible reason. I suppose I should probably talk about last year in writing.

I had three original fiction publications and one translation/reprint in 2014:

The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Re-Capitation (co-written with Marissa Lingen), On Spec, Winter

Atonement, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February

Calm (co-written with Marissa Lingen), Analog, September

Atonement (Polish reprint), Nowa Fantastika, Special Edition
On top of that, my poem "Queen of Axes" was included in timprov's The Reader: War for the Oaks. So that was cool.

My submissions stats indicate that this was the first year since I started submitting stories seriously again (in 2011) when I didn't get even 100 responses. Part of that was having less new stuff to send out - if I'm doing the math right, I wrote 3 new stories this year, one of which was a collaboration with mrissa - which I attribute to a combination of work, moving back to LA (oh, hi, I moved back to LA in September) for work, and getting back into playing console games. Part of it was that a lot of markets were taking forever and a day to get back to me.

On the upside, all that deliberation seems to have resulted in a decent number of sales (one of this year's publications, plus 4 more stories which could plausibly come out next year), so I can't really complain too much.

I also spent a fair amount of 2014 slogging through the first half of a novel. The timestamps on my research photos tell me I've been working on this one, off and on, since 2012, but still: 40,000 consecutive words of smart-ass security cadets getting swept up in political intrigue and black operations, plus another 10k or so in notes towards later scenes. It would be nice to finish a draft of Coup de Grace (working title) sometime in 2015, but I've got a game to ship first, so... we'll see how that goes.

Let's see, what else... oh, I'm signed up to help lead the Fourth Street Beginning Writers' Seminar, along with mrissa and a bunch of other fine people. It's a little weird realizing that at this point I'm being published semi-regularly in BCS and Analog. I would never have expected the latter, but I just got another check from them, so... Yeah. Life. It doesn't always take you where you think.

Back to radio silence here for a while, I suspect. Though I may do a post about my 2014 reading at some point, if the spirit moves.
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Cryptic Enthusiasm [Oct. 22nd, 2014|12:12 am]
Alec Austin
ETA: This was supposed to be a comment on Pamela Dean's post about her and Pat Wrede's forthcoming Liavek collection. Leaving it here to preserve the comment thread.

Hurrah! Looking forward to it.
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Further McLaw updates [Sep. 3rd, 2014|07:32 pm]
Alec Austin
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Patrick McLaw speaks for himself.

The claim that the books had nothing to do with things appears to have been walked back, as well.
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Patrick McLaw update [Sep. 2nd, 2014|04:20 pm]
Alec Austin
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In light of yesterday's post, it's worth noting that the LA Times claims that McLaw's books had nothing to do with his suspension.

It's not clear from the article if McLaw's lawyer had more to say than "he is receiving treatment", so take the news with whatever serving of skepticism/salt you prefer.
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