Quick, let’s have some ideas —

Five requests, one from Mary Beth and four from me. I’ll start with hers:

A) Do you know of any SFF stories that are (a) good and (b) around 1000 words in length? I know that may be an impossible challenge, but how about it? That’s about three normal pages.

I will add that there are some stunning stories that ought to be used in English class but that are (obviously) longer than that.

Love is the Plan the Plan is Death is one that leaps to mind for me.

Bloodchild may be my favorite-ever SFF story.

The Great Silence is probably Ted Chiang’s shortest short story, but it would be great to include something of his, and several are short-ish.

Obviously The One Who Walked Away is great for sparking debate.

But I’m sure that plenty of you read more short stories than I do. Anybody have any other suggestions?

NEXT. My goodness, look, Archon is THIS SATURDAY. I’m on four panels and I haven’t even thought about them! Help!

B) Religion and its place in SFF.

Obviously religion is handled well in, eg, the Five Gods novels and novellas by LMB. I also want to mention The Hands of the Emperor. Ann Leckie always includes religion in her novels as just an integral part of the worldbuilding, but more as scenery than as a driver of the plot. I can mention designing the (obviously very important) religions in the Tuyo world and the Death’s Lady world.

What else? Please throw a handful of suggestions into the comments. I would particularly appreciate any SFF novels where the religion is (a) central, and (b) obviously stems from some real-world religion, because that is a topic specifically mentioned for this panel.

C) The Hero in Fiction

I feel I have a good handle on this topic. I have clear opinions about the difference between the hero and the protagonist, about what makes a hero compelling, about what makes a hero likeable vs unlikeable and what those descriptive terms mean and what they emphatically do not mean. Also I’ve thought about heroes with clear character arcs vs heroes that don’t change over the course of the novel or series.

Any other related thoughts I’m missing?

D) Best Self-Published Authors in SFF

Well, this is an enormous category these days. So

Victoria Goddard

Alice Degan / AJ Demas

Nathan Lowell

I liked the book I read by JM Ney-Grimm, but I’ve only read one complete novel of hers so far.

Name your favorite self-published SFF authors, please! Who would you most like to see mentioned in this panel?

E) “Science Fiction Settings — Beware of Planetary Chauvinism.

I’d forgotten about this one completely. What’s it about? Ah, space-based SF where home is not a planet. Fine.

Other than Niven’s Ringworld, what are some ideas here? Oh, there’s the zero-G quaddie environments in LMB’s Vorkosigan universe. Generation ships are scattered through SFF, but usually work rather badly (because that’s what drives the plot!) I could REALLY use some ideas here. SF where people don’t live on planets. Anything but planets. Please suggest any novels you can think of that feature such settings.

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27 thoughts on “Quick, let’s have some ideas —”

  1. (B) I’ve been reading a bunch of SFF classics with religious themes recently.
    The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons probably qualifies, although I haven’t finished it yet.

    I also remember The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber from a few years ago.

    This recent Reddit thread might also be useful. There might be other Reddit threads on some of the other topics.

    (E) The third Wayfarers book by Becky Chambers, Record of a Spaceborn Few is all about how being from a space station is different from being on a planet. I can’t think of much else off the top of my head.

  2. B) A real oldie – A Canticle for Liebowitz. And for a more socio-political view of religion, All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay.

    E) Record of a Space Born Few by Becky chambers, C J. Cherryh’s Aliance-Union books, some of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe, and Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire and it’s sequel. A lot of it takes place on planets, but Home for the main character is a space station.

  3. There’s a Frederic Brown very short story that used to be well known. (rummages on the internet) “Knock” it’s all of two sentences.

    James Davis Nicholl has or had a series called “young people read old SF” wherein he gave well known SF books from forty/fifty years ago ish to college students. (I think.) And collected their reactions. You might find some good shorter works there, that may not be offensive to parents.

    I bounced hard off Robert J Bennett’s trilogy which I tried because my husband really liked it, and someone else recommended it as handling religion and divine powers well. So I mention it, but don’t actually recommend because I didn’t like it. I wanted to give my brain a shower instead of finishing it.

    Pratchett for religion: Small Gods or carpe Jugulum (Granny said something in the latter about if she really believed, how she’d behave. so it’s tagged ‘religious’ in myhead.)
    Also, Torgersen’s The Chaplain’s War. Space war, from the chaplain’s POV. He’s not much of a believer, either, but he tries and that’s important for both his own side and the aliens, once they collide.

  4. I recently read an indie book: Star Song by Georgia Rains. It’s not SFF- it’s kind of a rock star romance, but really it’s an elegantly plotted book about romance and religion. Very different. I loved it. This might not be the correct place to mention it, but the book does fit two of your criteria!

  5. (B) Heinlein’s “If this goes on–” is the ur-source for all those near-future theocracies that pass through SF in waves, and a good proportion of the farther-future ones.

    I’m not sure if his SIXTH COLUMN (a/k/a The Day After Tomorrow) is the first SF novel in which the good guys use superscience to set up a fake religion, but it might be — it predates Asimov having the Foundation do it. I suppose you could also mention Zelazny’s LORD OF LIGHT for fake religion used as background furniture, not Christian for once.

    (C) Aren’t you like, legally obligated to mention Andrea Host/Hoest after doing a series of blogposts about her?

    (D) Niven’s two Smoke Ring books aren’t nearly as well known as Ringworld, and deserve more love — plus, I know you’ve actually read them.

  6. Thanks for including my request! As for yours:

    B) Religion in SFF – Melissa McShane’s EMISSARY, which I think I read on your review, had a very interesting religion; I’m still hoping for another book in that world. Jo Graham’s recent SOUNDING DARK has numinous religion in space, which I haven’t seen very often at all.

    D) Self-Published Authors – I hope someone will mention the Neumeier books, even if modesty prevents you from doing so. :) Goddard and Demas were the others I thought of instantly, but clearly I need to read a bit more widely in indie publishing.

    E) SciFi off Planets – Arkady Martine’s recent Hugo-winning A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE takes place mostly on a space station and a set of starships; there are only a few interludes that occur on a planet. Going further back, Cherryh’s DOWNBELOW STATION, of course, although there are a few planetary bits; but many of her other books solely feature spacers and stationers, like MERCHANTER’S LUCK, TRIPOINT and RIMRUNNERS occur entirely on ships and stations. Karin Lowachee’s Warchild books have some great stations and ships too; I think BURNDIVE takes place entirely off-planet?

    I wish I could listen in on these panels (particularly the Hero one). They sound like they’ll be fascinating.

  7. B, Religion.

    T Kingfisher Paladin books. I would love to be a follower of the White Rat.

    Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksennarion and Paladin’s Legacy.

    MCA Hogarth Peltedverse books.

    What I like about all of these is that there are multiple gods, mostly positive although sometimes not. The adherents of the different gods generally get along pretty well. The religions range from high-practicality to high-numinous.

    E, off planets. In the Liaden Universe by Lee & Miller, the sub series about Jethri Gobelyn includes some Terran trading families whose homes are their ships, not planets.

    and MCA Hogarth again, the starbases in the Peltedverse. Particularly Starbase Veta in Dreamhearth, book 3 in the Dreamhealers series. I want to live on Starbase Veta.

  8. Coming back to add, for the SF with real world religion extrapolated out: Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War . Main character is devout Muslim captain of a starship. I remember very little about it, except I liked it at the time. And it was set mostly in space, not on a planet, so that’s two requests.

    Alma Boykin and J.m.Ney-Grimm are both indie authors I own multiple books of. I don’t always love Boykin’s work, but she’s doing different things than others, and I tend to like her characters. She’s done several series, one Colplatschi, planetary based and sort of rerunning the late medieval/early Renaissance history of Central Europe complete with religious warfare, and devout believers. I tend to read this one through KU. I spotted Peter the Great and Matthew Corvinus as main characters in two different installments. The religions … one seems to have started as Christianity and morphed rather askew based on the events that isolated the planet, I guess. And there’s an Islam analog but clearly based on the disaster that isolated them.
    So there’s another suggestion for books dealing with religion issues.

    Another series, same author Merchant and Empire, dropping in to various parts of history in a fantasy post-ice-age world where gods are real. Trade and blue-collar work are focuses, for the most part, although the latest installment featured a lord who is also a priest. The only other lord who is also a priest is the Emperor. Both were called personally by their separate gods. World building based, I believe, off Holy Roman Empire, structures, issues, and the Hansa.

    And the Shikari series, British Raj in space! told through the eyes of believers in a religion looked down on by the majority. Sort of Amish, maybe. Modest dress, competence valued, women believed to be downtrodden, but not. At least our female narrator doesn’t think she’s downtrodden. She can shoot, hunt, track and earn a living with her art. And loves her husband, once she marries – we meet her as a child.

    Boykin’s also got an urban fantasy sort of thing, the Familiar’s series, up to twenty books, mostly focused on one family, but with side stories featuring other magic users. And something else that hasn’t interested me. These last three series I named, I usually wind up buying.

    Ney-Grimm has a wide range of stuff, as far as setting goes. I haven’t cared as much for the Greek myth based stories, but her northern tales and fairy-tale work is good. Again, gods, in general, are real in her settings.

    Mary Catelli does good fairy tales and other stories. Tends to leave me wanting more, instead of wishing it hadn’t gone on so long. AS with any writer, some are better than others. I prefer her somewhat longer work to the really short things.

  9. B) Books I like where religion is an important part of the story, and makes the story more interesting:
    Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis – not overtly Christian like the rest of his fiction. This book explores the relationships between truth and myth, and between Gods and humans’ perception of them. One of my all time favourite books!
    Angel Series, by Sharon Shinn, especially the Alleluia Files – when the truth behind an estalished religion is being exposed, how does society respond?
    Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson & Farsala Trilogy, by Hilari Bell – both of these works explore how people deliberately manufacture a messianic figure to inspire their people to fight for a cause, and how that turns into a religion and escapes their control.

    E) Self-published
    Andrea K. Host (seconded!)
    Sharon Lee & Steve Miller – i think they are published by Baen now, but were one of the first in SFF to self-publish before they were picked up.

    E) Non-planetary SF
    Inside Out / Outside In, by Maria V. Snyder – A society on a colony ship which has forgotten it is a colony ship.

  10. C) I read an interesting article a while ago about JRR Tolkein, and how he started a shift in the definition of the “Heroic” in fiction; from the traditional larger than life powerful man (passed down from Greek mythology, and others), to the seemingly insignificant but noble hobbit. Sorry, i don’t remember where I read this, and I have no idea how accurate it was about the history of literature. Still it raises the issue of how the society in which the hero lives defines ‘heroic’, and how the hero interacts with those expectations. Could be another dimension to consider when discussing heroes.

  11. Religion: The Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner.

    Heirs of Alexandria series by Eric Flint, David Freer and Mercedes Lackey, not a new religion but Christianity developed somewhat differently due to alternate history and magic that works.

    The most recent books I’ve read where religion is important (mostly from book 2) are the Reflected City series by Rabia Gale. It’s a secondary world based on Regency England, the religion is an alternate Christianity. There are hints that the world was colonised by humans from our world, so it’s basically Christianity that developed a bit differently in the new location. I think, though I’m not sure that she is also a self-published author.

  12. E. LM Bujold:
    Falling Free; and to a lesser extent, Ethan of Athos and Komarr.
    And I second Downbelow Station and Merchants War by Cherryh

  13. Religion:
    On the Book View Cafe blog Marissa Doyle had a few recent posts on religion in books.
    Marie Brennan’s New Worlds series of posts on that same blog has also had several posts on religion in worldbuilding and stories, a while ago.
    Looking at those might give you some useful leads.
    An old book I vaguely remember that hasn’t been mentioned yet is by Christopher Stasheff, Saint Vidicon To The Rescue.
    I think some of Orson Scott Card’s books had a fairly clear religious slant, though I haven’t read any in a long time.
    I think the Rick Riordan YA books have classical gods, but I haven’t read those. There are several series where such gods walk the earth, either taking a vacation from their powers or trying to stay unnoticed by modern society, where their godhood is just a sort of excuse for them having magical powers. I don’t think those fit the theme of religion.

    Non world based /space station homes.
    In the old “The ship who …” brainships series by Anne McCaffrey book 4 was a more military SF style book by S.M.Stirling and her, The city who fought, where the space station is the home, and in some ways the body, of the titular station administrator as well as the home of the stationer people.
    Lee and Miller’s Jethri Gobelin books (a subseries within the Liaden Universe, starting with Trading in danger) shows a complex spaceship-based trading network of Liaden clans and Terran trading families and combines – some of those have planet-based roots, but especially on the terran side a lot are pure space-based; the stories are mostly set on spaceships and stations, with occasional visits to different planets.
    I also second the C.J.Cherryh recommendations, as she too has several books set in spaceship-based cultures, like Tripoint, Merchanter’s luck, Rimrummers, and to a slightly lesser extent the related Downbelow station (that space station still revolves around a world), but also the asteroid-belt miners in the Heavy Time / Hellburner duology.
    L.M.Bujold’s Quaddie-space in Diplomatic immunity, which evolved from the escaped quaddies in Falling Free is similarly set in space stations in an asteroid belt.
    Heinlein’s The moon is a harsh mistress has a moon rather than a planet asa the protagonists’ home; his Farmer in the sky had colonists living on one of Jupiter’s moons. Somehow that seems too much like a planetary home setting to fit this category. His Space Family Stone has both moon and asteroid-belt habitats.

    Self published favorite is Andrea K. Höst, and I also like the Liaden books by Lee and Miller, two of which were published as internet-serials while they were between publishers and later picked up by Baen when they (re)published their whole back-catalog as well as a lot of new ones. I also buy the self-published J.M.Ney-Grimm, Victoria Goddard, and Jane Fancher’s stories, but Andrea K. Höst is the only one so far that I have bought in paper book form and audiobook as well as e-book form.

  14. Sorry, my mistake, the first book by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller about trader Jethri Gobelin is Balance of trade.

  15. SFF short stories — I have a fondness for The Little Magic Shop, by Bruce Sterling. Not a story that takes itself too seriously, but I liked the twist on the fairy tale traditions.

  16. For religion in SFF with real world origins, Kushiel’s Dart sprang to mind – they definitely go in very different directions with it, but the christian & jewish underpinnings are clear.

    For self pub authors, some of the books are uneven, but I loved the debut and am still enjoying the Amaranthine series by Forthwrite, which I understand has fanfic origins.

  17. A) Do you know of any SFF stories that are (a) good and (b) around 1000 words in length?
    Toad Words, by Ursula Vernon / T. Kingfisher, is a mere 762 words, and I really enjoyed it: https://ursulav.livejournal.com/1590177.html

    B) Religion and its place in SFF
    Silver Scales (The Warlock, the Hare, and the Dragon Book 1), by L. Rowyn – it’s been a while since I read this one, but from what I remember it’s very much Christianity in a fantasy world setting.

    D) Best Self-Published Authors in SFF
    Andrea K Höst goes without saying. :-) These books/authors are also great:

    The Maker’s Mask, by Ankaret Wells
    Kherishdar series, by M.C.A. Hogarth
    Light in Dark Places: Gods and Monsters, by Mikki Samak
    The Magpie Chronicles, by Michaela Ro
    (Mikki Samak & Michaela Ro are two pennames used by the same author)

  18. For B, I’d say most books by Mary Catelli, particularly:
    A Diabolical Bargain
    Madeleine and the Mists

  19. Thank you all! Many great suggestions, and I HAVE NO IDEA how I could have forgotten AKH for self-published authors. I’d have been horrified to realize after the panel that I’d somehow left her out. This is fantastic and I’m now putting all this in notes for the panels.

  20. I feel like “The Wheel of the Infinite” by Martha Wells had some religious structure supporting the plot – didn’t Maskelle fill a religious role? But it’s been a while since I read it.

    While she’s not my favorite ever, I have enjoyed some of her books and I think Lindsay Buroker leveraged self-publishing from the very beginning of her career. Also, hasn’t Bujold self-published all the Penric and Desdemona books?

  21. I’m pretty sure Sabrina Chase is self-published (also pretty sure I heard about her here–oh, yup!). I loved both her sci-fi series. Kate Stradling is another self-published author of fairy-tale/adventure fantasies that I’ve enjoyed. (The Legendary Inge, a hilarious gender-reversed retelling of Beowulf, would fit in your Positive Fantasy category.)

    I love the way T. Kingfisher and M.C. Hogarth both deal with religion. And of course Megan Whalen Turner! Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead deals specifically with religion, including future versions of current religions and new religions that develop in response to space travel.

    E.K. Johnston’s Aetherbound is set on a spaceship and a space station and has interesting things to say about how those settings work or don’t work for their human populations. (It starts out sounding quite bleak, but ends up strongly hopeful.)

  22. Another with religion and (somewhat) a non-planet book: Molly Gloss’s The Dazzle of Day. A group of Quakers take a generation ship away from a deteriorating Earth in hopes of finding a new planetary home. Some of the book is set on the spaceship; other parts are set on Earth just before the flight, and on the new planet. Quaker beliefs and practices are woven into the social fabric.

    Mary Anderson, yes, Wheel of the Infinite has religion built into it. Maskelle is a priestess and has been called back from exile at the request of the Celestial One, the main religious authority (who is delightfully practical.) The process of building the representation of the Wheel is a religious rite with real-world effects. The relationship of Maskelle and the gods is clear from the first sentence, which is one of my favorite openings for voice: “Maskelle had been asking the Ancestors to stop the rain three days running now and, as usual, they weren’t listening.”

  23. OT: “The Golden Sutras” is out, and I have to say: I did not see that coming. Except the bit where Orion is an inadvertent maleficer, because that, at least, was totally obvious.
    (AO3 has quite a lot of fics as proof. I just highlighted the several tells in book 1 (and the few in book 2.)

  24. Another couple of generation ship books for the “in space” panel: Learning the World by Ken Macleod and We Broke the Moon by Masha duToit. (Also Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji, but I haven’t read that one yet so I don’t know if they spend any time on a planet).

  25. For generation ships, I recommend Slow Train to Arcturus by Eric Flint and Dave Freer. Earth shipped all its problem citizens to be colonists on distant stars: the neo-nazis, the North Koreans, the Luddite Christian farmers, the crazy misandrist Amazon nudists*, the Amazonian tribe, and the radical hang-gliders. Each group has its own arcology, headed for its own star. Then the aliens show up…

    * I am not sure where these came from, except being a SFF trope

  26. I was stopping to mention Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, too, as examples for SF where people live entirely on ships, but see I’m not the first. It’s only a portion of their universe, but it’s definitely there! Their books are favorites of mine, though, so I’m always happy to give them a boost. Balance of Trade is a good one.

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