‘Classic Conditioning One,’ a Star Wars cyberpunk story.

It was the future. The year? 2013.

Somewhere hidden below the festering nest of neon, chrome, and roving gangs of hipsters of New Los Angeles, Disney’s underground laboratory woke up from its slumber. Commanding calls and urgent messages in the middle of the night reached the bleary Disney scientists: “Rise and Shine, boys, the Vault’s up. Get to work! – B.I.”

The Boss had spoken, and from all around the country, scientists specializing in neuromarketing, behavioral sciences, and Artificial Intelligence traveled to New L.A. Their goal, to design the new Star Wars trilogy.

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Reading Nebulas (2017) Things with Beards, by Sam J. Miller

By focusing on the Hugo Awards I may have given the impression that the problems with fashionable science fiction and fantasy are a “Hugo” problem. The Hugos have become a bit of a battlefield and an arena for various trollish antics (the only interesting thing about the Hugo Awards, if you ask me,) so that’s a reasonable misunderstanding. But it’s not a Hugo-only problem because the same symptoms can be seen in the other two big SFF Awards: Nebula and World Fantasy Award. And when I say the same I mean it because this year’s Nebula and Hugo short story nominees are almost the same:

Hugo Nebula WFA comparison

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Could be written better: “Fu Manchu did nothing wrong.”

“There are some who could have lain, chained in that noisome cell, and felt no fear-no dread of what the blackness might hold. I confess that I am not of these. I knew Nayland Smith and I stood in the path of the most stupendous genious who in the world’s history had devoted his intellect to crime. I knew that the enormous wealth of the political group backing Dr. Fu.Manchu rendered him a menace to Europe and America greater than that of the plague. He was scientist trained at a great university -an explorer of nature’s secrets, who had gone further into the unknown, I suppose, than any living man. His mission was to remove all obstacles -human obstacles- from the path of that secret movement which was progressing in the Far East. Smith and I were two such obstacles; and of all horrible devices at his command, I wondered, and my tortured brain refused to leave the subject, by which of them we were doomed to be departed.”

The Mysteries of Dr. Fu Manchu, chapter 14, by Sax Rohmer.

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Could be better written: “My life is perfect, and everything around me sucks.”

If you want to write, you must read a lot is a useful advice. However, like most proclamations with an almost religious vibe, they have a long string of caveats and exceptions which, although commonsensical, cannot be packed along with the original statements without diminishing their gravitas. To put it bluntly, the advice only works if your read good material, and sometimes not even then.

Not only what you read has to be “good,” an adjective that implies value and, therefore, the ability to discriminate (something that terrifies a lot of people,) but relevant to your goal as an artist and your craft. Obviously, you are not going to learn how to write science fiction by reading Victorian romance novels or Nature Poetry (your descriptions of alien landscapes may be awesome, though.)

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The pitfalls of worldbuilding.

You are hungry, but there is a bakery near your place, so you go up and leave your home [you are a ratman, and you live in the sewers], following that delicious smell.

“Hello, Mr. Ratman,” says the fine lady behind the counter. “May I help you?”

You can choose one of these answers:

a) Just ask for a classic butter croissant.

b) Ask for the same croissant, and explain to her why you like them so much, perhaps illustrating the point with a humorous or beautiful short story about your croissant-filled past. It’s a small town (but with big sewers!), though, so people don’t mind a bit of small talk.

c) Ask for the croissant, and then go rambling for half an hour about its origins during the Siege of Vienna, and about all the European kings who have ever suffered from lactose intolerance.

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