Where are they now: science fiction with weird psychic phenomena

So I just finished reading a Peter Dickinson novel that had psychics in it. And it reminded me once again: where did all the science fiction novels with psychics go? I’m not sure I miss them. There are still some places you can find things like telekinetics–mostly superpower-tinged stories like Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith’s Stranger. But Karen Lord’s straight-up interplanetary novel with characters with telepathy felt like the sort of thing I would have read at age 14 and just don’t see any more.

Where did they go? Because ESP/telepathy/mental powers show up very early in SF, and they show up very regularly until somewhere around the time I was in high school. When they just…don’t really any more. Was it that people finally felt comfortable that these things had been debunked, and people who want to write about them write fantasy? Was it that there was a cohort of people writing those stories in the ’80s (Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton) who then either stopped writing, died, or moved on to other things, leaving “psychic power novels” as feeling like “their” thing rather than a broader genre thing? Was it the overwhelmingly female nature of that group, giving the concept “girl cooties?” (Catherine Asaro was writing about telepaths well into my college days, and she has demonstrated her bravery in the face of girl cooties on a number of fronts, so maybe.) Did it just start to feel old-fashioned, or did it really get played out? Was it the rise of willingness to do superhero/comic book themes in prose that pushed these topics into that category? (Seems like it happened in the opposite order, though.) Do you have an explanation I haven’t thought of?

Writing Process Blog Tour

My dear friend Michael Merriam asked me to take part in a Writing Process Blog Tour. He answered these questions about process last week, and next week some more of my friends will answer them.

1) What am I working on?

When I told Michael about a week, week and a half, ago that I’d answer these questions, I thought, boy, that’ll be an interesting one, I can’t wait to read the answer and find out! At the moment, I’m worldbuilding and plot-building like crazy on several novel projects, waiting to see which one shakes out to be the next novel I write. Probably the strongest contender at the moment is Wielding the Stars, which has a giant jeweled magical orrery and riots and rebellion and fire and flood and…actually not flood I think. Hmm. We may have to go back to the flood later. (This is not to be confused with going back to the Flood later.) It also has load-bearing mythic bears, which are sort of getting to be a thing for me. But I could do any of a number of other things. That number might be five. Unless it’s not. Really, it’s quite a lot of possible projects, and the thing is, the one that jumps out and grabs me might not even exist yet. Novels are like that.

The thing I’m actually working on in any focused way is a short story called “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns,” which has some vets with PTSD who have been given little genetically engineered soothing psychoactive companion frogs. It also has quite a lot of rain and jurisdictional disputes. It is science fiction unless it is fantasy. This is a problem because my filing system for unsold stories calls for them to be put in folders labeled “SF” or “Fantasy,” so I do, but the postnuclear fantasy series I just guess. I could be wrong. I’m just the author, you don’t have to listen to me.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Mine has a giant jeweled magical orrery. And genetically engineered psychoactive soothing companion frogs. Like that. Stuff.

Also I have more grandparents in my work than most people. I have more old people in general.

When asked to talk about theme or political concerns, I tend to curl up in a ball and emit disgruntled noises, so let’s focus on the frogs, shall we?

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because if I sing it instead, my voice gets tired, and I get squeamish about things under my fingernails, so sculpture is right out.

Because I have trained my brain to poke at things, and then I feed it all kinds of input, and this is what comes out. I was kidding above with the singing, except not entirely kidding, because what happens when I have bits of story that I don’t get to write down is that I sort of hum them under my breath, I sort of live with them and hum them, and they nag at me, and so I write them down. There is a thing about habit-formation and that is that once you have formed the habit, that is the habit you get.

Also this is the stuff I like. I don’t get to write all the stuff I like, because I like quite a lot of stuff, as you will notice if you read my book posts. But honestly I like this kind of stuff quite a bit. It makes me happy. I think it is good for me to think around corners about things, and I think it is good for other people too, but I don’t write medicine, I write things I like.

4) How does your writing process work?

As far as other people are concerned, the interesting part of this answer seems to be “non-sequentially.” I get bits and pieces of scene and start writing down the bits I know. I accrete more and more bits I know until there is enough to make a whole story of whatever length. I work from the “incredible disappearing outline” theory, deleting the bits of notes as I write the actual scenes that correspond to them. This is the same for long and short and very very short.

Oh, and there’s the bit in the middle of long things where I get lost and have to spread it all out and think about it a great deal and realize I forgot to plan something crucial when I was doing all the planning, so then I have to figure that out. It would be nice if this was not actually part of the process every time, but sometimes a bit of realism is called for in describing one’s process.

Tune in next week to hear from the following interesting people on their own blogs:

Alec Austin is a game designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s worked as a nuclear reactor operator and media researcher, and has published a D&D adventure and articles in addition to over a dozen pieces of short fiction. His most recent publication, written with Marissa Lingen, is “The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Re-Capitation” in On Spec, by which you can discern that his work is uplifting and full of good cheer. He’s currently working on a science fiction novel. He can be found at alecaustin.livejournal.com.

Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. Her latest book of poetry is The Scientific Method; her stories appear in Oomph and the Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. She makes her home halfway up Spring Hill. She can be found online at http://www.pantoum.org.

Merrie Haskell says of herself: “I write for all ages. My first book, THE PRINCESS CURSE, was a Junior Library Guild Selection in 2011, and was nominated for a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2013. My second MG novel, HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS, won the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle Grades) in 2014. THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, also a Junior Library Guild Selection, comes out in June 2014. My short fiction for adults has appeared in NATURE, ASIMOV’S and so forth.” She can be found at www.merriehaskell.com.

Dialect nerding with Mris

Okay, another dialect question. Haven’t done one in awhile. Does your home dialect contain the phrase “a goin’ concern,” usually applied to small children? And if not, would you still have some sense of what “that child is a goin’ concern” might mean if someone else used it, or would you be completely in the dark?

(Sometimes when I’m talking to my grandmother things come out of my mouth that I never, ever say to my friends, and then I stop and realize that I have no idea if I don’t say them because it’s an old-fashioned phrase we just don’t really use or if I don’t say them because my friends would find me incomprehensible. And this is what the internet is for! Someone might have told you it was for porn. Someone nicer might have told you it was for kitten pictures. They were wrong, or rather, they were right but in the broader sense. It is for assuaging random curiosity. And I do have a most ‘satiable curtiosity.)

Also: if you are a person who says “a goin’ concern,” at what age does a person stop being a goin’ concern? Because I am now a little worried.

Asking for a friend: the not-amused edition

I have a friend who has developed an academic interest in what she terms neo-Victorian kids’ lit (/MG) and YA. I have asked, and she does not draw a firm line between that and steampunk. Recommendations, anti-recommendations, interesting works to discuss: go.

I’ll start: Chris Moriarty’s The Inquisitor’s Apprentice fills my heart with joy, and I only wish she would write another, or I only wish they would publish another, or something. (That is, however, Victorian era but US setting. Not sure if it matters. Friend can show up and say so if it does.)