Thursday, June 29, 2006

News2Use In Depth: Singularity Bomb 2

All summer we're feeling out the implications of Ray Kurzweil's vision of the future -- his singularity event horizon when technology and genetic manipulation will alter the basic elements of being human. Check out his article library and his news 2 use about the dangers of technology.

"Safety, security and sex are the biggest concerns" of the European Robotics Research Network (Euron) as they contemplate a future where humans and robots interact daily.

It's easy to imagine that robots will appear more and more in our lives, becoming more and more indispensable. While robots from the ubiquitous home shopping networks can sweep your floors and mow your grass, robots are also now performing surgery in London and are anticipated to be caring for the elderly within twenty years. Euron is trying to set the ethical boundaries before robots hit the mainstream scene, raising questions that become easy "what-if" launches for speculative (romantic)fiction.

How do we protect human beings from robots?

I'm not really thinking about how to protect dear old grandmamma from a robotic caregiver gone mad. Instead, I'm considering how to protect dear old grandmamma from someone raiding the robotic caregiver's memory for her social security number, her blood type, her DNA -- all valuable data in this age of identity theft.

Hackers have taught us that anything security systems analysts do, they can do better. Imagine a future where routine surgeries are performed by robotic assistants, with human doctors standing by to assist if complications develop. Now imagine terrorists -- or even aliens -- usurping control of the systems running the surgical robots. Gives a whole new spin on "hacking."

As robots insinuate themselves into our lives, I can imagine a dual-class society emerging. The common folk live in a world made vulnerable by manipulation of robots, while the upper echelon essentially go neo-Luddite -- using technology as little as possible, relying on humans to take care of the small stuff, and demanding intense loyalty. Like the consequences of the Butlerian Jihad on the society of Dune, the new upper crust could demand highly skilled people as a commodity and demand an intense, feudal-like loyalty from them.

Should robots resemble human beings?

Our aesthetic sense is trained to appreciate symmetry, so the cultural resistance to a monstrous-looking machine with multiple arms, a tripod stance and numerous artificial sensory organs tending to dear old grandmamma might be too great. Just to gain acceptance, robot manufacturers may need to create machines that in their mirroring of their users do not intimidate too much for use.

But consider humanity's distressing ability to dehumanize each other. If the things that snap to your commands have two eyes, two arms, two legs, a nose and a mouth like, say, your spouse, your boss, or that hottie you covet at the health club, will we start treating people like our robots?

And if you covet that hottie at the health club, can you order a robot to mimic what you can't have? Or perhaps mimic what a widow or widower, or reluctant divorcee, has lost? Which brings us to the most fascinating question…

Should robots be used for sexual entertainment?

Using machines for sex is not a new concept. If this were that kind of blog, I would post a link to a site displaying the antics of a piston-powered phallus. Almost every new technology is immediately used for sexual pleasure, so sexbots are pretty much guaranteed.

Sexbots are not an entirely bad idea. Mechanized or robotic sex workers could be designed so they wouldn't transmit disease. They can't be emotionally abused, can't be raped. And they would never turn down a request for even the most bizarre bedroom entertainment.

But what about an always ready for anything sexbot that looks exactly like Mel Gibson? Scarlett Johanson? I'm sure that laws shielding famous human images would spring up immediately, and just as immediately be broken.

Even more freaky, how about an always ready for anything sexbot that can be ordered to look exactly like that hottie from the health club? What if a blank sexbot powered by nanotechnology could reproduce the likeness of any digital image it's provided? What if your angry ex could create a sexbot you? What if using Photoshop-like technology that digital image could be altered? Imagine going into your spouse's side of the closet and finding a sexbot you, only thinner. Or larger.

What if that serial killer two doors down could create a sexbot you? While you're watching your housebot do the dishes, he's ripping sexbot you to shreds. And it's only a matter of time before he graduates to the real thing…

Of course, none of these questions and extrapolations even touch on the Biggest Question of All: what if robots become self-aware?

Imagine the possibilities, and go write about them.

Further reading on this subject:

No Sex Please, Just Clean The Floor

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

SpecRom Cinema: Ju-on

Back again to the Asia Extreme film fest, and the offering of Ju-on.

Whoever made this movie should offer me all kinds of things just for sitting through such a 90+ minute lesson on How Good Movies Are Not Made By The Occasional Creepy Visual Effect.

I'll put the lesson in the lead this time, for all you authors looking for tips to darken up your speculative romances or other prose. Pay attention. This is crucial. I'll make it big, bold and unmistakable.


Don't read any further if you want to avoid spoilers. Though, how I could ever spoil an entertainment experience this bad is inconceivable to me.

In Ju-on, which was remade with equal negative effect in America, the tragedy of one ill-fated family has leaked into the walls. The ghosts of a sadistic man and the wife and son he murdered take the lives of everyone who subsequently encounters them in the house.

The killing flaw of Ju-on is its structure. After a prologue scene both horrifically and aesthetically pleasing, hinting at the violence that's poisoned the house, the movie devolves into a series of vignettes, each prefaced with the name of the victim printed in white characters on a black screen. Once the victim is identified, the poor unfortunate struggles and screams for ten to fifteen minutes before being dispatched by the evil ghosts.

That's right. It's like an animated kill list. No characters are developed. I'm given no chance to get to know them, let alone given a chance to care if they fall to the ghosts. And since I know exactly who is going to fall to the ghosts in each scene, the only suspense revolves around how creepy the ghosts will be when they kill.

The creep factor lasted for approximately three deaths. After that, I started flipping through a back issue of Gourmet magazine I found under my chair and glancing up at the screen when the scary music sounded, just to see what the ghosts would do next.

A trio of schoolgirl zombies appeared for no apparent reason. Up until that point, the story revolved entirely around the ghosts of this one specific family in this one specific house. Suddenly, I look up from a recipe to see a cute young girl in the obligatory fetish school uniform being menaced by three dead and blue but still cute zombies in the obligatory fetish school uniforms. My mood darkened from disappointed to angry. What, I wondered, are American directors so hot for in this movie that they would waste money making a bad remake of it?

So let's review.

Vivid characters + audience empathy + threat = excellent storytelling in any medium or genre.

Cardboard characters + audience apathy + threats + creepy effects = crap with creepy effects.

If you decide to take your paranormal romance into darker shadows, or take your science fiction love story into Alien territory, please remember that the basic requirements of storytelling do not cease to matter just because the aim is to create fear in your reader.

Vivid characters + audience empathy + threat.

It's a formula that can't go wrong. Tape it above your desk. Tattoo it to your knuckles so you see it every moment that you're typing.

Don't pull a Ju-on if you want to play on the dark side.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

NEWS 2 USE - The I'm Sorry I've Been Neglecting You Version

Some of us have WIPs you know

Go Team Go

The team fielded by Ecuador in pursuit of the soccer World Cup has its own personal "witch doctor" who has hexed the English team, according to The Sun.

Think of the possibilities with introducing a paranormal element into the Harlequin NASCAR tie-in. Not that I don't already think that the Harlequin and NASCAR tie-in is paranormal. The only sport that should be legal is competition ballroom dancing. Latin and Standard.

PS: England 1, Ecuador, 0.

Tell Me More, Tell Me More

According to research published in the American Scientist, the human brain is wired to deliver that burst of pleasure we feel when the proverbial light bulb goes on. When we grasp a new concept, the brain shoots us full of natural opiates.

The research also indicates that the pleasure from viewing art is similarly hard-wired. So now you know why that "aha" moment when your story comes together feels so damn good.

Why Can We Go Crazy?

The emerging discipline of evolutionary psychology aims to explain why human DNA developed a cognitive, emotional and neurobiological system so prone to breaking down in the form of psychiatric disorders.

The blurb at Mind Hacks (I love them, love them, love them) is just the gateway to a web of links to learn more. As we understand how the brain's chemistry and cognitive functions work, science continues to blur the line between normal and abnormal psychologies. I remember reading not too long ago a great woo woo about how fine the line is between being creative and being crazy. Maybe our susceptibility to madness is just the risk of being such a creative species. So, if your alien species places even more value on creative thinking…

From the Oh Gross! Department

While doctors brush them off as victims of a delusional disorder, growing numbers of Americans report an itchy, bumpy rash apparently caused by "Morgellons." Sufferers report a feeling of bugs crawling under their skin, described by one victim as "It gives you the sensation that you have worms under your skin or rats crawling on you." The itchy bumpy rash shows signs of parasitic activity or other type of infection.

It's just too weird to summarize here. Go read it yourself, Rense has a dozen articles. Icky, icky, icky! But a story gold mine!

An Advertising Campaign for Space

Research shows that most people are disconnected with the idea of space exploration, have no idea of the goals of such a long-term enterprise and see little value in going beyond our atmosphere, let alone our solar system.

According to space exploration proponents, we need an advertising campaign for space.

Having formal training in marketing and advertising, my mind boggles at how those media manipulators might make the space shuttle sexy. What a great platform for a story: "what if a few marketing moguls made space exploration the #1 priority of Americans?"

Finally, from the Can't Resist Department

According to the July 2006 issue of Gourmet: The Magazine of Good Living, a new restaurant in Beijing "offers over 30 varieties of animal penises. The organs, often served with testicles, are thought to enhance virility."

So consuming male sexual parts=virility. So wouldn't that make orally enthusiastic straight women and gay men…mirror mirror on the wall, who's the most virile of them all?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Market Updates: Regular Schedules Lack Imagination Edition

  • Echelon Press seeks Dark Fantasy Paranormal

  • Editorial changes at Red Dress Ink and Berkley

  • wants flash fiction -- and really likes erotic horror

  • Ralan opens the 2006 Grabber

  • Flesh and Blood magazine and Inara Press bid adieu to you and you and you

  • From The Asylum hosts a Hot Summer Something Fiction Contest -- but keep it PG-13

  • See the full list with links at Speculative Romance Online The Website.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    Short Story Boot Camp: Basic Training

    SpecRom's Third Annual Zircon Contest for Short Speculative Romance opens for entries in August. Here's the first of a series aimed at potential Zircers, and anyone hoping to break the short story market.

    Okay, let's start with a definition, cause that's where you should always start. Can't reach a goal without an adequate definition.

    Our goal: Write a saleable short story in the speculative romance genre.

    Now, let's examine the goal's components.

    Saleable = exceeding editorial expectations for the target market.

    When you have ANY product or service, you cannot know enough about the target market. Your fiction is both product and service. So know your target market.

    For the Zircon Contest, reading along with this blog, studying the articles on the site and the reviews by the editors will clue you in on what the editorial expectations are. For example, if you receive the Speculative Romance Online monthly newsletter, you know that it is issued From the Desk of the Deflower the Virgins Literary Action Committee. Therefore, any virgin heroine had better be extraordinary to be a finalist in the Zircs.

    Do you feel that is unfair? Do you think that quality should not be judged by such subjective matters? Get over it or find another craft, because every piece of fiction you ever submit anywhere, whether to a contest, an editor or an agent, will be judged subjectively. That's why you should know your market.

    For other purposes, knowing the market means reading the short fiction that's being purchased and published. There is no other way to do it. You've got to read what's out there.

    Here in the blog you'll find some recommendations through the READ THIS feature. But if you go to our best market friend Ralan, at Ralan's SpecFic and Humor Webstravaganza, you can find links to practically every print and ezine in the speculative genre. Click, read, study, repeat.

    For more traditional and erotic speculative romances, many of the electronic publishers now offer short speculative romances for download. For a great list of these publishers, I can suggest The Passionate Pen's Romance Publisher's List. Click, read, study, repeat.

    Short Story = for our purposes, i.e. the Zircon Contest, a piece of fiction with a beginning, middle and end that does not exceed 10,000 words. Though, length is always determined by editorial expectations of your target market.

    See above: editorial expectations.

    But for further clarification, a short story will generally follow a different plot arc than a novella or novel-length piece of fiction. In a novel, you have pages to develop characters, relationships and ideas. In a short story, you have paragraphs.

    In the helpful Fiction Factor article Writing A Great Short Story, Lee Masterson suggests a good short story focuses on a single event and provides a snapshot into the wider literary world running through and behind that event. The short stories that stick in my memory provide that sense of freezing a pivotal moment and showing it to me through a unique story lens. I am left with a satisfied feeling of a story told, but also a lingering sense that the story goes on. It's hard to explain further. Good art is always paradoxical.

    Being a soul who hates to re-do work, unless of course it's revisions to her own fiction, I've compiled this list of links to wonderful articles that will help you understand the form and function of short speculative romance fiction:

    How to Win A Zircon, by Joyce Ellen Armond, otherwise known as me

    Tips for Writing Short SFRs by Ann Townsend

    Meshing the Genres: More SFR Short Story Tips, by Emily Alward

    SFR Shorts: Perfect When Paired with SFR Tshirts by Jody Wallace

    Short and Sweet: Writing the SFR Short Story by Megan Powell

    Speculative Romance genre = a story that uses elements of romance and speculative fiction in a way that satisfies a reader's enthusiasm for both genres.

    Speculative fiction is a genre of ideas. Romance fiction is a genre of relationships. A good speculative romance does more than find a balance between speculative and romantic genres. It weaves the idea and the relationship into a feedback loop, each element supporting, enhancing, reflecting and foiling the other.

    In crafting a speculative romance, you have to ask what-if twice.

    What if...aliens invade the earth. A speculative story could proceed from there. But a speculative romance requires another step. How will the alien invasion affect someone's romantic relationship?

    What if…a mousy librarian discovers she has super-powers? How will that change her sex life?

    What if…the princess must be sacrificed to a dragon to save the kingdom? How will that unexpectedly help her find her heart's desire?

    What if…a woman inherits a haunted house? How will that affect her struggling marriage?

    If you're running short on what-if questions, just spend a few hours surfing science, futuristic and paranormal blogs. Start with the ones listed on the News 2 Use section of SpecRom's website. There's so much what-if out there, you can't plead nothing to write about.

    So remember the goal: Write a saleable short story in the speculative romance genre. And get to work!

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Humor Break

    You Are 42% Evil

    You are evil, but you haven't yet mastered the dark side.
    Fear not though - you are on your way to world domination.

    Sunday, June 11, 2006

    SpecRom Cinema: Perversion of Pathos

    So the Sundance Channel is running a series called "Asia Extreme" -- playing all those nouveau horror movies that American directors are re-making.

    Last Sunday's offering was Dark Water.

    These are my thoughts on the original film (not the American version which I have not seen), as I try to figure out what makes nouveau horror tick, and what themes/mechanics/twists can we lift in the pursuit of successful dark paranormal romance.

    Be warned. This discussion contains
    (emphatic organ music and crashing thunder.)

    What struck me about Dark Water is that the horror was not so much about generic supernatural eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil, but grew organically from the emotions inherent in the story's tragedy.

    In the original, a besieged Yoshima fights a custody battle with her overbearing ex. The most important thing to Yoshima is to keep her daughter, Ikuru. But she's out on her own, trying to find work and a stable place to live. In short, she's trying to keep it together under some serious stress. Y&I get moved in, a job is secured, things seem to be going well. And then the ceiling starts to leak. It's the first clue to the tragedy that spawns the horror.

    Yoshima begins to unravel clues about a child gone missing. The girl and her family lived in the apartment directly above Y&I -- the apparent origin of the ceiling leak. The little girl's mother ran off without warning, and soon after, the little girl disappeared. Through mounting creepiness and threats to Ikuru's safety, Yoshima discovers the secret of the lost little girl. Unsupervised and alone, the girl followed a maintenance crew to the roof and fell into the uncapped water tank to drown alone and unclaimed. When Y&I move in to the apartment building, the lost little girl's revenant decides that she needs a mother like Yoshima far more than Ikuru ever could.

    The key here is that the horror springs from real emotion. The lost girl is trapped in grief and anger and abandonment. It's not that she wants to destroy Ikuru or claim Yoshima out of negative emotion. She the ghost of a frightened child: she wants, she aches, she takes.

    Or more accurately, at the surprisingly powerful climax, Yoshima gives. To save Ikuru, she sacrifices herself and embraces the lost girl's ghost, accepting the job of being mother to a wanting child through eternity (horrifically illustrated by the drowned animated corpse trying to nurse from the terror-struck Yoshima), and thereby giving Ikuru the chance to live.

    So what's the lesson of Dark Water? I think it's a new view on creating threat. Instead of making the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil want to destroy because, well, it's eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil and that's what it does, consider grounding the threat to your characters in an emotion that, in normal circumstances, would engender a reader's empathy. Who wouldn't feel for a motherless child who falls victim to tragedy? How about when its hungry ghost starts tearing you and your family apart? It's a perversion of pathos -- a tool you can use when crafting your next dark paranormal romance.

    Saturday, June 10, 2006


    Yes, it's Saturday, not Friday. But I spent Friday visiting with my dear old mum, sipping iced tea and eating fresh strawberries. You should have had such a nice day as we did!

    As always, the full market listings can be found at Speculative Romance Online, The Website.

    Walking Bones wants the odd, the strange and the bizarre in the short form.

    Circlet Press calls for submissions for Fantastic Erotica.

    DLSIJ Press wants work of any genre, fiction and non-fiction, by women authors. They have an upcoming anthology themed to alternate realities.

    And as a special bonus to you blog readers, the most interesting market I've seen in a while...

    Bust Down the Door & Eat All the Chickens
    We are seeking stories of an absurdist or surrealist nature that are within the range of 2000 to 5000 words. They should not fit comfortably within any genre. We prefer humorous stories where impossible things happen. It must be able to grab our attention from the very first line. And make every word count.

    An excuse to tell my favorite surrealist joke!

    Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Banana.

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday, June 05, 2006


    New reviews posted today --

    RESURRECTION by Sara Reinke
    Guy who raises the dead vs. maniac serial killer. Sign us up!

    PASSION MODEL by Megan Hart
    Bot, bot, just who is the sex bot?

    DESTINY'S MAGICK by Rae Morgan
    Corporations, covens and astral projection orgasms. Oh my.

    As always, see em at Speculative Romance Online.

    The Other Big Bangs

    Scientists who have long speculated that an asteroid impact caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs now think that a previous impact paved the way for the evolutionary rise of dinosaurs. Evidence of an impact crater below Antartica suggests that the majority of land and ocean life died off prior to the dinosaur's prototype, archosaurs, leading the rise to dino dominance.

    Read the original news article.

    So what's going to walk the Earth after the next big crash?

    Who Are You, Really?

    Geneticists now think that "humans" may in fact be a symbiotic amalgam of human cells and bateria. Some estimates suggest that up to 90% of what we consider "us" is actually "them."

    Scientists arrived at the conclusion after discovering that the DNA composition of healthy human feces is actually 95% bateriological.

    Read it and weep.

    Okay, after your juvenile snicker over poop having DNA, consider the implications. All those wars because of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, then we find out that we are just self-aware prime real estate for germs. Consider that the next time you feel self- important.

    The Elders Strike Back

    The Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry is drafting rules for the creation of robots, echoing Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics. Prominent among the minister's concerns: an emergency shut-off button.

    Japan believes that its anticipated worker shortage in elder care may be solved through the application of robots.

    Read more about it.

    Imagine the potential social shift that senior citizens paired with robots might create, especially here in America. Suddenly, one of the most undervalued, most neglected, most manipulated segments of society will be paired up with robots. I'm thinking that just a few pissed off nursing home residents with the requisite education could REALLY fix the Medicare Part D problem.

    Aging boomers + unstoppable robots = freaky future.

    Friday, June 02, 2006


    Report any market tips to!

    Inara Press calls for submissions for short stories, novellas and novel-length cross-genre romance. (I've been nothing but impressed with this new start-up so far, from their cover art to their fiction. Reviews coming soon!)

    Forbidden Publications is a market for everything romance, from sweet to extreme, from 2,000 to 80,000+ words.

    Little Brown UK science fiction imprint Orbit is coming to the US/Aussie markets. That will eventually mean 40 new science fiction titles released per year. Woo hoo!

    As always, full market updates at Speculative Romance Online!