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spooky action at a distance

a SFF & IF review

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April 2016

FEATURE: awards season recommendations

It’s the time of year when awards nominations are announced: when a community comes together to honor the most notable writing and achievements of their members, when people ask for reminders on social media about what exactly constitutes a specific award category, when conversations about biasing voting are held. I’m talking, of course, about the XYZZY awards, the IF community’s annual celebration of the year’s most innovative text pieces.

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INTERVIEW: Max Gladstone on “Choice of the Deathless”, “City’s Thirst”, and the Craft universe

Today, Spooky Action at a Distance brings you something slightly different! We sat down to chat with Max Gladstone, John W. Campbell Award-nominated SFF and IF author, creator of the Craft Sequence novels (Last First Snow is the latest), Choice of the Deathless, The City’s Thirst and Bookburners. Below, he shares his thoughts about writing in the Craft universe for Choice of Games, what interactive and linear narrative share in common, and crafting choices with meaningful impact.

Thanks, Max! We appreciate it.

The Craft Sequence universe spans both interactive fiction and non-interactive fiction. What’s it like writing in the same world in two different formats? Do you think of interactive fiction as being a separate genre from non-interactive fiction?

Max: “Genre” is a very interesting word in this context—interactive fiction is a different form, for sure, and the stories crystalized around that form have developed their own genre markers.  Think about the “Bioware RPG”: there’s the form of action RPG, a meld of real-time combat scenarios and “out of combat” talk in which most choices are made through a conversation tree.  Then there are genre markers—like the way the games hinge on the navigation of party relationships and the development of romance.  Those genres are kind of… orthogonal to what we think of as genre markers in non-interactive fiction, if that makes any sense?  It doesn’t really matter whether the game has spaceships in it or not—is the game fundamentally about love, or blowing things up?  Or something else entirely?

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REVIEW THEME #2: Writing in Games; Games in Writing

Games about writing; writing about playing games. The second themed review exchange. Two rec lists; two reviews.

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SFF REVIEW: design structure in “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)”

This week’s story is “21 Steps to Enlightenment” by LaShawn M. Wanak. Published February 2014 in Strange Horizons, it can be found here: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2014/20140203/steps-f.shtml

Continuing last week’s theme of “elaborately structured speculative fiction with numerals in the title”, Wanak’s story immediately sank its hooks into me when I discovered it.

Coming to—or re-entering—the world of SFF very late, I’m aware there’s a lot of great fiction out there that I’ve missed and which generated a lot of buzz when it was published. Most of of my access to pre-2015 speculative fiction comes in the form of deep diving into the bibliographies of authors where I’ve found something I loved; sometimes, though, I find myself leafing through old issues of Clarkesworld and Tor and Strange Horizons.

Which is great, because sometimes you find gems like “21 Steps to Enlightenment”. It’s a piece of magical realism which explores the idea of spiral staircases that simply appear in the world, and that hold dizzying epiphanies at the tops for their climbers. Mostly, Isa narrates, in a series of vignettes and meditations, her own experiences with these structures. How they’ve affected her, how they affect other people. And slowly, the story of her family unfolds; the complex telling of a generational history.

I’ll confess from the outset that I love these sort of deliberate, separated structures.

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