Got #editing? #SF #SFR

If you’ve read my past editorials at SFRQ, you’ll know that I have always been an independent/self-publishing advocate. I believe that independent publishing offers avenues for other and less common voices to be heard and that readers are hungry for stories from different perspectives. You only need to see the number of highly popular series coming out places like Netflix, Hulu, HBO (and now, Amazon!) to know that “independence” and “popularity” aren’t mutually exclusive. Could you have imagined one of the regular network channels producing The Sopranos, The Wire or Breaking Bad? And let’s not even mention Game of Thrones!

As a result of their tremendous and innovative work, nobody throws brickbats at Hulu, HBO or Netflix anymore, but people still disparage independently-published books. And, unfortunately, one flaw that dogs such books is the editorial quality of the prose. In a nutshell, there ain’t any.

The “independent networks” discovered that they could compete with the Big Boys if they had the same production values as the competition. Pair that with compelling writing and you have a winner on your hands. It’s something that the independent networks have learned, but something that I think still needs to happen across the independent publishing landscape as well.

Which brings me to the focus of this post. Finally. 🙂 Besides being the Chief Editor of SFRQ for three years, and a writer of SFR for ten, I’ve also been a technical writer and editor for…oh dear…more than 30 years. I feel so old having said that. LOL Despite this amount of experience, I have never thought that I could publish my own books without any kind of editorial help, which is why you’ll see two other names in the back matter of my books. They’re my editors.

I’d like to throw their (and my) expertise open to you. J’s and my business, Challis Tower, is now taking on clients for its editorial services. While most other freelance editorial services offer one editor, we’re offering…three! That’s right. Three editors for the price of one.

There are a couple of caveats. One, we only offer two packages in order to keep the team’s process (and this process spans continents!) flowing as smoothly as possible:

  • Our Manuscript Critique service involves two editors, of which I’m one
  • Our standard (and only) Editing Package involves three editors, of which I’m one

The other caveat is that we’re currently only open to writers with manuscripts in the following genres:

  • Science/speculative fiction
  • Science fiction romance
  • Science fiction with romantic elements

If you’ve decided to take the independent path of publishing, then it’s up to you to make your story as flawless as possible. The better the quality, the more appreciative your readership. And here’s an opportunity to run your prose past three editors, all of whom have editorial experience in the SF/SFR genres.

If you’re interested in having your manuscript looked over by up to three editors at a single rate, or if you have any questions, you can go to the Challis Tower Services page or drop me a line at editing #at% ChallisTowerBooks #dot& com

We’d love to hear from you!

Kaz and the gang at Challis Tower

Re(tro)view: Saturn 3 #SFR #film #movie

If I ever wanted to make some easy money by extorting a famous actor, I think the best way would be to walk up to Harvey Keitel in a crowded room and whisper, “Give me a million bucks or I tell everyone you were in Saturn 3.”

This 1980 SF(R) thriller was obviously made to cash in on the incredible popularity of Star Wars (1977), but ended up resembling something with post-production values of a newish Dr. Who episode; that is, appalling. This was probably because all the sets and effects were created and supervised by the British, this being a joint UK-US production. And it shows.

The writer, Martin Amis, wrote the screenplay from a story by John Barry, who had the best of intentions:

In Saturn 3 the science considerations are all responsible. People don’t do anything that isn’t possible. It’s very much about real people. It’s a love story, a story about contemporary relationships set two centuries ahead.

Martin Amis might not be such a well-known name now but, from the mid-70s through to the 90s, he was a Big Cheese, twice listed for the prestigious Booker Prize, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and, according to the British newspaper The Times, named as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. Later, he described his credit on Saturn 3 as a “debit”: “You get paid a whack but you earn it over and over in work and humiliation,” is what he said, according to The Independent. Despite this (or maybe to glean more humiliation), Amis went on to make more money off the film by writing “Money”, a 1984 novel that’s based on his experience writing the Saturn 3 scipt. According to Wikipedia:

The actors…all have some kind of emotional issue[s]… the strict Christian Spunk Davis (whose name is intentionally unfortunate) is asked to play a drugs pusher; the ageing hardman Lorne Guyland has to be physically assaulted; the motherly Caduta Massi, who is insecure about her body, is asked to appear in a sex scene with Lorne, whom she detests…The character of Lorne Guyland was based on the star of the film, Kirk Douglas.

Doesn’t that give you the urge to go out and hunt down a second-hand copy of Money? It does me. Much more exciting than the actual movie and we’re still only on the writer credits! But let’s move onto the stars.

Farrah Fawcett is another name that has slowly sunk into the ocean of time. In 1980, she already had Charlie’s Angels under her belt, sporting a blonde “blown back” look that all the teenage girls at the time tried to copy. (Not me, I’ve always had short hair, but I certainly noticed it among my peers.) In watching an old interview with her on the Johnny Carson Show, I’m dismayed to note that the irritating breathy way she spoke on Saturn 3 is actually her natural voice, but what she said about the film is interesting:saturn-3-alt-poster

The title of [the movie] before we finished… was “The Helper”. And it was very interesting. It was about a…manufactured robot who fell in love because he felt the emotions of the man who had made him… It was very interesting, the script, before we started, and then I don’t know what happened.

You can watch the entire clip here.

Kirk Douglas was the main lead, playing the role of…well, I don’t quite know. Cranky Old Man Who Thinks He’s In A Western, I suppose. And, of course, he must have a young woman to “mentor”; someone who can’t see anyone but him; a youthful prop to a body visibly aged. (One of the reasons that I wrote Her Scandalous Affair was as a flip to this older man/young woman trope.) But I misspoke. Kirk Douglas wasn’t just “older”. At the time of filming, he was sixty-four! (“Will you still need me/Will you still feed me/…”)

If everyone at the time knew who Farrah Fawcett and Kirk Douglas were, the same couldn’t be said of Harvey Keitel. He had an amazing sixteen film credits before Saturn 3, but was still only well-known among his native New York actor circles. (He continued roughly in this fashion until his break-out role as “Mr. White” in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs twelve years later (1992). So if you’re a struggling mid-list author, hang in there!)

Even from the early days, Keitel never liked passive roles, one reason he was swapped out of Apocalypse Now and replaced with Martin Sheen. He was more of a “Doing Things” kind of actor, who liked “Doing Things” kinda characters. And so we come to Saturn 3.

But what’s the film about, you ask? Here’s IMDb’s succinct abstract:

Two lovers stationed at a remote base in the asteroid fields of Saturn are intruded upon by a retentive technocrat from Earth and his charge: a malevolent 8-ft robot.

And the rest of the movie consists of either sex scenes between Douglas and Fawcett, stilted robotic dialogue from Keitel, and a robot (Hector) that either moves at a snail’s pace or Usain Bolt speed.

The Saturn 3 base is supposed to be growing food for an overcrowded Earth, but no work actually appears to occur. Lots of bonking, but no actual raising-crops-for-feeding-the-masses. Adam (Douglas) is obviously trying to recapture lost youth (a direct mirror of Douglas himself at this point in his career, from what I’ve read), and Alex (Fawcett) is little more than a wind-up doll, unable to even flee down a corridor without a male holding her hand.

Benson (Keitel), the commander in charge of the robot, was initially grounded due to mental instability, but he disregards orders to stand down, conveniently kills a colleague (doesn’t every accommodation unit contain a single door opening out onto the vacuum of space?), and hightails it to Saturn 3 on his dead colleague’s mission. As a disobedient, mentally imbalanced murderer, why doesn’t he run away instead? Who the hell knows!

Once on the Saturn 3 base, he (of course) falls in lust with Alex, and the plot devolves to two dogs snarling over a bone, with the novel addition of a robot that also slavers over Alex because it has been imprinted with Benson’s thoughts and, therefore, Benson’s lust for Alex. Loose the testosterone and let the carnage begin!

In the end, everyone (even the dog…yes, there’s a scruffy little terrier in it) dies, leaving Alex on a space cruiser heading for Earth.

This film is every bit as bad as you think. Maybe if it had been released before Star Wars, it may have stood a chance. After all, it did have an 8-foot robot, some nice tunnel shots, unintentional comedy and a 2001: A Space Odyssey-derivative soundtrack. But, next to Lucas’ trailblazing gem (and, whatever we may think of George Lucas’ directorial talents now, Star Wars was a solar flare of innovative energy back then), Saturn 3 was lucky to splutter before dying out completely.

Yep, the Poles know how to do movie posters all right!
Yep, the Poles know how to do movie posters all right!

In fact, as I’ve discovered when digging into this film, the backstory is a magnitude more interesting and dramatic than the film itself.

As an SFR, Saturn 3 fails in everything except for one concept: the imprinting of a human’s strong emotions on an almost-indestructible AI robot. Unfortunately, the chance is lost to make more of this as the film devolves into the usual yawn-inducing clichés.

For an entertaining read into the backstory of the film (including why Keitel sounds so robotic), go to Greg Moss’ excellent site Saturn3MakingOf. Without him, this review would have been little more than a shell.

Saturn 3:

Sets – 3 / 5
Robot – 3 / 5
Plot – 2 / 5 (and I’m only giving the extra point because of the robot)
Acting – 1 / 5
Sexism – 5 / 5

Because of what might have been, a reboot might be in order—and I’d watch it!—although judging by the thin cloth that masquerades as the plot of a more recent SFR film, Jupiter, Ascending, I could be wishing for too much.

Short #Hugo post #SF #SFR

I’ve been writing SFRs since 2007, which makes it nine years of seeking out new life, exploring alien civilisations…and sticking romance in there! And if you’ve read any of my editorials from past issues of SFRQ, you’d know that I think romance is an integral part of any relationship; that love is the one thing that ennobles us and sets us apart from intelligent machines. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be writing SFRs, but–in all honesty–I can’t say that such a perspective has been, or is, respected.

The 2016 Hugo shortlist was recently published, and there are two things about it that I find dismaying. One is the fact that, in our first year of eligibility, SFRQ didn’t make it to the shortlist. ::cue violin music::

The editorial team expected this–after all, we’re a pretty niche segment of SF and, although our number of daily visitors has recently reached 2500 (yay!), in the free-for-all of the intertubes, that’s still small potatoes. Nonetheless, we were still quietly hopeful, despite me trying to play it cool during editorial meetings, and it was disappointing that our name didn’t appear. Marlene Harris, reviewer, librarian and all-round Great Person, has pointed out that, after the Awards ceremony, the number of votes in each category, for each nomination, are released, so we can check to see how many people actually nominated us. In this way, we can get a sense of how high the tally bar is set and, as Heather and Diane have pointed out, there’s always next year.

The second thing, however, is much worse, and that’s the degree to which petulance has entered the Hugo awards in particular, and science-fiction in general. I’m not just talking about Vox Day, but also about the repetitive and divisive discussions that have swirled around science fiction regarding its very make-up. These discussions are not new (just ask Michael Moorcock when he introduced New Wave into British SF), but it’s frustrating to have to travel the same rut time and time again until, it seems, we’re now in a deep, narrow ditch that we can barely crawl out of.

I wonder what these people are afraid of, these self-appointed gatekeepers of SF , because such reactions can only be down to one thing: fear. Fear of change, fear of losing control. Or, should I say, fear of a perception of losing control. I’m also insulted by the rigid categories such critics put me in. Because I’m a brown-skinned woman, for example, I must only be capable of writing neo-colonialist social SF. Well, if anyone has read my fiction, they’d know that I like nothing better than delving into physics and hard science! But, according to these “defenders” of SF (and, as I said earlier, they encompass more than Vox Day and his thuggish cohorts), only white men can write the kind of hard, adventure-laden adventures that the genre apparently stands for. It’s obvious none of them have read any of the SFR that I have, because our sub-genre is suffused with adventure and spaceships and hardware! But I’m getting off the point.

What I don’t understand is how such “critics” form their basic concept of the world. It’s a world where Kellog’s only sells cornflakes, because they think that introducing a second variety of breakfast cereal would somehow “lessen” their flagship product. It’s a world where you can only buy a car in one colour, because offering variety is somehow an “attack” on the original hue. It’s a world of Wyse terminals, with no way of changing–or even having!–a wallpaper on your computer screen.

What a banal world that is, and yet it seems to be the world that a small segment of so-called fans of science fiction prefer. Yet, were we able to peer into their houses, at their computers or the vehicles in their garages, I doubt they slavishly follow the “only one is good enough” car/cereal/computer line. Yet they expect the rest of us to. Isn’t that interesting?

I say again, what exactly do they fear? Could it be…evolution? And isn’t that an ironic thought. To these “champions” of “hard SF”, I’d point out that you can’t stop variation, not even in a species of fruitfly. And nobody is going to be able to stop it in a genre, no matter how loudly and petulantly they squawk. It’s just going to be tedious to get through, on our journey from exclusivity to inclusivity. As a famous ad once said: “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.”

Many thanks to all who nominated SFRQ in the 2016 Hugos. We’ll be hoping (and planning!) for better luck next year.

OT: Any #homeschooling parents out there?

(Just a quick off-topic post before my main one tomorrow.)

I’m writing a book on homeschooling outside the United States. As you may know, homeschooling is an established (some might even say) tradition in the US, but it’s still at the initial stages in the rest of the world.

With this in mind, I’m halfway through a book on options for those parents who don’t have such a solid support network as in the States. I’d be interested in touching base with any homeschooling parents outside the US who are interested in sharing their stories with me. If you know of anyone, could you please get them to contact me at


Sorry for the long addy but I was getting so much spam at my old address that I had to blow it away.

Any responses can be anonymous if the respondents so wish. The information’s the thing.

I now return you to your normal programming… 🙂

Looking for #SFR recs

I bow to the SFR hive mind on this one. 🙂 People, I’m after recs to add to my TBR pile. At the moment, I’m going through a lot of non-fiction, mostly textbooks as The Wast prepares himself for his exams. I’m in dire need of some distraction, but can’t think of what to read, so I throw myself upon your mercy.

What do you recommend?

I’d like to steer clear of any military or military-like stories. I’m a military brat myself, but have great ambivalence towards the service and am really looking for entertainment at the moment.

I’d also prefer a not-so-obviously North American background. There are N. American terms I don’t understand, and I don’t want to get involved in a story where I need to research particular terms. God knows I’m doing enough of that during our swotting time.

Strong heroines, natch, but no bullies.

No erotic scenes. I find I’m pulling away from the erotic SFR romances. Anyone else finding that?

I suppose it all adds up to a read that’s relaxing, above all.

I know, I’ve listed quite a few daunting criteria. Still, anything else left standing once the dust settles?

Book changes #SFR #SandalPress folding, but wait…!

I usually try to blog about non-SFR things at the TGE blog, but Something’s Come Up, as they say. So this one is going to have a self-publishing focus, with a bit of SFR thrown in.

The rotten thing about self-publishing is what a monumental time pit it is. So much time and energy is spent formatting, updating websites, updating social media, marketing, overseeing covers, wrangling with technology, etc. that writing time itself becomes rare. It’s like writing while working, except your work is also part of the writing business and there’s no second source of income. However, for me, that is all balanced by one thing. Control. Self-publishing gives me the kind of flexibility and control that would be impossible with a book published by the typical, multi-author press. Which is a nice lead-in to something that I consider to be quite important.

Continue reading “Book changes #SFR #SandalPress folding, but wait…!”