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Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed and What They Taught Me
      Ersatz Wines
Tobias Buckell
      Christopher Priest
Amazon Digital Services, 432 pages
      GrimGrin Studio, 172 pages

Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed and What They Taught Me Ersatz Wines
Tobias Buckell
Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born New York Times best-selling author. His work has been translated into 16 different languages. He has published some 50 short stories in various magazines and anthologies, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and Campbell awards.

Tobias Buckell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Executioness

Christopher Priest
Christopher Priest's awards include receiving the 1974 BSFA Award for Inverted World and the 1996 World Fantasy Award for The Prestige. He is married to fellow-novelist Leigh Kennedy, and lives in Hastings, UK with their twin children.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Islanders
SF Site Review: The Glamour
SF Site Review: The Separation
SF Site Review: The Extremes
SF Site Review: The Prestige

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Both Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed and What They Taught Me by Tobias Buckell and Ersatz Wines by Christopher Priest deal with the category of literature known as juvenilia: works written before the writer came into his full maturity. Both writers deal with the idea that the point of the book is just to make some money, but they also believe their mistakes may help beginning writers. Buckell is more contemporary and aware of the current speculative scene while Priest's concerns are more literary, yet both give useful insight into the process of maturing as a writer. Both start with awful stories that gradually become publishable. In Buckell's case, he ends on a Locus-award-nominated story.

A few of Buckell's early, unsold works occasionally showed salability. The problem, for this reader, often turned out to be endings that didn't hang together. But Buckell dissects his own stories unsparingly and offers up nuggets to chew on: Don't be afraid to play with an aspect of craft while you're learning. Stories should be interesting (which is more important than being well-written). The story idea should impact/affect the character and answer a number of whys in terms of the story's idea: i.e. why this character in this story? Choose the right POV before starting: Who is the most impacted? Remain in a character's POV, even if it's an unemotional robot's. Characters should have motives, wants, hopes and dreams. Explore morality and consequences of a character actions: Even primary characters should suffer due to their choices. Dig deeper. Even secondary characters should have depth since everyone has a goal. Build worlds around character, cramming in the socio-political into the background. Give characters wrenching, emotional pain. Don't stretch the emotional impact past the story's length. Bring in the conflict within a half-page (even if it's not the primary conflict).

Priest, on the other hand, begins with a brief yet inspiring autobiography, noting the unusual aspect that he had no unusual background that magically turned him into a writer. Rather, he suggests that anyone can be a writer with application. When Priest attacks his own stories, he's as vicious about vague or poor word-choice, repetition, and grammar as about structural issues. Giving details of setting, time, technology, social mores, and nuances can be tricky, especially in SF where more is required. Characters should be believable and their actions, scenarios, and feelings realistic. Motives should be clear. Priest denigrates a story's voice for carrying emotion, but it has been done well -- at least to this reader's taste -- in James Patrick Kelly's stories where the emotion toward an unusual circumstance is part of what pulls us in.

There was a day when such a show of mistakes was anathema to collections. Both writers made a gutsy choice to show how they arrived from where they were. Writers can learn from both collections. Hats off to Priest and Buckell for taking the chance.

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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