Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I've been rather lax in maintaining this blog over the last couple weeks.  I've been trying to pull out of a spell of winter/holiday gloom and convince myself that THIS January ought to be greeted with optimism.  January seems to be the month of the year where some kind of trauma and upheaval happens.  I could certainly use some upheaval, but I don't need it to be traumatic. I will update later today on where I am with the magazine and my novel, but first, while I wait for the second cup of coffee to take effect, I want to make quick mention of a couple more novels that I've read during the past year or two but which I forgot to include on my "recent reading" list.

The first is David Brin's Kiln People (titled in England, for some reason, Kil'n People). It's set in an unhealthy future society which is completely rotten with surveillance and social malaise.  The premise is that people can create disposable copies of themselves (made of a sort of a clay in a type of kiln) that they can use to perform various tasks.  The copies, called dittoes and golems, are producible in various colors, the color indicating how high-functioning they are or what type of work they are typically used for. The copies don't last long, commencing decomposition within a day of coming out the kiln. The memories of their day of life, however, can be uploaded to the original person's brain. This enables some people to spend their whole lives vicariously through their dittoes, and others, like the book's lead character, to get a lot of work done by sending out copies of himself all over town. Albert Morris is a private detective who uncovers a plot by a madman to project his consciousness into space (and killing millions of people in the process).  The story line is entertaining enough, and leavened with a good deal of humor, but it's probably less interesting in the end than the kiln people concept itself and the new ways it gives people to deceive and hurt one another. For example: a divorced couple could have a child who gets to spend a day each week with his father; the child is sent out in the form of a ditto which has a great time with dad; mom then denies the memory upload from the ditto to the real kid, thus depriving him of the memory of that good day that he otherwise would have had; her motive is simple spite against the father. That's just one hideous thing that happens in this story.  I was reminded of Kiln People by a story that will appear in the first issue of M-Brane which also posits the ability of people to copy themselves, though in a very different way.

The other one I wanted to mention and recommend is Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers. Published back in the 1980s, it is a first generation cyberpunk novel and contains some of the earliest talk of wetware. Rebel Mudlark, the main character, is the recorded personality of a dead woman, owned by a corporation which licenses it for entertainment purposes. But she comes to awareness in the body of a woman who rents herself out for wetware testing and escapes into the solar system. She deals with the gradually resurfacing consciousness of the woman whose body she occupies and also a love affair with Wyeth, a man whose personality has been reworked into a committee of four complementary personalities. The milieu of Vacuum Flowers is rather like that of Sterling's  Schismatrix in the sense that the solar system has been colonized and numerous wildly different kinds of societies have developed.  Their adventures take them to scabrous canister cities in space, a bizarre communistic Mars, space stations in cislunar space near Earth, and down to Earth itself which has been overtaken by a hive mind called the Comprise. The title of book refers to a space-borne type of vegetation that spreads likes a noxious weed over the surface of can cities and spacecraft.  Rebel takes employment for a while, tasked with scraping these away.

The cover image of Kiln People is from Wikipedia.  I couldn't find one of Vacuum Flowers...and I didn't look very hard.  The cover art on the dust jacket of the book club edition that I own is so bad (and has so little to do with the subject matter of the book) that I passed it over for about ten years, letting it languish in dusty neglect.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Enormous Big Thing

In the introduction to the "From Ringworld" section of Larry Niven's fine 1990 retrospective volume N-Space, he talks about the technique he used to gradually brace the reader for the incredible scale of the Ringworld, showing first the Pierson's puppeteers Fleet of Worlds, presenting scale comparisons, keeping the number of characters small, and letting the Ringworld's size and nature "come as a recurring surprise to the characters."  He writes, "Today you could full a long shelf with books about (in David Gerrold's phrase) 'the Enormous Big Thing.' Eighteen years ago, Ringworld was the first to be written since the days when all the science was imaginary...since, say, Simak's The Cosmic Engineers."

Something written a few years more recently than Simak's book, however, which is also in a way an Enormous Big Thing story with a lot of science that probably wouldn't bear a great deal of serious scrutiny--but which works because of the skill of the author--is James Blish's Cities in Flight saga. There's nothing quite as huge as the Ringworld in this story, but big cities are levitated off the surface of the Earth and travel the galaxy like spaceships, and whole planets can be moved and sent careening through space at speeds so astounding that actual intergalactic travel can be achieved thus. I recommend these stories to people who are willing to look back a few decades and give some time to a writer who employed a real respect for scientific plausibility (even when he was completely making up the science out of whole cloth) along with a serious literary refinement, and did those things in the service of a wild, fun tale. So far, among the fine stories that I have scheduled for publication in the M-Brane mag, I don't have any Enormous Big Thing tales, and maybe they are out of fashion.  I've been wondering if someone will send me one sometime.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Christmas has not been a particularly joyous time for Jeff and me in recent years. We used to be quite well-to-do with our good jobs and abundance of disposable income. We would host lavish Christmas Eve parties in our home and dazzle our friends and family with our fine food and drink. As if that weren't enough, we would also give them fine, tasteful and thoughtfully chosen gifts. Then we went into business for ourselves (our restaurant in St. Louis), failed in two years and bankrupted ourselves. As it turned out, our vast experience and professional credentials before the business failure are largely worthless now: no one wants to work with a failure anymore.  The budget cutbacks, forced frugality and general discomfort of economic decline which a lot of Americans are only now beginning to feel as the recession deepens has been with Jeff and me for four Christmases now. I'm not whining about it: I am well aware that millions of people have always lived with that deprivation and worse and have never had the good times that we were so privileged to enjoy in years past. Nonetheless, it still sucks to not be able to buy anyone any gifts and to find oneself hoping (at 37 fucking years old) that Mom or Dad will send a card with a hundred bucks in it.  Honestly, I couldn't care less about Christmas in terms of its cornball "real meaning," its attendant pseudo-religious claptrap and its embarrassing all-American materialism.  I'm not a Scrooge, however, and I do value it as a time during the year for people to connect with their loved ones. It seems a good and gracious thing for people to do during what is otherwise the (literally) darkest time of the year. So I guess in that way it is sad for us to be far away from most of our loved ones and living through the great holiday just like it's any other stupid and pointless day. (Jeff did put up a really pretty Christmas tree, however, and its glow warms the room in which I now sit).

But one loved one that we are not far away from this year is our nephew Drake (nephew by custom rather than blood: he is the son of our dear friends Pat and Heather). He lives right here in OKC about a mile and a half away from us.  He is about two and a half years old and will be, tomorrow, the recipient of the only Christmas gift that I have purchased this year. Naturally, it's a book.  It is a 1980s-vintage oversize hardback copy of Jean de Brunhoff's The Story of Babar the Little Elephant (the cover of its original French edition is the accompanying image--thanks Wiki). We have given Drake books before and we tend to inscribe them with notes that he will be able to read and enjoy (or be embarrassed by) when he is much older. This copy of Babar, however, was already inscribed.  I found it at the used book shop and discovered that at some point in its history it had been a fourth-birthday gift for a kid named "Conner" and given by someone with the improbable name of "Mommy."  Cleverly, I used the computer to create a new leaf, containing our inscription, which I glued over the mostly-blank page, forever hiding this Mommy person's scribbling. Our own inscription to Drake is too sweet to quote in such a place as this blog. 

Happy holidays, M-Brane readers. Issue #1 of the zine is on schedule and may even hit early.

Got some McDonald books today

Today I visited the used book shop near my home, which has a large and deep (if disorganized and perhaps over-priced) sf section. There I found two books by Ian McDonald, fulfilling my wish to have (and eventually read) more stuff by him (see previous entry). The novels are Terminal Cafe and Evolution's Shore, which is evidently the first of several novels known collectively as the "Chaga Saga." 

I am so excited to get started with these, that I am considering bagging my recent load of stuff from the library and moving right into it.  (The image of Terminal Cafe's cover is from  Amazon, and I am curious to see if it really links from here to their "look inside" feature...No, it doesn't. That would have been too cool.)

Monday, December 22, 2008


That little column of books with the heading "Recent Reading List," located somewhere down there on the left side of the page, is probably misnamed in a couple of different ways. It's not entirely "recent" since some of those items were read a couple years ago.  It's also in no way complete, because I have neglected to include a lot of stuff that didn't stand out in memory or esteem. One book, read fairly recently, that I neglected to list was Ian Watson's Mockymen, a rather wacky farrago of alien conquest and Nazi occultism that I didn't like a lot and which didn't stick with me long past the two days I spent with it.

A few days ago, I borrowed from the library a copy of the 25th annual edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction, edited as always by Gardner Dozois, covering 2007, and inside of it there are two stories by Ian McDonald. Well, I kept seeing that name in the contents page and thinking it was the Mockymen author. Which caused me to briefly remember Mockymen. But wrong "Ian," I eventually realized.  Also, I discovered that McDonald is yet another writer that I am woefully under-familiar with, having not yet read any of his novels. If the quality of his two stories in this collection are any indication, he is awesome. The two tales are "Verthandi's Ring," an amazing and bizarre story of galactic war and freaky-deaky space-science set in a very far future; and "Sanjeev and Robotwallah," a sensitive story about a boy's coming of age in a future India riven by a high-tech war that is fought in part by battle-droid-driving teenagers. (The first was originally published in The New Space Opera (Eos), also edited by Dozois along with Jonathon Strahan.  "Sanjeev" first appeared in Fast Forward 1 (Pyr), edited by Lou Anders.)

Also of note in this 25th annual collection, is Bruce Sterling's "Kiosk," an often-funny and sometimes-sad story about social upheaval and transformation in a near-future eastern Europe where a street vendor gets hold of a device that can make carbon nanotube replicas of any object. I'm also re-reading Sterling's Schismatrix and the associated Mechanist/Shaper short stories: it's been a lot of years already since those blew many of us away, and I am remembering anew why they were so cool back in the day. ("Kiosk" first appeared in F&SF.)

The image with this post is of Ian McDonald at WorldCon 2005.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

MAG UPDATE: Print and circulation

I am hashing through some tedious technical details involving the PDF format, embedded fonts, print-on-demand, blah, blah, blah...but I think I'm close on all that, and should have some news on the actual cost and method of distribution of the print edition shortly. I am also thinking pretty hard about ways to increase the overall circulation of the zine in a possibly more rapid manner than I had originally imagined.  Yeah, right now, the real paid-for, in-the-bag circulation of the debut issue is fairly small, but I am contemplating using that first issue as a promotional piece in some kind of larger-scale push to get word out faster than it might happen otherwise. I recently read (in the intro to the Gardner Dozois-edited 25th edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction) that the print circulations of the real titans of the sf magazine world are really pretty small, well under thirty thousand copies each for Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF. I don't what I expected: it's not like a lot of people even read period much less read sf fiction periodicals.  But still, that doesn't seem like such a big audience as far as the logistics of reaching it.  I don't know yet, but I think I may find a way to distribute the non-print edition of #1 much further and wider than I was originally picturing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

DANGEROUS VISIONS? Bah! Nothing of the sort!

Occasionally when I need a quick reference or refresher on some writer or book or movement or era in science fiction, I will reach for my copy of Brian Aldiss's thick work of genre history and criticism Trillion Year Spree (only good up until the mid-1980s). Last night I was scanning through the section on the 1960s to see if Aldiss, whose intellect and body of work I greatly respect, had anything to tell me about Samuel Delany, my recent obsession. After finding what I wanted, I continued to browse in the pages and hit upon Aldiss's (is that the right possessive form of Aldiss?  I can't get a straight answer anywhere...) comments on Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology. I'm a big fan of that book and its sequel, and I'm sure I'd like its infamous as-yet-unpublished third volume, too. I even invoke its name in my writers guidelines below as a sort of example of the spirit of imagination that I'd like to see in new stories. But now I wonder if I'm just a naive dupe.  

Says Aldiss: "But any comparison with 'all that literary stuff' [quoting Ellison's introduction] would have shown how uncontroversial most of it was set against writers like Henry Miller, William Burroughs and D.H. Lawrence, and how stylistically limited it was by comparison to writers like Herman Melville, James Joyce, B.S. Johnson and William Golding...What Dangerous Visions actually was differed substantially from what it was claimed to be...Within the American field, dominated by the artificially-sustained 'family' values of the magazine ethos, these stories did appear quite shocking: but it was rather like shocking your maiden aunt with ribald limericks."  Aldiss does go on from there to discuss at some length how the British magazine New Worlds was the real frothing hot-bed of revolution during those days.  And Aldiss himself was, of course, a mainstay of that publication. While I might not agree with his dismissal of Dangerous Visions, he is certainly correct in a lot of his comments on the New Worlds-era writers.  Thinking about all this makes me wonder if there is something new coming that will blow the doors off the genre in the way that the New Wave and, later, the cyberpunks did. (By the way, I want to mention (even though M-Brane is not about movies) that Aldiss penned Brothers of the Head which was made into a bizarre, lovely mockumentary-style film with a bunch of awesome proto-punk music in it.)  The 2005 image of Aldiss is taken from Wikipedia.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Possibly within a week (but certainly by the end of the month), I think I will have a final decision made on how the print version of the zine is to be sold, printed and distributed. The plan is to produce it by way of a print-on-demand publisher, and I am in process of deciding which one to go with.  It will then be sold online via that publisher and this site.  One good possibility is that I might use CreateSpace for it, and then it could be made available through Amazon as well.  The big downside of this plan is that the cover price will, of necessity, be rather whopping high depending on which options I pursue. Under my original, and now-probably-abandoned scheme, of me printing and mailing it myself, it was going to be need to be about $5.00/copy and that was just barely covering the cost. Under this other option, I do not foresee a cover price of less than $6.00 and it could be as high as $7.00, again with the cost just barely covered. And that's about what it is to buy a new paperback book, but there is quite a lot of content slated for each issue--issue #1 will have nine stories and some articles. I am not trying to turn any kind of profit off of this print version, either, so I'm willing to sell it pretty much at cost. The money to pay my writers and any profit that M-Brane SF could ever hope to generate will come from sale of the electronically-distributed edition and possibly ads should I decide to open it up to that.  The upside of the print-on-demand option, however, is that the end-result, the actual physical object, will probably be of a nicer quality. It also keeps me out of the printing and distribution business, which I fear would take up too large a share of the time that would otherwise be spent on the zine's content. When I started this project, I had sort of forgotten about the days, back when I was teenager, when I would spend countless hours each month with mailing labels and envelopes in order to get out each issue of my Trek fanzine. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I haven't posted for a few days, but that doesn't mean I haven't been working. Indeed, the magazine is coming together at a gratifying pace.  I think I did well by not promising its debut until February and thereby giving myself enough time to work on it at a reasonable--rather than crazy--speed. The last few days, the volume of new submissions of stories has slowed a bit.  That's a good thing right now, because I should probably slow my rate of acquisitions a bit, too. Issue # 1 is filled, and issue #2 is mostly filled.  I may have spots for a couple more stories in it depending on length. I don't really want to start filling up #3 or beyond yet, so I am satisfied with where things stand now. One minor problem is that I really need to make a decision one way or another on how I am producing the print version  (still little to no subscriber interest in it, but I still want it to be available simultaneously with the PDF edition). 

Monday, December 8, 2008


1. Down near the bottom of this page, there is a spot where podcasts from Tor Books (the great sf publisher) show up. Available now is one consisting of Orson Scott Card talking about his new book Ender in Exile. His comments on this book and the others are interesting as are his remarks on how the smartest kids are usually treated in society and handled by the educational system. I know that a few posts ago I acted like I didn't really care anymore about the Ender series save for my deep affection for Ender's Game itself and the parallel Bean-focused book Ender's Shadow (and I may have also carped a bit about Card's politics)...but listening to Card today might re-interest me in it because the timeframe of the new book apparently overlaps and closely follows those other two books, happening more or less between the last couple of chapters of Game and concurrently with the Shadow series.

2. The other day I posted a note about my worries concerning the print version of the M-Brane SF zine.  If anyone else is worried about it, see the comments with that post from 12/5 and feel free to add...a writer that I plan to publish in the first issue made some good points about the desirability of the print version. I am presently investigating a POD (print-on-demand) option that I think may solve some problems for me as far as upfront cost on a print edition of an as yet unsold zine and also liberate me of some of the printing/mailing hassles.  It'll come together: it's just a matter of putting the people with the content (me and the writers) with the people who print and ship stuff, and I think I am close to a good solution. I also think that once the mag actually launches, then some of these worries that I have about formats will dissipate.  I will update as things develop.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


KW Jeter, the sf writer known, according to Wikipedia, for his "literary writing style, dark themes and paranoid, unsympathetic characters" was new to me up until just a few years when my friend Pat lent me a copy of one of Jeter's Bladerunner sequels. It was totally weird and quite cool.  I had noticed, however, that his was a name that I was seeing on a lot of franchise tie-in books (Star Trek, Star Wars). That, combined with having read the Bladerunner book led me to think that he is a writer who works primarily in these shared universes and  I was missing the fact that he has a whole body of other original work, that he was pals with Philip Dick, that he is credited with coining the term "steampunk," and also, perhaps, with writing the first cyberpunk novel (Dr. Adder, written in the 1970s though not published until the mid-80s). So I've been trying to get caught up.  Today I finished reading his 1989 novel Farewell Horizontal.

The setting of this tale is a place called Cylinder, which is apparently a really, really tall and extremely huge cylindrical building which is, for this book's characters, the entire known world. A good deal of it is actually unknown to them as well: the building's entire "eveningside," its central core, the extent of it beneath the cloud barrier. Inside the building, a lot of people live in what is considered the "horizontal" world--you know, standing on floors, with ceilings overhead, and so on, like all sane people do in the real world. Other people, however, have chosen to go vertical, living on the exterior of Cylinder, clinging to it with pithons, riding motorcycles fitted with grappling wheels up and down cables attached to the side of the building.  I am highly acrophobic, and the whole premise of this freaked me out enough that I had to try not to think too hard about it as I was reading. (It's worse than in Dan Simmons' Ilium where he has characters traveling from the surface of the Earth to an orbital ring in space while sitting in a chair that simply rockets them up there. Oh hell no!). This is a fairly slim volume, and Jeter presents this bizarre world without bothering with any backstory, history or explanation of how all this came to be. One just has to accept it as the way things are, while crawling up and down the outside of a building so tall that its base is lost beneath the cloud cover. I enjoyed the story and its mysteries...even though I personally would never considering saying "Farewell Horizontal."  (The image of Jeter, from Wikipedia, is from 1989, same year as Farewell Horizontal.)

Friday, December 5, 2008


Things are coming together well as far as the content for the mag.  I have acquired a few really nice new stories lately, and I think that my debut issue will be totally respectable. I am in a conundrum, however, as to how to handle the print edition.  There has been virtually zero interest in it, with everyone instead opting for the PDF version. I can't say I blame anyone for that.  That's certainly what I would do...and you can go ahead and print it yourself if you want it on paper once you have the electronic version.  I am certainly not going to print a whole lot of copies of issue #1 in February if there's no one paying for them. But does the whole thing lack cache and stature if it's not in print?  If so, who would know or care if no one is wanting to buy it anyway? Should I just bag the print edition altogether?  I guess I will wait and see what happens.  It could also be that interest in a print version picks up after people have gotten a look at the electronic one. A huge advantage, however, of going PDF-only, is that I can forget about any constraints of page-count or content and, if I so desire, compile ridiculously huge issues.  Someone may wonder why my plan isn't just to put it up as a webzine.  The answer is that webzines aren't my bag for a number of reasons that I don't feel like describing right now. I will probably eventually spin off another website separate from this blog to promote and sell the zine, but I doubt I will ever publish its full content to such a site.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


1. One of the things that I love best about the fact that I recently upgraded from a decade-old computer to a brand new MacBook is that I can easily capture all of my favorite radio shows as podcasts and listen to them at my leisure. People who know me personally probably regard me as a walking, talking advertisement for National Public Radio and will be thinking "Oh jeeezus, here he goes again," but I think that everyone who likes good stories and has wide-ranging curiosity ought to check out programs such as This American Life (from Chicago Public Radio) and New York public radio's excellent Radio Lab. Of particular interest to sf readers should be an episode of the recent season about story-telling and the power of narrative which focuses on the infamous Orson Wells radio production of HG Wells' The War of the Worlds. Go to the WNYC site (link way down in the links list) and look it up. 

2. While I have imposed no word limits (either upper or lower) on writers for the M-Brane mag, I am seriously considering imposing a lower one. I am tempted to say that I actually hate "flash fiction," that still-popular short-short story form that lives in the under-one-thousand- word range and is often confined to the three to seven hundred range depending on the wishes of editors who do like it...and which reminds me of the kind of vapid crap that tends to fill every student-published college lit mag in the world. I have not really been receiving many "flash" submissions so far, but I have received a number of stories just above that length that showed some real promise of being a cool story but seriously suffered from a lack of content and richness, probably due more than anything to their lack of words. On Thanksgiving Day, when I was at work and preparing an ersatz Thanksgiving lunch out of processed foods for the group of Alzheimer's-ravaged elders that I try my best to feed decently, I was listening to The Splendid Table (the food show on NPR). One of the guests--I don't remember who--was talking about how his or her magazine articles used to run much longer than they do now, and then remarked that all magazine content in recent years has been shrunk and compressed and cut to where a full-blown article is now probably about as long as this entry that I have spent about three minutes typing. For M-Brane, however, I am not aiming for the short-attention-span crowd. There's a bunch of flash-fic sites out there for that.

3. I am reading the Mieville novel Perdido Street Station.  As I suspected, it is right on the edge of being too fantastical/magical for my taste, but Mieville's style and the lush texture of the decroded world that he has created has kept me hooked deeply enough into it that I believe I will actually finish it soon and be glad that I did.

4. Hey, it seems like we're getting a real foothold in the web. I just googled "mbrane" and this site actually showed up on the first page of results (near the bottom of it).  A couple weeks ago when I tried that, I couldn't get it before the seventh or eight page unless I also added things like my own name and specific subjects from the blog into the search parameter. It also happens to be the case that none of the other items on page 1 of those google results have any value at all except for the link to Wikipedia's article on "M-Theory."  Go check that out.  It's mind-blowing.

5. A few updates ago, I claimed that my novel (still untitled and known only as Current Project) was in a condition where all important scenes and events were more or less in the manuscript now and it seemed that all that remained was revision and the fleshing out of stuff that's already present in it as it stands. I have since identified (and made a sort of index of) no less than 32 individual scenes that need to be added to make the thing flow as it needs to from beginning to end. So, it is to be more work than I had been thinking as recently as last week.  But I am excited about what the new material will do for the book, so onward I proceed. I had feared at one time that this story would tell itself as a thirty or forty thousand word novella (and hence be forever unpublishable), but I know now that it will reach a sort of normal novel length.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I have very little time to report tonight (that stupid, stupid day job getting in the way in a horrific fashion these past few days), but a couple of major milestones with M-Brane SF have been attained lately: 1) I feel I have enough decent material in hand to make issue #1 a respectable first outing; and 2) I have begun to receive actual paid subscriptions to it!  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Reading Paul of Dune reminded me once more of how often one runs into freakily intelligent and scarily capable young children in the sf genre. In Dune, of course, one starts with Paul Atreides who cheated death repeatedly and overthrew a galactic empire while still in his teens. Then there is his sister Alia, an out-and-out freak, who becomes known by such scary monikers “the Abomination” and “St. Alia of the Knife.” Later there are Paul’s kids Leto and Ghanima—the “Children of Dune” themselves and fully as bizarre as Alia—with Leto becoming an even crazier, weirder galactic tyrant than his dad. The latest Anderson-Herbert installment in the series introduces a couple more terrifying kids, the Fenrings’ daughter Marie and the Tleilaxu creation Thallo (who is a cutter…yeah, like a real-world teen cutter; he’s a morbid kid who cuts and burns himself on purpose and is engaged in a particularly extreme rebellion against his "parents").

Thinking of kids in sf then made me remember that there is an Ender’s Game comic book now, based, of course, on Orson Scott Card’s famous novels. While I don’t read a lot of comics, I am interested in seeing this one if for no other reason than to see what someone’s idea of what that world looks like. Ender’s Game, the novel, focuses on very young and very intelligent children with world-shaking capabilities--not super powers, or anything like that; they're just really damned smart. A live-action film is also rumored to be forthcoming, but I can’t imagine being able to do that in a watchable fashion with actors that would actually look as young as the novel’s lead characters are—cuz little kids generally suck in movies (see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in which that poor little fellow is made to say "Let's try spinning! That's a good trick!"). So I predict it would be re-imagined as a story about teenagers (who in turn would be played by actors nearly my age, shades of Beverly Hill 90210 which Jeff now spends Saturday mornings indulging in reruns of on SoapNet). I should, before going on, mention that I’m not a card-carrying “Enderverse” fanatic (despite the fact that I know the word "Enderverse") before a chorus of “gabba gabba, we accept you, we accept you, ONE OF US!” starts up from that segment of the cybersphere...where there actually exists Ender slash fiction. I have read just four of the books (I think there’s probably like eight or ten of them now? See, I don’t even know and didn’t even bother looking it up when the internet is sitting right here in front of me...). The ones I have read are Ender’s Game, Ender’s Shadow, Speaker for the Dead, and Shadow of the Hegemon (that last one listened to on a nicely done audio book introduced by Harlan Ellison). I loved, loved, loved Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. Ender and Bean are characters that I will never forget and will always adore. Their parallel stories told in those two books is exciting, sweet, heroic, charming, harrowing and heartbreakingly, breathtakingly, achingly sad. Ender’s Shadow even has a couple of chills-running-up-my-spine moments when key scenes from the first book happen again—such as Ender meeting Bean for the first time—except seen from Bean’s point-of-view. The other books did not move me as much though, and so I laid down that series. I’m not sure why they didn’t work for me. I think, however, that I might be failing to give more of Card’s books the attention they might deserve because I made the mistake of becoming too aware of the author’s politics. He posts political columns on his site. Though he’s not a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth ideologue, when I am looking at an sf writer’s web page or researching his books, I do not generally want any tendril of the right-wing blogosphere to encroach on that. I’m in fiction mode, not looking for real bullshit out of our stupid old effed-up real world. Oh, and a few years ago, he put out this embarrassing, god-awful wreck of a novel called Empire, which was practically a political screed thinly disguised as fiction. Bill O’Reilly even appeared in it in a plot-important scene for ef’s sake! It was so bad that it caused me to actually blush at certain points during reading it. My ears got hot and my face flushed and I started glancing around surreptitiously, and that’s while I was sitting alone in a room reading something that was in no way my fault and which no one else even knew I had in my hands. [Dean Koontz does something similarly embarrassing in his otherwise charming Brother Odd when he has some characters speculate that maybe their attackers are “Islamo-fascists” and then go on to quote some recent nonsense-of-the-day from the Iranian president]…Please, father of Ender! Never do anything like that again! You, too, father of Odd! I am considering coining a new item of writer lingo based on the O’Reilly Factor scene in Empire. The dictionary definition would be “the naked insertion of current events and political boiler-plate into a work of fiction in such a way that the author’s own views are loudly proclaimed and which has the effect of the author stepping into the story and kicking the reader out of it (and telling him or her to go watch more Fox News).” This term could simply be “pulling an oreilly” or maybe “dropping the o-bomb” or maybe “flippin’ an o”….I’ll give it some more thought. [The Card cover images with this post are from the Wikipedia entries on those novels.]


One of the things this blog is good for is making me keep track of and stay on task with my many projects. Since I claim publicly that I am doing stuff with with my time, I feel some positive pressure to keep making claims to that effect on this blog...The last few days have actually been reasonably productive for me on all fronts: I got some more work done on the magazine, including acquiring a little pile of new fiction submissions to read over and make decisions about; I have made decent, realistic progress on Current Project (probably won’t be done with the complete draft this week, but I’m getting much closer); I spent a whole day, Sunday, lounging around the house with Jeff just being relaxed, during which we certainly caused Rachael Ray to feel a great disturbance in the Force by threatening her self-proclaimed “burger queen” status with our own creation of a giant onion-and-jalapeno stuffed bacon cheese burger…and I am already done with Paul of Dune, have read a lot of Aye, and Gomorrah and have started the Mieville book. Those Dune novels are really pretty quick reads despite their apparent heft. That’s probably due in part to the rather transparent and lightweight style that Anderson and Herbert have used for them. It’s sure not his father’s Dune, but I do find it compulsively readable. This one launches a new three-part story set during the Jihad period that occurs in the space between the first two of the original Frank Herbert novels. It flashes back and forth between that time period where Paul Atreides, trapped in his web of prescience and destiny, barely keeps his hands on the helm of his horrifying Jihad, and an earlier time period where Paul is a boy of twelve and faces war and death for the first time in a gruesome War of Assassins with a rival house (with their sinister yet bumbling enemies, the Harkonnens, lurking behind the scenes). One thing that I liked a lot about it was the handling of Irulan, a character that had never seemed that interesting to me before despite the fact that she is the source of so many of the epigraphs that head chapters in all these books. In this story, she becomes a sympathetic character and it becomes clearer what her reasons were for wanting the task of being Paul’s biographer and what her emotions are concerning her uncomfortable status in the Emperor's household. I think the best of the Anderson-Herbert Dune stories remains the Butlerian Jihad trilogy, but this Paul volume is a nice, shiny new thing to have out there.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Neil Gaiman

The other day I mentioned China Mieville--new to my reading list as of this week--and remarked that I had not gotten around to his well-regarded books yet because they are generally considered to be fantasy and that's not my genre of choice, even when the stories are supposedly awesome. Years ago, my long-lost friend Joe prodded and pressured me into reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (just the first tome of it). It was a hard slog for me, let me tell you. I could appreciate why Jordan's legions of fans loved that book and its many sequels, but something inherent in its high fantastical nature made me not love it as much. Around that same period, the mid-1990s, I delved into Clive Barker, whom we could certainly call a modern fantasist, definitely a horror writer, but certainly not an sf author.  I like his stuff a lot.  It's not high fantasy and has enough crazy sick-ass horror--which I do like quite well--to keep me excited. And, of course, he's such a terrific writer. Also during the decade of 1990s, I was introduced to the work of Neil Gaiman, whose best known work at the time was the Sandman comic book series. I was not then and am not now a big consumer of comics.  I generally take them on a case by case basis when one is brought to my attention and do not seek them out that often. I enjoyed Sandman quite a bit, though, and Gaiman's name stuck in my head.  This was  before the publication of his novels, however, and I wasn't aware what if anything else he had to offer. And there wasn't anything like Wikipedia where one can go and just pull up a list of everything any writer has published. Fast forward to 1997 (or maybe it was 1998), and I was working as sous chef at the Whittemore House, a fancy private club on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. Neil Gaiman was on campus as a guest of honor of some sort and I learned, to my great excitement, that he would be having lunch that day in one of our private dining rooms. I told all of my co-workers, including the event planner who had booked the luncheon, of the deep significance of someone as illustrious as Neil Gaiman coming within our walls and eating our food.  No one in the Whittemore House except for me had ever heard of him and their eyes glazed over when I mentioned Sandman, a friggin comic book! Though my work at this place consisted principally of planning and executing the food--and not serving it--I finagled my way into being involved with actually bringing the food to the dining room and I, myself personally, placed Neil Gaiman's lunch before him.  The plate was beautiful, and I must say that he was quite impressed both with the food and with the great finesse of my service.  Well, I don't know if that's true or not because I never actually spoke to him. I snuffed out deep within my heart any fannish impulse to say something like, "I really admire your work! Mr. Gaiman!!" Gradually, I make my way to the point of this entry...A few years later, I became aware that Gaiman had published some novels and decided that I must, of course, read them. And that's where we come back around to my thing with fantasy and my trepidation about whether or not I will be able to like China Mieville, another contemporary fantasist. I admit now, in public, that my copy of Gaiman's American Gods is sitting on my shelf unfinished with the mark still in it about a hundred pages deep where I stopped and moved on to something else...about seven years ago. In spite of his lovely style and huge imagination and just plain coolness, I found myself grinding to a halt with this book. Why? I don't know, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the "gods" aspect of the thing. The fantasy elements, even as updated as they are, tripped me up.  I have decided, however, that in the near future, I will give American Gods (and urban/contemp fantasy in general) the chance it deserves.  Two things inspire me to revisit that book in particular and Gaiman's work in general: 1) I recently read his young adult novel InterWorld (with Michael Reaves) and it was completely charming, quite exciting and even pretty scary; 2) I recently discovered his blog, which is by far the best and most voluminous writer's blog I have ever seen with entries going back by the hundreds for years. You should quit reading this page now and go directly to Gaiman's site.  It's addictive.  A link to it is down below in my "favorite site" section (yeah, I keep doing that--sending you down to that list instead of just putting the link right here--because I want everyone to scroll down through the whole page and see what else I have to offer). The images with this entry are, of course, the covers of the aforementioned Gaiman books and also the great Whittemore House in St. Louis, the site of my in-person encounter with the genius and super-blogger.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Work on the mag is proceeding slowly, but that’s okay. I don’t want to rush it along too fast and have it be a mess. I have increased somewhat my ambition for the quantity of material in issue #1, and am now actively seeking some new submissions for the very first outing. I am about to post calls for submissions on some sites, but have been trying to decide on what exactly I want my listings to say. I guess it’s simplest to just direct everyone to this site where they can read the full guidelines. When I compare, however, what I am planning to do with what a lot of other publishers are doing I start to wonder if I am way out in left field somewhere. For example, my guidelines for submissions have almost no “rules” whatsoever. I was paging though listings and linking to guidelines pages by way of some market listing sites the other night and was astounded at how restrictive, narrow and nitpicky about small details that so many editors actually are. Everywhere I turned there were statements such as: “ANY submissions received before blah blah blah date will be deleted UNREAD!!!” Other stern warnings inveighed against using “rich text format” or NOT using it, attaching or NOT attaching documents to emails, violating various submission windows, submitting for a particular “theme” before the proper date, querying or not querying, and a whole shit-heap of other pointless nonsense that has nothing to do with storytelling. As I read through guidelines, market by market, I found that at least half of them were so imposing with their rules and regulations that I would give up in despair and never send them my story or novel for fear that the reply and rejection would be so scathing that my computer screen would melt upon displaying it. And then that made me stand up, MacBook in hand, and yell, “Give me an effing break, y’all. You’re just a bunch of small press people who aren’t even really paying anyone anything!” Anyway, I am launching a science fiction magazine, and I’d like to see some neat stories and articles for it. That’s about it.


I have really piled up a reading list for the coming couple of weeks. My friend Pat lent me his copy of KW Jeter’s Farewell Horizontal after I mentioned that I was between books and looking for something to read. That was yesterday, but just this morning I visited the library and came away with three other projects. The first is Samuel Delany’s short story collection Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories, which should serve me well during down time at work. This also happens to be the last Delany offering that our library has for me, so I will have to hunt up more at bookstores eventually. The second book I selected is China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. I have not yet read anything by Mieville and had not really sought him out knowing that he is considered to be a “fantasy” writer, and fantasy is not usually my genre. Yeah, I understood him to be a “new” kind of fantasist and a member of the “new weird” group and so on…but still. I recently listened to an interview with him on Agony Column, however, and found him to be so interesting to listen to that I decided I’d give his books a chance the next time I encountered one. So I am pretty excited sitting here looking at this still unread copy of Perdido Street Station and am planning to dive deeply into it yet tonight. Unless something else gets in the way first, that something else being my third selection: PAUL OF DUNE. I wasn’t really ready for a new Dune book yet. I know they come out roughly annually and I was vaguely aware that Paul of Dune was either due soon or maybe already out there. Normally, I am pretty excited about the Dune releases—happy to be fed all the Dune lore they want to shove my way—but I just have so much else going on right now that I feel that I am being forced into reading it right now just because I saw it today and checked it out from the library. And this new one launches yet another trilogy. Jeeeeezus! I’ll update y’all soon on it. [Images with this entry are cover art from a foreign edition of Paul of Dune, Aye and Gomorrah, and Perdido Street Station as well as China Mieville, all taken from the various books' Amazon listings.]


Everyone needs to immediately check out clonepod (there’s a link way down below in my list of some fave sites; the artwork to the left is from their site and depicts, presumably, the "clone pod" itself). It’s sort of an sf webzine except they present the stories in audio form as podcasts, and they do a really fine job of it. It reminds me so much of the old time radio dramas and the author readings of short stories and novels that, as a kid, I would check out from the library in the form of (get this) vinyl records and cassette tapes. The quality of the stories on clonepod is solid and it’s just too cool to be able hear them read aloud while one cooks dinner or lies on the couch. Leave here at once and go to clonepod!


The novel, still known as Current Project, is now in a state where I think I can reasonably claim that all of the major scenes and events are at least represented somehow in the manuscript. What is still missing, however, is a lot of detail in some segments and some back-fill concerning some of the characters and how they got to be the way they are. I have a couple extra days off from work in the coming week, and am setting a goal of having the manuscript largely done save for polishing by the end of the month.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Though the confirmed existence of planets outside our own star system has long been one of the coolest things that astronomy has had to offer to the lay person, it has always been somewhat unsatisfying that their detection was always by very indirect and complicated methods beyond the ken of non-scientists. But no more: just days ago the existence of three planets in orbit of HR 8799 and one planet of the Fomalhaut system was directly observed telescopically (the images alongside this entry are from Wikipedia; the one on the top is an artist's impression of the planet Fomalhaut b and the other one is the Hubble image of the Fomalhaut system). For me, Fomalhaut is one of the best possible stars for finding the first directly observable extrasolar planet because it is a star that has shown up again and again in science fiction. Just a few examples: in Gordon Dickson’s Childe Cycle novels, Fomalhaut 3 is the homeworld of the Dorsai; the second planet of Fomalhaut is called Rokanon in Ursula LeGuin’s Rocannon’s World; Philip Dick, in Radio Free Albemuth, places Fomalhaut as the source of an alien probe; in August’s Derleth’s Lovecraftian stories “The House on Curwen Street” and “Dweller in the Dark,” Fomalhaut is the home star of the god Cthugha, a sort of fire spirit. It becomes more and more obvious over time (not that readers of science fiction ever doubted it) that the universe, including relatively nearby areas of it, is chockfull of planets, and the spectacular accomplishment of actually seeing in a straightforward way Fomalhaut b and the planets of HR 8799 really renews our interest in this fact.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The All Thing

A subject on NPR’s Talk of the Nation show this afternoon was the internet and its role in politics during the recent general election campaign and what its importance might be going forward. President Obama, for example, will have, as result of his amazing grass roots and internet-assisted election campaign, access to a vast network of supporters and interested parties that he can appeal to directly and motivate to support his initiatives in a way no previous president has had. It makes it possible for the new president to bypass altogether traditional media to get out his message and even bring extraordinary pressure to bear on Congress should they be obstacles to his agenda. This brought to my mind the political system of Dan Simmons' Hyperion universe and made me think that he might have anticipated this developing fusion of technology and democracy in his description of the “All Thing.” More or less the parliament or perhaps lower house congress of the Hegemony of Man in the first two books of this series, the All Thing appears to be a kind of mass-participatory democracy enabled by a sort of super-internet (the World Web) that links all the different planetary populations of the Hegemony and allows them to access directly, with their brains, any information they may want and to participate in All Thing debates. While its operations are not described in great detail in the story, it is evidently a highly responsive and accessible branch of government: CEO Meina Gladstone (CEO being something like a prime minister in this world) and her advisors are continuously monitoring changes in the flow of opinion in the All Thing. (I assume the term “All Thing” is taken from the name of the Icelandic legislative assembly, the Althing (or “all-thing,” thing being an old Norse word for assembly and from the same root as the word that we use to mean “object.”—thanks Wiktionary.) ) Anyway, it will be interesting to see if our new president has already created a sort of nascent All Thing using the internet and how that will evolve in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I read this a few weeks before I started this blog, so it's not current reading exactly.  Nonetheless, we all need to take a step back and take a look:  SLAN HUNTER!  On the front cover of this amazing book is an endorsement from Harlan Ellison which says something to the effect that AE Van Vogt was a grand master and that Slan was his masterpiece and now, "like a dream come true" Kevin Anderson takes us back to that "singular world," the world of Jommy Cross. Sorry for the clunky paraphrase, but I don't actually own my own copy of it--I borrowed it from the library and have since returned it. It was like a dream come true for me because I love Slan and Jommy Cross like almost nothing else in all fiction.  Van Vogt's rich, decayed, scabrous 1940s-but-with-spaceflight world is unforgettable to anyone who has experienced it. Jommy's astounding powers and wild devices and vehicles thrill every time I read about them. Anderson (the same Kevin of the recent run of Dune novels with Brian Herbert), by finishing Van Vogt's last great work and doing it in a style that meshes almost seamlessly with the original novel, has given us something that I had thought impossible: not just a brand new AE Van Vogt novel but a worthy follow-up to the best of them all. If you haven't read Slan, stop what your doing right now and solve that problem.  If you are more of a contemporary fiction reader and are worried about something that old being accessible to you, then quit worrying.  Slan is as modern a tale as the newest thing published today and probably carries with it a lot of fresh new relevance in this age of politically-motivated hysteria about immigrants and alternative lifestyles. Then, after having read Slan, seek out and read immediately Anderson's sequel and experience what we long-time fans of Van Vogt could only have dreamt of before now: reading the real sequel back-to-back with the beloved original!  I won't throw out any spoilers in case someone hasn't read Slan Hunter yet, but I will say that its ending--literally its final few paragraphs--freaking rocks out and makes one wonder if there might not be a third story someday.

This Week's Reading

I set down Delany for a few days (in the midst of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand). I generally don't take a break from a book midway but I had two other pressing priorities.  The first was that I needed to catch up on the old horror movies that I had DVRed on TMC on Halloween night. They featured older films based on HP Lovecraft stories.  I had never before seen Die, Monster, Die!, a film based on the story "The Colour Out of Space." It is fantastic, particularly during its climactic sequence.  The second thing that took me away from Delany was that I needed to study some pages of Gene Wolfe's New Sun books in my ongoing effort to figure out exactly how it is that he conveys such an intense atmosphere of weirdness and ancient decay.  I am trying to achieve something like it for a scene in Current Project and I will freely admit that I would blatantly and shamelessly rip off Wolfe's style for it if I could just figure out what the hell it even is.  When I dissect the words and sentences, the mood lifts and seems not so special anymore.  When I just slip back into casual reader mode and take it all in, then the mystery returns.  Take, for example, this passage from Shadow of the Torturer:

"The shore on which the averns grew was less marshy than the other. It seemed strange, after having walked on buoyant sedge and floated on water for so long, to set foot again on soil that was no worse than soft. We had landed at some distance from the plants; but we were near enough now that they were no longer a mere bank of white, but growths of definite color and shape, whose size could readily be estimated. I said, 'They are not from here, are they? Not from our Urth." No one replied; I think I must have spoken too softly for any of the others (except perhaps Dorcas) to hear." [page 148, Orb Edition]

Taken out of context, it is as ordinary a few lines of text as anything can be in a Gene Wolfe story, yet taken in--swallowed whole even--along with what comes immediately before and immediately after it, it's a piece of the ambience of danger and the weird that pervades every page of the tale. It's as if it can't be broken down into its elements.  I really can't get enough of Gene Wolfe, but I am going back to Delany now since I am still in the process of undoing the huge blunder of not having read him earlier in my life.

Current Project update

Yeah, the novel is still known only as Current Project.  I'm not sure why a title still eludes me this late into the work.  It now stands at about fifty thousand words and is fully plotted and it seems like its title should have exposed itself by now. No big deal: it will probably crop up amid the next fifty thousand words.  Like with the magazine, progress has been slow during the last two weeks though not negligible.  I have a lot of new scenes that need to get grafted into the main bulk of the story and those will, in turn, show me where I need to do more work. I am still rather set on having the completed first draft sitting here in my Mac by Christmas, but I need to step my pace a bit.  Even when it's done, I am not sure what then to do with it.  I have considered giving it its first publication as a serial in M-Brane SF, but I really don't want to junk up the zine with too much of my own material. I'd prefer my hand to be seen only in its editing. Also, I still harbor a very intense fantasy of Current Project being published for "real" by a legit publisher.  We shall see.


The problem right now--as if evident from my lack of postings since before Halloween--is the fact that outside life has been intruding too much and I have gotten nothing done on the zine yet.  Well, I have done one thing: I moved its launch date from January to February.  I am determined that this will the last delay.  My projects right now are to get more word of it out to other sites and resources and get a few more submissions of fiction and articles.  So, yeah, if you are reading this and know of a place where the existence of a new sf magazine should become known or you are a writer, then go right ahead and let me know.

Monday, October 27, 2008


The novel is proceeding albeit at a slower pace than I’d like. I had set a deadline for a complete first draft for Halloween. Since that’s this Friday and I’m nowhere near close to anything that could be called a complete first draft, I will have to accept an extension of that deadline.

Some background: People who know me may be aware of an ongoing, very much unfinished novel that I have been working on collaboratively with my friend Pat. This project (which bears the working title of The Domain War within my files) has ground to a near-halt in recent months. Neither of us has done any serious work on it since the summer, though I believe we will pick it up again soon. So, for the moment, when I refer to “the novel,” I am not talking about Domain War but rather another book entirely. It currently has no title—even a decent working title—and is known within my file directory simply as Current Project. At a current length of about forty thousand words plus an outline that will guide about another sixty thousand, it is much further along and closer to completion than the other book, so I have shifted my focus to it and set aside Domain War for the moment. Perhaps my most major contribution to the Domain collaboration was the creation of a future history for the human race involving long-time inhabitation of the planet Mars and that planets eventual re-location to another star system. That imaginary Mars was in turn lifted from a much earlier attempt at a novel that I never finished but I thought my vision of it was still interesting enough to recycle. Skip ahead about a year and a half—deep into the writing of Domain but also in the period of its slow-down—I had an exciting and scary dream early one morning involving me and some other people I know fleeing aboard a ship into a stormy sea carrying with us a corpse (or possibly a vampire) that we had stolen from an entity that was trying to halt our escape by attacking us with a machine gun-toting zombie horde. I immediately decided to try to write a short story based on this but, of course, substituting decent characters in place of myself and Jeff and our friends. A page or two into the short story, which I called “The Stowaway”, I hit on the idea of using for characters some soldiers much like those from my version of future Mars. Then I decided that it made sense to set this new story in my future history somewhere well before the events of Domain but also well after the events of the old story from where these Mars ideas were first salvaged. And the thing started getting way too elaborate to be confined to a short story, so I was like “What the hell? Let me try to make this a whole new novel.” So now I have three novels all in various states of incompletion, none of them having any direct tie one to the other aside from having in common the existence of this vision of a future human-ruled Mars. Even though progress is slower than I’d hoped it would be, I still think that Current Project will reach complete draft stage a lot sooner than anything else, so I will continue to concentrate on it and let Domain simmer on the back burner until we are ready for a major new effort on that.


The magazine could be going better. I am still determined to make the January launch date, but I am getting somewhat concerned about the lack of content. While much of it is ready to go, I still want probably four or five more pieces of fiction and at least one solid piece of criticism now that I have decided that the zine should include some solid scholarly writing rather than simple, shallow book reviews. I know that once it appears and has gone a couple of issues, it will get easier to attract quality content. I really do not want to sound a flat note on issue one, however, by either putting out a thin issue or by releasing a lot of fluff. I am also strongly resisting any impulse to fill some of the pages with any of my own fiction—I don’t have anything ready anyway and I don’t want to the M-Brane mag to ever look like it’s merely a tool for my own self-promotion.


The only thing going on with my current reading and probably my future reading for a few months to come is the amazing Samuel Delany. That it took me thirty-seven years to find out about how great this writer is and start reading his books just makes me tremble. What else am I missing? A lot, I’m sure. I’ve always, of course, been a fan of sf and other genre fiction and had certainly heard of Delany as a well-regarded author, but I had never happened to read him until one day, when I was in between other reads (probably waiting for my friend Pat to pass off to me another of the Dan Simmons tomes that we spent much of the past year reading), I grabbed The Einstein Intersection off of my own shelves. I had never read it, though I had owned it for years—I think it came home in a bag of paperbacks from a thrift store. I needed a quick read, the book was short and I sort of remembered the author’s name. I read it in two sittings and liked it well enough with its weird milieu and strange degraded future culture and its hints of radical sexuality. I read the Wikipedia article about Delany and learned that he is an African American, dyslexic and gay. I learned that he is the author of plenty of other books whose titles I had heard but had never read. Intrigued, I added some Delany titles to my list of things to read, but didn’t get to them immediately: Pat and I were still in the Simmons phase and I had a couple of other things on deck anyway. Also, I didn’t own copies of anymore Delany books, could not consider for money reasons purchasing any of them and had not yet gotten a library card here in OKC.

A few weeks ago I did get the library card and one of the first things that I checked out was the thick, dense, astounding and confounding Dhalgren. I will write later in more detail about this novel, but for the moment I will just paraphrase one of the blurbs on the cover of the Vintage edition and say the it is a city/novel/labyrinth that swallows astonished readers (like me) whole. Utterly shaken and thrilled by Dhalgren, I went back to the library and picked up Empire Star and Babel-17 (published in a beautiful edition by Vintage in the manner of an Ace double with both novels in one back, back to back and flipped) and Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand. I finished the first two mostly while in airports and on planes during a recent trip to visit my parents in Wisconsin. I am deep into Stars right now. I love these books and I hope no one else makes the mistake I did and wait their entire lives before discovering them.

When I read Delany I am reminded of something that I heard writer China Mieville say in an interview on Agony Column. I don’t remember the exact quotation, but he described two ways of writing—the writing itself, the language used—that have their adherents. One of them is the idea that the language used to tell the tale should be a clear pane of glass through which the story is seen. Another way of thinking about it is that the language is more of a stained-glass window and the story is perceived through its colors and refractions and by peering deeply into it. Delany is definitely a stained-glass kind of writer and he asks a lot of the reader but the reward is huge.


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