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.


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