Thursday, April 30, 2009


Cheers, peace and love from the Brane: The new issue is published and it is so good. We need new subscriptions and donations to the writers' fund badly, but I suspect this new issue will get us some. The print edition via Lulu and single-issue orders of #4 in PDF form are available on Page 2. Hit the button over there.

Keep reading below: my interview with the great Robert E. Vardeman is in the previous post. It also appears in the new issue along with chapter one of his new novel The Genetic Menace, soon to be released by Zumaya Publications.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

M-BRANE 4 PREVIEW: Q&A with Robert E. Vardeman


I am thrilled to publish, in collaboration with Zumaya Publications, the first chapter of Robert E. Vardeman’s previously unpublished novel The Genetic Menace in M-Brane #4 tomorrow 4/30! Bob kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me…

CF: I was fascinated to see that you were a nominee for the fan writer Hugo in 1972, but I didn’t manage to learn from research what, specifically, the nomination was for. Was it for fiction published in someone else’s zine, or were you personally publishing a zine?

BV: This was an oddity of the nomination system. Frank Kelly Freas once won a Hugo as best artist in a year where he had nothing published (one of many well deserved ones, I might add). My fan writing the prior year was probably what got me onto the ballot. I did a bimonthly fanzine Sandworm for several years. The title, of course, is taken from my all-time (still) favorite sf novel, Dune. I also wrote extensively for other fanzines, mostly LoCs (letters of comment) but also some articles. I miss a lot of the silly camaraderie of fmz days. There are still echoes, though, that I appreciate. Not a month ago I received a 1973 copy of Michael Dobson’s Random Jottings that had an article I had done. Like an old Ace Double, on the flip side was the explanation—The Alternate History Issue, March 2009. Dobson and Jim Young have actually gone back into print fmz or rather “The fanzine you hold in your hands doesn’t really exist.” Great fun.

I started a monthly apa (amateur press association) with Ed Smith back in 1969. SLANapa is still publishing and on the same schedule, though my activity has fallen to zero except when my turn as editor comes around every eighteen months or so. Forty years of a monthly apa is pretty amazing, at least to me. Besides myself, there are three other original members still cranking out monthly zines alongside 10 “newcomers.”

CF: Who were the writers that most impressed or inspired you as a young man? Also, what might we find you reading today?

BV: When I was eight, I had a Cub Scout project of reading a book. Argh. My mother bought the first three Tom Swift Jr. novels for $1 (a deal intended to get poor unsuspecting kids hooked on the series…sounds like a pusher, right? The first is free, then you pay and pay and pay) I loved the books and started haunting the bookstore every 6 months for new titles. I noticed other gaudy-covered books. SF. I read the Hardy Boys, of course, but sf was the drug of choice.

It’s a cliché but Robert Heinlein was and is the premier influence on my tastes in sf. That’s RAH prior to (and including) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The more popular he became, the less I could stand his books. The solipsism he toyed with in early titles predominated in his bestsellers. Asimov was never quite the favorite Clarke was, but I loved space opera. And still do. Later writers I found impossible to put down included Silverberg, John Brunner, a lot of fantasy writers like Fritz Leiber, Thomas Burnett Swann and authors with small sf/f exposure but huge production outside the field like John Myers Myers and George Stewart. Myers is a particular favorite since I got into writing westerns. I still specifically chase down his books. The Last of the Bravos was the last one of his I read. Fabulous history.

Today, I have drifted from sf, though I still meander back now and again (ok, it’s more than a meander), but I read a lot of mysteries. My favorite writer died in January (Donald Westlake) and Tony Hillerman who helped me as a writer and gave me great enjoyment as a reader died late last year. Lawrence Block and Robert Crais are both top-shelf writers, and I love the Kaminsky’s “Toby Peters” books. Being a fan of the Monk TV show, I picked up Lee Goldberg’s tie-in novel and discovered a new writer. Oldies but goodies have to be John D McDonald, Chandler and Hammett. I never had much liking for Agatha Christie or cozies.

CF: When I was a young kid, I was a huge Trekkie, and so my first encounter with your work was the Star Trek novels back when they were new. How did the opportunity to write those come about? I’m aware that at least a couple of the other 1980s-era novelists found their experience with the Trek franchise less than pleasant. Did you have a good time with it?

BV: The Star Trek books with Bantam were less than successful, in my opinion. They had the feel of failed novels with the original characters erased and ST ones penciled in. When S&S got the franchise, David Hartwell looked around for writers. I loved ToS, proposed two novels, he bought one—the first one bought for the series, by the way. Roddenberry’s novelization of the first movie and Vonda McIntyre’s novel killing off Kirk (got great ink in, so help me, The National Enquirer) were both published before mine for obvious reasons. A year or two later, Hartwell told me he wanted the second proposal I’d done. This was a real surprise, but I jumped at the chance. Over the last 25-plus years, these two books (The Klingon Gambit and Mutiny on the Enterprise) have sold steadily and well and both are still available as e-books.

Hartwell is a top editor and working with him was an experience I would jump at if the chance repeated. I suspect problems with authors/editors came later. I’m not sure how many editors have worked on all the various series, but sf is not a big S&S priority. Is there any sf other than ST there? My ST experience was great with one minor thing—some flunky at the studio (the movie folks had the right to copyedit) kicked back Klingon Gambit with the rather snippy note: there are no chairs aboard the Enterprise. There are only seats. I had never heard it referred to as the captain’s seat but I went along. I refrained from having the Seatperson call a meeting to order, also.

I changed agents between the first and second book and my career moved in a different direction. In 1984 I began writing westerns and let the chance to do more ST books slip away.

CF: You’ve written prolifically in several different genres. Creatively, do you find that you move easily among them or do you have phases where you lose interest in one for a while?

BV: I’m not sure that I lose interest in any one as much as deadlines from others elbow those aside. I’ve been doing a lot of westerns, some under my pen name of Karl Lassiter (Drifter was published in February by Avalon—my first hardcover western after 20 years of mass market pbs).

Having Zumaya reprint series of mine that were only partially published has sparked my interest again in both space opera and heroic fantasy. I can indulge some of this through the iTunes store for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, where Legends is publishing not only a new serial sf adventure Collider but also a new fantasy series, Along the Feathered Road. One sf short story, “Burn the Sky,” triggered a need to write more in the same transhuman universe and “On Wings of Plague” was published a couple months ago. In addition, five of the nine s&s novels I co-authored with Geo. W. Proctor are being reprinted there. Through the vagaries of publishing, only the first six were printed in the US but all nine were printed in the UK. The advent of e-books might be the best thing that’s happened for writers (and readers) since the printing press.

Along the way, I find my time to write is being eroded by various editing projects. I edited a local bimonthly magazine until it folded last year, have done five annual fantasy football magazines for years and recently was offered the chance to edit a major sf anthology. The contracts are still in the pipeline, so hatching your count before he chickens, etc. But I am really excited about working with all the authors in this one.

CF: What about the pseudonyms? It’s no secret, of course, that you are also Karl Lassiter. Does it help with marketing in the sense that your sf/fantasy readers are probably different people than your western readers?

BV: Donald Westlake pretty well explained the use of pen names, even in the same field. Using Karl Lassiter keeps sf fans from being startled if they’d pick up, say Sword and Drum or First Cherokee Rifles. But Westlake used different names in the mystery field since his Dortmunder books were wildly different from his Parker novels. He compared it to looking for a Mercury or a Ford. Same company, different product, different market. My f/sf pen names were used for a different reason. When I was turning out a lot of sf, there would be times where I had two or three titles coming out in the same month from different publishers. I put the Star Frontier series under a pen name for this reason (ditto with the fantasy series After the Spell Wars). This difference in pen names soothed publishing feathers that I wouldn’t be competing with myself. “I’ll buy one Vardeman book this month, but two? Never! I’ll buy that Edward Hudson book instead. Maybe the FJ Hale book, too.”) I have no idea if this is reality, but the publishers liked the notion.

Zumaya Publishing is reprinting both Star Frontiers and After the Spell Wars under my name. Of the two trilogies, two in Star Frontiers were never published and the final one in After the Spell Wars never saw the light of day (complicated story but it had to do with antitrust violations on the part of Waldenbooks and losing the lawsuit—I think the Morton Salt decision entered into it, for you law wonks.)

CF: Your bibliography is quite lengthy. Do you have a particular personal favorite among your series or stand-alone stories? Or do you love all your “children” equally? Also, what new projects do you have in the works? Or anything that you are particularly excited about that we should be looking forward to?

BV: The Swords of Raemllyn series is special for me since I got the chance to work with my best friend on it [novelist George W. Proctor]. We were about as opposite as two people could be and yet were friends for close to 40 years. Geo. died unexpectedly last August, so getting these reprinted on the iTunes store as e-books is something of a tribute to him as much as a chance for me to remember how much I love s&s. So, lots of emotional bindings on these.

The usual answer to a question like this is “my favorite is what I’m working on now.” Which is accurate. I usually look forward to new projects rather than back on what I have written. I have agreed to do short stories for a Jean Rabe anthology about a tourist time travel agency (look for Jean’s anthology Terribly Twisted Tales out in a couple weeks—it was a theme anthology doing a turn on fairy tales. My story, “Jack and the Genetic Beanstalk,” was, of course, sf.), I am working on a new story for the next MZB’s Sword and Sorceress anthology, though I might be pushing the deadline a bit too much there, plus a new zombie story for James Lowder. A friend and I are working on a mystery story using a technique impossible without the web, and I have a new story in the “Burn the Sky” universe bubbling up that fascinates me, not to mention plotting out a new hard sf near future novel. And and and….

I am delighted that Genetic Menace is being printed. The Black Nebula will follow, completing the trilogy. Likewise, after Ogre Castle in the After the Spell Wars trilogy, In the Sea Nymph’s Lair will be followed by the still to be printed The Wizard’s Spell Mirror. I had no expectation of these books ever seeing the light of day until now. Modern technology is wonderful.

E-books are also great for keeping work in print—all over the world. It is easier for fans in Rumania or Indonesia or New Zealand to buy a story now than for someone who has to go to a bookstore. I have 14 short stories and six novels (fantasy, sf and mystery) on the iTunes store, with more (both reprint and new) coming all the time. Check out them along with my blog there, plus other New York Times bestseller authors, at .

Find Robert E. Vardeman online at, which contains links to his blog and many other items of interest. —CF

Save the Semiprozine Hugo

Evidently there is a desire among some involved in Hugo Awards nominating and voting to eliminate the category of "Best Semiprozine" from the awards. The issue is explained well by Neil Clarke (editor of one of this year's nominees in that category, Clarkesworld) on the site pictured to the left and on the Tor site by John Klima. I won't rehash everything they say there, so if you're interested in this issue, please visit these links.

The fact that Locus nearly always wins in this category is stated as one of the reasons for eliminating it--it doesn't mean as much, they say, if one publication is the winner every year (would that be true of the Fan Writer category, too, won nearly every year by David Langford?).  Another complaint about the category is that it is difficult to define and therefore identify which zines qualify for it. It seems to me that this would be where to make the change. Look at the rules for the category on the Hugo Awards website. They attempt to define how  "semipro" is different from a "pro" zine like Analog or a "fanzine" like M-Brane, but it seems overly complicated. For most purposes, isn't the difference among pro and semi-pro defined by pay rates for writers?

Some people also think that the number of Hugo categories in general should be reduced. Why? I see no problem with having an award with some stature to recognize people who do the good work in these perhaps lesser categories. It seems good for the genre, good for the fans, good for everyone, and doesn't hurt anyone at all. Leave it be. Save the Semiprozine Hugo.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Uncircumcised M-BRANE origins

Writer Brandon Bell ("Do Men Dream of Bloody Sheep, M-Brane #1 and "Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm," #5 forthcoming), in the April 26 post on his blog, discusses a recent discussion with some friends about religion and the nature of "god," the universe and multi-verse. Strangely, just minutes after reading this item by Brandon, I hit upon the curious website of Noesis, the Journal of the Megasociety (a high-IQ society of some sort).

One Richard May says in an article called "Universe Had No Unique Beginning" on that site:

"I’ve always suspected that both atheists and theists were partially correct and now also perhaps to degrees varying over time. Presumably some proportion of the Multiverse beginnings were entirely naturalistic, occurring according to various physicalistic M-Brane scenarios, which for convenience we may call uncircumcised M-Branes origins. The remaining unknown proportion of the Multiverse beginnings occurred according to every conceivable and inconceivable theistic scenario. Some Multiverse beginnings were Created by Osiris, others by Zeus, others by Ahura Mazda, yet other Multiverse beginnings were Created by the adorable Yahweh, which for convenience we may refer to as circumcised M-Brane origins." [italics mine]

Well then. Hmm.

Baby Blue Eyes (film), 1987

A couple nights ago, after dinner and drinks, Jeff and Pat and I had the idea to invent a wholly fake movie from the past with the idea of creating a little on-line hoax. As these kind of ideas always go, it was a lot funnier (and more fun) at the moment of conception than it seemed just minutes later when we considered how hard we would actually have to work at it to get the thing out there. Nonetheless, I am still rather amused at what we came up with. So I present our partial phony article below for your amusement (and don't tell me you wouldn't think for at least a moment that it could be real if you saw it on Wiki!)...

Baby Blue Eyes (film), 1987

Baby Blue Eyes is an American film, written and directed by Sam Raimi (based on Raymond Chandler's novel of the same title). The film is considered to be the first example of the “San Francisco New Noir Genre,” which remained popular for the next decade. It is the first of several such films pairing Susan Sarandon and Al Pacino in starring roles.

Sarandon portrays Kay Quinn, the wife of a murder victim, who seeks the assistance of a private detective Victor Caranza (Pacino) to investigate the death of her husband. During the course of events, passion flares between Quinn and Caranza. Soon the detective is heartbroken when evidence begins to point toward Quinn herself as the murderer. He eventually engages in a plot to frame Quinn’s sister, who had been having an affair with the murdered husband. Caranza ultimately decides to let Quinn’s sister go to the gallows for the crime.

Though the film was well regarded by critics, it never received a wide theatrical release and was largely snubbed by the Academy. Natasha Kinski, however, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her manic portrayal of grocery store clerk Sasha Knieling. Also given an Oscar nomination, for Best Song, were Joe Jackson and Patty Smyth for their duet “In Your Baby Blue Eyes” which reached number 21 on the Billboard Pop Chart in July of 1987. The winner of the song Oscar that year however, was the band Mike and the Mechanics for their theme to Oliver Stone’s Christmastown...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

LeGuin wins Nebula

Ursula K. LeGuin, author of astonishing imaginative power and a real literary heavy-hitter who has amazed readers for decades, has won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award for Best Novel of 2008 for her book Powers.

LeGuin is also a member, along with Vonda McIntyre and a bunch of other female writers, of Book View Cafe, an interesting project that I have mentioned and recommended before on this page. (Another member happens to be our friend Sue Lange whose sexy story "Zara Gets Laid" will be a highlight of M-Brane #5 in June). 

"Multi-vortex wedge tornado" possibly approaching

Here's a few seconds of raw video of us assessing the condition in our back yard ahead of tonight's expected horrific storm! I had imagined it would look very windy, but actually things have calmed rather eerily in the last few minutes. If we can capture any Twister-style footage later, you know we will.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I want to go to Austin!

I am considering attempting to get down to Armadillo Con this year. I am still trying to arrive at an estimate of what this will cost. Whatever the figure is, I don't have it, nor do I expect to anytime soon. So, I am going to resort to literal begging for new donations and subscriptions to M-Brane! I will apply $2.00 of any new subscriptions received between now and June 1, the total money received for single-copy PDF sales during that period, and 50 percent of any donations to the M-Brane Writers' Fund to a new fund to send me (and Jeff, of course) to Austin in August. 

So, what's in it for anyone else? This: it will be a terrific chance for me to promote this great zine and its elite clique of sf writers!

If this fund-raiser does not reach goal, then I will re-direct whatever funds are received into some other project aimed at increasing M-Brane's exposure and stature. There are many options. The grand vision of the future will be realized.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Science Friday: Mars rover having "amnesia"

From the Science Friday website today: "Last Friday, the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit suffered what team managers are calling a bout of temporary amnesia. Then, on Saturday, a computer onboard Spirit rebooted itself. The rover has had several other unexplained memory lapses and reboots, and the mission planners are searching for the cause. They're also hoping that changes to the rover's operating protocols might allow the rover to work around the bouts of amnesia, using different memory resources to keep operating reliably."

What's most wild and fabulous about the Spirit rover is that it's operating at all anymore! These things way exceeded their expected lifespan. I guess most people just aren't that interested in space exploration and probably think robotic exploration is the dullest, least sexy kind of all, but it blows me away every time I think about a human-made device like Spirit even successfully getting to Mars at all, much less successfully landing and then operating as intended. Now here's what would be really wicked: Spirit's "amnesia" and weird re-boots are being caused by some kind of ancient Martian consciousness that is reawakening in the planet's cold red dust!

Updates on GLBT antho

On Page 2, I have posted a few more details regarding the proposed GLBT anthology, including deadline and probable payment terms. I'm also, just for fun, inviting suggestions for a title for it. The "house" name for the project so far has become "Q-Brane." I may use that, but it might be cool to have a more clever title or subtitle for it. Yeah, you can ahead and offer "joke" suggestions too (I know my readers...).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Planting days

Yesterday I accomplished nothing on either M-Brane or my personal writing, but I had a fine and productive afternoon with Jeff helping him move some of our house-plants outside for the season and planting herbs and flowers. I am posting a few pictures to indicate what we were working on. Unfortunately, Jeff harshly censored the photos, deleting nearly every single one in which he appears. He also deleted the video that I was surreptitiously shooting at one point. So he will be extremely suspicious of me this afternoon when we plant the chile peppers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Amazing Cassini mission continues

Check out these beautiful images from the Cassini probe's visit to Saturn. The one I included here shows the moon Mimas and a section of the planet's rings. 

Just getting that spacecraft out there and capturing these kinds of images is such a spectacular technological achievement for humanity.  After the ugliness and misery and stupidity that I discussed in the previous post, seeing something like this once in a while really makes my day a whole lot nicer.

And now some "real" world crap...

Regular readers know that I don't do this every day--talk about things out of the real world that trouble me--but I need to get this topic off my chest here since no one I know personally wants to listen to me talk about it.  I'll do another post about something fun later today to make up for it.

It's no secret, even in the mostly non-political M-Brane world, that I like President Obama a lot and that I hope and believe that he is making the correct decisions toward fixing the stupid old Bushed-up world.  But here's a couple decisions that he'd better be right about or I will be very disappointed: 1) the increase in our "investment" in Afghanistan and the implied support for its outrageously inept and corrupt government; 2) the slowness of our military withdrawal from Iraq and our continued support of the Iraqi government.

My reason for concern is the same in both cases. Aside from the probable ongoing waste of American "blood and treasure," I find it grossly inappropriate that American troops' lives are put on the line for governments that appear to have values as repugnant as those of the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, or which are at least heading that way. Two examples, one from each country:

1) The Afghan government, apparently conceding that it stands no chance of having legitimacy and asserting authority over its country, is caving in to nutty whack-job demands that a little thing that we usually call "marital rape" (or just "rape") be legal among Shia Muslims in the country. Or what the law actually says, as I understand it, isn't just that a man is not breaking the law when he rapes his wife, but that she is breaking the law by resisting him (thus "making" him "need" to rape her, I guess?). This is ridiculous. This is the sort of thing our troops are fighting for? Really? Fuck that. I know they are never going to come up with what we would recognize as a Western-style democratic society--and Obama has acknowledged that--but this is way too much to stomach. 

2) The Iraqi Interior Ministry, law enforcement and their government at the highest levels seems to be doing nothing at all about the wave of torture/murders of gay men and boys in Baghdad. This, of course, was incited by a whack-job issuing a crazy decree, including announcing on satellite TV channels that "sodomy" must be punished by death. I will not describe (nor show the photos) of one of the methods used to torture to death these boys, some of whom apparently survived the attacks but then were denied care at the hospital. Again, as in the above example, what are Americans doing there if this how things are to be? Granted, there are plenty of other societies where atrocities like this go on, but we didn't pay for all of them in blood and money like we did for this one. And it's not just an expected feature of it being a Muslim society (before anyone starts telling me about that, Mom and Fox News): while homosexuality is far from popular in any such societies (fundamentalist Christian compounds like Oklahoma don't dig it either), people who are gay don't always have to live in fear of being literally murdered in an ongoing serial murder campaign in more moderate places like Jordan and Lebanon. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard dies

The Collins English Dictionary includes the adjective "Ballardian," defining it as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J.G. Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes, and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental development." The great mind that encompassed this singular vision is no longer among us: J.G. Ballard has died at age 78.

Perhaps best known for the bizarre and controversial Crash and the autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, Ballard produced a large body of novels and short stories noted for their imaginative scope and serious literary quality. Though Ballard himself eschewed the term "science fiction," preferring to call much of his own 
work "apocalyptic" instead, he was nonetheless a major figure of the British New Wave, his first science fiction short story "Prima Belladonna," appearing in New Worlds in 1956. Edward Carnell, editor of New Worlds, went on to publish most of Ballard's early stories. 

I own an old book club two-in-one edition of Ballard's novels The Wind From Nowhere, and The Drowned World. These were his first two novels, published in 1962. They are lovely, mesmerizing little books of great strangeness and and mystery. They were the first of what we'd now call "Ballardian" fiction. Like Philip Jose Farmer, who died a few weeks ago, Ballard is a writer who left an undeniable mark on our genre. Whether you like his work or not, or have even read it or not, we live in a world that was changed in a real way because J.G. Ballard was in it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

EXTRA: Brand new Vardeman to appear in #4

A little amendment to the issue #4 contents preview from the other day: I'm thrilled to announce that I will, in conjunction with Zumaya Publications, publish the first chapter of Robert Vardeman's previously-unpublished novel The Genetic Menace in M-Brane #4 on May 1. I will write much more about this later, but I just wanted to start getting the word out now. Vardeman is a writer that I first learned of when I was a little Trekkie kid because he wrote a couple of the first few Pocket Books Star Trek novels, so I am positively star-struck that I get to be involved in a small way with the publication of a brand new Vardeman book. Zumaya Publications, operated by Elizabeth Burton, is a super-cool indie publisher and has been re-releasing some of Vardeman's earlier stories as well as this new material. Publication of the complete novel from Zumaya is scheduled for shortly after the M-Brane preview. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Strunk and White: 50 years

Here's an appropriately dorky topic for today's Brane blog. Evidently, the famous and even beloved bible of the grammar police, The Elements of Style, turned fifty today (roughly). Originally written by Strunk circa the Great War-era and much later reworked by his student E.B. (Charlotte's Web) White, this little style guide has been a bossy mainstay of the academy and the cudgel of copy-editors for decades.

During my college days, I found it utterly tiresome and have to confess that I have never been able to find the kernel of its English-major appeal anywhere in it. So I was delighted today when NPR's Talk of the Nation interviewed linguist Geoffrey Pullum whose new article "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice" is available from The Chronicle of Higher Education. It was refreshing to finally hear someone debunk the notion that a split infinitive is some sort of cardinal syntactical sin and to finally explain to me why the hell the grammar check in Word wants me to change every single "which" to "that."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Issue #4 contents announced

Here's a preview of who and what's coming at you when issue #4 releases on May 1:

Cat Rambo: "Boyz and Girlz Come Out to Play"
Rick Novy: "Plan R"
Gary Hewitt: "The Crumple Zone"
Alexander Curnow: "Rust Theory"
Therese Arkenberg: "Mother"
James Steimle: "Pair o' Docs"
Thomas Olbert: "Regeneration"
Kevin Bennett: "The Freundian Clap"
Jeff Kozzi: "Interstellar Sting"
Michael D. Griffiths: "Base Jumper"
Derek J. Goodman: "Northern Girls With the Way They Kiss"

It's a tri-national table of contents with reps from the US, Canada and the UK. It features a couple people you probably know from other mags and whom you've seen in M-Brane before, and a couple of names that may be new to you. Though the glow of our beautiful issue #3 is still hot around here, I am very excited about this next one. The range of imagination in this selection of stories is just crazy. It will rock. It spins me 'round like a record. So here's some music to listen to while viewing the M-Brane #4 front page and its table of contents...

M-BRANE writers' links updated

I added a couple more upcoming M-Brane writers to the links list (down there in the right column a ways down). If you have placed a story with the zine, and have given me a website on your contract, you should be there. Let me know if you're not there, and I'll fix it. The list is alphabetical by first name.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Redactor's note: something weird

During a routine scan of "mbrane sf" on Google, I found this peculiarly-worded post about M-Brane SF #2. It seemed familiar and yet unlike anything I had read before. Here is the text:

"The 2d issue of M-BRANE SF has merely hit the Net with a March edition to expire for. It Holds a strong-growing locale with a positive hereafter before of it. Some nice authors hold already submitted thereto, like Wrick Novy and Cat Rambo. I hold a narration in Issue # 2, and not merely is the mag well-formatted and really low-cost for this economy, but I believe it is available in a few formats. I urge seeking it out. The PDF is justly $12.00 for a whole twelvemonth! For twelve issues, how can you vanquish that cost? Christopher Fletcher gives his personal rundowns, excessively, on who Holds who and what Holds what affecting the genre. Not simply Hard Science Fiction. Love the retro 60 's feel! Featuring Work by: David McGillveray, Michael Griffiths, Lawrence Dagstine, Tim Mulcahy, Abby Merc ' Rustard, Laurentius Barker, Jannett Grady, James Hartley, and Jeffrey Sims. Redacted by Christopher Fletcher."

After a minute of staring at this in confusion, I realized that it was a re-post of something from Lawrence Dagstine's site though strangely altered (click here to read the original). So...what's all this then? Was it maybe translated into another language and then rather clunkily translated back into English, perhaps by software? One thing I know is that I am now tempted to no longer call myself the "editor" of M-Brane but rather its "redactor!" The post is correct in one major point: it's a great deal at justly $12 for a whole twelvemonth. Really, how can you vanquish that cost?

Briefly closing to submissions

Writers: I  hate to resort to this annoying behavior, but I need a brief break from new fiction submissions.  I am closing for a few weeks, until June 1, to give myself time to get some other important M-Brane-related work done. Once issue #5 comes out in June, I will be ready to start reading for future issues again. This will also get us caught up a bit on the publication schedule--I've been worried that I've acquired stories too quickly and have us booked out for too many issues. I really dislike having closed periods, but it will get my operation in a bit better shape going into summer. I still have a few submissions in the in-box as of today that I will reply to this week (this closed period does not necessarily apply to the "Q" antho, but I probably won't be deciding on acceptances for that anyway until after the deadline in a few months).

Starlog goes web-only

I haven't a read a single issue of Starlog or really any movie/tv mag in years.  When I saw this post on doorQ today that it is going to be a web-only publication I had two conflicting reactions: 1) "Starlog is even still around? Really?"and 2) "Oh my god! No more print Starlog!" While I lost interest in it a long time ago, I have fond memories of it. I was a very young kid when it started and I vividly remember getting my mom to buy issue #1 for me (and most subsequent issues of it for several years, and also Fangoria when that started).  Also, in 1986 when I started my Trek zine The Alternative Warp, I managed to get a write-up about it printed in Starlog and that, more than  anything else, built my readership. I went almost overnight from like fifteen readers to over two hundred--big time for a fifteen year old kid's Trek zine!

(Also, I learned from the doorQ posting about it that Starlog co-founder Kerry O'Quinn is a doorQ member--cool!)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Q"-Brane antho guidelines on page 2

For those of you interested, I posted the preliminary guidelines for the probable GLBT sf anthology on Page 2. It's ironic that just days after I decided to this, we now have this whole foofaraw going on about Amazon apparently re-categorizing GLBT-oriented books (and less "commercial" str8 erotic stuff--but not shit like Judith Krantz) in their catalog as "adult" and making these books harder to search. It's all that's on Twitter today (see #amazonfail via Twitter search if interested). I suspect that Amazon will fix this problem shortly. But if they don't, they will have some grief over it if the Twit-storm is any indication.

The Power, revised

Another book I finished recently was Robinson's The Power. It's an oldie that I hadn't known about until recently, but it came to me highly recommended. It was quite entertaining, and I'd recommend it, especially if you're in the mood for a fairly short, fairly fast-moving page-turner. Without spoiling the story for anyone who hasn't read it yet, the main idea is that there is a man afoot who is endowed with extraordinary abilities (the titular "Power"). This fact comes to the attention of Professor Tanner who is in short order plunged into a nightmarish quest to figure out and stop whomever it is among his research group that is actually the deadly Adam Hart, moving in disguise, and presumably plotting to take over the world from common homo sapiens. The plot makes clever twists and turns right up to end of the last page.

One gripe that I would have about this particular edition that I read is that it is a revision. Robinson evidently did an "update" of it sometime during the 1990s.  This is clear from references to the US losing the Vietnam War and to veterans of the Gulf War, events that had not yet occurred when this was written in the early 1950s. Having never read the original version, I do not know how exactly it compares, but it's clear that this is a very thin 1990s veneer laid over a 1950s novel. If you were to suspend disbelief and grant that the story takes place in the 90s, then it's riddled with anachronisms: people addressing each other as "mac" and saying things like "what's the big idea!"; casual pipe-smoking in homes and offices; women generally having no role in the affairs of men and commerce; the lack of computers and mobile phones, and so on. I bet the original without the updates would have been better. It could be taken more easily as what it is, a 1950s novel.

By the way, people are making some great reading recommendations with yesterday's post. Feel free to keep that up.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reading recs?

I thought it would good to have a post once in a while where readers can use the comment space to mention things that they have been reading lately or books or authors that they would recommend to other M-Brane followers. The latest thing that I have finished is Stephenson's Anathem. It's very finely done and I would certainly recommend it.  I'll add, however, that it was much more difficult for me to get into for some reason than mypast  Stephenson faves Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. It may just be the way his style and approach has evolved since those early novels. Fine, fine work though (and I think it's a Hugo nominee this year as well). 

So what are y'all reading today?

Possible new anthology project

I announced at and on Twitter yesterday that I am probably going to edit and publish sometime this year an anthology of GLBT-oriented short science fiction under the M-Brane umbrella but not actually as part of the regular zine itself.  I haven't written formal guidelines for it and therefore haven't announced it at Ralan's or Duotrope yet.  I'll probably get something up about it over there and here on Page 2 within a few days. I think it's going to be offered as an e-book and as a POD book via Lulu (and also Amazon, if I can lick the conversion process for a Kindle e-book; some progress has been made on that lately, thanks D.D.).

Thursday, April 9, 2009


How to describe this...ever have a dream which was filled with the sense that you were re-visiting somewhere from a past dream?  Not a recurring dream where the same basic idea plays out again, but one in which you "return" to a place that seems very familiar but which may not really have existed anywhere before.

Though I've been awake for a couple hours this morning, I am still filled with a clinging sense of weirdness from a dream that I had this morning shortly before I woke up. In the dream, Jeff and I were in a building in St. Louis that (in the dream's "back-story") I had scouted as a possible location for our restaurant but then had not pursued it. He was kind of teasing me over thinking it would have been a good spot for it, and I agreed that it wasn't in the best business district. The thing is, this building and its location in the city seemed so familiar, like a thing that was very well known to me for years and years. Now that I am awake, it still feels that way, but I am nearly certain now that this place does not exist in the real world and that I probably never even dreamed of it before either. It remains so vivid, however, that I feel that if I were in St. Louis right now, I could get in the car and drive to it...and then end up befuddled because I would have no idea where it is. Because it's not anywhere. It's not real.

Though I wish this particular dream would loosen its grip a bit, I really dig it when something cool as far as a place or a plot element reveals itself in a dream. My novel-in-progress (Neglected Project) started that way.  I had a vivid and rather scary dream in which I and a few other people were boarding a boat (about the size of a largish cabin cruiser) that had been waiting for us at a pier just off of a seaside boardwalk somewhere. It was night, raining, thundering.  Other people were pursuing us and shooting at us. We had guns also and were returning fire as we readied the boat for departure. In the boat's sleeping cabin, there was the body of a young man. Apparently we were stealing this body from the people who were pursuing us. There was a definite sense that the young man might have been a vampire of some sort. Sometimes when I looked at him, I could see a shimmering, vaporous column of eerie white light transfixing him through his heart. Someone else in the dream referred to him as strigoi, the word for the undead in (I think) Romanian. The gunfight proceeded, but we managed to cruise away from the dock and escape to sea. 

I got out of bed and immediately started writing what I intended to be a short story based on that dream. Like most of my attempts in recent years at short fiction, the story quickly got a lot larger than I had imagined and started to demand a novel-length treatment. In creating some characters for it, I found that I was re-inventing the Martian army from Really Neglected Project (co-written with Pat) so I decided that this new story could maybe be set in that same universe, perhaps a thousand years prior to the events of the other book. "Oh yeah!" I said to myself. "This gives me a chance to actually show what happened to Earth!" Which was an event in the distant past in the "later" novel. Of all the conceived-of novels rattling around my hard-drive and in my head, this is the one closest to being actually written, and I am sticking with it until it's done, even if another weird dream inspires a new one.

The accompanying image is taken from the artwork of the 1970s Bantam edition of Dhalgren. I've never read anything in which Delany describes what inspired that book, but the sheer weirdness of the city of Bellona, the mysterious unknown something that's happened to it, is so dream-like that I bet it did come from dream imagery. Actually, the very structure of the book is dream-like ("No end and no beginning," as Madonna once said in a song--I bet you will never find anywhere else in the whole wide web a comparison drawn between Dhalgren and "Like a Prayer!" Ridiculous!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dune: Books and films

The Trek discussion started on April 4 started to get quite off-topic (see last few comments there), so I thought I'd make a new post for the Dune comments, if anyone has any. The last thing I said about it was that I think that the Lynch film might have been better received by people who had read the novel even though the film diverged in some strange ways from the book.

For example, that whole "weirding module" thing in the movie, employing sound as a weapon, was not an element of the novel. I think that they probably just needed some way to depict the "weirding way" on screen and resorted to something quite visual and easy to understand, since the nature of the "way" in the book is rather vague in its particulars and doesn't present much to look at.  Also, the depiction of the Harkonnens, with the Baron's skin disease and the slaves with the heart plugs, is much more grotendous in the Lynch film than in the novel. In the book, they are plenty evil and the Baron is fat and drifts along on suspensors, but they aren't as over-the-top gross. For the film, however, those visual things really helped make the point quickly that these guys are the villains and that they are highly dangerous and batshit crazy to boot. It works and is fun to watch. Indeed, I liked it so much that I routinely quote the Baron's lines from the Lynch movie in regular day-to-day conversation. You'd be surprised how often around here there is cause for me to yell, "The forms of kanly have been obeyed!"

INFINITE WINDOWS: new web zine

Writer D.D. Tannenbaum, who has a story forthcoming in M-Brane #5 on June 1, has started a new genre fiction webzine called Infinite Windows. When you get a minute, go check it out. It has just started and does not have a huge amount of content up yet but it looks like it will end up being a cool new venue for fiction. Sf, fantasy and horror genres are welcome, in both short story and flash fiction form. You might also wish to visit D.D.'s personal website (a link to him is in the M-Brane writers links list, over on the right and down a few klicks) and navigate from there to his writing blog.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What I said, part 2

Referring back to one of my April 3 posts...add Vermont to the list! 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Smith on "paying the price" and what it tells me about my dumb day job

I mentioned this topic in issue #3 in those notes on some writer blogs that I've been reading lately, but I ought to talk about it here, too, for those who didn't catch it there: If you're a writer, you really should read Dean Wesley Smith's blog. He's been doing a series that he calls "Paying the Price," each entry focusing on different challenges that one must confront if one is serious about getting a real career going in writing. He describes how, in his early days, he would take jobs tending bar because it paid the bills and didn't tax his brain too much, and so he had the mental power left to write during his off hours. 

I thought about that a lot the last few days while at work.  My day job is decidedly un-taxing mentally, and that often frustrates me. Sometime I crave some more stimulating work. I'm employed way below my proper professional level. But then I remember that I used to have an interesting but hugely time-consuming career that left me with very little extra brain-space and even less time--no, NOT time, motivation--to do any writing. I sure as hell would never have gotten around to running a zine back then. Indeed, I first conceived of M-Brane back in 1994 (though it was going to be called Domain Sf and Horror) when I was screwing around with graduate school and working part-time as a prep cook in a restaurant. It was to be a print zine only.  This was 1994. There wasn't even much going on on-line back then, and I didn't even have a proper computer in any case. I was seriously intending to produce it on my old Xerox Memorywriter in old-style paper cut-and-paste fashion much like The Alternative Warp (my mid-80s Trek zine).  I did a lot of planning on it, and even drummed up a little interest in the idea among a writers' crit group that I was in (in which we--get this--mailed paper manuscripts to each other round-robin style!). Then a few months later, I quit grad school, went full-time at that restaurant and began a rapidly advancing culinary career. Domain Sf and Horror sat as a pile of notes and sketches in a desk drawer for years after.

Fast forward a bunch of years: career ends, massive personal and professional upheaval, change of residence, acquisition of awesome new computer, and suddenly the zine seemed like a thing to do again. Though I changed the name to M-Brane and dropped the horror genre from the plan, the zine of which many of you have now seen three issues is remarkably like that old 1994 plan, and I am so glad that I finally did it. Would this have happened this year if I'd had a "real" day job?  I seriously doubt it. Reading Smith's comments is empowering. I'm not even looking for the so-called real job anymore. I already have it. I'm an editor and a writer and that's my real profession henceforth. So that other thing that I do to get the bills paid can just go on being brainless. I need the extra brainpower for my real work anyway.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Trek continuity

Indulge me for a moment of Trek-geeking. I really like the look of this poster for the new Star Trek film. I've been trying not to get too excited about the film itself, because this franchise has delivered little but disappointment post-First Contact. The trailers look totally awesome, however. Jeff and I go to see a movie in a theater at best once a year, so this will probably be this year's pick.

Even if this ends up being a fabulous re-boot of classic-era Trek, I have a nagging worry that they are going to retain one of the franchise's most classic behaviors: introducing discontinuity for no good reason. I've refrained from learning too much about its storyline in advance, but I understand that there is to be a villain named Nero who is evidently a Romulan. In the first season episode "Balance of Terror" a major point was made that the Enterprise's battle with the Romulans in that episode was the first such engagement in a century since the end of the "Earth-Romulan War." Furthermore, it was established that humans and Romulans had never actually seen each other face-to-face. That's why it was a big shocker when Spock hacked the Romulan ship's com system and pulled over visual images showing, for the first time, that Romulans look like Vulcans. So I'm going to frown in dismay if this huge piece of Trek lore is ignored in a story set some years before "Balance of Terror" but obviously well after the Romulan War. If you're not a fan, this may sound trivial, but trust me: it is a big freaking deal in the history of that universe--and just the sort of thing that a Trek movie screenwriter and director would miss. Oh wait, I know how it will all be explainable. They'll use the oldest trick in their bag: time travel! 

Friday, April 3, 2009

What I said

I won't belabor it, but last week during the Card/Pournelle/Duesberg post, I said that it is an inevitable fact that this country will one day have equal marriage right for everyone. Iowa's Supreme Court just struck down its state's anti-gay-marriage law, in a unanimous ruling. I don't ever tune into the extra-chromo right-wing-o-sphere anymore, but I assume the buzz word today  is "judicial activism." Funny how it's judicial activism only when the ruling doesn't go their way.

Science Friday: Anthropic principle, Dan Simmons

During the hours of my day job, spent mostly alone in the kitchen at an assisted living facility for elders with dementia, I can usually listen to the radio while I work. Of course I never tune it to anything but our local NPR affiliate, and on Fridays I especially look forward Science Friday. Unfortunately, today while the show was, on a lot of foolishness and mayhem, perpetrated by co-workers, interfered with my ability to hear it. Also, we were apparently dicked out of the show's second hour entirely today since the station was conducting its spring pledge drive and ran an archived show in the second hour slot, edited to fit into the pledge drive. So I need to get the podcast if I want to know entirely what was discussed.

One portion that I did catch, however, was a discussion of the "anthropic principle" in cosmology. Different versions of this have been explicated, but the real simple gist of what they were talking about is the idea that the universe as we can observe it exists because we observe it. The whole thing is a result and function of our existence. I've never been a big fan of this notion and neither were the scientists on the show. The discussion reminded me, however, of some of the science fiction of Dan Simmons. The impact of human creativity on the "real" world is a major point of his Ilium/Olympos duology. Also, his 1992 novel The Hollow Man deals deeply in it. The story ends with the protagonist literally changing the conditions of his reality by willing a sort of quantum shift.  Though I'm not a big fan of the idea--too quasi-theological, too human-centered, too "anthropic" for me--Simmons employs it effectively in these stories. His tales hold a capacious optimism for humanity, and I like that more than I might have expected (I think I'm more frequently drawn to a completely non-anthropic view of the universe, one where we exist at random and more less in chaos, a more Lovecraftian view, I suppose). 

Thinking about this also reminded of Really Neglected Project (potentially in the same universe as my slightly less ignored novel Neglected Project), a story that my friend Pat and I started on a couple years ago. Without giving away the whole store (since we may actually finish it someday), it has to do with a race of people who have figured out how to manipulate matter at the quantum level, using a technique to concentrate their mental power, and are able to achieve great feats of making "something out of nothing." They have developed a sort of religion around this, propped up by a vast theocratic state apparatus, and have become dangerously dependent upon their ability to meditate stuff into existence.  So dependent, in fact, that they are sitting ducks when an invasion by an enemy from another brane begins. The idea began as a snarky, deliciously mean dig at The Secret (TM), but we quickly fashioned a giant, elaborately-wrought epic out of it. Actually, it got so big it sort of collapsed under its own weight and probably needs some major retooling if we ever go back to work on it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Zumaya Publications

I want to draw attention to one of M-Brane's very first ad sponsors, the remarkable book publisher Zumaya Publications, based in Austin. Those of you who have copies of issue #3, take a minute to look at the Zumaya ad on the inside back cover (right next to my article on The Forever War). If you don't have a copy of #3 yet, you are missing out so badly you can't even imagine it. It's actually the explanation for most problems you might be experiencing currently. But there's still time to subscribe or order that single issue. 

Launched in 2001, Elizabeth Burton's company publishes books in traditional print fashion as well in all the electronic formats. When Liz first responded to my announcement that I was accepting ads in the magazine, the name of her operation sounded vaguely familiar, but now I see it everywhere. Zumaya's titles are all over Amazon and Fictionwise. Zumaya publishes titles in several genres, but readers (and writers) of M-Brane might be most interested in the Otherworlds spec fic imprint.

I really dig this sort of thing: it is new media, new publishing, an approach to getting books to readers that bucks convention and bypasses a lot of the snobbery of the "mainstream" while still being a real publisher and not a vanity press. What  Zumaya Publications is doing is very compatible with what I am doing with M-Brane in the sense of finding a publication model that can survive into the new era and retain the kind of flexibility and economy needed to be a survivor when the Titans fall (no, don't worry, I won't get started into that lecture again).

Back issues up on Lulu

All three issues may now be purchased in print form in the Lulu store (the link to this and all the PDF purchase options is located on Page 2 accessible from that "click here" spot on this page's upper right). My attempt at the omnibus edition failed again for some unknown reason, and I am  setting aside that concept for now (again). The individual issues, however, are ready to go.  In purely aesthetic terms, the Lulu versions of #1 and #2 have some deficiencies as compared to their PDF counterparts, but all the content is there. #3 looks much more like the PDF because it was designed from the get-go to be more compatible with conversion into Lulu POD form. An oddity of the Lulu versions is that their front and back covers are not the "real" front and back like their are in the PDF or the locally-produced print versions. They are cosmetic, an artifact of how Lulu does things, making one create a separate cover instead of allowing page 1 to be the cover the way it is in the PDF version. The complete contents of the issues (including the front) is located inside. Also, interior contents are black-and-white entirely. This is the future of the print version until such time as we're funded well enough that I can make a true print run of it at a reasonable per-copy cost.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

#3 available on Lulu

The Lulu store is open for business again with M-Brane #3 print edition available for order. I'll be adding the other issues and probably an "omnibus" edition by sometime tomorrow.  The print edition is $7.95 which is $2.05 less than I was able to sell my locally-produced copies of #1 and #2 but there will be shipping charge from Lulu which will make it a bit more...but the quality of this print version will be vastly better than what I was able to do at the local print-monger.

I'll also get "PAGE 2" (the buy-stuff/writers guidelines page) updated sometime tomorrow with a link to Lulu and also a button for a single-issue purchase of #3 in PDF directly from me.


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