Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ellison on STUDIO 360

I was delighted to find that Kurt Anderson interviewed Harlan Ellison, who recently reached seventy-four years of age, for his public radio show Studio 360. This interview coincides with the DVD release of the film about Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which I have not seen yet but hope to soon. At the site, you can get the podcast of the radio version of the show, but that one is an abridged version. What you really want to hear is Anderson’s full, hour-long interview with Ellison, which you can also download or stream on the site. They cover a lot of topics, including the film, and Ellison reads some passages from “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and “Jefty is Five.”

I’m glad to see that Ellison is getting some fresh attention. He is one of the all time towering giants of American literature. I can say that to a crowd of spec fic-oriented readers, like the followers of the blog, and you’d all probably say, “Well, yeah. Of course. What else is new?” It’s a strange but true fact, however, that Ellison’s work is widely ignored by academics (could it be because of his association with “genre” fiction? No! Really?). I am, by education, a literature student, and I spent much of my academic life in both high school and college trying to alert English profs as to what they are missing out on when I would select Ellison’s work as the subject of a number of critical essays and research papers. Like Ellison himself states in this interview, I considered him to be the natural kin and heir to writers like Poe and Kafka and Borges. But never once did I see a glimmer of recognition in the eyes of any of my teachers nor a scintilla of respect offered forth after I had alerted them to the abysmal gaps in their knowledge of the American short story. This was particularly disappointing to me during the college years, since I attended an otherwise super-brainy liberal arts school and had high hopes that there’d be some cool lit profs there. I’d heard they existed on some campuses, but apparently not the one I was on. As it happened, I think I might even have been the only student there who knew much about Ellison. Hardly anyone seemed to be into spec fic at all. I was the only one writing it in the fiction writing seminars that I took during my senior year...and I think that was a lot of the reason why my work was generally regarded as the worst of the lot while other writers' tiny tales of thinly veiled campus current events and personal foibles passed muster as fine literary fiction.

A thing perhaps less well know among spec fic readers is the fact that Ellison has also always been a compelling essayist, and he continues with this even now. I highly recommend some of his older collections such as The Harlan Ellison Hornbook and An Edge in My Voice (there are others--I just happen have those two books on my shelf). While the topics are pretty old now—since they deal mostly with events that were current in 1970s and early 1980s and were written mostly as newspaper columns back in the day—they still make for some great, entertaining reading today.

Also of some interest to sf fans would be the 5/23 installment of Studio 360 in which Anderson talks about the Klingon language with linguist Arika Okrent (which I heard, when listening to the podcast, as “Erica Okrand,” virtually the same name as Marc Okrand, the developer of the language). She published a new book about invented languages and has herself a good command of Klingon. They also discuss some other invented languages such as the elf tongue from Tolkien's universe and how it was used in the film, and also Esperanto. One gets to hear a little clip of William Shatner speaking in that language in the bizarre 1965 film Incubus.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Merc's got a story at DUNESTEEF!

Writer Abby "Merc" Rustad, whom all our readers will remember from M- Brane  #2  ("Unpermitted"),  has a story newly live at  The Dunesteef Audio Magazine "Hangman" is a highly entertaining little tale, presented in audio form with great flair. I mentioned this recently (because Derek Goodman also has a new item there), but I'll say again that I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of these audio zines, and I like Dunesteef particularly well.

The format of each "show" consists of the presentation of the story followed by a segment of the producers hanging out talking about something for a while. In this new segment that starts with Merc's story, they chat for a while about the new Star Trek movie. Some other examples of this "dudes-talking-about-scifi-stuff" format can be found online, but this one is particularly good because of the lively and witty nature of their banter. Go listen to "Hangman" now!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

GUEST POST: Derek J. Goodman..."RETRO READS: THE CACHE by Philip Jose Farmer"

[Derek J. Goodman's short story "Northern Girls With the Way They Kiss" appeared in M-Brane #4. He will appear in M-Brane #6 with "Rental Property," and is live now on Dunesteef Audio Magazine with "In Absence of Mind Wiping Thingies."--CF]

Welcome to what will hopefully be the first in a series of guest blog-posts where I will be looking at obscure sci-fi books. Before I go into my first book, I should probably take a moment to explain how I’m defining “obscure” for this. I decided to write this after reading some similar columns on other blogs that, while incredibly informative, did not go into the kind of stuff I wanted to read as much as I would have liked. In trying to find such a blog, I came to the conclusion that if I couldn’t find other people who would point me in the direction of older, harder-to-find works I might like then I would just have to be that person myself. The problem with this was that A)my access to older works is limited, being that I live in a small town and the nearest used book store is an hour away, and B)my personal knowledge of any sci-fi older than ten years old is somewhat limited. So when I say that I’m going to be looking at obscure sci-fi what I mean is I’m looking at sci-fi that was obscure to me before I started looking into it. So if I go into something that you don’t necessarily find “obscure,” then please bear with me. I’m learning about some of this stuff right along with you.

My first find for this column is The Cache by Philip Jose Farmer. Farmer by himself is a writer who is well-known enough in certain circles, and well he should be. He has two major claims to fame within the spec-fic world. First, he was one of the first science fiction writers to inject a sense of sexuality into his work. Prior to Farmer most sci-fi writers stayed away from the taboo subject of sex, but Farmer explored it as just another part of the human condition. Many of his works that delved into this, especially his short novel The Lovers, are considered tame by modern standards but were revolutionary at the time. Secondly, Farmer is considered by many to be the father of fan fiction. Through his Wold Newton stories he found a way to connect many famous pulp fiction heroes together into one universe, including Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and many others.

While The Cache does not readily fit into either of these two famous Farmer motifs it still showcases his playfulness with existing ideas and his use of sensuality even when it isn’t central to the story. Published in 1981, The Cache is technically a story collection, although it only contains three stories. The two shortest ones, “Rastignac the Devil” and “They Twinkled Like Jewels,” while worth a read, would not by themselves be enough to recommend this book. “They Twinkled Like Jewels,” telling the story of a man who meets the sinister beings that infected him with unexplainable wanderlust as a child, reminded me in some ways of James Tiptree Jr.’s famous story “The Screwfly Solution” (although I think Farmer might have written this story first, as it was originally published in 1965), while “Rastignac the Devil,” about a man trying to start a real revolution on a world where rebellion is mandated and required by the government in order to keep unsavory types satisfied with their lives, is a great idea that unfortunately reads very flat.

So the true treasure in The Cache is the short novel that opens the book up, “The Long Warpath.” Originally published by itself in 1965 under the title The Cache from Outer Space, this story managed to have me fascinated and scratching my head from the opening page. “The Long Warpath” is a rare piece that keeps you engaged from the get-go yet still manages to not even let you know what you are reading for most of the story. Based on both the blurb on the back of the book (which woefully fails to summarize anything about the story) and the first couple pages I at first believed I was reading a fantasy. Then I thought maybe I might be reading an alternate history. By the time I finally realized I was reading post-apocalyptic science fiction I was thoroughly engrossed.

The story starts out focusing on two youths, Joel and Benoni, as they are coming back to their city of Fiiniks after helping the men of their people prepare weapons with which to fight the rival tribes that threaten their land. Joel is brash and tends to get under everyone’s skin while Benoni is quiet and honorable and instantly recognizable as the hero. Both boys are in contest against each other to win the hand of the same young woman, but before either of them can try wooing her they must go on the Warpath, a right of passage among their people that requires young men to go out naked into the desert wilderness and not come back until they have scalped a man from the competing Navaho tribe. This is the point where Farmer really starts to mess with the reader’s expectations, as the people of Fiiniks show many aspects of a Native American tribe but are very clearly described at white.

Before Benoni and Joel can go on the Warpath, however, they are each selected by their elders for an additional task. The land around Fiiniks has become increasingly unstable with earthquakes and volcanoes, and it will not be possible for their people to live there much longer. And so they are instructed to go even further out into the wilderness than the Warpath has ever required before in order to search for possible new places to settle. Although Benoni is not sure that he wants to do this, he ultimately decides to continue on after Joel betrays him and leaves him for dead. Not only does he need to explore the world in the name of his tribe, but he also feels the need to extract his vengeance.

It is as the reader experiences Benoni’s account of his travels that it starts to be understood that all this is taking place in the far future. The names of all the places are bastardizations of names in the real world (I didn’t even realize until Farmer said that the boys’ city is named after a bird that rises from the ashes that it is actually Phoenix, Arizona), and the geography matches that of the United States. Something has happened at some point in the distant past that sent civilization back to the stone age, and Benoni unwittingly finds himself slowly uncovering the secrets of the ancient alien race that almost wiped humanity out. And by the time Benoni finishes, he realizes that he wants more from life than just the hand of simple girl. He has seen the world and the wonders it once had, and he wants to be a part of it.

At times Farmer’s prose can seem a little archaic and stilted, but this is overcome by Farmer’s imagining of an America that has been forcefully returned to the wilderness of the past and civilizations rebuilt on ancient models. While still not on par with Farmer’s better known works, The Cache still has much to offer for anybody who seeks it out. To the best of my knowledge this has not been in print for a long time, though, so you may need to do some hunting to find it.
Do you have any thoughts you wish to share, on either this book or obscure books in general? Do you see any errors I may have made in my research? Do you have other books you would like to suggest for future Retro Reads columns? Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know. Remember, I’m not an expert, here. I’m more than open to anyone who might be more knowledgeable and would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A day that will long be remembered!

Yesterday was quite remarkable.  First, it saw the release of M-Brane #5, possibly the best issue yet, and the first one to be available simultaneously on Kindle and via MobiPocket as well as in the traditional PDF and POD editions. 

2) Next, Rick Novy released episode 2 of his new video podcast show Novy MIRror. I posted about this here when the first installment was released and have been plugging it on Twitter. It is super cool. Go to his site ASAP to see Rick's interview with writer Aliette de Bodard. It's really interesting. I like it when an author interview has some intellectual heft to it, and this one does for sure. (Note that the image that I am including to promote Novy MIRror is actually a screenshot from my Mac, and if you look very carefully, on the left side of the image you will see Derek J. Goodman about three times in avatar form in TweetDeck which is open behind the web window. Very small images, but there.)
3) Then, the President 
of the United States, using his amazing power of not being a dumbass muthuhfrakker, made an appointment to the Supreme Court of the kind that we will not need to worry about for the next twenty or thirty years.

4) Indeed, the only major setback that I am aware of was the California court's upholding of the scurrilous Proposition 8.  This was, however, expected. Also, it is not the first time their courts have had to uphold these dumb-ass ballot measures. It's part of their tradition--as it is in more and more states in recent decades--to let the drooling masses make laws directly instead of through the representative republic system of government intended by the Founders. That's why their Constitution has been amended some five hundred times so far. But at least Californians considered the concept of marriage equality. Where I live, there is absolutely no discussion of it whatsoever. The idea is totally unheard of. Im not worried, though: progress does get not rolled back in the long run. It takes time and there are setbacks along the way, but reason and liberal-mindedness always prevail given enough time. 

5) Uh, I guess another bad thing about yesterday was that the "creeping crud" that I wrote of a few posts ago had me pretty firmly in its grip, but I stayed focused on the good stuff above (except for paragraph 4), and I feel a bit better today. I think I'll do some Twitter promos for #5 today, since I'm stuck at day job tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

M-BRANE #5 RELEASED in all formats

The spectacular fifth issue released today in PDF, POD, Kindle and Mobi. Ordering info for PDF subscriptions, and single copies of the the other editions can be found by clicking one of those "subscribe" links over to the right.

I am exceedingly proud of this issue, and I hope everyone will enjoy its 84 pages and over sixty thousand words of amazement.

Monday, May 25, 2009

30 years of ALIEN

I just saw on Twitter author Dayton Ward point out that we're at the 30th anniversary of Ridley Scott's Alien. Who remembers this TV spot from 1979? I was terrorized by it as a little kid, while watching syndicated re-runs of Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Sunday, May 24, 2009

GUEST POST: D.D. TANNENBAUM...Where’s the Joy in Writing?

[D.D. Tannenbaum will appear in a matter of days in M-Brane #5 with his story "The Hole that Max Found." He is a writer and computer technology expert who lives in the Austin area, and he's been a great friend to M-Brane. Here he talks about the thing that charms and obsesses and sometimes frustrates so many of us, whether it's our profession or our pastime, and suggests that it really needs to be for the love.]

I have been writing full time for almost two years and part time for the two years prior. I have read many blogs and websites of other authors, agents and editors and have been struck by their tales of “struggle” and the “sacrifices” they have to make to write and do their jobs. Almost everybody has these stories of how they suffered for their art. My question is this: Why do it if it doesn’t bring you joy? Why do something that takes more out of you than you get out of it? Ask yourself why you write. Is it because you think you should? “Shoulds” are one of the heaviest anchors we wear. If you do it just to make money, try something else, like ditch digging or tending bar. Far more rewarding in those cases and it pays better. Writing should be a rush! Argue with your characters, give them the same emotions you have yourself. Let them take on a life of their own, and let it be a good one. One of my favorite authors, A. Bertram Chandler wrote a series of science fiction stories concerning a spaceman named John Grimes. He must have written at least fifteen novels about his and the Worlds of the Rim. His character became so out of control, Chandler wrote himself into the story to take control back. Sir Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series, tried to kill his character off, but he wouldn’t die. This is what I mean about the joys as opposed to the struggle of writing. Also, don’t lock yourself in a sterile environment and pound away at your keyboard. I spend my days writing in a comfortable room, coffee at hand, with a big window to see the bright sunshine outside. I always have music playing, and have constant contact with friends and peers on the web.

Now, granted I am a novice at this, but my experiences are vastly different. There is a joy, both visceral and spiritual, when I am working on a story a story. There is something mystical about giving form to thought. I’m one of those writers who believes the story writes itself and I am just the instrument of its expression. The creative rush of writing a story is comparable to meeting your first love, or having a precious moment with one of your children.

I intend to support myself with my writing, but I am a realist in how long it takes. I am in no rush, I just keep writing stories. If I worried about getting published, or worried about what I was sacrificing for my art, I wouldn’t get any writing done at all. My stories are written; hopefully they’ll get published. But if not, they were still given form and my friends and family enjoy them.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

TREK and SUNSHINE: A rare movie watching day

J and I finally saw the Star Trek movie today. I wasn't sure if we'd make it. Our budget being what it is works against extravagances like movie tickets and the obligatory popcorn. Also, we just don't go to movies much anyway. It takes a lot to get one of us--say nothing of both of us at the same time--ready to slog out to the megaplex and risk placing ourselves in the midst of an annoying throng of humans. But we went to a noon show today, a couple weeks after the movie's premiere, and it worked well: cheaper daytime tickets, not much crowd.

We both liked the movie quite well. It didn't change my whole life in the way I hear it did for some people, but it was quite entertaining and sufficiently "trekkie" to make me accept it as a legit depiction of that universe. It is a total reboot, however. After what happened in this film, the universe of all previous Treks has little connection to it. This is, of course, handled in traditional Star Trek fashion in a scene in which Spock explains how the villain's time-traveling machinations have changed the course of their timeline, creating an (you guessed it before you ever saw it) alternate universe.

I don't know if time's up yet on holding back on "spoilers," but...Spock and Uhura? WTF! We liked the portrayals of all of the characters and thought the movie was a really lovely thing to look at. Of course it's a big summer action blockbuster type film, like I guess it would need to be to have any hope of success. I do think, however, that Trek as a concept was always better suited to TV than feature films. I'm into the "explore strange new worlds" stories that were the mainstay of the original TV series and also TNG to a large extent and don't really need my Trek to be about epic battles with evil Romulans. But I get it that a big movie like this needs something like that, and this one delivered it well.

After we got home, we watched on DVD Danny Boyle's Sunshine, which is about a team traveling to the dying sun with a plan to re-ignite it. I'd heard good things about it, borrowed the disc from Pat and Heather months and months ago, but somehow never got around to it. I thought it was a nice little treat, a little bit of serious sf dessert, a wine and cheese course after the lush banquet of Trek. It is an exceedingly infrequent occurrence to find a thoughtful, serious-minded, rigorously told science fiction story on film in the post-Star Wars era (not that I don't like Star Wars, too; but after that, you can count on too few hands the number of really good sf films). It's not grand, it's not epic, it's not bombastic...and that's something to like about a movie nowadays.

[Images are, of course, of the lovely leads of Star Trek (Chris Pine as Kirk) and Sunshine (Cillian Murphy as Capa)]

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's back! The creeping crud!

I hate to even bring this up here, but it's a comfortable place for me since people can read it or not and it will not be seen by anyone in my immediate vicinity (J has never read one post on this blog ever), which is sometimes for the best. About once every year or so, I find myself way down deep in some kind of morbid depression (as in much much worse than my normal everyday dim view of current circumstances). I've sensed it massing for a few days, and I spent all day today deliberately doing things that normally keep me cheerful in hopes I can push it away. It didn't work. I failed at each thing, even cooking dinner which is normally a guaranteed moment of success for me no matter how frakked up the rest of the day is. I never ruin dinner...but I did tonight. Just one symptom.

It would be so easy to just list objective things that seem to contribute to my foul state. Like the usual shit: I hate my day job, I hate this city that we stupidly moved to, and so on. But that's not it. All of that was just as true yesterday and last week and last month and six months ago and it didn't cause this feeling, this creeping crud that's almost a palpable and visible thing around me right now.

This despair happens, as I said, on a fairly annual basis. But this time, the timing could probably not be better. This is happening within days of the release of M-Brane #5. I am locked into that. It is happening on schedule no matter what. Last time I found myself in the crud was during the pre-M-Brane era. I didn't have the zine, this blog, Twitter, any email correspondence to speak of, no other hobbies or pastimes of any sort really--wasn't even seriously working on any fiction--so I was able to thoroughly wallow in my stupid self for days on end and do nothing else. That option is not available to me this year, and I'm so glad of it.

It's just a temporary (albeit recurring) neuro-chemical fuck-up, a mess of synapses not firing in the right way, the "wiring" between memory and current circumstances all dicked up somehow. It's easy to say (when you're not feeling it), "It's all in your head." But I guess that's literally true, isn't it? There is no palpable, visible crud other than what I imagine. I'm entirely sick of it and myself tonight, but I bet tomorrow will be better. I even think it will lift a bit when I hit "publish post" in a few seconds.

[Accompanying image represents the cleansing fire that I've been thinking I need tonight...not REALLY, but hmmm....]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Goodman story at The Dunesteef!

Writer Derek J. Goodman ("Northern Girls With the Way They Kiss," M-Brane #4, "Rental Property," forthcoming in #6), has his new story, "In Absence of Mind Wiping Thingies,"  live right now in The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine. There are a bunch of cool audio fiction sites nowadays, and Dunesteef is one of the coolest. It stands to reason that I would think so since it appears that its editors and I have at least a fair amount in common as far as the kinds of stories we like. In addition to Derek, I have heard that M-Brane #2 alum Abby "Merc" Rustad ("Unpermitted") has something going up there shortly.  Also, I noticed that S.C. Hayden ("End Day," M-Brane #3) and Joshua Scribner ("Conductors," M-Brane #1, "Tortured Spirit," #5 forthcoming) have been published there as well.

I really need to somehow make more time to actually listen to and pay attention to more audio fiction: I am constantly playing some of it, but get too distracted by trying to write or edit or blog or email or Tweet at the same time and I miss most of the story.  I need to treat myself to some uninterrupted periods of kicking back and just listening. Dunesteef and all "my" cool writers with stories there are inspiring me to do exactly that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

8 MINUTES anthology/contest

If anyone has still not visited writer D.D. Tannenbaum's sector of the interwebs, you need to catch up now for Dan has a fine new project in the works: 8 Minutes, a speculative fiction anthology, the stories for which will be the winners and runners-up of a contest. Click here for general info and click on the "Contest Rules" link for specific details and submission info. I really dig the theme of this antho: "Something has happened to the sun. In 8 minutes, everything changes!" This is the stuff of a really great book. The possibilities are endless. I've been daydreaming about it off and on all day. 

Also, I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: Dan also recently launched Infinite Windows, a genre fiction webzine. Lately it's had some interesting content, including a story by Elliot Richard Dorfman who will also appear in M-Brane #5.

Monday, May 18, 2009

DISCUSSION TOPIC: The Planet of the..WHAT!?

Do any of you people who are writers or some other kind of creative-type person remember (or even harbor) any old ideas for projects that you had earlier in your life, or even as a little kid, that now seem so dumb and embarrassing that you can hardly stand to even think about them...much less admit them to anyone? Due to my own unfortunate lifelong tendency to broadcast publicly most of my silly notions, I have a long catalog of flinch-worthy history. I just remembered this morning, however, a really boneheaded idea for a novel that I had when I was ten years old.  And, in keeping with my practice of sharing, I am now going to tell you about it in hopes that it will inspire people to go to the comments section and reveal their own silliness for us all to consider.

Though I have yet to build any kind of credible writing career, I have been working on it off and on since early childhood. By the time I was ten, I was spending a great deal of time ensconced in my bedroom, seated at my writing desk. I had on my desk the following items: a sturdy old manual typewriter of the sort that Harlan Ellison always brags about as being his only writing tool, a neat stack of paper for the typewriter, a stack of three-subject spiral notebooks that were employed in some kind of arcane system, pens and pencils in a Ziggy pen-holder, and a plastic file storage box to contain my 3x5 index cards on which I would take certain notes. There was also a globe and maybe a few pieces of Star Trek bric-a-brac. (My present-day desk is much like it except all the prehistoric writing junk has been supplanted by a MacBook). 

During this period, about age 10, I had read Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes and David Gerrold's tie-in novel for the film Battle for the Planet of the Apes (not understanding that the two had fuck-all to do with one another) and had become rather taken with the whole apes-ruling-the-world concept. Once while seated at my writing desk during these days, I was struck dumb with inspiration: what if BIRDS ruled the world!? So I set about crafting an elaborate plot--using index cards and my weird notebook system--based on the premise of a troubled civilization where an overlord caste of grungy predatory and carrion-eating birds (hawks, ravens, eagles, ospreys, vultures and the like) ruled over the masses of "nicer" birds (parrots, cockatiels, love birds, canaries, parakeets, finches, etc.). Of course, they were all sentient and could talk like humans. Hmm. Well, it did not cross my young mind that a straight-up rip-off of the apes idea, substituting birds, just wasn't ever going to go anywhere. Fortunately, from a time-waste standpoint, I was much better at dreaming up these ideas than actually writing the stories to go with them. I did, however, plot the thing in some detail using my index cards. Naturally, it was all to culminate in a feathery blood-soaked revolution in which the macaw rebel leader defeated the sinister osprey suzerain.

That's just one example from my imaginative past.  Does anyone else have any?

E-book progress

Rejoice, all ye handheld device users: M-Brane #4 is now available both from Kindle and from MobiPocket. I have added links to get to both sources on Page 2. I expect to be able to offer all future issues like this. Yay!  And thanks again, Dan Tannenbaum ("The Hole That Max Found," M-Brane #5, forthcoming), for helping me with this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kindle developments

The blog as been available for a few days now as something that Kindle users may subscribe to by way of Amazon for download to their Kindles. I have to admit that I am not hopeful that a lot of people would pay to get a blog that can be gotten for free on the web, but it appears that some Kindle users do, in fact, go for things like that for the convenience of getting stuff on their device. Anyway, if anyone has a Kindle and a couple bucks (literally) to spare, it's a nice way to make a sort of micro-donation to M-Brane and give me another source of revenue-trickle for the overall operation. (And when I say "micro-donation," it is quite micro as far as what I get since Amazon takes a large chunk of the subscription fee).

Also, it appears that the zine itself will become available on the Kindle starting with issue #4. It may be live as soon as tomorrow. I'll update again with the link to it when it is.  I'd like to thank D.D. Tannenbaum for his generous assistance in achieving the conversion of the zine into a workable format for this purpose. While I don't have one of these devices myself to look at it directly, the Kindle preview that I was able to look at on the Amazon publishing platform looked great. I'm very happy about this progress.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Announcing the grand writers and their stories, due by June 1, in M-Brane #5:

Brandon Bell: "Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm"

Caren Gussoff: "As They Get Warmer, They Give a Little"

D.D. Tannenbaum: "The Hole that Max Found"

Deborah Walker: "Daughter of Science, Daughter of Magic"

Joshua Scribner: "Tortured Spirit"

Martin Turton: "The Rose of Rehin"

Liana Brooks: "Seventy"

Peter Andrews: "The Charisma Plague"

D.C. Grondo: "Different Shades of People"

Elliot Richard Dorfman: "Carried by the Wind"

Edward W. Robertson: "Steve Kendrick's Disease"

James P. Wagner: "Matchmaker"

Sue Lange: "Zara Gets Laid"

As the only person who has, so far, read them all, I can say with great sincerity that this is a very fancy bunch of stories for the fine fifth issue. Anyone who is not yet a subscriber ought to become one right now. The stories' titles alone should arouse a lot of interest and excitement. Indeed, I predict that there will be foofaraw and hullaballoo on the web and great tumult in the streets when the issue is released.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Novy MIRror" launches!

So many of the writers that I have met as a result of running M-Brane SF have such interesting projects going on (aside from their writing, their day jobs, their families and everything else). Speculative fiction writer Rick Novy ("Road Rage," M-Brane #1, "Plan R,"  #4, "The Trouble With Truffles," #6, forthcoming), who shows up all over the place nowadays with his fiction, is also a videographer and has started the fascinating Novy MIRror. (click that name) This is an online video-cast featuring interviews with people in the spec fic world and news of genre goings-on. It is super-cool, and episode one, featuring writer and Klingon language expert Lawrence M. Schoen, is online now. I'll shut up now, so you have time to watch it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GUEST POST: BRANDON BELL...On the Well Written Story, Well Told

All the writers among us will enjoy and benefit from this special post by Brandon Bell (M-Brane #1 and #5). --CF

I have been writing since I was a kid, and I have been writing and submitting to genre magazines since I was a teenager. And without reservation I can say that everything I wrote prior to the last five years was crap. Occasionally well-written crap, but crap. In the last five years I transitioned into writing promising crap. But still crap. And I finally, much more recently than I want to admit, started producing fiction editors were willing to buy. Here are some thoughts on this journey.
A heuristic for the fiction writer: you'll write a lot of garbage getting to the good stuff.

Young or new writers make excuses for themselves in regard to this. They are "just writing for themselves" or don't want archaic conventions to stifle their genius or creativity. Bullshit. If you want to write for your self, get a journal and have at it. If you are writing fiction, then market and audience is always a consideration.

Another heuristic: identify your market and audience, write with that in mind, and then submit based on the guidelines of your target market(s).

One of my best decisions as a writer was joining the Online Writers Workshop, submitting all my stories for review, and learning how to review other people's stories. I believe it is invaluable to review work comparable as well as better and worse than one's own. I found that I wanted "big picture" input on my stories and thought that giving this kind of input more valuable than mere line edits. I was wrong. Line edits are the heart of good critiques and you need to learn how to line edit your own work. Editing another's work leads to insight into your own. Through line editing, I came to see what I previously thought stylistic choice as mere wordiness. I came to see simplicity as beauty even in long, ornate stanzas of prose.

And another heuristic: join a group that will give you honest and useful reviews and learn to do the same.

Most articles about writing suggest books to read, and I'll do the same. The best book I have ever read that was about becoming a better writer was Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing. I also sing the praises of Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, despite the book being over-hyped in some quarters and subsequently maligned by writers like David Brin. I dig Brin, by the way. I'd suggest reading the book and then seeking out why others disagree with it.

Much of the specific suggestions I offer are culled from these two books.

So, you're going to write. A lot. At some point you're going to want to put it out there, try for publication. Go for it. You may be baffled why an excellent story is rejected. Join the critique group and learn what works and doesn't work for your readers. Become a great critter of others stories. Focus on line editing, and work up from there to the big picture stuff.

Here's a template for doing story reviews. I'm sure I grafted this from various sources among OWW critters, but if the net result is better story crits in the genre world, I don't think anyone will mind:









Show vs. Tell:

Line By Line:

I always start with the "Line by Line" section, commenting as I read, then go back and make short comments in the prior categories. If diligent and helpful as opposed to smarmy (that kind of a crit 'sucks', which is a technical term we writers use for pompous bastards who review our work from the end of their noses), you will tend to do great reviews for people and get the same in return. I should note, lest it be misconstrued from prior parenthetical comments, that good crits are critical. They point out weaknesses and faults. Fawning will make you feel good, but it won't get you published.

So get some practice critting, and get some great reviews in return. Edit based on the input. Learn to spot accurate criticism as opposed to personal predilection in your critters and have enough backbone to decide when a story is done.

And then return to write a story for a particular market that you want to get published in (or submit the one you have vetted against your crit group, since you vet all your stories against them).

I did this and found the markets I wanted to publish in (I realized I might get rejected at market #1, so I wanted my story to fit the general guidelines of several markets) had word count limits of about 5000 words. Many of the online markets have less: 3500-4000, so apply these guidelines appropriately.

Determine your premise. I chose for one story, "Real love lets go." Then I began to understand who my protagonist must be, because she would prove my premise through the course of the story. She would necessarily start out clinging to the object of her affection. By the end, she would let go. It is through this sort of transition, love to hate, fear to fearlessness, triumph to loss, that we identify characters as real and their story compelling. And good stories flow from believable characters properly orchestrated.*

There must be a pivotal character: someone or a group of someones (or possibly a force of nature or magic, etc: this is genre after all.) who does not change but is in fact a perfect opposition to your hero. Faced with the pivotal character, the protagonist has no choice but to act.

Your 5000 words are spread out over 5 phases: Exposition, Rising Conflict, Climax, Falling Action, and Denoument. Egris argued that there should not be a separate expositional section in a play or other fiction, but that exposition should constantly occur throughout the narrative, leading us toward an inevitable conclusion.

I still list Exposition first because while I agree with Egri, I recognize that the short genre story has several tasks to accomplish in its first two pages: hook the reader, establish character, setting, tone, and plant the seed of what will become the Climax. Starting with dialog is often a good choice. I have begun stories with lines that are shocking or odd, though there is the danger of not delivering on that initial weirdness.

Regardless of one's approach, I find it rare to have that meandering, pointless start when trying to accomplish so much. In fact, it is a great way to practice one's skill as a genre writer to seamlessly pack all this information into a mere two pages (tops), and compel the reader to continue.

Rising Conflict will compose the bulk of your story. Again, as noted by Egri, all good conflict is either foreshadowed or rising. There is a rumor of icebergs in the water, but the captain insists on full speed ahead. Later comes the crash and shriek of metal crumpling in the night as the ship lists. Water rushes into the lower levels and passengers begin filing out onto the deck where it becomes obvious there are not enough life rafts. The waters are freezing, the ship is sinking fast, and there is no one near to come to rescue. Conflict rises naturally, progressively, and we are urged along with our protagonist toward the proving of our original premise. Here is where the protagonist slowly transitions, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, from one pole to the other. Here is where the hero struggles along, overcoming increasing challenges, stiffer odds. I've heard it described as "three bumps" on the road to the climax. Rising Conflict will last for ten to thirteen pages.

By the time we reach the Climax our hero, in Campbell's parlance, has Answered the Call to Adventure in the Exposition and set off into the Underworld to meet both Challenges and accept Aid on the road to confrontation with Father/Mother/Tyrant/Diety/Satyr/Self, and to either bring back the fire of the gods or to come back to the world changed by the ordeal.

In the Climax the pivotal character stands absolute and the protagonist has grown into the equal opposition to that character or force. She acts because of the truth of our premise, and wins or loses based on the absolute necessity of taking action. The Climax will last from one to three pages.

Falling Action and Denoument address the repercussions of what has happened and should be as short as possible: a few words, a sentence, paragraph, or a few paragraphs. It should not be more than a page, possibly two.

Through these methods I suggest that anyone willing to accept the above three heuristics can draft the well-written story well told.

And then you find the number of editors who bemoan the glut of just such stories. Technically fine, and not lacking in any specific department, but not must-buys, either.

Just as I continue to work on writing well-written stories (I am totally a little tuna, and just sharing with anyone interested), I also struggle to fit my own uniqueness of approach and vision into my stories so that I might wow the next editor who reads my stuff. It is a challenge, but a fun one. Good luck to us all!

* "But!" you say. Pointing out the genre examples that defy this statement. Twenty Evocations. Red as Blood. The squid section of City of Saints and Madmen. Yeah, nice point, but you're not that good yet. Focus on writing from character, then experiment.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Electric Brain Storm...Literally

I've been thinking about M-Brane writer and friend Brandon Bell (issues #1 and #5, upcoming) off and on all day, and I decided I'd like to show some solidarity with him and come out as a person who also has some sort of undiagnosed neurological situation.  Read Brandon's startling blog post about his recent event, my comment there about it, and then come back here for the rest of this post.  I'll wait for you.

I feel very lucky that the similar episodes that I have been through (the one at 18 being "Worst Episode Ever") have been 
few and have not recurred in full-on form since that last one half of my life ago. Reading Brandon's account of it brought back vividly the creeping fear of it, the near certainty that it will happen again someday. A few weeks ago, in fact, I felt it coming back. It started exactly like Worse Episode Ever. I started feeling nauseated, my vision seemed to darken and lose periphery, I felt some numbness and weird muscular twitches. Also, I lost the ability to speak properly (and that's a clumsy, dubious prospect for me anyway even under ideal conditions), both in the sense of my mouth not functioning correctly and also not being able to come up with words that make sense. I was sure that I was going to black out...but then it passed over me somehow, I stayed conscious, and after about an hour I was feeling reasonably normal again. And lucky.

So anyway, I feel a lot of sympathy for people who live with these kinds of seizure events all the time. It's horrifying to lose control of your body like that. And even though no there's no rational reason at all for this feeling, it made me feel humiliated and weak when it happened to me. And now that I said that out loud...I don't feel that way anymore. Amazing how that works!

The accompanying image is the first draft of the cover of M-Brane #5, leading off with Brandon's outstanding story "Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm." I'll be announcing the issue's complete contents in a few days.

A little triptych of annoyance and douche-baggery!

I’m going to talk about some Real World Crap (tm) again, but I will endeavor to have a science fiction genre tie-in for each of the three topics below:

1) I participated in a scheduled swamp-the-White-House-switchboard action this afternoon on behalf of Lt. Dan Choi, a soldier (with Arabic translating skills) who has fallen afoul of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy. While he is just one example of many thousands of people who have been caught up in this nonsense, his cause was picked up as emblematic of it by people who have decided it’s time for the new President to get going on making good his campaign promise to change this policy. My views on this issue can be guessed easily by any of my regular readers, so I won’t go on about it length. I’ll just say, as I did in 1993 when the Clinton team made a mess of this issue, that the President needs to settle it by executive order as President Truman did in Executive Order 9981 racially integrating the military. The Commander-in-Chief has broad power and discretion in matters of Pentagon policy, and I’d like to see our current President use it. No more dumbass Congressional hearings with right-wing Senators calling eighty-year-old retired admirals and other assorted homophobes to testify for weeks on end. There’s no rational basis to carry on like this, all their arguments have been thoroughly debunked for ages, and it’s time for the President to simply end it. [SCIENCE FICTION TIE-IN: In Haldeman’s Forever War, they get used to gays in the military…in a rather radical way.]

2) From the NPR Talk of the Nation website: “Rachel Lehmann-Haupt turned 35 and started to think about freezing her eggs. After two years of researching the doctors and the technology, she froze eight eggs, enough to try for one pregnancy. Lehmann-Haupt [is] author of In Her Own Sweet Time…” I listened to this segment on the radio at work today and got kind of annoyed. I am myself a feminist and would take up arms in the street to defend women’s rights to control their reproductive choices, and would not normally want to bag on someone like this about an issue like this…but I found her thesis about the “new options” for women and child-having to be incredibly upper-middle-class in its point-of-view and very out of touch with the real options for ninety-nine percent of people. Freezing eggs at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars for use later in case “Mr. Right” doesn’t come along until one is past optimum childbearing years? Renting a womb in India? If you’ve decided not have a kid until your fifty or sixty, does it just have to still be your own biological one? There’s always a lot of pre-existing ones to adopt. This attitude that it is somehow a right and need to have a family by exactly the perfectly ideal method at exactly the perfect time in one’s life seems really out of touch with reality for most people. It also seems tone-deaf to the tenor of the times…and frankly pretty douchey, too. [SCIENCE FICTION TIE-IN: In Robinson's Red Mars, the mysterious Hiroko Ai gets hold of the sperm of a whole bunch of “Mister Rights” and, along with her own ova, brews up the first generation of Mars-born kids in ectogene tanks in her secret south-polar hideout. Wild!]

3) I listened to an audio clip yesterday from talk-radio personality Laura Ingraham’s show. Evidently, the talk show people and the teabagger circuit tried to gin up a stupid controversy over President Obama and VP Biden’s recent lunch at a burger joint where the President—get this—ordered his cheddar burger with mustard on it, no ketchup. “What kind of man,” Ingraham wondered, “gets mustard on a cheeseburger?” Hmm. Maybe an adult one? Maybe one who is not a three-year-old? This weird right-wing fixation on what “liberals” eat is perhaps one of their most irritating traits. As a professional chef and an omnivorous foodie, I CAN NOT STAND it when these people suggest that be a real American or a real man (whatever that fuck that is), then you also have to display ignorance of and distaste for variety and quality in food. Mustard, for eff’s sake! How weird and un-American and unmanly! I am so happy that we finally have a President who is smart, speaks intelligibly, knows stuff…reads books even. This silly food thing that they do sometimes is just another manifestation of their crazy anti-intellectualism: “He eats mustard on burgers: he is, therefore, an effete snob, not a real man!” I got news for you Ingraham, et al : geek is the new chic, smart is cool, and dumb is sooo 2004. A virtual Vulcan is President, and it is the era of the nerds’ righteous revenge! As a card-carrying member of the elite foodist clique, I love this President and his condiment choices. [SCIENCE FICTION TIE-IN: A black man is elected President of the United States, and shortly thereafter orders mustard—oh, wait…that really happened! The future is here!]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reflection on last month, upcoming Brane events

Some observations and notes:

After having had a few days to assess the reaction, I'd say that the M-Brane zine crossed some kind of threshold with issue #4. In terms of quality, it was probably not a lot different than the preceding issues, but in terms of perception, the whole enterprise seems to have gained a bit more credibility. While new subscriptions to the PDF still seriously lag behind where I need them to be, and while new incoming advertising is not what I'd like it to be at all, I sense that these problems will be overcome. Traffic to this page and awareness level of M-Brane has spiked sharply in recent weeks.

The next issue, #5, is going to be a rather big deal for a couple of reasons: 1) it's the fifth issue of a zine--a lot of these things don't manage that many issues in five years much less in five months; 2) the quality and range of vision in its content is pretty fantastic. I know I say that every issue (and will probably continue to do so), but I really mean it with this next one. 

Deadline for the "Q" anthology is still a couple months away, but I have already been receiving a bunch of submissions. From what I have read so far, I think this will be a really cool book, and I will do everything I can to do right by it.

I have been trying to find some people to do some "guest blogger" appearances on this page, much as Mel Cartagena did a couple days ago with his piece about J.G. Ballard. Just by talking about it today on Twitter, I have attracted some interest in the plan, so expect to see some other voices here pretty soon.  I think it would be terrific in terms of both quality and quantity of content on the Brane blog. So many interesting and smart people have found me by way of this page and the zine itself, and I'd really like to give them some space here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Writing projects ongoing

I need to get back into the habit of updating this blog with progress reports on my own personal writing (even if no one is particularly interested in hearing about it). I find that I am more productive if I am publicly proclaiming what I am doing. It seems to put some pressure on me to actually do something. The magazine is an obvious expression of that: I committed to doing it monthly, told the whole world and, by gods, it comes out monthly. If I had said that it would appear on an "irregular" or "occasional" schedule, as some zines do, there probably wouldn't have been a second issue yet, much less a third and a fourth.

My own writing progress has been generally good, at least in fits and starts, during the past year, but I have a lot of unfinished stuff that needs to start getting finished. I have submitted nothing for publication in ages and have published nothing in two years (last thing was a horror short called "Incarnation" in the long-since-defunct webzine Sinister City). My newer and newest work that I want to see done and out in the world pretty soon is as follows:

1) A short story called "Fracture," a sort of "day that everything changed somehow" type tale, which I prepared for M-Brane publication as a chapbook "extra" to go out with some print-eds of the zine back when I was doing that in-house, but I haven't actually released it. I am considering sending it elsewhere, but just never seem to do it. I think it's done save for maybe another minor revision. It was inspired by a dream that I had in which J had amnesia and couldn't remember anything more recent than his tenth birthday.

2) A recently-written short story called "The Robbie," an android story set in some strange future. I think this one is basically done, but I might read it over and tweak it some more as with the one above. The problem with it, however, is that it ended up being so balls-out sexually explicit, almost from the first paragraph to the last, that I am not sure if there is a single market that I could send it to. Also, the sex is so integral to it that it really can't be cut out or cranked down that much without defeating the whole thing. It may end up in the "Q" anthology, if I can't find another home for it.

3) A very much unfinished new short story, as yet untitled, which is supposed to be my attempt at a submission for that female pirate anthology that's coming up soon. It's set in the far future and deals with a pirate in space and also, somehow, dark matter lifeforms. Anyway, she's on a big vendetta and tearing up the space-lanes. This one needs completion soon. I think I had a breakthrough on it last night.

4) The fabled novel-in-progress, code-name Neglected Project, which stands at a bit over 60000 words right now, and probably needs at least 30K more. This been slooooow-going the last few months. The first 40K of it sprang into being almost intact in a furious burst of productivity over just a few days last fall. Then it slowed down. I know the entire plot-line from beginning to end, but have been having trouble making myself write some scenes that need to happen. Which makes me think I need to reconsider if they are the right scenes. I skipped ahead in the story from time to time during its writing, so there are big holes that need filling and backfilling one way or another. I need to set a reasonable daily or weekly word-count goal for this one, I think, and then stick to it.

And I guess that's enough for now. I have folders full of files representing dozens of other unfinished projects, but I think these are the ones that I need to stick with and see through to completion and publication.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Science Friday: Speed of universal expansion

Read this cool article on the Discover Magazine astronomy blog about galaxy NGC 3021, the idea of a "cosmic bootstrap device" and how it is used to guess the accurate distance of objects from, the speed at which they move away from us, and ultimately the speed at which the universe is expanding. It's fairly amazing.

Among other things, this articles offers this compelling reason why knowing the speed of expansion could clue us into other things:

Writes Phil Plait, "By knowing this number accurately, all we have to do is measure how fast the galaxy is moving away from us — a very easy measurement to make — and we can find its distance. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea.

"But by nailing down all these numbers, we can in turn nail down such things as how much dark energy is in the Universe, and maybe even rule out some theories as to what this mysterious stuff is. It’s pushing on the fabric of space and time, making the Universe swell faster every second of every day, and we have no clue what it really is. Well, that’s unfair: we have lots of clues, but we don’t know what’s causing it. Observations of NGC 3021 and other galaxies like it will help us unravel some of these mysteries, which are among the biggest in science today."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

GUEST POST: "We're On Our Own" An appreciation of JG Ballard by Mel Cartagena

The following is a perceptive commentary on the work and legacy of the late J.G. Ballard by writer Mel Cartagena ("Relearning Touch", M-Brane #1). --CF

I just finished reading "Love in a Colder Climate," one of the stories featured in War Fever, the collected short fiction by J.G. Ballard (William Colins Sons & Company Limited, Great Britain, 1990; Farrar-Strauss-Giroux, New York, 1991.) Each new reading from the collection is a set of quiet, stunning revelations about the world, detailing fetishes and atrocities that seem unreal, but have been here all along. Most of them for quite some time now, but our senses are too saturated with media-generated sensation to notice. Ballard put forth the idea that at a subconscious level, we’re aware of the dangers of giving in to primal urges, but we don’t care. We ignore the warning clarions and stare at the pretty shiny things hanging in front of our eyes.

It takes a unique intellect to see the finger-traps hidden in the unexplored crevices that progress brings, and in reading War Fever, I’m sad to learn that the brilliant, unique mind that created The Atrocity Exhibition and The Crystal World among other major works of literature is gone, silenced forever from complications with colon cancer. I’m sad to learn there won’t be any new Ballard books, no more explorations in the interstitial spaces of the mind. I’m also worried. Now that we have lost the Seer of Shepperton there won’t be a new voice to warn us of the dangerous curves ahead. In a career that spanned four decades, James Graham Ballard laid bare the inner workings of the twentieth century, exposing the violence and techno-fetishism bursting through the skin of civilization. His collected works can be seen as user manuals to help us navigate the twenty-first century.

And yet this isn’t accurate enough. Having never met him, from reading his essays, interviews, and watching documentaries produced about him, I gather the impression that he resisted flamboyancy, self-aggrandizing, and the idea of appointing himself as some sort of clairvoyant. It was as though he was afraid of becoming one of the self-conscious, stylized, pseudo-humans he wrote about. It’s more fitting to say that Ballard, by immersing himself in surrealism in all its form (and participating as well, staging art displays that drew hostile reactions from the viewers), and using a style of writing modeled on psychoanalysis, Ballard decoded a language that at the time was in its infancy stages. He saw the coming trends that would result from the merging of Hollywood and advertising.

In reading "Love in a Colder Climate," before I’m even done with the story, I find myself running through my mind all the ramifications of sex in a loveless age, the thread of fear through all contemporary male-female interaction, the parodies that men and women makes of themselves in the search for ‘love’, the church’s constant involvement in private affairs, and the sexual act reduced to a set of items to be checked off a list, the way contracts for adult stars are hammered out in the million-plus dollar porn industry. All of this in an entertaining story that runs a swift eight pages. (As one who grew up during the rising AIDS epidemic and now lives in the era of the compulsory condom, I am envious and resentful of the sexual liberation of the seventies.)
And this was the power of Ballard. Through his use of clinical and detached prose he dissected the moving parts of the world around us to show the darker impulses that stoke the engine of progress. The highly ritualized and apparently complex modern society is cut open like a corpse at the autopsy table to reveal that thousands of years of evolution amount to an arm’s length of mental advancement. We see in High Rise that the hunter-gatherer cave dweller primitive man lurks under the suit and shirt and aftershave lotion. In Concrete Island we see how life can thrive in the forgotten spaces of the metropolis, the invisible junctions of concrete and dirt where human refuse tends to gather and become a source of survival. In showing how Robert Maitland becomes marooned on one such concrete island after a car crash, Ballard takes the idea further, exploring the possibility that Maitland has wanted this situation all along, the make the outside world a reflection of his mind. To rule the patch of overgrown weeds and junked cars becomes a personal triumph of sorts. In Crash the moment of impact between cars becomes the ultimate S & M fetish, a means of awakening a new form of sexuality in men and women. (This novel is particularly uncanny in foreseeing the extreme body-piercing subculture as a means of enhancing boring sex lives, and the implied knowledge that the car is weapon of sexual conquest. This is something you can see for yourself next time you’re at the car wash. Look at the young men with their low-riders, lovingly polishing their dashboards with Armor-All, while music blasts through the sound system. Watch their styled poses as they admire each other’s rides and trade customizing secrets. Talk to them. You’ll be amazed to find how big a portion of their paychecks goes towards installing DVD players with LCD screens mounted in the rear of the front seat headrests, and twenty-inch Torq-Thrust M rims. For this type of young man, home is just a place to eat and rest the body. Real life happens inside the car.)

And through the decades, Ballard sees the coming trends each new technology brings. (As he referred to it, writing about the future, “five-minutes from now.”) In Rushing To Paradise, the nostalgic idea of Eden rediscovered takes a dark turn at the hands of extreme environmentalist Dr. Barbara. In Cocaine Nights he explores the lives of the idle rich wasting away in their sleepy villas, and how they are roused to live again through crime. In Millennium People, the middle class are an endangered species. The social contract with the government has failed them, but with no real moral causes left to fight for, anything that justifies violence will do, even something as bland as a cat show. In Super-Cannes, psychopathology instead of yoga or meditation becomes the new weapon to protect bright inventive minds from mental burnout, and in Kingdom Come, the cult of consumerism—the only religion left—is taken to its perverse logical conclusion.

In Ballard’s able hands, the subliminal hum of the post-modern is brought to full volume, much in the same way that William S. Burroughs used the cut-ups technique to break through the apparent meaning of language and reveal something more profound than the words alone could say. Unlike Burroughs, Ballard was a more coherent, more forceful messenger, bringing us news from the future, five minutes ahead. Heady messages wrapped in mind-bending tales that exhorted us, to rather than deny these impulses, embrace them. To see the dark craving for what it was and submit to it, go through it, and see what came at the other side of the experience. He was telling us, perhaps, to look elsewhere for the cure to that immediate craving. It was a clear, unafraid, amusing voice. A voice we needed to hear more often. It was a voice that was silenced on April 19, 2009.

I never met him, but in some ways I feel a kinship to him. Through his work I learned to express things I felt but couldn’t articulate when I was younger. A primal existential ache in me was lifted when I discovered there was someone else Out There who saw the world the same way I did, but could write about it lucidly, even with amused detachment. His tone was distanced, yet projected warmth and a sense of humor in a combination that was so natural, it seems almost inevitable. He was an explorer of mental terra incognita, a cosmonaut of inner space, always returning from his trips with missives that seemed from another world, but were all the more frightening because of their proximity to now when fully absorbed. His voice was vital and necessary, and now the Seer of Shepperton is gone.

And we’re on our own.

Story submissions situation/ an idea for the blog

1) I'm getting a bit more organized and caught up on work (in a rather two-steps-forward then one-step-back kind of way), so I expect to be able to keep my promise to re-open to submissions for the zine by 6/1. I have a few unread submissions in the box now and will respond reasonably near that date if not before. A couple people have stories that have been accepted but which have not been contracted yet--I haven't forgotten, and will get those caught up shortly. Submissions for the queer anthology are open now until July 15, and I have been receiving a few already. Responses on those might take until after the deadline, at least in cases of acceptances. 

2) It occurred to me that this blog could be more interesting and varied in its content if I opened it up to some guest bloggers once in a while. People who leave comments on my posts often have really interesting stuff to say anyway, so I think it would be nice to get more voices in on it. I know a lot of people who read this also have personal blogs, but if there's a topic that you think would be good to present on this page, let me know and we can do it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

David Gerrold's "Blood and Fire" on Star Trek: Phase II

I used to have a recurring dream in which I would be shopping in a video store or bookstore and discover that some “lost” episodes of original series Star Trek had been found in a vault somewhere and released on video for the first time. For someone who was heavily into Trek and who still loves the original series most of all, this was obviously a very exciting thing to dream about (yeah, even after the onset of puberty, it was still exciting). Sometimes I would even get to see a portion of one of these imaginary lost episodes, with my dream-state mind somehow manufacturing some new Trek story-lines and footage to go with them.

Alas, unlike with The Honeymooners or Bonanza or The Twilight Zone, there were no lost episodes of Star Trek. The seventy-nine episodes that we fans know so well are all that were ever made. The closest thing to seeing “new” original Star Trek happened when the video releases appeared, restoring footage that had been cut from the syndication edits of the show to make more room for commercials. So ingrained in my memory were the syndication versions from all the years of watching my own homemade taped-from-TV recordings of them, that it would really jump out at me when one of these scenes that I didn’t have indeliby committed to memory would pop up. Geeky, I know, but it was a real thrill to see at least a couple of minutes of “new” footage here and there. I can still play one of my DVDs of an episode and identify where all the restorations are.

Well, the thrill of seeing something like new original series footage is back, and the dream of seeing some lost episodes has sort of been made real in the form of the spectacular Star Trek: Phase II series, produced by some very dedicated, very skilled fans and broadcast on the web. These full-length episodes are set in the era of the original series and feature all of the original characters, played by new actors, of course. The scripts are written by some of the original show’s writers such as D.C. Fontana, and original series actors have made guest appearances on it, such as George Takei. The sets are very credible replicas of those from the old show and the soundtrack music is instantly recognizable, taking me home again. The ship exterior shots and optical effects are downright gorgeous. The new actors in the old roles take a minute to get used to, but they do a decent job of playing the classic characters without lapsing into parody.

The fourth and latest episode is something extra special: part one of “Blood and Fire,” written and directed by the great David Gerrold (writer of the teleplay “The Trouble With Tribbles” from the original series; essentially the uncredited co-creator of Star Trek: The Next Generation which incorporated a lot of concepts that he first stated in his book The World of Star Trek; and, of course, a fine novelist with many, many credits to his name including the War Against the Chtorr series). Gerrold first wrote this story for TNG. It was somewhat infamously blocked from production due to its potentially controversial AIDS allegory (with Regulan bloodworms as a surrogate for the disease) and its recognition of the existence of homosexuality in the Star Trek universe, a thing that has never been done in a satisfactory manner in the official “canon” Trek universe. Gerrold later retooled the story into stand-alone novel in one of his own universes. Eventually it was reworked again, with Carlos Pedraza, as an original series-style script for the Phase II. I am so glad it was. This episode is a knockout, a true Star Trek episode of a quality that has not been seen in the franchise in ages, probably not since the best episodes of Deep Space Nine.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but I'll mention that the show opens with a fantastic space battle. And I'll mention that finally, at long last, real human gayness is acknowledged to exist as a reasonable thing in this fictional and formerly uber-str8, universe. Imagine how my jaw was hanging open in astonishment during act one as I beheld young Peter Kirk (Bobby Rice) kiss his boyfriend (Evan Fowler as Lt. Freeman) and then discuss asking his uncle, Captain James T. Kirk, to marry them on the ship! The episode is not all about that, but it sure was nice for me to see a samesex romance on the Enterprise and see how it's accepted as a normal thing by everyone. I always knew it had to be there. Gene Roddenberry himself promised gay fans, shortly before he died, that there would start to be incidentally gay people on the Enterprise-D. But then he died and it never happened. It is said that producer Rick Berman was decidedly uninterested in letting anything like onto the show, but I don't know those details for sure.

One little quibble I have with this series is that it’s not the easiest thing on the net as far as actually getting it playing on one’s computer. The home site directs you to a number of mirror sites. This one allows streaming video from the site itself of earlier episodes but it is not updated with "Blood and Fire" yet. This one lets you stream it in the browser with Quicktime, with the teaser and each act being a separate load. There's a couple other options including one that enables you to download it to your drive in five files (teaser and four acts), which is fine but it involves hundreds of megs of files. It would be great if they could one day get a single site put together with all the episodes sitting there ready for streaming and streaming again and again so I can watch them and memorize them just like the original series.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Austin trip probably cancelled

Day job crap: Even though my hours keep being cut and my benefits were long since eliminated (recession excuse, issued ironically by a pro-W company even before their beloved President left office in disgrace),  I have been informed that it is unlikely that I will be able to get the days free of work that I would need to come down to Armadillo Con in August. So I guess I'm scrapping the dumb fundraiser for it that I started last week. It would probably not be a good use of M-Brane funds anyway. We should instead keep the focus on accumulating a large enough endowment to go pro next year as stated it in the Grander Vision. As part of that, I will channel any new income toward paying some for Big Name appearances by writers in the zine during near-future months.

I hate to even post today because I don't want to push downward already the big recent news: M-Brane #4 published and Bob Vardeman--read below. I'm dying to write about David Gerrold's episode of the Star Trek: New Voyages project, but I need to put that off until tomorrow. Spoiler alert: Gay boys kiss on Trek...finally.


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