Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SHARED WORLD update


Things ran late today, and I guess I am not doing any kind of big re-cap or synthesis of this discussion with this post, as I had planned.  More than anything else right now, I am trying to start another sequence of comments before the previous thread gets too long to read. For reminders of what we have discussed and what it's all about (especially for anyone who is just joining the discussion), refer back to the earlier posts. This one and those can be called up together using the "Shared World" tag at the end of this post. I will eventually start compiling a more orderly guide to what has been put forth for discussion.

Some major developments have happened, however, that I think can be declared to be Established Facts about our shared world:  

1) The timeline begins somewhere when Egypt is a major civilization, and so other civs will be determined with reference to that, though Greece and China are almost certainly in it. We also like Aztecs or at least some kind of meso-American civ. Does anyone know offhand where their dates fall in?  A topic for more research for sure; 

2) Over time, these people become space-faring, multi-world civs; the Moon, Mars and Venus are all inhabited at some point (with the Moon certainly first, but also due to the "ether" situation (see item 4 below));

3) The technological divergence happens in large part due to some some level or manner of alien influence, though the details need to be discussed more; 3a) These people may have just somehow had some tech earlier than what happened in the real world, such as the printing press, even without alien help; we like this because mass-literacy is aided by it;

4) their physical space is different than what we know: a cloud of gas, which we have been referring to as "ether," hangs around the immediate neighborhood of Earth, at least in the earlier centuries of the timeline. Its properties are rather amazing and cool: something like air pressure, it's breathable, and is also a zero-g environment once you get away from Earth's gravity well. It has been proposed and decided that this is a local phenomenon that does not exist very far beyond the Earth-Moon area and is somehow attached to the Earth, so that it moves through space with it as the Earth orbits the Sun. It could be a thing of originally alien origin, or not. As I write this there is another line of ether-related thought cropping up on the  previous post (see Rick and Derek and Brandon's remarks re: "proto-planet"). Also it has been proposed and probably generally agreed to that this ether phenomenon dissipates gradually for some reason as the centuries pass, possibly necessitating climate control measure on the Moon.

5) We seem to be in agreement, or at least with a majority opinion, moving against famous historical figures being aliens. We're still early in the discussion of exactly what the alien deal is, but seem to all agree that there is an alien factor that is important.

So maybe let's talk some more about aliens. Also, any kind of society-related thoughts might be good.


Monday, June 29, 2009

M-BRANE 6 PUBLISHED


As Stilgar says in the David Lynch film version of Dune when he observes Paul Atreides conquer the worm, "Again, it is the legend!"  

M-Brane #6 is published in PDF and POD form as of this moment (the Kindle and Mobi versions are not quite ready but will come online probably within a couple days). 

The new issue features fascinating, weird, strange and fine new fiction by the likes of Rick Novy, Derek Goodman, Jason Heller, Mike Griffiths, Jeffrey Wooten, Stephanie Scarborough and many others. To subscribe or buy the single issue in PDF or POD form, click one of those "subscribe" buttons over on the right for details.

As an added bonus, this month we have a theme song!  Oh yeah, no kidding! John Anealio composes and plays and sings and records fantastic songs inspired by speculative fiction, and he offered one of them as a bonus feature with this new issue. You will all, of course, go at once to his blog to learn more. But first, click right here where this link is and enjoy "Rachel Rosen," a song inspired by Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I'm going to give it the informal title of "Love Theme to M-Brane # 6."


Matt Staggs: ENTER THE OCTOPUS


Make it an ongoing practice to visit Matt Staggs' blog Enter the Octopus. Matt is a lit publicist specializing in spec fic, and his site is loaded with a wealth of interesting stuff to read in terms of reviews, excerpts, recommendations, links to stuff you ought to know about, and all kinds of other fascinating things.

Currently available via his site is the first installment of his new podcast, consisting of an interview that he did with the charming Charles Tan, Filipino book-blogger and spec fic booster best known for his excellent Bibliophile Stalker blog (Charles is @charlesatan on Twitter--I would guess that nearly every reader of this blog who is also on Twitter probably follows him already). 

Matt and his blog are, for me, an excellent example of the usefulness of Twitter. I knew of Matt first via Twitter as @deepeight (his Twit-name, from the name of his publicity agency). Either he followed me and I followed him back or vice versa (don't remember), but I just knew of him for a while as this Twitter personality. Anyway, I quickly figured out that I liked him because he seemed to be (like me) a person who puts up with little hypocrisy, injustice or general douchebaggery, and who is also very tuned in to what's happening in the spec fic world. It was only much later that I learned that he was writing this awesome blog (which teaches me to be more prompt about actually looking at the websites of people I know via Twitter). So go check it out, and be sure to listen to the podcast with Charles Tan.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Novy MIRror #4 released, features Cat Rambo


This news is already a few days old and I'm running behind schedule. But in case you weren't already aware of it, the fourth installment of Rick Novy's video podcast Novy MIRror is online and can be watched at his website

The new installment features Rick's interview with spec fic writer and managing editor of Fantasy Magazine Cat Rambo (whose short story "Boyz and Girlz Come Out to Play" appeared in M-Brane #4 in May). For the writers among you, this interview is well worth listening to. Cat gives some great insights resulting from her persistence and success as a writer and her experience as an editor. In fact, it's so good (and Cat is so cool generally) that I am going to just go ahead and assign this episode as homework to everyone who comes upon this post. You will also find a link to Cat's site in the M-Brane writer's links list (down in the that right-hand column, three or four kilometers down). 

Also, in other Rick Novy news, he is appearing in M-Brane once again in a day or two when #6 releases with his story "The Trouble With Truffles." As a special feature in that issue, Rick becomes the subject as I interview him, and I expect readers will find it quite interesting.

[The image is of Cat Rambo, in a screen capture, while I was watching the interview.]


Friday, June 26, 2009

Shared World Project: Summary so far



I’d like to try to gather together what we have so far in a more organized fashion and then continue the discussion. The previous post ran almost to almost 40 comments and is getting somewhat unwieldy. If you have just come upon this shared world discussion and would like to join it from the beginning, skip down a couple posts and read the first one (which also links to a post on Brandon Bell’s blog—the idea of doing a shared world was his initially). This post and the original one can be called up together using the “shared world” label at the bottom of the post. You’ll also find another post related to this at Clifford Green’s blog (which is fun to read generally) in which he points out quite correctly that some of us largely ignored/forgot about what he and Kaolin Fire were saying during the initial Twitter discussion on this topic (they are @SatansPuppet and @kaolinfire on Twitter). We certainly did not intend to ignore anyone’s input, and everyone is welcome to come right here and get involved.

So I will summarize what I think we have so far, and then we will continue discussing ideas. Also, I may miss some major points here, so add/correct as needed in the comments. Keep in mind that this summary is only of what we have so far, resulting from the comments on the original post. It’s not to say that any or all of it is set in stone yet. If anybody has new or different ideas, please express them. Anyone at all who may want to write in this shared universe or possibly create other art based on it is welcome to join in the discussion.

THE PROJECT: Create a shared world as the setting for a group of short stories that will fill a future issue of M-Brane. The world itself will be made available under a Creative Commons license for anyone to create in, and hopefully this will inspire a lot of good work in a lot of venues in the future.

THE WORLD: Alternate historical Earth where a technological divergence (possibly/probably influenced or accelerated by extraterrestrial contact) from what happened in our real history enables ancient civilizations to rapidly advance into the space age. The cultures we are considering using include, so far: Egypt, Greece, China, Aztec or some meso-American civilization. Others that have been suggested include Indians, Romans, Moors and some sort of sub-Saharan African civilization. They can’t all exist in the same timeframe, so nailing that down will answer some of these questions.

THE SOCIETY: We have said little about this yet, but these suggestions have come up:
1. Ancient social/governmental structures persist into the space-faring era. Egypt has a Pharaoh, China still has its dynasty, etc.
2. A plethora of different cultures exist on Earth and the inhabited off-world areas, some of them more and some of them less under the sway of the major Earth powers; possibly the Great Powers don’t necessarily rule the whole Earth or all the off-world places directly; a possibility that there exist enormous technological gaps between the Great Powers and less powerful cultures.

TECHNOLOGY: We’ve said more about this so far than some other things. Everyone in the discussion so far seems to agree that this alternate Earth is a space-faring world with settlements off world, perhaps fully inhabited long-established other planets. Whether this is a “recent” or “long ago” development is unclear. Also, one contributor has proposed establishing a canonical time-lime spread over centuries, so possibly some stories will be set in pre-space flight times, some during (for example) the colonization of Mars, some centuries after, etc. We seem to like these technological things so far:

1. A general sense of the old and new and weird existing side-by-side, possibly with a good deal of steampunk vibe. One contributor suggested such things as dangerous, unreliable space travel methods, states armed with nuclear weapons that are carried around by zeppelins, steam tech co-existing with nuclear/computer age stuff, maybe some radically different direction for computers than what happened in the real world.

2. Everyone appears to agree that the Moon, Mars and Venus are inhabited, and possibly some other locations as well. There may also be artificial structures in space. So these places need to be inhabitable somehow. Here is a summary of what’s been said on this, and keep in mind that these are only ideas, they are not necessarily all mutually compatible:

a) The other planets have been terraformed with the aid of giant heaters to maintain temperature and gas generators that need to constantly pump out an atmosphere (this idea seems to be gaining ground in the group);

b) some sort of breathable “ether” encompasses the Earth/Moon neighborhood and it’s possible to travel between them in rickety, non-pressurized vehicles; this idea seems to be losing traction, and perhaps wouldn’t be applicable to the further away worlds anyway;

c) A third idea: The other planets such as Mars and Venus were “living” all along in this universe and never required massive terraforming to make them inhabitable; if so, did they have any kind of important native life already?

3. Other items that may or may not exist include: space stations, space elevators; we need to also consider what the method of space travel itself is like, but that may resolve itself when we decide some more stuff about the planet issues above.

4. A lot more consideration needs to be given to how the technological revolution happens. The discussion so far seems to be heading toward a combo of real historically plausible innovations that are then impacted by humans gaining knowledge of (and perhaps direct intervention by) something extraterrestrial (see Brandon’s proposed timeline toward the end—about the 34th comment—of the comments on the original post).

BASIC RULES: It seems we have settled on a more or less rational/scientific world as opposed to a fantastical/magical one, so we’ll assume that anything that is proposed in stories ought to be explainable by science, or at least in a way that is in-universe consistent scientifically. Once the world is fleshed out, we’ll have it be a rule that major structure of it can’t be destroyed (like it won’t be “canonical” if a story depicts the complete annihilation of one of the great powers, etc.). That’s about it for the rules so far, unless I missed something.

That seems to be most of the major elements from the conversation so far. I would like to note that Brandon, near the start of the comments on the earlier post, proposed an entirely other scenario that we didn’t pursue any further after the alternate history thing got going. I wonder, however, if there aren’t some useful elements there that could be transplanted—it has a lot of freaky weirdness that might be worth another look.

Let’s contemplate all this and keep throwing out ideas, perhaps with special attention to technological matters (how the other planets get settled, what sort of computers these people have, what travel on Earth is like) and the what/if details of the alien intervention. Also we may want to settle more firmly on when exactly in history this alternate world spins off so we know who we’re talking about as far as major players (as I said before, Egypt seems the popular favorite, so maybe we’ll continue to plan around that).


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thoughts on the Q antho and avoiding QueerFAIL



Worry not: I do not wish to take everyone’s attention away from the Shared World project for even a minute (see the post below this one if you haven’t been there yet), but I need to talk about this today, and then I'll get back to the more fun thing!

Some comments that I saw on someone else’s blog recently, which were sort of indirectly related to M-Brane’s upcoming queer anthology, made me wonder if I was going to inadvertently wander into a minefield of FAIL. I reflected on other imbroglios of recent months centered around issues like racial diversity or gender in sf, and wondered if I risk touching off a mini-controversy centered around LGBTQ issues if I somehow make a mistake with the stories that I select for the book—or if by the very act of assembling such a thing, I am failing at handling the subject matter judiciously.

What things could go wrong for me as its editor? They are, as I see it, these: 1) Content or theme of the stories could be interpreted as insensitive or laden with clich├ęs and stereotypes about sexual orientation and/or gender; or 2) Some people may question the entire premise of the project, wondering why it needs to be that something like sexual orientation or transgender status or some new sfnal kind of queerness needs to be highlighted at all. Let me ponder these one at a time:

1) I don’t think that this is the kind of mistake that I would make even if I weren’t thinking hard about trying to avoid it. I have a lot of sensitivity to the subject matter and I am able to detect tired stereotypes about it pretty easily. That being said, I don’t consider sensitivity to necessarily mean that any and all LGBTQ characters are going to be models of heroism and virtue anymore than I would expect that of str8 characters. Also, I do come to this from a male perspective and could possibly—just maybe—have some shortcomings as far as understanding, say, a lesbian or a transgender character…but again, I don’t think what limitations I have in this area are any different or more serious than any limitations I may have in understanding str8 female (or str8 male) characters. I’ve read enough books, have formally studied enough literature and history, and have lived enough real life to get these things. Basically, I don’t think I really have any serious limitations in this area, and I think I will avoid giving offense when the finished book is released. Or rather, if its content offends, it will not be because I have failed in this particular area. It will be because I am deliberately publishing some possibly discomforting fiction and mean to push some buttons.

2) It’s from two directions that doubt about the whole premise of the book comes. The first can be dispensed with easily: the objection that “gay stuff is gross/annoying/non-Christian etc.” I assume that anyone with that attitude won’t be reading it anyway, and that’s fine. I’d prefer they ignore it and not bother me about it. The other direction of objection is more nuanced. Some readers who may otherwise be sympathetic to the concept wonder why it needs to be highlighted in ways like this book. Generally, such folks would rather it just be a normal, incidental thing in fiction that there’s a gay person here and there like there is in real life, no big deal, nothing to worry about. Or even if the main character is a queer, then maybe it would be best that the trait not be made a big deal of or dwelt upon too heavily. Because wouldn’t it be best if we could all accept or even look past each other’s differences and not zero in on them like that? Well…maybe, but that’s just not how it seems to work in the real world or in the literature of the genre as it currently exists. These theoretical incidentally gay characters are precious few in the written genre (and virtually non-existent in the film/TV version of the genre, if we want to even get into that). Whole eras of sf, like the 1950s and the 1980s in particular, have virtually none at all save for in the work of a very few rebellious writers. And where queer characters do crop up, is the trait really ever incidental or normal? It’s always just incidental and everyday-business, of course, when it’s a str8 character. Think about it. Do you ever read a story (or see something on a screen) where a male and a female have some kind of marriage or romance or sex and think, “Huh. Look at that. I guess they’re heterosexuals. Well, whaddya know!” But I guarantee you it would stand it out if it were a samesex interaction in a venue where you're not expecting to see one. It’s unavoidable.

Consider also the complete contents of M-Brane’s five (soon to be six) issues thus far. The zine is about as hetero-normative as anything else being published in the genre. I have not published a single story yet with what I would call significant samesex content. The only one I can think of where non-hetero activity really comes up at all is Derek Goodman’s issue #4 story “Northern Girls With the Way They Kiss” where the predominately female group of characters evidently engage in some samesex intimacy, but even in that story, this seems to be more a result of their relatively male-free post-apocalyptic life circumstances than that they are all just casually a bunch of everyday lesbians. Another story that gets pretty queer in its sexuality, even while not having samesex content, is Brandon Bell’s “Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm” in issue #5, what with all the freaky-deaky android goings-on. There’s also Mike Griffith’s Skinjumper stories which feature a dude and his girlfriend who is actually a male persona inhabiting a female body (in, I guess, a sort of transgenderism enabled by high tech). But those few stories are about it. So, I think I’d like to see some more representation of non-mainstream identities in something that I publish, and I think it’s a cool and fun thing to make it a focus of a whole anthology. Not everyone will agree that it needs to be done, but I hope I at least do a good job of presenting it.

[The image, by the way, is of an ad that (I think) I have circulating in another venue shortly; it's to encourage some last minute submissions. I adapted the art from one of those weird 1950s-era pulp porn novels that were popular in the gay underground back in those days. I think it had a lurid title like Homo Holiday or The Fairy Within or some such nonsense.]


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shared World project



Today on Twitter, Brandon Bell (@nithska) made a suggestion that I think is terrific: that some future issue of M-Brane be devoted to tales set in a shared world, the nature of which will be determined collaboratively by whoever wants to get involved in it. The world itself would be an open-source, Creative Commons-license thing that anyone could work in. Go read Brandon’s blog post about this and then come back here. I’ll wait for you…

…So, what do you think? I like this idea a lot, and I am inclined to reserve the complete space in an M-Brane issue for the results of this. Perhaps #12 (January 1 2010) would be a good time for it. I have nothing already booked that far out, and it would leave a few months for the world-building and story-writing.

At this very early stage, maybe a good way to proceed is for people to start thinking about what kind of interesting, fun, weird, compelling traits that a new world could have and start posting some thoughts in the comments here. My guess is that some natural conversation will develop and people will play off each other’s ideas and, after a week or two, we might have the beginnings of something. We might even want to think about some questions that need to be answered about the new world and use those as starting points. I will label this post and any future posts related to this project with the label “Shared World” so that it will be easy to recall them together if it eventually gets to where there are a lot of posts about this spread out over a long time. I could easily set up another page just for this, but I’ll let it get started here and over at Brandon’s page and we’ll see how it goes.

One other thing: if this special Shared World issue of M-Brane happens, I will not act as the editor of it in the sense of personally selecting its content in the way that I normally do for a regular issue. We’ll instead arrive at some other way to put it together—don’t know what yet, but it will get figured out. I can also imagine doing a lot of promotion of the issue by posting stories or story teasers on everyone’s blogs and maybe coming up with some stuff in other media like podcasts, visual art, videos, operas, whatever.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Some random Real World Crap (TM)


Yeah, it's one of those days. I'm cranky about some Real World Crap. But I will try to lighten the mood of this rant by including a science fictional tie-in with each segment of it:

1. The far right and the far left are wrong in their assessment of Obama's handling of the Iran election situation. What Americans need to understand is that most Iranians, regardless of their position on their own internal politics, distrust the United States government. The last thing the opposition to the regime needs is the perception that the American President is weighing in on it in a meddlesome fashion. When Senator McCain insists that Obama ought to rant and rave like a nutcase about how the Iranian election was a corrupt, fraud, sham etc.  he just makes me even more glad than I already was that he is not currently our President. The right needs to understand that the opposition to Ahmadinejad does not necessarily consist of people who would be pro-American if they were to prevail. The left needs to realize that these courageous young protestors that we see in pics via Twitter probably all believe that the US provided Saddam Hussein with the chemical weapons that Iraq used against them during the war in 1980s, and they all know for sure about how we and the British overthrew their elected government in the 1950s and re-installed the despotic Shah. Sure, the US has some legitimate gripes with Iran, and we should all deplore their regime's thuggish behavior and theocratic ideology, but the Iranians have plenty of very good reasons to not like our government either, and those reasons are shared by people across their political spectrum. It will take a lot of time and work to undo the distrust in both directions. [SF tie-in: In Frank Herbert's Dune, the Emperor Shaddam IV miscalculated the seriousness of the unrest in Arrakis' native population. Had he not cast his lot with the Harkonnens and turned a blind eye to their excesses, he may have avoided the sequence of events that led to the collapse of his government and his own exile to the prison planet Salusa Secundus.]

2. This one will piss off some people. I recently unfollowed all of my Twitter gays who seemed to be doing nothing with their Twitter time other than complaining about how Obama has "betrayed" them because he hasn't already managed to end "don't ask/don't tell," repeal the stupid Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by our last Dem Prez, by the way), and other things. I want all this stuff to happen, too, but I am bright enough (and have a long enough memory) to understand that he is not going to frak away the whole first term of his Presidency by engaging with these things immediately before he has done the big-ticket stuff like health care reform. As one who worked on the Clinton campaign in '92, I remember with great pain and bitterness how the first thing President Clinton did upon taking office was to embroil himself in the gays/military issue and ended up creating the moronic DADT policy.  I want it gone, and I believe Obama will do it, but we need to wait a little bit longer. He's got a lot of stuff to do thanks to the Long W Dark Age that preceded his still-brand-new administration. [SF tie-in: In the newer Battlestar Galactica TV series, Laura Roslin becomes President immediately after the near-total annihilation of the human race. Though she is a liberal on social issues, she is forced to make a deal with anti-choice religious fanatics so that she can proceed with her overall agenda of saving humanity.]

3) Sorry for the triviality of this next item. It's way too low-brow for this fancy and high-minded blog, but anyway...I saw people on Twitter retweeting about a dumb petition to get shlock internet/TV celeb-gossip slug Perez Hilton removed the list of nominees for an award of some sort at an event called the "Fox Teen Choice Awards."  I am quite completely out of touch with what's popular on TV with the kids nowadays, but this is evidently some kind of big-ass hoo-ha with the adolescents, and apparently Mr. Hilton's nomination for one of these awards is drawing ire and fire from parental units and other people who have assigned themselves the fraudulent task of guarding the purity of American youths. Look, I can't stand that dude either, but after examining the petition to block his nomination, it appeared that the only problem the originator of the petition specifies with Hilton is that he supposedly places "uncensored gay porn" on his website. Which makes me wonder if there's not a tinge of homophobia behind this. Maybe not, but it feels a bit like that (since a gay-related offense is the one and only thing mentioned in the single short paragraph that explains the petition). Of course, the official story on this would be that his online behavior is not a "good role model for teens." Well, duh. Why the hell would anyone think that a pop culture douche-bag would be a good role model in the first place? Why would you look for role models in the kinds of venues that people like Hilton and others like him inhabit anyway? Someone is going to win that dumb award, and if it's not Hilton, then it will probably be some other vapid creep. Maybe they can give it to the former Miss California. [SF tie-in: In the film Soylent Green it is eventually revealed that the titular food product is made out of human corpses.]


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Luke Burrage's sf podcast



Lately, I've been listening a lot to Luke Burrage talk about the books he's read on his Science Fiction Book Review Podcast. A professional juggler and writer who recently released (for free on his site) his short novel Minding Tomorrow, Luke has produced a series of fifty or sixty (so far) podcasts in which he comments on books. As he states in his intro to each installment, he works on no particular schedule with it. When he finishes a book, he reviews it and then reads another one. I discovered him recently when he was a guest on the SFF Audio Podcast. I pulled down from iTunes a couple weeks ago the entire run of his series and have been gradually working my way through them.

What Luke does with these podcasts makes me think a bit about the purpose and value of reviews, things that I often question. Generally, I am not that interested in hearing a negative review unless the subject matter really deserves it for some egregious excess. For example, a long time ago on this blog I went ahead and slammed Orson Scott Card's novel Empire. I did this because it is an objective fact that this book is a stinking heap of crap and that Card, author of the beautiful Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow diptych, should have been embarrassed to have let it out in public with his name on it. If he had not already built a reputation as a fine writer during the previous couple of decades, he would not be able to recover from the Empire fiasco. Also, I am more comfortable with taking a swipe at a Big Brand-Name Author when it's deserved than I would if it were a new, mid-level or non-pro writer. This standard holds for all things with me, in fact. As a former restaurant owner who received mixed reviews from the newspapers, I would never slam a small business person who is trying to do something new and not hurting anyone in the process. But I will go ahead and say that I detest big-box chain restaurants, and that I think Applebee's is the single worst restaurant on Earth. I'll also say that I hate 90 percent of fast food and that I think that McDonald's is a web of mucus that has enmeshed the planet. But if I can't say something nice about the family-owned joint in my neighborhood, then I'll say nothing at all.

Luke Burrage's reviews are frequently quite negative, even blisteringly so. Indeed, I wonder if I'd even listen to them if they were delivered not in his cute easy-on-the-ears British voice but rather with a harsh Okie twang. He also disagrees with me a lot: he hated Neuromancer, Fall of Hyperion, and Snow Crash. On the other hand, his criticisms are intelligent, well-reasoned and thoughtful, and he fits into my Good Reviewer standard of generally not assaulting weaklings: Gibson, Simmons and Stephenson (like Card, above) are giants, don't really need defenders, and if they did, then I'm sure that a lot of them would appear. He also, I must admit, made me think more seriously about the merits of a series of books that I read faithfully and generally accept without much thought: the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson Dune prequels and sequels. I have always considered them to be a different and lesser product than Frank Herbert's originals, but I have generally found them to be fun to read and happily accept each new candy-coated installment just like I did with new Star Wars movies and new Star Trek TV series (except Enterprise--never did like that one despite every effort at it). 

Luke reviews, in different installments of his show, Hunters of Dune (the first of two sequels to the elder Herbert's Chapterhouse Dune) and Paul of Dune (a recent story set in between the first two of the original novels). He hated both of them and didn't even finish reading them. He was particularly offended by the casual violence in the latter book. It is true that someone is being killed at any given moment in the story, usually for no good reason other than to get them out of the way and move on to the next scene. The bloodshed and high body count of these books is something that's never really bothered me. I don't necessarily object to cartoonish levels of violence and often find it to be pretty fun, even cathartic, in some situations. But Luke makes a good point in his commentary on this particular story: the over-the-top violence tars even the "heroes" of the story and makes it hard to like any of the characters at all. The heroes are at least as vicious as the villains. During his review, he says that he reached such a point of exhaustion with this that he decided that if another main character killed someone for no good reason, then he would put down the book and read it no further. That moment promptly happened when Gurney Halleck is given control of the planet Giedi Prime and behaves as badly as the Baron Harkonnen himself, going around garroting everyone as revenge for the trauma he suffered in the Harkonnen slave pits as a youth. The moral ambiguity of the characters in all these books, including Herbert's originals, is a central feature of the Dune universe...but Luke is right about this one, and this book really doesn't deserve as much credit as I gave it when I read it. It has made me think about my novel-in-progress, Shame, which has a lot of flawed characters, moral ambiguity and violence. I'm happy to say that I think I have avoided, without even having planned to avoid them, these kinds of pitfalls.

I have Luke's own book sitting on my computer desktop right now, awaiting reading, and I am looking forward to finding out what this reviewer does as a writer, and maybe I'll report back on it once it's read. But only if I like it.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Personal writing update


I need to remember to do these kind of posts more often, these recaps of where I am on my own attempts at writing fiction. As I've said before, I find that it motivates a little bit to make claims publicly about what I am doing.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned some projects that were in various stages of progress, some closer to completion than others. Some progress has been made:

1) The novel-in-progress, usually referred to here as Neglected Project, now has a tentative title: Shame. That may not stick, but it's the title by which I have been thinking of it for a few days. Aside from assigning this possibly temporary title, no real progress has been made toward the completion of the first draft lately. I open the file and stare at it for a while, maybe make a note here or enter a new paragraph there, but the real push toward major progress has not happened yet. I feel it simmering, however. 
2) The untitled pirate story that I have mentioned here before is much nearer to done. It needs a coat of polish and the possible deletion of a scene, but I am getting a lot happier with it. Hopefully I'll return to it and finish it up soon. It focuses on a female space pirate ship captain in a far-future milieu. She is obsessed with getting revenge for wrongs done to her family and has embarked on a startling course of action.

3) I tweaked a few things in my fairly new (as in written this year) android story titled "The Robbie." It's just plain too erotic for most sf venues except perhaps for M-Brane itself, but I am not considering inserting any of my own fiction into the zine. I may consider it for the queer antho if it seems there is room for it and if it seems good enough in contrast to the other content. It's plenty queer enough, let me tell ya. Or it may just never see the light of day. I could post it to the blog, but then I'd probably need to put up one of those WARNING! DANGER WILL ROBINSON! notices to run off readers under 18 years of age.  Also, I rediscovered a relatively new (written maybe last winter) werewolf story which has similar issues to those of "The Robbie." It's not sf, though, but more like horror or urban dark fantasy.

4) I found a fragment of another new story that I was trying to start for a possible contest entry a few months ago--I think from when I considered trying to enter something in the Baen contest but gave up. It seems to deal with the existence of some kind of amorphous cloud consciousness in Jovian space, but I can't make much sense of it. It does have, so far, some pretty good space station/spaceship scenery, and I might take another swing at it soon if I can figure out a plan for it.

5) I started and nearly completed in a single day a couple weeks ago a brand new short tentatively titled "'Hear Me,' Said the Mirror." It's set in some sort of future or alternate present and focuses on a father and his adopted son. Their relationship is complicated by the adopted boy's insistence that he somehow interacts with the lingering presence of the father's biological son...who is deceased, a casualty of a mysterious illness described only as "the wasting." It sounds like a ghost story, right? I guess it is in a way, but there is a science fictional underpinning to it all. I'm pretty happy with this one right now, but I haven't quite ended it satisfactorily yet.

6) I haven't yet done the revision that I was thinking about on "Fracture." That's the story that I have mentioned before that was based on the dream that I had in which J couldn't remember anything more recent than his tenth birthday. I've actually considered that one to be done for a fairly long time, but the last time I glanced at it, it seemed like it could use a little more attention.

So this is all pretty good progress for me. Even though nothing is really done and nothing has been shown to any readers, all of these items represent relatively new and fresh work. This is very good because I did basically no new writing for a long, long time before these projects surfaced. I may make another attempt to set some goals in terms of time to work on these things and move them closer to completion. The novel, in particular, really needs some discipline and rigor applied to it. I know the whole story line and even know what's on the last page, but I need to sit still and hammer out all the missing bits throughout. And that would be just the thing to be working on during the hours when I find myself disorganized and adrift between tasks.

I guess another thing that works against me is that I am not really out of this depressive phase that I have written about here a couple of times in recent weeks. But I'm trying to get out of it.

[The image is of the current crop of chile pepper plants growing outside our house. It has nothing at all to do with the subject of this post. Or does it somehow symbolize growth in these writing projects? Hmm. That's pretty dumb.]


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bloomsday and reading


James Joyce's Ulysses and the Irish celebration of Bloomsday (a couple days ago on June 16) is rather far outside the normal subject matter of this blog, but it ties into another subject that I'd like to bring up.

The image is of my copy of Ulysses that I used for a seminar on the novel that I took in Dublin during my third year of college (yes, that's a World AIDS Day 1991 sticker on it, too--that was going on when I was there). The book itself has, among people who have not read it, a reputation for being difficult, dense and not easily accessible. This is partially deserved because it is written in a highly experimental style; but it's also somewhat overstated, and it's unfortunate that casual readers are warded away from it as a result. It's a lively, inventive piece of fiction, and it should be fun, not a chore.

The concept of the book is a sort of retelling of Homer's The Odyssey, but with the events being the experiences of a common man in Dublin during one single day of his life, June 16 1904. The date is now celebrated in Dublin with a whole host of Ulysses-related events such as public readings and pub crawls. It's also great fun to walk the streets and visit the locales of the novel. I think it is incredibly cool that somewhere on Earth a sort of holiday has arisen around a book, and that regular everyday people have so much fun with something that is often relegated to the rarified air of college English departments. 

Thinking about Bloomsday reminded me of something else: during the months I spent in England and Ireland, it seemed to me that the British and Irish people were, on average, much better casual readers of books than Americans. At bus-stops, aboard the Tube trains, in parks, in cafes, in pubs, all over the place it seemed common to see people of all ages and walks of life with books in their hands in a way that just doesn't seem to happen as much in the States.  Sure, one can spot readers here and there, and probably more frequently in the country's more literate cities, but it just doesn't seem like a habit that many people are in. Numbers bear that out if one looks at book sales figures. Anecdotally, I can say that I am usually the only person doing it in waiting-room type situations. This would be disappointing enough, but there is apparently another quirk about the American reading of books that doesn't seem to be a problem in the British Isles: American males read much, much less than females. 

Why would this be?  I recently listened to a segment on one of the NPR shows--don't remember which--where this subject was being discussed and the person being interviewed discussed how it is evidently very common for American men not to be comfortable with reading books as a sufficiently "manly" activity, tend not to model it as a desirable behavior in their sons, and generally don't cultivate it as a lifelong habit. I do not know where this bizarre cultural quirk comes from. It may just be residue of the country's historical bent toward anti-intellectualism and distrust of "know-it-alls." Sitting with a book may seem too unlike the things we are supposed to be into like football, hunting, spitting, scratching and other brawny activities. I don't know. But if this is true that the typical American male doesn't think reading is masculine enough, then the typical American male needs to get his stupid head out of his ass and stop right this minute teaching that dumb bias to the next generation of American men. I assume that I am preaching to the choir here. I doubt anyone who is not a reader of books is reading this blog. But still, I'd wish for any fathers who may be reading this--especially fathers of boys--to model for your children the value of reading for their long term intellectual development and for simple pleasure in life. Also...it is a scientific fact that guys who read books are, on average, hotter than ones who don't.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

M-BRANE #6 contents announced



I'm pleased to share the cover image and list of stories and their authors for the sixth issue of M-Brane SF, due for release by July 1. It's an interesting, even weird, collection of stories. The writers include ones who have appeared in M-Brane before, ones who have appeared in other zines many times before, and one who is being published for the very first time with this issue. They're from all over the United States and several other countries: England, Canada, Sweden and Slovenia.

As an added bonus, I am including an interview with writer Rick Novy which I'm sure readers will find quite interesting. Rick makes his third appearance in M-Brane with the amusing "The Trouble With Truffles." Here's the table of contents:

RICK NOVY: The Trouble With Truffles
DEREK J. GOODMAN: Rental Property
JASON HELLER: The Crackerjack Kids
KENT McDANIEL: Up on the Roof
A.R. YNGVE: Quadrillenium
MICHAEL D. GRIFFITHS: In Charge of my Demise
GLYNN BARRASS: Nu-Topia
EDWARD RODOSEK: A Thorough Drill
BRINNA DEAVELLAR: The Second Stage
STEPHANIE SCARBOROUGH: Misty
LEE GIMENEZ: Daniel 7
AMIR AHMED: Silence
JEFFREY WOOTEN: The White Place


Sunday, June 14, 2009

BUNCH!


Writer Brandon Bell, who has appeared twice in M-Brane SF (in issues #1 and #5) and who contributed an article here on the blog last month appeared in Everyday Weirdness with a new flash-fic story called “Ward of the State.” I won’t bother to summarize it—just go read it. It only takes a few minutes. In this story, he pays a little bit of respectful homage to the tone and style of the late David R. Bunch, a remarkable writer (and one of my fellow St. Louisans) whom I hadn’t thought about much lately and who has been largely overlooked in recent years.

Bunch’s work is really odd, even singular, and I could see it being an either “love it” or “hate it” kind of thing for readers. In a syntactically dense style, he compresses a lot of emotion and a lot of bizarre events and unexpected ideas into pieces of fiction that, while usually quite brief, are not always the easiest things to read. The effort to take it in slowly usually pays off, however, and I found Bunch’s writing rather inspiring stylistically in my younger days. Unfortunately, I discovered David Bunch at a probably not good time in my development as a writer. He inspired me to try my hand at a lot of twisted, tortured, crazed prose that never made a lick of sense…and I mistakenly thought that I was working in a Bunchian mode. In particular, I remember at age 20 writing, in a single hot summer day, a calamitous ten-thousand-word catastrophe of a story called “The Glitter and the Obscenity of Babyl Pi.” So inventive and stylistically engaging did I find this piece of decroded crap that I actually entertained the idea that I was already writing at a pro level. For several months (boneheaded boy that I was), I submitted it to magazines. Though it was supposed to be sf, I didn’t even limit its submissions to genre mags: I thought so highly of it that I thought it best to submit it to “mainstream” journals because I considered it to be literary, Literary and LITERARY. But as it turned out, I had no idea what I was doing. I’m still not sure that I “get” David R. Bunch, but I have been reading once again the stories in his self-titled collection, and I am seeing a lot of stuff in them that I am certain that I missed years ago.

As a result of that recollection of my own failure at trying to write in that way, I have also been reminded that Bunch, in these stories, wasn’t just wreaking pretty havoc with conventional mainstream story-telling but that he was also telling a lot of quite easy-to-understand stories if one is willing to deal with the style in which he does it and open one's mind to its angle. In my youthful attempts to mimic his unconventional style, I forgot that I needed to actually say something, tell a story, clarify meaning rather than obfuscate it. Five years after the failure with “Babyl Pi,” I received my first acceptance for publication on a story. It was, oddly enough, the one and only “mainstream” story I have ever written, and it was told in a totally transparent fashion that resembled in no way those past excesses.

And then, gradually and at last, I make my way to the point of this post: Brandon’s new story in Everyday Weirdness is the kind of thing that I think that David Bunch, had he lived to read it, would have liked. It’s Bunch-weird but not a youthful excess…and it’s something shiny and new from a newish writer with a unique voice.


Friday, June 12, 2009

FOR WRITERS: A STORY & THREE TACTICS..Guest Post by Debra Snider



[Today we have an interesting and informative post from guest Debra Snider. She talks about her own writing life and shares some tips that have benefited her work. You'll find throughout some links to more information and resources on her website.--CF]

Writing fiction has been the single biggest surprise of my life. Not because I didn’t want to – being a novelist was my original career goal, until I realized as a junior in college that I had something to prove in the business world. Not because I didn’t expect to – I’ve always loved to craft words, be the result a letter, an email, a legal document, a tweet or any other vehicle for expressing ideas with force, clarity and beauty. Not even because I’ve enjoyed some success as a novelist – as one of my characters says (about something else altogether), “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could do it well.”

No, what surprised me was the totally unexpected and entirely mystical way in which I became a writer of fiction.

I enjoyed a 21-year career as a lawyer and business executive before I came full-circle and started writing fiction. I wasn’t someone who longed to be a writer instead of what I was; I loved my first career. And I wrote constantly in that life. Majoring in English in college may be a relatively less-traveled route to law school and the business world, but it’s a good one. I had a huge competitive advantage as someone who knew how to manipulate words, who understood that there are always multiple ways to look at any person, event or situation, who placed a high premium on making written products not just serviceable, but also concise, linguistically and grammatically elegant, and, well, beautiful.

After I retired from my business career, I quickly wrote my Suit Yourself Essays, with a sense throughout that I was downloading the management, leadership and success strategies in my brain to a place where they would be safely encapsulated and I would no longer have to think about them.

No sooner were those essays written than the American Bar Association asked me to write a book about the eye-popping results we had achieved in the corporate law department I ran. Writing The Productive Culture Blueprint cleared my head, I think, and created space for fiction to fill.

A few weeks after I finished the ABA book, I woke up way too early one morning, my mind full to the brim with a short story so vivid it felt as if it were somehow hanging in the air in the bedroom instead of contained in my head. I felt feverish, both wide awake and as if I were still asleep and dreaming. I could see the setting and the characters. I could feel their feelings and the crisp, cold air they walked through. I knew their names and their idiosyncrasies, where their story started, how it developed, and where it ended.

I raced down three flights of stairs to my office, opened my computer and let my fingers fly. Eleven hours later, I stopped, the story captured. I had completely lost track of time, I hadn’t eaten or gotten dressed, I had waved abstractedly to my husband when he said goodbye on his way to work, and I felt, the entire time, as if I were transcribing via my keyboard something that was actually happening on some plane of consciousness I had, before that day, never experienced. The original vision did not dissipate the way dreams do; it glowed more and more brightly as it transformed itself from pictures and feelings into words.

For me, writing fiction is like taking dictation from fascinating dictators. I don’t outline. I don’t think about where to go next. I don’t write in order. I simply listen to the characters and scribble frantically to keep up with what they’re doing. I trust them to move backward and forward in time in a way that will make sense when they’re done with me.

I know I create my fiction – I haven’t utterly lost touch with reality – but I don’t feel like a creator when I write. I feel like a conduit. I often watch words and paragraphs appear on the screen as if they’re coming straight from some external place through my fingertips without any stopover in the parts of my brain I’m familiar with. It’s far more like being an observer, a witness placed in a private and exceptionally engrossing parallel world for the purpose of documenting everything.

My characters come to me whole, right down to having names (some of which I don’t like). They’re very pushy, and they’re in charge. I feel possessed by them. I write on their schedule, and they are impossible to confine to regular hours. When they’re busy, I write all the time – usually at my computer, on my laptop or in a notepad, but also in my head while I swim, drive, play blackjack, or talk to other (real, not imaginary) people. I’m mentally three-quarters someplace else whenever I’m doing anything other than write.

Luckily in terms of my relationships with other people, I discovered while I was writing A Merger of Equals that it wasn’t necessary to commit things to screen or paper the instant they appeared in my mind. Ideas, words, phrases, even whole paragraphs did not disappear if I didn’t write them down immediately. It was possible to take breaks, to live the rest of my life, even to write Working Easier, my second business book, while Merger’s story developed. When I did sit down to write, what I needed was always there, sometimes much improved for having fermented or ripened.

My process is iterative. Even during the possessed phase, the characters do occasionally relax their hold and allow me to push them to the back burner for a while. When that happens, I reread what I’ve written – sometimes the most recent scene, sometimes a different section or chapter, sometimes the whole book. When I reread, I correct, edit, rework, tinker, check chronology, stare into space as new ideas bloom, etc.

I use three specific writing “tricks” for everything I write – fiction, emails, blog posts, and every other written product I want to make as good as I can make it. These tricks help me shift my perspective, shake loose ideas, accurately and effectively express what’s so clear in my head, and work through what one of my Twitter buddies calls the “woolly bits.”

Write Longhand
I originally tried this because I found myself in the car with no laptop and a head full of words. Writing with a pen in a notebook was so effective that I’ve been making opportunities to do it ever since. The flow of words from brain to hand to pen to paper is unlike the flow from brain to fingertips to screen. You’re forced to write more slowly. It’s a more tactile experience: the feel of the pen in your hand; the way it glides on the white paper, trailing inked words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs in its wake; even the inevitable cramps in your hand and forearm. The ability to add new thoughts via little carated inserts, to cross something out but still be able to see it, to create a runic record of your thought process with no extra effort as you write – the whole approach is entirely different from typing on a computer, and it leads to unexpected – and often very impressive – writing. You also have a natural editing opportunity when you eventually type what you’ve handwritten into your computer document.

Print and Edit in Hard Copy
It’s amazing how differently your eye sees and your brain perceives when you read text printed in black ink on white paper instead of flickering on your computer screen. Typos leap into high relief. So do disjointed transitions and poor or extraneous explanation, exposition and phraseology. The shift in perspective inevitably reveals ways to make the work better.

Read Aloud
You often see suggestions to read dialog aloud. This makes sense; words said aloud work differently than words read, and dialog that seems fine in writing can show itself to be awful when spoken. But reading aloud isn’t just for dialog. It’s a great way to proofread and polish, whether you read to someone or alone. Your tongue will trip over typos and other errors your eye has glided past for months. Bumpy sentences, unintended repetition, and all sorts of other writing that just doesn’t work will become (painfully) plain. And it’s fun, really fun, to hear your words ringing in the air.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Some writer-related miscellany


Today I offered publication to a few writers for stories in upcoming issues, mostly in #9 and a couple for #10. As I get contracts back, I'll add links for anyone who provides the info to the M-Brane writers list (right-hand column, down below my profile and the archive). I already added a link to Mari Kurisato, whose eerie tale "Lurker" is forthcoming in issue #9. She is a writer and a visual artist who has a pretty fancy site nowadays. Her story caused me to spend some time on Wikipedia learning about hikikomori. I also realized that I had neglected to add Neil Colquhoun, whose short story "Machine" is coming in issue #8. He's on the list now, so go check out his blog, because there is all kinds of interesting stuff there. 

As writers who have received rejection notes from me lately know, I have had to take the unfortunate step of going to a generic form reply on those and have dispensed entirely with making specific, personalized comments on these stories as I used to always do. I sort of had a love/hate relationship with those notes anyway: I loved communicating individually with the writers, especially if I thought I had something to say that might help them or their stories...but I also hated saying "no" and having to explain why, especially in cases where the story was just fine but just not one that I wanted for some inarticulable reason. A few days ago, I had a stack of about two dozen rejections that needed to go out and I finally just said "screw it, they're getting a form letter." That cut away at least a couple hours from the process for me, time dearly needed. So if you're one of those writers reading this post now, sorry, but that's how it is now with the current, larger volume of mss coming in.

While I'm talking about rejections, I want to say that in the time I have edited M-Brane I have not one time ever received any sort of unprofessional or rude reply to a rejection from a writer. I read all the time on Twitter and on publishing blogs a lot of anecdotes from editors and agents talking about crazy behavior from writers. I'm very happy that people who want to publish in M-Brane don't act like that, and I hope that this new level of impersonality that I am creating with the form rejection doesn't change that.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RETRO READS: STAR BRIGHT...Review by Derek J. Goodman


[Derek J. Goodman reviews a somewhat obscure but evidently rather interesting novel. Watch for more "Retro Reads" columns in the future right here (I've labeled the two so far as "Retro Reads" so they may be called up together from the labels list), and also stand by for Derek's short story "Rental Property" forthcoming in M-Brane #6.--CF]

Today we’re going to take a look a writer who, even if you don’t recognize his name, you’re still probably familiar with his most famous creation.

Martin Caidin (1927-1997) wrote prolifically, but a large portion of his output was not science fiction but aeronautical fiction and history. He was even known to restore old aircraft in his spare time. His actual science fiction varied from the novel Marooned, which was turned into a 1969 movie starring Gregory Peck, to two Indiana Jones novels. His biggest claim to fame in sci-fi, however, is the 1972 novel Cyborg which introduced the character of Steve Austin, better known to fans of classic television as The Six Million Dollar Man. What I’ve read so far of his fiction would imply that he may have been an influence on Michael Crichton, as Caidin was writing techno-thrillers long before Crichton turned the genre in best-seller material.

Caidin’s 1980 (although the cover shown is from the 1990 reprint) novel Star Bright, while not one of his better known works, often feels hauntingly prescient, as the premise starts with an idea that is perhaps even more relevant now than when it was originally published: the search for alternative energy.

Dr. Owen Kimberly is an aging professor that was formerly the most brilliant scientist involved in experiments with hydrogen fusion. Abandoning government work after his higher-ups refused to acknowledge his concerns with the unknown factors involved in creating the hydrogen bomb, Kimberly one day finds himself called out of the blue to Washington, D.C and a meeting with the president himself. While Kimberly has been gone for so many years, lesser men have been trying to take his theories about sustainable fusion energy and make them a reality. And unfortunately for the world, they have succeeded. Instead of creating a simple working fusion reactor, they have actually created a microstar, a pinpoint of energy that has all the energy of the sun yet is smaller and denser. And even though they are no longer feeding the microstar the fuel it should need to continue burning, it’s still working, even growing.

Since the people in charge of the microstar, known as Project: Star Bright, basically ignored all the safety measures Kimberly once recommended in their hurry to create a new sustainable energy source, the growing microstar has become a serious danger not to just the immediate area of the project but the whole world. As the microstar becomes denser it appears to be well on its way to becoming a black hole, and the magnetic field surrounding the star can only hold back its increasing energy for so long. If Kimberly doesn’t find a way to put out the microstar soon, then it will become so heavy that it will sink to the center of the Earth and rip the whole world apart.

As the microstar grows in power and density it begins to have numerous adverse effects on the planet, and this is where Caidin really starts to shine. While his lengthy explanations of the science involved can sometimes come off as dry, he still shows us through beautiful and amazing imagery just what would happen to the planet if it had a barely-controlled space-time anomaly sitting on it. The book comes across much like a Bruckheimer summer disaster movie would if, you know, a Bruckheimer movie ever involved something resembling ACTUAL SCIENCE. It also differs from a summer popcorn muncher in the ballsy-ness of the ending, where Caidin actually goes for a more realistic ending for the characters than a typical deus ex machina where they all make everything better and no one important is any worse for wear in the end. Caidin actually has the guts to give us something of a downer ending, even if it is disguised as a success.

Star Bright
sometimes lacks very good characterization, but in the end it succeeds exactly where it was intended: it’s a quick, rousing read with some interesting science. Overall it is a book worth picking up and checking out if you ever find it.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Audio


I have really been enjoying sf genre podcasts lately, both fiction like is found at Dunesteef and Clonepod and a number of other audiozines, and also commentary/conversation things SFF Audio Podcast and the author interviews at Agony Column. Even though I am very often writing or editing or reading while I am listening, and so don't pay enough attention to what I am hearing most of the time, I still really enjoy the format. And it's great when I'm cooking dinner because I can pay better attention to it then. Anyway, I think that M-Brane needs to get into the audio business somehow, but I haven't really devised a plan yet. Two obstacles present themselves: 1) I can't, at this time, spend any more money than I already do to acquire stories for publication in the zine, so I think I would be looking for content that I can use for free or perhaps induce some writers to let their items be presented both in print and in audio without them necessarily getting additional compensation for it beyond some more exposure for their work; and 2) I'd need some volunteer labor to do some reading aloud for it because I wouldn't dream of thinking that my own voice would be passable for a recording of, say, a four thousand-word short story.

It wouldn't need to be a lot of content all the time either. I don't envision doing the equivalent of a whole M-Brane issue or anything that involved, but maybe just a single story every week or two. It could also include some commentary from the writer and maybe the reader (if those are different people) and maybe me. Maybe a story from a yet-to-be-published issue of the zine could be put up in audio form as a teaser. I've been debating with myself for weeks, if not months already, if there is really even any kind of screaming need for more M-Brane products in the world. Well, I believe that there is!


Novy MIRror Episode 3 features Tobias Buckell


Online today, complete with a snazzy new logo, is the third installment of Rick Novy's show Novy MIRror, featuring special guest Tobias Buckell

This is a very interesting interview, touching on a number of topics of current interest to readers and writers of sf. Buckell is a writer of sf adventure whom I know really only by reputation (having somehow not actually read much of his stuff yet, save for maybe a short story in an antho here and there), so it was great to learn some more about him, his career and his outlook on the genre. Go see the show and stop in at Buckell's website, too. (Also, stand by for M-Brane #6 on July 1 featuring some new fiction by Novy.)


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Snarling Badger Games


This image is a screenshot from my computer. Opened on my desktop are the rule book and cover art in PDF form of the fascinating table-top microgame Metal Krushers from Snarling Badger Games in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Games of any sort are not my area of expertise and I don't think I have ever talked about one in this blog before. I mention this one and the company that produces it because Adam Loper of Snarling Badger is a dear old friend and I was out of contact with him for too long until very recently when we met up again via Twitter. Way back in the early 1990s, Adam and his pal Peter Spahos were playing a certain game and were finding fault with its rules and playability. Inspired to devise their own, better game, they went to work and came up with their first product, BattleBots (no relation to, and in fact came before, a certain TV show and its companion game). You can read the whole history and learn about their other products, including the version now known as Metal Krushers by visiting their website. Looking over this game, I can say (as a non-gamer) that it is easy to learn and seems totally playable and fun. Back in the 1980s, I acquired a couple of Star Trek microgames made by (I think) FASA and they were totally not fun and not very playable (same problem, as I recall, with their role-playing games, too). Snarling Badger's products are much better. So if you are into microgames, get yourself to their site and start buying stuff. They even have t-shirts!

Adam and I went to high school together at Oshkosh North and were great friends throughout those years. We worked together on the student newspaper and I enlisted his talent on the Trek fanzine The Alternative Warp. Adam is a terrifically skilled artist, and he produced the front covers and nearly all of the interior art for most of the run of zine (I think about 20 issues, including the really crappy final two or three editions, for one of which Adam drew a spectacular image of the Alternative Warp Tower falling into ruin). He also wrote and drew several installments of a Trek-parody comic strip that filled the back cover of many of the issues. As I recall, the story-line of the comic reached its climax when the shadowy mastermind behind the villainous robotic menace is revealed to be...the Disco Man (originally a goofy piece of clip-art that Adam found in a clip book in the school newspaper office depicting a mustachioed, big-haired dude in a leisure suit--that's the sort of thing we got into back then, and yeah, it's still funny). He lives in Oshkosh with his wife Emily, and can also be found on his blog Atom Smashing.


Reif Larsen discusses novel on Diane Rehm Show



Though it's not specifically genre-related, the story of writer Reif Larsen and his recently-published novel The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, will be of interest to writers of any type. He appeared in the second hour of the May 12 Diane Rehm Show. You can get the audio in various formats from the drshow.org, and I really recommend listening to Larsen talk with Rehm about his process with creating and selling this unique first novel. 

I have not read the book myself, but evidently this story of a 12-year-old with a passion for map-making (who finds himself 
invited to make a presentation at the Smithsonian) is presented in an interesting 
fashion on somewhat oversized pages with footnotes and marginalia throughout it. The book also has a companion website where one can wander through T.S. Spivet's collection and find some additional information to supplement the book.

[pictured, the book's cover and Reif Larsen]


Friday, June 5, 2009

The future crept up on us


When I waste a post on Real World Crap (TM), I generally apologize for it. This time, however, I intend to offend a certain segment of the population, specifically two-thirds of the voters in my temporary home state and probably nearly all of the non-voters.

Though The Future--the fabled Twenty-First Century--as day-dreamt of by a little boy in the 1970s (me) has not offered the space stations, Lunar colonies, Martian cities and alien invasions for which I had hoped, it has offered some "futuristic" episodes.  Do you remember Paul Verhoeven's classic film Robocop? It depicted an America gone into severe and permanent decrosion, where the Constitution and the rule of of law had been suborned by self-serving corporate interests, where power rested not with the people but with a class of political nincompoops who lived in the crotch-pockets of monied assholes, where ridiculous gas-guzzling automobiles roamed the streets as gigantic surrogate penises for their shrunken-balled, limbic-brain-driven drivers. Fiction on film in the 80s.

Then, in December of 2000, W was appointed President of the United States in a 5:4 decision by the Supreme Court. (Remember, this was well before the Terminator became governor of California) Our first court-appointed President's administration seemed, at first,  one that would pass rather inconsequentially. He had no serious agenda other than the usual GOP-type tax cutting and budget-wrecking, and seemed content to wile away his Presidency being on vacation 3 out of 7 days (not counting weekends). Then the 9/11 horror happened and the country lost its collective mind.

Fast-forward to November 2004: W is elected President (elected this time, not court-appointed). And America has become a country in severe decrosion, a land where the rule of law has been suborned by self-serving corporate interests, where all power is held and exercised by a class of crass political nincompoops, where ridiculous gas-guzzling vehicles roam the streets as gigantic surrogate penises for their shrunken-balled, reptile-brained drivers. And where we send kids to die on a daily basis in a war of choice, designed by men who want to line their pockets with its filthy spoils.

Fast forward again. In 2008, the genius of the Founders and their Constitution saw their  greatest validation in the election of a new leader who was then able to peacefully displace the old one.

Yesterday when I was listening to the highlights of President Obama's speech in Cairo, I was repeatedly struck by how the plain-spoken, common sense things he said were a lot like...well, what a smart person would say. You know, like someone who has thought about stuff for more than a minute and has maybe read some books in his life, and maybe paid attention in school a couple times. A few years ago, when I dreamed of an imaginary future President who was not a Book-of-Revelation psychopath, I imagined a man or woman who would say things about how progress toward peace on Earth will not be made by wallowing in the drooling, blithering, Texas-sized dumbassity of the past, how America and the so-called "Islamic World" need not be at war, how Hamas needs to quit being a bunch of rocket-firing suicide-bombing fuck-bags, how the Israelis need to unambiguously stop their goddamned colonization activities in the occupied territories, how Ahmadinafuck needs to quit denying the Holocaust, and so on. And that's actually what the real-life President of the United States said in Cairo in the year 2009 (albeit in slightly different language). It felt futuristic, kind of like the Bush election, but in a good way. The old hopeful kind of feeling about the future that I had as a boy.

Well, in Oklahoma, most people beam with pride over their U.S. Senators, Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe. They're both right-wing Froot Loops complete with striped novelty toucan beaks,  and they are all-around douche-bags from the heyday of the Massengil era. If there were ever a Senate vote that went 98-2, you'd know who the two were without needing to Google it. But of the two of them, it's Inhofe (prick, pictured above left) who is the real piece of Frankenstein work. Coburn at least makes a serious and principled--if nearly always factually and ideologically  erroneous--stand against wasteful government spending. That's his brand, and he is semi-credible at it. Inhofe, on the other hand, is a classic Washington fat-head with an Okie accent: he is one of the biggest pork-barrelling, pig-shit-shoveling "conservatives" in the entire Congress. I don't have all day here, so I can't list (or even summarize) all his grotesqueries, so I'll limit it to these few examples: today he carries the right-wing water by complaining about government spending all day while at the same time fighting hammer-and-tongs to preserve Okiehomie's share of Pentagon waste that even the Pentagon doesn't want anymore (think weapons to fight the Soviet Union in WWIII in 1985); in the Dark Times, when the GOP controlled Congress, he was the unlikely head of the Senate environment committee where it seemed to be his main job to deny and denounce science that has long since been conceded by everyone on Earth save for Limbaugh, Coulter and a few other extra-chromo mutant throwbacks; he routinely uses public money to go on religious junkets abroad and doesn't even bother to apologize for it (cuz it's for JuhEEzus, y'know); and now, just today, he is all over the local news calling President Obama a traitor, and wondering "whose side he's on" for telling the fucking truth.

Senator Inhofe, aside from his other excesses, opposes equal civil liberties and equal justice under the law for all Americans, and, in so doing, violates his oath as a Senator and rejects the founding principles of this nation. It is he who is un-American, is a friend to extremism, and it is he whom I flip off with a big foam novelty hand with extended middle finger and say that he can get the frak out of my country right now and go join his nutcase buddies in "the border regions of Pakistan." Yeah...that's what I mean exactly: this guy's outlook on the world--with its intolerance, social-issues stick-up-the-assedness and religious bigotry--is much more similar to that of our nation's arch enemy, Osama bin Laden, than it is to the traditional values that most Americans cherish. So suck that, wingnuts.

Which brings me, at blessed bloody last, to the bitter conclusion of this screed. The truth, of course, is that it's not merely Senator Inhofe who is a joke. He is the duly elected representative of the people of his state, and it is they, the Okie voters, who are the real problem in this whole affair.  I lack the sulfuric-acid tongue and rhetorical fire to properly address them, so I will rely, as I often do lately, on quoting Harlan Ellison, when he said of an entirely other group of people: "I do not think I malign them too much by characterizing them as eminently average...I do not think I demean them much by perceiving them as creeps, meatheads, clods, fruitcakes, nincompoops, amoeba-brains, yoyos, yipyops, kadodies and clodhoppers." [An Edge in My Voice, 126]


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Collective Fallout and the Delfino Prize


I wish to give some attention to Collective Fallout, a print journal of queer-oriented speculative fiction edited by by Eric Crapo, who teaches poetry and playwriting (and directs the library) at Chester College of New England. Pictured to the left is the cover of their first issue from January. The next issue is due in July.

Collective Fallout is also sponsoring a writing contest, the Delfino Prize, so named in memory of Christopher Delfino, a writer who passed away at too young an age earlier this year. Click here for rules and details for the contest. The winner and finalists will be published in the 2010 editions of Collective Fallout.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Print M-BRANE #5 looks great! Some remarks on future editions and funding sources




I've made all the issues of M-Brane from issue #3 to present available for print-on-demand by way of Lulu, and after issue #3 was released, I went back and fixed some problems in the source documents for issues #1 and #2 so that they could be available there as well. I had not until yesterday, however, actually seen one of these print copies with my own eyes. I received a couple copies of the newest issue, M-Brane #5, yesterday and I am delighted with what a nice job Lulu does of printing and binding it. The interior lacks the spot color that PDF version has, and the ads are rendered in black and white, but the print quality is excellent, and much cleaner-looking than one gets by running something off at FedEx like I did for the original print versions of #1 and #2. Also, it is perfect-bound (like a normal paperback book) and the cover is absolutely beautiful, printed in full color on heavy glossy stock.

Writer Robert Keller, who has a story scheduled in a future issue, made a good suggestion to me the other day. While I am happy to have this print version (and the Kindle version) available for people like Robert who like to get it that way, these third-party methods don't net M-Brane a whole lot of income since Lulu and Amazon get nearly the whole take. And that's fine: if we start selling a lot more of them, it will still add up to some extra money over time. But Robert suggested that since the PDF version is still the best source of income for the magazine (at least until ads start selling better), I might want to make that edition somehow different, with some bonus content not present in the other formats. I am considering it but haven't decided what or how yet.  As readers who have followed the zine and this blog from the beginning know, I have been working constantly on finding new ways to generate income and move us along toward the ultimate goal of being a pro publication. The frustrating puzzle that still defies solution, however is this: readers have not yet made the mental shift in large enough numbers to thinking that an electronic publication is something (and therefore worth money), while there seems to still be the persistent sense that something in print carries a lot more intrinsic value. That would be fine with me, but not many people are buying the print version anyway--actually more than I thought would have, but still not in huge numbers yet. Where we are at now seems to be this: enthusiasm for spending a lot of money on print periodicals is well into decline (note all the newspaper and magazine failures that have happened lately or are about to happen), and everyone wants free electronic versions instead. 

Believe me, I would love to make M-Brane free to the world every month, but it's not going to happen until/if it has some kind of other major funding source. I have no means of paying the little bit that I pay to the writers--and certainly no hope of increasing those payments--without income from subscriptions, single-copy sales, ads or donations. It must fund itself. The other option would be to not pay writers at all (thus eliminating a large portion of the zine's direct costs of doing business) but that would be totally counter-productive to my long-term goals and make it impossible for me to get content of the quality that I have had so far. Though I don't pay much, it is something, and that little something gets me stories from a lot of writers who would never consider sending me anything if I were a non-paying market. I think in a few years when there just aren't any more major print periodicals left in the market, this sort of problem will solve itself. I'll navigate as best as I can in the meantime. I am not going to drop my basic insistence, however, that writers' work needs to be compensated somehow and that means ipso facto that readers need to shell out at least a little bit. 

Another possibility that seems increasingly promising is that I may be able prop up the zine's funding by expanding the operation into some other areas such as books. The queer anthology for which I am currently reading, is intended to be a first experiment in creating a product that can generate a profit (even selling by way of third parties) and possibly reach a wider audience than the monthly zine usually does. If this goes according to plan, then I will be devising some other projects, possibly other kinds of anthologies or maybe single-author collections.


 

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