Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
3.3.10: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least two (2) of the following criteria:
- had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue,
- paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
- provided at least half the income of any one person,
- had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising,
- announced itself to be a semiprozine.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I don’t talk about TV very much on this page because I’m not usually that interested in it and I don’t have very many must-see shows nowadays. But Jeff and I have been faithfully viewing the new TV series Merlin. I think it’s one of those mid-season replacement shows, with thirteen episodes in the queue, and I haven’t heard whether or not it’s been picked up for a full season. While it’s not so good that I’d tell everyone that they need to be watching it, there are two things about it that I like and which keep me coming back.
One of those things is simply that Jeff also likes it, and it’s ended up being a TV event that we can share. There haven’t been any of those since Battlestar Galactica ended and Medium went on summer hiatus. Since so much of our time “together” in the house is spent by him relaxing with TV that I’m not interested in (mostly HGTV and DIY shows, and his recent addiction to endless block-reruns of 90210 on SoapNet) while I concentrate on the computer and its myriad wonders (which he is not interested in). So there is a homey comfort in settling down in the same room and doing the same thing, even if it’s just watching a silly TV show and dishing about it as it happens. It’s also an odd choice of show for us to both be willing to watch: neither one of us is particularly into magical fantasy and I have never mustered up much interest at all in Arthurian legend in particular (confession: I’ve never read Mists of Avalon). But I think we would both admit that part of the appeal of the show is that we think the dudes are cute, and we enjoy the silly str8-boy romance between Merlin and Arthur that seems ready to flame up into full-on gayness at any second. I haven’t checked, but I’d be shocked if there wasn’t already some Merlin slash-fic online somewhere.
The other thing I have to admit that I like about Merlin is the thing that would probably be considered its biggest weakness by someone looking at it with a critical eye: it is utterly formulaic. Each time we start a new episode, we know basically how it is going to play out from beginning to end: 1) a magical source of evil/danger appears; 2) Merlin uses his own magic (which he must keep secret) in an impulsive but good-hearted way; 3) Gaius reprimands Merlin for being careless with his magic and risking exposure of his gift; 4) the evil/danger situation escalates; 5) Someone speculates that the danger is from a magical source (Merlin already know it is); this is roundly rejected by the authorities (“Magic!? Ridiculous!”); 5) Somehow it becomes clear to Merlin, often after speaking with the dragon, that the Evil means to kill Arthur (Arthur is always under threat of death and it is Merlin’s purpose in life to save him); 6) Everything starts coming to a head and eventually even Gaius must allow that Merlin ought to use his magic (discreetly) to save the day; 7) Merlin saves Arthur’s life.
That sequence plays out more or less like that in every installment. So it seems like it would be tediously predictable, right? For some reason, however, I find this strangely comforting. It’s a comfort very similar to the comfort found in simply viewing it with Jeff. It’s counter-intuitive, because the fun of it for me is not in being surprised by anything that happens (like it often was with Galactica) but in knowing how it will all work out, and that it will work out just fine by the end of the hour. In this way, it’s a lot like Medium, another show we watch together, in which you can count on essentially the same plot progression happening in every episode—though they switched that up a bit last season by modifying the titular character’s abilities and having more two-part cliffhanger episodes.
So, for as long as it lasts, I expect that we will have a TV night in the schedule.
[The image is of actor Bradley James, Arthur in Merlin].
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
In light of today’s headlines about global warming, environmental consciousness, and “going green,” Bruce Golden’s newest science fiction novel, Evergreen, couldn’t be more relevant. Fresh from the rousing success of his sci-fi novel, Better Than Chocolate, he’s done it again. Evergreen is a vivid, action-packed, entertaining experience based on mankind encroaching on an alien environment.
After deciding at age 18 that he wanted to be a writer, Golden has been writing all of his adult life, working in magazines, radio, and television. His real love has always been speculative fiction. When asked who, or what, influenced his choice to specialize in that particular genre, he responds that first and foremost, he has always loved reading science fiction. “It’s always seemed like a good way to look at the foibles and follies of humankind. You can examine humans through the eyes of an alien or an android, or you can create an entirely new society of civilization, a different future, and see how humans react within it.”
Golden learned to love science fiction and fantasy as a teenager, reading any book he could get his hands on by Robert Heinlein or Robert Howard. He was also strongly influenced as a youngster by Edgar Allan Poe, Rod Serling, and Mark Twain. When asked to classify his style of science fiction, Golden explains he tends to write what is known as “sociological sci-fi,” which places more emphasis on characters and the societies in which they live than on the scientific details concentrated on in “hard sci-fi.”
However, he still has to do quite a bit of scientific research. For his new book, Evergreen, he spent hours in the library and online, studying the timber industry, the history of Lake Tahoe, and the culture of the Washoe, a Native American tribe in the region. He also ran parts of the book by experts ranging from physicists and biologists to archaeologists and geologists.
Evergreen is replete with human drama and conflict: obsession, guilt, revenge, redemption, and decisions of life and death. An expedition, formed by a heretic priest has boarded a ship to the distant planet Evergreen. That priest is convinced an ancient artifact discovered on the planet can prove his theory about the existence of an extraterrestrial City of God. The expedition includes a renowned archaeology professor, his wife, and her ex-lover, the professor’s son. Also on the ship is a young man wracked by the need for vengeance. He believes that the man responsible for his mother’s death can be found on Evergreen, which is heavily populated by debtors and convicts. Already on Evergreen is an exobiologist studying what may be the first intelligent species discovered outside of Earth.
The novel’s complexly drawn characters not only experience conflict with each other, but with the environment of Evergreen, where a “vegetal consciousness” rules. This collective consciousness, alien to man’s way of thinking, is an intelligence that observes the infestation of humans and contemplates what to do about the incursion. The expedition makes a foreshadowing discovery in a primitive cave painting. Tens of thousands of years old, the painting inexplicably depicts a battle between an ancient primate-like species and the forest itself.
I asked Golden where his inspiration comes from. How does he come up with his ideas, and how do these ideas progress into a book such as Evergreen?
“You can get an idea for a short story and write up a first draft in a day or a week. But books are an accumulation of ideas gathered over months or years. Often they’re put together from unrelated scraps of paper put into my idea files.” He says he likes to think his books are very detailed, whether he’s having fun with some underlying satire as in Better Than Chocolate, or being much more dramatic as in Evergreen.
The idea for Evergreen first began to germinate when he stayed with some friends who live in Lake Tahoe. They told him about some of the area’s history, and that inspired him to do more research. “That led to reading theoretical papers on the possibility of intelligent plant life and the physics of creating my own planet, which I’d never done before.” He even incorporated bits related to a group he was part of in the Army. He said that writing a book is the art of putting together a lot of different pieces. For him, the hard part is organizing all those pieces and knowing where he’s going with them.
Golden has a talent for writing extremely realistic and natural-sounding dialogue. I asked him where he learned to write dialogue and how he perfected his skills.
“Though it may be heresy to say so, I think my skill for dialogue comes from being a film fan and growing up with television. Of course, all the books I’ve read play into it too, but movies and TV are dialogue-based, and I tend to think in terms of cinematic scenes when I write. When I create a character, I just seem to have an ear for how he or she should speak. To me, dialogue is all about ebb and flow. Like music, there’s a rhythm to it. The trick is to impart the information readers need to further plot and characterization, while making it all sound like natural conversation.”
What is his advice for aspiring writers?
“Don’t do it. It’ll break your heart and your bank account. Stay away. Be a doctor or lawyer or plumber. No, seriously, you have to love to write—you have to be somewhat of a natural storyteller. Then you have to write, write, and write some more. I’ve been working at being a writer for almost 40 years and I’m still learning.”
Golden has had great success with his novels Mortals All and Better Than Chocolate, so I asked what kinds of reactions he’s received from readers. Golden says 99 percent of the feedback he’s gotten on his books has been positive. He’s received several requests from readers to write a sequel to Better Than Chocolate using his character Noah Dane, but he doesn’t have any immediate plans for that. When asked how Evergreen compares to his previous novels, Golden says, “Well, there are no andrones or celebudroids, and there’s very little sex. I would describe Evergreen as a character-based sci-fi adventure. The only negative feedback I got on my first book, Mortals All, was that I used some very familiar sci-fi themes—that I didn’t break any new ground. With Evergreen, I believe I’ve done a few things rarely, if ever, touched on in the genre. I’m hoping readers will find it as unique as it is entertaining.”
I couldn’t resist asking him what’s on the agenda for any novels he has in the works.
“I have two books in-progress. In one, an advanced alien intelligence culls two different societies from Earth and transplants them on another world. A thousand years-plus later, we find out how the Viking and Native American cultures have progressed. The other book is an apocalyptic tale I’ve been wanting to write for more than 30 years.”
Evergreen, published by Zumaya Publications, is available from Amazon and elsewhere.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
[The following is the complete text of my news/notes column from the upcoming M-Brane #7--the article by Carolyn Crow mentioned in the first item is NOT up yet on the blog, but will be within a day or two. I'll hyperlink some stuff in this blog post for convenience--I can't do that on paper, obviously, and it works so poorly in the PDF version of the zine that I have quit bothering to try. So this is meant to be a sort of online companion to this column in the regular versions of the zine.]
Some news and info:
Read Carolyn Crow’s article about Bruce Golden’s recent novel Evergreen. It’s on page 79, and is based on an interview that she did with Golden. I am also publishing it as a guest post on the M-Brane blog.
My ally in fighting the good fight for the future of short fiction magazines, Jason Sizemore of Apex Book Company (see the ad for some of their titles on page 5), has relaunched the excellent Apex magazine after a short hiatus. I am so happy that he is trying a pay-to-play concept for this new iteration. The Apex website now presents teaser portions of the fiction items which lead to prompts to purchase the issue in PDF form or in the new print version, via MagCloud’s print-on-demand service. To read my recent comments on the matter of monetizing short fiction, along with some reader comments on it, see the blog entry for July 24 [immediately below this one].
Open for submissions this month is the 8 Minutes contest, operated by D.D. Tannenbaum of the newly reconfigured Infinite Windows Press. You can find information via infinitewindowspress.com or 8minutes.info. I hope this contest is successful because it will result in a really cool anthology. Yours truly has made himself available as one of the early-round judges, and final judging will be done by the great Mike Resnick. In addition to cash prizes for the top stories, the twenty-five best entries will appear in the book. I know a lot of writers hate when they see a fee for a contest entry, but if you have a good story that fits the theme and can spring for the fee, please do so because all that money is going directly into paying out the prizes and defraying the publishing costs of the book.
Speaking of contests, our good friends at Brain Harvest are conducting their 2009 Mega Challenge contest (yeah, there’s a fee for this one, too, but also for a good and worthy purpose—like paying writers pro rates). They are challenging writers to use tired tropes and clichés from a list compiled by Strange Horizons and to make them work, to “untrope the tropes.” Winners will be chosen by celebrity guest judge Jeff Vandermeer (whom you can see in a photo on the Brain Harvest site wearing one of their hand-knitted mustaches).
As of this writing, I am all but done with story selections for the queer anthology. I am not ready to announce the full table of contents yet, but you can expect to see it soon on the blog. I’ll mention now that you can look forward to new stories by a few M-Brane alumni such as Abby Rustad, Brandon Bell and Derek J. Goodman [links to all their personal sites are in the M-Brane Writers Links list on the right hand side of this page]. I’ve also scored a couple of excellent reprints, stories first seen in some rather prestigious places. The cover art, which I have not seen yet, but am eagerly awaiting, is being created as I write this by Mari Kurisato whose portraits have become well-known among the genre-oriented Twitterati, so many of whom have enlisted her to create their avatars. If you’re on Twitter, you may have noticed that writers Jay Lake and Shannon Page have fine new public images, both created by Mari. As for the publication date on the antho, that remains to be seen. Selecting the content is the first major step, but there are a lot of other things to tend to before announcing the date. The goal, however, is to have it out not later than sometime in October, because I want to be able to plug it as a finished thing at Gaylacticon 2009 in Minneapolis, which happens in October. I won’t be at the con myself, but I’ve found a couple of nice volunteers to do some promo for me.
Though there hasn’t been a lot of fresh content added to it during the last couple of weeks, we are still percolating the “Shared World,” a new collaboratively created alternate-historical milieu which will be the setting for a future M-Brane project, possibly issue #13 or possibly a stand-alone special publication. Writers who wish to throw in on the creation stage of the world may join anytime on the blog. Just call up any post with “shared world” in its title from the archive and use the shared world label at the end of the post to pull together all the relevant info. We’re pretty well set on the general alternate history premise, but a lot more needs to be figured out yet before it’s ready for use as a fictional world. The reading period for M-Brane #12, guest-edited by Rick Novy, remains open until August 31. While I don’t doubt that we’ll end up with a great issue, I am a little dismayed at how slow the rate of new story submissions has been. Somehow it has fallen from an almost unmanageable volume in June (prompting me to go to form rejections) to a trickle in July. It is true that June followed a reading hiatus in May, and for #12 we are setting a specific reading period for that particular issue, which may mean that some writers are newly writing and revising stuff specifically for it and will be sending it along closer to the end of the reading window. Maybe summer is a slow time anyway—I don’t know, this being the first summer of M-Brane.
The reading period for M-Brane #12, guest-edited by Rick Novy, remains open until August 31. While I don’t doubt that we’ll end up with a great issue, I am a little dismayed at how slow the rate of new story submissions has been. Somehow it has fallen from an almost unmanageable volume in June (prompting me to go to form rejections) to a trickle in July. It is true that June followed a reading hiatus in May, and for #12 we are setting a specific reading period for that particular issue, which may mean that some writers are newly writing and revising stuff specifically for it and will be sending it along closer to the end of the reading window. Maybe summer is a slow time anyway—I don’t know, this being the first summer of M-Brane.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
It's the 40th anniversary of the first landing by humans upon the Moon. If this is not the single greatest technical achievement of the human race, it is certainly among the top five (I'd place the Voyager probes and the Mars rovers near the top as well). It's not a thing that I really think about a lot having lived my whole life after the event and taking it rather for granted as a fact of history. But during the last few days, seeing the images again and hearing the audio again, I have been reminded of what a staggering achievement it was and how it still, decades later, towers over most other human accomplishments.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Right now, I want to mention a new critique message board for writers that D.D. Tannenbaum has started. It's literally brand new, just set up yesterday, and I don't think it yet has many registered users, so maybe some more people will read this and join up. I have not myself participated in at all yet beyond registering, but evidently one can post stories on the message board and then other users can read them and offer critique. It should be fun and useful.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
I’ve been at work on Independence Day every year of my working life, and will be again tomorrow, so I don’t give much thought to the traditional recreational activities associated with it, and generally take the grouchy view that the holiday is little more than a flimsy excuse for non-service sector people to get an extra day off from work (even when it’s on a Saturday). I do, however, like to affirm my patriotism which expresses itself in two major forms: 1) my appreciation for and willingness to fight for our country’s remarkable and resilient Constitution, and 2) my concern and compassion for our military personnel abroad who are in increasing danger as both of the wars enter new phases. Things I don’t do: festoon the house in flags and placard my car with “support the troops” stickers. The first is a phony me-too gesture and the second is useless.
A(nother) moronic political event has happened in my temporary home state that seems well-timed for this holiday. It’s often said that the people get the leaders they deserve. If that is true, then the people of Oklahoma must be some real scumbags. Or at least two thirds of them, the percentage of the electorate that tends to vote for the likes of Jim Inhofe and Sally Kern. Let me tell you about Sally Kern, because you will not have heard of this slavering beast since you do not live here. She’s an OKC-area state legislator who made some news last year with her insistence that homosexuality is a worse threat to America than terrorism. Yesterday she conducted a press conference unveiling her Oklahoma Citizens Morality Proclamation. If you can stand to read this prose-form turd (it’s torture), and if you can get past the first paragraph with all the lurid religious boilerplate, complete with eighteenth-century-style capitalized nouns as if it’s the Declaration of Independence, you will notice two things:
1) It is laced with both direct and indirect references to homosexuality. This is my favorite passage: “WHEREAS, deeply disturbed that the Office of the president of these United States disregards the biblical admonitions to live clean and pure lives by proclaiming an entire month to an immoral behavior.” Aside from the gibbering dumbassity of that statement’s apparent meaning, please note also its clunky syntax, its amateurish style, its near incomprehensibility. The whole document is like that.
2) It is one of those typical, ever-more-common attempts to make a raving nutcase Christian fundie statement sound like it would be endorsed by the Founders by means of cherry-picking quotations or creating dishonest paraphrases of things that people like Thomas Jefferson said. It has become a standard line from the fundies that America is a “Christian nation” founded by “Christians” (and so should always be a country only for Christians, by which they means racists and homophobes—make no mistake: this is a publicly acceptable cloak for white supremism and neo-fascism with all their attendant prejudices such as anti-Semitism, gay-bashing and Muslim-baiting).
Here’s something that Thomas Jefferson—the Founder of Founders, non-Christian deist and the author of the document that Kern’s proclamation parodies—said about it: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.” Here’s something else: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” And he said many, many other things about the topic, not one of which ever endorsed a position the likes of which Kern and her baboons in human guise proclaim. In fact, he was so doubtful about the usefulness and veracity of the Bible, he famously created his own version of it by excerpting the passages that he liked and discarding the rest. Jefferson was no fundamentalist and neither were his contemporaries. Yet this myth persists and is propagated once again by Kern’s stupid proclamation. No real American historian (and by “real” I mean a PhD-holding published professor at an accredited non-sectarian college or university who has studied history from primary sources) advocates or would even be bothered to consider this fundie revision of American history. Let me say that again in a slightly different way, just to make sure that my meaning is clear: the exact number of real scholars who believe in the Kern concept of American history is as follows: zero. It’s one of these made up, phony-baloney debates that the extreme right makes their whole domain of discourse. They make up a debate topic and then blab about it on the 700 Club and their silly grunting radio shows until the general public starts thinking that it’s a real debate. Another example: Creationism. No debate exists about this among scientists—none at all—and hasn’t for a century, yet the fundies have created one and have convinced the majority of Americans (who don’t study it and don’t really know much about it) that there is some kind of epic debate in the realm of science that will be settled in their favor any day now. Another example: Torture. No debate exists about this among people who have studied it, yet the majority of people have been persuaded that torture is a valid debate topic and that on Independence Day, our great nation can somehow remain great if we engage in such behavior.
On Independence Day this year, I am making my own proclamation, or maybe it could be called a secular prayer: “WHEREAS Stupidity has beset and overwhelmed the Nation and the People and eaten out our Sanity, we strive for the Restoration of Reason to the Land.”
[The images are of Marines in Helmand Province (Afghanistan) and Sally Kern in OKC (Dumbfuckistan) asserting her Constitutional rights...that those troops are defending. Hardly seems fair.]
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009