Thursday, December 30, 2010

Amazon's ebook lending scheme unsettles the usual suspects

Amazon has a new feature for Kindle books where someone who has bought one may lend it to someone else for a limited period of time. I'll skip all the really boring details that would only interest a publisher--if even. I'm a small publisher, and even I find the numbers and terms and little nuts and bolts of it really fucking boring. But for Kindle users, it seems pretty damn cool. But for some small e-publishers, it's the end of the goddamned world because people will illegally steal all their books, because Amazon is a hegemonic Great Satan, they will opt out and even pull all their titles from Amazon, et cetera (at least today, and really just in the way that everything Amazon ever does is the end of the world for a day or two until everyone either forgets about it entirely or takes a pill).

I'm a lurker member of a forum for digital publishers. I keep up on what they discuss by way of emails from a Google Group. I have only commented to the group twice in about a year and a half because I generally don't know much about what they are talking about since I am not as big an ebook publisher as most of the other members and I don't feel as smart as most of them on most topics that they discuss. The first time I spoke up in the group was to suggest to some members that they call off the hysterical lynch-mob mentality over that douche in Colorado with the stupid pedophile book on Amazon (that no one would ever have heard of were it not for internet echo chambers). The second time I commented was just a little while ago this evening. This is what I said in response to a thread of comments that seemed overwhelmingly of the "AMAZON IS THE DEVILLL" and "PEOPLE ARE STEALING OUR STUFF" bent:

What about the possibility that lending could attract new readers that you don't have now to buy new titles? That's exactly how it works with print books. Nearly every author that I have gotten excited about and bought books from is one that I learned about because someone lent me a copy of a print book that that they liked or I read something cool that I got from the library and then ended up buying my own copy or buying other titles by the same writer. Or bought a used copy of something and then later bought new stuff from the same author. This is especially true of some of the more obscure and unknown stuff.

Things are always changing with e-publishing and none of it's perfect yet, but I think that any publisher who believes that they can expand their business by NOT dealing with Amazon is living in a total fantasy world. Amazon's not going away and they are not going to give up on all their plans because a few minor pubs are worried about file-sharing. And opting for a lower percentage to avoid the lending scheme is going to do nothing but reduce your royalties and probably ultimately limit your readership. We'll see how this plays out over time, but I will be shocked if anyone loses a dime because of this. Because the people "borrowing" your reader's copy weren't ever going to buy it from you anyway--you didn't even have that customer to begin with and probably were never going to get them. But now you might because someone new, some friend of friend, might say, "Wow, this is cool! Where do I get more?" Almost everything on my shelves of print books got there in exactly this way, and it can work like that with ebooks, too.

So, what does anyone think about this? Did I make any sense, or am I totally smoking something? It just seems like common sense to me that if you have an interesting book and author to offer, then the more people who know about it will ipso facto result in better sales. My little press makes no money, but it brought in a lot (relatively speaking) more in Year Two than it did in Year One. Year Two was a year in which I straight up gave away lots and lots of content just to get it in front of some new people. I'd really like to sell a lot more copies of M-Brane SF Quarterly #1 (a print book, not a Kindle book). While it has not been made available as an ebook, I do have a PDF of it that I could release if I wanted to. I bet that if I gave away a hundred copies of that for free and encouraged those hundred recipients to share it with at least one other person, I would sell at least ten copies of the print book to people who had never heard of M-Brane before. And I'd have at least two hundred people who would have thought about us recently and might buy something from us later. And what I would lose? Nothing. In fact, I'd gain about thirty bucks in royalties from selling ten print copies and I'd get new readers that I didn't have before. Who might buy stuff later. Because of how frakkin' cool our stuff is. I'm considering it. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Issue 23...still late!

OK, I probably owe the one or two people who may have given a damn about it an explanation for the ridiculous tardiness of issue #23, the December issue. Knowing that there was no way I was going to make the normal first week of the month, I announced a date of 12/15. Which I have now missed by two weeks. I could offer excuses, even reasonable ones. But what it boils down to is that I just got so busy with too much other late-year stuff that carried deadlines of Greater Consequence and Dire Urgency.

So here's the current status and the new plan: Stories have been selected for M-Brane #23. But their authors have not been informed of this yet. I will get to that by Friday. Writers generally reply with their delighted acceptance of our publication terms immediately. Indeed, we have published as soon as next day after all writers answered affirmative. We're a machine like that. So a Saturday, January 1 release is not impossible. Yes, I said it: the December 2010 issue may actually release in January 2011. This is quite embarrassing, but there it is. What this means, however, is that January will see the release of two issues (because #24 is coming hell or high water on 1/20, our second anniversary). I'd considered a single double issue, but the numbers bother me. I want 24 to be truly the 24th monthly volume of M-Brane SF, therefore there must be a 23 before it. So what's probably going to happen is that writers will be notified of acceptances for 23 and 24 shortly and the two issues will go into production more or less simultaneously with 23 releasing in a few days, followed by 24 on 1/20. The contents of these two issues plus November's issue 22 will also comprise the printed book M-Brane SF Quarterly #2. As with the first Quarterly, this will contain some bonus material not seen in the electronic editions. The second Quarterly will release sometime in February. And then we'll be rolling into our third year back on schedule and in high style.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book plug: New Apex imprint releases queer zombie novella

Apex Publications offers Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells as part of its new zombie imprint. I haven't read the book and don't know the author, so I can comment on neither directly, but I do know Apex Publications and publisher Jason Sizemore and have a lot of respect for him and his publications. Also, I am delighted any time that I see gay content in the zombie subgenre, which is sometimes rather conservative despite its outré premise (odd also considering that the whole thing derives from a film franchise created by Romero, a lefty). So, sight unseen, I will point people who are into zombie fic toward this novella. That Jason published it is sufficient recommendation as far as I am concerned.

The blurb:

"Curtis, a young college student is dragged to his first gay club by
his best friend Jimmy for a night of dancing, drinking and
least until the dead start to rise and attack the club. Trapped inside
the Asylum are a small band of survivors, including a drag queen, a
male stripper, a Vietnam vet bartender, a pretentious gay couple, and
an unstable DJ.

Will this motley crew survive the hungry undead rattling the sealed-
off doors? Will they survive each other? Will they survive their own
personal demons? Asylum recalls George Romero's classic Night of the
Living Dead--except with more gore and a more current social message.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


[This is much the same post as the announcement on the M-Brane Press site, but I added a personal note and a taunting pic at the end] 

The inaugural issue of our beautiful new fantasy quarterly Fantastique Unfettered is officially released in print today. Edited by Brandon H. Bell (Aether Age co-creator and M-Brane contributor), FU is a "Periodical of Liberated Literature," all of its content released under a Creative Commons license. As such, we think it is probably unique, and we know of nothing else quite like it. As a physical object, FU #1 is a delight to hold in one's hands. It's lovingly designed and full of terrific artwork to compliment the really amazing writing (11 items fiction and three poems). 

We're using a new printer and distribution system for this first edition of FU, and its availability will probably trickle through the system gradually over the next few days, but it is available right now on the Barnes & Noble site with a sweet discount. Our cover price is $9.95, but it can be had on B&N for $7.01. We can't even sell it that cheaply directly, so we are encouraging everyone to get over there and grab it up. We do not have ebook versions available yet, but will have news of that forthcoming reasonably soon.

Please visit the FU site for more information on the magazine, its content and philosophy.
On a personal note, I need to say that I am so proud to be the publisher of this new periodical and so delighted with editor Brandon's fine, fine work in putting it together (not just selecting its content but designing its entire package as well). I am also delighted to be sitting here  holding the first printed copy of it. The jealousy that readers of this post must be feeling now can be alleviated with a quick visit to the B&N site!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Personal writing update: New story out now

Just popping in to plug this book, Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead, from Library of the Living Dead Press. Edited by Bill Tucker, it is an anthology of zombie short fiction focused on LGBT characters, and it contains my new story "The Cairn." I just received my contributor copy of it yesterday and haven't had a chance to read many of the other stories yet, but I have enjoyed what I have read so far and I am delighted to have been included in such a book. Some readers may recall that this book was the subject of some foofaraw on the intertubes earlier this year because it was cancelled by the publisher after some controversy about its subject matter and some people's reaction to such. At the time, I offered some of my own commentary on the matter here and there. Because the book ultimately did get rescheduled and did get published, all that stuff can probably be left in the past, and since I am in the book, I should probably recuse myself from speaking of it anyway. But I will say that there were two very different versions of why the project was originally controversial.

But now that it's done and published, I give major kudos to its editor (who is a very cool guy) for coming up with the premise, and its publisher for taking a chance with such an anthology concept. Long live the Library of the Living Dead!

[Pick up a copy on Amazon and throw in Aether Age and 2020 Visions--free Super Saver Shipping!]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

M-Brane #23 due around the 15th; Some slush-pile thoughts

The new issue will be out around the 15th. I'm still reading for it, and remain rather behind on things. I'm still in the final push toward completion of far too many projects, but the end is near. I've decided it's good enough if I get it out sometime this month and not worry over much about the exact date. As I continue reading for it, I may make a number of short posts on some problems that I am seeing in the slush pile and some thoughts about what I'd like to see more of in this zine. I was reading a few stories out of a collection of stuff published by Amazing Stories back in the late 1920s and 1930s, and I was reminded of a huge problem that blights perhaps as much as a third of all submissions to M-Brane SF. I call it "Professors Talking About Shit." Here, read the following passage:

'It is remarkable.' said Dr. Manners, 'how the scope of our pharmacopoeia has been widened by interplanetary exploration. In the past thirty years, hundreds of hitherto unknown substances, employable as drugs or medical agents, have been found in the other worlds of our own system. It will be interesting to see what the Allan Farquar expedition will bring back from the planets of Alpha Centauri when -- or if — it succeeds in reaching then and returning to earth. I doubt, though, if anything more valuable than selenine will be discovered. Selenine, derived from a fossil lichen found by the first rocket-expedition to the moon in 1975, has, as you know, practically wiped out the old-time curse of cancer. In solution, it forms the base of an infallible serum, equally useful for cure or prevention.'

'I fear I haven't kept up on a lot of the new discoveries,' said Rupert Balcoth the sculptor, Manners' guest, a little apologetically. 'Of course, everyone has heard of selenine. And I've seen frequent mention, recently, of a mineral water from Ganymede whose effects are like those of the mythical Fountain of Youth.'

That is not from the M-Brane slush, but rather the opening paragraphs of a story called "The Plutonian Drug" by none other than Clark Ashton Smith (shown here in the pic at age eighteen or nineteen, rather   attractive if melancholy-looking as a young man) published by Amazing in 1934. In its day, this may have evoked some "sense of wonder" and been really interesting to readers of the earliest sf, but it's well nigh unreadable now and such an opening passage certainly would get a story bounced at M-Brane. Indeed, a lot of stories do open like this and get bounced. And the passage above is actually a lot better than much of what I usually get in the slush, probably because Smith was a talented writer even when he was writing such tedious material as "The Plutonian Drug." But it doesn't let up after those first two paragraphs. It goes on for at least fifteen hundred words in this fashion. Eventually, the story itself starts, which is about Dr. Manners's guest sampling some of the drug from Pluto and having a trippy experience where he sees his own (very short) future. That part's actually pretty decent, but one must first slog through pages of these dudes blathering to each other about stuff that they both know already (selenine, "as you know," practically wiped out cancer). I see story after story after story where various kinds of scientists, doctors, and academics sit for the first few pages and discuss at length whatever the sciencey business of the story is. Instead, I'd rather open with an event happening to the characters that is perhaps based in whatever they are talking about, but bypassing altogether the long discussion of it. Also, characters in very narrow and elite professions, like "nuclear physicist" or "professor emeritus of biology," are especially hard to relate to or care about unless some kind of human action is happening to them right away. They need to be more than their job title.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2020 VISIONS released!

The fabulous anthology of near-future sf, edited by Rick Novy, has finally, after a few little production snags, become available to the reading public. It's available as a trade paperback for $13.95 on here on Amazon. Those of you who pre-ordered copies can expect them to ship to you within a few days. Readers who did not pre-order should grab it on Amazon right away and take advantage of "Free Super-Saver Shipping!" on orders of $25.00 or more by also buying this week's other major release, The Aether Age (if I may make a suggestion).

I'm very proud of 2020 Visions and the fine work that editor Rick and all the great authors did for it. It's a very good anthology, and I think people will be duly impressed. Same goes for the amazing Aether Age, so just go ahead and get them both while you're at Amazon!

Monday, November 29, 2010

AETHER AGE goes on sale today!

After a year and a half of anticipation, from the summer of 2009 when we dreamed up the Aether Age universe in online discussions, the book is finally done and available for purchase. We'd love to see some excellent sales of it today--which happens to also be the fifth anniversary of our publisher, Hadley Rille Books. So go to Amazon to buy your copy of The Aether Age, and consider also picking up another of Hadley Rille's many fine titles (just search "Hadley Rille Books" on Amazon, and you'll find a lot of cool books). And consider, also, picking up a copy of the recently-released M-Brane SF Quarterly #1. 

See the Aether Age trailer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Glenn Lewis Gillette

I just heard the sad news that author Glenn Lewis Gillette has passed away after a fight with cancer. Here is a remembrance of him here on the SFWA site. Please, everyone, take a minute to read it. Glenn was the first author that I ever published in M-Brane SF. His story "Time Enough for a Reuben" led issue #1 in February 2009. When I launched the zine, I wondered if any real pro-level writers would ever bother to submit to my new and very small effort. Glenn's submission was one of the first few--it arrived a day or two after my guidelines went online--and it was the first that I accepted for publication. That issue has been available for free reading on Issuu since its release and it may be read here. Earlier this year, I published Glenn's work a second time, his story "Why Look Down?" in issue #16. I've decided to make that issue available as a free download now. You can get a copy here.

I didn't know Glenn well personally, though we chatted via Twitter now and then. I had no idea he was ill, and I am stunned to know now that he is gone. He was a fine writer with a really quirky, weird, and funny sensibility. He was also very well-read in the genre, a real expert on sf with a lot of awareness of the literature's history. It's our great loss that we have heard the last from his capacious imagination, but also our great fortune that we got to know him when we did.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

M-Brane SF #22 released

The new issue was released tonight in PDF format. It is comprised of a lovely quartet of new stories by Gustavo Bondoni, Patty Jansen, Joseph Auslander, Jr., and Bryce Mainville.

This issue may be purchased here. Money received keeps the magazine going from month to month. Allow a day for response--copies are distributed by way of download links emailed to readers. For readers who prefer print, the stories in the issue will be compiled with those from the next two electronic issues in our next print quarterly omnibus edition, due in late January.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Issue #22 contents announced

Just a day or two before publication, I can finally announce the contents of M-Brane SF #22. The largest number of fiction submissions in a month has oddly yielded our shortest issue ever, a mere four stories. But it is a quartet of gems:

Gustavo Bondoni leads with "Wyrm of the Mangroves," a quite unsettling story of life engineering and created intelligence. Gustavo has appeared twice previously in M-Brane SF. Patty Jansen also makes a third appearance, this time with a rather humorous item titled "The Invisible Fleas of the Galaxy." Next, Joseph Auslander's bizarre "The Delivery" offers a remarkable idea that I really can't say anything about lest I spoil the whole thing. Bryce Mainville wraps things up with "Wild Arms," a thoughtful tale of a near-future young woman and her amazing body modifications.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

M-BRANE SF QUARTERLY #1 in print on Amazon

The big print omnibus, compiling the stories from electronic issues 19, 20 and 21 plus some bonus items is available now at Amazon. It's a lovely book with nearly 300 pages of spectacular work by some really fine writers. Further details can be found in previous posts about the Quarterly and about the individual electronic editions from which it is compiled.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Zine publishing schedule update; slight delay with issue #22

Publication date for issue #22 will be moved from the expected November 1 to November 6. I'm not even calling this "late," just re-scheduled. A few days ago, as I was trying to finalize the content for the next issue, I found that I did not have what I feel is a sufficient quantity of appropriate items for it. So I considered either putting out a short issue on 11/1 or reading some more submissions that I might not have otherwise gotten to this week and delaying publication a few days. It's an odd situation: I have received more submissions than ever in the last month or so (a trend that seems to continue from month to month lately), but the batch hasn't contained a lot of items that have grabbed my attention. I've considered that the problem may lie with me. One night, as I was whittling down the submissions, I realized that in less than two hours I had sent several dozen items to the "no" box without a single one being sent to the "maybe" box. That never happens, so I stepped away and decided I'd better look again later. But whatever the deal is, I think it's best to work on this issue a few days longer.

In other "delay" news, M-Brane Quarterly #1, the fancy print-only omnibus which contains the stories from electronic issues #19-21 plus some bonus items, is done but I am awaiting my proof copy from the printer. As soon as that is here (was expecting it today), I can put it up for sale. I'd hoped to have that out in the world at least a week ago, but life intervened. Stories from electronic issues #22-24 will be in the Quarterly #2 in January, which will also mark the zine's second anniversary. I'll probably have some extra-specialness in store for that auspicious occasion.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2020 VISIONS US pre-order begins

Last night we began the pre-order on the forthcoming anthology of next-decade science fiction 2020 Visions, edited by Rick Novy. Information, including the table of contents and a preview of the cover art is here at the Press page. The more I look at this book (and I have been doing a lot of looking at it lately as we complete the final edit and formatting) the more convinced I am that this is not only a very cool collection of short fiction but also an Important Anthology of This Year. This is some really good work, y'all. People will be impressed. Some doubt may surround it because of the fact that I am a micro-publisher of no real great reputation, but once some people finally read it, the truth will be obvious: 2020 Visions is a really fine book and will soon accrete around itself great gravitas and high stature. The authors in the ToC are no slouches either--we have the likes of Mary Robinette Kowal, Jason Ridler, Alex Wilson, Cat Rambo and many others (even David Gerrold, the inclusion of whom just about makes me swoon). These stories are not conventional, run-of-the-mill stuff either. There's some real adventure and risk here in concept and execution. I'd go so far as to say that some of the stories will appear in this book, rather than in one of the pro mags or in a major publisher's antho, because they are too good, too ahead of the curve, too dangerous for the majors. In a few weeks, readers will be thrilled.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Site construction update

Though I took down the obnoxious "SITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION" banner a couple days ago, I am still entirely unsatisfied with the design and functionality of this site. But it has fallen to deep into the basement of priorities during the past couple months. So I guess it's not "under construction"until I do something to it again. After the next couple book projects are put to bed and the day job gets a little less hectic (both things to happen quite soon), I will probably attempt another redesign and finally make this thing do the stuff I want it to.

Friday, October 8, 2010

LITTLE DEATH available in print

I have been sufficiently swamped with activity lately, that a lot of things that I should have posted about or promoted already have been piling up on the to-do list. Last week, a lovely print version of Little Death of Crossed Genres became available here on Amazon. Electronic versions (in a multi-format bundle) can be had directly from Crossed Genres for a mere ninety-nine cents. Little Death is a publication of erotic genre fiction edited by Jaym Gates and me. It features fine work by Lorna D. Keach, Jason S. Ridler (an M-Brane SF alum), Wendy N. Wagner, Jennifer Brozek (who's also appeared in M-Brane), and Shanna Germain. This was intended as a quarterly zine, but has since been placed on an indefinite hiatus. If this first issue should prove to be the only one ever, then at least it's a terrific one.

Here are my introductory comments from it:

I love with great passion both speculative fiction and sex. That the two can be combined with writing of fine, beautiful quality was a formative revelation to me as a very young man when I first encountered the eroticism in science fiction stories by the likes of Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.) and Samuel Delany. I was at an age when I was too young and inexperienced to really understand these writers’ subject matter but old enough to know that I wanted to understand it. I’d pore over certain fascinating passages again and again, trying to absorb their meanings and implications, awed that writers could say something like that like this. 
Many years have passed since I first discovered that intersection of literary speculative fiction and sex, but it still turns me on just as deeply, and so it was easy for me to accept Bart and Kay’s invitation to participate in The Little Death. Honestly, I probably didn’t really have time in my schedule to add another project, but I felt I would have been a fool to pass on this one. Now that our inaugural issue is complete, I am proud to join Jaym in presenting the five fine stories within, which range across genres and occupy the unclassifiable spaces between them. I hope you will join me in being enticed, thrilled, creeped out, turned on, delighted, seared by words, and seduced.

I much enjoyed this little project, and hope many readers will treat themselves to it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Hadley Rille Books has begun a pre-order special for The Aether Age, our awesome shared-world, alternate history anthology. Eric is offering discounted prices on both the paperback and hardcover editions, with free shipping. Publication date is November 29. When you go to the Hadley Rille site to order your copies (the holidays are coming soon, yo), take time to browse the rest of this fine publisher's great titles and pick up a few more of them. Publication of The Aether Age happens to coincide with Hadley Rille's fifth anniversary, and we hope that they will sell 5000 copies of their various titles (or 5000 copies of The Aether Age..ahem!)

As an added bonus, I will give anyone who pre-orders The Aether Age a free 12-month subscription to the electronic (PDF) edition of M-Brane SF. Just forward a copy of your PayPal e-receipt to mbranesf at gmail dot com, and you're on the subscrips list.

Go here for more info on this book and to see the cool trailer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

M-Brane #21 RELEASED

The new issue is available in PDF form right now, featuring great new work by Cesar Torres, Therese Arkenberg, Kaolin Fire, Ian Sales, Fredrick Obermeyer and Sunny Moraine, with cover art by Mari Kurisato. It's a really good issue. If you are not already a subscriber and would like to see it, the single issue may be purchased right here for only two dollars, and funds thus raised support future issues. Allow about a day for receipt of your copy (copies are delivered by way of an email containing a link).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Harlan Ellison

Dear Mr. Ellison,

Just yesterday, I read this article anticipating your final convention appearance, at MadCon. I had not been aware that you are, as you say, dying, and I am very unhappy to hear that. Though I do admire greatly your own attitude about it and hope that I will feel the same way when my own time comes.  But that's not the subject about which I try to reach out to you today. This is:

"My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I'm concerned. Or God forbid, James Patterson or Judith Krantz should get a hold of The Man Who Looked for Sweetness, which is sitting up on my desk, and try to finish it, anticipating what Ellison was thinking -- no! Goddammit. If Fred Pohl wants to finish all of C.M. Kornbluth's stories, that's his business. If somebody wants to take the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, which has now gone into the public domain, and write an ending that is not as good as Poe would have written, let 'em do whatever they want! But not with my shit, Jack. When I'm gone, that's it. What's down on the paper, it says 'The End,' that's it. 'Cause right now I'm busy writing the end of the longest story I've ever written, which is me."

OK. I totally get where you're coming from (and always love it when you take yet another swipe at Judith Krantz). But for the fucking love of all that's good and decent on Earth, do not burn your unfinished stories! Jeeezus keee-rist on a crutch, dude! Look: your admirers would buy any goddamned thing you have ever written, finished or not. I would right now pay for a hardbound edition of a freaking grocery list typed by you. Please, please, please, rescind this horrible, bloody directive to your wife! You are well acquainted with legal machinations, and I am certain that you could guard in some kind of iron-clad, steam-powered, smoke-billowing titanic way your literary legacy from such obscene ravages as Krantz or her ilk trying to finish your novel. How about this: authorize the publication of at least some of your unpublished items and will the money generated from such toward endowing a scholarship, or maybe even one of the writing workshops like Clarion. Create the "Harlan Ellison Fellowship" or some such thing.

OK. I understand that this unfinished and unpublished writing is entirely your stuff to do with as you please. But you need to understand that you are, to many, many readers and writers and dreamers, an even bigger deal than what even you may have thought. Yeah, even if you keel over right now and all your unpublished stuff is burned as per your orders, you will still have a legacy that may last as long as people read stuff worth reading. But why not go a little bit further? Find some way to make a lasting gift of your unpublished work. You don't owe it to anyone, but do it anyway, if not for your successors who will be inspired by you, then for the cranks who will be pissed off that your name keeps showing up all the time long after you're gone.

Best wishes,
Christopher Fletcher, Editor M-Brane SF
(who read "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" when he was 11 years old and has never been the same since)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Announcing M-BRANE #21 writers and TOC

Here is the table of contents for M-Brane SF #21, due out October 1. The cover art is once again by the fabulous Mari Kurisato. This issue will complete the first "quarter" under the new scheme for the print edition, so its stories and those from the the previous two issues will all appear together in a print omnibus in October along with some bonus material. More info on that will come forth soon.

Cesar Torres:  "The Nagual's Elision"
Therese Arkenberg: "Outlive"
Kaolin Fire: "Thirty Since the Reckoning"
Ian Sales: "Human Resources"
Fredrick Obermeyer: "Harmday"
Sunny Moraine: "Centralia"

I will warn you: this one ain't a cheery issue, y'all. But you won't regret reading it either. This is some really fine and thoughtful work by some fine writers. Other than Sunny Moraine--she's new to me, and I am glad to have made her acquaintance--these folks have been in M-Brane's pages before. Ian Sales and Kaolin Fire are both well known in these genre press lands, and both appeared fairly recently (Fire in issue #15 with "Immersion" and Sales in #19 with "Through the Eye of a Needle"). Fredrick Obermeyer previously appeared about a year ago in #9 with the bizarre "Graftworld." Therese Arkenberg appeared in #4 with "Mother" and in our LGBT antho  Things We Are Not with the spectacular "Reila's Machine." The issue leads off with a fine new story by one of my favorite writers, Cesar Torres. Earlier this year, M-Brane Press published his collection The 12 Burning Wheels.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thoughts on TREK's 44th Anniversary

That Star Trek  debuted on television forty-four years ago this week makes me feel suddenly quite old. I remember vividly another Trek anniversary--the twentieth in 1986. In September of that year, a friend and I published the fourth issue of our monthly Star Trek zine The Alternative Warp. In our youthful enthusiasm, we committed ourselves to making that issue a 100-page spectacular commemorating twenty years of Star Trek. A normal issue ranged from 32 to 48 pages (and we didn't quite make our goal of 100 pages--I think it was about 88 when done). If I had a copy of it here, I would take a pic of myself holding it up and post it here. I doubt many of its original 120 copies are extant, but I believe that my father has one at his home in Wisconsin. Indeed, I am somewhat glad that I do not have my own copy here because I am sure that I would find the whole thing quite embarrassing now and would need to bury it in the bottom of a drawer.

But embarrassing or not, it was the work of fifteen-year-olds, and created with great enthusiasm and attention to detail, and it even had a little bit of fairly high-end content in it as compared to most of our issues. The 20th Anniversary edition featured a fairly extensive interview with David "The Trouble With Tribbles" Gerrold (which he graciously allowed us to conduct with him by phone) and a transcript of a speech by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry that I tape-recorded when I saw him speak at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh and then painstakingly put on paper in columnar format with a manual typewriter. Other items included our "news" pages where we would gather short articles about Trek-pertinent current events. How we even found anything to report on during the pre-Web Era, I have no idea, but we did. The biggest bulk of it was filled with Trek fan fiction, written mostly by my co-editor and me, including a novella-length concatenation of nonsense titled "Peace in Our Time" by yours truly. I don't remember many of its details, but it dealt with a vast and secret infiltration of the Federation by a mysterious alien menace called the "Exoscan." As I recall, the Federation was being taken apart from the inside by this entity as a gigantic spacecraft or huge cluster of linked spacecraft of unknown (possibly extra-galactic) origin moved toward Federation space. It was all very portentous and frightfully epic. (Interestingly, a couple years later, the TV series Star Trek: the Next Generation presented a story about bug-like alien critters taking over the minds and directing the actions of Starfleet personnel as part of an insidious conspiracy. Picard returns to Earth to find Starfleet Command in the thrall of these beings. This was not entirely unlike the conspiracy in my own story).

Over the twenty-four years since then, my enthusiasm for the overall Star Trek franchise with its many TV shows, movies, books and other projects has waned considerably. I did follow faithfully the Next Generation series, the best seasons of which happened during my college years, and I was sad when it ended. I'll still occasionally turn it on when I see that a rerun is on one of the cable channels. I also watched Deep Space Nine. While it took me some time to warm up to it, I eventually became deeply engrossed in the story arc that dominated its last two or three seasons. But it doesn't hold a lot of repeat-viewing appeal for me. The Voyager series had a lot of good in it, but was very troubled and it was during its run that I realized that I didn't necessarily have an obligation to see every single episode of any show bearing the Star Trek brand. The last of the TV shows, Enterprise, was deeply disappointing. It had so much potential to rekindle what was great and fun about the Original Series and almost unerringly missed the mark, particularly when its creators made the inexplicable decision to sink the whole thing into a lame long-running story arc that only the most hardcore Trekker could have cared about. Also, the feature films of the last couple decades have been a mixed bag. While First Contact was wonderful, Insurrection and Nemesis were very weak (the former with too small a story for a feature film, the latter with a really big one that was realized in too small a way). The Abrams re-boot film last year was very entertaining but wholly preposterous.

None of these disappointments, however, have stripped away the luster of the Original. It remains, to my eye, one of the most lovely, most charming and engaging things of the whole television era. When I first got a DVD player, I set about collecting the entire Original Series on disc, and I still reach for these discs when I want some soothing ambient light and sound. I don't even necessarily watch the episodes: they might just be playing in the background, and more often than not, I will fall asleep on the couch halfway into it. There has never been anything quite like it; no other show has ever even looked or sounded like it. It's a thing of its period, the 1960s, yet seems to stand slightly outside its period and culture, as if it intruded from an alternate timeline just a little bit different than our own. And it's just plain weird and cool and hypnotically re-watchable. The worst episodes of Star Trek are better than almost any currently-running television program. Right now, as I finish this post, I am half-watching/listening to one of the best, "Mirror, Mirror" on the CBS website.

[The images are of Leonard "Spock" Nimoy as he appeared in the original, un-aired pilot "The Cage," and William "Kirk" Shatner as he appeared in the second pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Because of some kind of TV scheduling weirdness, however, even this second pilot was not the first episode shown on TV. That honor went to the fifth episode in production order "The Man Trap," the one starring the shape-shifting salt vampire]. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

M-Brane #20 released

The new issue is available in PDF format. As predicted, it's late, but only by a day. It contains great new work by some really great writers (see previous post for table of contents). Its contents, along with those of the electronic editions of #19 and the forthcoming #21 will appear in the first M-Brane SF Quarterly in October, a print-only omnibus which will also feature some bonus material not present in our e-versions.

The issue #20 PDF can be purchased for $2.00 using the Pay Pal button below:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

M-Brane #20 ToC

I am ridiculously late in the month on announcing these details, but below is the table of the contents for the September issue of M-Brane SF, our twentieth.  But first, check out that awesome cover art. The great Mari Kurisato, who provided the double cover for Things We Are Not, created it (including the sweet rocket ship logo).    Though it will certainly embarrass her if I say this, I will do so anyway: Mari rulz!!

Here are the stories, about to be released from our brane:

Will Kaufman "Cooper and the Satellite"
Garrett Ashley "FAL 2020"
Natasha Simonova "The Scrying-Glass of Doctor Dee"
Michael Andre-Driussi "Hardboiled Proust"
Jennifer Brozek "Family Duty"
Colin P. Davies "The Booby-Trapped Boy"

As is fairly typical of an issue, this one features a mix of pro writers  and relative newcomers each of whom showed me something that made me say, "Oh yeah, that's just what I was looking for right now." As a package, the content this time is fairly wistful, sometimes frightful, sometimes funny, and altogether fascinating. It's a bit different in mood than the last issue, maybe not as out-and-out weird, but somehow very right for September. Of the authors, Kaufman, Ashley and Simonova are entirely new to me, and I am delighted to make their acquaintance. Each of them has delivered a remarkable and rather edgy story in their own unique ways.  I have published Andre-Driussi a couple of times previously and each time he offers a story very different than the one before it. Davies will be a familiar name to a lot of readers because he has been widely published for many years, though this will be his first appearance in M-Brane, with a very thoughtful tale. Brozek is well known in the small press world as a writer and an editor, and I am pleased to include her very dark story this month. Coincidentally, I am about to have a hand in publishing her twice: while this is her first appearance in M-Brane SF, she is also appearing any day now in Little Death of Crossed Genres #1 which I edited with Jaym Gates, forthcoming from Crossed Genres.

The new issue may be a day or two late. This has never happened before, but August afforded me many opportunities for difficulty as far as keeping up with my expanded List of Stuff to Do. It was a great month in many ways, but maybe a bit too great as far as the task list. But, you know, onward and upward.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Sometimes life really does get in the way."

I've decided to aggregate here links to some of the blog posts that friends and fans of the late Jamie Eyberg have put up this week. I'm sure these aren't all of them (and people may leave more in the comments if they wish), just some that I have read since last night. My own words fail me in this situation. I can't quite figure out how to express what this loss means to me nor exactly why I feel it so strongly. One thing I am certain of, however, is that when people assert that life online isn't "real" life, that when they say that contacts with people by way of the internet and its social media is not "real" human interaction, those people could not be more wrong. It's different than face-to-face contact, but it's still real. Because I exchanged remarks with Jamie by way of Twitter quite frequently, I know that he liked to enjoy a beer, as do I. Sometimes, I knew that we were doing this "together" even though we were hundreds of miles apart and had never met in person. That I published him in M-Brane and got to know him casually by way of Twitter is different than if we had been "real" world friends, but it was certainly real to me. And the deep pain of loss that I feel now is certainly real. I'm sure the following people would agree:

Aaron Polson
Cate Gardner
Jeremy Kelly
T.J. McIntyre
Brian Keene
Andrea Allison
Gabriel Beyers
Barry Napier
Jeremy D. Brooks
Rebecca Nazar
Natalie L. Sin
Danielle Ferries
Kody Boye

The general profile of the names on that list give an indication of what a talented and creative person Jamie. He was always there for his fellow writers, popping in on their blogs or hailing them on Twitter with encouraging words. His own blog was regular stop on the web for so many of us. I've read his last post there (from which I took the title of this post) about twenty times, savoring its normalcy and wishing there could be another.

Kody's post contains information about a fundraiser that Library of the Living Dead Press is doing to raise some money for the memorial fund for Jamie's young children. The family requests that memorials be made to the Kennedy and Brendan Eyberg account at Iowa Savings Bank in Coon Rapids, IA.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jamie Eyberg

I just heard the terrible news that writer Jamie Eyberg and his wife Ann have died in an accident where they were overcome by some kind of gas leak in a well at their home.

I never met Jamie in person, but I felt like I knew him well from our many conversations on Twitter. He was a very fine writer, and he will be missed by many, many people.

I had the privilege of publishing him once, his story "Winter Solstice" last year in M-Brane SF #8.  As a small kind of memorial to Jamie, I am making that issue available for free download here, and it will remain so permanently.

I am not yet aware of any kind of fund or charity being set up for their children, but if hear of something, I will pass that information along also.

A memorial guestbook for Jamie is located at this link.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

2020 VISIONS contents announced

Yesterday Rick Novy, editor of our forthcoming anthology of near-future science fiction 2020 Visions, announced the table of contents. I repeat the list here:

Mary Robinette Kowal – “Birthright”
Sheila Finch – “The Persistence of Butterflies”
Randy Henderson – “A Shelter for Living Things”
Jason S. Ridler – “Showing Light”
Ernest Hogan – “Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs”
David Lee Summers – “The Revelation of Thought”
Jeff Spock – “Teh Afterl1fe
Emily Devenport – “If the Sun’s at Five O’Clock, It Must be Yellow Daisies”
Cat Rambo – “Therapy Buddha”
Jack Mangan – “Dead Rookies”
David Boop – “Organ Cloning While You Wait”
Spencer Ellsworth – “The Black Plague of Our Generation”
Gareth L. Powell – “The Bigger The Star, The Faster It Burns”
Alethea Kontis – “Pocket Full of Posey”
Alex Wilson – “Nervewrecking”
David Gerrold – “Time Capsule 2120: Actual Comments from Lunar Tourists”

I am very excited about these stories and about seeing all of these particular writers in a single table of contents. It's a terrific mix of pros, semi-pros and newcomers who all found something astounding to say about the world a decade hence. I let Rick read and select stories without nosing into his process at all, so seeing the resulting ToC for the first time was as pleasant a treat for  me as I think it will be to many readers. A couple of these writers I have published before in M-Brane SF (Cat Rambo and Jason Ridler), while Alex Wilson appeared in my GLBT anthology Things We Are Not last year. A couple of the names were altogether new to me, while I was familiar with the work of many of the others.  Rick plans to profile the authors on his site over the coming weeks, and the first of those profiles (of Mary Robinette Kowal) is up now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Comments on vanity presses

Writers may be interested in this post over on my Live Journal about vanity publishers. It contains a link to an article on the Writer Beware blog about a fraud operation which evidently stole a bunch of money from writers. It seems to me that access to print-on-demand by nearly everyone should end these kinds of problems.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The "One Lovely Blog" Award

I am honored that this site was selected for the lovely One Lovely Blog Award by writer TJ McInytre, author of the Southern Fried Shorts flash fiction site (himself another recent recipient).  It's a fun way to spread word about cool sites and boost each others' signals. TJ's post about the award and his 14 other selectees for it can be found here on his Live Journal.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book projects in motion this week

It looks like it's going to be a busy next few months around here. In addition to the regular monthly zine, I have coming very soon the first issue of Little Death that I am co-editing with Jaym Gates for Crossed Genres. Later, we have the launch of Fantastique Unfettered, our new fantasy quarterly, edited by Brandon Bell. Also, I will release the first of the new quarterly M-Brane print omnibus editions in October. And then, we have four books all due out before the end of the year, all of them with uncertain publication dates (but which are now becoming more certain).

I just heard from Eric T. Reynolds of Hadley Rille Books, our great collaborator and publisher for The Aether Age, that he has in hand the print proof for the advance reader copy of the book (which he describes as "beyond amazing"), and that reviewers should have those ARCs soon. And this means that we are very close to being able to finally announce the publication date and hopefully put up some kind of cool pre-order deal on it.

A couple days ago, Rick Novy completed story selection for 2020 Visions, our forthcoming anthology of very-near-future fiction. I cannot wait to announce the ToC for this one. Rick has put together a really great group of writers for this book. I am confident of publication by November 1, or at least not much later than that.

The fabled "M-Brane Double," my long-held dream of publishing a book reminiscent of the old Ace series of short novels published back-to-back in tete beche style, moves closer to reality. One of the two halves is still undergoing some work, but I think we might be able to manage a late September release on this one. The two authors, Alex Jeffers and Brandon Bell, have crafted drop-dead beautiful stories for this book, and I cannot wait to show them off in the fancy package that I have planned.

I hear from Mike Griffiths that he has been busily workshopping, revising and editing his Skinjumper, a full-blown novel-length realization of the milieu that he sketched out in a series of short stories last year. Full of body-swapping, gender-bending danger, this story should be great fun, and we will publish it before year's end.

Even if all the books are not out by November 1, I plan to have the hardest part of the work on all of them done by then because I intend to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I guess I'll sleep in December.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

M-BRANE #19 released

The new issue has just been released to subscribers in PDF format. This issue, and subsequent ones, will not have a print edition. The contents of this issue and the next two, along with some bonus material, will form M-Brane SF Quarterly #1 in October, the first of the new quarterly print version. Links to subscribe to the monthly PDF or find back issues in PDF and print may be found at the M-Brane Press page. That site's "under construction" period continues, but it's functional.

Also, on the M-Brane Press page, I had been offering issue #17 from June as a free sample of the magazine, but I have replaced it with the new issue #19. Because of an appearance in #17 by the first-rights-reselling author mentioned a few days ago here and in many other places, I don't feel good about free distribution of it any longer despite how good its content was. I may produce a redaction of it, excising the non-original piece, and then repost the link to that issue.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Right-wing submissions

I got a snarky email the other day which seemed to allege that I am something of a hypocrite because I "act all liberal" and yet won't publish anything in M-Brane SF that is of a right-wing bent. In fact, I have published a few stories related to economic and climate issues that come from an obviously right-wing point-of-view, and I am about to publish a story in M-Brane #19 that is obviously political but which is also uncomfortably ambiguous as to where it sits on the political spectrum, and it may raise some eyebrows because of that. 

But the fact that I "act all liberal" should actually be a clue that I don't generally want conservative politics in my zine. I don't see the fact that I reject, as a matter of policy, items that seem to advocate for religious fanaticism, sexism, homophobia or Glenn Beck as being inconsistent with how I represent myself. Being a "liberal" (which I am) does not mean I have to be liberal about putting up with bigotry and irrationality. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Indeed, to put a finer point on it, it means that there is an actively enforced (if unwritten) policy of not accepting such material for publication. So the emailer, or any other submitters, should not be surprised if I pass on so-called "Christian" material or items which advocate by implication the assassination of President Obama. Indeed, it should be assumed that I would be repelled by such. And it's not "censorship" that I reject expressions of such deranged ideologies, since most of the rest of the media seem very open to them. It's a "free market" in general. But this particular one happens to be closed to such nonsense.

It's like they think they have "caught" me in something: "Ah ha!  He says is open-minded, yet he rejects the 700 Club!" As if that's an inconsistency.

Back to the slush.

Friday, July 23, 2010

M-BRANE #19 ToC announced; change planned for print schedule

Finally, over a week later than planned, I have a table of contents for the August 1 issue of M-Brane SF. Most of the writers were notified just last night that I'd selected their stories, but they were all quick about returning their publication agreements, so I can make it official now:

Shawn Scarber: "Burnt Benediction"
Bart Leib: "Flip the Switch"
Ian Sales: "Through the Eye of a Needle"
Jacques Barbéri (tr. Michael Shreve): "Isanve"
Jason S. Ridler: "4x40 Killers"
Regan Wolfrom: "A Step Beyond the Rain"

All of this month's authors are first-timers in the pages of M-Brane SF. Shawn Scarber, a Clarion West grad and lover of weird fiction, offers a vision of a future or alternate-world priest and his strange mission for the Church; Bart Leib, known to many of you as co-editor of Crossed Genres, delivers a terrific reimagining of humanity's first step off this world; British writer Ian Sales opens a window into a possible post-climate-catastrophe dystopia in the politically-charged "Through the Eye of a Needle"; Michael Shreve brings us the translation from the French of writer and musician Jacques Barbéri's "Isanve," a lush tale of strange intelligent automata and someone's literal soul. Shreve is a writer and translator living in Paris, and Barbéri is the author of over fifteen novels and many short stories; Jason S. Ridler's bizarre and creepily erotic "4x40 Killers" delves into long-simmering resentment between two friends and its incredible resolution; Regan Wolfrom's somber and thoughtful tale of two sisters in a colony on Titan concludes the collection. Wolfrom will also appear with "Birth of Hellas"in the forthcoming The Aether Age.

With the new issue comes a major change in the schedule for the print-on-demand editions of M-Brane SF. The monthly editions, offered by way of our Lulu store, ended with issue #18. Henceforth, the print version will be a quarterly omnibus consisting of the stories from three issues of the monthly electronic versions. In other words, the August stories will be featured in M-Brane SF #19 (electronic) on August 1, and in M-Brane Quarterly #1 (print) in October, along with the items from the September and October electronic editions. Also, we'll probably have some bonus content for these print quarterlies that will not appear in the electronic monthlies. The goal is to produce a somewhat fancier book with better distribution than the Lulu monthlies have had. This new version will be available in more places, such as Amazon, and at a cheaper price per volume as compared to buying three issues the old way, so I think it will be a win for the readers as well as the writers.

Enhancements to the electronic offerings are in the works as well, such as a new epub edition, which iPad and Nook users have been wanting for a while. We stopped putting new issues in the Amazon Kindle store a few months ago for various reasons, but we may resume that as well in the near future.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writers guidelines updated

A slight change has been made to the last guidelines update (from January). M-Brane SF no longer considers reprints. While I haven't (knowingly) published very many, I used to be open to them. But, alas, no more. Also, we now acquire First World English Rights rather than First North American Serial Rights, and we are serious about the "First" part of that phrase. Evidently some writers (or at least one that I know of so far) find it acceptable to shop the same story around to different zines and actually contract for "First" rights more than once, without ever mentioning previous publication. Here this is frowned upon, and is actually downright dangerous to one's prospects of getting published anywhere else since I am an email away from about 1000 other genre press editors nearly all of whom would take a similarly dim view of such chicanery. Other than the fact that I now consider previously published work dead to me unless you are the Second Coming of Samuel Delany (or Delany himself), I am as easy to work with and writer-friendly as ever.  The guidelines now read as follows:

UPDATED 7/19/10
to change advice on REPRINTS from "Maybe. Query." to "No."

First, the bullet points. I'll elaborate on them somewhat below.

GENRE: Science fiction (any variety)
NOT: Horror and fantasy unless it has a strong science fictional underpinning; not into paranormal/occult; In Search Of...type myths-and-monsters stuff, UFOs, ghosts, Big Foots, Loch Ness Monsters, Yetis, chupacabras, etc.
WORD COUNT: no lower or upper limit, though be advised that I'm not the biggest fan of "flash" fiction
SIMUL-SUBS: Yeah, sure, who cares? Just let me know that it is one.
E-SUBS: Only. I'll not look at paper mail (and won't even give out an address for such).
SUBMISSION FORMAT: Standard mss format is just great, though I don't really care so long as it's readable. All submissions should be sent to as anattachment in .doc or .docx or .rtf form.

If you want to know more about my biases before dashing off your mss, continue reading below....

Genre: I've been getting a lot of straight-up horror and dark fantasy submissions lately. While I may welcome elements of these genres, the stories still need to be somehow science fictional. In other words, the speculative or weird elements should be grounded in some kind of development of science, technology, or society that has (at least within the context of the story) a rational basis. No magic or wizardry or supernatural evil, please. As for specifically what sorts of sf I like best, it's hard to pin down. My mood changes over time. Lately, I am not as excited as I once was about space opera and epic galactic empire stories. On the other hand, small-scale character-focused stories set in such a milieu might work. I have seen scores of stories during the past year focused on the shenanigans of university professors and their students (usually involving time travel or some other secret lab project). I'd like to not see so many of those in 2010, thanks. And time travel in general, even without professors, is wearing me out.

Nowadays, I like hard sf with strong characters and softer sf with a literary bent. Weirdness is great if not supernatural in its origin. I like most of the "punk" subgenres fairly well as long as there's a story supporting the aesthetic. M-Brane has been characterized by at least a couple of readers as dystopian. If true, it's not deliberate; hopeful, positive-outlook tales are welcome, too, and I am personally very technophilic. M-Brane SF is open to fiction with queer/LGBT content. Also, this zine is not aimed at children, so adult language and erotic content is not excluded when it makes sense in a story.

Payment is still a paltry $10.00 flat per story paid on publication, with an option of taking instead a subscription to the PDF edition of the zine. For this meager fee, I ask for First World English Rights with all remaining rights reverting to the writer upon publication. Payments are made exclusively by Pay Pal.

Reprints: Consideration of reprints has been ruined for everyone.

I'm not offering any payment for art at this time. But I'll look at it and consider publishing it. I can offer some fairly good exposure for it on the blog as well.

I have not yet published much of this, but I would still like to see some. I am interested in thoughtful pieces about sf authors and books, interviews and scholarly criticism. I am not currently offering payment for non-fiction, but any that I take for the magazine will also get published on the M-Braneblog.

A note on manuscript format:
I run a "green" operation. I don't print anything. No paper or ink are killed in reading stories for M-Brane. I do all of my slush reading on my screen, and every submission I receive ends up getting reformatted into a style that suits me best for this, which is why I don't care much about manuscript format. If I accept your story for publication, however, I may ask you to repair your document if it's formatted in web style with no indents and double spaces between paragraphs and if it resists for some reason easy reformatting on my end. I've been getting docs lately that have been causing me a lot of work in manually removing formatting weirdnesses. M-Brane looks like a traditional book with paragraph indentations, and with double spaces between paragraphs used only when there is a scene break.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

FANTASTIQUE UNFETTERED opens to submissions

It's a big day in the M-Brane Press world as our new zine, Brandon Bell's Fantastique Unfettered, opens for submissions. Visit the Fantastique Unfettered site and click the Guidelines tab if you are a fantasy writer with some great new stuff to present. This quarterly zine will appear in print and electronic formats on a quarterly basis starting later this year. We're very excited about it!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Ruins of Earth

I haven't been reporting on personal reading or making book recommendations a lot in recent months. My reading time has been so scattered among so many different things, including reading lots of unpublished stuff for projects that I am editing, that it's been hard to keep track of it all. I have, however, been taking in a good deal of short fiction that I have had sitting on the home library shelves for a long, long time but never made it to previously. I recently noticed this gem, sitting long-ignored on a lower shelf, The Ruins of Earth, "an anthology of stories of the immediate future" edited by Thomas Disch back in 1970.

Considering that within a month or two, M-Brane Press will probably be announcing the publication date and table of contents for Rick Novy's 2020 Visions (also an anthology of stories of the immediate future), I thought it would be interesting to see what another editor had pulled together forty years ago around a similar concept. But while our forthcoming book is intended to present an array of possibilities about a very specific year, Disch's book is themed very much around ecological catastrophe and the assumption that such is coming in one form or another (a concern familiar to people now, and which perhaps feels more imminent). He organized the book into four sections titled, "The Way it Is," ""Why the Way it Is," "How it Could Get Worse," and finally, most pessimistically, "Unfortunate Solutions."

I have not read all of the stories in the book yet, so I won't comment on them, but what makes me consider this book something of a gem is its remarkable table of contents. Lesser-known works such as Kurt Vonnegut's "Deer in the Works" and Fritz Leiber's "America the Beautiful" and Gene Wolfe's "Three Million Square Miles" are combined with well-known items like Daphne du Maurier's "The Birds" (the basis for the eponymous film by Hitchcock) and Harry Harrison's "Roommates" (the seed for his novel Make Room! Make Room! which was the basis for the film Soylent Green) and Philip K. Dick's "Autofac." I chose as the first item to read (last night, as I fell inevitably asleep on the couch), J.G. Ballard's "The Cage of Sand." Though I haven't finished it yet (sleep, you know), as I started reading it I felt myself settle comfortably into one of Ballard's uncomfortable worlds. This one starts with someone in a hotel building which is evidently getting overtaken floor-by-floor by drifting sand, and it has the flavor of one of his 1960s catastrophe stories, The Drowned World or The Wind From Nowhere, both of which I like a lot.

A book like this is the answer that I wish I could give to the various people over the years (looking at you, Jeff!) who sigh and wonder why it is that I ever need to buy another book and why we must move from home to home cases and cases of books that I may never read again and which I may never have read in the first place. I bought The Ruins of Earth as one of a thick stack of books that I lucked into at a thrift shop about 12 years ago. It still has a fifty-cent Goodwill price tag on its cover. Did I need it right then? Probably not. And it did sit for over a decade, and moved to several new homes, untouched except to pack it into a box and then unpack it to put it back on its shelf. Until last night, when I was looking for just the right thing to read before sleep time, and I saw it on the shelf and said, "Hmm. What's this one about anyway?" And that's why I bought it all those years ago.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


This recent post from Jason Sanford gets to the heart of something that has bugged me for years, and he gives a great example of it by pointing to a micro-press lit mag which says in its writer's guidelines: "Unsolicited submissions must be accompanied by a receipt for a hardcover or paperback from a real-life bookstore." The rationale for this piece of douchebaggery is: "We believe that there are more people who want to be published in literary magazines and small presses than there are people buying these magazines and books. This program is not meant as the solution. There is no one solution."

There's a lot that's wrong with this. Sanford, in his concise rebuttal, points out that not everyone lives near a brick-and-mortar bookstore. This is not only true, but getting truer by the day. A couple weeks ago, I needed new glasses and I had an eye appointment and bought new glasses at the Lenscrafters store in the St. Louis Galleria, the biggest fanciest shopping mall in the St. Louis metro area. While I could give a fuck about 99% of the contents of the mall, I figured I could at least pass the hour while I waited for my new glasses to be made browsing in the bookstore (or, at the very least, wander into Abercrombie & Fitch and gaze at wall-sized photos of comely half-naked youths). I vaguely remembered that they once had two bookstores in that mall. I figured that wasn't true anymore, but I thought the crappier one of the two still existed. But no. This gigantic "upscale" shopping aneurysm that is the Galleria has ZERO bookstores in it nowadays. Not a fucking book or magazine to be found anywhere in all its square mileage of retail valhalla. Oh, and there's not even an Abercrombie & Fitch either! And this in a mall that has north AND south locations of Sunglass Hut AND Sunny Shades (not even counting their in-store kiosks within the anchor stores). I was so freakin' bored, I made phone calls. Phone calls! I couldn't even go browse in the Apple Store because it was iPhone pre-order day and the whole place was under the control of Imperial Stormtroopers.

But I digress. The real point is that times, as usual, are changing. A lot of people never lived near a bookstore in the first place. A lot of people have seen their nearby bookshops vanish. And a lot of people (like me, for example) who do have some bookstores nearby (though not in the Galleria) often prefer the convenience and selection of the online retailers. People can piss on Amazon and B&N and the ebook publishers all they want, but the existence of these things has made more authors' work more available to more people than what was ever possible in earlier decades. People who live in the backwoods of Idaho or Manitoba can read the same stuff that someone in New York City or London can nowadays, and that was absolutely not true years ago without a lot of work and expense on the part of the person living in a remote area.

But this is all a sort of side issue. The real problem is that there are simply not enough readers of any kind anymore. In the US, the percentage of the population who buys and reads book is tiny (single digits). And of that tiny wedge of the population, the percentage that reads fiction of any genre is incredibly small. And of those who read fiction, the number who are reading "literary fiction" in "literary" journals is smaller still. Smaller to the point of being virtually non-existent outside of the literary and scholarly types who themselves would like to write and publish such fiction. This probably sounds familiar to any genre editors who wish more people would buy their zines. Ever wonder if we're doing it for anyone other than other writers and editors? So, in the genre press, we have this problem as well, and we are way more popular than the "literary" zine press. It's pretty discouraging, and I'd love if the lit mags would find an answer to the problem, but I think the problem is too big and they're too small. And getting smaller all the time. Making writers send receipts showing that they walked into a "real"  bookstore won't stop the shrinkage.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Info-dump and world-building

I spent the last three hours weeding through new submissions to M-Brane SF, and I realize that the number one reason that I pass on a story--even over clumsy writing--is probably the way a lot of writers choose to lay in the information about their world, the way that many of them (probably feeling a need to get a lot of details in front of the reader) fall into dropping in a big fat info-dump rather than finding less intrusive ways to insert these details.

In science fiction, it's probably an easy ditch to fall into since, of course, the writer wants to present the awesome new world that her story is set in and make as clear as possible what cool or weird circumstance is driving the story. But what I see happening again and again in submissions are long scenes (sometimes even entire stories) that consist of characters sitting across a desk from each other discussing a situation in way that is entirely contrived to convey a lot of information to the reader but which doesn't ring very true as far as how real people would behave. It's the old "As you know, Bob," problem. As in, "As you know, Bob, ever since the founding of the Terran Douchebaggery, access to android porn has been severely curtailed." And while that may be an important bit of info to get out there, there must be some way to do it without making one's characters sit in an office rehashing information that they themselves certainly must know already.

Another variation on this that I see a lot of is where the story is going along swimmingly and the all of a sudden a giant info-dump shows up in the form of a secondary character revealing to the protagonist what's really been going on all along. I just read one where the writer had managed to set up very evocatively a great setting and had suggested a strange mystery and shown some clues toward its possible meaning, when suddenly about three-quarters of the way into the story..."I'm sorry I couldn't tell you this earlier, Bob, but actually you've been assigned to our new project of breeding half-human/half-android beings. Which you never heard of before, nor had any reason to suspect. But still. Sorry." I read another one like this a couple weeks ago which I enjoyed so much through most of the length of it that it was almost heart-breaking when it all went to hell in this fashion right at the very end. It's almost as disappointing as "It was all a dream."

I'd be interested in hearing what other writers have to say about ways to lay in rich detail in their stories but avoiding the info-dump. Or even ways to use an info-dump effectively so it's not dull or distracting, because it can be done sometimes.


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