Monthly Archives: May 2008

If We’d Been Abducted By Aliens, The Internet Would Dim for a Week


(picture by Ron Hogan of Galleycat)

Here you see Patrick Nielsen Hayden, me, Markos Moulitsas and Cory Doctorow on that BEA panel about writers and their online communities. Yes, I talked about you. Yes, I said only good things about you, and said you were a wonderful online community. Except for that one time. Let us not speak of that one time. It still wounds me. Let’s move on. The panel went very well, I thought; we talked about some of the challenges of building and maintaining communities and also what impact having such active sites had on our writing of books and our overall careers, and it seemed most folks found it interesting.

Tor brought Cory and my books to the panel, so we briefly did a quick signing (should have been there, folks, you could be reading Zoe’s Tale right now) at which I met Jessica Harper, who was in one my favorite comedies of the 1980s (My Favorite Year), so I told her “Give me a second; I’m having a fan boy moment.” Because she has Merle Oberon’s eyes, you know. As it turned out she had a book, too (a kid’s book), so we exchanged books. It’s fun to meet people.

Today: More meetings, and book-related stuff, and so on, and I think I might stalk David Anthony Durham, because he’s supposed to be at the Convention Center today and it’d be fun to meet him. Shhh. Don’t tell him I’m stalking him. I’d hate to ruin the surprise.

June 17 is Marriage Day

Hey, I just noticed that the day that California will start allowing same-sex couples to marry is June 17.

By coincidence, June 17 is the day I got married. And in California, no less.

So to same-sex couples in California planning to get married as fast as they possibly can: I will be absolutely delighted to share my anniversary with you. And I am likewise delighted that such a significant day for marriage here in the United States just happens to fall on the date my own marriage occurred. It adds to the day, in my opinion, and makes my anniversary that much more special. I hope your wedding on that day will be as wonderful as ours was. And I hope your anniversaries will be, too.

Why BEA is the Happiest Place on Earth (If You Like Books)

Because: just by going to dinner last night, I came back to the hotel room with six new books. Yeah, that doesn’t suck.

The books, by the way: 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, by Tom Moon; The Book of Lies, by Brad Meltzer; The Fire, by Katherine Neville; Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs; The Condition by Jennifer Haigh and Sweetsmoke, by David Fuller. All of us spoke to a dinner of librarians, which was a lot of fun, because if there’s ever a group that you’d suspect wants to hear authors, it’d be librarians.

Off to breakfast with my editors, then the BEA floor, and then many many more books.

Communities, Etc

Hey, before I forget, I’m having a panel tomorrow here at BEA on online communities, and it makes sense that, duh, I’ll talk about Whatever and the community that’s sprung up here. I know what I’m going to say about it, but just in case some of you folks have some thoughts on it — or on online communities in general — drop them into the comment thread. I’ll check this out before I go on the panel and pretend all your smart ideas are my own share your thoughts and wisdom.

Hello, LA

I’m in LA, staying at that most LA of LA hotels, the Westin Bonaventure. I’m here not five minutes, literally on the elevator ride up to my room, when a total stranger turns to me and says “it’s like being sucked into the 70s, isn’t it?” Well, yes. Yes, that’s kind of the point. Now I’m ensconced in my wedged-shaped room looking out at downtown LA, and everything is groovy. No In-N-Out for me tonight (I have an actual, official dinner to go to, to which I may even wear a tie), but soon. Oh, yes. Soon.

Yay! LA! It’s always nice to be home.

Book to Film

Before I submit myself to the gaping maw of O’Hare International Airport, devourer of men, allow me to link you over to this week’s column over at AMC, which provides three reasons (but not the only three reasons) why the film of your favorite science fiction book is generally nothing like the book you love. You’ve always wanted to know, and I’ve always wanted to tell you. As ever, feel free to leave comments there; lots of comments make me look good in the eyes of my AMC overlords.

BookLog 5/28/08

It seems like I just got home, but now I have to get ready to leave again, on account that I will be in Los Angeles at Book Expo America tomorrow through Sunday, having dinner with librarians, doing a panel on online communities with Cory Doctorow, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, doing interviews and signing books. Yes, they’ll be keeping me busy, but not so busy that I will not find my way to In-N-Out. Count on that. Be that as it may, before I went, I wanted to note the books that have come in in the last couple of days. Notes on some of them:

* Luis Ortiz was kind enough to pass along two art-related books he was involved in: Emshwiller: Infinity x Two, which is a Hugo nominee this year in the best related book category and which he wrote, and Paint or Pixel: The Digital Divide in Illustration Art, which is edited by Jane Frank and among others things features essays on illustrations by three artists I’ve been lucky enough to have create my book covers: Donato Giancola, John Harris, and Bob Eggleton. I’m really looking forward to being able to spend some time with both of these, and not just for the pretty pictures.

* Sin in the Second City is unfortunately unreadable — not because it’s a bad book but because it got left out in the rain by the delivery service, and the pages are still drying out. Hopefully it’ll be readable by June 10, which is when the paperback version of the book goes on sale. I do want to read it: books about turn-of-the-century Chicago brothels are strangely appealing to me (more for the turn of the century Chicago than the brothels, actually),

* The arrival of the ARC of Mark Van Name’s upcoming novel Slanted Jack (which comes out in July) reminds me that I have not yet congratulated him for taking this year’s Compton Crook Award, which is awarded to the “best first novel of the year written by a single author… in the field of Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror” and is awarded at Balticon (which was last weekend). The award was for his debut One Jump Ahead. It also comes with a $1,000 cash prize. I don’t think I was even nominated for it when I was eligible; I think I would have remembered the thousand bucks. In any event, well done, Mark. Don’t spend it all in one place, unless that one place is a book store.

* Pyr has reprinted Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man, which made me say “cool!” when I opened the envelope; for various reasons I’m wanting to refresh my Silverberg reading, so this is nicely timed for me. I love it when publishers anticipate my needs, even if they don’t know they’re doing it at the time.

What on this stack looks good to you?

If Dunkin Donuts Could Afford to Be Honest

Their press release for this would read as follows:

Because Michelle Malkin is so appallingly stupid and/or ignorant that it appears that she can’t tell the difference between a paisley scarf and a kiffiyeh, we’re pulling our ad of Rachel Ray enjoying our iced coffee. We do hope that once Ms. Malkin extracts her head from between her own ass cheeks, she stops by one of our many establishments and samples one of our fine iced coffees, any one of which undoubtedly tastes much better than the crap that typically fills her mouth, via her brain, at any given time.

Alas, they cannot afford to be this honest. Alas, also, that Malkin and her spittle-flecked ilk will no doubt see this as a some sort of victory, rather than what it is, which is a large corporation recognizing that some people are just too goddamn simple to attempt reason upon. I mean, really. I’m trying to imagine what it would take for me to believe either Dunkin’ Donuts or Rachel Ray is somehow down with the Intifada, and all I can think is that the number of hammer strikes it would require would knock me unconscious long before my brain could become that scrambled. But I suppose some folks are genuinely committed to such a path. Bless their hearts. Here’s a hammer.

Yes, I’ve Seen the NEW Canned Bacon

Not the bacon that was canned a terrifying 20 years ago and has since waited, a stealth botulism bomb, for an unwary consumer, but all-new tinned nitrated pork belly:

That said, I think I still fear it. Please, none of you send it to me, and trust me, this isn’t one of those reverse-psychology, “no don’t throw me into the briar patch” sorts of thing. Really, I think I would run screaming.

Hat tip to Cary Camden for bringing it to my attention.

New Short Short Fiction (From Me)

Why yes, as it happens, I am writing a bit of short fiction these days, namely a series of short-shorts (i.e., less than 2k words) that will appear in the Subterranean Press e-mail newsletter over the next few months. Even better, some of this short fiction will be interactive: One of the recurring bits will be an advice column for dealing with aliens in day-to-day life, for which readers (meaning, oh, you) can send in your letters asking for social tips for living with the aliens next door. Because you know you have questions. Yes you do.

If you want to get this new short fiction I’m writing, just sign up for the Subterranean Press e-mail newsletter, which you can do off the Subterranean Press Web site’s front page (the sign-up form is in one of the sidebars; just drop in the e-mail address you want the newsletter sent to). It costs nothing to sign up for the newsletter, and also aside from my fiction you’ll learn about various cool new books that are coming out from Subterranean (including, uh, some of mine), plus you’ll get other various special features that pop up in the newsletter from time to time.

So sign up — my fiction will be showing up there within the next couple of issues.

Free E-Book, Me Spouting Off

Two quick bits:

* Australian science fiction writer Simon Hayes and Freemantle Publishing have posted the first of Hay’s satirical Hal Spacejock novels online for you to download and try. Simon sends me copies of the series from time to time (the last one he sent was an ARC wrapped in bacon — thankfully just printed, not the real thing) and they’re definitely fun, and (intentionally) humorous science fiction is hard enough to find as it is. Give it a look and if you like it, they’ll arrange to send you some actual books, at a discount of both the cover price and (should you not actually live in Australia, which I suspect is the case with most readers here) international postage.

* SF Signal asks various science fiction folk which is driving the genre bus, written or visual science fiction, and I provided a response, which was basically to say what makes anyone think they are on the same bus in the first place. Because I’m contrary. On the other hand I do use it as an excuse to blame Avril Lavigne on avante-garde musical artist Glenn Branca, because damn it, someone should be blamed. Why not him?

Reminder: Get Your Viable Paradise Applications In

We’re about four weeks out from the close of the admissions window for Viable Paradise, the one-week writing workshop (September 21 – 28) I’ll be teaching at this year. In addition to me, you’ll also be taught by current Hugo nominee Elizabeth Bear, Steven Gould (writer of Jumper, which was a hit film earlier this year), Hugo Award-winning editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and the equally excellent Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Laura Mixon, Jim Macdonald and Debra Doyle.

Basically, you’ll get your work read and evaluated by some of the smartest people in science fiction and fantasy (and me!). And as a bonus, it takes place on Martha’s Vineyard in September. There may be prettier places to spend a week talking about writing and science fiction/fantasy with some of the top pros in the business, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any.

That said, admissions is very competitive and time is ticking, and we like it when people send in stuff before the deadline. So if you want a shot at coming, you should get at it. Here’s what you need to know to apply. We’re going to have a lot of fun this year — it would be nice to see you there.

The Big Idea: David J. Williams

Terrorism is alive and well and living in the 22nd century – and if you don’t believe that, check out The Mirrored Heavens, in which one of the US’ proudest technological achievements is attacked and US scrambles to respond. Library Journal is calling it a “stellar hard sf debut,” which must make David J. Williams, its author, feel all shiny. Here’s Williams to discuss the Big Idea behind the book, and how The Mirrored Heavens, while taking place a century from now, has its roots in what happening in space right now, here in the real world.

DAVID J. WILLIAMS

I consider The Mirrored Heavens to be cyberpunk where the state never withered away. Instead it grew. And grew. My netrunners (I call ‘em razors) don’t work for faceless corporations, they work for faceless governments (who also mess with their memories). When I started writing the book prior to 9-11, the National Security State wasn’t exactly grabbing the headlines, but the events of the last several years have pretty much confirmed it’s something we’re going to be stuck with for a while. And I’m a firm believer that science fiction affords a unique vantage from which to analyze that State: how it moves, how it behaves, how it responds when under pressure.

Not to mention what it might look like several decades from now. History has always obsessed me (I probably read more of it than I do science fiction, and that’s saying something), so my default approach to writing SF is as future history. When I turned the novel into Bantam, there were tons of appendices: timelines, treaties, documents, schematics, etc. Most of them were cut in the name of page count sanity (they’re now up on the website, www.autumnrain2110.com), but it was only once I’d written those that I felt able to approach the central narrative.

And I deliberately set my future only a hundred years from the present, precisely because I wanted to provide continuity: to be able to explain very clearly how the world we live in today became the world in which my characters dwell tomorrow. As to the nature of that world: I grew up during the Cold War, so maybe it’s just pure unoriginality on my part that this became the direction I took for The Mirrored Heavens. The Eurasian Coalition is a combination of a rising China and a resurgent Russia, and its domination of the Eastern hemisphere in the second half of the twenty-first century becomes the ultimate challenge for the United States, plunging the world into a second cold war that makes the first one look like a tea-party.

Alongside this geopolitical development is a technological one: the weaponization of space. Which is something that’s already starting to creep into today’s headlines. Last year China conducted an anti-satellite test. We did the same earlier this year. From a military perspective, space represents the ultimate high ground. In Gulf War Number One, Norman Schwarzkopf was hailed as a strategic genius following his crushing of the Iraqi army. But the truth of the matter is that it’s very difficult to lose a battle if you can see the enemy and the enemy can’t see you. We had—we have—the eyes in the sky, and the Iraqis did not. (Which is why the only thing that gives the U.S. military trouble today are guerilla movements that blend in amidst a population.) Any nation that wants to challenge the core of our national power will have to do so in the heavens.

By way of analogy, consider World War One. At the beginning of that war, both sides dug trenches. And then they took aircraft—which, by the way, had been around for barely a decade by that point—and sent them over each others’ positions to take a look at what the other guy was up to. And eventually the generals said, you know, can’t we do something about all these #@#$ aircraft that the other side has got flying over our heads. So then planes started sporting guns and started shooting at each other.

Thus it is with space. Space is already militarised—it’s already used for military purposes everytime we look down from the sky with a spysat. But to have it be weaponized would be a big additional step. In my book, such weaponization has occurred in conjunction with the maturation of technologies that currently are in their infancy—in particular, speed-of-light weaponry: lasers, particle beams, xasers, microwave cannon, etc. When Reagan proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s (aka SDI, aka Star Wars) he was proposing exactly these kind of weapons. Obviously the Gipper wasn’t a guy to be bothered in the slightest by the fact that the technology just wasn’t there, but the point remains that the missile shields he was proposing will eventually be entirely feasible (regardless of how we feel about that): weapons architectures that have the dual mission of safeguarding the homeland and taking out the other side’s shields.

So in The Mirrored Heavens, this weaponization of space extends all the way out to the Moon: two superpowers that have divided the whole of the Earth-Moon system between them. And that have occupied the nations of the equator in order to secure valuable launch base real-estate (since it’s cheaper to launch hardware from the lower latitudes). And that have divvied up cyberspace in order to preclude virus attacks—i.e., the Internet gets segmented along geopolitical lines in the name of national security. This is the world into which my characters are born. They’re U.S. agents charged with keeping America safe: an America that has drifted into permanent emergency/martial law in the face of a never-ending threat.

But they live to see a new era. The dawning of the twenty-second century brings fresh hope: because as the arms race accelerates out of control, and Earth’s ecosystem keeps on melting down, the superpowers finally come to their senses and sign a comprehensive series of environmental and political accords. Detente has arrived. Things are looking up.

And then the book starts.

Read David J. Williams’ blog here. Catch an interview with Williams on Fantasy Book Spot here.

Oasis 21 Wrap-Up

As most of you know, I spent Memorial Day weekend in Orlando, Florida for the Oasis 21 science fiction convention, at which I was a special guest. I’m happy to say I had a really good time. Oasis was intimately-sized, and I tried to make myself available as much as possible just by hanging out, so I got the change to have a bunch of nice long conversations with a number of guests and fans, which is always neat. And I got to meet a whole bunch of fans and writers I’d not had a chance to meet before, which is a benefit of going to a convention in a part of the US I’d never been to before.

The organizers and staff of Oasis took excellent care of me the whole convention, although I would single out two particularly helpful fellows: First, Jay Eichelberger, who picked up me and my family from the airport and also dropped us off, and in the interim period also kept an eye on me just in case there was anything else I needed — like, for example, chocolates, which I did in fact need, for reasons that you had to be there to understand (Jay was also the only con staff member — indeed, the only person at Oasis save Guest of Honor David Gerrold — who actually saw either Krissy or Athena, since they were off at Disney/Universal/Atlantic Ocean the whole time). The other fellow was “Scruffy,” who presented me with a cooler of Coke Zero, which instantly made him a Hero of the Convention, as far as I was concerned.

I also got to spend time with Glennis LeBlanc, Mark Wingenfeld and Dan Foster, the booksellers at the convention, who suggested me as the convention’s special guest, and who were a heck of a lot of fun to hang out and gossip with. I’m glad they suggested me (and the suggestion was accepted).

Among the guests and fans, it was a kick to be able to spend some time with David Gerrold; he and I have crossed paths a few times before, most notably at the Heinlein convention, where we shared panels, but this was the first time I got to have some serious quality time with him; he’s a marvelous conversationalist and a generally excellent person. I also got some quality time with Deanna Hoak, who is my favorite copyeditor ever (no offense to the other excellent copyeditors who keep me from looking like an ass) and got to meet both Adam Troy-Castro and Gennita Low in the flesh for the first time. Gennita came up as a visitor to the con but I managed to dragoon her onto a panel I was on (about sex! Who-hoo!). She was excellent. Con organizers, take note.

I also want to take a moment to thank congoers Athena (a different one), Brian and Melinda for absconding with me and getting me out of the hotel for an hour, which was just the bit of decompression I needed, and also Christopher and Melissa for excellent conversation. And beyond them there were many excellent conversations with the con-goers, so many of whom seemed really pleased to see me. Which, you know, is what you want.

In all, a lovely time, and I’m glad I came. Thanks, Oasis, for having me.

RIP, Syndey Pollack

Oh, hell. Sydney Pollack has died. He was among other things the director of Tootsie, which with The Philadelphia Story is my favorite comedy of all time. Pollack played a role in the film as well (Michael Dorsey’s agent), and his chops in front of the camera offer some suggestion why he was so good behind the camera as well. In one of life’s little ironies, my wife just finished watching Tootsie less than an hour ago, and Athena was watching it with her and seeing it for the first time ever. Athena’s verdict: very very funny (she loved it when Dorothy revealed herself as Michael — but then, who doesn’t?).

I don’t imagine Sydney Pollack would or could have possibly known his work had made a new fan even as he said goodbye to this world. But there are worse way to be sent off. I thank him for the movies, and for the laughs, and hope that if there’s an afterlife, he discovers God’s a big fan.

Various & Sundry 5/26/08

Bite-sized things for your consideration:

* First, look what arrived while I was out:

It’s the ARC for Agent to the Stars (in case you couldn’t guess) and it looks great, and it’s out waaay ahead of the October 28 release, but like I care because now I have a copy for myself. I’m greedy that way, I am. I only have two copies so I’m not doing any contests. If I get any more I might, though. We’ll have to see.

* I feel vaguely guilty I was not on top of the Phoenix landing on Mars, but Phil Plait’s been on top of it over at the Bad Astronomy blog, so you can just go over there and see pretty much what I would say if I had been at all paying attention this weekend. In particular, a “what he said” to this entry.

* Shorter Hillary Clinton: It’s Obama’s fault people are focusing on the fact I said I’m hanging around just in case he gets popped. Well, no. The reason people are focusing on the fact that Hillary Clinton invoked political assassinations as even a tangential factor in why she’s still in the race is because it’s was an appallingly tone-deaf thing to say, particularly in the context of a presidential candidate that Fox News commentators feel comfortable casually suggesting that it would be cool if someone could take him out. As with Clinton, it’s nice the commentator apologized for her dumbass remarks, although it’s worth noting that in neither case do the apologies appear to extend to Obama himself, i.e., the guy who would actually, you know, die.

In any event, it’s not too much to hope that we can get through the rest of the election without people suggesting how cool it would be to have Obama murdered and/or imply even tangentially that his assassination would be a real boost to another candidate’s election hopes.

To get back to the original thing here, though, I don’t think Clinton’s attempt at blaming Obama for her own asstardery, or the subsequent blow-up, is going to fly very well, particularly since Obama’s comment about it is that he takes her at her word about the whole assassination thing. Which makes him look good (and even, dare we say, presidential), and makes her look calculatingly petty by trying to whack on him further. She’s trying to kick him while she’s down, basically. It calls attention to their relative positions.

Also, let’s face it: If you say something so stupid people pay attention to it all through Memorial Day Weekend, and of the great, abyssal sinkholes of the entire news year, you’ve really stepped in it. Trying to scrape it off on the other guy isn’t going to work particularly well.

* Married for 80 years. I wouldn’t mind beating that record. I also think this couple’s advice for a marriage’s longevity is both simple and correct. It’s pretty much what we do, too.

Back at Home

And here’s Ghlaghghee, having a good laugh about the “surprise” she’s left me in the house as a “reward” for being away for four and a half days. I fear to see what Lopsided Cat’s left me. It’s probably a deer.

Flights back surprisingly painless: Both left on time, both arrived on time. Can’t ask for more than that. Of course, later in the week I have a connecting flight through O’Hare, so I imagine my flight karma will be back with a vengeance. Look, don’t yell at me for routing through O’Hare. Someone else made my flight arrangements; I just show up to fly.

Anyway, nice to be back. Hope your Monday was restful.