Monthly Archives: May 2009

Homeward Bound

I’ve had a great time in Kansas City, but now it’s time to go home and be back with the family. Wish for good travel karma for me if you would, and in case I don’t get back here for the rest of the day, have a good Memorial Day, and please do take at least a moment during the day to think on those whose sacrifice the day honors. Catch up with you all later.

Your Minimum Recommended Daily Blog Post

This is it. I’m still at ConQuest and still doing con-like activities, although after staying up until 3:30am last night, I’m doing them with about 1/3 less coherence than I might otherwise. But, hey. I’m having fun. I’ll again be away from the computer for most of the day, though will probably do Twitter updates sporadically through the day, because I can do those from the phone. Hey! Twitter is useful!

How are your Sunday plans? Share with the crowd.

Off Doing Con Stuff

So I won’t be about for most of the day. Go about your day if you can. I’m likely to Twitter now and then, however, so if you need updates, there you go.

If you feel you must have something to discuss here while I am away, please to consider this 80s conundrum, provided to us by the great existential philosopher LeBon:

Is the Reflex actually a lonely child?

I’ve always had doubts, myself.

What a Meatgasm Looks Like

Holy God, I was presented at the opening ceremonies of Conquest 40 with a Bacon Explosion, which is a huge roll of Italian sausage and bacon, wrapped in a bacon weave and barbequeued until it causes your arteries to harden just by looking at it. Naturally I was encouraged to eat some whilst on stage and tell people what I thought, and this is what I said:

Oh, God, imagine there’s bacon on one side of my mouth and sausage on the other and they meet and have hot and angry make-up sex in the middle while a salt lick cheers them on.

Naturally I offered up tastings of the Bacon Explosion to all who wanted some, so after the opening ceremony people came up and took samples, which prompted author Selena Rosen to ask me whether I know that one of the side benefits of being Guest of Honor at ConQuest was that so many people would want to touch my meat. To which I responded that it wasn’t people wanting to touch my meat that was unusual, but that it had to be wrapped in bacon first.

Yes, people. I know. Bacon. I will never be shut of it. But I’ll tell you what. This Bacon Explosion makes it totally worth it.

Even with the enthusiastic distribution of the Bacon Explosion, I was not able to distribute it all. Half of it now resides in my hotel fridge, calling me. I can already hear my heart weeping. My heart is a coward.

My First Bidet

Here it is, in Kansas City, of all places. You’d think I would have come across one when I was visiting France a couple of years ago, but no, it was in America’s Heartland where I walked into my hotel bathroom and encountered it. My first reaction to it was “wow, that’s my dog’s dream waterbowl,” which I think pretty well accurately displays my level of lavatory sophistication.

No, I haven’t used it. I have no idea how to use it. I mean, it seems relatively intuitive, as long as you know what it is and what it’s supposed to be used for, and in any event, even if I was using it wrong, who’s gonna know but me? There are no bidet gods, snickering at my foot placement or whatever. But it’s still something I wouldn’t want to mess up. I suppose I could find instructions on the Internet; everything’s on the Internet. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m ready to handle the illustrations. Especially since I’m sure the first link will be some brain-staining bidet porn. No bidet porn, please. Thanks.

I think it’s in everybody’s best interest if I stop talking about the bidet now.

The Big Idea: C.C. Finlay

Surprise: Everything you thought you knew about the American Revolution is wrong! Well, actually, not wrong, but if author C.C. Finlay has his way, you’ll come to believe it’s woefully incomplete. Why? Because in Finlay’s Traitor to the Crown trilogy, of which the latest, A Spell for the Revolution, has just come out, it’s not just rifles and muskets that the Colonists and the Tories used to fight each other — there’s also witchcraft in there, too.

How did Finlay weave the stuff of magic into and around existing American history? Here’s how.

C.C. FINLAY

A couple years ago, I was writing what I might call your standard fantasy and science fiction stories—many of them appearing, logically enough, in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction—when my agent Matt pushed me to do something different.

“You did all that graduate work in American history,” he said.  “Why don’t you use it?  Why don’t you see if you have any ideas for historical fantasy?”

His emphasis was on the history.  Naomi Novik’s books were taking off—like a dragon on a mission—and he thought that I might be able to write something in a similar vein.

It was a Thursday afternoon.

By Monday morning, I had outlined the three books that would become Traitor to the Crown.  The concept was so simple: witches fighting on both sides of the war for American independence.  The famous Salem witch trials of the 1690s took place in Salem, Boston, and Charlestown, all sites of early confrontations and battles in the American Revolution.

It felt like an idea just sitting there in the open, waiting for someone to pick it up.  So I grabbed it and ran with it.

Imagine that the witchcraft at Salem was real, and that the witches were driven underground by the persecution.  Decades later, on the eve of the Revolution, Proctor Brown—named for his ancestor, John Proctor, who was executed at Salem—is a minuteman in Massachusetts who also has a secret talent as a witch.   As he gets drawn into the Revolution, from the very first shot fired at Lexington Green, he also gets pulled deeper and deeper into witchcraft.  Deborah Walcott, a Quaker and pacifist, runs a farm outside Salem where witches go for training.  Her own values conflict with Proctor’s, but she realizes that his talents are needed if the evil witches are going to be stopped.

At first, my plan was to write the books as alternate history.  I would start from this premise and then spin events in a different direction as the magic unfolded.  I dived into a stack of history books and primary sources, looking for people and situations that would make for good points of departure.

There were already plenty of unexplained mysteries in the Revolution, big and small.  Who fired the shot heard round the world?  Where did the lucky fog come from that allowed Washington to escape with his army from the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn Heights, which should have ended the war in British favor?  How did the fire start that burned down half of New York City?

There were also, I quickly discovered, men and women in the period who believed in magic and tried to use it to change the outcome of events.

And that’s when I found New England’s Darkest Day.

On May 19, 1780, in the fifth year of the war, as both British and American forces were growing more desperate to win, a strange thing happened.  At noon, the skies over New England went completely black.  Not like an eclipse, but as dark as the darkest night.  People thought the world was ending.  With candles and lanterns, they made their way to their churches and prepared for Judgment Day.

I’m not making this up.  Google it, or go check wikipedia.

That’s when I had the big idea.

What if my story wasn’t an alternate world?  What if it took place in ours?

What if, on the Darkest Day, evil forces were at work and something did happen that almost brought our world to an end?  What if the Revolution wasn’t just a war for independence, but a struggle between secret groups of witches with other goals?

Matt was right.  Bringing my background in history together with my fiction was a great direction to go.  I had more fun writing these books than anything else I’ve ever worked on.  They were different enough from my earlier work that we shortened my name, from Charles Coleman Finlay to C. C. Finlay, to signal the change.

We sold the idea to Chris Schluep at Del Rey, who had a big idea of his own: bring the three books out over three months, so readers won’t have to wait for years to find out what happens.  Or rather, to find out why the real events happened the way they did.

The first book, The Patriot Witch, came out on April 28.  If I haven’t already tempted you into reading it, a free PDF of the whole book can be downloaded from my website until the end of May.  The link’s below.

The second book, A Spell for the Revolution, hits the stores this week and follows Proctor and Deborah from the battle of Brooklyn Heights to Washington’s crossing of the Delaware.  The third book, The Demon Redcoat—which takes Proctor to Paris and London and back, where he must face the Gordon Riots, the madness of King George, and the Darkest Day—will be in stores in June.

—-

A Spell For the Revolution: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

The PDF for The Patriot Witch is available here through May 2009. See other free fiction from C.C. Finlay here. Visit his LiveJournal.

Testing My Travel Karma

I’m flinging myself about the country today. Wish me luck. I’ll be posting again later in the day.

Also, to everyone in the last thread who said I would crack and come crawling back after I said I was taking a day off from the Internets: Neener neener neener.

The Big Idea: Greg van Eekhout

How does one get from Los Angeles to Ragnorak? If you said “take a left at Albuquerque,” you’ve watched too many Bugs Bunny cartoons, and also, you’re not Greg van Eekhout, the Nebula-nominated writer who is making his novel-length debut with Norse Code. Along with knowing how to write the sort of apocalyptic fantasy that reviewers love (“van Eekhout makes a successful leap to long fiction with this thrilling urban fantasy” — Publishers Weekly), van Eekhout knows exactly how to get from LA to the end of the world; interestingly, it starts with a detour through a movie theater.

GREG VAN EEKHOUT:

One of my earliest formative childhood experiences was being taken by my grandfather to see Earthquake in Sensurround. Sensurround was a theater sound technology that employed huge, low-frequency speakers to rattle the theater and scare the little crappers out of me. I lived in Los Angeles, and I fully expected an 8.0 to strike during the movie. My grandfather and I would stumble from the theater into dust-filmed air. We would pick our way through the rubble, and at home we would find my parents and brother and grandmother and toys, all crushed.

I wanted to see the movie again and again and again.

The tale of Ragnarok is the best story in Norse mythology. It tells us how the gods will perish and how we puny mortals will meet our ends. It’d make a really, really cool disaster movie. But Ragnarok’s not quite the end of everything. It’s more of a reboot, with a new world arising from the ashes of the old. Most of the gods won’t be there to see this new world, but a few will be, and they know they will be because a prophecy conveniently lays it all out. And that’s what I find interesting about Ragnarok: If you’re a god, you either know exactly how you’re going to die, or you know you’re going to live to preside over the next world, or, in the case of a few exceptions, your name got left out of the prophecy and you’ve got no right idea what’s going to happen to you. The category you fall into has got to impact your degree of enthusiasm for the destruction of everything and everyone around you.

Norse Code is largely about Hermod, one of the gods who doesn’t know if he’s going to be eaten by a giant wolf, or live to plant new lawn seed, or slip on a bar of soap and crack his head open and miss the whole thing. Opposing him are the gods who know they’re going to survive. After thousands of years of waiting, they’re getting impatient to move on from this old, sick world of ours. “Gee,” they think, “maybe we shouldn’t just wait for Ragnarok to get started. Maybe we should be more proactive. Maybe we should make it happen.”

It all may sound very cosmic, but it’s a fairly simple idea: If I were a god in that situation, what would I do? If you look at it that way, it’s a pretty human-level story.

Norse Code also has a science fictional idea at its core. Several years ago I read about a research project that used Y-chromosome data to link 0.5 percent of currently living males to the fecund and randy Genghis Khan. Bringing this back to Norse mythology, a key element of the Ragnarok story involves Odin’s private army, the Einherjar. These are the elite warriors who hang out in Valhalla and train for the final battle by beating the crap out of one another every day. You don’t have to be a descendent of Odin to join these guys, but it helps. So, if the Twilight of the Gods was approaching and I were tasked with recruiting Einherjar (as the valkyries are), I might start sampling DNA from the modern population to find traces of Odin’s lineage.

And that’s basically what Norse Code is about: Huge disasters, gods conspiring to speed things along, a minor god with an unknown future, and valkyries with biotech. There’s also a moon-eating wolf, and atomic tests in the South Pacific that wake up the Midgard Serpent, and talking ravens, and a resistance movement made up of Iowa farmers who resent being dead.

The real challenge of writing Norse Code, of course, was telling this big story without losing sight of the personal stories belonging to the characters living through it all. I hope readers of Norse Code will find more than big SFX and subwoofers, but the Sensurround is there for those who like that sort of thing.

—-

Norse Code: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read Chapter One of Norse Code on Tor.com, and Chapter Two on Suvudu.com. Visit Greg van Eekhout’s LiveJournal.

Online Hugo Online Ballot Up; More Stuff Added to Hugo Voter Packet

Two notes of reasonable importance to sf/f fans and Hugo voters:

1. The online Hugo ballot is now up at:

http://vote.anticipationsf.ca

And online voting for the Hugos will continue from now through midnight (2359hrs.) Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) July 3. Which is to say you have six weeks to catch up on all your Hugo reading and make an informed vote. Which rather conveniently brings us to the next note:

2. Just in time for the online ballot, the Hugo Voters Packet has been expanded, with the addition of a whole bunch of new material. In addition to the original contents of the Hugo Voters Packet, the following Hugo-nominated stuff has been added:

Best Novel
Mobi ebook version of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)

Best Novella
“The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)

Best Novelette
“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Best Professional Artist
Bob Eggleton
Daniel Dos Santos
Donato Giancola

Best Fanzine
Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III

This means, incidentally, that all the Hugo nominees for Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and all the nominees for the Campbell Award are now available in the packet for your perusal.

BUT: to get at the Hugo Voters Packet — and to vote for the Hugos, remember, that’s important, too — you have to be a member of Anticipation. And how do you become a member of Anticipation? By clicking on this link here and registering. Go on, you know you want to come to Montreal and hang out with Teh GheeX0r.

Remember that even if you can’t physically attend Anticipation (which would be a shame, because we are gonna have so much damn fun), you can still vote for the Hugos, and get access to the Hugo Voters Packet, by picking up a Supporting Membership for just $50 US (or $55 Canadian/Australian, 30 pounds, 35 euros or 6,000 yen, take your pick). The retail value of the Hugo Voters Packet is a multiple of that — indeed, it’s just about the value of an attending membership — so you’re kind of getting a massive deal here. Plus you get to vote for the Hugos, which is awesome. I can’t believe I still have to sell this to you, frankly.

In any event, remember to read, remember to vote, and thanks.

My Existential Problem With Gaming Rigs

Here’s my problem: I’m at the point where I’m thinking of getting a new computer, and all things being equal, I’d like to get something that’s tricked out to a reasonable degree, so I can play all the ginchy new computer games at near-max frame rates; which is to say I want a gaming rig. What keeps me from buying a gaming rig, however, is that almost without exception they look absolutely idiotic, like pimped-out nerd versions of rice burners. And just as I don’t need neon runners on my car, neither do I need my computer to glow extraneously. I want it to run programs, quietly, efficiently and without throwing off any more electromagnetic radiation than is absolutely necessary.

As an example of this problem, note the picture above, of CyberPower PC’s “Lan Party Commander.” Leaving aside the name of the PC, which screams “I am encrusted in the residue of Cheetos and Mountain Dew,” this rig is one of the more subtly-designed of the gaming rigs CyberPower puts together, and it still looks like a cooling tower at Chernobyl. If I walk into a room and something is glowing like this thing is, my first instinct is to dive toward the lead shielding.

This is not to bag on CyberPower in particular — as it happens, my current computer is a CyberPower rig, and it’s given me fine service for almost three years. They make good gaming computers. But three years ago, when I bought this rig, it was still possible to specify the computer get put into a tower that didn’t telegraph that the owner’s complete inability to find and keep compatible sexual partners. It really doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Nor is it just CyberPower — every gaming rig maker houses them in ridiculous towers that glow and/or look like alien skulls and/or have silk screened pictures of exploding ewoks (or whatever) on the side. The only one that really doesn’t is Falcon Northwest, who gives their computers (relatively) understated brushed metal towers, as long as you can overlook their oversized logo. But Falcon Northwest is also under the opinion that $2,000 is a fine starting price for their “budget” rig. If I wanted to pay that much money for a brushed aluminum rig that didn’t make me feel like I was riding on the aesthetic shortbus, I’d just get a Mac Pro and have done with it.

To be fair, I understand that the primary market for gaming rig makers are 20something dudes with more credit card bandwidth than aesthetic common sense, so it makes sense for them to build their rigs this way. But it’s not really that much to ask for to have a single “bland box” tower option available for those of us don’t actually want their desks and walls bathed in a neon glow. I know, I’m boring. But I’m boring and I also have money to give to a PC company that doesn’t force me to look like a gaudy asshole because I want a gaming rig with decent frame rates. I’m too old for that now, and I say that proudly.

ConQuest 40 Schedule

As most of you know, this weekend I’m the Author Guest of Honor at ConQuest 40 in Kansas City. I know I will see every single one of you there. Here’s what I’ll be doing, program-wise, when I’m not stationed somewhere with seven pounds of Kansas City barbeque in front of me:

FRIDAY, MAY 22

7:00 PM: Opening Ceremonies (Main Hall)
I’ll sit on the stage and maybe say something short and amusing.

8:30 PM: Authors and Artists Reception (Pershing)
I’ll stand about with a pleasant smile on my face and wait for people to approach me.

SATURDAY, MAY 23

10:00 AM: Is a blog a fanzine? (Empire 1)
My answer: Oh, probably. But I suppose I’ll have to expand on that.  Fellow panelists: Geri Sullivan, Alison Stein, Diane Turnshek.

11:00 AM: Guest of Honor Speech (Main Hall)
And by “speech” they mean “I’ll stand up there blathering incontinently unless people come with actual questions to ask.” So, you know. Come with questions, please.

1:00 PM: Women in Military SF (Empire 1)
I’m for it! Also on the panel: Aurora Celeste, Kelly Peterson, Selena Rosen. I’m the moderator.

4:00 PM: Autograph Session (Pershing)
Bring your books and body parts.

SUNDAY, MAY 24

11:00 AM: What makes you think you can edit? (Empire 1)
Otherwise known as the “Now we all listen to Ellen Datlow” panel. Also on the panel: Ellen Datlow, Alison Stein, Selena Rosen.

1:00 PM: METAWhatever, where is my book? (Empire 2)
About all the other sorts of distribution for SF lit. Fellow Panelists: Ben Yalow, Bradley Denton, Diane Turnshek.

4:00 PM: Closing Ceremonies (Main Hall)
Bye, now!

When I’m not in panels, I am likely to be in the bar and/or lobby and/or wherever it is at the hotel that one goes to be generally accessible. So as always if you see me walking about feel free to come over and say hello. That’s what I’m there for.

Spam Thread

This is a thread for spam. Please insert all your spam-like messages here.

Note: I am not responsible for messages caught by the built-in spam filter. It’s up to you to get around it.

Funny in Short Bursts

My college pal Joe Schmitt is the focus of this Chicago Tribune article on people who are funny on Twitter. I can attest that he’s been funny for a while now, and proof that University of Chicago was a nexus of geek weirdness back in the day, as Joe was the center of a social group that included me, illustrator (and occasional New Yorker cover artist) Ivan Brunetti and RPG icon Ken Hite, among a number of other very talented and interesting people. In short, yes, you missed out, not hangin’ in Chicago in the late 80s and early 90s. Try not to feel too bad about it. Here’s Joe’s Twitter feed if you want to check him out for yourself.

Technically It’s Not Cannibalism If They’re Not the Same Species

And now, the real reason there are no Neanderthals today: They were tasty!

One of science’s most puzzling mysteries – the disappearance of the Neanderthals – may have been solved. Modern humans ate them, says a leading fossil expert.

The controversial suggestion follows publication of a study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences about a Neanderthal jawbone apparently butchered by modern humans. Now the leader of the research team says he believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace.

Fernando Rozzi, of Paris’s Centre National de la Récherche Scientifique, said the jawbone had probably been cut into to remove flesh, including the tongue. Crucially, the butchery was similar to that used by humans to cut up deer carcass in the early Stone Age. “Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them,” Rozzi said.

I suspect very strongly that they did not taste like chicken.

This incidentally brings up an interesting and currently (for humans) untestable question of where the dividing line for cannibalism is. Neanderthals were in the genus “Homo,” but were another species therein. So is it cannibalism when we eat them? As you might suspect from the entry header, I say no: Not of the same species, not cannibalism.Not that the Homo sapiens of the day were rationalizing it on these particular grounds.

Which isn’t to say it was a nice thing to do. Even if it wasn’t cannibalism, I would still call it murder, since “murder” in my book (that book being a science fiction book) involves killing sentient creatures, whether they’re of the same intelligent species as you are or not. This is why one needs science fiction, incidentally: to model such legal conundrums. You’re welcome.