Monthly Archives: May 2010

Jane Siberry Gives It Away

Jane Siberry, eclectic Canadian songwriter, is opening up her past catalogue for everyone to download, free. This is an excellent opportunity for you to try When I Was Boy, which is one of my all-time favorite albums. You won’t regret it, especially at this price.

Florida Book Signing This Friday

Hey Floridians! Want a book signed by me? Then you’re in luck, since I’m going to be doing a signing this Friday, at 6pm, in the Seahorse Room of the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, in sunny Cocoa Beach.

But wait, there’s more! Because I won’t be in the Seahorse Room of the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, in sunny Cocoa Beach all by my lonesome. Far from it! I will be there with other science fiction and fantasy writers and notables, too! Who will also be signing books! For you! Yes, you! No, seriously, man. You.

Which authors, you ask? Oh, just:

Paolo Bacigalupi, Neal Barrett, Jr., Christopher Barzak, Ben Bova, Richard Bowes, Jeffrey A. Carver, Adam-Troy Castro, Kathryn Cramer, A. C. Crispin, Sarah Beth Durst, Marianne Dyson, Eugie Foster, Carolyn Gilman, Laura Anne Gilman, Joe W. Haldeman, David Hartwell, Peter J. Heck, Kij Johnson, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Ted Kosmatka, Mary Robinette Kowal, Edward M. Lerner, Lee Martindale, Jack McDevitt, Will McIntosh, China Mieville, John Moore, James Morrow, Stanley Schmidt, Bud Sparhawk, Allen Steele, Catherynne Valente, Rick Wilber and Connie Willis.

You know. No one important to all of science fiction and fantasy in the last 30 years, or anything.

If you’re wondering why all of us will be there, it’s because it’s Nebula Awards Weekend, in which SFWA members gather together to commune, conduct business, see Joe Haldeman formally installed as a Grand Master of science fiction(!) and hand out awards. And sign books. For you. You know. If you want.

I’ll be there to see friends, and to learn if I’ve won one or more of the following: a Nebula Award, a Norton Award, the SFWA presidency. I’m running unopposed for that last one, so I feel I may get lucky. But I hear rumors of Felix the Cat running a strong write-in campaign. And he does have that Bag of Tricks. So I’ll hold my breath until I get the official word. Seems prudent.

In any event: Book signing. This Friday. Six pm. Cocoa Beach. Dozens of science fiction and fantasy authors. Seriously, if you’re not there, I have to wonder why you’re in Florida at all.

In Shocking News, Popular Media Figure Makes Money

Been pinged a few times about the thing in which some folks are complaining that Neil Gaiman got paid a bunch of money ($45k or so) to make an appearance at a library. Neil’s take on it is here, but my take is below:

Really? An author who has had four books simultaneously on the New York Times best seller lists, has won an unspeakable number of literary awards, has written for and/or had his books adapted to film, the most recent of which was nominated for an Oscar, and who sold roughly a million books last year, might conceivably ask for and receive a hefty sum for a speaking engagement? Shocked, shocked, I am.

Aside from proof that the free market works sometimes, there’s the additional fact that Gaiman’s appearance fee was taken not from that specific library’s general fund, but out of a pool of money from the State of Minnesota designed to bring speakers to libraries, and the money in the pool apparently had to be spent by the end of the fiscal year or evaporate. Neil, in his bit linked above, rather sensibly suggests that speaker pool money like that should be allowed to roll over into the next fiscal year, but no matter how you slice it he wasn’t cruelly yanking books out of kids’ hands in order to make his financial nut.

(I suppose this is the cue for someone to bitch and moan about tax dollars being spent frivolously, but, you know, I can think of all sorts of worse ways to spend tax money than having a bestselling author talk to 500 people live and thousands more via radio (the talk was broadcast on Minneapolis Public Radio and is currently being streamed online) about the joys of libraries and literacy, and I don’t consider such a thing frivolous at all, in fact, so we’d have to agree to disagree on that one.)

One of the folks who pinged me asked me if I would charge a library $45,000 for a speaking appearance. Leaving aside the provenance of the money in Neil’s case, the more accurate question would be could I charge a library $45,000 for a speaking appearance, and the answer to that, alas, is “no,” so would doesn’t even come into it. But if I were in Neil’s particular situation, in which someone was offering me a pot of money, not from the library’s own budget, which was going to evaporate if it were not used? If it fit in my schedule, sure, I’d do that, no problem.

So, in all: Meh. I’m having trouble seeing the problem here.

The Big Idea: Holly Black

Here at the Scalzi Compound, we’re big fans of Holly Black, not just as a human being (we’re pals, she’s awesome) but because she’s consistently taking the idea of fantasy in YA and twisting it in new and fun ways. The latest twist: White Cat, which imagines a world like our own in which magic is not “magical” in the usual adjectival sense, but is something a little grittier, a little seedier, and not necessarily something you’d want to play with. To which I say: coool. Here’s Holly to break it down for you.

HOLLY BLACK:

If you know me from my Spiderwick Chronicles or Modern Faerie Tale series, you might not guess my love for heist movies, noir and cons. From Rififi to The Sting to Ocean’s Eleven, from Hammett to Chandler to Mosley, I love it all. I love the snappy dialogue, the twists, and the intricacy of the plots.

My big idea for White Cat came from me sitting around thinking about different models for magic. I had worked out a little of the book at that point, enough that I knew I was writing about a charming young con artist named Cassel, so I wanted something appropriate to the mood of his world.

Magic in novels needs some organizing principle. There are solitary wizards who resemble hermits, magic schools and universities, wizards teaching apprentices in the model of a medieval tradesperson, councils of mages not unlike a corporate board of directors, and large baroque organizations of wizards so full of rules and ceremonies that they might be modeled on the structure of a church. None of those quite fit. Then I thought:

What if the magic in this world worked like organized crime?

From there I decided that for that to work, I needed two things (a) for everyone in the world to be aware of magic and (b) for magic to be illegal.

I would have one in a thousand people have the ability to do curse magic. That way, everyone could potentially know a worker or two, but they’d still be pretty uncommon. An average high school might have one to two workers enrolled there. A large university might have as many as a hundred, between students, faculty and other staff. Given the rate of Scalzi’s traffic to Whatever, nearly fifty of you reading this would be curse workers.

Of the total workers, most are luck workers. The rest work dreams, physical curses, emotional curses, memory, death or, very rarely, transformation. To actually curse another person, one has to have bare hand (the curse worker) to bare skin (the victim) contact. And, just to balance out the benefits of having magic, all curse work results in blowback. That is, some of the curse rebounds on the curse worker. As Cassel’s grandfather, a retired death worker with blackened and rotted fingers, tells us, “every curse works the worker.”

Curse magic was outlawed in the United States in 1929. Once it became outlawed, just like Prohibition led to the rise of the five big crime families in New York, the ban on curse magic would lead to magical power being controlled by the mob. Black market demands would keep curse work profitable and I would have the world I wanted to play in.

The hardest, but also most fun part, was expanding on how having magic around would change society.

- In a world where hands touching skin could be dangerous, people would want each other to wear gloves. Thus everyone wears gloves when they are in public. If you saw someone barehanded, it would be like they were carrying a knife; they might have a good reason, but you’d still want to cross the street. Since bare hands are seldom seen, they’ve become objects of fantasy. Magazines features fold-outs of scantily clad girls without any gloves. The ultimate sign of trust between any two people would be shaking bare hands.

- Amulets that protect against curse work (each one cracks after it wards off a curse) are sold at drug stores and bodegas, near the counter along with the mints and lighters. It’s hard to know if you’re buying a good one or a dud, especially since curse workers themselves are needed to make the amulets, and they mostly don’t identify themselves.

- Despite being illegal, people want luck workers at weddings and baptisms and for times when things aren’t going so well. So hiring curse workers for minor things occupies that gray area of illegal things that everyone does anyway, like speeding. With the help of my publisher, I even mocked up what a subway ad in this world might look like:

Being born a curse worker runs in families, but can show up in people not immediately related to curse worker too. Crime families aren’t families in the traditional sense, but made up of magical recruits initiated into “the life.”

Cassel Sharpe, our protagonist, isn’t a curse worker himself, but he comes from a family of curse workers and con artists. His grandfather and brother work for the crime families, his father was a minor-league grifter, and his mother is in jail for working some guy into signing over all his money.

Cassel is trying to stay on the straight and narrow at Wallingford Preparatory – no cons, only a little bit of forgery and some bookmaking. His memories haunt him, though, especially his memory of killing his best friend, Lila, who he loved, three years ago. He has no idea why he would have done that. When he wakes up on the roof of his dorm room with no idea how he got there, out of a dream of chasing a white cat, he begins to believe that his memories are hiding more than they’re revealing. And so Cassel begins to investigate his past and figure out who he really is and what he’s really done.

—-

White Cat: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of White Cat. Read Holly Black’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

Okay, That’s Vaguely Spooky

So, Photoshop CS5 is available for download, and I have heard many things about its new context-sensitive healing tool, and how it basically does an amazing job of excising large objects out of pictures and making it seem like they were never there at all. So I got it and decided to test it. Here’s a picture of Kodi by the dwarf cherry tree a couple of weeks ago, when it was in bloom:

And here’s a single pass of the context-sensitive healing brush tool:

Verdict: Damn, that’s pretty impressive for one pass. I think if you know something’s missing out of the picture, you can see a smudge in the grass, but if you were looking at it without that contextual clue, you might not guess. It’s never been easier to be a Soviet propaganda minister! Don’t worry, I promise to use this power only for good. Or to amuse myself. Either is good.

Oh, Hey, Look, a Deadline

Can’t play today. Have to write words for people who are paying me. I know! It seems so unfair. Oh, for a world where my mortgage just magically paid itself. We’re not there yet. But one day. One day, my friends.

So, out of here for the day. I may pop in later in the evening. Or I might not! You never know with me, do you.

The Big Idea: Guy Gavriel Kay

Art is a powerful inspiration for more art, and for the artists who create it, as acclaimed author Guy Gavriel Kay found when thinking about Under Heaven, his latest book of historical fantasy. For this one, Kay reached far back in time, to a place and art form many of us here in the West don’t know very much about. I’ll let him share both with you.

GUY GAVRIEL KAY:

So, here’s a big idea for a novel: eighth century Chinese poetry. Bow down all ye dazzled. (Slip quietly out the back, all ye others?)

But the truth is, it was a poem, and a note to the translation, that became catalysts for Under Heaven, my newest book, which is indeed inspired by Tang Dynasty China in the 8th century. That glorious, violent, dazzling era.

The fast backgrounder is this: it is pretty much undisputed (except by a few diehard fans of limericks) that China in the Tang period represents an absolute apex of many elements of culture, with their poetry preeminent. The great names of the High Tang are, really, among the very greatest names of anywhere, any time.

When I started reading and corresponding with academics in preparation for Under Heaven I knew I’d have to try to come to terms with this element of the setting. It wasn’t an ordeal. This is magnificent art, even in translation – though the limitations of that are obvious and enormous. (“Poetry is what is lost in the translation,” Robert Frost famously said.)

I actually owned a few of these translations from years ago (sorry, I’m, er, like that) and while awaiting the arrival of a truckload of new books and articles on various topics from various places, I began reading one of them. It was a Penguin Classics edition of selected work of the two greatest figures, Li Po and Tu Fu (now generally called Li Bai and Du Fu, in the altered spelling system we use).

There’s a poem by Du Fu called ‘Ballad of the Army Wagons’, a risky, unusual work with a remarkable level of identification with ‘ordinary soldiers’ and their families in a society where poets were more likely to write about themselves and their literary friends – or about the court and high deeds, though usually set in a fictional (fantasy?) past.

The poem voices the lament of conscripted farmers being sent off to war leaving families to starve, crops unsown, harsh taxes still demanded. And the ballad ends with a vision that stopped me cold: of the crying ghosts of slain soldiers by a remote western mountain lake, a savage battlefield for past a hundred years, including very recently, in Du Fu’s own time. The image of those ghosts wailing in that mountain bowl hit me hard this time, and immediately.

But that wasn’t all. In a note to the poem, one of the men who worked on that Penguin edition adds a personal story. Seems his father, a mining engineer in the modern day (obviously!), working in this remote northwestern area (north of Tibet) used to pay herders to bring him the bones of soldiers who had died in those battles 1300 years ago and more. They were still there by the lake. And this modern-day engineer felt a need to do what he could to lay some of those long-ago ghosts to rest, to honour them.

The fusion of the poem and the note, and what I’d begun reading about time and place and the dazzling array of possible figures to draw upon for a novel (history done with my usual ‘quarter turn to fantasy’ as one reviewer’s described it) became central to the shaping of my book. That poem, the mountain lake, those battles, the unburied dead … fused into one of the first ‘big ideas’ for Under Heaven. The story begins there.

—-

Under Heaven: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven Journal. Find out where he’s on tour this month. Read another essay on Under Heaven.

41

I’ve had a full year of my forties now, and I have to say: so far, so good. Professionally it was excellent and personally it was the same as usual, which in my particular case is pretty damn good. I kept busy, I was happy, and I was not attacked by bees, either individually or severally. The one downside to it all was that I’m roughly 20 pounds heavier than I would like to be. Perhaps I would have been trimmer in the last year if I spent more of my time running from bees. We will never know. I am now going to stop talking about bees.

I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about my age, because being in one’s 40s is generally no more remarkable than being in any other decade of one’s life — it has its ups and downs and if you approach it optimistically and have some luck, you’ll find that your day-to-day experience of living is congenial. That said, there are some reminders that I’ve reached a certain age. For example, I find myself peering over the top of my glasses LIKE AN OLD MAN to read things close up because my traitorous corneas have decided to stiffen up; there’s very little doubt that the next pair of glasses I get will be bifocals. Dear corneas: Screw you. Go, like, soak in some lanolin or something.

As another example, however, I have a very strong suspicion that I’m much more tolerable to be around as a human being than I was in my twenties or even some part of my thirties, simply because I’ve been around long enough to settle some significant battles with my ego and just be more comfortable with myself and others. And to be blunt about if I had to choose between being comfortable with myself and having supple, near-focusing corneas, I’ll wear the bifocals. Of course, it’s not as if I have a choice, so I would say that, wouldn’t I, me and my arthritic eyeballs.

Anyway. My plan for the next year: Do some more writing, spend time with my family, continue my neverending quest for better time management (which become more and more critical the closer you are to death) and overall make sure I enjoy my life, because it is actually enjoyable, and I should really try to remember that. Beyond that, I’ll make it up as I go along. Because that’s fun too.

The Last Picture of the 40-Year-Old Me

As tomorrow I embark on the year-long journey of being 41 years old, I thought I would do an exit photograph of me as a 40-year-old, something that would encapsulate the entire year, that shows me who I really am, with all my confidence, warmth, and yes — I’ll say it — raw, uninhibited sexuality; a photo that captures everything my 40th year on this earth did for me, and to me, and what it promises for the year ahead:

Yes, yes. I think that just about covers it.

Save your birthday wishes and pity for tomorrow, people. You’re supposed to be paying attention to your mom today anyway.

The (New) New Keyboard

So after about an hour or so, the previous new keyboard I got last week started having problem finding my computer (it was a bluetooth keyboard), and about an hour after that, steadfastly refused to speak to my computer at all — it was a like a first date gone wrong, where the two people have decided they hate each other but still stick around for dessert. Well, this did me no good, so I returned the keyboard. In its stead I got a Logitech MK710 keyboard, which has two things going for it: Soft touch keys which aren’t all sticky and clunky, and a purported three-year battery life, which I assume I’ll be able to definitively agree with sometime in May 2013.

So far I’m liking the keyboard, which I suppose isn’t necessarily surprising since with the exception of the two-hour interregnum of the ill-fated previous new keyboard, my last three keyboards were all Logitechs as well. Logitech apparently hits my typing sweet spot most of the time (I’ll note that the problem with the previous Logitech keyboard was me spending months on low-profile laptop keyboards changing my preference, not anything inherently wrong with the keyboard).

You ask: What do I do with all they old keyboards? Aside from the one I returned, the rest are loitering in an ever-growing pile of obsolete tech in the basement. I should probably go and get rid of most of that pile, but I find extra keyboards do come in handy for times when, say, you have to return a balky one and need something to plug into the computer until the new one shows up.

Also, before anyone asks: I like the Bamboo tablet which I got just fine, and am keeping that, although I don’t think I’ll be using it as a permanent mouse replacement. What I’ve ended up doing is when I experience mouse fatigue I use the tablet as a track pad for a while and the change up does my wrists good. And these days I really am paying more attention to ergonomics in an overall sense.

The Wind Done Blowed

And this is what what happened when it did:

That’s from the thunderstorm on Friday, which spawned a tornado watch. It passed south of our house but hit Troy, Ohio, which is where this picture was taken and which lost power for most of the city for a while — the picture goes some distance to suggesting why that might have been. In the distance you can see that one of the poles is so far over it has to be propped up by a crane. Krissy, who is an insurance adjuster by trade, is dreading going into work on Monday. And who can blame her.

Just Arrived, 5/8/10

More books! Wheee!

* Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds (Ace): On a world where all the humans live in a huge city with segregated technology zones (cool stuff closer to the top, of course), an undercover cop learns he has to leave the city and go into the dangerous, untamed zones beyond, or else — well, you know. Bad things will happen. Out June 1.

* The Waters Rising, by Sherri Tepper (Eos): Oooh! A new Sheri S. Tepper novel! I’ve been a huge fan since Grass, and kind of get annoyed that Tepper is not more celebrated than she is, since I think she’s been one of the more consistently interesting SF/F writers of the last double decade. But don’t mind me, I’m just griping. This book is apparently in the same universe as her 1993 book A Plague of Angels and features a world threatened by rising waters and a cast of characters dealing with the implications therein. This gets bumped to the top of my TBR list. Out in September.

* How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe, by Charles Yu (Pantheon): A time-machine technician goes looking for his father. Which tells you very little about the book because Yu spends a fair amount of time fiddling with conventional novel format in it. Interesting conceptually; I’ll have to dig into it at some point to see if it’s also a good story. Out in September, so I guess I have some time.

* Dragongirl, by Todd McCaffrey (Del Rey): Anne’s son continues the family’s Pern franchise, with this sequel to Dragonheart. This is the fourth solo book for McCaffrey fils, although he and his mother will be collaborating again on a new Pern novel soon, if the publicity information in this ARC is to be believed (and why would it lie?). Out July 27.

* The Heir of Night, by Helen Lowe (Eos): The first book a new fantasy series called “The Wall of Night.” Precis: An ancient terror is gather its forces for a final battle! A plucky young heroine must turn back its dark tide! Oh, and there’s magic, too. Out in October.

* The Queen of Sinister, by Mark Chadbourne (Pyr): The second book of Chadbourne’s “The Dark Age” trilogy, which takes place in a post-magical apocalypse Britain. This time around, a really nasty plague besets the land, and the woman who can help those afflicted isn’t quite herself — well, it’s more like she may be five different people, all in one body. Complications are fun! Listed release date is 6/3, but Amazon says it’s in stock now.

* The Infinity Gate, by Sara Douglass (Eos): The third and final book of the DarkGlass Mountain fantasy series. The heroes of the previous books in the series gear up for a final confrontation against the forces of the evil DarkGlass Mountain. Out in June.

* Distant Thunders, by Taylor Anderson (Roc): The latest installment of the “Destroyermen” series, featuring a US destroyer plunged back through time. I like that one of the day jobs for the author of this series is “forensic ballistic archaeologist.” That’s a gig to have! And useful, no doubt, for this particular series. This one’s out on July 1.

* The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia, by Phil Jimenez and John Wells (Del Rey): Everything you could have ever possibly wanted to know about Wonder Woman and her universe — and more! Read closely, now, there will be a quiz. And we’ll be using the Lasso of Truth on you! Out now.

Thing I Did Today Some Might Think Out of Character (But Isn’t)

Which is: Pulled the Bible down off the shelf, read a passage to my daughter and then discussed it with her for a good long time.

Which passage? This one.

Why? Because Jesus had some smart things to say.

Why does an agnostic keep a Bible handy? See above.

Just Arrived, 5/7/10

Once again, many of these didn’t actually just arrive; some of these showed up whilst I was traipsing about the North American continent recently. But hey! I’m all about catching up!

* For the Win, by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen): In which Cory imagines what is essentially an underage proletariat uprising in the world of massive multiplay online role playing games. That Cory Doctorow. He’s such a geek. This is another YA from Cory, who I think has really found his stride as a fiction writer in that field; it really suits him and the tales he likes to tell. And of course like much of the best YA, you don’t have to be a young adult to enjoy it, which comes as a relief to this days-away-from-41-year-old. The book will be out next Tuesday (which means, as a practical matter, that your local bookstore may already have it), and Cory’s also starting his North American book tour next week.

* The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Anchor Books): The trade paperback version of Zafon’s bestseller, in which a struggling author gets a book deal from a publisher that’s too good to be true… and what do you know! It is! Man, writers never get a break. Out 5/18.

* Little Vampire Women, by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina (Harper Teen): Yeah, Little Women and vampires. You know the drill on these things by now. Out in bookstores.

* The Hittite, by Ben Bova (Forge): You know, just the other day I was saying to myself, hey, why don’t I see very many books about Hittites? They were a perfectly cromulent historical civilization! And then, bam, this book shows up on my doorstep. See? The Secret was right! (Note: The Secret isn’t right.) And actually the book is less about the Hittites than a single Hittites who, while on a quest to find his stolen family, comes across a battle at a little town called… Troy. Now we’re talking! Out now.

* 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession (Norton): Very recently I seem to have gotten on the radar of non-fiction publishers, particularly those who have books of a scientific bent. To which I say: Awesome. More please. This book, for example, looks at the friendship between physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and their mutual fascination with the number 137, which apparently has some mystical import. And now I just know I’m going to see the number 137 everywhere I go. Scheduled for 5/17 but Amazon says it’s out now, so you tell me who you’re going to believe.

* Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar (Norton): In which the two titans of 20th Century Physics went at it on the subject of the very fabric of existence! Kind of like scientific luchadores! Well, not very much like that at all, actually. But that’s a hell of an image I just put into your head. The real question is whether this book will be as entertaining as the Bohr-Einstein Debates, With Puppets. We can hope. This one is out 5/24.

* Metrophilias, by Brendan Connell (Better Non Sequitur Press): Thirty six short stories about thirty six cities. That’s one short story for each city, mind you, not thirty six for each city. Because that would be 1,296 short stories overall. And that’s, like, a lot for one book. Out now.

* The Liar’s Lullaby, by Meg Gardiner (Dutton): Edgar Winner Gardiner is back with a new thriller featuring forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett, who has to uncover the mystery of a musician’s death — a death with national political implications. Which are some of the best kind of implications! Gardiner will be along in June with a Big Idea about this book, which — not at all coincidentally — will also be out in June.

* The Ambassador’s Mission, by Trudi Canavan (Orbit): The first in the new “Traitor Spy Trilogy,” which is itself set in the world of Canavan’s “Black Magician Trilogy”. In this books, a magician is called upon to find another magician who is killing the thieves of Imardin, sparking an underworld war. Out 5/18.

* The Stuff of Legend, Book I: The Dark, by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III (Villard): In this graphic novel, set in 1944, the Boogeyman steals a child, and the child’s toy decide to get him back. Go, toys! Go! Out now.

The Big Idea: Maurice Broaddus

Brothers and sisters, do you have faith? Writer and editor Maurice Broaddus would suggest to you that you do, whether you think you do or not. And it’s that sometimes evanescent nature of the thing that infuses Dark Faith, a collection of stories on faith from science fiction, fantasy and horror authors — not necessarily the group you expect, basically. But then, as Broaddus explains below, that’s part of the point.

MAURICE BROADDUS:

If I said I had a collection of stories revolving around the idea of faith, I bet if I were quiet enough, I could hear the collective eye roll of disinterest. Oh, you might hear me out on the topic, but only with the glazed eyes of indifference. I can guess what you’re thinking: a bunch of preachy stories dressed up in horror and fantasy, but you know and I know they are a bait and switch waiting to happen. A stuffy collection of Sunday School stories trussed up alongside Jesus tales.

Sheesh. I wouldn’t want to read that … I got stuff to do. Judging from far too many stories encountered in my slush pile, many writers THOUGHT that’s what we were trying to put together. What we wanted were stories from a variety perspectives using faith as a jump off point.

Dark Faith began as a tribute anthology to the convention that I put on, Mo*Con (yes, Maurice Convention). If you could do a convention in the con suite for a weekend, that’s Mo*Con. Sometimes billed as “the intersection of spirituality, art, and social justice”, the convention is built around a series of three conversations: typically, one on matters of faith, one on matters of writing, and one on some social issue.

The fact of the matter is that we all believe in something and no matter what our worldview is, it begins with a leap of faith. Faith is edgy. Faith is risk-taking. Faith is scary. Then again, maybe I have a broader definition of the word faith than some.

So I invited horror, science fiction, and fantasy writers to riff on the idea of faith. Who we are, artists and people of faith, expressing our theology, whatever it may be, in our writing. And with the challenge to take it to another level: Art is never for its own sake, but people’s sake. I believe that art should be engaged with and, in its own way, explore truth – and we shouldn’t be afraid of truth, no matter where it takes us.

And in this anthology, it has taken us to new and interesting places. Life can be magical and terrifying, filled with both fantasy and horror. There is life and there is death – everything in between is unknown. We live in the throes of “why?” We react to injustice, we question why bad things happen to good people. The existential terror of what it means to encounter God, the ultimate Other. On the other side, there’s the idea that God is personal and relational, Jesus can be a guy you can sneak around back and share cigarettes with. We can see faith lived out in love and relationships; or be horrified by the things done in God’s name. Faith in action can move us to do something, to confront the sins of our age, such as sexism, homophobia, racism to name a few.

That’s the big idea. The small idea looks something like this: I wanted to give writers an intriguing theme and then get out of their way.  So we get  a zombie story from Catherynne Valente, a dark science fiction tale from Gary A. Braunbeck, and stories that blur and transcend genre labels from Nick Mamatas, Lavie Tidhar, and Tom Piccirilli.  Some stories are violent, some are funny, some are sex filled … all will move you.

—-

Dark Faith: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Apex Books|Powell’s

Visit Maurice Broaddus’ blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Various & Sundry, 5/6/10

Short thoughts about what I’m thinking regarding things and stuff:

* Over the last couple of days I’ve been asked if I have any thoughts about the British elections, which are today, and the answer is, not really, no: It’s not my country and while I’ve been reading about it casually off of friends’ blogs and from Andrew Sullivan, what I’ve really learned is that I don’t know enough about British politics to make any sort of informed comment.

What I can say is a) I really like the fact that election season in the UK is confined to ten weeks, which seems sane compared to the US “eternal campaign” mode, and b) it’s interesting to look at politics in a country where the typical MP of the mainstream “right” party would be something like a moderate albeit slightly hawkish member of the Democratic party here in the US. I took one of those “which UK party would you belong to?” quizzes myself and found my positions being somewhere between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, with the quiz ultimately assigning me to the Conservatives. As someone who occasionally gets sniped at by right-leaning folks here in the US as being a pinko commie liberal, I found this deeply amusing.

* Also have very little to add to the story of George Alan Rekers, professional conservative homophobe found engaging the services of a twinkish young man through male escort site Rentboy.com, except that it once again feeds my perceptual bias that when a conservative male says “the gays are a danger to our way of life,” the unsaid portion of that sentence running in his mind is “because they are so delicious and I just want to gobble them up.”

What irritates me most about these things is how appallingly stupid their excuses are when they get caught. “Oh, I just hired this hot young man from an online gay escort service to lift my luggage.” “Oh, I hired this male escort to massage me for three years because I was stressed.” “Oh, I offered this guy in a public restroom $20 to blow him because I was afraid he would beat me up, in his dusky, chocolately blackness.” Bitch, please. I mean, no, I don’t expect these guys to say “Wow, you caught me, fair enough,” and then patiently lay out their down low proclivities over the years to a happily gnashing press. But, come on, guys. Not even in deepest Religious Conservatania are these things going to fly.

There’s also the lesson here that when one is in fact tolerant of gays and lesbians, one then has the option of not having to resort to male escorts and public restrooms to find congenial company. It’s just a thought.

* Oh, look: Joe the Plumber has won a seat on his local GOP board. Nice to see he’s getting work.

* Oil Spill! My thought on that, aside from the general and appropriate “well, this sucks” response: Hmmm, bet Obama is regretting his plan of a few weeks earlier to open up more portions of the seaboard to drilling. I’m aware of Rush Limbaugh and a couple of others floating the idea that the spill was some sort of planned sabotage by environmentalists, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any sort of traction, I suspect because it requires a “he’s just carrying my luggage” level of credulity.

* Guy trying to bomb Times Square: One, glad we caught him; two, glad he was an incompetent bomb maker; three, oddly enough it does seem that reading the dude his rights and not trundling him off with a bag over his head to be waterboarded is paying off in terms of getting him to talk. Oddly.

The New York Times has an interesting article today in which friends of the attempted bomber note the correlation between the decline of his economic fortunes and the rise of his miltantness. I say “correlation” because I want to be very careful to avoid going “Look! That’s the cause!” because, really, what do I know about the guy? And also I suspect there’s a lot that happens between being a normal sort of fellow and becoming the sort of guy who tries to bomb a bunch of people with an SUV.

There is apparently evidence of a tie between this event and the Pakistani Taliban, to whom I say: Please to enjoy our Predator Drones! They will be saturating your sky soon. I also rather strongly suspect our Ambassador to Pakistan has had a nice conversation with that country’s president, along the lines of “this is the part where your army goes up there and kills all the Taliban our Predator Drones miss.” So we’ll see how that goes.

* People who have looked at my appearance schedule know I will be appearing at the Phoenix ComicCon later this month and wanted to know if I was planning to back out because of the immigration law that was passed in Arizona. The answer is no: I made the commitment before the law was passed and to the best of my knowledge the Phoenix ComicCon was not integral in its passage so I’m not inclined to punish it therewith. Moreover Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has been pretty vocal against the law, so I feel fine about being in Phoenix.

But, yeah, I’ll note after the Phoenix ComicCon I won’t be in a huge rush to trundle back to Arizona. Backers of Arizona’s immigration law have been lately bleating about how they had no choice but to pass it because Washington’s not been doing anything about illegal immigration. Well, you know what, you don’t protest your landlord not fixing a broken door by burning down the apartment building. In my estimation the Arizona immigration law is unconstitutional, and despite the wall-papering amendments added to the law after it was passed, in practice it will almost certainly be racist, as the very excuse its proponents give for its passage rather explicitly notes who the targets of the law are, since Arizona is not precisely concerned about illegal aliens from Vancouver.

This isn’t an official boycott, since I don’t have the real inclination to double check everything I do or buy to see if it’s got any Arizona component. Nor do I feel inclined to tell anyone else what to do on the matter. But on the other hand I’m not going to go out of my way to spend a whole lot of time in a place where I feel members of my own family are part of a general suspect class, and that a police officer might see them drive by, notice their skin color and features, and then look to see if their tail light is working. Sure, they’re not supposed to do it in that order, and I don’t think most of Arizona’s police officers will. But if you don’t think some will, you live in the same land where “he’s carrying my luggage” is a reasonable excuse.

Iron Man 2 Questions

A tiny indie film called Iron Man 2 is coming out this Friday, and who knows, maybe it will show up at a theater near you. Maybe. In the meantime, over at AMC’s FilmCritic.com, I field a couple of questions about the film, on the subject of whether its lack of 3D-ness will cause the film to suffer at the box office, and whether comic book films like Iron Man 2 are crowding out “real” science fiction films in theaters. Your life will not be complete unless you read what I have to say on the matter. And comment! Over there.

The Big Idea: Ellen Datlow

William Gibson famously said “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” This fact is evident in the world of electronic publishing: with the arrival of the iPad, Kindle and Nook, many folks believe that we’re at the start of a whole new era of reading… to which Hugo-winning editor Ellen Datlow might be forgiven for rolling her eyes; see, she was publishing science fiction electronically fifteen years ago — so long ago that Steve Jobs was still in his Apple exile, and Amazon.com’s warehouse was barely larger than Jeff Bezos’ garage. The future was already here, if not evenly distributed, and Datlow was there to get it underway.

Some of the best of the fiction she published online is part of Digital Domains, a collection that brings these stories into print — print! Of all things! — including some for the very first time. What’s more, Datlow is here now to share with you some of the history of the future of publishing, and how we got from there to here.

ELLEN DATLOW:

When I began editing the fiction for OMNI online in the mid-90s, it never occurred to me that I was at the vanguard of a new delivery system for short fiction. The actual first online fiction we published was a series of commissioned novellas sponsored by a car company–and they weren’t on the OMNI website, because at the time, we didn’t have one. They were on a section of AOL that was a content area. This was in 1995. Soon after, a real OMNI online site was created, mixing fiction with non-fiction as did the print OMNI.

Soon after Kathy Keeton, the creator of OMNI died, the corporation pulled the plug on us and my former colleagues and I formed Event Horizon: science fiction, fantasy, horror a website intended to draw attention to our budding web business, Event Horizon Web Productions. The four of us: Robert Killheffer, Pamela Weintraub, Kathleen Stein, and I ran three live, real-time online sf conventions for Eos Books and an online book tour. Event Horizon published original and classic fiction, commissioned superstrings (round robins) and provocative nonfiction commentary, and held online chats with a variety of writers.

The site wound down in July 1999, just as I was offered running SCIFICTION, a new part of the SCI FI Channel’s website that would be dedicated to publishing new fiction weekly.  SCIFICTION was alive for almost six years. During that period, the Channel was sold at least three times, eventually ending up in the hands of NBC. Although attempts were made to publish a best of SCIFICTION, they never worked out.

In total, I worked for online sf/f/h websites for about ten years. During that period, the quantity and quality of online fiction improved immensely, in part to the credibility OMNI Online, EH, and SCIFICTION brought to the medium. OMNI Online was the first online market accredited by SFWA. “Thirteen Phantasms” by James P. Blaylock and published by OMNI Online, was the first online story to win the World Fantasy Award. “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link, first published by Event Horizon, also won the World Fantasy Award. Linda N. Nagata’s novella “Goddesses,” was the first online piece of fiction added to the Nebula ballot by the additions jury and was the first to actually win the Nebula Award.

Digital Domains is merely a representation of the fiction published by OMNI Online, Event Horizon, and SCIFICTION. Some of the stories are award winners or award nominees and some are favorite stories of mine, and a few have never been published in print before now. I’d like to feel that I helped pave the way to the explosion of great genre fiction currently on the web.

Of course, there’s still the crucial economic issue that hasn’t yet been resolved: How to pay the creators and editors of that fiction. Corporate sponsorships, donations, advertising, or a combination of the three still seem the most common.

—-

Digital Domains: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Ellen Datlow’s LiveJournal.

A Money Entry of Sorts

A question from the peanut gallery:

You’ve had a couple of entries over the years where you’ve talked about how much money you make as a writer. Are you still open to talking about that and breaking down what you make?

As it happens, these days I’m not as open about it. Not because I’m uncomfortable about mentioning my income, but because at this point I’m often contractually not at liberty to discuss what I’m doing — I think most of you are aware I have those seekrit projects I can’t tell you about, of which Fuzzy Nation was only one — or what my exact compensation is even for the things you know I’m doing. Absent being able to break down my income and from there discuss how it relates to being a working writer here and now, there’s no point bringing up the topic. Suffice to say that a) I’m doing just fine, thanks, and b) my long-standing strategy of having multiple revenue streams continues to work well for me, and I recommend it for any freelance writer.

To be clear, mention of seekrit projects makes my life seem rather more exciting than it is, and I don’t want to over-inflate expectations or be accused of over-dramatizing my situation. My seekrit projects are seekrit simply because I can’t discuss them in any relevant way; it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily exciting. I don’t have a sideline gig as a ninja assassin or anything, nor (and more relevantly to this entry) am I going to be buying a personal jet with my seekrit proceeds. It just means I’m not able talk about some money stuff that I was able to talk about before. When and if that changes, and I expect it will in time, I’ll be happy to have that discussion here again. But for now it will have to wait.