Monthly Archives: June 2010

Office in Progress

As most of you are aware, I’ve been renovating my office for the last few months, a process which has included repainting, taking out the old carpet, putting in new floors and shelves, getting new furniture and so on. The office isn’t completely finished yet — we still have new blinds and couple of new pieces of furniture to get, and then books need to go back on the shelves — but I thought you might like a sneak preview of the office in progress.

I’m particularly pleased by the bookshelves, which were custom made for me by Overholser Cabinets here in Bradford. Aaron Overholser, the owner, is also the fellow who made my new desk, and there’s also another really excellent piece here that he’s done for me that I’ll hold off on showing you all until the office is completely put together. Nevertheless, if you’re in the northern Dayton area and need some cabinet work done (as well as kitchens, etc), he’s the fellow I’d recommend.

Also, for those of you who want a followup, Athena (pictured here on the chaise lounge) is doing fine; a little bit of an ear infection but we’re working on that now. Thanks for the good wishes.

Please Stand By

The good news is: Hit my deadline. Go me.

The bad news is: My morning is going to be taken up with the running of the daughter over to the doctor’s, because she is feeling poorly, which is sad thing and especially during summer vacation.

Be back a bit later with a new Big Idea piece and a visit from the cake fairies! And I know how you all love the cake fairies.

Science Fiction Films and the Environment

Over at FilmCritic.com this week, I’m looking at environmental themes in science fiction, and whether the oil spill in the gulf means that we’re likely to have more film of an environmental stripe over the next couple of years. The answer may surprise you! Or it may not because by now you know all my little tricks, don’t you? It’s like we’re married or something. As always, feel free to leave your comments and observations on the article over there on the FilmCritic site.

The Self-Awareness of Incompetence (or Lack Thereof)

Long-time readers of Whatever will remember that a couple of years ago I made mention of the “Dunning-Kruger Syndrome,” in which an incompetent person is not aware of his or her own incompetence. Over at the New York Times, noted filmmaker Errol Morris has an interesting interview with David Dunning, the Cornell professor of psychology who co-discovered and lent his name to the syndrome, and it’s apparently the first of five, with four more installments upcoming. As a person with a more than passing interest in incompetence, I found it to be a fascinating discussion, and naturally I recommend it to for your own reading.

Part of the reason I find it fascinating is that I think there’s a critical intersection between being willing to try things you’re not good at (or good at yet) to learn and experience them — and thus accepting that there’s an interim period of incompetence in the area while one gets up to speed — and the self knowledge (or lack thereof) that no matter how much effort you put into something, you won’t ever reach a sufficient level of competence. Or in shorter words, there’s a cross street between “try something new” and “give it up, already,” and I think it’s interesting to find out, when people get to that particular curb, if they actually know where they’re standing.

For myself, I’ll say that one of the nicer things about getting older is that I think I’ve become better aware of what my own incompetencies are, based both on experience and my own self-knowledge as a person. Even better, I’m less motivated to pretend that I don’t have incompetencies, because at this point I don’t have much ego invested in the idea there’s nothing I can’t do, in no small part because I know there are things I can do very well, and that knowledge allows me to relax about other things. Which is to say I’ve found my niche and have done well enough in it that I don’t need to worry that there are other niches I’m better suited for. I still love trying new things, both personally and professionally, but the way I tend to approach them is “let’s see if I do with this” rather than “I can totally do this.” This works out for me because when I can totally do something, I’m happy, and when I can’t, I’m not crushed.

Also, to be blunt about it, it’s sort of a relief to be able to say “you know what? I don’t do that well. You should get someone else.” Less stress for me to try to do something I’m not good at, less stress for whomever I’m supposed to be doing that thing for or with, because then their opinion of me doesn’t have to go down as a flail about, nor do they have to clean up my inevitable messes. Everybody wins in that scenario, and especially me. Among other things, it gives me more time to do what I know I’m good at.

I don’t think I’m 100% accurate in my assessments, either of what I do well or what I don’t, and thus there are screw ups and missed opportunities because of that. But no one’s perfect, least of all me, and I think that awareness keeps me from being a Dunning-Kruger poster boy on most days. That works for me.

Repeat

Hey, remember that thing I did last weekend? When I took the weekend off and had a life outside of the computer? Yeah? Okay, then: I’m gonna do it again. Like, now. See you Monday.

Joe Barton Just Wants to Have His Life Back

There are many ways to distinguish between the two major political parties in the United States, but one of the more obvious ways is in how they choose to implode. Democrats, for example, tend to implode in slow motion, when their own aimless, plodding inertia turns them into lugubrious and easy targets for the right wing media, which scurries around them, draping yet another thin, disingenuous stratum of “they’re socialist grandmother killers!” over them until the whole sludgy edifice collapses from the accumulated weight, and the Democrats are crushed underneath. Republicans, on the other hand, implode like old, fat, gassy stars, when the depleted fuel of their empty ideology can’t sustain further inward pressure from their personal idiocy, and the whole mess sucks down and then spectacularly erupts into a blazing display of abject stupidity.

And then you have something like what happened yesterday, when Texas representative and ranking Republican member of the house’s energy and commerce committee Joe Barton apologized to BP for having to endure the “shakedown” of agreeing to put $20 billion in an escrow account to help pay for the damages the company inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly thereafter Barton was forced by the Republican leadership both to apologize for his apology and to retract it, which he did, in exactly the same manner a 10-year-old boy whose mother is standing behind him with a well-used wooden spoon apologizes to his sister for putting a dog turd in her bed. Barton didn’t apologize because he felt he did or said anything wrong; he did it because the alternative — losing his standing on the energy and commerce committee — would be more painful.

It’s this fact which is the real problem for the Republicans. The Republican leadership is righteously pissed off at Barton at the moment, but the question not answered is: Is it pissed off because he said something that does not reflect the Republican point of view on the escrow account, or is it pissed off because Barton, the House GOP point man on energy, was stupid enough to say it out loud at a congressional hearing? The phrases “shakedown” and “slush fund” as regards the escrow account didn’t come out of nowhere — other Republicans and right wing media were already using the terms before Barton made an ass of himself with them. The major difference is that when Michelle Bachmann and Sean Hannity punt the terms about, they’re part of the GOP “socialist grandmother killer” strategy of dinging the Democrats over the long term, and the Republican leadership doesn’t have to engage with it directly and can distance itself from it if need be while still benefiting from getting the meme out there.

But when Barton, poster boy for the House GOP energy policy, used them, there was nowhere for the GOP leadership to hide. It had to either disavow the statements and step on Barton’s head, or hand the Democrats a really thick board to smack Republicans with from here to November. So the leadership disavowed the statements and in doing so killed off any benefit they get from Bachmann or Hannity burbling on about shakedowns and slush funds because now they are explicitly contrary to the GOP position, and any further leakage of the phrases from backbenchers and right wing media is going to be used by the Democrats as further proof of the GOP’s utter insincerity on the matter. But some folks won’t get the memo, which is to say the Democrats probably still have a nice thick board to use between now and the elections, which Barton didn’t just hand to them but personally engraved and then dropped trou and bent over to receive his beating.

I don’t want to suggest the GOP isn’t going to pick up seats in the House and Senate in November — I suspect it will — but I don’t think it will pick up enough seats to take the majority from the Democrats in either chamber and I suspect that a large part of that will be because of the complete mess the party is currently making of its Oil Spill messaging, and in particular its association with and affinity for BP. One, I’m not at all sure why any Republican would want to be seen taking the side of a massive foreign corporation over the American citizens and small business owners whose livelihoods are now threatened by that massive foreign corporation’s neglect and ineptitude. Two, in particular, I’m not at all sure why the Republicans would want to be seen doing that in the American South, where the majority of its political base lies. Three, nobody who isn’t stupid and/or reflexively partisan would pretend that if a Republican president had negotiated the exact same escrow account with BP that Bachmann, Hannity, Barton et al, wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to point out how it’s an example of how Republicans work with private business to solve problems rather than trying to have government be the solution in itself and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

Basically there’s little in the GOP oil spill positioning that isn’t a) initially following the mantra of “Whatever Obama does is Socialist,” b) a confused and hasty backtrack from that position when the GOP realize that most people are not interested in blaming Obama, they’re interested in blaming BP, which to be fair is responsible for having its oil rig blow up, killing 11 workers, and gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the reason for this is that I don’t think the GOP as it is currently intellectually constituted is able to handle getting off the script regarding point a), or doing anything but responding petulantly and defensively regarding point b). It and its members (and media) are so used to their “socialist grandma killer” talking points, and in trying to help the Democrats do their slow motion implosion that they just don’t notice that when it comes to BP and the gulf, they’re setting themselves up for their own implosions of supernova magnitude.

Joe Barton had to go up like an oily Roman candle for this to impinge in the GOP consciousness. I wonder how many more GOPers will have to go up for it to really sink in.

Dude, I am HUGE in Germany + METAtropolis Review

Look at this kickass ad for the German version of The Android’s Dream, off the German iBookstore, in Germany:

I love it when publishers spend money advertising my books. Makes me all warm inside, it does. I mean, above my normal metabolic rate (Update: Someone noted that in the US at least the iBookstore doesn’t do “co-op” payments, so if that holds true in Germany as well, its presence there means someone at Apple in Germany is a fan. WHICH IS EVEN BETTER). Thanks to Yannick Posse for sending it along so I could geek out to it.

In other me-related news, here’s a nice Bookgasm review of the Tor edition of METAtropolis, which as you all know is out now in the bookstores and pining for your touch. Money quote:

Tor is now releasing the work for the first time in a general trade format, and fans of the post-recession-apocalypse genre should rejoice at that… [This] is an impressively cohesive story collection, offering a varied sample of post-recession literature. Not quite post-apocalyptic, in that the world has not ended, and yet definitely set in the post-recession years, the tales provide a frightening glimpse into what could very well be our future if events continue as is.

I will say it’s been sort of unsettling to watch parts of METAtropolis come into phase with reality over the last couple of years; it’s not necessarily one of those times you want to be able to say “told you so.” But it does make for interesting reading, if I do say so myself.

15 Years

Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the first date between Krissy and myself, the day before that the 16th anniversary of my marriage proposal, and today, as it happens, is the 15th anniversary of our wedding. Yes, that’s right, we have a three day anniversary festival every year. It makes anniversaries easier to remember, if nothing else.

If you’ve been reading along for the last couple of days, you’ve probably gotten the (correct) intimation that even after fifteen (or sixteen, or seventeen) years, I am still insensibly in love with my wife and just about unbearably happy to be married to her every day. This is, of course, entirely true. What this elides, however — what this sort of lightly skips over — is that this happiness does not just exist; it was to be created and built and maintained. Six years ago, when I was giving marriage advice to others, I wrote: “Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.” This is something I still think is true. Human relationships are highly entropic; you have to keep putting energy into them or they fall apart. Marriages are especially entropic because they operate at such a high level of commitment, and yet ironically I think lots of people assume that once achieved, a marriage takes care of itself.

It doesn’t. But marriage isn’t an object or a thing or a pet with opposable thumbs and the ability to open Tupperware to feed itself while you’re out doing something else. It’s a system, a process, a relationship. It’s not solid state; it’s got lots of moving parts. You have to tend to it or it jams up and stops functioning. So: Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.

Work is not a bad thing, mind you. Work can be joyful and pleasurable and a thing which illuminates and gives meaning to every corner of your life. Work can be a very good thing. What makes it work is simply that has to be done.

I’m not going to give you a list of “work tips” because I think a) that’d be a little smug of me and b) different marriages are made up of different people and what works for us isn’t necessarily going to work for them. But there is one thing Krissy and I do which I think does have universal application, so allow me to recommend it to you. And it is:

Krissy and I say “I love you” to each other. A lot. As in, it’s typically the first thing we say to each other in the morning, and the last thing we say to each other in the evening, and the thing that gets worked into the conversation during the rest of the day. We say it because we mean it, and we often also say it because we mean something else by it. Depending on context, “I love you” means “I love you,” or “I need your help with this thing I’m doing” or “I can’t believe this is the fourth time I’ve asked you to take out the trash” or “thank you” or “I miss you” or “I am saying these words to remind myself that I do in fact love you because right now what I really want to do is SMOTHER YOU TO DEATH WITH THIS PILLOW” or “You should get me ice cream” or “You are a good parent” or “Damn you are HAWT” or any number of other things.

And you ask, why don’t you just say those things instead of “I love you”? For one reason, because generally speaking we could say those things to just about anyone (when, you know, appropriate), but “I love you” is reserved away for the two of us, so it’s a reminder of what we mean to each other. For another reason, in those times that we’re frustrated or exasperated or angry or tired, it lets the other of us know that even though we are frustrated or exasperated or angry or tired, that doesn’t change the fact that we love them. For another reason, as long as you mean it, saying or hearing those words never gets old. For another reason, saying the words gives you an opportunity to actually remember that you do love the other person — it’s another opportunity to cherish them in your heart, even (especially) when it’s an “I love you” of the “take out the trash, already” variety. And for a final reason, hey, you know what? We just plain like saying it to each other, and that’s all the excuse we need.

Saying “I love you” isn’t in itself a sufficient act of marriage work; words have to be backed up by deeds. Even so, I think saying “I love you” can be both performative and sustaining, the mortar between the bricks in the edifice of a married life. I’d say without hesitation that each of us telling the other that we love them, as often as we tell each other, has mattered to our marriage. It seems a simple and maybe even silly thing, but, I don’t know. If you’re too complex and serious to tell your spouse that you love them, early and often, I wish you joy in your marriage nonetheless. It works for us, we’ll keep doing it, and I recommend it to everyone, for every day of their marriage and life together.

In fact, go do it now. If you’re married (and even if you’re not), seek out that person whom you love and who loves you, and tell them that you love them. Pretty sure they’ll be happy that you said it. Which will make you happy. Which will make Krissy and me happy, on this our 15th wedding anniversary.

The Big Idea: Nnedi Okorafor

What do spiders have to do with stories? For most of us, not much of anything, unless the spider gets into the book you’re reading, in which case it might get very physically involved in the story when you squish it with the book. But for Nnedi Okorafor, whose latest novel Who Fears Death is receiving breathtakingly good reviews (“A fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling,” said Publishers Weekly in a starred review), spiders came to mean something very important during the writing of the novel — something integral to storytelling. Here’s how Okorafor stopped worrying and learned to love the spiders… or, well, if not love them, at least learned to appreciate them metaphorically.

NNEDI OKORAFOR:

I’m terrified of spiders.

Something about them makes me jumpy. Of course, because they are sneaky and tricksy, this is reason for them to always be present in my life. Wherever I go, I bring spiders. They get in my car. Land on my computer. Scramble across my desk when I’m teaching a class (my students enjoyed my reaction that day). There was the large pink spider (with an ample hairy backside) that lived in the vent of my car. One day, it had the audacity to come out and stand on my dashboard while I was speeding down the highway. While in Nigeria, there was the legendary spider that was the size of a dinner plate. This cousin of Shelob was hanging out in a hallway corner in the house.

When I was deep in the writing of Who Fears Death, a spider kept appearing in the same spot in my bedroom. Spiders prefer shadowy places, but this black wolf spider came out in the open. It would stand in front of my bed. I smashed it with a book twice (I don’t normally kill creatures…but this spider was huge and in my bedroom), I sprayed it with Raid, I sprayed the spot with Spider Killer (this is supposed to keep spiders away for 6 months!), I had my brother capture it and put it outside once. Each time, it returned to stand on that same spot (or some other spider took its place).

The spider returned six times over several weeks. By the sixth visit, I left it alone. I had a feeling that I was being visited and that it had something to do with what I was writing. In West African culture, spiders tend to represent creativity and storytelling. That recurring (or shall I say reincarnating) spider in my bedroom might have been sent by the famous storytelling Ghanaian spider named Anansi.

Or maybe it wasn’t Anansi at all. Maybe it was the lesser-known but equally formidable Nigerian story-spinning spider named Udide Okwanka. He is the supreme spider artist who toils beneath the ground, in the ekwuru (the spirit world). He possesses the power to gather fragments of any object and shape them into a new object. Maybe Udide Okwanka had gifts to impart to me, writing tools, perhaps. Sounds like magical realist mumbo jumbo, doesn’t it? Imagine that! But see, this is my Big Idea—The Story.

Who Fears Death is a novel that delves into several charged issues, but first and foremost, it seeks to be a grand display of storytelling. I should love spiders, for I love stories. For me, stories snap the world into focus, add new dimensions, hybridize old ones, and present me with a new vocabulary of smells and sounds. More than once in my life, stories have kept me sane. Who Fears Death is my homage to the oral tradition of my Igbo heritage and the writing tradition of my Western upbringing. It is no coincidence that I have written an oral story in book form.

We begin with a woman named Onyesonwu (which means “Who Fears Death” in Igbo) sitting in jail because of something terrible that she has done. She will be executed in two days. She doesn’t have much time but she must speak her story. If she does not, who will? The individual documenting her words will type them onto a laptop computer. From oral telling to written document.

Onyesonwu’s story is an intense weave. It deals with dark issues including genocide, rape, female circumcision, child soldiers and the rough tight constraints of fate. Nevertheless, the story bathes in light, too. There is the truest love, deep friendship, hope, valor, plenty of consensual sex (*blush*), and there is great adventure. And yes, there are strange spiders in this tale, too.

Who Fears Death is NOT a “look how bad Africa is and doesn’t that make you feel better about what you have?” kind of novel. Nor is it a romanticized view of Africa. It is “real” fiction. I wove this tale from the fragments of stories I gathered from family, friends, from within, from the atmosphere, from underground. This is a vision of a part of “Africa” from the inside that could not simply be explained or documented in a textbook, biography, or traditional African novel. I could only present this vision by using the spider’s tools, a.k.a. The Story.

In Birds of Heaven, Nigerian author Ben Okri wrote:

“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibility. They work with the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read and tell: subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” (34)

How close his description of stories is to that of spiders. And no matter how bothered I am by spiders, I have to admit I’m fascinated and rather obsessed with them, too. And they seem to feel the same way about me. Go figure.

—-

Who Fears Death: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Nnedi Okorafor’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Dateiversary

As constant — nay, fanatical – readers of this site, you’ll recall how yesterday was the 16th anniversary of me proposing marriage to Krissy. Well, today is the 17th anniversary of the two of us having our first date, which for the record, happened at El Presidente restaurant in Visalia, California, followed by dancing at the Marco Polo bar, which is where we had met three weeks previously (that doesn’t count as an official date because she was kind of there with a different date entirely, who she largely abandoned to dance with me, BWA HA HA HAH loser date of Krissy’s).

This means, as those of you with exceptional math skills have already deduced, that I proposed marriage one day short of a year from our first official date. I chose that date because it was a Wednesday, which meant my newspaper was running my weekly column, and my proposal was the subject of the column. However, I had known for some time that I wanted to marry her. In fact, I had known roughly nine months earlier, because after three months of dating Krissy it was clear that a) there was no way in which she was not awesome, b) there was no way I would ever do any better, mate-wise, than I was doing right that very second, so my task for the next 60 or so years would be not to screw up this relationship.

As any guy who has even the slightest semblance of impulse control will tell you, three months is a pretty quick time for a man to determine that he wants to spend the rest of his life with someone, so about seven years into our marriage, I noted to Krissy with some pride how soon it was that I was convinced that she was the person I wanted to marry.

“Uh-huh,” she said, less impressed than I had imagined she would be.

“Well, when did you decide that you wanted to marry me?” I asked.

“Our first date,” she said.

“AAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEEEGH,” I said, running terrified from the house — or would have, had, in fact, I had not been already married to her for seven years at this point and had been almost appallingly happy the whole time. Because you know who knows they want to marry someone after the first date? Crazy, crazy people, that’s who. And also, apparently, in data set a completely unattached to “crazy, crazy people,” my wife.

What I actually did say was, “I’m really glad you didn’t tell me that at the time.”

To which Krissy said, “Of course I didn’t tell you. Do you think I’m crazy?”

That statement, or more accurately the strategic intelligence behind it, is part of why we’re still married today.

Lest anyone think that Krissy was overstating her position on the matter, my mother-in-law confirmed that when her daughter came through the door after our first date, more or less the first words out of her mouth were “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” Which surprised my future mother-in-law, as previous to this her daughter’s general opinion of men was, shall we say, not nearly high enough to have marriage be part of it. So I have no reason to doubt that, in fact, Krissy had made the decision that night.

In retrospect, it’s a little weird to think that my entire future was falling into place as I obliviously tucked into the El Presidente chimichanga platter, but of course, that’s life for you — the most important days of your existence don’t always announce themselves in obvious ways. At the time, all I knew was that somehow I had managed to get a date with the single most gorgeous woman I had ever met in my entire life, and I focused on not talking with my mouth full, because I wanted to get to date number two. Well, and I did. And got happily ever after in the bargain.

Which means it was a good first date, seventeen years ago today.

Book Sequels and the Likelihoods Thereof

I’m getting a lot of questions about whether I’m going to write sequels to various books, so it’s time to create a standard document on the topic so that I can refer people to it rather than repeating myself over and over.

So, here’s the current status of sequels/continuations for:

The Old Man’s War series: I currently have nothing new planned in the Old Man’s War universe at the moment. This is not to say I will never return to the universe; I like to write in the universe, and on a practical note, it’s my most popular work, so on both counts I’d be stupid not to think about coming back to it in full-length novel form. So I expect I’ll write more novels there when I have a good new story arc to tell. I do plan to write some shorter work in the universe, mostly because I had lots of fun with “After the Coup.”

The Android’s Dream: Yes, I still plan to write The High Castle — indeed, it’s contractually obliged — but it’s not the next book I plan to write, and while it might be the book after that, it probably won’t be. It’s probably a couple more novels down the line.

Agent to the Stars: No plans for a sequel. I think it stands on its own pretty well and I don’t feel a pressing need to return to it. I may write more science fiction that takes place in contemporary time, because that’s fun to do, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be tied into this one.

The God Engines: No plans for a sequel here, in no small part because (ROT-13 SPOILER) V xvyyrq bss gur tbq gung znxrf gur ragver havirefr jbex. That said, I certainly had fun writing this particular dark, nasty fantasy novella, and would not be opposed to writing something else of a similar style and length somewhere down the line. Indeed, I think a quartet of dark, nasty fantasy novellas (including this one) might make a fine book at some point.

Fuzzy Nation: Considering this one isn’t even out yet, it’s a little early to discuss sequels. But if people go nuts for it, as it happens I have a sequel story idea ready to go, because it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

And that’s the status of sequels at the moment.

Also, in case you’re wondering, what I’m currently working on, fiction-wise, is not a sequel. Because I have the mildly crazy belief that from time to time you should write fiction which is not a continuation of something else. Which you can then write sequels for! See? It’s the circle of life, my friends.

The Failure Mode of Clever

So, apropos of nothing in particular, let’s say you wish to communicate privately with someone you’ve not communicated with privately before, for whatever reason you might have. And, wanting to stand out from the crowd, you decide to try to be clever about it, because, hey, you are a clever person, and as far as you know, people seem to like that about you. So you write your clever bit and send it off, safe in the knowledge of your cleverosity, and confident that your various cleverations will make the impression you want to make on the intended cleveree.

Two things here.

1. The effectiveness of clever on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn’t mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is “asshole.”

Allow me to offer a suggestion. If you are privately communicating with someone for the first time, as a general rule, the best course of action is to be polite and to the point. This is particularly the case if the reason you’re communicating with that person is because you are hoping to get them to do something for you, i.e., you’re asking for the favor of their time and attention and even possibly their money. That is not a situation in which you want to risk the failure mode of clever.

This is not to say that your cleverness should not eventually come out in your private communication; there’s a time for it, and usually that time is after you’ve established enough rapport with the other person that you know their receptiveness to cleverness in general, and your brand of it in particular. It’s “third date” material, as it were, not “first date.”

Indeed, the most clever thing you can do with your cleverness is to know when is the right time to use it. When in doubt, don’t. And if you’re not in doubt, ask yourself if you should be, especially if you’re communicating privately with someone for the first time. It’s just a suggestion.

80s Science Fiction Films: Which Should Get the “Karate Kid” Treatment?

The remake of The Karate Kid made a whole bunch of money last weekend, so now every studio will be looking at 80s movies to reheat and remake. In my FilmCritic.com column, I offer up one science fiction film from every year of the parachute pants decade for their remaking consideration, and try to go beyond the usual suspects, because, seriously, you don’t want a remake of E.T. Trust me on this one. As always your comments and criticisms are totally welcome over there.

The Big Idea: Leanna Renee Hieber

Author Leanna Renee Hieber likes all things Gothic, and I’m not just saying that because when I met her at Phoenix Comicon a few weeks ago, she was dressed head to foot in a sumptuously Gothic blue and black Victorian-era getup (although she was, and that was my first big hint). The Gothic sensibility is also a cornerstone of her “Strangely Beautiful” series of novels, of which the second, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, has just hit bookstores. What does it take to go Gothic in a true and fully committed way? Hieber has a list… for starters.

LEANNA RENEE HIEBER:

My sequel in the Strangely Beautiful series just released in May, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. The series in two words: Victorian Ghostbusters. In one word: Gothic. I started writing my first novel when I was 12 years old, set in 1888. It was a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera because in my infinite pubescent wisdom I thought I could one-up Leroux. Suffice to say that was ridiculous, however it proves my favourite themes have long been with me.

There are certain things one expects in a Gothic Novel. (Cue Wagnerian music).

Leanna’s Top Ten Gothic Goodies:

(And yes, she uses each of them at least once in her series)

10.  Setting / Atmosphere. For example: It was a dark and stormy Victorian London

9.    Angsty, forbidden love!

8.    Women in nightgowns running into the rain, screaming, crying, fainting.

7.    Prophecies / Big Secrets / Mysterious Powers, oh my!

6.    Older Man / Younger Woman and/or Hot-for-Teacher or Ward scenario.

5.    Gods!

4.    Reader knows who the bad guys are and watches the train wreck until the characters realize it- right before it’s too late.

3.    Ghosts!!!

2.    Orphan heroine alone and somewhat helpless until she ‘gets schooled’ on things- if you know what I mean. Then she does something awesome to save the day. (Because if she remains useless I have no use for her either).

1.    Tortured hero all in black, storming around, brooding and deeeeelicious.

A book is of course more than mere ingredients, and while I could list many more Gothic additives, my work also relies on my love of Horror, Romance, Fantasy, Historical and Young Adult fiction. I’m product of every genre I’ve ever adored. What this has meant for my writing process is that I take these ingredients and make them my own. The best way I’ve found to do this is to focus on the characters beyond their trappings, to create characters I love deeply, characters I continue to expand and explore, who I trust to tell the story they want told, within my favourite mental sandbox in which to play: a Gas-lit Victorian London filled with ghosts.

O Gothic Novel, Why do I love you?

Because in nearly no other genre can a reader lose oneself so completely, if one allows for the ride. A dark, tempting world, the Gothic can engulf you like a big black cloak loathe to relinquish you. It lurks around every corner, waiting for you. It knows somewhere a part of you is waiting for it too.

Now to be clear, I need the drama with a capital D to be justified by dimensional characters and by dimensional, albeit paranormal circumstances. But there’s a reason why the first book in the series, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker has been optioned for a Broadway musical. Drama. I loves it. (A love healthily fostered by my many years as a professional actress and playwright).

The Gothic is fun, flamboyant and flexible, it allows for the wildly fantastical as well as quiet moments of tenderness and poignancy. The human emotion therein can be real, even if the circumstances are fantastic. And the clothing is fabulous. (How many more f words can I use?)

I also take great pride in carrying on a grand literary tradition that cycles into popularity every century at some point. (As for my timing, I can’t worry about whether I’m trendy or not, I’m just writing what I love to write and hoping it finds its way into hearts and homes. Someone at my publisher (Dorchester) the other day described me as a bastard child of Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier. Bring it.)

O Gothic Novel, where are you going?

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker makes good on the personal and paranormal/mythological promises planted in The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. But as I sit working on Strangely Beautiful # 3 and contemplate the final book in the quartet, it feels like my series may veer away from some of the Gothic givens as it progresses. Now that all my characters and my dual worlds are established, I find myself relying more on the stalwart pillars of Fantasy and on my paranormal and mythological underpinnings. But rest assured; I’ll bring along healthy trunk-loads of angst, plenty of ghostbusting and maybe few more nightgowns for good measure.

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The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an except of the book. Visit her blog. Follow her on Twitter. And if you are a Barnes & Noble Nook user or have the Barnes & Noble Reader for iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad, for a limited time you may download for free to first book in the Strangely Beautiful series, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.

Hugo Voters Packet is Expanding

The folks at AussieCon4 have just sent me a note to tell me that the Hugo Voters Packet, already packed to the gills with nominated works, has expanded to include additional nominated works as well as many of the previously added works in new formats that play nice with your eBook readers, and so on. All the additions and additional formats are right here for your persual, and to get access to the newly expanded packet, all you need to do is get a membership to AussieCon4, either of the attending or supporting variety. The supporting membership is just $50 US and allows you to vote for the Hugos as well (which indeed, is the whole point of the packet: to get you the nominated works so you can make an informed vote). People who previously got memberships are able to access the new material as well.

You have until July 31st to vote, which is still more than enough time to do a whole stack o’ reading. Get to it!

Two Weeks to Viable Paradise Application Deadline

A reminder to you aspiring writers of science fiction and fantasy: You have until the 30th of this month to get in your applications to Viable Paradise, the week-long science fiction and fantasy workshop that I teach at, along with Elizabeth Bear, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould and Laura Mixon, and James Macdonald and Debra Doyle. It’s possible that there’s a better way for an aspiring sf/f writer to spend his or her first week in October, but to be truthful about it I’m hard-pressed to think what it might be. Plus, hey: Martha’s Vineyard in the fall. You’ll love it. Get those applications in and the best of luck to you.