All posts by John Scalzi

About John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

This Year’s Nebula Award Nominees

Oh, look, I just happen to have the SFWA Press Release for this year’s Nebula Award nominees right here. Let’s just put this sucker up, shall we?

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are pleased to announce the nominees for the 2014 Nebula Awards (presented 2015), nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Novel

  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
  • Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

Novella

  • We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
  • Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • “The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
  • “The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
  • Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
  • “Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)

Novelette

  • “Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
  • “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
  • “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
  • “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
  • “We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
  • “The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Short Story

  • “The Breath of War,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
  • “When It Ends, He Catches Her,” Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction 9/26/14)
  • “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
  • “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
  • “Jackalope Wives,” Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
  • “The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller  (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

An excellent selection of nominees, I have to say. Congratulations to all of them!

Oliver Sacks and Public Individuals at the Close

Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer and has decided to say goodbye to the public. It’s here, in the New York Times, and it’s both nicely done and something that’s being shared widely in my online social circle. Sacks seems, if not sanguine about the event, at least contented with the path of his life to date. Although it must be recognized that we’re seeing an intentionally composed piece of work, which may or may not reflect Sack’s actual frame of mind at the news, to the public, at least, he’s leaving with some uncommon grace.

And I would imagine that for someone like Sacks, who is a public figure, this is as positive a thing as can be under the circumstances. Public figures are, for better or worse, different than almost everyone else; they are characters in lives beyond their own circle of family and friends, and the narratives of their lives are at least partially offered up by others. When one of them dies suddenly and unexpectedly, the last word on their lives is usually wholly from others — friends and family, and then a host of commentators, who may or may not have been connected with that person’s life at all.

Depending on who you are as a person, having certain foreknoweldge that your life is quantifably finite — that you have only months or weeks to live — may not be a thing you want. But if it is a thing you deal with, if you are public individual, you have a chance to make your own public exit, and to leave on the terms you set. You won’t be the only one having a last word on your life (people will still talk about you after you are dead), but they and everyone else will factor in how you chose to walk off the public stage. And for many people who are in that position, I think that might be a comforting thought.

And what would I want? I don’t know how well I would handle knowing I was going to die sooner than later — I still like this place and the people in it, and I wouldn’t want to leave this party yet — but I suppose if I had to choose I wouldn’t mind knowing at least a little in advance. I think I would want to have some parting thoughts before I went, and I would like to be able to manage my public departure before I focused on spending time with family and those I loved. I guess I won’t really know until and unless it happens. Like I said, I’d be happy to have to wait a few more decades before having to think about it seriously.

But I am glad that Oliver Sacks, at least, is getting to shape his own moment. I hope he spends his remaining time exactly as he wants. I suspect he will.

Humble Subterranean Press Bundle: Pay What You Want For a Lot of Great Stuff

Most of you know that I do a lot of work with Subterranean Press, because they do an excellent job with my limited and/or off-the-wall projects. They are some of my favorite people to work with, and I’m not alone in this assessment: some of the best authors in science fiction and fantasy work with them, creating some amazing books.

Now you can get in on some of that for a very affordable price: SubPress is working with the Humble Bundle folks and has created a very excellent SubPress eBook bundle. Who is in the bundle? Well, for any price, you get:

  • Peter Brett
  • Harlan Ellison
  • Caitlin Kiernan
  • Cherie Priest
  • Dan Simmons
  • Connie Willis
  • Jack Vance

Kick in more than the average amount for the bundle, and you also get:

  • Kelly Armstrong
  • Clive Barker
  • Ted Chiang
  • Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard
  • Barry Hughart
  • Tim Powers
  • John Scalzi (hi!)

And if you pay more than $15, you also get:

  • Joe Lansdale
  • Robert McCammon
  • K.J. Parker

Basically, that’s a whole lot of excellent reading, from fantastic authors. Pay what you want, get everything you pay for completely DRM-free. And in doing so, you’ll also help out the Worldbuilders charity, as a cut of the proceeds goes to that.

Go get it now: Great authors, a great charity and a great value. This is totally worth your time and money. And tell your friends about it too — this bundle won’t be around forever.

Back in the Day

This is a picture of a Christmastime choral concert at my high school, roughly 30 years ago. You can tell it’s from Christmastime because of the otherwise utterly-nonessential-for-southern-California scarves the singers are wearing. I am in this picture. Can you find me?

(Here’s a larger version of the photo, if you need more detail to locate me.)

Photo by my friend Norm Carnick.

Binary Isn’t

There’s a very interesting piece in Nature today about how science is making it more clear than ever that the binary nature of the sexes isn’t actually binary at all — that there are a lot of gradiations in biological sexual development, brought on not only via chromosomal differentation (the old “XX” and “XY” thing) but a host of other processes. This is how people with XY chromosomes can (rarely) get pregnant and give birth, and how a man who fathered four children can be discovered to have a womb. Biology: It’s wacky.

I don’t imagine this report will make essentialists (“There’s men and there’s women and that’s it!”) particularly happy, but then it’s not actually the job of science to reinforce people’s comfort zones — or bigotries, to be less polite about it. But I look forward to the mental two-step some of these folks will take to try to cram this information into their understanding of the world, rather than to expand their understanding of the world based on this information. That should be interesting, and a little bit sad.

The Thing I’m Giving Up For Lent, 2015

I’m not religious, but in the last few years I’ve taken to giving up something for Lent, because I like the idea of mindful deprivation of a thing you enjoy (or at the very least, just plain do a lot), with an eye toward reflecting on that thing and its place in your life. Last year I gave up junk food; a couple of years before that, I gave up Coke Zero.

This year I am giving up something a little more esoteric, but still something I indulge in quite a bit: Ego searching. As long as there have been search engines, I’ve checked a few times a day on what’s being said about me on the Internet. This hasn’t always been a positive thing (did you know that some people on the Internet don’t like me?), but by and large it’s been interesting to see how I’m seen by people who are not me and who very often have no conception of the idea that I’m out there somewhere, lurking about. I’ve ego searched so often, and for so long, that I don’t really think about the fact I’m doing it.

So it seems a prime candidate for something to give up for Lent. It’s something I do, and enjoy and to some extent informs my view of the world, so giving it up will both require me to deal with its absence, and reflect on why I ego search so much in the first place (hint: the answer is in the first word of the phrase).

So between now and Easter I’m removing my ego search links from Google, Icerocket, Twitter, and other social media. I’m also (to the extent that it’s possible) going to avoid looking at searches and stats through WordPress, so no checking in to see how many visits the site gets, etc. Basically I’m trimming down my online ego gratification to levels I’ve not attempted since Alta Vista walked the earth. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate it, but then, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be any point in doing it.

Basically, if you ever wanted to talk about me behind my virtual back, this Lenten season is a perfect time to do it. Enjoy it, you jerks.

You Can’t Take Back What You Already Have

First, go read this. This is only one dude, to be clear, but his defensive, angry and utterly terrified lament is part and parcel with a chunk of science fiction and fantasy fandom and authors who want to position themselves as a last redoubt against… well, something, anyway. It essentially boils down to “The wrong people are in control of things! We must take it back! Attaaaaaaaack!” It’s almost endearing in its foot-stompy-ness; I’d love to give this fellow a hug and tell him everything will be all right, but I’m sure that would be an affront to his concept of What Is Allowed, so I won’t.

Instead let me make a few comments about the argument, such as it is. Much of this stuff I addressed last year when a similar kvetch appeared, but let me add some more notes to the pile.

1. The fellow above asserts that fans of his particular ilk must “take back” conventions and awards from all the awful, nasty people who currently infest them, as if this requires some great, heroic effort. In fact “taking back” a convention goes a little something like this:

Scene: CONVENTION REGISTRATION. ANGRY DUDE goes up to CON STAFFER at the registration desk.

Angry Dude: I AM HERE TO TAKE BACK THIS CONVENTION AND THE CULTURE THAT SO DESPERATELY CRIES OUT FOR MY INTERVENTION

Con Staffer: Okay, that’ll be $50 for the convention membership.

(Angry Dude pays his money)

Con Staffer: Great, here’s your program and badge. Have a great con!

Angry Dude:

I mean, everyone gets this, right? That conventions, generally speaking, are open to anyone who pays to attend? That the convention will be delighted to take your money? And that so long as one does not go out of one’s way to be a complete assbag to other convention goers, the convention staff or the hotel employees, one will be completely welcome as part of the convention membership? That being the case, it’s difficult to see why conventions need to be “taken back” — they were never actually taken away.

But the conventions are run by awful, nasty people! Well, no, the small local conventions (and some of the midsized ones, like Worldcon) are run by volunteers, i.e., people willing to show up on a regular basis and do the work of running a convention, in participation with others. These volunteers, at least in my experience, which at this point is considerable, are not awful, nasty people — they’re regular folks who enjoy putting on a convention. The thing is, it’s work; people who are into conrunning to make, say, a political statement, won’t last long, because their political points are swamped by practical considerations like, oh, arguing with a hotel about room blocks and whether or not any other groups will be taking up meeting rooms.

(Larger cons, like Comic-cons, are increasingly run by professional organizations, which are another kettle of fish — but even at that level there are volunteers, and they are also not awful, nasty people. They’re people who like participating.)

But the participants are awful, nasty people with agendas! That “problem” is solved by going to the convention programming people and both volunteering to be on panels and offering suggestions for programming topics. Hard as it may be to believe, programming staffers actually do want a range of topics that will appeal to a diverse audience, so that everyone who attends has something they’d be interested in. Try it!

Speaking as someone who once was in charge of a small convention open to the public, i.e., the Nebula Awards Weekend (I would note I was only nominally in charge — in fact the convention was run and staffed by super-competent volunteers), my position to anyone who wanted to come and experience our convention was: Awesome! See you there. Because why wouldn’t it be?

Again, science fiction and fantasy conventions can’t be “taken back” — they were, and are, open to everyone. I understand the “take back” rhetoric appeals to the “Aaaaugh! Our way of life is under attack” crowd, but the separation between the rhetoric and reality of things is pretty wide. Anyone who really believes conventions will be shocked and dismayed to get more paying members and attendees fundamentally does not grasp how conventions, you know, actually work.

2. Likewise, the “taking back” of awards, which in this case is understood to mean the Hugo Awards almost exclusively — I don’t often hear of anyone complaining that, say, the Prometheus Award has been hijacked by awful, nasty people, despite the fact that this most libertarian of all science fiction and fantasy awards is regularly won by people who are not even remotely libertarian; shit, Cory Doctorow’s won it three times and he’s as pinko as they come.

But yet again, you can’t “take back” the Hugos because they were never taken away. If you pay your membership fee to the Worldcon, you can nominate for the award and vote for which works and people you want to see recognized. All it takes is money and an interest; if you follow the rules for nominating and voting, then everything is fine and dandy. Thus voting for the Hugo is neither complicated, nor a revolutionary act.

Bear in mind that the Hugo voting set-up is fairly robust; the preferential ballot means it’s difficult for something that’s been nominated for reasons other than actual admiration of the work (including to stick a thumb into the eyes of people you don’t like) to then walk away with an award. People have tested this principle over the years; they tended to come away from the process with their work listed below “no award.” Which is as it should be. This also makes the Hugos hard to “take back.” It doesn’t matter how well a work (or its author) conforms to one’s political inclinations; if the work itself simply isn’t that good, the award will go to a different nominee that is better, at least in the minds of the majority of those who are voting.

The fellow above says if his little partisan group can’t “take back” the awards, then they should destroy them. Well, certainly there is a way to do that, and indeed here’s the only way to do that: by nominating, and then somehow forcing a win by, works that are manifestly sub-par, simply to make a political (or whatever) point. This is the suicide bomber approach: You’re willing to go up in flames as long as you get to do a bit of collateral damage as you go. The problem with this approach is that, one, it shows that you’re actually just an asshole, and two, it doesn’t actively improve the position of your little partisan group, vis a vis recognition other than the very limited “oh, those are the childish foot-stompers who had a temper tantrum over the Hugos.” Which is a dubious distinction.

With that said: Providing reading lists of excellent works with a particular social or political slant? Sure, why not? Speaking as someone who has been both a nominee and a winner of various genre awards, I am utterly unafraid of the competition for eyeballs and votes — which is why, moons ago, I created the modern version of the Hugo Voter’s Packet, so that there would be a better chance of voters making an informed choice. Speaking as someone who nominates and votes for awards, I’m happy to be pointed in the direction of works I might not otherwise have known about. So this is all good, in my view. And should a worthy work by someone whose personal politics are not mine win a Hugo? Groovy by me. It’s happened before. It’s likely to happen again. I may have even nominated or voted for the work.

But to repeat: None of this contitutes “taking back” anything — it merely means you are participating in a process that was always open to you. And, I don’t know. Do you want a participation medal or something? A pat on the head? It seems to me that most of the people nominating and voting for the Hugos are doing it with a minimum of fuss. If it makes you feel important by making a big deal out of doing a thing you’ve always been able to do — and that anyone with an interest and $50 has been able to do — then shine on, you crazy diamonds. But don’t be surprised if no one else is really that impressed. Seriously: join the club, we’ve been doing this for a while now.

3. Also a bit of paranoid fantasy: The idea that because the wrong people are somehow in charge of publishing and the avenues of distribution, this is keeping authors (and fans, I suppose) of a certain political inclination down. This has always been a bit of a confusing point to me — how this little partisan group can both claim to be victimized by the publishing machine and yet still crow incessantly about the bestsellers in their midst. Pick a narrative, dudes, internal consistency is a thing.

Better yet, clue into reality, which is: The marketplace is diverse and can (and does!) support all sorts of flavors of science fiction and fantasy. In this (actually real) narrative, authors of all political and social stripes are bestsellers, because they are addressing slightly different (and possibly overlapping) audience sets. Likewise, there are authors of all politicial and social stripes who sell less well, or not at all. Because in the real world, the politics and social positions of an author don’t correlate to units sold.

With the exception of publishing houses that specifically have a political/cultural slant baked into their mission statements, publishing houses are pretty damn agnostic about the politics of their authors. The same publishing house that publishes me publishes John C. Wright; the same publishing house that publishes John Ringo publishes Eric Flint. What do publishing houses like? Authors who sell. Because selling is the name of the game.

Here’s a true fact for you: When I turn in The End of All Things, I will be out of contract with Tor Books; I owe them no more books at this point. What do you think would happen if I walked over to Baen Books and said, hey, I wanna work with you? Here’s what would happen: The sound of a flurry of contract pages being shipped overnight to my agent. And do you know what would happen if John Ringo went out of contract with Baen and decided to take a walk to Tor? The same damn noise. And in both cases, who would argue, financially, with the publishers’ actions? John Ringo would make a nice chunk of change for Tor; I’m pretty sure I could do the same for Baen. Don’t kid yourself; this is not an ideologically pure business we’re in.

(And yes, in fact, I would entertain an offer from Baen, if it came. It would need many zeros in it, mind you. But that would be the case with any publisher at this point.)

Likewise, I don’t care how supposedly ideologically in sync you are with your publisher; if you’re not selling, sooner or later, out you go. These are businesses, not charities.

But let’s say, just for shits and giggles, that one ideologically pure faction somehow seized control of all the traditional means of publishing science fiction and fantasy, freezing out everyone they deemed impure. What then? One, some other traditional publisher, not previously into science fiction, would see all the money left on the table and start up a science fiction line to address the unsated audience. Two, you would see the emergence of at least a couple of smaller publishing houses to fill the market. Three, some of the more successful writers who were frozen out, the ones with established fan bases, could very easily set up shop on their own and self-publish, either permanently or until the traditional publishing situation got itself sorted out.

All of which is to say: Yeah, the paranoid fantasy of awful, nasty people controlling the genre is just that: Paranoid fantasy. Now, I understand that if you’re an author of a certain politicial stripe who is not selling well, or a fan who doesn’t like the types of science fiction and fantasy that other people who are not you seem to like, this paranoid fantasy has its appeal, especially if you’re feeling beset politically/socially in other areas of your life as well. And that’s too bad for you, and maybe you’d like a hearty fist-bump and an assurance that all will be well. But it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, no matter who you are, there will always be the sort of science fiction and fantasy you like available to you. Because — no offense — you are not unique. What you like is probably liked by other people, too. There are enough of you to make a market. That market will be addressed.

Again, I am genuinely flummoxed why so many people who are ostensibly so in love with the concept of free markets appear to have a genuinely difficult time with this. It’s not all illuminati, people. It never was.

4. And this is why, fundamentally, the whole “take back the genre” bit is just complete nonsense. It can never be “taken back,” it will never be “taken back,” and it’s doubtful there was ever a “back” to go to. The genre product market is resistant to ideological culling, and the social fabric of science fiction fandom is designed at its root to accomodate rather than exclude. No one can exclude anyone else from science fiction and fantasy fandom when the entrance requirement is, literally, an interest in the genre, or some particular aspect of it. You can’t exclude people from conventions that require only a membership fee to attend. Even SFWA has opened up to self-publishing professional authors now, because it recognized that the professional market has changed. To suggest that the genre contract to fit the demands of any one segment of it doesn’t make sense, commercially or socially. It won’t be done. It would be foolish to do so.

The most this little partisan group (or those who identify with it) can do is assert that they are the true fans of the genre, not anyone else. To which the best and most correct response is: Whatever, dude. Shout it all you like. But you’re wrong, and at the end of the day, you’re not even a side of the genre, you’re just a part. And either you’re participating with everyone else in what the genre is today, or you’re off to the side wailing like a toddler who has been told he can’t have a lollipop. If you want to participate, come on in. If you think you’re going to swamp the conversation, you’re likely in for a surprise. But if you want to be part of it, then be a part of it. The secret is, you already are, and always have been.

If you don’t want to participate, well. Wail for your lolly all you like, then, if it makes you happy. The rest of us can get along without you just fine.

The Big Idea: Peter Darbyshire

In today’s Big Idea, author Peter Darbyshire casually subverts the Bible, Shakespeare and the reasons why one might choose a pen name, all in the service of his latest novel, The Dead Hamlets.

PETER DARBYSHIRE:

What if Christ left his body behind on our earthly realm when he went off to the undiscovered country?

And what if some other soul happened to find its way into Christ’s abandoned body and re-animated it?

This was the idea my demented muse burned into my mind with a mad cackle a few years back. When the smoke cleared, I had my Cross series of supernatural thrillers, written under the pen name Peter Roman*.

Cross was inspired in part by an Old English poem I read in university more years ago than I care to remember. I’ve forgotten most of what I learned while getting my English degree — there’s been little need for the politics of iambic pentamer since I fell out of the ivory tower and found myself in the real world, red in tooth and debt. But “The Dream of the Rood” has stuck with me over the decades, thanks to its intriguing perspective on the Crucifixion. It tells Christ’s story through the point of view of the cross that bore Christ.

I started thinking about the poem again one night when I was facing a relative’s death and had to deal with the practicalities of what to do with the body. When loved ones die, we tend to think of them in terms of memories or, if you’re so inclined, souls. We disconnect the dead from their bodies, which are soon to be hidden away somewhere out of sight and forgotten. The body becomes an afterthought to us, simply a carrier for the person, or at least what the person once was.

And then the muse struck, and I thought: what if the Rood from Christ’s story wasn’t a cross of wood but was instead the physical body that bore Christ’s soul during his time on Earth? What happened to that body after Christ left? What if, unlike all the other buried bodies, it didn’t stay forgotten?

And so I came up with the character of Cross, the poor soul who wakes up in Christ’s abandoned body in that cave all those centuries ago, with no idea of who he is or how he got there. He quickly learns that he can harness the supernatural powers of his body, and he discovers that he’s sort of immortal — he gets himself killed with disturbing frequency, but every time he does so the body resurrects with him still inhabiting it.

As it turns out, Cross is no saint. The first book in the series, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, opens with Cross hunting down and killing an angel for its heavenly grace, which is the power his body needs to perform its magical tricks. That particular misadventure leads him unwittingly into the middle of a war between the seraphim, who are divided about what to do with themselves ever since God abandoned the lot of them on the mortal realm. Cross also has to deal with a colourful and dangerous cast of characters, including a vengeful faerie queen he once wronged, the real Alice from the Alice in Wonderland books, a curious gorgon — and Judas, who was not a misguided human but in fact an ancient trickster god.

I can’t say too much else about The Mona Lisa Sacrifice because, well, spoilers. At the end of the book, though, I was left with an unfinished relationship between Cross and the faerie queen. I began thinking about where to go with the series next, and lo and behold, I remembered another ancient text I’d studied in university: Hamlet.

Actually, I thought of A Midsummer Night’s Dream first, as the faerie feature prominently in that play, and their sense of mischief in Shakespeare’s text largely informed the way I wrote them in The Mona Lisa Sacrifice. But I quickly moved on to Hamlet because of its preoccupation with mortality and death — something that Cross grapples with on a regular basis. I started flipping through my battered university copy of Hamlet until I read the line “Enter Ghost,” and suddenly I had the idea for my next book.

The Dead Hamlets features a mysterious and deadly spirit haunting the faerie court, and it is somehow tied to the Shakespearian play Hamlet. Cross is the only one who has the ability to stop it, thanks to his own peculiar nature. But he quickly discovers that everything is not what it seems to be with the spirit, and that Shakespeare himself hid a terrible and deadly secret about his greatest play.

Some familiar characters from The Mona Lisa Sacrifice return in The Dead Hamlets — the faerie queen and her court, the eerie Alice, the mysterious and horrifying Royal Family — but the book also introduces some new players, including the eccentric Scholar, the undead playwright and demon hunter Christopher Marlowe, and a very supernatural and very dangerous Shakespeare.

If you like the first two Cross books, the third instalment in the series, The Apocalypse Ark, is due out in the fall of 2015 and I’m starting to outline the fourth book. Cross is a character that won’t die. Just like that Old English poem I read all those years ago.

*Why the pen name Peter Roman? The official story is I use the pen name to distinguish my genre books from my other novels, written under my real name, Peter Darbyshire. It’s a case of branding my different author streams. The true story is that “Roman” is shorter than “Darbyshire,” so I get to see my name in bigger type on the cover.

—-

The Dead Hamlets: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

My Solo Album (Not Really But Even So)

So, I posted this picture of myself with ridiculously large, Bono-like sunglasses on Twitter and noted that if I ever decided to make a solo album called The Life and Times of a Pretentious Wanker, it would be the cover photo. And, well. A fellow with the Twitter handle of “Johnny Magnum” decided to take me at my word and added a few graphic elements to the picture. The resulting “album cover” is, in a word, perfect. It almost makes me wish I had an album of music to go with it. Maybe after the novel is done.

In the meantime, this is a fine time to remind people that I do actually have an entire album’s worth of electronic music, and it’s right here. It already has a title, alas.

I am Busy Today But Do Not Wish to Leave You With Nothing Here on Whatever, So Please Enjoy This Picture of a Cat in a Bathtub

And Lopsided Cat is all, “What? Can’t a cat have a little private time? With his favorite sponge?” Hey, man. I don’t judge.

How’s your Monday?

Today’s Thing I’ve Never Seen Before

It’s a large print edition of Redshirts, in a library binding and everything. I’m not 100% sure but I suspect this is the first book of mine in large print (the Hugo award may have helped it get into the format). At the very least it’s the first book of mine that I’ve seen in the format. I think it’s kind of neat, personally.

New Books and ARCs, 2/13/15

A double-header of new books and ARCs today. These were ones that came in before I headed off on the JoCo Cruise last week. On Monday, I’ll catch up with some of the ones that have come in since. In the meantime, some excellent stuff here. See anything you like? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Big Idea: Randy Henderson

In which author Randy Henderson and the protagonist of his novel Finn Fancy Necromancy have a conversation about things and stuff.

RANDY HENDERSON:

“The Big Idea of Finn Fancy?” Finn asked. “Let’s do it!  Time to get all introspective, Mork from Ork wrap-up style.”

“Fine,” I replied. “For this book, the big idea was simply to have fun.  I –”

“Hang on.  That’s your standard answer. But let’s get real here, shall we? This is the BIG Idea, so let’s talk about what that really means. I mean, you did turn forty shortly before writing this book.”

“Uh, yeah?” I said, shifting uncomfortably in my chair.

“Well, this book is about a guy who’s banished from our world as a teen in 1986 and comes back in 2011 as a forty-year-old. So first, let me ask, what band’s playing on your computer right now?”

“The Smiths, but –”

“Uh huh. And what’s the last game you invested serious time into?”

“Well, Shadowrun on my Genesis emulator. But — do you have a point with all this?”

“I’m just establishing some context here. Along those lines, let me ask what made you a fantasy junkie? What do you remember most fondly of those books you read growing up?”

“Um, I guess a sense that the author geeked out as much about the magic as the reader, that they were having fun. Not that they were trying to be gritty and hardcore.  Not that they were trying to be especially clever, or ultra-realistic, or exploring the metaphor. I mean, some books had layers and seriously dark and ugly moments of course. But I just imagine the authors were mostly grinning ear to ear and saying ‘this is frickin wonder, baby! This is magic!'”

“Funny, I don’t remember Hitchhiker’s Guide having magic.”

“No. That had humor. Humor was also a big draw for me. Adams and Pratchett, obviously, and the Xanth novels, they were clearly having fun. But I also love the humorous characters in serious fantasies as well. The rogues and the rascals, the imps and the wits.”

“And of course you were a sucker for romance.”

“Who? Me?”

“Uh huh. So, now, flash forward, you’re sitting down to write Finn Fancy Necromancy, and –?”

“Well, I was pretty burned out from previous writing projects. I didn’t want to jump right back into months of constructing another epic plot spanning multiple points of view and the fate of nations, I didn’t want more deep research. I just wanted to write.  And have fun.”

“So?”

“So, I faced a blank page, and wrote a guy narrating in a humorous voice while a magical meteor plummeted at his head.”

“Jerk.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Then what?”

“Well, then I had to ask, why? Who was he? What story can I tell from here that will be dramatic and have tension and suspense of course, but above all, one where I can just have fun writing it. So I set it in our world, but made him be an exile from the 80s, added a misfit cast of supporting characters he could interact with, and wrote it in first person with a humorous voice. Basically, I focused on the things that I enjoyed reading in fantasy — magic, humor, and relationships — and the things I enjoy personally. I deliberately set up the conditions of the story in favor of me just having fun with it.”

“And there wasn’t anything deeper?” Finn asked.

“Like?”

Finn sighed. “Like how, in this book, I’m worried about where I fit in, what I really want to do with my life. I’m looking back on the dreams of my youth and pondering my future. I’m questioning what is best in life, and it certainly isn’t to crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women.”

“Well, yeah,” I replied. “But that’s natural for your character. You’d been absent from our world for twenty-five years.”

“Riiight.  For me, the forty year old child of the eighties. Okay. Fine, then mind if I ask you a question about me now?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“Why the heck did you write me as a necromancer?”

I blinked. “Uh, well, what’s wrong with being a necromancer?”

“My biggest skill is I can talk to the dead! Woo-friggin-hoo!”

“Hey, you can also rip the souls out of people.”

“No, I can’t. You created me half-trained and nowhere near strong enough, remember?”

“Oh. Sorry. I might be thinking ahead a few books. Still, it gives you room to grow, something to look forward to, right?”

“Uh huh.  Wizards, now they’re awesome. They’re, like, the Swiss army knives of magic users. Lightning, magical shields — Zeke, that ex-enforcer you stuck me with?  He can even pee fire like a flamethrower. Not something I want to watch, but still, if you knew you were going to be throwing sasquatch mercenaries and angry leprechauns at me, a power like that might have come in handy. Just saying.”

“Dude, I’m sorry,” I replied. “I just thought the lone wizard bad-ass was well covered territory. Besides, I decided to make this a story about your family, not just you; and a family of necromancers just worked better.”

“Oh.  Yeah. Thanks so much for that. Were you reading books on torture psychology when you came up with that brilliant idea, Oh Master of My Fate?”

“Um, no,” I said. “I was binge-watching Arrested Development.”

“Lucky me. You couldn’t have given me your family?”

“No,” I replied. “I couldn’t do to my family what I do to yours.”

“Nice. Okay, there is one area I do wish you’d made us more alike though. Did you have to make me a virgin?”

“Well, you had been out of your body since you were fifteen,” I said. “And you do know this is going on the internet, right? Anyone can read it.”

“Bat’s breath.” Finn sighed. “I miss the days when everyone just used their Commodores to play Zork and write bad allegorical fantasies with Paperclip.”

“Not everyone did that,” I said. “I think that was mostly just dorks like you.”

“But I’m mostly you, right?” Finn asked.

“Whatever.”

Finn Fancy Necromancy: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

There She Goes

Athena, driving herself to school for the very first time. A strangely melancholy moment here. On one hand, now I’ll get to regularly sleep in on school days for the first time in over a decade. On the other hand, my brain has started this song on a loop.

So there’s that. They do grow up, they do.

The 2015 SF/F Fans Award Recommendation Thread

The Nebula Award nomination period ends on February 15, and the Hugo/Campbell Award nomination period is well underway, and several other awards are in their consideration periods as well. Which makes right now an excellent time for fans of the science fiction and fantasy genre to make their recommendations for books, stories, art, movies and TV shows, fanzines and podcasts to nominate for this year’s slate of awards.

And so, here’s have a thread to make those recommendations. I’ve done this for a few years now, and every year it offers up recommendations worth considering when the time comes to make one’s own award nominations.

What and how should you recommend? Here are the thread rules:

1. Please make sure that what you’re suggesting, work or person, is actually eligible for awards consideration this year. Generally speaking that means the work was published (or otherwise produced) in the last calendar year (i.e., 2014); for the Campbell, it means someone who has been professionally published in the SF/F field in the last two years (2013, 2014). If you’re not sure what you’re suggesting is eligible, please check. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and the time of everyone reading the thread for recommendations.

Also, it’s helpful if, when making a suggestion, you identify the category the work would be eligible for; so if you were going to suggest a novel, writing “Best Novel: [name of work, author of work]” up front would be awesome. This is especially useful in short fiction categories, where there are short stories, novelettes and novellas.

With regard to the Hugos, here’s a list of current categories (The Campbell Award for Best New Writer is not noted there but is present on the Hugo nomination form). However, this thread is not just for Nebulas and Hugos. Feel free to recommend for other awards as well. I would particularly note that SFWA also has a YA award called the Norton. So YA/MG recommendations would be useful here as well.

2. If the work you’re suggesting is (legally) readable online, feel free to provide a link, but note that too many links in one post (usually three or more) might send your post into the moderation queue, from whence I will have to free it in order for it to show up. If this happens, don’t panic, I’ll be going through the moderation queue frequently today to let posts out.

3. Only suggest the work of others. Self-suggestions will be deleted from the thread. This should not dissuade writers and creators from recommend other people’s work, of course. Please do!

4. Don’t suggest my work, please. I’ve already posted here about what of mine is eligible; this thread is for everything else.

5. The comment thread is only for making recommendations, not for commentary on the suggestions others are making or anything else. Extraneous, not-on-topic posts will be snipped out of the thread.

6. Likewise, please don’t cut and paste lists and slates from elsewhere. This is about your recommendations, from the things you have read/viewed and enjoyed and wish to recommend to others.

There you have it.

And now: What do you recommend for science fiction and fantasy awards this year? Please share. The more people know what’s out there, the better the overall field of nominees has the potential to be. Thank you!

JoCo Cruise Celebrity Artemis, In Which It Is Revealed I Am an Incompetent Captain

This is me playing Celebrity Artemis, as the captain of the USS Redshits (not a typo), with Steve Jackson as my engineer, Wil Wheaton at the helm, JoCo Cruise intern Joel Pattison on weapons (with every other intern pestering him), Ted Leo on science and Mikey Neumann on communications. Everything goes to hell very quickly, and it’s worth watching the whole thing to see the utter chaos that goes down, but if you must scan through for the highlights, fast forward to 12:00, where Ted Leo dramatically (and awesomely) drops the mic, and to 14:20, when I strangle Wil Wheaton; keep watching to see what I do to his corpse.

Seriously, I am a terrible starship captain. Never let me captain your ship.

For contrast, here’s the first ship of evening, captained and crewed far more competently by Jean Grae and friends:

And here’s the ship crewed by the Royal Carribean folks, who were, quite frankly, utterly amazing in how into it they were. It was like watching the UK version of The Office in space:

If you want to play Artemis for yourself, this is where you can get it. Try not to strangle any of your crew.

The Big Idea: Brian McClellan

When you’ve written a half million words in a world of your own devising, it’s okay to stop, look around, and take stock of what you’ve wrought. Thus does Brian McClellan look upon his works in the Powder Mage Trilogy, here on the release of the final book in the series, The Autumn Republic. Take it away, Mr. McClellan!

BRIAN McCLELLAN:

As the final book in the Powder Mage Trilogy, The Autumn Republic is the climax of a five hundred thousand word epic fantasy. By now many of you are familiar with the sorcerers powered by black powder, returning gods in an industrialized world, and a nation caught in a world-class conflict. These are all the big ideas of the series, but now that I’ve reached the final book I need to stop and examine what this story is really about.

One of the biggest tropes of epic fantasy is that of the fool: the young farm boy or neglected orphan who learns of his destiny and goes off to fight the good fight, gaining wisdom and experience along the way. It’s the very first trope I wanted to throw out when I started this trilogy, and doing so gave me Field Marshal Tamas—a living legend, a man at the very height of his power who decides that, for the good of the people, he will overthrow his king and send the nobility to the guillotine. Promise of Blood opens with this revolution and the entire trilogy deals with the ramifications of one man’s action against his government.

Without Tamas, the conflict that takes place in the Powder Mage Trilogy would never have happened.

Tamas was not originally meant to be a viewpoint character. My original plan was to tell his story from the point of view of his son but I quickly became enamored with his character. How often in fantasy do we get to see the narrative from the point of view of a man who answers to no one? The wise man well into his journey instead of the naive youth at the beginning of his?

What, I wanted to know, would bend or break a man like that?

More than anything else, The Autumn Republic is the tale of Field Marshal Tamas coming to grips with his own legend. He is powerful, driven, already immortalized on the pages of history. He has spent decades planning the revolution that opened the trilogy and he is fully committed to it, willing to become history’s villain for the greater good. Willing to sacrifice anything for his goals. Or so he thought.

Tamas may be an old man, much further along in his hero’s journey than some whippersnapper fresh off the farm, but that does not mean that his journey is complete. His ideals have been corrupted by old wounds and a quest for vengeance, but he still has the ability to regret, grow, change, and adapt to fight the new challenges thrown in his path.

—-

The Autumn Republic: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Lock In an Audie Award Finalist + Other Award Notes

B9klPWLIEAAyubL

First, look at that: Lock In is finalist for an Audie, in the Science Fiction category. Sweet! The graphic here notes Wil Wheaton as the reader (plus a full cast for “Unlocked,” which was included in the Lock In audio package), but the finalist notation in the “all finalists” press release (pdf link) also includes Amber Benson, as it should, because she turned in a terrific version of the novel. I don’t know why she didn’t make the display graphic but obviously I wanted to make sure I noted her, and her contribution. If the book wins the Audie, a big chunk of that award will belong to her. Congratulations to her, to Wil, and to all the other authors and narrators in this and other categories. Awards are fun.

With that said, four quick notes regarding awards:

1. If you’re a SFWA member, the deadline to nominate for the Nebula Awards is this Sunday, February 15th. Get to it, folks. Your former president thanks you for your cooperation.

2. A reminder that Hugo nominating is open for about another month, so while you have some time on those, if you’re planning to nominate, it’s a good time to start thinking of your nomination lists for categories.

3. On that note, tomorrow I’ll put up my post for people to list the works/people they think merit award consideration this year. Which will hopefully give you some excellent things to read while you think about who and what you want to nominate.

4. I’ve been asked off and on if I have any thoughts about the various dramas surrounding science fiction and fantasy award nominations this year. Aside from the occasional Twitter snark, no, not really, except that it’s tiring and mostly pretty silly and I’m not sure why I would want to think about any of it very much. I know what I plan to nominate this year, and I’m nominating because I think the work is (and/or the people behind the work are) worth the artistic consideration. If you’re nominating this year, I suggest you do the same.

Aaaaaand that’s pretty much it.