Angry Robot Closes Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A Imprints

The news is here.

If you’re an author with either of these two imprints, I would check your contracts for reversion clauses.

Likewise, if I were the folks at Angry Robot, and were putting the books in these imprints into “out of print” status, as it seems likely they are from the announcement, I’d be thinking of immediately reverting the books back to the authors, so they can either find them new homes or self-publish them. Because that seems the decent thing to do after cutting the legs out from the income potential of those books for those authors.

There’s the possibility that the latter of these might be complicated by Angry Robot’s parent company having problems of its own. In which case: This is why you have writers’ organizations, folks.

A Former Marine Corps Weapons Instructor on the Desirability of Guns for Self-Defense

Turns out he has a few cogent reservations. I would agree with them.

Relatedly, I suspect it would surprise a number of people to know I don’t have a philosophical issue with gun ownership. Own them if you like; please take substantial training with them and learn to operate them responsibly, since they really are designed to kill things, including people. I live in a rural area that has a large amount of gun ownership; on many evenings I can hear my neighbors having target practice. There’s never been a problem. I prefer a bow myself.

Likewise, gun ownership, sensibly practiced, as part of (but not solely comprising) an overall security regimen? Sure. Keep the weapon instructor’s reservations in mind; he has experience on the matter. There are lots of ways that introducing a gun to a self-defense situation can go very wrong.

On the other hand, gun as fetish object? Creeps me out. When I see a picture of some dude hoisting some big damn gun about, often with appallingly poor trigger discipline, the first thing that comes to my mind is not look out, we have a badass on our hands, but, rather, here’s a dude who’s afraid of every fucking thing in the world. The big damn gun is like the eyes on the wings of a butterfly or a pufferfish sucking in seawater — a way to look bigger and maybe not get eaten. By whom? By whomever, man, I don’t know — when you’re afraid of every fucking thing in the world, I guess you spend a lot of time worrying about getting eaten.

So wait, are you calling me a coward? I hear some of these dudes saying, hoisting their guns. No, not a coward. Just afraid.

I’m not afraid! I have a big damn gun! Yes, well. Whatever makes you feel not afraid, chuckles.

You wouldn’t be saying that if I were in front of you, with my big damn gun! Indeed, I probably wouldn’t, because when people who are afraid of every fucking thing in the world wander about with big damn guns, bad things have an increasingly likely chance of happening. I’ll just go have lunch in Chipotle until you wander off, if it’s all the same to you.

Knowledgeable about guns? Sweet. Geeked out about guns in all their varieties? Hey, everyone’s a geek about something, and this is one of your things. Rock on. Wanting to share the joys of responsible ownership and use of guns with others? I am all for positive role models with these particular machines. Please do. Have to display yourself with your guns and/or can’t bear to part with them for a moment? Dude, you’re afraid of every fucking thing in the world.

I’m gonna be thinking that every time I see that picture of you with your big damn gun. I doubt I’ll be the only one.

The Big Idea: M.K. Hutchins

Worldbuilding is complex enough when you stick to some commonly-accepted fundamentals, like, oh, let’s say, land. What happens when you decide to shake up those fundamentals? M.K. Hutchins decided to make an aquatic change-up in Drift, and the results of that choice surprised even her.

M. K. HUTCHINS:

10,000 B.C.E. was not a good time for the Natufians — or, more specifically, the stands of wild cereal that they utilized for food. A shift towards a drier climate yielded fewer plants. So the Natufian changed, too. Instead of just gathering, they began clearing other plants off the land and scattering the seeds of rye, wheat, and barley. Over time, artificially selecting plants with desirable characteristics led to domestication — the greatest genetic engineering projects humans have ever undertaken — and to an agricultural lifestyle.

Okay, that’s a gross simplification of an exciting time in human history, but it’s a story that still fascinates me. Human culture changed because of the environment, and that environment in turn was drastically altered by human culture. Exploring way culture and environment interact — or cultural ecology — isn’t something I see a lot of in fantasy novels.

Completely reshape the environment — throw in magic, dragons, or some liches — and society still tends to look a lot like pseudo-Medieval Europe. Don’t get me wrong; there are outstanding books written in look-alike Earth analogues from all over the globe. I’m glad I get to enjoy them.

But if physics, if the laws of nature themselves, were different, wouldn’t we expect culture to be radically different, too? Often in worldbuilding it seems there’s an emphasis on physics-building and a dearth of culture-building.

When I first heard a professor talk about how the Maya envisioned the world on the back of a turtle surrounded by a watery hell, I knew I wanted to write a story inspired by that setting. Watery hell sounded fun. And instead of one great turtle, how about a bunch of drifting turtle-islands, all competing with each other?

But physics-building alone didn’t feel right for this story. My mind latched onto cultural ecology. How would this different environment shape culture?

Small islands would need to be fast to avoid larger islands that could conquer them. Heavy populations would slow them. But an agrarian society would need children — especially to care for the current population when it aged.

From here, the culture-building took off. Marriage, children, and romantic love all became stigmatized things of the poor. Married men, especially, were mocked for not being able to support themselves but having to rely, eventually, on their own children for support. Skilled artisans adopted apprentices instead of having children themselves, and the Handlers — those that fought hellish monsters and ruled the islands — set up a tax system to care for their elderly members.

I loved having not just the inherit conflicts of surviving on an island surrounded by monster-infested waters, but abundant social conflict. I loved setting up the three different systems for end-of-life care (farmer, artisan, and Handler). This left me with different classes of people, and different attitudes in those classes. I could have Handlers who were haughty and Handlers who pitied the poor for lacking the magical or mundane talents to become a Handler or artisan, respectively. I created farmers who honorably delayed marriage, and farmers who struggled with the stigma of being from a large family. Into the middle of all this, I threw my protagonist, a young man still deciding who he wants to be as he’s figuring out the way his world works — both physically and socially.

There’s lots of physics-building in my new novel, Drift. But it’s the cultural ecology — the integral way physics and culture interlink — that got me excited about this story.

—-

Drift: Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

Brothers, 80s Style

My niece Ashley unearthed this picture of me (left) and my brother Bob, taken sometime in the 1980s, i.e., when he and I were young and still had hair. Bob was a surprise brother — my mother had him when she was very young and put him up for adoption (as teen mothers often did in the 60s) and so I went through the first twelve years of my life not aware that I actually had a brother at all. But these things have a way of coming out, and so I learned about him, and shortly thereafter Bob found us. As it turned out his mom and mine belonged to the same club, knew each other, and talked about their children to each other. Life, man. It’s a funny thing.

Also, for those who know of my non-alcohol drinking ways: That’s grape juice in that glass.

Joystiq Previews Midnight Star (Spoiler: They Really Like It)

Midnight Star, the mobile FPS video game I helped create (along with an accompanying graphic novel that I wrote), is thiiiiiiiiiiiis close to release, and Jessica Condit of Joystiq got her hands on it and did a little play testing. Her thoughts?

“Midnight Star is a mobile FPS that works (no, really)” (that’s the article headline)

Midnight Star is a good mobile shooter.”

“It’s hard to believe some of this stuff is on an iPad.”

“If the entire game supports the mechanically manic, silky smooth sci-fi experience I felt during the demo, I’d say that by golly, they’ve done it.”

Oh, and this nice tip of the hat to Midnight Rises, the graphic novel:

“It’s a joy to read.”

Sweet. The whole article is here.

Have I mentioned how proud I am of this game, and of the people who I’m working on it with at Industrial Toys? In fact I have, but I’ll say it again: This is a great game, with a really exciting graphic novel, and I’ve loved working on it. I can’t wait for you all to see it.

The Big Idea: Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson writes short stories and thinks about words apparently quite a lot. Those two enthusiasms collide in his collection, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, which I read in a pre-press version and was rather impressed with. Below, Johnson muses on words, their provenance, and their power over us.

MATTHEW JOHNSON:

I’ve always loved the phrase “irregular verbs.” It conjures an image of something you might find at a yard sale or a bargain store, a box labelled One dozen verbs — slightly irregular. Inside you’d find a collection of words you’d never seen before: all of them weird, broken or misshapen in its own way, different not only from those regular verbs we use every day but from each other as well. What writer could resist?

To language nerds like me, though, irregular verbs are plenty interesting on their own. English has a lot of them — possibly more than any other language — and despite their name, they aren’t weird, rarely-used words that have survived due to obscurity. Instead they’re the most common verbs in our language, the heart of English: to be, to run, to sing, to fight, to grow, to read.

Unlike some other unusual features of English, like its vast vocabulary, irregular verbs aren’t a result of its tendency to assimilate undigested lumps of other languages. Instead they’re linguistic coelacanths, living relics both of the earliest roots of English — most English irregular verbs preserve what was the regular form of conjugation in early Indo-European languages, which was by changing the middle vowel sound of the word — and of the diversity it once had, now mostly lost to the printing press and mass media. In Chaucer’s day verbs, plurals and adjectival forms varied widely between different regions, cities, and even families, but by Shakespeare’s time we can already see a selection process happening: eggs winning out over eyren and kine giving way to cows. The rise of nation-states had something to do with it, too: “a nation is a language with an army,” as the saying goes, and if you want to have one nation then you need to have just one army and just one language.

Irregular verbs have to resist a more fundamental force as well: regularizing verbs and plurals is actually hard-wired into us, a basic part of how we develop language. Every mother and father has seen their children go through phases of first under-regularizing verbs and plurals and then over-regularizing. These mistakes, like goed, foots and boxen, can be such powerful symbols of childhood that we keep using them long after our children have learned the “correct” forms — private jokes that reaffirm our love by reminding us, parents and children both, that you were once my baby.

My own family had a rich dialect of words like these, from a variety of sources: over-regularized words (“gruntled,” an imaginary antonym to “disgruntled”), pronunciation errors (“squiddles” for squirrels), folk etymology (“hard work store”) and references to shared culture (“grundoon” for groundhog). This, in a roundabout way, is how I had the idea for the title story in Irregular Verbs and Other Stories: thinking about the way families, friends and couples develop their own private languages and imagining a place where this process is so accelerated that new languages spring up like mushrooms — and imagining what it would be like when someone you loved died, and the language you shared died with them.

Except that’s a lie. Or at least a simplification, the where-do-you-get-your ideas version of how the story came to be. The truth is that while it does have a Big Idea in it, it was just as much the product of a bunch of little ideas. There was the idea of “catching” a language, inspired by the famous William Burroughs line about language as a virus; an Indonesian phrasebook I had bought ten years before (part of a collection of phrasebooks and dictionaries, the crown jewel of which is a text on how to learn Haitian Creole that includes useful phrases like “He’ll die for sure this time” and “They beat the man so hard he soiled himself” and which illustrates the simple past tense with the sentence “He looks at the man’s head. He pulls out his machete; he strikes; he cuts it off”); even the pattern of the linoleum on the floor of my wife’s grandfather’s bathroom, which inspired the village in the story where people’s houses each have a private floor, where they’re free to speak their own languages, and the public floor where everyone takes part in the daily conversation that keeps their common language alive and intelligible.

Most of the stories in the book have similar origins. “Lagos” was inspired by a book about the World Bank, a New Yorker article, and email spam; “Long Pig” by a restaurant review and an unusually solicitous waitress; “Public Safety” by an article on fingerprints and a high school history lecture on the secret history of the metric system. The characters in them are similarly bad fits for their times and places: Inspector Louverture in “Public Safety,” the half-Haitian detective in a society where racism is science and reason is law; Safrat, the telepresence worker in “Lagos” who spends her days running vacuum cleaners half a world away, and tries to ignore what they whisper in her dreams; Geoffrey, the refugee from ancient Rome whose job is to help his countrymen adapt to life in 21st-century Canada, in “Another Country”; Sendiri Ang, in the title story, who risks isolating himself from his people and family to keep his wife’s language and memory alive. Like all of us, and the languages we share, the stories and the people in them are made up of odd parts — taken from a box of irregular verbs.

—-

Irregular Verbs: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Powells|ChiZine

Visit the book’s page at ChiZine, which includes eBook samples. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Lock In Earns a Starred Review From Publishers Weekly

I mean, today was going to be a pretty good day anyway — my wife is coming home after a trip and it’s the 21st anniversary of our first date — but a starred PW review is icing on the cake, I’d say.

The whole review is here for your perusal, but here’s a pull quote:

“Hugo-winner Scalzi (Redshirts) successfully shifts away from space opera with this smart, thoughtful near-future thriller resonant with the themes of freedom, ethics, and corporate greed… This powerful novel will intrigue and entertain both fans and newcomers.”

Sweet.

I have more good news for Lock In, which I’ll reveal when I’m allowed, but for now, this is more than enough to start the work week.

Father’s Day: It’s Okay I Guess

I’m not a huge fan of Father’s Day. This is not to say I feel antagonistic toward it — I don’t, I think it’s a nice idea to thank dads for being dads – but merely that it’s not a day I’ve ever given much thought to, even when I became a father. Some of the reasons for this:

* My parents were divorced when I was very young and I didn’t have much contact with my own dad growing up, so I never really got into the practice of it when I was younger;

* Father’s Day often coincides (as it does this year) with one of my and Krissy’s anniversary days (proposal, June 15; first date, June 16; wedding June 17), and I tend to advantage those celebrations more than Father’s Day;

* I’m a very difficult person to buy gifts for (to the point where I’ve told people to just stop trying), so one major aspect of Father’s Day is already zeroed out for me;

* As the picture above suggests, I have a slightly skewed relationship with fatherhood anyway, and I think that’s worked best, where I’m concerned.

So the way I remembered it this year was my wife being concerned that she was going to be away on the day (she’s in California, for our niece’s baby shower). It resulted in me looking blankly at her for a minute and then assuring her it would be fine. Now, as it happens, Athena and I will be going out for lunch today, which nominally will be a Father’s Day lunch, but really is more about the fact that without Krissy around, Athena and I eat straight from cereal boxes, so going out to lunch today means we won’t be eating dry Cap’n Crunch for three sequential meals.

So: Father’s Day. Nice, but, for me, kinda meh. If you like it, I wholeheartedly encourage you to enjoy it. I’ll be here thinking about my wedding proposal day instead.

Proposal Day, 20 Years On

Twenty years ago today, and, indeed, pretty much close to the minute I’m writing this out now, I proposed to my now-wife, Kristine. Actually it’s more accurate to say that the proposal was written up beforehand (it was published as part of my newspaper column at the time), but right about now was when Krissy was awake and read it.

Happily, she said yes. There’s not a day in all the years between now and then that I am not immensely grateful that she did so.

If you’ve never read my proposal to her, I posted it here seven years ago. Here it is.

To my fiancee, who was then my bride, who was then my wife, the mother of my child and, always, my heart: Thank you for saying “yes” to me, 20 years ago, and every day since. I love you.

Disclosure Statement

Because I think it will be interesting to do so, and because I think this sort of transparency might even be useful: Here’s a disclosure statement of past and current business relationships that I have, that I can publicly announce at this moment (there may be business relations I cannot yet disclose for contractual reasons; those will be announced when possible). “Business relationship” in this case means an employee or contract relationship, or a freelance relationship that went beyond single, discrete pieces of work (like a short story or newspaper/magazine article). This list is current as of June 12, 2014; I’ll update as necessary.

Current business associations:

* Macmillan Publishing, through its imprint Tor Books, who is my primary fiction publisher in North America (and holds some of my audio titles and rights to some UK publications).

* Subterranean Press, who publishes my limited editions and other specialized work.

* Amazon, through its audiobook subsidiary, Audible.com, who is my primary audiobook publisher.

* The Orion Publishing Group, via its imprint Gollancz, who is my current UK publisher.

* Random House, via its imprint Heyne, who is my current German publisher.

* 21st Century Fox, via its FX network, where my novel Redshirts has been optioned for a television series.

* Industrial Toys, with whom I am working on its upcoming video game Midnight Star.

* Aside from Heyne and Gollancz, I have business relationships with more than 20 other publishers around the world for foreign translations of my work.

Previous business associations (currently existing companies only):

* The McClatchy Company. I worked at its Fresno Bee newspaper (’91 -’96).

* AOL (when it was America Online). I was an in-house writer/editor (’96-’98) and then did freelance work (’98 – ’07)

* NBCUniversal and MGM: I was a creative consultant for the TV show Stargate Universe, produced by MGM and airing on the Syfy network.

* Paramount Pictures, which held the film option on my novel Old Man’s War.

* Baker & Taylor: I wrote and contributed to books offered by its Portable Press imprint.

* The Penguin Group: I wrote books published by its Rough Guides imprint.

* The Walt Disney Company: I worked on a project covered by an NDA.

* AMC Networks: I wrote a column for its Web sites.

* Ziff Davis Media: I wrote reviews and columns for its Official US Playstation Magazine.

* Cox Media Group: I wrote reviews and columns for its Dayton Daily News newspaper.

* Time Warner Cable: I created a video game review Web site for its Road Runner High Speed Online subsidiary.

In addition, I ran a writing/editing business called Scalzi Consulting, which undertook projects for various clients, including Sullivan & Company (a marketing group), Network Solutions, US Trust, Oppenheimer Funds and Warburg Pincus. Scalzi Consulting is currently dormant as I focus on fiction.

The Big Idea: Daniel H. Wilson

Look out! It’s a robot uprising! Yeah, okay — but what then? That’s what Daniel H. Wilson was wondering in Robogenesis, his sequel to the massively successful novel Robopocalypse. Does he have answers? Find out below.

DANIEL H. WILSON:

Recently, I was talking to an older engineer-type gentleman at a cocktail party and trying to explain my career path from scientist to science fiction writer. In the middle of the conversation, he blurted out: “Wait, you’re telling me that you wasted ten years of your life!?”

He kind of had a point.

Despite ten years spent studying robotics, the most technologically advanced project I have worked on in the past year is a pretend space ship simulator in my basement – for my kids, I swear. Don’t get me wrong, the S.S. Coraline Wilson required the wiring of buttons and the scripting of space simulation software, but no machine learning algorithms or articulated arms were employed.

Even so, I don’t think I could have written Robogenesis without spending a decade in the trenches, desperately trying to learn math and science.

The biggish idea behind Robogenesis is that I did my best to realistically consider how human beings might survive a war between multiple titanic artificial intellects.

On its surface, Robogenesis is a thriller – a novel that follows regular people (and a few robots, and some in-betweens) who are fighting and surviving in a world transformed by the collapse of technology. There are no equations or Hidden Markov Models or Monte Carlo methods in Robogenesis, yet the story and its players are deeply rooted in what I have learned about how machines think.

Unlike creatures in the natural world, fellow members of an AI species do not form a natural class – each one may be radically different from the next, depending on what architecture they were built on and which datasets they were trained on. The AI may have completely different priorities when it comes to interacting with humankind. Was the machine even designed to interact with people? Or is it a deep thinker, built only to probe the mysteries of the universe? Would the machines try to manipulate us, ignore us, or eradicate us (as I considered in the Big Idea I wrote for Robopocalypse in 2011)?

So, my job writing Robogenesis was simple: just describe god-like artificial intelligences with truly alien perspectives and devilishly complex motivations. Oh, and I needed to make it damned realistic, because if I have anything unique to offer to this trope it is my perspective as a former roboticist.

I began by looking at the current state-of-the-art.

As you know, we already live with a lot of low-profile artificial intelligence. When you speak to Siri on an iPhone, your voice is sent to the cloud, processed by AI algorithms, and the translation returned. Facebook has AIs that sift through your photos and perform face recognition. Google’s AIs read your gmail and target ads accordingly. At the airport, whole body scanners literally see us naked and then an AI decides whether to pass on the image to a human screener.

(Yes, the robots see us naked.)

I extrapolated these trends into the future, ignoring the simplistic scenario in which a haywire AI wants to kill all humans. Instead, I considered what happens when really complex, incredibly disparate, and potentially bizarre artificial intelligences proliferate across the world’s technological infrastructure?

As I wrote Robogenesis, it dawned on me that an “apocalypse” is not really the end.

When we say apocalypse, we usually mean the fall of civilization (aka “the end of life as we know it”). But every new technology alters life as we know it. Automobiles, phones, computers, TV, the Internet – all have radically changed society and life as we knew it.

We all live through a mini-apocalypse with every new technology that is introduced. The disruptive effect of technology is so pervasive throughout history as to be a part of the human condition. Civilization has been under assault since its inception, and we have always found a way to survive.

In Robogenesis, I tried to take this basic human struggle to a frightening next level – pushing my characters to the limits of their ingenuity as they struggle to adapt to powerful sentient technologies. Only time will tell if I succeeded, but I sure do hope that those ten years in the trenches were worth it.

—-

 Robogenesis: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Congratulations to Eric Cantor On His Upcoming Job as Lobbyist

I mean, yes, he wanted to be Speaker of the House one day, but you actually have win your primary elections to do that, and Eric Cantor didn’t. So, a-lobbying he will go, almost certainly.

Much is being written about the meaning of Cantor’s defeat at the hands of an unheralded primary challenger, but to the extent that I know anything about this particular election — which means what I’ve read since roughly nine pm last night — it appears that Cantor’s challenger David Brat won without a lot of money or indeed any real help from any group at all. Which suggests that Brat won the old fashioned way, i.e., by being the candidate the voters who went to the polls actually and natively preferred (or at least preferred over Cantor). Conversely, it seems that Cantor was so busy planning for his next job that he was forgetting to do his current job, at least to the pleasure of his primary voters.

If that’s indeed the case, then what we have here is a vote decided on job performance, where money and outside influence was not a hugely mitigating factor. In which case, party on, Republican primary voters of Virginia’s 7th district. You did what you were supposed to do.

Mind you, I’m not personally deeply thrilled with their choice of Mr. Brat, whose positions as I’ve read them seem primarily tuned for conservative populist stupidity. But then, I wasn’t deeply thrilled with Mr. Cantor’s positions and actions, either, which were also tuned for conservative populist stupidity, with a saucy soupçon of grasping, amoral personal opportunism thrown in for flavoring. But I’m not in the Virginia 7th, so literally, my vote doesn’t count. I suppose I could get worked up about the House and the GOP moving ever so marginally further to the right because of this, presuming Mr. Brat wins the general election (which seems a reasonable bet to me), but given that that for the past four years the House GOP’s strategy has been “oppose everything, do nothing,” from a practical point of view I’m not sure there will be that much of a difference in how things work in that wing of Congress. So.

Anyway, don’t cry for Cantor. K Street awaits. He’ll be fine.

On Phoenix Comicon, 2014

Well, one, clearly, at some point at Phoenix Comicon I was in a luchador mask in front of a whole bunch of people. You know, as you do.

Two, Phoenix Comicon continues to be one of my favorite “comic con” conventions, in part because it has a robust author track, which means a) lots of authors, including people who I really like hanging out with as humans, b) the panels tend to be interesting and more than the basic sort of “writing/publishing 101″ panels that large conventions often feature. The only real drawback to the convention is that it takes place in Phoenix in the summer, and walking out on the sidewalk makes you understand what it’s like to be a vampire in the daytime. But fortunately most of one’s time is spent indoors, away from the demon daystar.

Some highlights of the convention:

* I attempted stand-up(ish things) for my part of the Paul & Storm & Rothfuss & Scalzi concert, which included a special guest spot by Amber Benson, who has rapidly become one of my favorite humans. If you missed it before, there’s Youtube documentation here. I was happy with it — it was the first time just trying to do comedy right off the cuff and off the top of my head, so bits are rough and there are places where I think my timing was off (to be clear, I knew what I wanted to say and had prepped beforehand, but I didn’t take any materials with me on stage as prompts), but for a first time? Could have done worse. I would be happy to try it again. It helped that the Comicon audience was pretty forgiving. So if you were in that audience, thank you.

* The luchador mask was part of the “Author Batsu” game, hosted by Sam Sykes, in which me, Myke Cole, Aprilynne Pike, Chuck Wendig, Deliah Dawson, Pat Rothfuss and Leanna Renee Hieber tried to avoid laughing while Sam tried to bust us up. If you laughed, you had to consume a spoonful of salsa (which ranged form mild at first to “oh my god I’ve cauterized my throat” at the end). I laugh very easily. I ended up consuming roughly a jar of salsa. It was funny at the time. Later, no so much so, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. I will say that by the end the authors were trying to crack each other up, which made Sam’s job easier. This was apparently one of the most talked about panels of the whole show, so at least I didn’t suffer in vain.

* I and Elizabeth Bear and Beth Meacham and Lynne Thomas did a panel on the life and times of Jay Lake, and none of us, on the panel or in the audience, I think, got through it with dry eyes. Which was expected, I suppose. But it wasn’t a sad panel, in the main, because in the main Jay wasn’t a sad fellow. We told a lot of happy and funny stuff as well. Jay was Jay. I was told afterward that the programming folks checked with Jay to see whether he was comfortable with a valedictory panel while he was (at the time) still alive; he gave it enthusiastic approval. This makes me happy.

* Plus I got to hang out with a whole bunch of friends, writers and otherwise — and Krissy came along with me for the first time this year, which made it especially awesome. Really, just a fun time all around.

And now I’m at home for more than a month! Honestly I don’t know what I will do with myself. Maybe write some more in this book I’m supposed to be doing. Hey, there’s a thought.

The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

Los Angeles is often seen as a magical city, but it’s never been magical in quite the same way as it is in California Bones, the latest novel by Greg Van Eekhout. Here it’s dark and noirish and sinister in all the good ways — and yes, before you ask, not only did I like the book, I gave it a cover blurb. Here’s Greg to give you a glimpse of how California Bones came to be.

GREG VAN EEKHOUT:

Wizards get their powers from eating the remains of extinct magical creatures, and the La Bra Tar Pits in Los Angeles are a particularly rich source of such remains. There, osteomancers have retrieved the preserved skeletons of mammoths, dire wolves, Colombian dragons, American wyverns, Western griffins, and suchlike. Eat the creatures’ bones, get its power. Eat an osteomancer who’s eaten the creature’s bones, and you get not just the creature’s power, but remnants of whatever the osteomancer has eaten before.

That’s the basic premise of California Bones, the first volume in my osteomancy trilogy, and much like the bones, the idea came right from the tar pits. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think the tar pits were the most amazing things in the universe. Ponds of dark, bubbling, eldritch goop lurk in the middle of town, and concealed by the goop are the bones of some of the most charismatic megafauna that ever walked the face of the Earth. And that’s not even made up. It’s for reals. And it’s awesomely weird. All it took was a bit of a nudge to push it over into fantasy.

I wanted to write about a place where the tar pits were the de facto center of the city, where the Los Angeles that grew up around them matched their weirdness. I drew upon the Venice canals, built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney to replicate Venice, Italy, complete with gondolas and the whole works. In my version of LA, the city’s chief hydromancer, William Mulholland, has grown the canals into a major transportation network and expanded them to form a mandala of churning hydraulic power that generates a magic to rival that of the osteomantic bones. Disney’s theme park pumps an extract of unicorn horn in the air to make visitors feel like they’ve come to the happiest place on earth. Griffith Observatory, the copper-domed landmark building overlooking the Los Angeles basin, is a royal palace. Tito’s Tacos is still Tito’s Tacos. Likewise, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. I wanted readers familiar with LA to take pleasure in how I’ve altered things, and those who aren’t familiar with or don’t particularly care about LA to still find it interestingly strange.

I wanted to tell a heist story, and I wanted to tell a story about living and surviving under an oppressive regime, and I wanted to tell a story about how, in a world where you can trust no one, forming a created family of friends whom you trust with your life can be a powerful, subversive act.

I wanted to write about all these things. So I wrote a short story. Because novels? Novels are hard. Who writes novels? Weirdoes write novels. And when I was forming all these ideas, I wasn’t yet that kind of weirdo. The result was “The Osteomancer’s Son,” which appeared in Asimov’s, and if you want you can listen to a very fine podcast version at the venerable PodCastle. Long after the story was published, ideas and the world and the characters kept scratching at me, and I took that as a sign that maybe I wasn’t done with them yet. I was also encouraged by a non-dismissible number of people who told me they wanted more. There was even a Hollywood nibble that ultimately amounted to nothing but at least made me feel shiny for about a week. So, when I finished the second of two middle-grade novels I was contracted for, and I wanted to spend some time writing stories about adults who use adult language and find themselves in adult situations, the time felt right to step into the tar.

If you decide to give California Bones a try and end up liking it, I can tell you that you won’t have to wait long for the rest of the trilogy. Book 2, Pacific Fire, is scheduled for January 2015, and Book 3 is already in my editor’s hands. Along the way, there’ll be dead seas, evil twins, sabotage missions, scams and heists, catacombs beneath Beverly Hills, a patchwork dragon, scary children, palace intrigue, family legacies, and tacos. These are the things. I had a lot of fun writing about them, and I hope you enjoy some of the same things I do.

—-

California Bones: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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