Terrifyingly Plausible

From the horrifying clothes to the Cooper Black typeface, this dead-on fake ad suckered me for a whole 2.3 seconds before I realized it must be fake. Your two hints:

1. The game pictured is actually Activision’s 1980 video game Dragster, which I spent a fair amount of my 11-year-old life playing;

2. The video game “end” of the 8-track tape rather more accurately resembles like a Nintendo cart than an Atari 2600 cart.

Also, unless my memory fails me, the very first rock band-related Atari 2600 game was Journey Escape. Yes, I know it’s pathetic and sad that I remember these things. Yet I do. Get off my lawn, junior.

Here’s the essay this picture comes from.


On Being the Stargate Universe Creative Consultant: Get Your Questions In

Me, pointing at the Stargate room last January. Photo: Joe Mallozzi

Update: First set of answers up here. I may do a second set on Friday, so feel free to pose a question that hasn’t already been answered.

As you may have heard, I’m the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, which debuts this Friday night on the Syfy channel here in the US (and on the Space channel in Canada, and on Sky 1, uh, wherever it is Sky 1 does its thing). I thought it might be fun to finally get around to answering some of your questions about what a “creative consultant” does on a television show (or at least, what one does when I am him) and other things about SG:U that you may want to know about.

So: Got any questions? Leave them for me in the comment thread. I’ll go through them later today and write up a Q&A for tomorrow. You can also send them to me in e-mail if you prefer.

Go on, don’t be shy. Ask away.


Liar Out Today

It’s a busy day for excellent books hitting the market — Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire (today’s Big Idea feature) and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker are just two examples — but I also want to make sure I take a little time to mention Liar, by Justine Larbalestier, which also hits today. I mention it to you not only because Justine’s one of my favorite Australians of all time — and heck, I like a lot of Australians — but also because I’m of the opinion that this is her best book yet, which is saying a fair amount because she’s written a number of good books. It’s not just me who thinks so, either: The book got starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and School Library Journal, and foreign rights were secured for seven languages before publication. That’s not a bad trick.

Here’s an excerpt, from Justine’s site, and here’s a page with all those reviews gushing over the book. I do hope you’ll check it out. This is a really good book.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Harry Connolly

This is one of those “in the family” moments — Harry Connolly is a long-time commenter here at Whatever, who has also been plugging away at the writing thing all the way. It’s paid off today with the publication of his debut fantasy novel Child of Fire, which earned a big fat starred review from Publishers Weekly (“[it] will enthrall readers who like explosive action and magic that comes at a serious cost”). Excellent. It’s fun when people you know do well right out of the gate.

How did Child of Fire get that coveted star? In part because of the way Connelly approaches the subject of magic and those who use it: Both in a decidedly non-romantic way. He’s here to explain it all for you.


I want to talk about negative space.

The most famous use of negative space is probably the Rubin vase but I think the one I want to talk about is a painting called “The Big N” by Al Held. Here it is.

For those of you who don’t want to click on a random link, here’s a brief description: It’s a huge white canvas, nine feet by nine feet, with two tiny black triangles on it. One triangle is on the top edge pointing down, and the other is on the bottom edge pointing up.

Together, those two triangles create, out of all that blank canvas, a really humongous letter N.

I first saw it I was on a school field trip, and my friends and I were just dorky enough to think it a Very Cool Thing. It was one of only two paintings I remember from that trip, but I’ve thought about it often over the years.

See, I construct stories out of negative space.

When I sat down to develop the setting, plot and characters for Child of Fire, my debut novel, I had no clear idea what it was going to be. I knew it would be a contemporary fantasy and I had a very vague idea of the story, but nothing else.

What I had instead were two simple ideas about what I was not going to do. They were my two tiny triangles.

The first triangle (I think of it as the one at the top, but maybe that’s a little weird) was that I wanted a setting without religious magic. In fact, I wanted to push all folklore off the canvas (with one small exception–see below). I didn’t want demons from a Christian Hell or rakshasas or skinwalkers or vampires who cringe away from crosses (seriously, don’t get me started on vampires and crosses). I didn’t want the sorcerers to speak with angels or higher powers, and I saw no reason for them to know all the rules of the afterlife–or if an afterlife even existed. Why should the magical community have certitude where we other people have only faith and skepticism?

Essentially, I wanted a kind of magic that altered the way the universe works, that opened portals into Other Places so unlike our own that humans can’t truly understand what they discover there, and that could call beings to our world that… well, maybe I should save some stuff for the book.

For the second triangle (at the bottom), I decided I wanted to do away with “cool.” No dusters or trench coats. No steel-toed boots. No “leathers.” No centuries-old katanas, Harley-Davidsons, wide-brimmed hats or all the other trappings that so much of modern urban fantasy uses to signify that characters are seriously kickass-cool people.

Ray Lilly, the protagonist in Child of Fire, isn’t a operative in a secret government agency or a bounty hunter who works the fringes of society. He’s a low-level car thief who tried and failed to go straight after a miserable stint in prison. He’s been forcibly conscripted into working for a sorcerer who hates him, and all he knows at the start of the book is that he’s driving her somewhere so she can murder someone.

And he’s wearing a windbreaker, because what if it gets a little chilly out?

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against books with vampires, leather dusters, or swords sheathed on the sides of high-end motorcycles. I buy and read those books, and when they’re very, very good I hug them to my chest on crowded buses without any embarrassment at all.

But I didn’t want to write one.

Oh, and that single exception? A few secondary characters are werewolves, because werewolves freak me right out and no matter how big your idea, every writer should respect the freak out.

Child of Fire: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s | Indiebound

Read a sample chapter. Visit Harry Connolly’s blog.

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