My Secret (Failed) Media Tie-In Past

A question in e-mail that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while:

I know you don’t do media tie-in novels, but have you ever been tempted to? I think a John Scalzi Star Wars novel would be really cool.

Heh. I’ve noted before that given how frequently I’ve flayed the Star Wars franchise (and George Lucas’ writing and directing thereof), the chances of the LucasFilm people even thinking of approaching me about writing in their universe is about as likely as Admiral Ackbar enjoying the calamari platter at the Olive Garden (“Oh! My brothers! Did you not see it was a trap?”). So I wouldn’t get my hopes up for that one.

I’ve been approached in the past to do media tie-in work and have largely turned it down, not because I think it’s below me — I think I’ve been pretty clear in the past that I think the class snobbery regarding tie-in writing is pretty bogus — but because I have my own list of projects to get to, and that list is fairly extensive. If and when I do work with someone else’s property, I want it to be something so very cool and special that it’s worth taking time away from my own personal slate of projects. Basically, I’m picky.

That said, I’ll tell you a story. Probably about 12 years ago I wrote an e-mail to John Carmack of id Software, explaining to him why he should really let me write a novel based on the Quake games, with a long list of rationales that in the end pretty much boiled down to “because if you did, dude, I promise you that novel would f’n rock.” I never did hear back from Carmack, which is of course not at all unexpected, because 12 years ago I was not a published novelist, I was some random member of the Quake-and-Cheetos Brigade going all squeegious on John Carmack. Think how often John Carmack must have gotten e-mails going “dude, you don’t know me, but you should totally trust me with your intellectual property.” I suspect Carmack read the e-mail, went okay, then, Mr. Fanboy McCrazypants, and dumped it straight into the trash bin. He would have been right to do so.

That said: Dude, if I had written a Quake novel, it would have been so very awesome. Because I loved those games, man. It hurt when I had to admit I liked Unreal Tournament more than Quake III Arena. It was like me saying that Pepsi One is a superior taste experience to Coke Zero. Which it isn’t and I would never say it was. But you see what I’m getting at, here. All other things being equal, what makes a media tie-in novel work is that the person writing it says to him or herself, Hey, I get to play with this thing I love so very much? And they’re paying me for it? Coooooool. And then goes off and has a ball.

So there it is: my sole attempt at media tie-in-ery, so far.

Interesting Note on Marriage in the United States

There are more states that have laws on the books allowing for same-sex marriage than there are states with laws on the books allowing for “covenant marriages.”

Oddly, no overlap between which states have which.

Final God Engine First Editions — Signed! — at Subterranean Press

UPDATE: All signed first editions gone! Additional, unsigned later edition copies are still available for order. Also, thank you.

Last week Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press sent to me the final box of the first trade edition of The God Engines, and I signed those suckers and sent them back. And now they’re for sale at Subterranean Press. So if you’d like to get a first edition of TGE, signed no less, you’d better head on over real soon, because the box had just a couple of dozen of them in it.

To be clear, this is the cloth-bound trade edition, not the leather-bound limited edition (which is already sold out). But this particular printing of the trade edition is now indeed very limited.

See, you knew there was a reason you read Whatever on Sundays.

Taking the Day Off

Although considering it’s almost 3 in the afternoon, I think most of you figured that out by now.

But I do want to take a moment and thank everyone who has sent along their congratulations about the Nebula and Norton nods. It’s neat to be able to share that with you all and to get a sense of your good will, toward me and also toward the other nominees.

Have a good rest of your Saturday, okay? I plan to.

Mustaches of Years Gone By

My father sent along this picture to me, of him and my mother back in their married days, which were also coincidentally his Navy days, which means that in this picture both of them are about 20 years younger than I am at this moment. Which messes with my head, it does. I have no idea what it is the two of them are doing in the picture, although if I had to guess, I’d say he’s handing his paycheck over to mom there. Which is, oddly enough, pretty much exactly what I do when I get checks. Not to mom, though. To my own wife. You know what I’m saying, here.

But what I notice most is that dad is rocking the full-on Jim Croce mustache there in the picture, which, while it doesn’t conflict with the Navy uniform is still nevertheless a reminder that facial hair fashions were different back in the day. No aspersions to dad, but these days seeing a fellow in that suit with that ‘stache would cause me to look around to see if I could also spot the cop, the cowboy, the construction worker and the Native American in the chieftain hat. It was a more innocent, less disco-y time back then, I suppose.

Also, those of you who know me will be able to look at those two faces and see which parts of my own face come from which parent: Eyes, nose and mouth from mom, but eyebrows? All dad, man. Genetics. I’m telling you.

And Now, a Nebula Awards Geek Out Moment

Like, I’m totally friends with loads of the Nebula nominees this year. No, seriously! I know them personally! How cool is that? I know Nebula nominees, people. They let me hang out with them. They tolerate my presence. I’m full of the nerd-squee at the moment for each and every one of them, and plan to bask in the reflected light of their awesomeness.

Okay, I’m done geeking out. But honestly, the best thing about the ballot this year is being in the company of so many of my friends, who are also such good writers. This is my peer group, and I couldn’t possibly be happier about that.

2009 Nebula Award Nominations

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has released the list of nominees for the 2009 Nebula, Bradbury and Norton Awards, and I’m delighted to say The God Engines and Zoe’s Tale are on the list. The official press release is here, but you’ll find the full list below, with additional comments from me at the end.



The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade, Sep 09)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam, Nov 08)
Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket, Oct 09)
The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey, May 09)
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor, Sep 09)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, Oct 09)


The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, Jun 09)
Arkfall,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sep 09)
“Act One,” Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar 09)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Tachyon, Feb 09)
Sublimation Angels,” Jason Sanford (Interzone, Oct 09)
The God Engines, John Scalzi ( Subterranean Press, Dec 09)


“The Gambler,” Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2, Pyr Books, Oct 08)
“Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jul 08)
“I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said,” Richard Bowes (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec 09)
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” Eugie Foster (Interzone, Feb 09)
“Divining Light,” Ted Kosmatka (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Aug 08)
A Memory of Wind,” Rachel Swirsky (, Nov 09)

Short Story

“Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela,” Saladin Ahmed (Clockwork Phoenix 2, Norilana Press, Jul 09)
I Remember the Future,” Michael A. Burstein (I Remember the Future, Apex Press, Nov 08)
“Non-Zero Probabilities,” N. K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld, Nov 09)
Spar,” Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct 09)
“Going Deep,” James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jun 09)
Bridesicle,” Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan 09)

BRADBURY AWARD (dramatic presentation)

Star Trek, JJ Abrams (Paramount, May 09)
District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug 09)
Avatar, James Cameron (Fox, Dec 09)
Moon, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker (Sony, Jun 09)
Up, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar, May 09)
Coraline, Henry Selick (Laika/Focus Feb 09)

ANDRE NORTON AWARD (young adult)

Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, Jul 09)
Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct 09)
Ash, Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company, Sep 09)
Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, Jul 09)
Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor Aug 08)
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her
Own Making
, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun 09)
Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct 09)

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The awards will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet the evening of May 15 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, just 20 minutes from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

And now, some quick thoughts from me:

* Quite obviously I’m thrilled. This is my first ever Nebula nomination, and likewise my first Norton nomination, and I’m delighted in both cases. In the case of The God Engines, it’s different enough from everything else I’ve ever published that I didn’t know whether it would work for anyone else but me, so it getting a nod from my fellow writers is both humbling and gratifying.

And with Zoe, well. It’s very nice to see it getting recognition as a YA, considering it was written to be accessible to younger readers, a fact which is sometimes overlooked. Plus I think most of you know how insensibly proud I am of Zoe as a character, so this feels like my peers saying I did well by her, which is again humbling and gratifying. Zoe also makes a little bit of history by being the first novel to be nominated for both the Norton and the Hugo, which is kind of neat. I wouldn’t be surprised if that distinction is short-lived, however, as I think Leviathan has very good Hugo chances this year.

* Leaving aside my own work for a moment, I think this is one of the strongest Nebula slates in a long time, in just about every category, including the Bradbury and Norton. SFWA revamped the rules this year to reinvigorate the awards and the nomination process, and I think those changes really paid off; there’s a good diversity of nominees, and a wide stylistic and thematic range of stories for voters to choose from. I can’t think of a category where any one nominee is a runaway favorite, which speaks to the quality of the work across the board. So a round of applause to you, SFWA. To the voters this year: Well, your job will be tough, but think off all the good reading you’ll get to do in the process. That’s a fair trade.

* The awards will be given out during the aforementioned Nebula Banquet in May, as part of a larger Nebula Weekend, and yes, I’ll be there for that. I was planning to be there regardless, because a) Joe Haldeman is being made a Grand Master then and I don’t want to miss that, and b) I’m running for President of SFWA, and that’s when the election results are officially announced. So I guess that’s another thing I’ll be up for, isn’t it. As if I won’t be twitchy enough.

While the Nebula Weekend is a SFWA function, it is also open to the public; here’s more information on that. SFWA also very frequently schedules a mass autographing session featuring its members at a nearby bookstore, so if you’re in or around the vicinity of Cocoa Beach that weekend, it’s an excellent time to meet your favorite authors. See you there.

Tough But Fair

Dude kicked off a flight because he was too smelly. And you know what? If you reek so bad that more than just the people next to you notice, that’s not at all unreasonable. You’re all in a flying tube with recycled air for hours. Other people shouldn’t have to marinate in your feculence.

I’ve been on a couple of flights in my time that could have benefited from this policy, I’ll tell you that.

Nebula Award Nominations to Be Announced Tomorrow

Science fiction fans, try to be somewhere near a computer at 10am Eastern tomorrow, because SFWA will be making its formal announcement of this year’s nominees for the Nebula, Norton and Bradbury Awards. The Nebulas will cover novels and short works, while the Norton covers young adult works and the Bradbury covers dramatic works. And I know you’re just itchin’ to find out who’s been nominated. Well, so am I. And we’ll all find out together, now, won’t we. The initial announcement will be posted the SFWA Web site. See you there. And yes, please feel free to pass on the information.

The Big Idea: Alex de Campi

And now for something a little different: The Big Idea focuses primarily on books and their authors, but I think it’s fun to mix things up from time to time and hear from folks trying new ways to tell their stories and get them out to readers. Alex de Campi, along with her collaborator Christine Larsen, are doing just that with Valentine, their tale of intrigue, war, and mystical creatures, set in the year 1812. Why 1812, and what new thing is being brought to Valentine? I’ll step back and let de Campi take it from here.


It all started with the map. Well, to be honest, it really began with my being a contrary little miss who didn’t like dolls, who forced my father to seek out compendia of folk tales as souvenirs for me when he was on business trips to places American daddies didn’t tend to go in 1979: Leningrad, Romania, Shanghai. But the map was the catalyst which brought Valentine to its crackling, electric existence. Not bad, for an accident.

The map is Minard’s 1869 “Carte Figurative des Pertes Successives en Hommes de l’Armée Française dans la Campagne de Russie 1812-1813”. It fell out of a book on quantitative information that I bought. Now, you can say Napoleon lost 90% of his troops in the retreat from Moscow in 1812, but when you see it in Minard’s mix of statistical chart, temperature scale (“-30 le 6 Dicembre”) and route map, it manages to bring home the sheer stupidity and horror of that campaign in a way that simple words can’t. In short: Napoleon marched half a million men into Russia one summer, and made it all the way to Moscow. There he dithered, trading letters with the Tsar, until – too late, too late! – he decided to leave for better-provisioned quarters. By the time his army limped across the German border, there were barely 50,000 men left.

Why had an otherwise brilliant military commander made such a catastrophic error? And why, while we’re asking uncomfortable questions, do so many cultures have such similar folk stories about mythical beings, undead, faeries and so forth? There was clearly an almost universal agreement, centuries ago, that magic and magical beings existed, and it can’t just be blamed on superstitious people needing an explanation for thunder. How do unicorns explain anything? Whither vampires, from the Arabic ghūl, Indian vetalas, Romanian strigoi and Ashanti asanbosam, to sparkly chaps who chastely fulfil certain young ladies’ penetration fantasies? The biggest lizard in Western Europe is a shy little Spanish fellow who grows to eighteen inches at a push. How in blazes did we end up with dragon stories, then?

Napoleon’s retreat from Russia gave me this richly atmospheric, under-utilised setting to tell Valentine, which in big terms is the story of how magic has drained out of the Earth as it aged, and how certain magical creatures were stuck on Earth because they, like Napoleon, dithered too long as the shadows of autumn’s age lengthened.

1812 is a good year for such a story. It’s sufficiently after the Enlightenment that my characters are not overly superstitious people, or at least not more than soldiers usually are. Europe has been at war with itself for long enough that a comparatively young man of 24 might easily have been a professional soldier for seven years. Placing the beginning action in 1812 also allows me to indulge in a particularly wonderful narrative twist, about which I shan’t say more.

That is where Valentine begins: two cavalrymen, their horses long dead, become separated from the main army by a blizzard as they scavenge for food. A package is given to them by a dying general, with orders to get it to French high command. Soon they find themselves pawns in a desperate rush for home by the marooned creatures of wonder, for whom every further day on Earth means one more step towards becoming stuck in the leaden forms they inhabit, the way each day of winter grows shorter by a hen’s stride until, for those far enough north, the solstice arrives and the sun deigns not rise at all.

Minard’s map, in the end, provided only a beginning – don’t pick up Valentine if you expect the entire story to take place during the Russian campaign. I could write an entire book on the retreat from Moscow to the Beresina, but Valentine is not that book.

Valentine is written in the classic fantasy/thriller pulp tradition – you’re never more than a few pages away from love, fighting, or cliffhangers. And it is, you may be surprised to hear, a comic book. More than that, it’s a comic for your wireless device. New episodes of 70-75 screens are released monthly in 14 languages simultaneously, and cost 99 cents each – except for Episode 01, which is a bit on the short side, and is free. Episode 04 was just released yesterday. The series is set to run for 24 episodes.

This brings us to the other big idea at play here: Valentine’s format. This has been written about extensively elsewhere, so I shall be brief here. I’ve written comic book series for IDW (the Eisner-nominated sci-noir thriller Smoke); Tokyopop, French sci-fi/fantasy publisher Humanoids, and Dark Horse. I’ve long been fascinated by the possibilities of wireless devices for comics, and thought what an interesting narrative and visual challenge it would be to create an episodic story for 480×320 screens. I also have lots of friends around the world, so have always wanted “whatever I did next” to be available in as many languages simultaneously as possible. (Initial sales of Valentine have supported this, in that English has a plurality, but far from a majority.)

And while what John says here about publishing not going away is absolutely correct, what do you do when, for your format, publishing hasn’t yet arrived?

Well, you cobble together a network of excellent publisher-distributors specialising in particular devices. Valentine is available for iPhone/iPad, Android phone, Kindle and eReader right now. By the end of February it will be available for web, from Comics by Comixology (whose content-persistent iPhone/web reader is in beta). By around the time of mid-autumn when Napoleon really should have been getting on from Moscow, the first printed-book edition of Valentine (collecting Episodes 01-07 into a circa 250-page full-colour digest) will be out from Image Comics.


Valentine: Comics by Comixology (iPhone and Web) | Robot Comics (iPhone and Android phone) | Amazon (Kindle) | Valentine Store (ePub)

Read Episode 01 online. Go to the Valentine website. Follow de Campi on Twitter.

Inglourious Basterds: Is It Science Fiction?

That was the question I was asked on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I gave a Twitter-sized response at the time, but now I expand on the answer (considerably!) in this week’s AMC column. Go on, you want to know the answer.

Also, since I forgot to mention it yesterday, I also participated in SFSignal’s most recent “Mind Meld,” which asked which not-running SF TV shows deserve a revival. My answer is cranky, and my bio reveals something about my pinkies. Check them out.

Just Arrived, 2/17/10

The UPS dude rolled up at 7:30pm with a stack of packages. What was inside?

* I Am Not a Serial Killer, by Dan Wells (Tor): Well, if he’s not a serial killer, what’s that body doing behind the laundromat? Well? I do like the note in the introduction of the book, from Wells, to his family: “let me please reiterate this book is not autobiographical.” Hmmmm. Wells, I should note, will be offering up a Big Idea essay, in which he will incriminate explain himself, the day the book drops, which will be at the end of March.

* Gardens of the Sun, by Paul McAuley (Pyr): The follow-on to McAuley’s very highly regarded novel The Quiet War, which was nominated for the Clarke award. This is out March 23.

* The Passage, by Justin Cronin (Ballentine): The ARC cover to this book is every major and minor HarperCollins executive squeeing about how awesome it is, so I guess the company’s behind this one. Must be nice. It’s apparently a postapocalypic vampire trilogy, which makes me think of someone pitching it to a movie company: “It’s Twilight! Meets The Road!” Let’s hope it’s not, you know? This one is coming June 8.

* Ghost Radio, by Leopoldo Gout (Harper): Aside from its author having the most Dickensenian author name in a while, this debut novel features a tale of ghosts, poltergeists and call-in talk radio. Nifty. Out next week.

* Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One (Eos): Author Ian Douglas is apparently buying colons in bulk for the titles of this military science fiction series, in which the star carrier America faces down some very bad alien bad guys coming to destroy us all. You know. Like they do. Also out next week.

From the “How Cool is This” Department

A few months ago my French publisher L’Atalante asked me if they could use my short story “After the Coup” for a giveaway chapbook to promote their line (and my books). I said “sure” and then promptly forgot about it until this afternoon, when in my mail were a couple dozen copies of the chapbook, with the cover you see above, done by Didier Florentz, who does my other L’Atalante covers as well. The title has changed; now it’s “Diplomacy in Three Rounds,” which is of course exactly what goes on in the story, and the cover captures a nice moment in the story too. Overall, a nice surprise for the day.

Various & Sundry, 2/17/10

Bits and pieces:

* You know, I haven’t been following the Olympics at all, because I don’t much actually care, but I have to say the Norwegian Olympic Curling Team’s pants deserve a medal. For something.

* I’m also delighted to discover that (for now, and in Florida) students are still allowed to criticize their teachers online, even if teachers are understandably exasperated at the possibility of Facebook pages dedicated to how much their students hate them. Welcome to free speech, folks. That said, someone probably should give Teh Kidz a primer on libel and defamation, since my crystal ball which sees the future sees some tightly-wound teacher or administrator suing a teen (or his/her parents) on that grounds — and given that some similar suits out there include pages where teens labeled their principals as pedophiles, not entirely unreasonably so. I also see Facebook/MySpace choosing to make a lot of deletions of such pages, if they don’t already, since their terms of service don’t really have to pay attention to that pesky First Amendment.

* I’ve been asked for an update on the SFWA elections, as I am running for president of that august institution. There’s not too much to tell at this point; the deadline for announcing official candidacies has passed, and both I and Mary Robinette Kowal (who is running for VP) are running unopposed. Someone could still decide to run against me or Mary, but they’d be running as a write-in candidate, which puts them at a bit of a disadvantage (trust me, I know). Beyond this the election process continues to lack drama, which again I think every SFWAn appreciates at this point. As I understand it the election ballots will be mailed in the next couple of weeks. So that’s what’s up with that.

* Athena has yet another snow day today, which frankly amazes me. This is how bad it’s gotten:

Me: Not counting last Friday, when was the last time you were actually in school?

Athena: Maybe the first or second of February? I don’t know. I don’t keep track of these things anymore.

And I’ll note last Friday was a reduced day, not a full day. I think it’s taking a toll on the school administrators as well; Krissy listened to the phone message from Bradford’s superintendent last night about yet another delay/cancellation, and said, “he just sounds totally defeated at this point.” Well, sure. At this point, every day canceled in February gets tacked on in June. He doesn’t want to be in school in June any more than the kids do.

It has an impact here as well, since it’s difficult to get a whole lot of writing done with an 11-year-old wandering around the house, demanding to be entertained. I downloaded Plants vs. Zombies on the iPod to keep her busy, but there’s only so far that goes. “Fortunately,” in the last week most of my work has involved dealing with various contracts and negotiations (none of which I can give you any details about but which aren’t actually that exciting so you’re not missing much). So at least my creative process, so as it is, has not been unduly disrupted. But, you know, sooner or later I’ll have to write something.

* Speaking of which, I have an AMC column to get to. Later.

The Cake That Refreshes

Why my neighbors are more awesome than yours: Because one of them — Alisha — made me this cake. Which is no ordinary cake. It is, in fact, a Coke Zero cake. Yes, yes. Made with the refreshing zero calorie goodness of Coke Zero! Although the cake itself is not calorie free. That would be silly and wrong. There is no such thing as a zero calorie cake, and if there were, it would be an abomination, some sort of mad flavored sponge designed to give starving supermodels something to do with their mouths besides jam endless Camel Lights into them. This is not that. No, this is loaded with calories and Coke Zero. Heck, even the frosting is made with Coke Zero. The is the most awesome cake made with soda ever. I hesitate even to eat it. However, Krissy and Athena have no such hesitation, so it’s going to get eaten later tonight no matter what. Might as well join them.

Thanks, Alisha. Your Coke Zero cake is deeply appreciated and revered.

Me Stuff, 2/16/10

Some notes:

1. I have now officially caught up with e-mail from the last two weeks, so if you’ve sent me e-mail in the last couple of weeks and was hoping for a response but did not get one, go ahead and resend your e-mail. The exception to this is Big Idea proposals — I’ve got a couple of those I’m still mulling over, so don’t send those again.

2. Speaking of The Big Idea, one thing I want people to remember is that to be considered, books have to be offered to brick and mortar bookstores on a returnable basis, i.e., the traditional sort of set-up that bookstore take books from publishers by. If your book is not returnable, I’m not at all likely to say “yes” to your Big Idea proposal. Yes, this is my way of weeding out the self-published or vanity published. If I make an exception it’s for exceptional reasons which show real innovation — for example, in the near future I’ll do something with an iPod/Kindle-distributed graphic novel. But exceptions are called “exceptions” for a reason.

3. Subterranean Press noted today that The God Engines is going into a third printing and that TGE is now my largest-selling SubPress title, both of which I think are pretty damn nifty. Thank you. Subterranean also notes that if you’re still hankering for a first edition, they themselves have a few left, but you better get on it.

4. As most of you know my 2010 science fiction convention is intentionally sparse, but 2011 is beginning to fill out a bit: Specifically, I’ll be the Guest of Honor at Capricon 31, in Wheeling, Illinois (suburban Chicago) next February 10 – 13. Joining me are John Picacio as the artist Guest of Honor and Janice Gelb & Stephen Boucher as fan Guests of Honor. Here’s the Capricon Web site, although at the moment it’s still showing information from this year’s convention. No other firm 2011 commitments at this point, but when/if there are I’ll post them.

That’s me today.

Athena Wishes You a Groovy Mardi Gras

“Don’t forget to give up something for Lent!”

Athena would also like to thank Whatever reader (and Krewe of Morpheus member) Charles K. Bradley for the Mardi Gras shirt and mask. They have been much admired around these here parts.

Just Arrived, 2/16/10

What came in before the snow walled us in again:

* The Lost Fleet: Victorious, by Jack Campbell (Ace): Sent this in ARC form. I do believe this is the final book in the very successful “Lost Fleet” series, so Campbell fans, gird yourself. This one comes out April 27.

* Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey (Little, Brown): This YA takes place in New Zealand and purports to tap into the mythos of the Maori to tell its story. Nifty, I say; I love me some New Zealand. Out in April.

* Changeless, by Gail Carriger (Orbit): I’ll let the cover copy speak for it: “A novel of vampires, werewolves, dirigibles and parasols.” Italics theirs. It must mean something. Also out in April.

* A User’s Guide to the Universe, by Dave Goldberg and Jeff Blomquist (Wiley): I’m afraid to open this because I’m worried I’ll find out I’ve been using the universe all wrong. What would the penalty for that be? I don’t want to find out. This pop science book is out next week and its authors will be doing a Big Idea piece in a few weeks’ time.

* Food, Wine: Burgundy (The Little Bookroom), by David Downie: This installment of The Terroir Guides (think of them as travel guides to wine country) goes deep into the Burgundy region of France to give you tours of the local vineyards, vinters, and restaurants. Makes me want to take a trip, it does. Out as of last week.

* The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance (Brilliance Audio): Vance’s classic 1950 novel, in audio form, read by Arthur Morey. Out today!

* The Agent: An indie film about an agent locking horns with a writer. I’m jazzed I’m being sent DVDs again. This is out in the UK and I am assured will be in the US at some near point.

The Big Idea: Alexey Pehov

Here we have a first for The Big Idea: Our first translated essay. Alexey Pehov writes in Russian, and in Russian, he’s done very well, winning awards and racking up sales over the last decade with his Chronicles of Siala series and other novels. Now his debut novel Shadow Prowler, the first of the Chronicles of Siala, has come to the English language (translated by Andrew Bromfield, who translated Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series), and Pehov wants to tell you about it — and how his desire to play with the form of fairytales propelled him out of the ordinary life of an orthodontist (no, really) and into an extraordinary life as a fantasy writer.


People often asked me this question: You are a qualified doctor; you enjoy a great profession and a promising career; so why did you start writing? What was the catalyst for venturing into the creative world?

The desire to write this book didn’t begin right away. It was a long and roundabout process with ideas percolating in my mind for many years before finally forming themselves onto paper.

When I was seven years old, I realized that when a cartoon show or a book ended—that it was not the “end” at all. Because of one’s imagination, the story could continue or one could make up an entire new story. No need to depend on television, books or computer games anymore!

A person could close his or her eyes and imagine any situation and any characters with their own set of magic system and relationships… and that imaginary world could even live on in one’s dreams: Diving to the depths of the warm sea, climbing towards a snowy peak or watching the setting of two suns.

My dream to create new worlds as a writer, however, could only be realized after graduation, as studying took up all of my time.

Despite coming to writing later in life, how lucky was I to discover the best form of escapism—turning back the clock to childhood and returning to the world of fairytales. What kid doesn’t like magic and adventure?

Some people say that life consists of a series of coincidences and complex decisions. And when we make complex decision, we only choose one side of a complicated issue.

Unlike real life, fairytales often involve clear-cut extremes: good and evil, ugly and beautiful, rich and poor. With my own stories, I like to include the grey area in between. A story without nuances is like food without salt or pepper. You can eat it, but it can taste rather bland.

I had always wanted to transform the world depicted in fairytales into a more controversial—or even contradictory—one. A world where the heroes and the enemies are not immediately apparent, where characters sometimes break out of their fairytale archetypes. A world not unlike our own real world.

Therefore, readers may be surprised by some of the developments in Shadow Prowler, or even find some of its occurrences odd from the standpoint of classic fantasy.

So why did this Russian doctor choose to write stories of a fantastical bent?  Fantasy, for me, has always appeared as a bright, sparkling bird for which no limit in distance, altitude or speed exists. Fantasy has no boundaries.

Traveling is one of my hobbies, and in the past years, I had trekked to Mount Everest, biked the Sahara, navigated the Ecuadorian jungles and visited remote islands. Everywhere I went, I met such unique and exciting people—and any one of them could have been the hero for someone’s book.

So for my main character in Shadow Prowler, I chose to give him an ambiguous profession. At first glance, thievery and heroism may not be very compatible concepts, but this decision wound up working quite well. And as we know, in an adventure tale, stranger things have happened.

So welcome to the world of Siala! A story taken from the black-and-white pages of folk and fairy tales, so to speak, but infused with the multicolor complication of nontraditional heroes and battles. I hope you enjoy it.


Shadow Prowler: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of the novel. See the book trailer.

I Hereby Unilaterally Declare February 15th To Be International Grover Appreciation Day

Because he is The Greatest Muppet Ever. Search your heart. You know it to be true.

Tell everyone you know that today is International Grover Appreciation Day. Because it is THE BEST HOLIDAY EVER.

That is all. Thank you.

Update, 11:38 am: Quote from Athena: “Is there an Elmo Day? Because if there is, I’m going to have to punch someone.” I AM SO PROUD.

Also, feel free to download the picture above from here.