Mary Robinette Kowal

Book tours are like time travel

I have decided that book tours are a lot like time travel. Let me explain.  I left Portland last week and the weather was cool and springlike. I arrived in NYC which was firmly in the grips of hot, sticky summer.

I am now in San Francisco which is autumnal. Oh sure, there are flowers blooming and the sky is blue, but that doesn’t fool me.  It’s chilly here. Scalzi says that “It’s August. August is always cold in SF because central california is so hot. Sucks in all the cold air right out the pacific.”

He swears that it’s true and not just him being snarky.

Well, that’s fine and all but it still feels like time travel. Add to the fact that my body no longer has any idea what time zone it’s in plus the fact that the length of daylight also changes based on what latitude I’m in and you can start to see why I have no freakin’ idea what time it is or even the day beyond, “I’m in SF so it must be Saturday.”

Book tour differs from puppetry tours, where one generally drives and thus has a chance to acclimate to the landscape and time changes. This is all about getting in a metal tube and magically being someplace else.

The next leg of the trip is by train to Eugene, OR, so that will at least be in the same time zone although climatically different.

My opinion thus far of SF, besides the fact that it is chilly, is that it’s a good pedestrian town. I don’t mind all the hills and there are loads of interesting shops and cafes to duck into. I spent part of yesterday happily holed up in the Borderlands Cafe, which is attached to the bookstore.

This evening I’ll be reading at the SF in SF series with Cecilia Holland. Then tomorrow I’ll head over to Sausalito to visit my cousin. During the days, I’ll probably wander around in SF and do some exploring. I’ve been here multiple times before but I think this is the first time that I’m totally solo.

So, would you like to make any suggestions for what to do with myself during the day? I figure as long as I’ve made the trip through time and space to get here I should take advantage of it.


Happy Caturday

It’s been ages since anyone has posted any cat pictures around these parts, so I stole this from John’s super sekrit stash. You’re welcome.

How do you hope to spend your Caturday?

N.K. Jemisin

Inception Parodies

You knew they were coming:

Both were recommended by fellow writer and snarkmeister G. L. Valentine, whom you can usually find over at dissecting the latest films for “what the hell were they thinking?” purposes. (But she actually liked Inception.) She also blogs about fashion.

BTW, there are at least half a dozen parodies of Inception that are about conception, over at YouTube. All of them are kinda terrible. (And several are NSFW.) Seriously, guys, if it doesn’t take much effort to think up, is it even worth doing? ::sigh::


Don’t Stop Believing for About Forty Minutes

Are you tired of all those super peppy pop stars and their toe-tapping Top 40 hits? Or are you that obsessed with the likes of J. Biebz that you wish the fever could last forever? Well, with song stretching, you too can enjoy popular songs the way they were meant to be heard!

Taking the phenomenon to a whole new retro level, Scalzi Enterprises™, gives you “Slow Stop” an ambient Journey through time and space.  You definitely won’t stop believing the awesome.

Note: There is some confusion as to whether listening to this track while high on speed will make it sound like the original track or more fatally, make your head explode. We suggest you don’t try it. Scalzi Enterprises™ will not be held responsible for bloody messes. The company also is protected from lawsuits due to injury caused from bad punning.

Meet the Winners of the Wheaton/Scalzi Fanfic Contest!

John sez:

There are two winners of the Wheaton/Scalzi fanfic contest:

Bernadette Durbin: “Bedtime Story”

Scott Mattes: “Vintarini’s Peak”

The Jury of Awesomeness™ picked them both because we couldn’t decide between them, and then thought, “why decide?” Because, hey, we can totally do that.

Their stories will be bundled up with stories by Wil Wheaton, Patrick Rothfuss, Catherynne Valente, and me, into an electronic chapbook from Subterranean Press, the proceeds of which will go to benefit the Lupus Alliance of America (via its Michigan/Indiana affiliate).

All the stories are in — and fantastic — and are headed for production. We’ll have more information on a release date and how to buy the chapbook soon.

Congratulations to Bernadette and Scott!


Unicorn Pegasus Kitten Update

John wanted me to mention that the winners of the fanfic contest have been chosen and are in the process of being told. Once they are notified, we’ll happily post the results for all to see.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Reading tonight in NYC

I would probably be remiss to point out that I’ll be reading at the KGB Fantastic Fiction Series in NYC tonight with the wonderful Laura Anne Gilman.

KGB Bar on 85th East 4th Street,

Please come! Did I mention that I’m bringing puppets?


The Dollar Value of Nerd Love

In an opening weekend reminiscent of the cliques within my high school walls, the jocks bullied the nerds while pretty women watched. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ultimately whimpered into fifth place behind The Expendables, Eat Pray Love, The Other Guys, and Inception.

Over at his weekly column,  John explains why nerd love only gets you $10 million worth of opening box office.

As usual, comments on this post are closed here at the Whatever, so please click on over and discuss.

N.K. Jemisin

What He Said.

I’d been struggling to come up with something to say about the Park 51/”Ground Zero Mosque” affair that would not start with a profanity and devolve from there into frothing monosyllabic incoherency, but China Mieville beat me to it. His statement ends with a profanity, but it’s a well-earned one. And he further calls for some designer somewhere to come up with a slogan, logo, etc., that will allow those of us in a fury over this to express our objections more simply.

He concludes with: “Racism out of Manhattan”.

To which I say, this so hard.

Mykal Burns

My Monday

So, what did you do yesterday? I spent a good portion of my afternoon at LAX in Los Angeles, waiting for a plane to arrive. I know Whatever readers like photographs, so I shot a few for you while I waited. (Pro tip: all photos can be clicked to see a gigantified version in my Flickr stream.)

An unusual part of my airport adventure was that I was actually waiting on the runway, at the far end of the airport from the main terminals. For most of the day my view looked like this:

Shot with my craptastic iPhone camera (non-4g variety.)

A pretty dull view, made even less attractive by the marine layer that has been plaguing Los Angeles for a month. It’s rolling in from the beach, about 1/2 mile from the left side of the frame above.

Activity eventually began to pick up and about 30 minutes before the plane I was waiting for arrived, three large Marine helicopters landed and staged off to the right behind the building.
In addition to the large transport helicopters, two smaller passenger helicopters arrived, as well.
Here’s something that never seems to happen when I’m on a plane. The flight I waited for arrived 40 minutes early and headed directly for its gate, no runway delays.
If you haven’t guessed yet which flight & passenger I was waiting for, click past the jump for more photos. Heck, even if you have guessed, click for pics…

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Anthony Huso

Suffering: Sure, it’s a pain in the ass, but does it make for good art? And more to the point, if you make your characters suffer (which is objectively at least more comfortable than having yourself suffer), will their struggles help to perfect their stories? Perhaps it’s not the only way to tell a tale, but it’s an interesting way to tell it, no?

These are some of the questions Anthony Huso’s been rolling around in his head on the occasion of the release of his debut fantasy novel The Last Page. And after considerable thought on the nature of suffering, angst and depression, he’s come to some conclusions. And as luck would have it, here he is to report on what he’s discovered.


So here’s what happens.

One day you wake up and realize, crap.  I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.  Somehow, my world just exploded, and I’m watching the remnants float down like burning pages.

It’s bad form to wallow in misery but most of us have been there, on that day when we didn’t know if we were going make it.  And –- surprise — tomorrow wasn’t a big improvement.  Nor was the tomorrow after that.  It’s not that we want to wallow.  But it takes time to adjust after calamity.

Coincidentally, it takes time to write a book.

John [not Scalzi] first showed me Vonnegut’s words: “You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed.”

Exclusionary assertions aside there’s truth enough there that you can excavate it with a spoon.  Angst is a reliable minter of art.

Angst also sells because we relate to it.

In the past couple of decades we’ve witnessed a brand of anxiety that only the internet could unearth.  The sort that stuffs the whole of humanity into a runaway train and sends it down the track at breakneck.  This is the thrill ride of 2012, meteor, super volcano, mega tsunami, disaster-porn that carries an acknowledged titillation value.  Look at this.  It would make a great B-movie. 

Maybe we’re making movies like this because as our knowledge of the universe expands, so does our ability to catalog erenow inscrutable catastrophic threats to our existence.  Quite naturally, the notion of extinction gets reactions from creatures easily smashed or burned by rocks falling out the sky.  So we make and watch disaster movies and think, wow

Now, we probably don’t go to bed worried that the end is just around the corner.  I hope not.  But there is — I think — a heuristic dread lining our collective psyche.  In other words, we do actually think about it from time to time.

In The Last Page I wanted to bring some of that fringe hysteria into the plot while keeping it analogously anchored.  Understand that my goal was for the characters to not be fretting constantly about some esoteric doomsday scenario.  Rather it’s background noise, which I think makes it far more uncertain and believable.  Think of it as a subconscious horror, a fly sucking fluid from the corner of your sleeping eye.

You’re probably getting the sense that the world where The Last Page takes place is fairly dark.  Indeed, I would call it brutal.  It is a place that exacts its toll indiscriminately from every character within its bounds.

Let’s begin with Caliph Howl, the first character to appear in the book.  When he assumes control of his backwater country, the political landscape does not pause for him to get his footing.  He sees his own values compromised by degrees.  He feels the sting of being lampooned by the press and the pain of repeated betrayal.

But to make this fantasy, and to make it fantastic, I needed to pile considerably more and far weirder pressures on top of him, so that he could really struggle.

This role is filled by Sena Iilool (though she would say she never intended for things to go the way they did).  Being Caliph’s college obsession, she is for him the harbinger of things fantastic.  While Caliph is embroiled in pragmatic affairs: paperwork, meetings and espionage — Sena is up to her earlobes in hexes, fables and the occult.  Their relationship might be summarized as the empirical vs. the theoretical.  This results in a slow-moving fracture across both of their realities.  Eventually all preconceptions shatter and the accompanying bottoms fall out.

To clarify Caliph and Sena’s dynamic within the story: whenever you have a boy-meets-girl-thing it’s natural to ask, as Fred Savage once did, whether this is a kissing book.

I admit the story to have torture, revenge, chases, escapes, true [dysfunctional] love, miracles…

But The Last Page isn’t a light-hearted romp.  Caliph and Sena are cautious rivals, best friends and bitter enemies depending on the chapter.  Their relationship is not easy to define because, if it was, the book (and its companion Black Bottle out 2011) would be a much diminished tale.  And the grim struggles and fine lines between obsession and love, fidelity and cowardice, of rationalizing the accomplishment of good things through dark means, I think, would be significantly undermined.

Sometimes plots evolve out of big ideas like: what if this crazy dude parked his spacecraft at the edge of a singularity and murdered his crew; then turned them into zombies and fitted chrome pantyhose eggs over their faces?  That would be cool!

And other times, plots evolve from the characters themselves.  Plot = struggle.

Sure I’m offering zeppelins, sex, gun fights, Lovecraftian god-things and a haunted building outside of town.  That’s scratching the surface.  And I hope it is entertaining.  Under the hood, however, I have to confess a secret hope that I’ve also delivered a story that resonates with what happens under real pressure, real heartache, when everything goes suddenly very wrong.

Calamity!  What do you do now?  That’s the big idea.  Rather than slaying the personification with a weapon and taking its treasure home, I think real people are just hoping to survive, even before they try to start making sense of what happened.

And that’s the true part.

One day my world blew up.  I was shell shocked.  But I was lucky.  I found my keyboard.  I wrote this story.


The Last Page: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel. Visit Anthony Huso’s Blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Kate Baker

The Coolest Thing You’ll See Today

(If you haven’t seen it already, that is.)

You can either watch it here on the Whatever, or click on the video for higher resolution and explanation. I stumbled upon it during lunch and have watched it a few times. Students of the visual arts continue to amaze me. The rendering and editing of this video took a gentleman by the name of Alexander Lehmann three years to complete. It’s well worth your few minutes especially if you are SF and/or disaster film addict like I am. (Don’t ask.)

The music is pretty awesome D&B too!

John Anderson

Exciting News for Bryan Fuller Fans: Scripting a Pilot for SyFy

The news apparently broke last Thursday, but it only just came to my attention this morning that Bryan Fuller of Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me fame has signed on to write the pilot episode of what could become a new SyFy series.  The pilot will be based on John Christopher’s 1969 SF novel The Lotus Caves, which the SyFy press release describes as being “about colonists who rebel against the rigidity of their lunar colony by exploring beyond its proscribed boundaries and discovering a series of caves ruled by a super-intelligent, alien species.”

I’ll freely admit that I’m unfamiliar with the title or author, but I ordered a copy of the out-of-print title within moments of hearing the news of Fuller’s involvement with the project, and expect I’ll be reading it in the not-too-distant future.  If you’re a fellow Fuller fan in the market for a copy, get thee to the mighty and score yourself one before news of the proposed TV series spreads, potentially triggering an increase in the price of the book.

What this news means for the long-rumored Pushing Daisies comic book series that Fuller has been reported as writing for DC Comics, however, I can’t say.  I’d like to think that the comics project hasn’t been scuttled though, as I’d truly love to see that wonderful, and wonderfully original, TV series given the proper ending that it (and its fans) deserves.

If anybody knows more about the status of what was reported as being a 12-issue Pushing Daisies series Fuller was going to write for DC, by all means, please share the (hopefully good) word!

N.K. Jemisin

Now Have Another

Submitted for your approval :

My camera is old, and one of the first things on my “stuff to buy when I next have a windfall” list is a digital SLR. But the old clunker still manages to capture some things just right. This isn’t today, which is gray and dreary; I took this a couple of days ago, from the window of the new apartment. Now imagine gazing at this while listening to John Coltrane’s “Equinox”, and you’ll know what a perfect Brooklyn sunset feels like.

Kate Baker

Things Weren’t Really That Different When I Was A Kid

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved going to the movies. The first film that I remember was ET at a now defunct drive-in. (Damn, I really miss those.) Then multiplexes were popping up everywhere. While we would pay for the ticket into the theater, I never understood why my parents thought it necessary to pop corn at home and stow it under  big winter coats or in my mother’s large purse. I always resented the fact that I couldn’t have that over-salted, yellow monstrosity in an overpriced bucket. We weren’t trying to be obnoxious, that stuff was just as expensive even back then.

We’d do the same with other snacks as well. Hitting the local RX Place next to the cinema, we’d hide cheap cans of soda and candy within our pockets only to get nervous as we approached the overzealous ticket warrior.

He only caught us a few times, when the smell of burned kernels wafted up through our clothes or my when my little brother asked when we could have the sweets we just bought at the “other place”.

I remember being mortified. But now, as an adult with small children, I realize something. (This will happen a lot when the child becomes the parent.) My mom and dad were pretty smart. They “skimped” on those luxuries because we couldn’t really afford them and by doing so, with the money we saved, we went to more movies. If we really liked a certain film, sometimes we got to see it a few times if all the bills were paid and food was in the refrigerator.

As I got older and got a job of my own, I continued to follow that unspoken advice borne out of necessity. Granted, there are times where I don’t bring anything on which to munch, but I have been known to hide those Red Vines purchased at a much lower price in an overly large winter coat, or in a purse.

And you know what I do with the money I save? I  go to more movies.

As theaters continue to squeeze dime and dollar out of already struggling families with rising ticket and concession costs, perhaps they could take a lesson from my parents. I do believe there will be a breaking point. Either when the public is sick of paying to watch commercials at the beginning of their movies, or they just stop going all together because it’s cost prohibitive.

As for the popcorn, I never did get used to the taste. Anytime I decide to splurge with either friends or my own children, I always end up with a stomach ache and a much lighter wallet.

But I’m sure that James Cameron and the studios appreciate the fact that I went to see Titanic seven times and have seen other films numerous times as well.

And no, for the last time, I don’t want a large for just 25 cents more.

N.K. Jemisin

Here, have a sky

Not the view from my new apartment, and not even today. This was taken from my old apartment’s balcony, last month sometime. Posting because the last 2 weeks have been unusually hazy and dreary, and generally poor photo-taking weather. I’m tired of waiting for it to clear up before I show you guys some of the sights in my ‘hood. Consider this a visual invocation of the kind of sky I want to see, which is more normal for Brooklyn.

It’s Friday. I’m writing my usual 2000 words, getting a pedicure, and reading volume 4 of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Tiptree-Award-winning manga Ooku. What are you doing?

John Anderson

I Heart Scott Pilgrim

As I sit down to write these words, I just got home from an advance screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  Given that Scott Pilgrim is a) a movie, b) based on a comic I love by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and is c) steeped in rock ‘n’ roll, I expect you can probably guess it’s a flick that I’ve really been looking forward to.  OK, to be completely honest, “looking forward to” is kind of an understatement.  I had really high hopes for the movie, and I was rooting for it to capture the spirit, manic energy, tone and, perhaps most crucially, the heart of the graphic novels. I’ll admit that I had some concerns, especially concerning Michael Cera’s ability to believably inhabit the role of Scott Pilgrim as portrayed on the page.

If you share those concerns, or any others regarding the adaptation from the comics page to the screen, I’m here to tell you that you may hereby breathe easily and relieve yourself of any and all fears.  Simply put, director Edgar Wright’s onscreen realization of Scott Pilgrim is a triumph, and one that’s not content to merely succeed on every imaginable level, but which scores bonus points with the greatest of ease. Even when the movie deviates from the graphic novels (which, yes, it does at times, just as any truly successful adaptation of a work from one medium to another must, so settle down, Beavis), it preserves the integrity of the source material.  (And if you’ll permit me a brief aside, I feel compelled to note that Scott Pilgrim shares this trait of deviating from while at the same time preserving the integrity of the source material with Kick-Ass, my other favorite comics-based movie of the year so far.)

In a nutshell, if you’re a fan of the graphic novels, pretty much everything you loved about the books is present in the movie. In addition to the aforementioned spirit, manic energy, tone, and heart, add to the list: the breathtaking pacing; the charmingly visible sound effects; the attention to detail in realizing the visual flair and design sense of the source material; and, yes, those crucially important video game elements that are seamlessly embedded throughout. It’s all there, my friends, and more. If, on the other hand, you’re unfamiliar with the graphic novels, fear not, for if you’ve ever been young and crushing on someone, you’re perfectly equipped with the necessary tools to adore this movie.

Scott Pilgrim doesn’t strike so much as a single bum note, a phrase which is especially apt given the importance of the believability of the original music in a movie whose title character is the bassist in Sex Bob-Omb, a band whose performance in a Battle of the Bands is integral to the plot. Credit for the songs of Sex Bob-Omb goes to Beck, who did a remarkable job of realizing the sound of a band that had previously only existed on the pages of a comic book (and in the mind’s-ear of its readers).  If you’re interested in learning more about the original music of the film, I highly recommend checking out an excellent piece by Todd Martens in Pop & Hiss, the L.A. Times Music Blog.

If you’re a gambler looking to place your bets on the success of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I’d advise you to bet the farm on Scott. Here’s how I know beyond any doubt that this movie is going to be a hit: when I exited the advance screening, some two-and-a-half hours before the opening “day” midnight screening was scheduled to begin, there was a group of teens already camped out at the front of the line … and every one of them was costumed as a different character from the graphic novel / movie.

Joss Whedon blurbed the just-released final book of the six-volume graphic novel series thusly: “Scott Pilgrim is the best book ever. It is the chronicle of our time. With Kung Fu, so, yeah: perfect.”  Substitute “movie” for “book” in that blurb, and Joss could just as easily have been fawning over the movie as, intentionally hyperbolic though they may be, his words are perfectly in tune with the material, striking nary a bum note.

So, yeah: perfect.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Oh, peaches! Oh, woe!

Let me talk to you about peaches. See, I grew up in North Carolina and every summer we’d drive to TN to visit my grandmothers with occasional visits to Georgia.  In the summer, the peaches were cheap and splendid. You’d buy them by the side of the road where they’d just come off the tree and were still warm with the sun. The sweet juice just ran down your chin as the flesh of the peach dissolved in your mouth.

I thought peaches were like that everywhere.

For the past seventeen years, I’ve lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest with excursions to NYC and Iceland. None of these places has decent peaches. I’m reminded of this because I am suffering from the gravest disappointment of a Oregon peach. Grave. Disappointment.

It’s made graver by the fact that I spent last weekend in North Carolina at NASFIC and had real peaches again.  My God. The first one I ate made me sag with relief and sheer sybaritic pleasure.

Coming home, I was excited to see that our CSA package this week had peaches. Fool. FOOL! Oh, what a sorry excuse for fruit this was. Hard and tasteless with more than just a failure to ripen. This was a peach without the promise of rich succulence. The ignominy!

Do you understand the anguish? Have you loved a food only to discover that it was regionally specific? Did you take the morsel for granted?