Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gli Dei di Mosca


This is, I believe, the best version of Surplus to date.  Check out that expression!  His marks don't normally get to see this aspect of him.  And this is the first attempt to capture the likeness of Aubrey Darger I've ever seen.   Artist Manuel Preitano captures, I believe, the quintessential Britishness of him.

Gli Dei di Mosca (The Gods of Moscow), the Italian translation of Dancing With Bears, went on sale in e-book form today.  You can order it here or here.  And the paper version goes on sale in only a few weeks.  You can read about it at the publisher's website here.

You can argue about the physical appearances of Darger & Surplus if you wish, of course, and it would be a sign of affection if you did.  Because those fictional characters we most care about exist most convincingly inside our heads, where we do not so much see them as feel their rightness.  But is that a terrific portrayal of Anya Pepsicolova or what?  When Anya first appeared in my novel, she was a minor character, a way of getting Darger to a certain place in subterranean Moscow, and I had every intention of keeping her minor.  But Anya had other ideas and kept grabbing a bigger and bitter piece of the plot.

Writers really like characters like that.

Below is Preitano's original artwork, before it was defaced with things like the title and my name.  Just so you can admire it some more.  I like how deftly it avoids giving away too much of the plot.

This is actually Friday's blog, posted a day early.  Just to give Gli Dei di Mosca a tiny bit more exposure.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Make Your Darlings Suffer


It's too early to know exactly what influence George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire will have on the fantasy genre, though it's a safe bet that it will be significant.  But it's pretty obvious that the Red Wedding scene all by itself will have a significant impact -- and a good one, too.

One of the signature weaknesses of a new writer is a tendency to be too nice to one's characters.  Some weaknesses, such as a propensity to spend five to ten pages of a story "setting the scene" before finally getting around to  the plot, can be cured simply by clearly explaining why they're a bad idea and how they can be circumvented.  But when all of one's upbringing is devoted into turning one into a decent person, it can be hard to undo.  "Look, I'll say to my students, on those occasions when I teach.  "It would be a heinous act to throw a woman into the path of an oncoming train.  But we celebrate Tolstoy for doing so in Anna Karenina.  These are not real people we're dealing with here.  They're only words on paper.  Make those bastards suffer!"

They hear but, half in love with their own creations, they do not easily believe.

There's a lot to admire about the Red Wedding, including the fact that it took the readers and later viewers by surprise.  I'm sure there are many new writers out there at this very moment feverishly plotting out their own massacres in imitation.  And that's good, because while most of those bloodlettings are destined for the drawer, they're a positive step toward publication.  Many more writers are taking to heart George's exemplary willingness to kill off characters who've won the readers' affections.  That's also good.  But the chief lesson to be learned hers is to let your darlings suffer.

Why is this desirable?  Because there are things we must learn in life which can only be learned through suffering.  If that suffering is experienced only in our imaginations, so much the better.

Also, it can be wonderfully entertaining.

The opening of the Honest Trailers spoof of Game of Thrones begins "From fiction's most notorious serial killer..."  But let's be honest here.  It should be "From fiction's most beloved serial killer..."  I trust that any new writers reading this are taking the implicit moral to heart.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Radiant Doors . . . the Series?


It's too early to break out the champagne yet, but the cable network WGN America has given what's called "a script order against a series commitment" to a television series based on my story "Radiant Doors."

What this means is that if the network likes the script (now being written by Jeremy Doner), the series will be made.  Justin Lin, the director of Fast and Furious 6, will be the director and executive producer if and when Radiant Doors is made.

"Radiant Doors" is the single darkest story I've ever written -- and that's saying something.  The premise is that one day radiant doors open in the air everywhere in the world and through them pour millions of refugees.  They've all been terribly abused.  And they're from our future.

I don't know anything about Justin Lin's vision for the series, and that's probably just as well.  Neither he nor Doner needs me peering over their shoulders, second-guessing them.  But in addition to the obvious benefits to me if the series is ever made, I'd love to see just what they do with the premise.

You can read all about it here.

Above:  Justin Lin


Friday, April 11, 2014

Soundworms of the Galaxy


I'm in pod-print again!  "Passage of Earth," which very recently appeared in Clarkesworld, is now available free for the listening as a podcast.

This story was the first I ever sold to Clarkesworld, and what struck me about the process was how fast it all was.  From submission to acceptance was less than a week which, okay, is not entirely uncommon for me.  But from Acceptance to epublication was a matter of weeks.  And then, less than a week later (I would have blogged about this Wednesday, but felt obligated to do my small part toward notifying people about Heartbleed), the postcast is up as well.

Part of this, I'm sure, is that the electronic media are intrinsically faster than print media.  But most of the credit has to go to publisher/editor Neil Clarke.

You can listen to the podcast here.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lock Up the Chickens! Change the Passwords!


I'm taking a break from my regular topics for the following public service announcement:

Change all your on-line passwords.  Do it now.  Then do the whole thing again a week from now, just to be safe.

I'm not kidding.  A few weeks ago, a major security flaw -- dubbed Heartbleed -- was discovered which puts passwords, credit card numbers, pretty much any information stored on the Web at risk.  This was kept a secret while the major players were given the opportunity to apply patches.  A few hours ago, it went public.  Which means that every cheap gunsel and two-bit grifter on the Web will be trolling for data.

Here's the problem in CNN's words:

Heartbleed is a flaw in OpenSSL, an open-source encryption technology that is used by an estimated two-thirds of Web servers. It is behind many HTTPS sites that collect personal or financial information. These sites are typically indicated by a lock icon in the browser to let site visitors know the information they're sending online is hidden from prying eyes.

The rest of the article can be found here.

For the xkcd cartoon explaining what's going on in a more lucid manner than most news reports, click here.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Tonight: A Few Laughs With Robert Sheckley


I'm Irish-American and my people believe that wakes should be fun.  Hell, we believe that all memorials to the dead should be fun.  In which spirit you are invited to the New York Review of Science Fiction's Tribute to Robert Sheckley tonight at 7:00.

The late, great science fiction writer, humorist, and satirist died a little over five years ago in bitterest midwinter.  Tonight, his former wife Ziva Kwitney, his daughter (a noted author in her own right), Alisa Kwitney, legendary bookman Henry Wessells, and famed editor (who worked with Sheckley during the years when he was editor of Omni) Ellen Datlow gather to do the man honor.  I'll be there too, and in such company I will most likely be uncharacteristically subdued.

If you're in Manhattan, why not drop in?  The suggested donation is only seven dollars and if your finances are so tight you can't afford that much nobody's going to say peep.

Here's the info again:

New York Review of Science Fiction Readings:
A  tribute to Robert Sheckley
*  Ellen Datlow
*  Alisa Kwitney (Sheckley)
*  Ziva Kwitney
*  Michael Swanwick
*  Henry Wessells

Monday, April 7th
Doors open 6:30 PM

HOW (much):
Free; $7 donation suggested
There will be cider, crackers & cheese.

Soho Gallery for Digital Art / Soho Arthouse
138 Sullivan Street

Above:  Robert Sheckley's grave lies somewhere under the snow, in the Artists' Cemetery in Woodstock.  I took that picture not  long ago on my Geek Highways trek.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Life Under Ice


The recent declaration that Enceladus has a small ocean under its icy shell immediately put a relatively obscure moon of Saturn on the forefront of the search for  extraterrestrial life.  Simply because it's easy to imagine sending a probe to collect fresh water-ice from the surface and examining the sample for microscopic life or traces of it.  Less easy is imagining a robot that could swim down one of the water volcanoes, wander the Enceladan Ocean making recordings and then swim back to the surface with its findings.  It couldn't be built today.  Twenty years down the line, maybe.  There are certainly people alive today who will see such a device in operation someday.

This has set me to thinking about the possibility of extraterrestrial and extrasolar life in the universe.  The search so far has been dominated by one honking big restriction:  All we know about life is derived from a closely-related clutch of organisms existing on one lone planet.

So when we're looking for life, the first thing we do is look for water in liquid form.  Because the kind of life we know requires it.  Which is why all the emphasis has been on finding Earthlike planets in the "Goldilocks zone," where liquid water can exist on the surface.

But if life exists in Enceladus...  or in Europa, which we're pretty sure also has an ocean tucked between its ice surface and rocky core...  or in the ice satellites Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, Rhea, Titania, Oberon, Triton, Pluto, Eris, Sedna, or Orcus, all of which are speculated to have such oceans... then the possibility of life beyond the Solar System has just gone up tremendously.  

And if life is found to exist in just one other planet in the Sun's entourage and if it can be demonstrated to have arisen independently, then we can confidently stare out into the night sky and see it everywhere. 

Intelligent life, now, is a different matter.  There's only the one intelligent species on our planet, and some of us have our doubts about that.

As for Enceladus, you can read the Guardian account here.  Or the Wired article here