Monday, April 30, 2012

It's Official! Nobody Knows


Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a blog entry recently about what she calls "life rolls." This is a term taken from a role playing game mimicking a writing career which she and Dean Wesley Smith  (and Loren Coleman) invented for their Master Class workshop.  The Master Class is meant for professional writers who want to learn how to actually make money from their careers.  And life rolls are unexpected life events that have a huge, negative impact on your writing career.  The death of a parent, say, or coming down with cancer, or having your house burn down.  All of which will lose you serious writing time.

In her and Dean's case, the catastrophic event was being given responsibility for an agonizingly difficult estate, which required that one of them quit writing entirely for a year to take care of it.  For which they have my profoundest sympathy.

The essay is lucid and instructive because, well, because that's what Kris's blog posts are.  But what struck me most was this statement taken from the middle of the post:

Before I go any farther, no, we’re not teaching the Master Class right now, because publishing is in such flux that we have no idea how to present it in a way that will be useful to professionals five years from now.

To which I can only add:  Wow.  I knew the climate business climate was confusing.  But so confusing that Kris and Dean, who can tell you everything about how much insurance you'll need, what percentage of your income you ought to be socking away, what contracts to sign and which to shun, don't know what will be useful five years from now?

If they don't know, nobody knows.

So if you're a writer, all I can say is:  Be careful out there.  Do as much research as you can before committing your writing to a project that may not pay off as well as you hope.  And keep your fingers crossed.

You can read Kris's essay here.

Above:  The logo for Kris's blog.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Milky Way's Vast Polar Structure


This is being trumpeted as a major blow to the concept of "dark matter," but I'm going to ignore that aspect of it, which skirts the edge of being celebrity science gossip.  It's a very cool discovery, and one that expands our image and understanding of our home galaxy.

A team of scientists from the University of Bonn in Germany, led by PhD student Marcel Pawlowski and astronomy professor Pavel Kroupa, say they have found a complex structure of satellite galaxies, globular clusters, and star and gas swarms gravitationally connected with the Milky Way Galaxy,  at right angles to the plane of the ecliptic at the galactic north and south.  These exist as close as 33,000 light years from the center of the galaxy to as far as a million light years away.  

There's a simple animation of their their findings up above.  They're calling the totality a Vast Polar Structure.

You can read about it here.

It's a strange and beautiful universe we live in, innit?  I wonder what kind of stories you could set on one of those star swarms.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"A Profound Work of Appropriation"


"Appropriation artist" Richard Prince has come up with a new way of grabbing attention.  He's commissioned (artists at his level don't actually "make" things) an exact recreation of The Catcher in the Rye with his name on the cover, credits, etc., instead of J.D. Salinger's.  Copies of which he's been selling for a hefty markup.

Prince couldn't have picked a better way to be found guilty in a court of law, or a more litigious estate to pull this on.

You can read an admiring account of his exploit here.

And speaking of Annapolis . . .

David Joyner has posted a 25-minute edited excerpt of The Craft of Writing Workshop - Science Fiction: Past and Future, the panel which Chuck Gannon, Catherine Asaro, and I held at the Annapolis Book Festival last Saturday.

You can see the video here.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Things and Stories That Fly


I just spent the day working on applying for a Russian visa and are my arms tired!  But that's what Mondays are for . . . a return to the work week.  On Friday I was in Bombay Hook, looking at eagles and ospreys.  Saturday I was at the Annapolis Book Festival, hanging with my pals Catherine Asaro and Chuck Gannon and listening to panels, and cruising a very fine used book sale.  So now it's time to get back to paying the rent.

And speaking of which . . .

I just got my contributor's copies of The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, which contains thirty stories by Jeff VanderMeer, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Elise Tobler, Jay Lake, Genevieve Valentine, Cat Rambo, Shweta Narayan, Aliette de Bodard, N.K. Jemisin,  Peter M Ball, Sharon Mock, Catherynne M. Valente,  Alex Dally MacFarlane, Tobias Buckell, Matthew Kressel, Margo Lanagan, Amal El-Mohtar, Barth Anderson, Jeffrey Ford, James Morrow, Cherie Priest, Margaret Ronald, Megan Arkenberg, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Mary Robinette Kowal, Samantha Henderson, Nick Mamatas, Nicole Kornher-Stace and Lavie Tidha.  That's a terrific lineup and several of the stories are original to the volume.

Plus, of course, "Zeppelin City" by Eileen Gunn and myself.  Who can resist a story that has an ornithopter pilot named Amelia Spindizzy, a spunky girl inventor named Radio Jones, and giant naked brains floating in glass jars?  I enjoyed writing that story.

And because Ellen Datlow asked me to . . .

I'm posting here a review she just received from  As follows:

WILD JUSTICE edited by Ellen Datlow

Once again, award-winning editor Ellen Datlow has assembled an incendiary anthology of short fiction that both embraces and transcends its stated theme. In this case, the subject is vengeance. Oh, how wickedly delicious! These stories are so toothsomely universal in their bitterness, sadness, horror, strangeness and even hilarity that readers are sure to detect a whiff of their own most malevolent imaginings of a perfect payback while enjoying these extraordinary tales. Featuring some of the most renowned voices of modern speculative fiction, vengeance comes in varied permutations: a dead ship’s captain seeks atonement, a pornographer misuses an employee for the last time, satirical hatreds of warring television personalities clash, a playboy cad receives a graphically horrific comeuppance, a Poe-esque scheme unfolds in an old theater, a flock of plastic yard flamingoes gets hilariously out of hand, festering family secrets become unendurable, and so much more. The battlegrounds and methods of revenge are each unexpected, unsettling and memorable. Authors of these sixteen remarkable stories include such luminaries as Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Fowler, CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan, Thomas Tessier, Douglas Clegg, Jonathan Lethem, Pat Cadigan, Michael Swanwick and Jack Dann, David J. Schow, Richard Christian Matheson, A. R. Morlan and others. This is a must-have digital anthology that you can read right now!

Click on the cover for an instant download link. You will love these stories…with a vengeance. For more about the editor and this anthology, please visit

You'll have to go to to click on the link.  Jack Dann and I contributed "Ships," a story that practically vibrates with negative energy.  Really.  Much more of a downer than you'd expect from me.  I like it a lot.

Above:  An osprey.  Those things were common as dirt last weekend.  It gave me hope for the future.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Now That You've Published a Story or Three . . .


A while back, I was chatting with an agent and he said, "You have no idea how lucky you are to have published so many books."

"Oh?" I said.

"Most writers get three novels, tops.  If they haven't hit the best-seller lists by then, they become unpublishable."  And he proceeded to give me some very depressing examples.

So today, I thought I would offer the best piece of advice I have for new writers.  This advice doesn't apply to gonnabe writers, mind you.  Only to those who have already proved that they can get published in Asimov's or F&SF or another of the major science fiction and fantasy markets.  If you're not published yet, continue doing what you're doing.  It feels like you're thrashing about in random desperation but what you're actually doing is learning and it's important.


If you're already published and you're pretty confident that you can go on selling your stories, then it's time for you to get more serious.  You've only got so much time in your life and the realities of publishing are such that you might be frozen out of the market before then.  So you need to be ambitious.

Here's my advice:  Write the most difficult story you can imagine.   Not difficult to the reader, mind you -- to you.  Write the story that you were hoping you'd be a better writer before tackling.  Because you might not get that chance.

Start it today.

Above:  The azalea is in bloom!  Can the roses be far behind?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Annapolis Book Festival Saturday


The flyer above pretty much says it all:  This Saturday, I'll be on  a panel at the Annapolis Book Festival with Catherine Asaro and Charles Gannon.  I think it'll be a lot of fun. 


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Blog Today

As usual, I'm on the road again.  As unusual, I have nothing to say.  You have no idea how strange this feels to me.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Thirds (Almost!) of a Century and Counting!


Saturday I went to a celebration of the 65th wedding anniversary of my neighbors Albert and Enid.  Sixty-five years!  That's an accomplishment I dearly hope to emulate.

Of course, it helps if you marry young (as I did not, quite) and choose your soulmate right off the bat, as Al and I both did.

Albert started the war as a mechanic for the RAF.  At that time, only gentlemen were allowed inside the warplanes, and he was an East Ender.  The mortality rate among gentlemen was high, however, and by war's end he was the navigator in a bomber.  Enid was a radio operator.  She invaded France two days after D-Day.

They'd both tell you that they're ordinary people, and in a sense that's perfectly true.  It was ordinary people like them and my father who defeated the Nazis and saved civilization.  For which I will always be grateful.

It was a terrific celebration with all the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren present, as well as lots and lots of friends.  A room thronged with people who all liked each other.  Marianne and I felt privileged to be there.

Oh, and did I mention that they're the best neighbors in the world?  They are.  Literally.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Paperbacks vs. Hardcovers


When I was young, I loved paperbacks to distraction and despised hardcovers.  In my late middle age, in fact, it was a terrible moment when I realized that I preferred hardcovers.  I couldn't say then why I assigned a moral judgment to this shift.  I assumed it was due to my dwindling eyesight.

My son Sean is emphatically a partisan of paperbacks.  "I like to hold them!" he exclaims.  In him I see my youth, and wonder.

And there it was, a not-understood phenomenon.

Until just now.  I was tidying my room and I grabbed up two paperbacks I needed for research -- the I Ching and Pu Songling's Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio.  Holding them in my hand, I could feel the density of information inside the two books, and the power that could be derived from them.  It felt like holding a hand grenade.

And that's the difference.  A hardcover is, essentially, a construction manual for whatever intellectual concern you're engaged in.  But a paperback is a revolutionary weapon.  That's why paperback lovers tend to be younger and hardcover lovers tend to be older.  The young are natural revolutionaries.  The old want to leave behind something constructive.

Nowadays, I'm into building things that will endure. So I prefer hardcovers.

Ah, but there are moments still when the inner anarchist comes out.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Back To RUSSIA!!!


Okay, here's my big news:  I"m hitting the road again.  This time, I'm going back to Ekaterinburg in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia to be a guest at Aelita, Russia's oldest science fiction convention.  The convention occurs over the last weekend in May, but I'm staying over for a few days afterward.

 Why?  Because the last time I was in Ekaterinburg, I came up with the plots for "Libertarian Russia" and "Pushkin the American."  Also the inspiration for Dancing With Bears.  If Mother Russia likes me enough to give me stories, who am I to complain?

I'm really looking forward to this one.  You'll hear more about it as it happens.

And even though I try to not to waste my praise on people who are already getting it by the bucketload . . . 

I am currently watching the first season of Game of Thrones on DVD.  And it is such an extreme pleasure to be watching television fantasy and exclaiming every so many minutes on how well done something is, rather than what I usually exclaim.  Which is, you know, the exact opposite.

So, all praise to the actors, the director, all the tech people who lit and filmed and costumed and set. And, of course, to George.  I knew him back when he was merely a greatly-admired multiple-award-winning science fiction writer.

Above:  A still from a Soviet movie adaptation of Tolstoy's Aelita, the first Russian science fiction novel.  Not that Tolstoy.  The other one.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lost Techniques for Conveying the Unspoken and the Unspeakable


I've been reading the Summer 2011 issue of the Paris Review, which contains interviews with William Gibson and Samuel R. Delany.  In his interview, Chip (as his many friends like to call SRD) makes an interesting observation (here cut down slightly for brevity and to be sure it falls into the category of "fair use").  In discussing the use of innuendo and the "coyly placed line of white space," employed at a time when certain things could not be written down explicitly and (subsequently) other things could be given greater power by employing that same technique, he says:

Today, I watch seminar rooms of graduate students misread both Bester and Conrad because they no longer have to wonder about the possibility of such illegal elements occurring in the story and the compensating possibility of suggestion as a writerly strategy for representing both sex and violence.  In Tiger! Tiger! the demonic antihero, Gully Foyle, invades Robin's exploded apartment and stalks across her living room to where she cowers away from him on the couh.  There is a line of white space . . .
Foyle, of course, rapes Robin.  But many of Chip's students simply can't see this.  Nor, in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, in which the death of the African woman that Kurz has been sleeping with, occurs in another line of white space, can half the students understand that when Kurz cries, "The horror! The horror!," he is thinking of her death.

And, further down the page, he concludes:

"If he raped her, why didn't the writer say so?"  "If they shot her, why didn't Conrad show her fall dead?" my graduate students ask.  It makes he wonder what other techniques for conveying the unspoken and the unspeakable we have forgotten how to read over four or five thousand years of "literacy."

Which is why we value Chip so greatly as a critic.  Teaching students how to literally read between the lines is simply part of his duty as a teacher.  But that final sentence is a speculation that opens vistas.  Ever since, I've been thinking about the Bible and Gilgamesh and most especially the works of Homer and what I'm not seeing when I read them.

Oh, and . . .

I may have missed out on China, but that doesn't mean that I've given up on travel.  More on that tomorrow.

Above:  Samuel R. Delany.  The camera loves him.  You pretty much never see a bad photo of Chip.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Slow Monday


Not much happening, for which I apologize.  Marianne gets back from China late tomorrow which, as I know from experience, means that she'll have to collapse from exhaustion for at least one full day and maybe two.

Meanwhile, I have to hustle this week in order to get a visa for . . .

But that would be telling.  More very soon.

Above:  My favorite orphan work of art, City Root, by Keiko Miyamori.  I drove past it today and stopped for a quick snapshot.  What a brave city to have such sculpture in it!


Friday, April 6, 2012

"This Could Be Something If I Let It"


Last week, Marianne and I went to the Whitney Biennial, as is our custom once every other year.  It struck me that a lot of the art was about process rather than a finished product.  Case in point was what seemed to be the most popular piece, Dawn Kasper's installation, "This Could Be Something If I Let It."  Which consists of her art studio, inside which she lives and works for all the hours the Whitney is open.

When I drifted by, Ms Kasper was getting her hair cut and chatting with museum-goers.  "Where are you from?  Oh, I have a cousin who lives near there," sort of thing.  There was a bit of a crowd, and they were all clearly enthralled.

Afterward, Marianne said, "It's a magician's lair.  I'd be a lot more impressed if I didn't already live in one."


Thursday, April 5, 2012

What We've All Been Waiting For


I know what you're thinking:  When the hell are we finally going to get a Chinese Kung Fu Steampunk movie?

Soon, my children, soon.

Tai Chi 0 by director Stephen Fung is currently in post production.  That's a promo clip for it up above.  I think I'm going to enjoy this one a lot.

You can read about it here.

And meanwhile, elsewhere in the future . . .

 Google is apparently Beta-testing a lowest-possible-imagination version of Bruce Sterling's  old cyberpunk data spex.  If you wind up with a pair, be sure to read every word of whatever agreement they require you to sign.  I'm betting a lot more of your experience has potential commercial value than you realized.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Imaginary China


I'm still not in China.  But in my imagination, I am there.  So far, Marianne's been to Beijing, seen the Forbidden City, visited the Summer Palace, walked on the Great Wall, and toured Xi'an.  In Xi'an, my brother-in-law's family treated the entire family, including the two ladies on the tour who were not related but were promoted on the spot to Honorary Family and the tour guide because what the heck.

It makes up for a lot, knowing that she's having the kind of experience I most wish for her.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Remembering Mike Ford


In the current issue of Locus, Graham Sleight wraps up his admirable series of looks backward at the most important books of major science fiction writers with a contemplation on the works of John M. Ford, the guy we all called "Mike."  It makes me sad to think of him because he died far too young, but we owe it to the man to bring him up every now and then.

As Sleight notes, Ford's career was all over the map -- poetry, gaming scenarios (he was one of the beta testers for Dungeons and Dragons), fantasy, science fiction, even Star Trek tie-ins . . .  One year he won the World Fantasy Award for Winter Solstice, Camelot Station, a chapbook collection of formally perfect poems mashing together the Matter of Britain with Victorian transportation, which he sent out to his friends as a Christmas card.

Let me repeat that:  He won the World Fantasy Award for his Christmas card.

Sometimes it seemed like Mike was trying desperately to fail -- and not succeeding at it.  As a result, his reputation today is not a patch on what it would be if he had found one single nail and hammered on it to the exclusion of all others.  Graham Sleight effectively apologizes for indulging himself in covering a writer whose fame didn't approach that of the others he'd written about.  Albeit one who might have been as famous as any of them if he had only tried.

But so far as I could tell, success was never Mike Ford's intent.  My best guess is that he was simply looking for tasks that would entertain his extremely fine mind.  Jesus, he was smart!  He couldn't have hidden that if he'd tried.

And, um . . . that's all I had to say.  You might want to look up his fantasy novel The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History.  It won the World Fantasy Award too.  Even though I'm certain that was not his intent


Monday, April 2, 2012

That Beautiful Land Where I Am Not . . .


Well, this is disappointing.

Wednesday, I came down with an infection.  Nothing serious -- two days in bed later, I was fit as a fiddle and fine as frog's hair.  But I was also on the ground, in Philadelphia.  While the airplane I was not in was on its way to China.

It's like Tracy Morgan says:  "If you want to make God laugh, make plans.  Or read Him a Dave Barry book."

Fortunately, I had trip cancellation insurance, so I can take the money and buy another tour sometime in the yet-to-be determined future.  In the meantime, I'll put the China novel on the back burner and get to work on the other novel I'm writing. The first chapter will be a bear.  But after that, it'll be a hoot.