Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another Entry in the -punk Subgenres List


Check out the autographed cover flat that my pal Victoria Janssen gave me of her new erotic romance, The Moonlight Mistress. This is the gift that every straight guy secretly wants . . .. naked women with luscious pomegranates.

Over at Locus Online, essayist Adrienne Martini has a short screed decrying the proliferation of subgenres with -punk endings. Well . . . The very-soon-forthcoming book is apparently chock-a-block with sex, werewolves, sex, perverted scientists, and sex. Oh, yeah, and more sex. Which, Vickie proudly informs me, makes it a prime example of Smutpunk.

It's a rich world we live in, innit?


Monday, September 28, 2009

The Serbian Periodic Table of Science Fiction


Check this one out! The SF Team has translated The Periodic Table of Science Fiction into Serbian.

Sf Team is an informal group of fans and enthusiasts from Serbia (with members from Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro) who gather at the sftim.com web portal and forum. In addition to news, book and moviereviews and discussions about science, its sub genres and related genres, they are also publishing their own SF webzine, Vektor. And, with my permission, they've translated my 118-story collection of elemental flash fiction.

Above is a simplified scan of a page grab of the website they built. The actual site is much more colorful. Plus, every single one of the elements has been illustrated. With really lovely, professional-quality illustrations. It's a joy just to browse through it.

In a perfect world, these folks would be getting paid for all their hard work. But at least they can have the satisfaction of a job well done. If I can get the names of the translators and artists, I'll post them in a later blog.

You can see the translation here.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Flash for Literacy


I was working so hard on the novel yesterday that I completely lost track of what day it was. So I still have to post my Friday blog. Luckily, I've just received my marching orders from Ann and Jeff Vandermeer to flog the living bejabbers out of their new charity project, Last Call Bird Head.

LCBH is an anthology of over eighty works of identically-titled flash fiction by an equal number of writers, all written so as to justify that selfsame title. All profits go to ProLiteracy which is . . . well, a pro-literacy organization.

I wrote a nice, crisp science fiction tale for the volume. Quite a good story, actually. The other contributors are: Daniel Abraham, Michael Arnzen, Steve Aylett, KJ Bishop, Michael Bishop, Desirina Boskovich, Keith Brooke, Jesse Bullington, Richard Butner, Catherine Cheek, Matthew Cheney, Michael Cisco, Gio Clairval, Alan M. Clark, Brendan Connell, Paul Di Filippo, Stephen R. Donaldson, Rikki Ducornet, Clare Dudman, Hal Duncan, Scott Eagle, Brian Evenson, Eliot Fintushel, Jeffrey Ford, Richard Gehr, Felix Gilman, Jon Courtney Grimwood, Rhys Hughes, Paul Jessup, Antony Johnston, John Kaiine, Henry Kaiser, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tessa Kum, Ellen Kushner, Jay Lake, Tanith Lee, Stina Leicht, Therese Littleton, Beth Adele Long, Dustin Long, Nick Mamatas, JM McDermott, Sarah Monette, Kari O’Connor, Ben Peek, Holly Phillips, Louis Phillips, Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo, Mark Rich, Bruce Holland Rogers, Nicholas Royle, G Eric Schaller, Ekaterina Sedia, Ramsey Shehadeh, Peter Straub, Victoria Strauss, Mark Swartz, Alan Swirsky, Rachel Swirsky, Sonya Taaffe, Justin Taylor, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jeffrey Thomas, Scott Thomas, John Urbancik, Genevieve Valentine, Kim Westwood, Leslie What, Andrew Steiger White, Conrad Williams, Liz Williams, Neil Williamson, Caleb Wilson, Gene Wolfe, Jonathan Wood, Marly Youmans, and Catherine Zeidle.

Did I mention that it's an astonishingly ugly book? Oh, yeah. Look at that cover! There's an equally ugly but stylistically different black-and-white illo on the inside too. And designer John Coulthart placed bobbing bird heads in the corners of the pages, making the whole thing also serve as a flipbook.

Ugly, ugly, ugly. You almost certainly need a copy.

You can get the official word (and order an advance copy if you like) here.

Oh, and by the way . . .

You caught that India's Chandrayaan-1 probe found water on the Moon, right? Everywhere on the Moon. If not, check it out here and here.

Note the fact that water was found in the samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts but written off as Earthly contamination -- becasue everyone knew there was no water on the Moon! This is science as it's practiced in the real world. Stumbling, fallible, but ultimately able to correct its errors.

Oh yeah, and the American Museum of Natural History is displaying the first-ever hand-woven eleven-foot-long piece of brocade from spider silk! New York Times article here. AMNH video here.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cookin' With Science

This is one of those rare weeks when I don't have much news to report. I've been hunkered down writing the novel, and I can't bring myself to feel apologetic about that. So, instead, I thought I'd share a video I just found.

Julia Child . . . cooking superstar, OSS spook, and science popularizer too! Was there nothing this woman couldn't do? Word is, she had a successful marriage too.


Monday, September 21, 2009

This Glitter(steampunk)atti Life


The social event of the season was held last Saturday at the Walters & Kissinger studio in Philadelphia, a glittering, whirring, clicking, hissing & clacking neo-Victorian celebration of Tess Kissinger's sixtieth birthday. The event was celebrated by a high tea in the studio gardens and attended by an assembly of artists, writers, paleontologists and museum executives, all (or almost all) in steampunk apparel.

Pictured above: honoree Tess Kissinger and noted beauty Marianne Porter.

Pictured below: Tess's consort and noted exploiter of widows and orphans ("Sir, I have streamlined operations by exploiting the Widows and Orphans Fund!") Robert Walters, and ink-stained-but-stylish scrivener ("Bravo, sir! I shall write an epic celebrating this economic expansion of the Empire! As soon as I have received my stipend, of course.") Michael Swanwick.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Those Fungi From Yuggoth Remind Me of You . . .


Look what Marianne found on the Web! Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, which appears to be a Goth boutique perfumery, offers a comprehensive line of Chthulhu Mythos perfumes! Yes, every imaginable scent, from Al Azif to Y'ha-Nthlei, with Shoggoth and R'lyeh thrown in for good measure. Even Darrell Schweitzer was appalled.

One really has to wonder what Nyarlothotep (described in the online catalog as "Brooding, yet electric: the scent of buried secrets, roiling nightmares, the essence of the Crawling Chaos, the Father of Knives and Locusts, the Hunter in the Dark. This is the blackest of ritual incenses charged with flashes of ozone") smells like. And just how Goth do you have to be to wear such a scent?

Click here if you doubt me!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Remembering Anna Quinsland

In the mail recently were my contributor's copies of The Mammoth Book of Merlin, edited by Mike Ashley. It includes "The Dragon Line," which is the only work of Arthurian fantasy I know of that's set in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and is one of my personal favorites among my short fiction.

As always happens when "The Dragon Line" is reprinted, I am filled with sadness.

I am saddened because whenever I think of that story, I remember Anna Quinsland. Anna was a friend back in my college days. We were both gonnabe writers then, and it is not false modesty to say that at the time she was a much better writer than I was. Her prose was smooth and convincing and her people recognizably human in a way that my prose and people were not.

Possibly her best story (not quite publishable because like most young writers she hadn't yet worked out the whole plot-and-conflict thing) was told from the viewpoint of Mordred's lover, and it had what was to me at least a new and convincing take on him. Mordred is or was at the time always presented as being villainous simply because he was. Anna looked at the situation from his point of view and realized that Mordred was just like his father, an Idealist. He comes to Camelot as the king's unacknowledged (but everybody knows, of course) bastard. And what does he find? Hypocrisy! Everybody praises Arthur as the embodiment of virtue and Guenevere as the paragon of chastity and Lancelot as the perfect knight. He sees a cuckold and womanizer, a whore, and a jock who's sleeping with his best friend's wife. Small wonder he wants to bring down the whole corrupt regime.

Imagine all that seen through the eyes of a young woman who loves him and can't get him to recognize the inevitable disaster that he's setting in motion. That's the stuff of fiction!

Anna might well have become another Mary Stewart. Or maybe another... well, there's no telling. But life happened to her. She had a brief, unhappy marriage, in the wake of which she joined Army intelligence. Her plan was to save up enough money to get a degree in library science.

One night, coming back from the library, she was attacked from behind and left in a coma. She died a week later.

Many years after that, when I had the skill to do so, I used her Mordred in my own story. I added enough to it to make the story my own. But a little bit of Anna lives in"The Dragon Line." A little bit of her lives every time somebody reads my story. I wish it were more. I wish we could all read the stories that were implicit in her.

God bless and keep you, Anna. I hope you're happier now than we are in your absence.


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Darger and Surplus Novel Diagrammed!


While I was writing The Dragons of Babel, I made dozens of diagrams to help plot out each section and chapter. For the Darger and Surplus novel, I've made almost none. I have no explanation for this, save that at each step, scene, and chapter to date, the immediate task has been pretty much clear to me.

However, I'm coming up on the (rather complicated) resolution, so I hastily scribbled the foreseeable plot onto a manila folder, in order to be sure that everyone was taken care of. The folder is shown above. Each circled name is a specific character. D is Darger, S is Surplus, and so on. The lines are their progression in time through the plot-to-come. Where lines cross, there are major resolutions of character -- declarations of passion, secrets revealed, deaths, and so on.

The question I'm asked most frequently about these diagrams is what function they serve for my writing. Well . . . they help me to visualize the plot as a whole, and this in turn accomplishes two things: (1) It makes obvious areas where I haven't developed the plot enough. Surplus, for example, at this point has nothing to do for a significant stretch of the novel. This will change. (2) The exercise brings up new ideas, both small details that should be included (the blue-and-white buildings) and larger elements (the fate of the artillery officer).

From top to bottom, the spin-off thoughts are:

It's like beating up a mushroom

Will this be the first
novel I write in which
chance plays no part?
{Retrofit Digger Queen?]
What becomes of
the artillery officer?
(Z. takes care of him)
Blue-and-white painted bldgs.

[The events at Terem]

[The Baron]
The Conspiracy
must be
stronger! (U &Ch)
How does Koschei die?
(Does he die? Can he?)
Is this complicated enough for Moscow
Where does Surplus flee? (To a woman, surely) (the Baronessa?)

Hold in Reserve
The whore
Sergei (who must reappear)
Diggers, etc. [Pale Folk]
embassy servants?
tobacco factor
merchant f/Suzdal
Kyril's band of brothers

*How would you like 2 go 2 school and get a proper education
Thank you, no, ma'am
Tough shit, girlie, I need eyes...

They had

Not all of these ideas will survive the writing process, of course. But that's how it looks like the novel will wrap up now.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sly Foxes of Montreal


My friend Rob has sent me another snapshot from Anticipation in Montreal. This was taken during the Asimov's party in the SFWA Suite, which for some inexplicable reason was not situated on the party floor. The neighbors complained about the noise and the hotel people came and shut down the party, throwing everybody out of the room.

BUT I was hanging in the back room with the Big Kids, and we were old enough party hands to know to keep our mouths shut and our heads low. So when everyone else was cleared out, we still remained, listening to George Martin's scandalous stories from the old days.

Shown above: Connie Willis and George R. R. Martin demonstrating the kind of smarts that has kept them commercially viable through their long and storied careers.


Monday, September 7, 2009

"My Name is Ozymandias . . ."


The once-proud Philadelphia Inquirer has been having the usual problems newspapers do these days, and its owners have chosen to fight back by eliminating features. One by one, things closed down, until the day came when I realized that the only reason I got the Sunday paper at all was for the comics.

So they shrank the Sunday funnies, and placed them in the television section.

Shown above: The current Sunday Zits, with the weekday version laid over it for scale. Believe it or not, this is the Bigger and Better Version! When subscribers started dropping the Sunday paper in droves, they made the comics larger and ran huge ads in the daily paper saying, "We Heard You!" and bragging about the newly-restored jumbo-sized comics.

All that's context and prologue.

The single most lamentable cost-savings measure that's been taken, however, is the decision to get rid of almost all the editing. A couple of days ago, the Inquirer ran an article about plans for a mass Naked Bicycle Ride in Philly, and reported -- absolutely seriously -- that the police were taking a "wait-and-see" attitude.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Calling All Russian Writers


Courtesy of ProMED, which is one of the worthier fruits of the Web, here's an article about a rabid wolf that has bitten six people on the premises of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Kind of screams story, doesn't it?

But let's be honest here. A hot metaphor like this wants to be handled by somebody who understands what it means . . . somebody who feels it in his or her soul. Somebody, in short, Russian. Victor Pelevin would know exactly what to do with this. But I'm going to have to take a pass.

Read and enjoy!

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: Wed 2 Sep 2009
Source: Utro [In Russian, trans. Mod.ARS, edited]

A rabid wolf has bitten 6 persons on the premises of the Chernobyl atomic power plant, 4 of them employees of SSE Chernobyl and 2 employees of the contractor organization UAB. They did not manage to get away, all were injured and hospitalized. The patients are being treated in the specialized health care facilities of Slavutich and Ivankov cities. The conditions of all are satisfactory. The police patrol shot the rabid wolf the same night. Rabies was confirmed in the animal by the laboratory.

Alexandr Gardetskiy, the attorney of Kievskiy oblast, stated that policing in the Chernobyl zone is not being conducted properly due to staff shortages. He also said that taking radiation contaminated animals, lumber and metal scrap off the Chernobyl zone is common and only 2 policemen patrol the territory daily.

Recently, a rabid stray cat has attacked 5 people in one of the townships in Crimea [Ukraine]. The cat occupied a path and attacked everyone who tried to pass his territory; 5 people were attacked in one day. The cat has been killed and the tests confirmed rabies. The bitten people are on outpatient treatment now. 3 stray dogs and 3 domestic cats suspected of having contact with the sick cat have been exterminated; 62 dogs and 50 cats have been immunized and vaccination continues. Quarantine limitations have been imposed in a 10km [6.2-mile] radius around this Crimean township.

Communicated by:
ProMED-mail Correspondent Vadim Melnikhuman beings in the vicinity of Chernobl


Friday, September 4, 2009

In Which I Valiantly Attempt to be Modest

So last Saturday, Tachyon Publications had its annual anniversary celebration at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. And because they've just published The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, an anthology celebrating the magazine's 60th anniversary and including stories by the very finest writers F&SF has ever published -- people such as Ray Bradbury, Daniel Keyes, Shirley Jackson, and (ahem) me -- they got Rick Kleffel to record a series of short interviews by such contributors as Gene Wolfe, Jeffrey Ford, and (ahem) me.

You can hear the first half of the interviews here, at Kleffel's "Agony Column" podcast. I'm the third author in, after Peter S. Beagle and Karen Joy Fowler.

The book is, incidentally, pretty damn splendid. And I say that in spite of the fact that includes a story by (ahem) me.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

ALWAYS Carry a Camera

(On Monday, I asked for blogging advice, and one thing that everybody agreed upon was that interesting visuals were key. Which makes today's entry particularly ironic:)

This is what happens when you forget your camera. Yesterday I was in the Habitat for Humanity store in Washington, PA. It's a fascinating place, which sells doors, sinks, and architectural details taken from demolished houses at extremely low prices. If you're rehabbing a building in the area, you'd be made not to check it out. Through the store I went, and down into the basement, and at the very far end of it all . . .

. . . was one of the most alarming taxidermy mounts I've ever seen. It was of a mongoose and a cobra locked in a life-and-death struggle. The mongoose's tail stuck out, bristling with alarm and its teeth were sunk into the snake, just below its head. The cobra was wrapped tight about the mongoose's torso.

How alarming was it, you ask? So alarming that I didn't buy it, even though it was priced at only thirty-five dollars. And that's pretty damned alarming.