Saturday, December 31, 2005


Annual Output

I've seen a lot of writers summing up their yearly output, recently, and this being the last day of the year, I figured I'd follow suit.

After digging up the final Word documents for all of my 2005 projects and running word counts, I wasn't really surprised by the result. I've said elsewhere that I had a pretty shitty 2005 and, not to belabor the point, I did. I lost almost six months of productivity, not really getting in gear until the middle of the year. Still, in just under seven months of writing in 2005, I finished two novels (both incorporating chapters written in previous years) and three short stories. A decent annual output, but certainly not staggering.

Paragaea 108,447 (24,154 written before 2005) 84,293 new words
Fire Star 114,472 (52,883 written before 2005) 61,589 new words

"Annus Mirabilis" 4,338
"Last" 3,528
"Eventide" 5,237

Total new words written in 2005: 158,985

So that's it for writing, which is one of my three part-time jobs. So how did I fare in the other two (editor/publisher, and dad)?

While wearing my editor hat, I assembled the anthology Adventure Vol. 1, and shepharded Myths for the Modern Age and The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana from manuscripts to printed versions. (The output of MonkeyBrain Books, too, took a hit this year; we're slowly getting back on track next year, with five titles, and should be back up and running at full steam by 2007, hopefully with eight titles at least.)

And then there's the dad report. My daughter learned how to walk (and how to run, in short order), and her vocabulary expanded from nil to dozens of words, if not more. She's started speaking in complete sentences, which really freaks me out. She is displaying a distinct innate musicality (she loves singing, drumming, dancing, et al), which I think is splendid. She absolutely adores books, which I think it spectacular. She's happy, healthy, and well-adjusted.

Even though 2005 was, subjectively, pretty damned sucky, by any objective measure I did respectable work, which I suppose is some comfort. That said, Allison and I are both glad that this year will be over in another few hours, and are looking forward to starting with a clean slate in 2006.

Friday, December 30, 2005


"It's like Shakespeare, but with lots more punchin'..."

Okay, this is pretty cool. Warren Ellis's forthcoming series for Marvel, Nextwave, has its own theme song, which so far as I know might be a first. (I know, I know, issues of Nexus and Scout shipped with flexidisks, back in the misty-before-time, but even if they did include themesongs and not just soundeffects and dramatic readings, Nextwave will be the first to have a themesong before it launches. So there.) It's got kind of a Tenacious D vibe going on; I dig it.

Hell, I want my next project to have a theme song!

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Fourteen the Ditch

Jeff Ford, a class act and a hell of a guy, has listed his favorite reads of 2005, and his list intersects with mine in two spots, Bowes's From the Files of the Time Rangers and Jess Nevins's Fantastic Victoriana, which are the only two books in his list I've read. (I'm halfway through Magic for Beginners and liking it, and I've read the first page of Vellum, but those'll have to wait for next year's list of favorite books, I suppose). I still can't believe my good fortune in getting to publish Jess's encyclopedia (or his LOEG companions, for that matter), but some other publisher's loss is my gain, and I'm not about to complain.

(Oh, and the name of Jeff's LJ is actually "One for the Ditch," a play on having "one for the road" when the only place you're likely to drive is into a ditch; but it's a gag that, so far as I know, no one has been able to get without having Jeff explain it to them. Everyone sees that 1 and 4 as 14 and doesn't look back. He's a tricky one, that Ford.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


SF Site's Readers Choice

Over at SF Site they've posted the guidlines for their annual readers poll of the best books of the year. Readers are invited to nominate up to ten of their favorite books published in 2005.

I've already done a "Read and Appreciated" list for Fantastic Metropolis, but that wasn't limited to books published in 2005. With that restriction, I think my list would look a little something like this:

Kage Baker, The Children of the Company
Richard Bowes, From the Files of the Time Rangers
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
Matthew Hughes, The Gist Hunter and Other Stories
Jess Nevins, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
John Scalzi, Old Man's War
John C. Wright, Orphans of Chaos

And that's really it for books that I've read (and enjoyed) published in 2005. Everything else was originally published in previous years. Of course, there are also piles and piles of books published in 2005 that crowd my To Read shelves, most notably Hal Duncan's Vellum, Tom De Haven's It's Superman, and virtually the entirely output of Lou Anders's Pyr imprint; and that's not even counting all of the 2005 releases I haven't had a chance to pick up yet, like Jeffrey Ford's The Cosmology of the Wider World, David Marusek's Counting Heads, and Ken MacLeod's Learning the World. (I really just need a whole year to read. Maybe then I could catch up!)

If you've read anything published in 2005, and liked it, head over to SF Site and vote. (And hey, didn't Here, There & Everywhere come out this year, too? Well, I guess if you liked it, you could nominate that, too.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Superman, the definitive poses of

(Ganked from The Beat). When I first saw this shot in this month's Premier, I was sold. The trailer piqued my interest, and the early promo shots were promising, but when I saw this, I thought, "Okay, now that is Superman."

Whether this is an intentional homage to the cover of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of the character, or a delightful bit of syncronicity, we'll have to wait for the movie to prove one way or another.


Indie [Press, Fiction, Etc]

Kristine Smith, one of the other participants in sfnovelists, has posted a link to and some discussion about a New York Times Article, The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels. Kristine draws a parallel between what's happening to midlist recording artists and midlist genre novelists. I can't help but be reminded of a late night WFC conversation with Hal Duncan, which approached the same parallel from a slightly different direction. Hal's contention was that the rise of independent genre presses in recent years (Night Shade Books, Small Beer Press, etc, et al) was having a similar effect to genre publishing that the rise of indie record labels did on music in the 80s. I don't remember all that we said, though Hal was definitely driving the conversational bus, charging ahead with all sorts of brilliant observations (peppered liberally with "Fookin', fookin', fookin', INDIE, man!" naturally). A quick google search shows him opining briefly about his notion of "indie fiction" here on David Moles's blog, but I remember there being more to it than that.

I think I'm having the first hints of an idea, triangulated somewhere between Kristine's and Hal's comments, this NYT article, and something I've been thinking about since I launched MonkeyBrain Books a few years ago. Once we got bookstore distribution, and our titles started showing up in the chains, I realized that the line dividing independent presses from the "majors" was growing more and more indistinct. When outfits like Golden Gryphon or Night Shade or Tachyon can publish books that look every bit as good as anything coming out of New York, and Small Beer's Magic For Beginners breaks Time Magazine's Best Books of 2005 list, and titles from the independent presses with distribution (Night Shade with Diamond Book Distributors, Tachyon and Golden Gryphon with IPG, Small Beer with SCB, MonkeyBrain with NBN) are found on the same chainstore shelves as Tor and Del Rey and Bantam, then what is the difference?

Well, money, really. The bigger imprints are virtually all subsidiaries of larger publishing empires, with all of the marketing and promotional budgets that suggests, while the independent presses are all small, privately owned outfits, most owned and operated by just one or two people each. An independent press with a staff larger than the number of owners is pretty rare, too. But there's an advantage to the economies of scale here, too.
"An established independent like Matador Records - home to acts including Pretty Girls Make Graves and Belle and Sebastian - can turn a profit after selling roughly 25,000 copies of an album; success on a major label release sometimes doesn't kick in until sales of half a million."
The numbers involved are much smaller, of course, but the basic idea is still the same. An independent press that's able to sell just a few thousand copies of a title is in a much better position than a large imprint than sells several times more, because the independent press has a much lower overhead (it comes with only having one or two employees, some of whom often don't draw a salary!). As a result, independents are allowed the freedom to take more risks than big houses, by and large.

We still need to make money, naturally. No publisher is a charity, no matter how large or small, and no one is going to stay in business long if all they publish are books they think won't make money. But with the breakeven point so much lower, what is profitable for an independent and for a large imprint are two entirely different things. If I know I can sell three thousand copies of a tradepaperback, for example, I know I can make a significant profit, so if the book is one I like, I'm going to publish it; if Del Rey is faced with the same formula and variables, I imagine they come up with a much different result.

The result is that there is a different quality to the output of independent presses. By and large, we can't compete with the advance dollars paid by the large imprints for the most commercial projects, so no matter how some of us would like to get the next big bestseller title, our chances are slim. As a result, whether by inclination or by circumstance, independent presses tend to specialize in less commercial material. Now, some of it is really not commercial, and some of it is only a few degrees off of the mainstream, and some of it is borderline-commercial but from writers who have a less-than-sterling track record and who as a result aren't as attractive to the large imprints (having bad Bookscan numbers for a few books in a row tends to impact negatively a writer's chances at getting a good deal on their next manuscript).

Now, I think this is whence comes the connection between independent presses and the "Indie Fiction" Hal talks about. It is as much a marriage of convenience as of shared ideology (though it is both). Where I think this starts to get really interesting is the point where the independents, with their lower sales figures and their lower overheads, manage to become as profitable in their own way as the large imprints are in theirs. And while we won't be able to pay top dollar advances, we just might be able to compete with the kinds of advances paid to midlist writers. And if a writer has a choice between doing something self-consciously commercial to appeal to a large imprint, or something a bit more personal, more idiosyncratic, for an independent press, for essentially the same paycheck, the landscape begins to shift a bit. This is the point where "indie" stops being an economic label and starts to become a description of style and content. (Particularly when, further down the line, the large imprints start publishing "indie" titles to try to recapture the ground lost to independent presses.)

In large part, this was one of the pie-in-the-sky visions I had of Print On Demand, back when I was a naive youngster. The advantage here is that there's an actual business model behind it, complete with distribution channels and revenue streams, which the POD revolution always seemed to lack.

I'm not sure what part the internet-as-content-provider will play in all of this. The NYT article talks quite a bit about the impact of iTunes and the like on the music scene and, aside from online sales and distribution from outfits like Amazon, I don't see an equivalent beast on the publishing side, as such. There are some success stories in building readerships with providing short stories online, novels through Creative Commons licensing, and such like, but I think the jury is still out as to whether these are the rule or the exception. So far as I know, no independent publisher has been able to build an audience for their titles through online marketing tactics of that sort. I know that Gavin and Kelly have released Stranger Things Happen as a free download online, which is a step in the right direction, but I think that tends to expand Kelly's existing audience, rather than starting one from scratch. A true test would be an independent press doing something similar with a complete unknown, taking a writer without a readership or a track record, and building an audience from the ground up using online marketing.

However it develops, there's definitely something interesting going on.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Hollow Days

The Aztec calendar was 365 days long, divided into 18 months of 20 days each. A handy bit of calculation reveals 5 days left over. These, the Aztecs called "hollow days." These were extra days, left over, bad luck.

While I don't think they're bad luck, I've always looked at the span of days between Christmas and New Years in much the same way. Holidays, hollow days, what's the difference? They're never good for much. Lots of businesses are closed throughout the week (the publishing industry, case in point), comics are usually delivered a day late, mail is delayed, television is full of reruns, you name it.

Since I became a full-time writer (well, part-time writer and full-time dad), though, I've come to look at these few days as one last chance to clear the decks before the end of the year. To address any final commitments left undone, and start the new year with a clean slate. Over the weekend, while others might have been wassailing or whatnot, I managed to finish up two long-overdue interviews. By week's end, I hope to have finished the some final tweaks and revisions on Fire Star. And then it will be Sunday, and 2006, and the shittiest year (personally, at any rate) in living memory will finally, at long last, be over.

Beyond work, we're trying to catch up on entertainment a bit, as well. Allison and I don't get to the theater much, not since the arrival of Georgia almost two years ago. I think the last movie we went to see in the theater was Bewitched, which promised to be a bit of metafictional brilliance and, well, wasn't.

Last Thursday, for example, we finally got to see Serenity, when our copy ordered long ago from Amazon finally arrived.. Oh, sweet baby jesus, what a great flick. Joss Whedon is indeed my master now. Not a single complaint, except that it wasn't, oh, a year or two longer. More, please.

Tonight, we watched The Christmas Invasion, the holiday episode of Doctor Who, the first full episode to star David Tennant, the 10th Doctor. If this is any indication, the new series will be well worth waiting for. I especially liked the ways in which this teaser for the second season of Who also served as a prologue-of-sorts for the forthcoming spin-off, Torchwood. Watching Harriet Jones, Prime Minister go from comic to dramatic to frightening to pathetic in the span of just a few scenes was worth the price of admission.

It was a crap year, but it's almost over. Only five more days left. Hollow days. Make the best of them that you can.


New Adventure Review

A new review of Adventure Vol. 1 by Cheryl Morgan at Emerald City.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Just Us

Nothing clever to say here, just sharing one of the few photos to include all three members of our little family at the same time.

(I'm the one on the left.)

A Merry Happy, everybody!

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Merry [Appropriate Winter Solstice Observation]

And a Happy Gregorian New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2005



Time for Airing of Grievances, folks!

Happy Festivus!

If you're not already Festivus-savvy, this promo video for Allen Salkin's Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us is probably as good a primer as any.

A story of mine that will be appearing in 2006 features Festivus prominently (well, somewhat prominently). It's set in a far future world, in which the only Winter Solstice holiday to survive the ages is Festivus. I don't know if the editor or copy editor caught the reference, but it warms the cockles of my heart to know that it's made it into print.

Next up, Feats of Strength!


Four Things

I rarely do the "meme thing," but I've seen this Four Things turn up on a few people's blogs, and it looked like fun, so I thought I'd give it a try while watching Georgia work out the intricacies of the new set of blocks her grandparents gave her for Christmas.

1. Middle school history teacher
2. Baker
3. Forklift operator
4. Tech support

1. Casablanca
2. Citizen Kane
3. Star Wars
4. Earnest Goes to Jail

1. Montreal
2. London
3. New York City
4. Disney World (Epcot counts for at least 12 countries, right?)

1. (one stop shopping)

1. Sushi Samba, Manhattan
2. House of Nanking, San Francisco
3. Reed's Jazz & Supper Club, Austin
4. Salt Lick 360, Austin

1. Baby back ribs (preferably from Rudy's BBQ)
2. Reheated turkey (white meat, at least one day spent refrigerated)
3. Sushi & sashimi (all kinds, I'm not picky)
4. Cake (Mmmm. Cake...)

1. University of Texas, Austin
2. University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg
3. Duncanville High School
4. Reed Junior High Shool

1. "Howdy."
2. "Seriously?"
3. "Snap!"
4. "Geor-gia" (in a sing-song voice)

1. Asleep
2. Still asleep
3. The comic shop
4. The hotel bar of any professional genre convention


Paul Cornell's new blog

Having already written in just about every medium (prose, comics, television, audio plays... the list goes on and on), Paul Cornell, a damned fine writer and one of my favorite people, has just added "blogging" to his list of credits with Paul Cornell's House of Awkwardness. Paul's got a lot of interesting things to say, not least concerning politics and religion, two topics I spend a fair amount of time thinking about. I'll be following his blog with interest.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Cardboard Box for Rent

Allison just received some extraordinarily good news that means, in short, that we won't be living in a cardboard box come February '06. We're rapidly approaching the end of what has personally been a truly shitty year, on all but a few fronts, and the indications are that we're almost out of the woods. I've received a couple of bits of promising news in recent days, and with the whole not-living-in-a-cardboard-box thing now in the mix, this is shaping up to be a fine holiday season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005



I just received my contributor copy of the No. 10, 2005 issue of the Russian SF magazine, ESLI, which contains a translation of my story "O One." I have no idea who the other contributors are, and only managed with Allison's help to puzzle out that "Крис РОБЕРСОН" was "Chris Roberson" in Cyrillic characters, which means that "О, ЕДИНСТВЕННЫЙ!" is "O One" (or so we assume; and we couldn't help but notice that is a lot of characters to spell out the word "one"). The full line up is here, and the Russian text of my story is here.

I've sold foreign language reprint rights to "O One" to a few different markets, and have been meaning to submit some of my other stories, but never seem to find the time. If more of these foreign magazines sent their contributor copies packaged like this, though, I'd more quickly find the time. Finding this in my mailbox was like receiving a parcel from the nineteenth century: butcher paper, twine, and glue!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


"God, Schmod! I want my monkey-man!"

This has already made the rounds of the blogosphere and come back around for second helpings, but what can I say? I can't pass up a brief comment on a story with a headline like"Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors".

So here's my first reaction, naturally: How do we know he didn't succeed, hmmmm?

To paraphrase the well-known quote from Sir Arthur Eddington, "Not only is history stranger than we imagine, but history is stranger than we can imagine."


New Adventure Review

The tireless John Joseph Adams has reviewed Adventure Vol 1 for Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. He singles out contributions by Resnick, Anders, Finn, Newman, Kurland, and my own self; however, he hastens to add, "Although I've singled these few stories out, every story in the anthology is enjoyable in its own right, and lives up to the anthology's 'all-adventure' hype. Roberson has done a fine job with his first fiction anthology, and I for one will be eagerly awaiting Vol. 2." Mr. Adams is quickly working his way towards the top of my list of favorite people.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Super-Georgia contemplates a blue moon

After four days of travel, holidaying, and familying, I find my brain is well and truly incapable of forming something resembling a coherent thought. (Well, to be honest, I had half of a thought this afternoon, something about space opera, sparked by the third volume of John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy... but then I blinked and my half a thought was lost, leaving me where I started). I don't like to whine about personal stuff in public, either, but I really screwed up my back ten days ago, and after nine days on the mend, I managed to screw it up again this morning, in a slightly different place and fashion. But at least I'm home, now, with Tylenol and some Ultra Strength Bengay Pain Relieving Strips, so maybe after a beer I'll be once again on the mend.

I'm going to try to be cogent again in another few days. In the meantime, I leave you with this portrait of the last daughter of Krypton, Super-Georgia, contemplating a blue moon with the help of Baby the Super-Bear.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Happy Holidays!!

Offered without comment.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


We apparently *do* need stinking badges

I go to a lot of conventions in any given year. As evidence, this photo of Georgia, who got into the desk drawer into which I toss my convention badges when I get back home. It's been a year or so since I last cleaned it out, so this represents no more than a year and a half worth of convention-going.


Science Fiction for the Masses

This is apparently the week for other people to state my views on subjects better than I've managed to do myself. Earlier it was Paul McAuley on science fiction in general, and now it's John Scalzi responding to the whole "science fiction vs. fantasy" kerfuffle that won't seem to go away.

"What we need are people who are unapologetically writing science fiction -- and are unapologetically writing science fiction for people who have never read science fiction before. You want new people to read science fiction? You want SF books to matter to the masses? Then do some goddamned outreach, people. Write an intelligent, fascinating, moving piece of science fiction for the reader who has always thought science fiction was something that happened to other people."

I was talking about Scalzi's Old Man's War at WFC with someone (Tobias Buckell, maybe?) and we agreed that one of the greatest things about OMW is that it is a completely entry level book. You could hand that book to anyone capable of reading the English language, even if they had never before been exposed to any of the tropes of SF, and they could easily find their footing. The narrative eases the reader into the world of the book so gradually, starting from a place that is recognizably "our" world, that the reader doesn't snag on any sharp edges along the way. I know some sf readers have complained that John Perry's America looks so much like 21st Century America, but I think they're missing the point. The reason that the book works is that, for all intents and purposes, at least so far as the new reader is concerned, Perry's America is the same as ours.

I tried to do something similar with Here, There & Everywhere. I wanted to write a science fiction novel I could hand to my mother. There's all kinds of wacky quantum physics going on in the book, but by making the view point character a woman who we meet as a ten year old girl, I tried to ease the reader into the strangeness, starting at the shallow end of elementary school life, and slowly dragging them out into the depths of quantum foam and Tipler Cylinders and the Many Worlds Theorem. I don't know that I was as successful in my attempt as Scalzi was in his, but that was the intent, anyway.

My next project is a big, crazy space opera. Incomprehensibly far future, post-human, post-Singularity, with artificial intelligences and uplifted animal species and interstellar travel and such like. But, in order to keep the narrative grounded, the viewpoint character of the book is a timelost "modern" guy. (He's actually from the early 22nd Century, born in Bangalore and educated in Addis Ababa, the son of an American expat, but his worldview and, more importantly, his pop culture references are close enough to the contemporary American reader's as to make no difference.) This was an intentional choice, to provide just the kind of entree that John Perry provides for the reader of OMW (though, interesting, I hadn't read Scalzi's novel until after my space opera had been outlined). If my POV character didn't share some common cultural ground with the reader, it would be really difficult for someone like my mother to get a handle on what was going on; alternatively, if the character is able to say, "Wow, I just woke up, impossibly far in the future, surrounded by talking dogs; this is just like Planet of the Apes!", then a reader not familiar with the tropes of SF hopefully has a better chance of understanding what's going on.

I don't think that everything I do is this kind of "outreach." The Celestial Empire alternate history stories, for example, tend to ask a lot of the reader. I don't explain most of the sfnal stuff going on, but assume that the reader has some familiarity with the concepts of terraforming, and space elevators, and such like. In those stories, I'm more interested about the impact of the sfnal technology on the culture than the technology itself, and so concentrate more on the human level stuff, hoping that the average sf reader will come to the story with a basic familiarity with the tropes I'm invoking. But I don't want everything I do to be "preaching to the converted." I'd like to get out there and do some conversion for myself. Scalzi calls it outreach, and I think that's as good a name for it as any.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Another Self Publishing Data Point

(Via BoingBoing) It appears that Diane Duane is considering self-publishing the final installment of a stalled trilogy, likely as a POD title. (She's doing a straw poll of her fans, to gauge what the interest might be. See the comments for some truly head-scratching responses, including the guy who has read each of the first two installments "multiple times," but who would never consider paying more than "paperback prices" for the long-awaited conclusion.)

I recall that a writer named Daniel Keys Moran (with whose work I was unfamiliar) had announced similar plans back in the heady early days of Print On Demand, though according to Wikipedia those plans don't appear to have come to fruition. Still, between Duane and Lawrence Watt-Evans, we've got a couple of canaries-in-coalmines, who might be good indicators whether an author with an established audience can successfully make the transition to self-publishing. It bears watching. (Of course, if too many in that established audience aren't willing to pay a few dollars more to buy a book published by the author, whether they've been waiting years for it or not, then the existence of the audience itself might prove to be a moot point.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Pixar: 20 Years of Animation

(via Cartoon Brew) See, something like this is one of the reasons that I could be convinced to leave the comforts of Austin and move to NYC (and as much as I love Manhattan, that isn't very likely to happen... I love Austin more).

Opening this week is a new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art devoted entirely to the work of Pixar. Though I work in an entirely different medium from animated film, I think I've learned as much about the craft of storytelling from studying the process of the Pixar team as I have from any other source. (My often repeated advice to anyone wanting to be a storyteller, in any medium, is to pick up the Special Edition DVD of any given Pixar film and listen carefully to the audio commentary. Worth more than a dozen workshops or universitty courses.)

Anyone living in the vicinity really owes it to themselves to head out to the MoMA between now and February. The exhibit boasts "paintings, concept art, sculptures, and an array of digital installations." I'd be especially curious to see the Zoetrope installation, which sounds pretty damn cool. Sadly, there's no room in the travel budget for me to go to NYC anytime soon, more's the pity, so I'll have to look to one of you to send me a full report. Go see it, already!

Monday, December 12, 2005


Ticking Clock

Maybe it's the fact that I've come to view World Fantasy Convention as the "end of the year," with the remaining six to eight weeks being equivalent to the "hollow days" the Aztecs used to fill out the empty spaces on their calendar wheel, but the last few weeks of the year always seem like something of a hectic blur to me. Invariably I've committed to completing some number of projects "by the end of the year," sometime comfortably in the spring or summer, when the end of the year is a mythical time, far off in the future, when apes are our masters and we travel everywhere with personal jetpacks. WFC, always the end of October or the beginning of November, is the point where I get to slow down for a few days, reflect on everything that's happened in the last year (read, "since the last WFC"), drink too much and look forward to the future... all secure in the knowledge that I've got a few weeks yet to finish all of those "before the end of the year" projects. Then I go home and work harder than I have all year.

And yet, every year it catches me by surprise. Every year, the fact that December happens kind of catches me by surprise, and then I'm completely flat-footed by the discovery that December ends! I'm convinced that I'm retarded.

So now it's December 12th, and I've officially got 19 days left on the calendar. Except that several of those will be filled with travel and get-togethers with family, and still more on Georgia Patrol, so really I've got just a bare handful of days left until the year actually ends, from a work perspective. So I try to warm myself in the knowledge that I've gotten a great many projects completed in the last few weeks (three short stories and a franchise novel proposal, to be precise), but I've got at least one big committment (and several smaller ones) still to complete, and I can just feel the minutes ticking away. Minutes in which, ironically, I spend a fair amount of time worrying about how little time I have left in the year, instead of actually working. Like now. For example.

Okay, I'm back to work. I've got some fine tuning to do on the Three Governing Virtues of Mechanical Intelligence.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


The Fifth Wave

Paul McAuley is one smart cookie. I first discovered his stuff a few years back, when I started reading his Dr. Pretorius stories in Stephen Jones's annual Mammoth Book of Best New Horror series, and went from there to read the collection The Invisible Country. At WorldCon this year, Kim Newman introduced me to Paul, and I had the opportunity to have quite a few drinks in the Moathouse bar with him. He's definitely a class act.

More than that, he's just summed up my thoughts about science fiction in his interview in the most recent issue of Locus:
"All the tropes we're using now come from science fiction's deep history. Since cyberspace, I don't think there's been a brand-new trope, with the possible exception of the singularity. But the problem with the singularity is that it is the end of science fiction. After all, if the singularity is going to happen, it won't be possible to imagine what comes after it, and it isn't possible to write fiction there. It's a kind of anti-trope. Meanwhile, we're left with a large amount of often very good commercial science fiction that furnishes new plots for secondhand tropes and received, unexamined notions, and a small amount of the kind of stuff I find really exciting--stuff that re-examines classic tropes from the ground up, tries to make them fresh again. Ideas like time travel, alternate history, aliens, and so on have been around a long time now; in fact, they've been around so long that novelists outside the field make sue of them, as in Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, or David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. But that doesn't mean you can't think of new ways of using them, or of re-imagining them.

"The story of genre seems to me to be rather like the story of colonization of a new land. The first explorers make landfall and everything is strange, weird, off-kilter: 'Where the hell are we? Look at those trees! Look at that odd animal hopping away! These things look like mammals but they lay eggs! These have pouches!' And so on, and so on--a babble of pure wonders without attempt at analysis, beyond the fact that all this strange stuff is out there in a strange land where people can have new kinds of adventures. Then the second wave comes along, and they start building homes and establishing settlements--making the exotic more human along the fringes of the coast, committing all kinds of horrible crimes against the native ecology and trying to force the indigenous inhabitants to give up their worthless culture, and generally asserting the superiority of Western values over everything else. The third wave brings industrialization and sticks railroads everywhere--the vast interior is mapped and colonized, just as we imagine the planetary systems of near stars can be turned into a kind of arena for human story. Aliens are no longer weird for weirdness's sake; nor are they there to be conquered or made into object lessons; now we trade with them. The fourth wave is full of post-colonization guilt and regret. We've used everything up or destroyed it. Everything seems like a secondhand copy. The aliens are dispossessed, and live in squalid slum quarters in cities which could be anywhere, really. Their art and their knowledge about plants and animals is used to sell shampoo. I guess we're somewhere between the third wave and the fourth wave in science fiction right now. I want to get on to the fifth wave, a sort of reconstruction project that goes back to the beginning, but explores the raw stuff of wonder and weirdness without preconceptions, with a modern properly scientific sensibility that doesn't impose ready-made patterns and doesn't flinch from dealing with alienness of aliens, the nonhuman exoticism of other worlds. I think there's some of this in novels by people like Gwyneth Jones (who wrote three of the toughest and best first contact novels ever), Stephen Baxter, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, and Ken MacLeod. I'm still excited about this kind of science fiction and I think there are all kinds of wonderful things that can be done. It turns out that we haven't used up the old tropes. They are still there, in their Platonic form, ready to be rediscovered all over again."
This is a better summary of my thoughts on science fiction than I've ever been able to manage. This whole notion of re-examining "classic tropes from the ground up," of trying "to make them fresh again," is precisely what I've been hoping to accomplish with my most recent projects, and is the element I find most appealing about a number of my contemporaries. I see something of this kind of ethos at work in Kage Baker's Company sequence, in John C. Wright's The Golden Age trilogy, in John Scalzi's Old Man's War. I always tried to describe it as "inhabiting archetypes and revitalizing them," but I think "rebuilding tropes from the ground up" is probably a more apt description.

I used to feel guilty that so much of my work involved revisiting tropes that have been around since the earliest days of science fiction. My feeling was that my work was too backwards looking, and that the job of science fiction should be to look forward. But I've come to understand that what my stuff isn't nostalgia--or rather, it isn't just nostalgia, though there are definitely elements of sentimental call-backs to classic sf in what I do--but is more an attempt to build something new, using novel elements as well as bits and pieces borrowed (or stolen) from past masters. Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, for example, isn't a pastiche; instead, it's a story that in profile looks like a Burroughs space fantasy, but on closer examination is actually constituted of elements which are new, contemporary ideas. In the same way, I don't see Scalzi's Old Man's War as a pastiche of Heinlein, per se; it clearly draws inspiration from things like Starship Troopers, but while the skeleton of the story, "space war," might be built on a blueprint borrowed from Heinlein, Scalzi has fleshed it out with ideas that are purely his own (even things as seemingly inconsequential to the plot as his FTL drive, which is I think the first completely novel approach to faster-than-light travel that I've seen in years, if not decades).

I think that McAuley is right when he says that there have been no new tropes introduced in a great long time. I might take it one step further, and suggest that we may have exhausted the potential supply of all new tropes, and we're stuck with the ones that we've got. But the future is bright. I can't help but associate the "fourth wave" McAuley references as a kind of deconstruction. (I was an insufferable post-modernist in college, so this may lapse a bit into dimly remembered and misremembered theory, for which I beg your indulgence.) In the broadest terms, as best as I can recall, deconstruction is one of the key tenets of Post-Modernism. The idea is that, in the Modernist phase, forms which were initiated in a primitive phase, codified in a Classic phase, refined in a Renaissance period, and corrupted in a Baroque period, are restored to what to the Modernist sensibility is their ultimate, essential forms. In other words, once the Modernist phase is over, everything that could be done has been done. The role of the Post-Modernist, then, is to revisit the past, deconstructing what has already been built, in the search for new forms of meaning.

The question that I've been coming back to, again and again in recent years, is What follows deconstruction? The answer, naturally, is reconstruction. I think that's what the "fifth wave" McAuley mentions is all about. I always saw Post-Modernism as essentially reactionary, since it was defined entirely by its relationship to Modernism; even if it rejected every tenet of Modernism, it was still defined by its reaction to those very tenets it rejected. A fifth wave, involved with going back to classic tropes and re-imagining them from the ground up, then, seems to be more forward looking than works built upon the rejection of those classic tropes all together.

There's a lot of talk online recently about definitions of sf, and I've no interest in sticking my nose in that farrago. And there's the perennial crop of new movements that spring up like mushrooms, from time to time, and I'm don't think that's what I'm talking about, either. Unless, of course, a "movement" can be descriptivist and not prescriptivist, composed of individuals who don't even know that they share a similar ethos, much less a movement label, in which case, yeah, maybe I am.

I think we're entering an exciting period in science fiction, personally. I'm reading more and more books from new (and relatively new) writers that bring together the best of what has gone before: as much "sense of wonder" as the best of the golden age, healthy doses of action and adventure, the literary sophistication of the New Wave, and what I can't help but term the "Fuck Yeah!" factor of seeing something seemingly familiar being recast in an entirely new light.

That's the kind of science fiction I like to read, and the kind of science fiction I'm trying to write. A Fifth Wave. It's as good a name as any. Thanks, Paul.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Robert Sheckley, RIP

Now this sucks. I've always had a lot of respect for Robert Sheckley. The Tenth Victim and its sequels, when I read them in high school, were revelatory, and it's an absolute crime that they've fallen out of print. I know that Sheckly had a hard run of it the last year or so, and I was sorry to miss the chance to meet him in person when he was unable to attend this year's WorldCon. Damn. He'll be missed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Going Up?

(Via Cheryl) I've written about space elevators a few times, most notably in my story "Gold Mountain," which will be in a forthcoming issue of Postscripts, and is about the construction of a space elevator in my Celestial Empire timeline. I spent a fair amount of time researching the things, checking the figures, and looking at diagrams and schematics, and so I think I have a fair understanding of what space elevators are and how they'd operate. When I see this, though, even knowing it's just a painting (and a spectacular one at that), my lizard brain takes over and I find myself gripping the arms of my chair. Yow. I get dizzy every time I glance back at it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


MonkeyBrain Books site update

I've just updated the MonkeyBrain Books site with full details and cover art for our three Spring 06 titles: Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio, Kim Newman's The Man from the Diogenes Club, and Peter Coogan's Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Loose Ends, the Tying Up of

Having finished the last of my current short story obligations last week (the three stories I wrote between the end of October and the end of November have all gone to good homes, thank you very much), I'm planning on spending the last weeks of 2005 tying up loose ends. I'm working on some revisions to Fire Star that my agent has suggested, and doing some reading in advance of starting in on my big, wacky space opera. In the meantime, I've been asked to pitch a franchise novel, which has me doing all kinds of odd Google-searches (I'll refrain from mentioning the franchise, but at present the pitch involves telepathic viruses and parallel worlds), usually on a laptop while my daughter is watching Jack's Big Music Show or Play With Me Sesame. (I lost track a while back, but at one point I had five franchise pitches--three novels, one audio drama, and one comic--all in the air at the same time. The numbers are slightly higher, at present. I observed at the time that the only thing worse than none of the pitches being bought would be all of the pitches being bought. So far, though, the former eventuality appears to be in the lead...)

Two months ago, I would have sworn that, by the beginning of December, I'd find myself with nothing but free time on my hands for a short while, all of my obligations met. Isn't it funny how the work you have to do always manages to expand to fill exactly the amount of time you have to do it?

Okay, I'm back to Googling telepathic viruses and the like. If you haven't already, go and watch the X-Men 3 teaser. Looks pretty damned good for a Brett Ratner flick.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Kong Live!

Yesterday, I had the great good fortune of seeing the story of King Kong as it always should have been seen: performed live on-stage as a radio play.

Under the careful guidance of lifelong Kong-fanatic Mark Finn, who wrote and directed this adaptation of the original film, the Violet Crown Radio Players performed a bit of stage magic as they presented a gripping tale of adventure with a cast of thousands, including a forty-foot gorilla locked in life-and-death struggles with a giant spider, a sea serpent, a T-rex, and more. Attacks by bi-planes, stampeding crowds, bustling newsrooms... Really, it had to be seen--and heard--to be believed.

(What I didn't know until just now was that the theme song to the adaptation, a jaunty number called "Don't Shoot That Monkey Down," was written by Finn for the show! I'd assumed it was just some wacky 1930's novelty number I'd never heard. Good job, Mr. Finn!)

The VCRP, for which Finn is the Creative Director, stages several of these radio shows a year, and they're always well worth the price of admission. If you're within driving distance of Austin, you've got two chances this weekend to catch the Kong show, and you won't be sorry you did. If you're one of those poor unfortunates outside the Austin-sphere, you'll have to wait for the CD release, but in the meantime you can get a sampling of the magic in this spot that ran yesterday on the local CBS affiliate.

Sunday, December 04, 2005



Two bits of good news this weekend. Since yesterday I've gotten word of two short story sales, "Last" to the John Scalzi-edited issue of Subterranean Magazine, and "Eventide" to Peter Crowther for his forthcoming DAW anthology Forbidden Planets.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


I'm hopeless

I will never be cool. You want to know why? Because I get excited, unaccountably so, to read that Scott Shaw is doing a new two-part Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew. I read comics before I picked up the first issue of CCAHZC, two-thirds of a life ago, but that was the comic that made me a collector. (So fervent was my passion for the Earth-C adventures of Captain Carrot and his furry-animal friends that I had a subscription to the title--mailed flat, naturally--and still bought the new issues every month when they showed up on the shelves of Duncanville Books, because the subscription copies inevitably arrived a week later, and I just couldn't wait!)

Now, twenty years later, when I read Shaw--the artist and co-creator of the original series--say "It's as if Captain Carrot was never cancelled, and we're catching up the ongoing series," I find myself whistfully wishing, if only for a moment, that I'd spent the last twenty years in that that worldline, instead.

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