Friday, June 29, 2007
Flight of the Conchords' "Bowie Song"
The Day's Progress
It's not all work and no play, though. I'm taking next Wednesday off, primarily because the holiday gives us a terrific excuse to take Georgia to the theater for the first time, to see Ratatouille.
36,121 / 90,000
No sample today, since there wasn't really anything in this chapter that would make much sense out of context. It was just that kind of day, I suppose.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Day's Progress
33,466 / 90,000
A brief sample today, just a bit of backstorying about the society structure of the Mexica. Anything else would be too spoilery, I think.
The military divisions of the Mexica were different than those adopted by the Middle Kingdom. The forces of the Dragon Throne were divided into infantry trained for surface combat—the Army of the Green Standard—marine forces trained to operate in all environments—the Eight Banners—and the Interplanetary Fleet—as at home flying in vacuum as they were in the air, especially after absorbing the men and equipment of the now-decommissioned Imperial Navy of the Air some years before. By contrast, the military of the Mexic Dominion was a single body, reporting through a unified command structure, with men and women assigned to the various functions on an individual basis, by dint of their personal aptitudes and experience. It was sometimes difficult for onlookers from the Middle Kingdom to fathom, but it seemed it was not unlikely for a Mexic warrior to begin as an infantryman, later to be transferred to a marine company of commando, and end up finally as an aeronaut. The rank and roll of the individual could be determined by the type of armor he wore, and especially by its adornment.
The Jaguar Knights were an elite body of Mexic warriors who stood at the pinnacle of a military hierarchy that dominated an entire society. From birth, Mexica were trained to be fierce combatants, and each child’s umbilicus was ritually burned and then buried under the consecrated ground of a former battlefield not far from their capital city, Place of the Cactus. Testing throughout childhood gauged the child’s aptitudes, and training was tailored to the individual’s strengths and weaknesses accordingly. Coming of age, Mexica were sent into battle, and rose through the ranks by capturing prisoners in combat. Eventually, if the young warrior survived enough conflicts and distinguished himself through a sufficient number of kills and captures, he would be inducted into one of the orders. There were many such groupings, but the two preeminent warrior orders were the Eagle Knights, comprised of aeronauts who had garnered a requisite number of kills in air or space, and the Jaguar Knights, warriors who had captured a high number of enemy combatants on land, sea, air, or vacuum.
There was another warrior elite of the Mexic Dominion, the House of Darkness, which served the Great Speaker of the Mexic Dominion much as the Embroidered Guard served the Dragon Throne. But the servants of the House of Darkness were not simply secret policemen and intelligencers, like the agents of the Embroidered Guard, but were likewise torturers and ritual executioners. Those who came under the obsidian blades of the House of Darkness were sacrificed in the name of all the gods of the Mexica, but especially to the honor and glory of the flayed god, Xipe Totec.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Day's Progress
29,805 / 90,000
In Chapter Twelve I introduced a character who was little more than a spear-carrier, a female technician who was supposed to walk on stage and give the protagonists some necessary information about the captured Aztec ship. For some reason, when I went to write her, she turned into a woman I met this spring who exhibited all the indicators of Asperger's syndrome. No idea why, but when I got to the part about the human sacrifices, I suddenly had an extra layer of tension between her and the listeners, which made for a nice bit of business.
There was a trace of Hunan pronunciation in the sailor’s Official Speech, which Zhuan had ample opportunity to identify as she led them through the corridors of the habitat ring to the outer accelerator, and from there back to the hangar where the nine had first seen the captured Mexic vessel the day before. Sima demonstrated a conversational focus, and a lack of observance of appropriate social protocols, which Zhuan had encountered many times among technicians and ships’ engineers. It was a certain personality type, seemingly inborn, which combined a savant-level ability to understand extremely complex information with an almost complete inability to navigate in social situations. Zhuan had been tipped off by the fact that Sima seldom if ever made eye contact when speaking, and his suspicions were confirmed during the long trip from the habitat to the shipyards, in which Sima did not so much converse with her charges as lecture them. People who exhibited such traits, Zhuan had found, made invaluable artificers and technicians, and a ship could count itself lucky to have one as her engineer, but Zhuan had learned to avoid being trapped in confined spaces with them, if at all possible.
From their expressions, it was clear that Steersman Ang and Bannerman Syuxtun were quickly learning this lesson, as well, if they didn’t know it already.
Secret Tracks, Easter Eggs, and Slartibartfast
Using the same code that computer keyboards use, the Japanese group, led by Masaru Tomita of Keio University, wrote four copies of Albert Einstein’s famous formula, E=mc2, along with “1905,” the date that the young Einstein derived it, into the bacterium’s genome, the 400-million-long string of A’s, G’s, T’s and C’s that determine everything the little bug is and everything it’s ever going to be.I played around with a vaguely similar idea in my short story "Contagion," in which information was stored and transmitted using the RNA of retroviruses, but to me the interesting part of Overbye's piece is the question of whether there might not already be messages hidden in our own DNA.
The point was not to celebrate Einstein. The feat, they said in a paper published in the journal Biotechnology Progress, was a demonstration of DNA as the ultimate information storage material, able to withstand floods, terrorism, time and the changing fashions in technology, not to mention the ability to be imprinted with little unobtrusive trademark labels — little “Made by Monsanto” tags, say.
In so doing they have accomplished at least a part of the dream that Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and musician, and David Sulzer, a biologist at Columbia, enunciated in 1999. To create the ultimate time capsule as part of the millennium festivities at this newspaper, they proposed to encode a year’s worth of the New York Times magazine into the junk DNA of a cockroach. “The archival cockroach will be a robust repository,” Mr. Lanier wrote, “able to survive almost all conceivable scenarios.”
If cockroaches can be archives, why not us? The human genome, for example, consists of some 2.9 billion of those letters — the equivalent of about 750 megabytes of data — but only about 3 percent of it goes into composing the 22,000 or so genes that make us what we are.Overbye's piece, and the commentary on Centauri Dreams, are well worth checking out.
The remaining 97 percent, so-called junk DNA, looks like gibberish. It’s the dark matter of inner space. We don’t know what it is saying to or about us, but within that sea of megabytes there is plenty of room for the imagination to roam, for trademark labels and much more. The King James Bible, to pick one obvious example, only amounts to about five megabytes.
Inevitably, if you are me, you begin to wonder if there is already something written in the warm wet archive, whether or not some Slartibartfast has already been here and we ourselves are walking around with little trademark tags or more wriggling and squiggling and folded inside us. Gill Bejerano, a geneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who mentioned Slartibartfast to me, pointed out that the problem with raising this question is that people who look will see messages in the genome even if they aren’t there — the way people have claimed in recent years to have found secret codes in the Bible.
Nevertheless, no less a personage than Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the double helix, writing with the chemist Leslie Orgel, now at the Salk Institute in San Diego, suggested in 1973 that the primitive Earth was infected with DNA broadcast through space by an alien species.
As a result, it has been suggested that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, should look inward as well as outward. In an article in New Scientist, Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University, wrote, “So might ET have inserted a message into the genomes of terrestrial organism, perhaps by delivering carefully crafted viruses in tiny pace probes to infect host cell with message-laden DNA?"
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Clearly, though, Holland has bigger fans than me. Who, for instance? How about the guy who tracked down, purchased, and completely restored Lane Meyer's 1967 Camaro?
That is made of awesome...
The Day's Progress
26,758 / 90,000
Nearly all of today's writing was taken up by Chapter Thirteen, which introduces the microgravity weaponry the team will be using later in the book (a low-mass/high-velocity fletchette pistol and a carbine that fires rocket-propelled ammunition, to be exact). There was a bit of show-and-tell as a walk-on character presents the guns and explains their uses and limitations. Then everybody gets a turn on the firing range, and we learn a little something about one of the soldiers, who to this point had been something of a cypher.
Of the six, Yao was surprised to discover that he was not the most skilled marksman. He’d seen Bannerman Dea’s shooting scores in his military records, back in Fanchuan Garrison, but had assumed that there had been some exaggeration on the part of the training officers, since marksmanship of that high caliber was a rare quality indeed.In case you made it that far into the sample, yes, a "tenth-tael terrible" is the Celestial Empire equivalent of a penny dreadful or dime novel, lurid stories printed on cheap paper. The name derives from their price, a tenth of a silver tael.
By the time Dea had emptied the fletcher’s clip of needles, Yao was satisfied that the training officers had not exaggerated. If anything, they might have understated the case.
Still, despite his almost unerring ability to put a shot dead-center in the target, time after time, there was something comical about the way that Dea handled the firearms. For one thing, when shooting the flechette pistol, he insisted that he begin each time with the fletcher in a holster at his side, and when Hughes called the order to fire Dea would draw the pistol in a fluid, lightning-fast movement and then fan his free hand over the pistol’s reset lever, an unnecessary motion since simply squeezing and holding the trigger would result in an uninterrupted burst of automatic fire. Then, when he’d finished, he would raise the pistol to his lips and blow across the end of the barrel, smiling self-indulgently.
He acted, for all the world, like a character in a cheap drama, or in the pages of a tenth-tael terrible, a cartoonish figure of a gunman stepping straight out of lurid tales of the Tejas frontier. It was somewhat unnerving, seeing someone with that kind of well-honed ability playacting at being a Vinlander gunslinger.
Even so, cartoonish or no, it was clear that Dea knew his way around firearms. Despite himself, Yao couldn’t help but feel that their mission’s chances of success had just raised in his own estimation, if only fractionally.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The Day's Progress
23,628 / 90,000
No sample today, but I'll make up for it with a longer and even more boring one tomorrow.
Conan the Oilpatch Roughneck
Okay, hopefully I can post something amusing or interesting soon, but for now I'm back to staring at the present chapter in progress, trying to figure out what the heck I was writing about last week...
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Lone Star State of the Fantastic: Spec Fic in Texas
Friday 6:00PM - 7:00PM Phoenix
A.T. Campbell III (M), Alexis Glynn Latner, Chris Roberson
Our panelists share their views on the heritage, current condition, and possible future of Spec Fic in Texas
Saturday 1:00PM - 2:00PM
The Small Press in the Big Woods
Saturday 2:00PM - 3:00PM Tucson
Chris Roberson, Selina Rosen, Kate Sanger (M), Willie Siros, Mel. White Panelists discuss the role of the small press in Spec Fic. What do they bring to the table? Are they the mad laboratories of the fantastic or the hothouse gardens nurturing the next wave of Spec Fic?
What's Hot in YA Spec Fic?
Saturday 3:00PM - 4:00PM Seattle II
Marianne Dyson, K. Hutson Price (M), Chris Roberson, Amy Sisson, Steve Wilson
Do you find yourself raiding your teen's bookshelf for the latest hot read? You're not alone. Hear panelists discuss YA's newest writers and trends.
Size Matters! Knowing or Choosing the Correct Length to Tell Your Tale
Sunday 10:00AM - 11:00AM Seattle I
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Alexis Glynn Latner, Julia Mandala (M), Chris Roberson, Shanna Swendson
How *do* writers know how long a story should be? Is it something they decide or something the story demands? Our panel discusses questions of size, from flash to series. (Don't worry guys, it's perfectly safe.)
The Day's Progress
20,149 / 90,000
There was a lot of hard sf hoohah in today's writing, stuff I hadn't anticipated going over but which I realized, when I got there, had to be explained. Stuff like how the moonbase in Phobos is laid out, what sort of security procedures the base employs, and so forth. Not so much because I'm going to be using it a lot further down the line, but because it's important to set up a contrast with the Aztec base that the characters will be infiltrating later in the story.
This sample is another bit of business I didn't expect to bring front and center here, the comparative political structures of the Chinese and Aztec empires. When I first tapped the Aztecs as the black hats in this alternate history (or at least as the Chinese's opposite numbers) I'd just sort of figured them for an authoritarian, maybe even fascistic culture, one that frequently sacrificed prisoners to the gods. What I realized, in researching it, was that the Aztecs were an almost entirely egalitarian society, one in which anyone from any background could rise through the ranks and attain the highest levels of power (so long as they didn't mind getting their hands a bit dirty). Advancement was determined by military prowess, capturing prisoners (even in actual wartime or in mock combat with neighboring cities), and their leaders were essentially elected and could be removed from power by the will of the people. A contrast to the Chinese, whose leaders had divine mandates from the gods, literal "sons of heaven." So aside from the whole bathed-in-blood-sacrifice business, the Aztecs were almost a republic, while the Chinese were ruled by an absolute hereditary dictator. Kind of changed my feelings about the two sides, and suggested some interesting conflicts.
Anywhere, here's that in a nutshell, talking about ornamentation and fashion design.
The lithographs which Zhuan had been shown in Fanchuan Garrison did not do the vessel justice. There was a certain brutality inherent in all Mexic designs, doubtless carried over from their cultural ethos, which demanded a never-ending series of sacrifices to their dark gods, a veritable river of blood that flowed beneath and around everything the Mexica had ever accomplished, and the newly rechristened Dragon was certainly no exception. Unlike the ships of the Middle Kingdom, with their baroque flourishes and careful artistry, so often designed to look like the fish of the seas or the birds of the air or more fanciful creatures only ever glimpsed in children’s tales, accented with vibrant flourishes of color, the vessels of the Mexic Dominion were stark, utilitarian, and gray.
This was an ironic contrast to the armor worn by the soldiers of the two cultures, that of the Middle Kingdom being relatively plain and unadorned, and that of the Mexic Dominion fashioned to resemble wild animals and demons and stranger creatures. Perhaps it was emblematic of the fact that, for all of its brutality, the Mexic Dominion was an egalitarian society, a meritocracy in which one rose to power and prominence on the basis of martial ability—specifically measured by the number of live prisoners one captured in combat—while the Middle Kingdom, though it measured the merits of its bureaucrats by scholastic examination, was a culture led by a hereditary ruler, whose authority flowed down through his forebears’ bloodlines by grace of heaven itself. As a result, the Mexic Dominion could be seen to place more emphasis on the individual, and the Middle Kingdom on the collective culture, and each devoted its attentions in adorning those aspects it prized most highly.
The Dragon wasn’t much larger than a cloud-flyer shuttle, about the size of the launch vessel that had carried the line from the surface, at least once the first stage and reusable fuel tanks had fallen away. The Exhortation, which Zhuan had commanded for so many years, had been a small patrol vessel, with a full complement of no more than a dozen crewmen, and yet it looked as if the Dragon would nearly fit entirely into its cargo holds.
And this was the vessel that would carry the nine of them out into the black void, to the hidden Mexic base, a journey of weeks?
More Changes at Disney
The Dollar Dreadful Family Library
T.D.R and Wilhelm Staehle of SteelRiver Studio are proud to present the Dollar Dreadful Family Library which debuts at the jolly old MoCCA Art Fest, June 23 & 24!Check out the Dollar Dreadful site for previews and more info.
DDFL is a collection of exciting, thrilling, and ghastly short stories with exquisite vintage illustrations that hearken back to the Penny Dreadfuls or Dime novels of the early 1900s.
Indeed, there is something here for everyone – and at an affordable price which the whole family can agree upon!
Why not try Archibald Grey: Investigator of the Macabre and Possessor of the Skeleton Key? Read his adventures in The Golem’s Labyrinth and gasp at the supernatural terrors he encounters!
For those of a more sensitive nature, try The Domestic Adventures of Octavious Watt and his Pneumatic Bride as they attend the grand Worlds Fair and gain the interest of a strange duo who just may be up to no good!
If mysteries are more your speed, you might enjoy The Dressmakers Detective Journal as four plucky women gather each week to solve shocking puzzles!
Collect all three and share them with your friends or display them proudly in your washroom where visitors can enjoy a quick read as they attend to their business! You won’t be disappointed – for where else can you discover enormous family fun for such a small price?
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The Day's Progress
17,144 / 90,000
Today's sample comes as the nine characters are being ferried up to the base in the hollowed-out Martian moon, Phobos (here called Zhurong).
As the hatch was closed, sealing them into the passenger compartment, Yao spared a glance at the sailor who was to command the en route portion of the mission, Zhuan Jie. At the moment, so far as Yao was able to determine, they were all under the direct authority of Agent Wu, who rode up in the launch vehicle’s command center with the flight crew. But in short order Yao would find himself under Zhuan’s command, and he was hardly sanguine about the prospect.
Yao found himself seated between Steersman Ang and Bannerman Syuxtun. While the sailor to his left fidgeted, uneasy in his seat, the bannerman on Yao’s opposite side sat motionless and still, his eyes closed, muttering softly to himself. Straining to hear, Yao could just make out the words he was saying.
“In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful, praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; most gracious, most merciful; master of the Day of Judgement. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.”
Yao folded his arms over his chest, leaving the Athabascan to his prayers. While he’d never had much patience for beliefs himself, Yao didn’t begrudge others whatever comforts their own might provide. If seeking the aid of supernatural forces helped Syuxtun allay any fears about their impending launch, or what would follow, who was Yao to judge?
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
The Day's Progress
14,095 / 90,000
Today's sample comes from shortly after the first meeting of the two protagonists, Bannerman Yao and Captain Zhuan. The one is in command of the strike team, the other in command of the boat that's getting them there. In this scene, they've been reviewing the military records of the seven men picked for the mission.
“By my count, we have three murderers, a thief, a dealer in contraband, an insubordinate, and a conscientious objector.”
Yao looked up at the sailor, who sat back on the bench, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Failing to take us into account,” the bannerman answered. There was no file in the stack for the sailor sitting before him, and Yao found himself curious as to the reasons for Zhuan’s imprisonment. Yao had spent time with sailors before, and this Zhuan’s manner struck him as different than that typical of those who served in the Interplanetary Fleet. There was something lax in his attitude, Yao felt. Zhuan had the softness that came with long years spent in microgravity, but it seemed that the softness extended to his character, as well as his appearance.
“Indeed,” Zhuan said, guardedly. He paused for a moment before continuing. “I’ve served with the thief, Ang Xunhuo. Thief and gambler, to be precise. But he is also the finest pilot with whom I’ve ever served, and I have no doubts about his abilities to perform his duties, if his vices can be kept in check.” He glanced at the files spread on the table. “I’m a poor judge of a soldier’s worth, though. What is your opinion of the rest?”
Yao’s shoulders raised in the shadow of a shrug. “Their records speak for themselves. The three bannermen, at least, have skills that should prove useful, though each is markedly lacking in discipline. Syuxtun’s skills with language and communication should prove a valuable asset, as should Fukuda’s expertise with demolitions. And if Dea’s marksmanship scores are to be believed, I would not want to find myself on the business end of his firearm. As for the guardsmen...” Yao waved a hand at the other three files, those for Cai, Nguyen, and Paik. “They may simply by the class of men allowed entry into the Green Standard Army these days, for all I know. This war has taxed the resources of the Middle Kingdom, but even so...”
Zhuan gave a slight smile. “So the old rivalries persist?” He raised an eyebrow, in an expression Yao felt verged dangerously close to mocking. “Sailors don’t trust guardsmen who don’t trust bannermen who don’t trust anyone, is that it?”
Yao controlled his reaction, and drew his lips into a tight line. “I do my duty, and judge others by their ability and willingness to do the same.”
My Masters Speak
In related news, Solaris has issued a press release about their Spring 2008 lineup, into which I've somehow sneaked. In addition to The Dragon's Nine Sons, I've got a story in The Solaris Book of Science Fiction Volume Two.
BL Publishing is very excited to announce the full line-up of titles for its SOLARIS imprint for the Spring 2008 season. All titles are released simultaneously in the UK and US, except where noted.
BLACK MAGIC WOMAN — JUSTIN GUSTAINIS
A Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigation
ISBN: 978-1-84416-541-4 256pp C-format $15.00/ £10.99 Dark Fantasy
Occult investigator Quincey Morris and white witch Libby Chastain are hired to free a family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem witch trials. Fraught with danger, the trail finds them stalking the mysterious supernatural underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans and New York, searching out the root of the curse. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself — and the very heart of darkness.
“Black Magic Woman is the best manuscript I've ever been asked to read. It's got a keen concept (I wish I'd thought of it myself!) supported by lean, fast storytelling. Keep an eye on Justin Gustainis. You'll be seeing more of him soon.” —Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files
THE DRAGON’S NINE SONS — CHRIS ROBERSON
A Novel of the Celestial Empire
ISBN: 978-1-84416-524-7 320pp C-format $15.00 / £10.99 Science Fiction
It is the age of the Celestial Empire, and the epic civilizations of Imperial China and Mexica have taken their ancient war into space. A disgraced Chinese naval captain and a commando who knows secrets he should never have learned are picked to lead a suicide mission. They must pilot a salvaged Mexica spacecraft to Xolotl, the asteroid stronghold of their enemies, armed with enough explosives to reduce the Mexica base to dust. But when they arrive to find dozens of Chinese prisoners destined to be used as human sacrifices, their suicide mission suddenly turns into a rescue operation.
“Chris Roberson is one of that bold band of young writers who are taking the stuff of genre fiction and turning it into a whole new literary form - a form for the 21st century.” — Michael Moorcock
THE BLOOD KING — GAIL Z. MARTIN
Book Two of the Chronicles of the Necromancer
ISBN: 978-1-84416-531-5 640pp A-format $7.99/£7.99 Fantasy
The hugely anticipated second book in the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, following The Summoner, one of the most successful fantasy debuts of the year. Outcast Prince Matris Drayke continues his quest to seek retribution and restore his father’s honor. He must gather his allies and make a direct challenge to the armies of his brother, Jared. Meanwhile, Jared’s mage seeks to raise the spirit of the Obsidian King, and creates an imbalance in the natural currents of magic. Tris must learn to use his powers as a Summoner to fight the forces of evil plaguing the Winter Kingdoms.
“Adventure with whole-hearted passion” — SFX
BLUE WAR — JEFFREY THOMAS
A Punktown novel
ISBN: 978-1-84416-532-2 416pp A-format $7.99/£7.99 Science Fiction
Blue War, the second Solaris novel from the critically acclaimed Jeffrey Thomas, is an incredible SF thriller starring shape-changing future detective Jeremy Stake.
A jungle of blue vegetation, on another world, in another dimension. Here, Earth’s Colonial Forces once battled against the blue-skinned Ha Jiin people, a war in which Jeremy Stake took part. Now, a hard-won peace is about to crumble as the work of a biotech corporation goes disastrously wrong. An attempt to grow an apartment village from an organic material has led to the Earth colony of Punktown being replicated at an astonishing rate, ruining farms and displacing locals. More strangely, three clones are found in this bizarre organic copy of the city, clones that the city itself has regenerated from long dead remains. Stake is employed to solve these mysteries, and in the depths of the blue jungle he discovers a sinister operation that defies belief. Up against the military, Ha Jiin gangsters, and ultimately his own government, Stake is pushed to the limits to avoid, at all costs, another war from breaking out.
Jeffrey’s first Solaris novel, Deadstock, was chosen as Waterstone’s SF and Fantasy “Bookseller’s Choice” for March 2007. Celebrated SF artist Stephan Martiniere has been commissioned for the cover of Blue War. See below for a sneaky peek at the stunning artwork.
“Deadstock is a gripping page-turner written with verve and intelligence.” — The Guardian
THE SOLARIS BOOK OF NEW SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME TWO — Ed. GEORGE MANN
ISBN: 978-1-84416-542-1 416pp A-format $7.99/£7.99 Science Fiction
The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume Two is another star-filled collection of short stories—an anthology of the highest order. It showcases the talents of some of the world’s greatest science fiction writers. The eclectic stories in this collection range from futuristic murder mysteries, to widescreen space opera, to tales of first contact with alien beings. As with the highly acclaimed first anthology, all stories are original to the collection.George Mann is the editor of The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, The Mammoth Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, and the author of three SF/Fantasy novellas.
KÉTHANI — ERIC BROWN
ISBN: 978-1-84416-473-8 352pp C-format $15.00/£10.99 Science Fiction
It takes an alien race to show us our humanity. A group of friends’ lives are changed forever when the mysterious race known as the Kéthani come to Earth bearing a dubious but amazing gift: immortality. These deeply moving episodes following each of the friends, deal with the human emotions in the face of the vast consequences of the alien arrival. They show how humanity reacts to the benign invasion, and how, ultimately, we evolve as we gain the stars. Kéthani marks out Eric Brown as an author of high quality literary science fiction.
"Eric Brown is the name to watch in SF." — Peter F. Hamilton
Robot Chicken: Star Wars
Monday, June 18, 2007
In any event, I've been thinking about how my first exposure to the character colored my perceptions, and also about all of these great clips from old episodes that I haven't seen. I've sampled bits and pieces of all seven original Doctors, seeing serials from the beginning to end of the 26 year original run of the show. But there's still a great deal of Who I've never seen.
Which leads me to my quixotic project. I work at home, and eat most meals as quickly as possible, but need something to do while chowing down, so usually watch a half-hour episode of something while I eat. Lately it's been the audio commentary on the second season of The Venture Bros, but I'm just about done with that. So I was already looking for something that ran between twenty and twenty-five minutes that I could run while I ate. For most of its twenty-six year run, Doctor Who was aired in twenty-five minute episodes.
You see where this is going.
Starting today, I am committed to watching all of Who from the beginning, an episode at a time, straight through to the end. For those episodes that have been lost I'll be taking in reconstructions using the extant audio and still photos. I'm not sure how many individual episodes of Who there are, but there are something just short of 160 serials, if I'm remembering correctly, which average four twenty-four episodes apiece. Even if I watch an episode a day for five days a week, every week (which is vanishingly unlikely, since I usually only eat lunch in front of the television about four times a week at best), then I estimate it'll take me something like two and a half years to finish. I may be watching more episodes than that on evenings that Allison is out of town on business (suffice it to say, she won't be going me on this particular mad quest; she quite likes the new series, but has not a bit of patience for the original show), so I may make up time here and there, but I can't imagine this taking less than a couple of years. Which, of course, I didn't really realize when I made this decision last week, thinking it would take a matter of months, but now I'm committed.
Today I watched "An Unearthly Child," the first episode of the serial with the same name. I'll be providing irregular updates as to my progress, but I don't expect I'll have time to offer anything in the way of reviews. Perhaps every few serials I'll sum up my reactions, or once a series, or once a Doctor, or what-have-you. Or in the course of the next two and a half years I'll do all three.
In any case, there you have it. Doctor Who from beginning to end, one episode at a time. So you tell me: quixotic, ill-advised, or both?
The Day's Progress
10,767 / 90,000
In today's sample, which is the entirety of Chapter Four, Zhuan Jie gets the highlights of the plot spelled out for him.
“It’s called the Dragon.”
The rough-hewn man with the qilin badge of a first-rank officer stitched across the chest of his Eight Banners dress uniform slid a lithograph across the table to Zhuan Jie.
“Strange name for a Mexic vessel,” Zhuan said, looking up from the image.
“It’s our code-name for the craft,” said the man wearing the red surcoat of the Interplanetary Fleet’s dress uniform, the insignia of a fleet admiral on his breast. “And it’s no longer a Mexic vessel, to be precise. It’s ours.”
There had been three people seated across the table when Zhuan was lead in. A general of the Eight Banners named Qiao, an admiral of the Interplanetary Fleet named Geng, and a woman introduced only as Agent Wu. So far the woman had not spoken, but the admiral paused and glanced at her before continuing, almost as if looking for permission.
“Came down after a firefight with a reconnaissance patrol,” Admiral Geng said. “Impacted on Gonggong, with minimal damage to the craft’s structural integrity. The crew wasn’t as lucky. Their radio had been shot out in the exchange, and they were unable to call for any assistance. The last of them died just as our salvage team was getting the hatch pried open.”
“A salvage team of bannermen,” General Qiao was quick to amend.
The admiral nodded in the general’s direction, a conciliatory gesture. “As you say. In any event, once the bodies were cleared out, and as much of the blood as possible, our artificers went to work restoring the craft’s systems to full functioning. As well as accommodating for the more...” He paused, grimacing slightly. “...brutal aspects of the craft’s control mechanisms. The lead artificer reports that the newly-christened Dragon should be vacuum-worthy in another two days’ time.”
Zhuan studied the image before him, the oblong, lozenge-shaped body, with looping armatures from the dorsal and ventral sides. A brutal design, so unlike the baroque curves of a Middle Kingdom vessel.
“What is this to do with me?” Zhuan looked up, his gaze taking in the three people before him.
The two men glanced at each other, then to the woman, before the general finally answerd. “Have you ever heard of Xolotl?”
Zhuan shook his head.
The general’s eyes cut to the silent Agent Wu, and he continued. “There have been rumors about a secret Mexic base for some time, fragmentary reports and whispers from the lips of dying prisoners. But until recently, we’ve been unable to ascertain the base’s existence, much less its location.”
“For years,” Admiral Geng said, folding his hands on the table before him, “the strategists of the Middle Kingdom have wrestled with the question of precisely where the Mexic fleet is based. They don’t come all the way from Earth for each sortie, clearly. But neither are they based on or around Fire Star. And yet time and again the Mexica are able to get warships in orbit around Fire Star, or attack ships of the Dragon Throne in the interplanetary gulf between the orbits of Fire Star and Earth. It’s long been theorized that the Mexica employ some sort of orbital base, but all attempts to locate it have been stymied.”
“Until now,” said the woman named Agent Wu, with a slight smile. “Recently, the Eastern Depot received intercepted transmissions that proved to be coded Mexic communications. These were decrypted by the Eastern Depot’s best cryptographers, and were revealed to contain information not only about the location of Xolotl, but also about its security protocols and pass-codes.” Her voice unsettled Zhuan; sounding of honey and sweetness, there was something toxic and sharp just beneath the surface. She treated Zhuan to a sweet-seeming smile, and then pulled another lithograph from the sheaf before her, and flipped it across the table to him.
Zhuan leaned forwards, keeping his hands in his lap. The lithograph depicted an asteroid, the image apparently taken at a considerable distance, if the graininess could be assumed to indicate high-magnification.
“Once we knew were to look,” Agent Wu continued, “it was a matter of ease to find. Using a high-powered remote-viewing mirror, we were able to find out even more about the asteroid. It’s almost two kilometers in diameter, and follows an elliptical orbit around the sun, between the orbits of Earth and Fire Star. For months at a time it tracks very near Fire Star, just a few degrees off the red planet’s orbital plane. The delta-v requirements to get from Earth to Xolotl, or from there to Fire Star, are comparatively low. Its close proximity to Fire Star makes it an ideal staging ground for the Mexic forces, and it is believed that Xolotl acts as the home base for the majority of the Mexic fleet and ground forces. They’ve even managed to put enough of a spin on the asteroid that the hollowed interior must have an appreciable gravity, probably somewhere around that of Earth’s moon.”
General Qiao shifted forward in his seat, splaying his fingers wide on the table’s surface, looking like a predator about to pounce on its prey. “This Xolotl is just the thing we’ve been after, all this time. If the forces of the Dragon Throne can successfully knock this rock out of the sky, we could deal a crippling blow to the Mexic Dominion’s ability to wage war.”
“Come to that,” Admiral Geng put in, “if we take out Xolotl, we might end the threat posed by the Dominion altogether, in the vacuum and on Fire Star definitely, and possibly even on Earth itself.”
Zhuan frowned. “Again, and begging your pardons, but what is this to do with me?” He glanced at the dark shadow of the asteroid on the lithograph. “I’m not expected to attack this thing, am I?”
The general shook his head, chuckling. “Don’t worry, sailor. We have some real soldiers picked out for that particular duty.”
The admiral shot the general a sharp look, and seemed to bite back a response, before turning his attention back to Zhuan. “The strike team is already assembled. But we need someone to get them there.”
Agent Wu extended a long finger, pointing at the lithograph of the lozenge-shaped Mexic craft. “Which brings us back to the Dragon,” she said with a slight smile, “and your part in this enterprise.”
New Reviews - Set the Seas on Fire
"Roberson adds a pulpy twist to Napoleonic-era naval adventure as the crew of a damaged English frigate finds both paradise and hell on a pair of uncharted Pacific islands. First Lt. Hieronymus Bonaventure, last seen in Paragaea (2006), serves gamely aboard the HMS Fortitude, but longs for something more exciting than harrying galleons across the South Pacific for an aging captain dreaming of padding his retirement stash. When the Fortitude is badly damaged and blown into 'mare incognita,' the 'unknown sea,' the crew manages to reach a tropical island where the natives are friendly and the ship can be repaired. An attack by bat-winged creatures foreshadows the danger awaiting on the forbidden island of 'first volcano,' where Bonaventure leads his men when his native lover, Pelani, is kidnapped. Roberson delivers a fairly standard but well-crafted adventure story for most of the book before delving into the supernatural. The novel is a good bet for adventure fans who want more than your average Horatio Hornblower clone."Meanwhile, the UK magazine Sci Fi Now has also reviewed the book.
Chris Roberson is best known for his Here, There And Everywhere, and his Shark Boy And Lava Girl Adventures series, although his short stories have been finalist for World Fantasy and Sidewise awards for a good reason. He possesses a unique talent and his tales boast a refreshing originality.
Set The Seas On Fire occurs during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. The crew are sailing uncharted waters aboard the HMS Fortitude, with the brave and interestingly named Lieutenant Hieronymus Bonaventure. Or hero does a grand job of bravely salvaging the incompetent crew from a variety of dangers, his boredom only abating while he is saving the day and the grateful crew from the relentless attacks. When they hole up on an island uninvited, the natives are a little displeased...
There is plenty of timber-shivering and manly shouts of ‘all hands on deck’ in this sea-faring romp, but despite its fast-paced action, it does start slowly, and Roberson takes his time to deliver the exciting finale. The sailor jargon does grow tiresome, but generally, Set The Seas On Fire is a well written deviation from the genre, with satisfying finish and battles aplenty to keep you gripped. Be patient, and adjust to your sea-legs you will...
Mad Props for Picacio
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Doctor Who - The Web of Caves
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The Day's Progress
8,289 / 90,000
These are the first three paragraphs of chapter two, which introduces the other main protagonist of the book. Sitting in a chair, thinking about silence and bodily functions. Non! Stop! Action!
Bannerman Yao Guanzhong sits on a metal bench, his legs in shackles, his hands resting on the table before him. Opposite the bench are two chairs, unusually ornate for so austere a chamber, which to all appearance are actually constructed of carved wood. Not formed plastics with imitation grain, but real sticks of dead vegetable matter worked into shape by knife, plane, and awl. On Fire Star plants are a prized commodity, carefully cultivated in greenhouses, cherished for their ability to transmute carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen, and no one would dream of chopping down a full-grown tree to make something as frivolous as a wooden chair. This pair must have been shipped from Earth, carefully packed in a cargo hold, a small luxury brought to this barren world.
The chairs are empty. Yao has been waiting for some time, but he is patient. He knows what is coming for him, and is in no mood to speed its arrival. It is quiet here, in this interrogation chamber in the heart of Fanchuan Garrison, deep in the Tianfei Valley, and Yao closes his eyes, for the moment reveling in the unexpected solace and stillness. Eleven terrestrial years Yao has been on Fire Star, fighting the forces of the Mexic Dominion on land, in the air, and in the vacuum, and silence is as precious a commodity to him as all the plants and trees in all the greenhouses in all of Fire Star. Out on the surface Yao is never without his surface suit, its elastic constriction countering the lower atmospheric pressure of the red planet, his chest encased in a hard-shell carapace, a helmet over his head. And even if sound travels poorly in the thin Fire Star air, the sounds of Yao’s own body are never far from his ears, the rhythm of his breath and the pounding of his heart rattling around his helmet. And in the vacuum above Fire Star it is even worse, enclosed in bulky pressure suits, an island of noisy bodily function, the silence of the void always just beyond his reach.
Fanchuan Garrison is pressurized, close to Earth-normal, and the circulated air heated to comfortable temperatures. The walls are constructed of a concrete formed from the reddish-orange sands of Fire Star itself, and have a vaguely pinkish tint to them. But they are thick enough to block most any noise from passing through, either that from within passing in, or within passing out, and it seems to Yao almost like being struck deaf, as the sound of his own steady breathing is swallowed by the empty space around him. In time, he begins to hear a high pitched whine, and for a brief moment worries that it signals some incoming attack, like the whistle of incoming mortars that he grew to know so well in his days patrolling the border with the Mexic Dominion in the Vinland province of Tejas. Then Yao forces himself to relax when he remembers that this whine is what silence sounds like, the hum of an empty room. It has been too long since last he heard it.
Living the Dream
Everything Was Better When You Were Twelve
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Dragon's Nine Sons
3,982 / 90,000
And here's a little sampling, the first few paragraphs of chapter one. There's a brief prologue before this, but just sets up the idea of the Celestial Empire alternate history, which is obvious to anyone who's read one of the stories before (short version: "China wins.")
On the bridge of the Exhortation, Captain Zhuan Jie grips the armrests of his seat, and fights to keep from voiding his bowels when the Mexica’s first salvo splashes across the nose of his spacecraft. A low-mass, high-velocity explosive projectile, the shot doesn’t have enough momentum to push the Exhortation off course, but its payload is hot enough to pit and crack the ship’s ferroceramic hull, and burns so brightly that Zhuan is forced to squint, the bridge bathed in the blinding white radiance pouring through the forward viewports.This may change a bit, as I've sent this first chapter to my editor to look over, to make sure he's happy with the voice before I continue. But as it stands this is how it sounds.
Over the sound of the ship’s air-circulation system and the rattle and hum of the bridge controls, a groaning can be heard, as the kinetic energy of the impact is distributed through the ship’s hull, a low-frequency squeal of metal on metal that reminds Zhuan of nothing so much as the growl of a caged bear, trained but never tamed. A lifetime spent running from the life he never wanted, and still he can’t escape the memories.
“Orders, my captain?” From his station along the bridge’s forward wall, the steersman glances over his shoulder, teeth gritted, searching for strength.
Locus Review - "The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small"
"In a timeline where Imperial China is assuming global control, a move away from the country's insularityty and cultural conservatism is essential, and an aged prisoner provides that impetus via his recollections of Aztec Mexico and of a scholar's deductions regarding the magnitude of the heavens. Paradigms shift, a process Roberson's mastery of exoticism redners as bizarre as it is inevitable."Wow. "Mastery of exoticism"? Cool...
Gay (Who) Pride
As reported by PinkNews, the final episode of Series Three of Doctor Who, The Last of the Time Lords, is being broadcast on the same day as the London Pride Festival, held in Trafalgar Square.You can't keep gay Who fans down, apparently.
Organizers of the event, in an effort to not make gay Who fans choose between the annual celebration and the season finale of their favourite show, have come up with an interesting compromise: they plan to carry the live BBC broadcast of the episode at 7:10 p.m. on a big screen at the event's main stage in Trafalgar Square. And if that's not enough to get gay fans out to the event, they've also arranged to have John Barrowman co-host the event with Graham Norton. Barrowman will be speaking earlier in the afternoon about his role as Captain Jack on Doctor Who and Torchwood.
The event kicks off at 3:00 following the Pride parade through town and concludes with the broadcast of The Last of the Time Lords.
Monday, June 11, 2007
But a bounce house can work up a serious sweat.
In which case a nice run through the sprinkler can be refreshing.
Tell me that's not one damned cute kid...
To a kid in 1982 who hadn't really started watching Doctor Who yet (I'd seen a few episodes, but didn't really understand it until KERA in Dallas started rerunning all of the Tom Baker episodes from Robot straight through to the end in the summer of 1983, or somewhere around there), Voyagers! was about the best idea ever.
Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) is a member of the secret society of Voyagers, a mysterious organization of time-travelers charged with keeping history on the right track. Whenever he's alerted to irregularities in the past, his job is to travel into history to smooth them out. When his time machine, Omni, goes on the fritz and he overshoots his mark by a few decades, Boggs picks up an unwanted companion, twelve-year-old Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce). But Jeffrey's extensive knowledge of history comes in handy as the incompatible pair careens from century to century, giving the past a jump start whenever it's needed.Now, this was unabashedly a children's show, no question about it. There wasn't a lot of subtext and nuance going on here. But the idea of a pocket watch that lets you travel anywhere in time and space is a terrific one, whatever the presentation.
A couple of years ago I managed to find a bootleg DVD set of all twenty episodes of the show, and watched a sampling of episodes from the beginning, middle, and end. Having cringed through any number of shows I enjoyed as a kid that, on viewing them again as an adult proved to be horrible, Voyagers! held up remarkably well. It really was a well-oiled machine for telling stories. And, perhaps even more surprisingly, the treatment of time-travel in the show as fairly well-thought-out and rational.
I'd always remembered it as one of those we-must-fix-history things, like Quantum Leap, where one version of history is preferable to any other. But in Voyagers!, while there is only one timeline, it's a malleable one. It wobbles and jitters, at key points, and runs the risk of "jumping the track." The purpose of the Voyagers themselves is to travel to these weak spots, identify the point of divergence, and restore the timeline to its previous course. Their Omni devices function not only as time machines, but as tools to monitor the stability of the timeline. The Omni seems to contain some crude level of AI, and is equipped with a complete record of the timeline's "pristine" history, to which it can compare the actual. When history diverges from the ideal, its red tell lights up, indicating a problem. When history and the timeline match, it lights green. Apparently when in Auto mode, the Omni travels to the nearest point of divergence.
The Voyagers themselves are drawn from different time periods and cultures, and educated in a structure of some kind which seems to exist outside of time. When they complete their studies they are given an Omni and a Guide Book, which is a one volume reference that contains not only the directions for field-stripping and calibrating the Omni, but also a complete history of the time period to which the Voyager is assigned (while the Omni must have a complete history in it, as well, it--like the visual and audio record it maintains of its bearer's actions--can't be accessed in the field). Naturally, our hero Phineas Bogg loses his Guide Book almost immediately, and his unwitting companion Jeffrey Jones--a preteen history buff--has to fill in as best he can.
When it was originally broadcast, the rights to Voyagers! were co-owned by Scholastic Books, and it seems a shame that they haven't tried in the decades since to relaunch the franchise as a book series. The original series was clearly intended to be entertainment with educational value, with every episode ending with Jeffrey or Phineas doing a to-the-camera "If you enjoyed learning about [whatever], visit the library to learn more." By the last episode of the series, the show runners had introduced an archnemesis, Drake, a rogue Voyager with a superior Omni who was diverting the course of history known only to him. Unless I'm misremembering, there was also a scene where Jeffrey Jones learns that he is destined to go on to become one of the greatest Voyagers.
Clearly, a perfect way to relaunch the concept for modern readers would be to pick up the characters twenty years on. Jeffrey Jones, now in his mid-thirties, is the pride of the Voyagers, having been at it since he was a kid. The rogue Voyager Drake has set up his own cadre of Omni-wielding renegades bent on altering the timeline to their own ends. Drake's alterations interfer with Jones's Omni, and he's left unable to return to Voyager HQ out there beyond time and space, and through misadventure Jones is forced to take on a smart-mouthed teenaged girl from the early 21st century as his sidekick. The girl, of course, is the POV for the series, and is good at all of the stuff that Jones, who missed out on having a childhood, isn't.
There you go, Scholastic, I've just given you a dynamite idea for a book series. And chances are you already own the rights. Just give me piles of money and I'll be more than happy to write it for you.
As for everyone else, you can pick up the DVD of the series coming out in a few months, and see for yourself.
Finn Wins, Finn Wins!
Friday, June 08, 2007
Spike Jonze's Ikea commercial
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The DM of the Rings
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
"We call him The Hulk, Hercules, the Terminator," his mother said.I'm not sure if he's going to grow up to fight crime or just perform twelve labors, but either way it's terrifically interesting!
Liam can run like the wind, has the agility of a cat, lifts pieces of furniture that most children his age couldn't push across a slick floor and eats like there is no tomorrow -- without gaining weight.
"He's hungry for a full meal about every hour because of his rapid metabolism," Dana Hoekstra said. "He's already eating me out of house and home."
But it didn't half mess up our brilliant weekend. Allison and I did a surgical strike on BookExpo America, less than forty-eight hours on the ground in NYC and we got everything done that we'd planned. Meals and drinks with all of our favorite locals, dinner at my favorite restaurant and drinks at one of my favorite bars (and drinks at one of my new favorite bars, to boot). The reading at Perdition on Saturday went as well as could have been expected under the circumstances (the circumstances being that, instead of the separate room that Solaris had anticipated, the reading was just held in the bar, in amongst all the happy drunks). Signed a few cases of Set the Seas on Fire and The Line of Dichotomy on Sunday morning, which was nice, and met a few other writers who were pimping nice looking books. Brought home lots of great swag, including some terrific books for Georgia, which was one of the weekend's principal goals.
I've got a few copies of The Line of Dichotomy, in the event that anyone's interested. I'll probably do a more formal post about selling them through the blog, but if you should want one feel free to email me and I'll let you know how much it'll be to send it off by mail.
All in all, a terrific weekend, only slightly tarnished by a day of travel hell. Now we're back home and getting slowly back up to speed before the rest of June comes crashing down on us.
Friday, June 01, 2007
World Party's Put the Message in the Box
I constantly have lyrics from World Party songs in my head, even though I haven't listened to any of Wallinger's albums in years. "Message in the Box" is on heavy rotation on my mental radio.
Anybody have $690 I can borrow?