Tuesday, July 31, 2007


ArmadilloCon Redux

Well, no sooner did I post my tentative schedule than the final comes along, with one or two minor changes. Here it is...

Fr2300Dz Why are most comic books that are made into
movies so friggin' bad?
Fri 11:00 PM-Midnight de Zavala
Roberson*, Nakashima-Brown, Porter, Wilson, Miles,
Every once in awhile, a comic book movie will be
great, but for the most part, they are terrible. Is
it the screenplay? The director? The acting? The
comic book? Or something else?

Sa1300R Reading
Sat 1:00 PM-1:30 PM Robertson
Chris Roberson

Sa2000De Hypotheticals
Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM DeWitt
Porter*, Roberson, Sturges, Wilson, Blaschke, Benjamin
A role playing panel wherein comics professionals take
a set of interlinked and developing hypothetical
scenarios regarding the comic book industry and play
them out. There's no audience participation, other
than the audience getting a lot of enjoyment out of

Sa2200PN Will the best Doctor Who please stand up?
Sat 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Phoenix North
Bey*, JMann, LMann, Osborne, Roberson, Sullivan
Which one was the smartest? Best looking? Most
useless? Worst of all time? Audience participation is
welcome in this light-hearted look at the beloved
British show.

Su1100Dz The Small Press Boom
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon de Zavala
Cupp*, Person, Klaw, Roberson, Waldrop, Burton,
Small press has never been more popular than it is


Loyal, Brave, and Not Very Bright

Walter Jon Williams has posted some ruminations inspired by the last Harry Potter book. He suggests that Potter himself is a return to a heroic type not often seen since the First World War.
Harry is a throwback. He's the ideal of the 19th Century hero, which of course is the sort of person that the English public school system was intended to create. Tom Brown's Schooldays was the first and most successful of a raft of fiction set in British boarding schools, and which eventually produced such unforgettable works as Dean Farrar's Eric, or Little by Little, Elinor Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, Elsie J. Oxenham's Abbey Girls series, and many more. (Which in turn produced a reaction or deconstruction, which included benign examples like Charles Hamilton's Billy Bunter, who was the fat kid at his school, through the Molesworth books, to Harry Flashman, and then to outright demolitions like George Orwell's Such, Such Were the Joys.)
I've not read past the third book in the series, as I've probably mentioned before, but I'll admit that Williams's thoughts pretty closely parallel my own on reading those early installments.
The 19th Century hero, trusting and brave and somewhat dim, marched off to war in August 1914 and never really came back--- following d'Artagnan, who died for a social order that viewed him as scum at worst and cannon fodder at best. Heroes are a lot smarter and cynical now. James Bond is brave as hell, but you can't picture him shouldering his Lee-Enfield and marching over the wire into the German machine guns; and if you asked him to, he'd sneer at you.
What do those of you who've read through to the end think? Is Williams onto something here, or off base?

Monday, July 30, 2007



Have I mentioned that I'll be at ArmadilloCon next week? Probably not. Well, I am. And here's my tentative schedule:

Fr2300Dz Why are most comic books that are made into movies so friggin' bad?
Fri 11:00 PM-Midnight de Zavala
Roberson*, Nakashima-Brown, Porter, Wilson, Miles
Every once in awhile, a comic book movie will be great, but for the most part, they are terrible. Is it the screenplay? The director? The acting? The comic book? Or something else?

Sa1230R Reading
Sat 12:30 PM-1:00 PM Robertson
Chris Roberson

Sa2000De Hypotheticals
Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM DeWitt
Porter*, Roberson, Sturges, Wilson, Blaschke
A role playing panel wherein comics professionals take a set of interlinked and developing hypothetical scenarios regarding the comic book industry and play them out. There’s no audience participation, other than the audience getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Sa2200PN Will the best Doctor Who please stand up?
Sat 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Phoenix North
Bey*, JMann, LMann, Osborne, Roberson, Sullivan
Which one was the smartest? Best looking? Most useless? Worst of all time? Audience participation is welcome is this light-hearted look at the beloved British show.

Su1100Dz The Small Press Boom
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon de Zavala
Cupp*, Person, Roberson, Waldrop, Burton, Lansdale
Small press has never been more popular than it is today.

The full schedule is here, where I imagine any changes in the coming days will appear. And remember, whenever I'm not scheduled to be elsewhere, I'm sure I can be found in the hotel bar.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


House of Mystery

Hey, check this out. Matt Sturges, my old college classmate, frequent roommate, and erstwhile stablemate in the Clockwork Storybook days, has his very own series forthcoming from Vertigo, House of Mystery.
MS: You're right - it has that dual legacy of being a suspense/horror anthology and also features prominently in the Sandman mythos. Since it was going to be a Vertigo book, we wanted to have a taste of that Vertigo incarnation, but we wanted to bring it back and embrace what the initial book was about. So what we have is a "pseudo-anthology" in which we have stories that could be anything from little crime stories to horror, to science fiction - there are no rules what stories can be told, set into a much larger framing story that carries on form issue to issue, which is the overarching story of the book.

That larger story is about the people who live in the House of Mystery which has disappeared from Cain's realm. He comes out one morning to find that the house - his house has just vanished. Cut forward seven years, and we find that there are other people living there, and they've turned it into a bar and grill. Because they live in a magical house and have no need for money, you get your food and drink in exchange for telling a story. So, people come in, they tell their story - and that's the story. It will be drawn by somebody other than our primary artist and then we come back to the main story after the traveler's story is done.
As the one who turned Matt onto comics back in college when I would forcefeed him issues of Sandman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, I take complete credit for this...

Friday, July 27, 2007


Giant Cannibals

Know what overfishing an adult population of fish leads to?

That's right. Giant cannibals.
The research suggests that harvesting only large fish knocks out the food competition for the remaining adults, allowing the adults to gorge on smaller fish and inflate to gigantic proportions. The effect is strongest for fish prone to cannibalizing their own. A Eurasian perch growing in such a situation, for example, can become more than four times as big as an adult fish the same age in a body of water not heavily fished.

"The destabilization of a cannibalistic population can induce the growth of 'cannibalistic giants,'" scientists write in the August edition of the American Naturalist. Further, the population becomes less stable and more susceptible to crashing into extinction, especially as the rate of fishing increases. The giants were not found to develop in the virtual populations spared from harvesting.

The effect also applies to fish species that are not cannibals, but it is less pronounced and does not tend to push the population toward extinction, the computer model suggests.
Feels like there's a story in there somewhere...

Thursday, July 26, 2007


SCI FI Wire on Set the Seas on Fire

The incomparable John Joseph Adams has done a brief interview with me for the good folks at SCI FI Wire, all about Set the Seas on Fire.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Pirates vs. Ninjas

Wellington Grey answers the age old question, "Who would win, Pirates or Ninja?" The answer may surprise you.

It's a long slide show, but trust me, you must click through to the end.


The Year's Progress

Georgia was home sick again today (the doctor thinks virus, and that it'll pass by tomorrow), but Allison stayed home from work so I was able to finish up. Between an hour or so last night and a full day today, I managed to get the last chapters done, wrap up the author's note, and do a last bit of polish.

Zokutou word meter
94,151 / 90,000

So The Dragon's Nine Sons is done, two days before deadline and only four thousand words over goal.

But it's the "Year's Progress" and not the "Day's Progress" because I just realized the other day that between this time last year (when I was at San Diego Comic Con) and today, I've done a fair amount of work. I've written three novels start to finish, and completed two others that were partially completed already. I've only written one short story in that span that I can remember, though, since most of the other shorts I've done recently were written by the first half of last year.

Taken all together, the novels and the short story, that means that I've written 424,029 new words in the last twelve months. And if I go back eighteen months to the beginning of 2006 (in which I wrote 169,800 new words all together), that number jumps to 510,058.

Half a million words written in eighteen months. And all but about 80K worth of it seeing print between now and the end of next year.

You know, this whole writing full time thing isn't half bad...


Flight of the Conchords' "Bowie Song" (with production values)

Remember Flight of the Conchords' "Bowie Song", that I blogged about last month? Well, just last night I was finally able to watch Sunday's episode of the HBO series, and when Jemaine appeared on screen doing a spirits-of-Xmas turn as a succession of Bowie incarnations in Bret's dreams, I figured we were in for a treat.

And we were.


Power Chords: Futurism versus SF

I've got SFSignal to thank for pointing out Rudy Rucker's recent digression on the topic of Mundane SF, which echoes a lot of my thoughts on the topic (up to and including citing Georges Perec's A Void, which is something I nearly always do when discussing formalists exercises, which both Rucker and I seem to agree the whole Mundane SF thing really is).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Day's Progress

Even with Georgia home with something fluish, I still managed to get a bit of work done this afternoon while she napped.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
89,108 / 90,000

Considering that I'm less than nine hundred words away from my original goal, and I've got a couple of chapters to go, I think it's safe to say that The Dragon's Nine Sons is going to run a little longer than expected, but not more than a few thousand words, I'd imagine. I'll have a better idea tomorrow; assuming that Georgia's bug is gone by then and I get a full day of work, I'm likely to finish by the late afternoon, unless catastrophe strikes (which I'm not ruling out...).


(Not) San Diego Bound

Have I mentioned that I'm not going to San Diego Comic Con this year?

Perhaps not, in which case...

I'm not going to San Diego Comic Con this year.

Have fun without me out there, y'all. Think of me while you're eating that big bucket of meat, or standing in line forever for an overpriced beer at the Hyatt bar.


Public Domain Superheroics

A bit of enforced couching today, since Georgia is home sick from school, so I've been catching up on by rss feeds when not pushing toy trains around on the floor. Interesting to note that several new comic book projects have been announced in the last week involving Golden Age superheroes that have fallen into the public domain.

The first is Superpowers, from Dynamite, by creators Jim Krueger and Alex Ross (the team behind Marvel's Earth-X/Universe-X/Paradise-X series, and DC's Justice). Newsarama has given the book the full court press, with the publisher's press release, an interview with the creators, and character descriptions and designs.

The basic concept seems very similar to Earth-X and Justice, in a lot of ways, to say nothing of Marvels and Kingdom Come. A "realistic" take on superheroes, complete with Ross-designed makeovers, exploring the theme of heroism and the impact of superpowered types on the world around them.

Mining a quite different ore out of the vein is The Next Issue Project from Image Comics.

Masterminded by Erik Larsen, the project will feature contributions from Mike Allred, Kyle Baker, Frank Cho, Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, Steve Niles, Phil Hester, Dan Brereton, Ashley Wood, Joe Casey, Ivan Brandon, Eric Canete, Gerry Duggan, Frank Espinosa, Jay Faerber, Steve Gerber, Brandon Graham, B. Clay Moore, Moritat, Tom Scioli, Jim Valentino and Tony Salmons (is that enough for you?).

Unlike Superpowers, which evidently takes place in a modern context, imaginging these Golden Age superheroes evolving over the course of the intervening decades into new forms, The Next Issue Project approaches the characters in their original settings. These will literally be the "next issues" of defunct Golden Age comics, picking up (more or less) where their adventurs in the 1940s left off, in a mix of modern sensibilities and Golden Age style.

The difference between the two approaches is best illustrated with the following images, which both depict the Golden Age (and public domain) character of Samson.

Erik Larsen's take

Alex Ross's interpretation

This isn't the first time that superheroes from the public domain have been given new life in modern projects. In the pages of Tom Strong, Alan Moore reintroduced the heroes of Nedor Comics on the alternate Earth of Terra Obscura, who were later featured in a pair of terrific miniseries by Peter Hogan and Yanick Paquette.

Many of these characters have appeared also in titles from AC Comics, both reprints and new stories. And there've been other scattered appearances here and there, over the years.

There's quite a lot of overlap here. The character of the Black Terror, for example, pops up quite a lot. An article about public domain heroes on Newsarama outlines the somewhat complicated history.
For example, take The Black Terror. Created in 1941 by Richard Hughes and David Gabrielsen, the character first appeared in Exciting Comics #9 in 1941. Both AC and ABC took the base character, The Black Terror, and modified it (in different ways), and renamed it The Terror (AC, after naming their version, later renamed theirs The Terrorist). Both were based on Nedor's The Black Terror, but were modified in unique ways by the respective publishers. Likewise, Beau Smith's version of the character, published by Eclipse (and co-written with Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Dan Brereton) used the name, but was world's away from the original version. The character also showed up in the 80s in versions published by Ace Comics, and in Roy Thomas Alter Ego comic series at First Comics.
Follow all of that? Nedor Comics featured a character called the Black Terror.

When the character, along with the rest of the Nedor line, entered the public domain, he was up for grabs, and over the course of the following decades gave rise to...

AC Comics's The Terrorist...

Roy Thomas's Black Terror (as well as the costume of his Mr. Bones)...

Dan Brereton's Black Terror...

Alan Moore's The Terror...

and now, Alex Ross's The Black Terror.

Of course, this is nothing new. Creators have been reimagining and repurposing characters from the public domain since before it was even called the "public domain." Certainly that's how Shakespeare made his name, either rewriting other people's characters (Hamlet) or taking figures from history (Julius Caesar), and Homer certainly got a lot of mileage about mixing and matching figures from history and myth in the Odyssey and the Iliad. Closer to the present day, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes has found new life in innumerable pastiches and homages over the years.Of course, this isn't really anything new. Creators have been repurposing and reimagining In comics, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Bill Willingham's Fables (and his and Matt Sturges's Jack of Fables) have made repurposing and remixing public domain characters their stock in trade, to commercial and critical success. But aside from the repeated reemergence of the Black Terror, it seems to have happened suprisingly infrequently with superhero characters.

Perhaps it's just steam engine time again. Or the desire to get a little mileage out of (comparatively) recognizeable intellectual property that's lying around, free for the taking. Most comic readers probably don't know much about the Green Lama or Samson or Pyro-Man, but many might recognize the name and costume, at least, from something like Steranko's history of comics or Jeff Rovin's encyclopedia of superheroes (hell, that's how I recognize them). So these are recognizable characters about whom the audience likely knows very little at all.

Much like the seventies action figures I discussed the other day, these are largely characters without stories. At the same time, though, as Ross and Krueger appear to be doing, the characters can be reduced to familiar types and archetypes, so the reader freights all sorts of associations with them when approaching the story. (Certainly Moore got loads of mileage out of this, casting the Nedor characters of Terra Obscura in extremely familiar roles and tropes, and then rolling them forward from an imaginary Silver Age to the present in novel and interesting ways.)

Of course, now I'm wondering if I might not have a Black Terror story in me, as well...

Monday, July 23, 2007


The Day's Progress

A good day's work today. I ended up not doing any writing on Friday, instead spending the day tweaking the outline for the final chapters and reading through the manuscript to date, fixing any typos or errors that I came across. I'm now in the home stretch, with only a few chapters left to go.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
87,138 / 90,000

The nine main characters of the title are already down to seven, with one more about to get the ax. The last chapters will be something of a blood bath, I'm afraid, with most of the rest of them falling before it's all said and done.

Only a short sample today, the most I can provide without spoiling too much.
Across the room, Guardsman Nguyen lay into the Shorn One with nothing resembling technique or tactic, only a blindly homicidal rage. Yao knew that, deep within the man-mountain’s tortured mind, he was reliving that same moment from his youth, in which he’d arrived too late the save the woman he loved from a gruesome end. Having entered the control station temple behind Yao and seen the Mexica in the yellow armor drawing blood from the almost naked Han woman on the sacrificial stone, Nguyen’s mind had gone back to that night, as it had done in the showers of Fanchuan Garrison weeks before. And just like that night when he had killed the guardsman who’d been in the act of raping a female member of the support staff, Nguyen would not rest until the Shorn One was dead, or he himself was, so long as he thought a woman’s life was in danger.
I'll probably be finished by Wednesday, at this rate, though I can see myself finishing tomorrow, or as late as Thursday. Either way, I'm definitely in the downhill stretch.


Short Review

Justin Steiner has posted a blog review of the July issue of Asimov's, and has this to say about my contribution:
Chris Roberson gives us another story in his Celestial Empire sequence with "The Sky Is Large and the Earth Is Small." Cao Wen must interrogate a prisoner about Mexica (this is an alternate reality where China rose to world power) and instead learns more about himself and the world. The setting is strong and the character work is good, especially in the form of the prisoner, Ling Xuan. Good stuff.


Sunday, July 22, 2007


Short Review

BestSF has posted a review of the July issue of Asimov's, including my story, "The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small." Here's what they had to say:
Part of the author's 'Celestial Empire' sequence, an alternate history which has a globally dominant China. Cao Wen, a junior civil servant, has the difficult task of extricating from a very stubborn elderly political prisoner some details which it is believe will help the State.

The young man learns a lot from the elder, but whilst not that which he seeks for his job, it is a lot more than he had anticipated. Roberson handles the nuances of the relationship well, and paces the story well as it builds up to an ending, whilst not a climactic one, a subtly big one.


Saturday, July 21, 2007


Figures of Action

Check out this awesomeness. Dusty Abell's portrait of scads of kick-ass seventies action figures.

Here's how he describes it.
Heres a trip down memory lane for ya! If you're around my age and grew up in the best decade ever to be a kid, the 1970's, you might remember a few of these fellas.

Representing the classic Hasbro G.I. Joe Adventure Team line is bearded eagle eyed land adventurer Joe, Mike Powers the atomic man, Super Joe, the hulking Intruder and the incredibly nostalgic Bulletman, The Human Bullet. Vehicles include the classic 6 wheeled ATV and the versitile Mobile Support Vehicle.

Kenners Steve Austin, Maskatron and the Venus Probe from the Six Million Dollar Man.

Big Jim's P.A.C.K. by Mattel including Big Jim Commander, Dr. Steel, Torpedo Fist, The Whip, Warpath, Zorak the ruler of the Underworld and the sporty LAZERVETTE. Also the man who had the guts to get the job done, Pulsar the ultimate man of adventure!
I'd forgotten how many of these toys I had until I saw them all together, and could suddenly remember exactly how Maskatron's face clicked into place. The next thing that struck me was how all of these terrific characters were like latter-day versions of the pulp heroes or golden age superheroes, lensed through the cultural obsessions of 70s pop culture--note how many are "bionic", "atomic", or bearded! But unlike the pulps and comics, these are characters without any stories. Aside from capsule adventures printed on the backs of their cardboard boxes, and maybe a single-page comic-style ad here or there, most of these characters never appeared in any kind of narrative (with the notable exception of Steve Austin). Imagine if kids in the 30s had been sold Shadow and Doc Savage merchandise, or kids in the 40s had found Superman and Batman stuff on the shelves, but without any comics or radio shows or pulps or film serials to support them. It was a weird moment in kids culture in the 70s, after the success of GI Joe had led to an explosion of action figures, but before television (and to some extent comics) became dominated by advertisement for them. Kids television in the 70s was full of toyetic shows, but almost none of them were ever merchandised, while all of the great action figures never made it into any medium.

Oh well, enough of my formless ramble. Back to Abell. For a larger version of the shot above, head over to Abell's deviantArt pages, where there's also a gallery of other great stuff (including a pitch for a 1970s Hellboy adventure, a film serial-style JSA, and an awesome Planet of the Apes).

Friday, July 20, 2007



I haven't posted much about politics in a while, largely due to fatigue with the whole thing, but an article on metafilter this morning about gerrymandering impels me to point something out that I've mentioned to a few folks in the past, but for which I haven't had a good visual aid before now.

The mefi post is about a "shortest-splitline algorithm for drawing N congressional districts", which can be found here. Here's a quote from the site, that explains what the related ballot initiative is about.
The advantage of having our simple splitting algorithm draw the congressional districts is obvious. There is one and only one drawing possible given the number of districts wanted, the map of the state, and the distribution of people inside it. Which of those people are Liberal, Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Black, White, Christian, Jewish, polka-dotted, or whatever has absolutely zero effect on the district shapes that come out. So you know the maps are going to be completely unbiased. Get politicians to draw the maps and you know that not only are they going to be completely biased, they are also going to be a heck of a lot more complicated-shaped and they are going to use up a lot of your taxpayer money figuring out how to best-rob you of your vote. Which do you prefer? It has been over 200 years. Isn't it time to make gerrymandering a thing of the past?
I suppose there may be some places in the States where this isn't much of an issue. Texas isn't one of them. Remember when the Democratic state legislators all fled the state a few years ago, and state lawmen were sent to drag them back to the voting chambers? It was because they were trying to avoid this.
Texas's 32 congressional districts (side-by-side comparative chart from the Associated Press as printed in the Houston Chronicle 9 Oct. 2003) showing district shapes before and after the extraordinary redistricting in 2003. (jpg) (And here [png] is a closeup on what they did to Austin to split up those annoying Austin voters.) The gerrymandering was not inconsiderable before the redistricting, e.g. check district 4 near Dallas. But, after it – after it – aaah, for total statewide brazenness Texas really takes the cake. Check district 19 (Lubbock in the north West) and the whole East half of the state is made of those long thin districts. And for extra amazement check those closeups on Houston, and Tom DeLay's personal district 22. Yup, definitely Texas is an unbelievable new champion. (Check the 127-page Texas Court decision declaring this totally legal. Before re-gerrying: Texas had 17 Democrat and 15 Republican congress. After, it was 11-to-21 the other way. Christian Science Monitor editorial on this.)
As the site states, Texas was far from perfect and unbiased before, but now? Yeesh. My congressional district, which used to map pretty closely to Travis county, now begins not far from my house and ends, hundreds of miles away, at the Mexican border. Pretty much insuring that any Democratic votes from Austin, one of the few strongly left-leaning areas in the state, will be diluted with Republican votes from the more right-leaning rural areas to the south.

And who do we have to thank for this? Why, Tom Delay, of course...

Okay, I'm too fatigued to talk about politics again. Back to cartoons, superheroes, and muppets.


New Review

The Fantasy Book Critic weighs in on Set the Seas on Fire, and seems to have liked it.
Honestly, I’m not that big on period pieces and in particular, stories of the nautical variety, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy “Set the Seas On Fire” that much even with the promise of mystical happenings. Surprisingly, I had a really good time reading the book and I think a lot of it had to do with the author Chris Roberson. Since I’ve never read anything by Mr. Roberson, I didn’t know what to expect, but the writing turned out to be quite accomplished, and even though the novel deals with a lot of familiar story elements, the skillful prose, scholastic knowledge of the historical material, and a ripe imagination, really elevated the book to another level. Of course, having a main character like Hieronymus Bonaventure really helps too – he’s easy to relate to, somewhat flawed as every person is in real life, and well developed by the author. Thankfully, Hieronymus also shows up in “Paragea: A Planetary Romance”, which I wouldn’t mind reading, and I hope to see further adventures with Hieronymus Bonaventure.


Thursday, July 19, 2007


The Day's Progress

A little less done today than I'd have liked, but I was delayed a bit shuffling some of the scenes I'd already done. The narrative shifts between two points of view, and I realized this morning that I'd spent too much time in the last chapter with one of them, and ended up splitting it into two chapters. Which meant, of course, that I ended up having to split the new chapter I was working on into two, as well, to keep them alternating. None of which was a problem until I got to the end and realized that the bits of business that are happening off screen (which will probably slip in as a third omniscient POV for a couple of paragraphs; a messy solution, but I've not been able to figure a better one) are happening too soon, and need to be pushed back nearer the end.

But that's for tomorrow to sort out. As it stands, I'm probably a couple of writing days away from finishing, three at the most, but since there's a weekend coming up and Allison is off on a shoot in Iowa this weekend I'll be on Georgia Patrol as of tomorrow afternoon through Monday morning, so it'll be next week before I'm through.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
81,718 / 90,000

No samples this near the end, I'm afraid. Too spoilery.


Eagle Vs. Shark

How am I just now learning about the existence of Eagle Vs. Shark?

And since I don't watch football (and fastforward through commercials anyway), I somehow completely missed the fact that Jemaine had done a whole series of spots for Outback Steakhouse. Much funnier than commercials about Outback Steakhouse have any right to be.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The Day's Progress

So much for finishing this week. I'm having to knock off early this afternoon to go to an ophthalmologist appointment, after which I'll be useless for hours with giant, dilated pupils. And this morning ended up lost to various bits of annoying life-type-stuff taking up space in my head and refusing to be shook loose. (Damn life-type-stuff...)

So I only managed about half a day's work today, which pretty much insures that I'll be finishing the novel next week. Oh, well...

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
77,909 / 90,000

No sample today, I'm afraid, as I need to bust a move and get to the eye doctor, and don't have time to search for a suitable bit.


New Review

John Berlyne, who previously reviewed Paragaea for SFRevu, has now reviewed Set the Seas on Fire for them as well.
Set The Seas On Fire does not engage the reader in the same way that Paragea did – it is a far more evenly paced work and consequently lacks the unpredictable element of its sequel (not necessarily a criticism, this). That said it admirably provides the very story elements one desires in this kind of novel – not least an exotic tropical island setting that, underneath a veneer of verdant flora and beautiful naked native women, harbours threatening and unfathomable dark spirits that will crush and corrupt the sceptical white man. Bonaventure himself – a paean of empire and empiricism is sorely challenged during his time on the island, his British reserve shattered by experiences both physical and spiritual, but takes a good while for Roberson to throw his fantastical elements into the story – dark and strange things are hinted at obliquely, but we must wait to experience them. This notwithstanding, Set The Seas on Fire adds another very competent and confident story to Roberson's ever-growing, increasingly impressive interconnected cannon – one can expect more from the characters one has met in this novel, and not necessarily in the same kind of setting.



New Interview

Heidi Ruby Miller has posted the answers I provided to her Pick Six interview thingee. The idea is that she provides a list of 15 standard questions, and the interviewee selects six of them to answer. It's harder than it sounds.

(BTW, I mentioned in the comments yesterday that I might be posting a description of my current writing process, in case anyone was interested in seeing it, but looking back over these answers now, which I wrote a few months ago, I see that the response to question 12 is a pretty good capsule description of the way my process tends to work at the moment.)


Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Harry Potter spoilers

I haven't read past the second book in the Potter series (though I've been keeping up with the movies on DVD and generally enjoying them), so I'm not particularly invested in how the last book winds up. But if you are, and can't wait till the book is released, head over to Christopher Bird's LiveJournal, Tetsubo Productions. He appears to have gotten his hands on a pirated advance copy, and has summarized the entire plot, chapter by chapter. Be warned, though, if you are invested and don't want to be spoiled, don't click, since these spoilers appear to be legit.


The Day's Progress

Another good day today. At the last moment I realized that two different locations in the outline were actually the same location, which helped things structurally and thematically but meant for a bit of jiggering of the plot mechanics. The result is a nice bit of symmetry, though, so I can't complain.

I'm on track to finish the draft on Friday at the earliest, next Wednesday at the latest, depending on the amount I get done each of the next few days and how long the thing ends up being. I'm not at the finish line yet, but I can almost see it from here.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
75,577 / 90,000

A short sample today, about Bannerman Yao's first glimpse of the interior of the Aztec asteroid base, Xolotl.
Unlike Zhuan, Yao knew exactly what to expect from Xolotl, having carefully studied the estimates and proposed schematics provided by Agent Wu over the course of the last nine days. And where the Embroidered Guards’ intelligence reports had been lacking, Yao had made inferences based on his own experiences. He had spent some years living along the border between Tejas and the Mexic Dominion, and had seen Mexic cities from close enough vantages that he had a fairly firm notion in mind as to how Xolotl would be organized.

When the door leading from hangar to habitat opened—in reality two doors acting in concert, heavily shielded and strong enough to remain pressurized and secure in the event that either side lost internal pressure—Yao got his first glimpse of Xolotl’s interior, and though it matched his expectations in nearly every regard, there was one aspect of its appearance for which he had failed to account, one that would have been impossible to predict. The quality of the light which shone from the panels in the sky-blue-painted ceiling overhead, striking the brilliantly colored buildings below, their plaster-faced facades painted in bright reds and yellows and blues, reminded him of another city, glimpsed on another morning, at the moment when the sun first rose above the horizon and painted it in a prismatic kaleidoscope of colors.

It reminded him of Shachuan Station.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the secret to life

(via) Does Ferris Bueller's Day Off contain the secrets to a happy life? This columnist thinks so, and he may be on to something.


Yo Gabba Gabba - Party In My Tummy

Consider ours a household primed and ready for the premiere of Yo Gabba Gabba on Nick, Jr. next month.

Monday, July 16, 2007


When Worlds Contrive

This little bit of cleverness comes courtesy of the Usual Gang of Idiots at Mad Magazine, from issue 479 of the current run. Perhaps ironically published these days by DC Comics, this pretty much sums up my thoughts on much of the current crop of superhero comics. I'm not sure who did the honors here, since the credits are for this section of the mag and not this page in particular (though if I had to guess I'd say that Ty Templeton had contributed, at least the Robin and Penguin figures).


Captain Carrot and the Final Ark

As I've mentioned before, I'm a hopeless fanboy when it comes to Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. And I've been looking forward to the forthcoming series for a while now.

Well, guess what? Cover art! And solicitation copy!

Written by Bill Morrison
Art by Scott Shaw! & Al Gordon
Cover by Shaw! & Morrison

The Zoo Crew is back in a 3-issue COUNTDOWN tie-in miniseries! Captain Carrot reunites the team to face a threat that begins at the "Sandy Eggo Comic-Con" and quickly menaces the entire world ! The gang's all here: Fastback, Pig-Iron, Yankee Poodle, American Eagle, Alley-Kat-Abra, and the Captain himself, taking on the Salamandroid!
On sale October 10 o 1 of 3 o 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
I've really dug the work that Morrison has done for Bongo Comics, and have a lot of faith in Scott Shaw! (the exclamation point is mandatory, of course), so I've got high hopes for this. Promises to be a tonic for the badness that crowds the comic racks these days.


New Review

Ken over at Neth Space has just posted a new review of Set the Seas on Fire.
Roberson shows the making of a special kind of person, a leader of men, a lover, an adventurer, a nineteenth-century Odysseus and the first half of his Odyssey. Through flashbacks we periodically visit the childhood and early manhood of Hieronymus, son of a scholar, dreaming of adventure, seeking and receiving the tutelage of an accomplished swordsman, who has lived his own life of adventure. Young Hieronymus contrasts with his older self, Lt. Bonaventure, having experienced some of that adventure in the service of duty for King and Country, yet somehow managing to not live life in the spirit of adventure he craved as a child. His excitement and education at the discovery of an island and its people are tempered as the implications are fully realized. He learns of love, cultural shock, and consequences – he glimpses his future from a shaman and doesn’t have the courage to stop the mistake he knows his captain will make.
The review is overall fairly positive, though with a few reservations.
As I’ve said above, Set the Seas on Fire is a highly enjoyable novel, good story, and great view of an interesting character. But, through it all, I’m left with the sense of missing something important. And that is precisely the case because while it stands well on its own, Set the Seas on Fire is a prequel, and it appears that the meat of the story, the second (and more interesting) half of the Odyssey, occurs in Paragaea, which I haven’t had the opportunity to read. So, while I can recommend Set the Seas on Fire as a fun nineteenth-century adventure, I think that it just might need Paragaea to truly complete it.
Actually, as much as I try to make each of these books as standalone as possible, the complete story of Hieronymus has yet to be told. Paragaea is more properly the middle of Hero's story, and not the end. Lord willing and the creek don't rise I'll get to tell the rest of his story, one of these days. (Just in case anyone's curious, this as yet unwritten and unsold novel is about what happens when Hero comes back to Earth, and who and what comes back with him...)

And anyone's who is interested in finding out the full story behind Hieronymus's fencing instructor Giles Dulac is recommended to check out End of the Century when it's published by Pyr late next year.



The Year's Best Science Fiction

I happened to check out a copy of Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection over the weekend, and was jazzed to see that a few of my stories had made it into the Honorable Mention list.

“Companion to Owls," Asimov's, March
"Contagion,” FutureShocks
"Eventide," Forbidden Planets
"The Jewel of Leystall," Cross Plains Universe
"Last," Subterranean #4
"The Voyage of Night Shining White," PS Publishing

There are several other stories from Cross Plains Universe that made the honorable mention list, as well:

Neal Barrett, Jr., "The Heart"
Scott A. Cupp, "One Fang"
Mark Finn, "A Whim of Circumstance"
Lawrence Person, "The Toughest Jew in the West"
Carrie Richerson, "The Warrior and the King"
Howard Waldrop, "Thin, On the Ground"
Gene Wolfe, "Six from Atlantis"

(Unfortunately, though, Gardner makes the assumption that Cross Plains Universe is difficult to find because it's small press and therefore not distributed; I'm not sure what we could have done to address this misconception, but it appears to be somewhat prevalent, since the Locus review said much the same thing. Cross Plains Universe wasn't widely available or distributed to the trade, like all other MonkeyBrain titles, because it was intended only as a giveaway to the attendees of last year's World Fantasy Convention, paid for by the Fandom Association of Central Texas. That's why the book doesn't have a price or a barcode on the cover, because it was never meant for the trade. There are apparently still talks underway about doing a trade edition, but if one came about it wouldn't be a MonkeyBrain title, nor a FACT one, for that matter. Oh well...)

In his summary for the year, Gardner mentions several other MonkeyBrain titles, including Blood & Thunder, Myths for the Modern Age, The Man from the Diogenes Club, and Cover Story, though in each case the mention is simply that the books existed, without much in the way of valuative statements attached (though the Newman is included in a list of "good collections").

As I've mentioned before, I've long held that Dozois's yearly summations are invaluable, my own personal Baedecker's to the field, and the fact that anything I was even vaguely associated with gets mentioned (or honorably mentioned) is always an unalloyed joy. And when it's got my name on it? Hell yeah...


The Day's Progress

Back on track today, and energized by the extra bit of research I did on Friday into Aztec culture. When I finished work on Thursday I knew how the novel ended but there were some blank spots between where I stood and the finish line, but now I know what happens and where straight through to the end. I'm shooting to finish by Friday afternoon, leaving all of next week for a final read-through and polish, but there's a chance I might take a day or two early next week to write a few last pages.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
71,077 / 90,000

Today's sample is a bit of narrative about the population of the Aztec asteroid base, Xolotl.
Later, when they had a moment’s peace to themselves and were able to speak freely, onboard the lift that carried them to the level where the prisoner pens could be found, Syuxtun explained to Zhuan about the castes and callings of those they saw around them on the streets of Xolotl. At first glance they had seemed to Zhuan as little different from the families found in the colonies and farms of Fire Star, or even those back in Northern Capital itself. But as Syuxtun explained, Zhuan’s first impressions had been far from accurate.

This was a purely military station, Syuxtun later confirmed, based on his discussions with the Mexica they encountered. Xolotl’s population numbered somewhere in the thousands, and included support personnel, administrative staff, priests and ritualists, student-warriors and warrior-instructors, and troops on leave--but no civilians.

There were women, to be sure, but none of them were married or, in fact, marriageable. The only females onboard Xolotl were auianime, or courtesans, women who tended to the sexual appetites of the warriors. They were easy to spot, and Syuxtun had known them for what they were at a glance. Unlike civilian women, who when unmarried wore their hair long and loose, or when married braided their hair into two plaits coiled around their heads, with the ends sticking up like twin horns above their eyebrows, courtesans wore their hair cropped in a bob and dyed a purplish black. And while most Mexic women abhorred cosmetics, courtesans lightened their bronze-brown skin to a pale yellow shade with a special ointment prepared from ocher, stained their teeth red with cochineal, and painted their hands and neck with designs.

Too, Syuxtun had been able to explain to Zhuan that the children he’d seen had hardly been the innocent and carefree offspring of station personnel, as the captain might have expected. These were young men and boys who had been trained from birth to kill. And while the hair worn in long queues at the back of their heads suggested that they hadn’t yet captured a prisoner in battle, since children were not allowed to cut their hair until they did, they were still warriors, all the same. Though technically still students of either the House of Youth, where the rank and file warriors were trained, or the House of Learning, where future priests and captains received their instruction, these boys were considered sufficiently trained and mature to be sent into battle, though typically under the command of an adult warrior. And though the hand that pulled the trigger on the fire-lance or that swung the obsidian club might have been smaller, those the student-warriors killed would hardly have cared that their attackers had been youths who hadn’t yet grown their first hair.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


More Cereal Silliness

Speaking of breakfast cereal mascots, as I was, here's another two bits of cleverness.

First, from Perry Bible Fellowship:

Next, yesterday's Tom the Dancing Bug:

If that's not enough for you, Brendan Douglas Jones's webcomic Breakfast of the Gods is still being updated.

Good eating!

Friday, July 13, 2007


Cereal Killers

I've got Jay Stephens's blog to thank for this little gem. Cereal Killers is...
A spooky, kooky coffin table cartoon art book featuring terrorfying takes on some of your favorite breakfast cereal's.
Here's Ben Balistreri's contribution, which riffs on a familiar cartoon huckster from my wasted youth.

Check out the Cereal Killers blog for more goodness, sneak peaks from the forthcoming book.


Dark Energy, Hidden Dimensions

No progress today, since I was kicked out of the house for the monthly cleaning this afternoon, and spent all morning researching Aztec culture (good luck finding consensus amongst historians about Aztec educational practices). So, in lieu of anything I've actually done today, here's a nifty article from New Scientist about the possibility of dark energy being found in hidden spatial dimenions.
The mysterious cosmic presence called dark energy, which is accelerating the expansion of the universe, might be lurking in hidden dimensions of space. The idea would explain how these dimensions remain stable – a big problem for the unified scheme of physics called string theory.

Ever since astronomers discovered in the mid-1990s that other galaxies are accelerating away from us, physicists have struggled to explain why. Their favourite suggestion is quantum vibrations in the vacuum of space (called vacuum energy or the cosmological constant) that could produce repulsive gravity.

According to the calculations, however, these vibrations should either possess a ridiculously high energy density – 122 orders of magnitude larger than are observed – or cancel out to exactly zero. To make them almost-but-not-quite cancel, in agreement with astronomical observations, means fudging the quantum field equations.

Unless, that is, the quantum vibrations are stuck in a small space. Brian Greene and Janna Levin of Columbia University in New York, US, realised that in a confined space, natural resonant frequencies will stand out, preventing the vibrations from cancelling entirely. It's a little like the resonant notes produced by a musical instrument – except that instead of sound waves, the vibrations are fluctuating quantum force fields, and the instrument is a set of dimensions at right angles to familiar reality.

Even though the vibration is imprisoned in these other dimensions, it can extend its gravitational influence into our space. Its gravity is also repulsive in our space, just like the "ordinary" cosmological constant, so it would cause cosmic acceleration. To get the same amount of acceleration seen by astronomers, Greene and Levin calculate that the extra dimensions should have a scale of about 0.01 millimetre. Dark energy would be hiding less than a hair's breadth away.
More stuff of interest in the link.


Old Dog, New Tricks

Michael Berry, the science fiction columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has started a new blog, Old Dog, New Tricks, "devoted solely to the topic of freelance writing." The first few entries contain insights drawn from the works of Donald Westlake and from an interview with Patton Oswalt. I'm digging it already.


Stealer of Souls

The other day, in connection with the new Michael Moorcock collection The Metatemporal Detective and its amazing cover by my pal John Picacio, I mentioned that John was also doing the cover and illustration of a new edition of the earliest Elric stories for Del Rey, The Stealer of Souls, due out next January. And that the Count Zodiac seen on the cover of the Pyr collection was the first glimpse of John's take on Elric.

Well, following close on the heels of that glimpse, John goes and posts the following, which has just been previewed in the second issue of Death Ray:

Now that, my friends, is pure awesome.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


The Day's Progress

Decent day today, and I got where I needed to get. Finally got all the pieces in place for the final act, and tomorrow I'll start knocking them over.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
66,463 / 90,000

In today's sample, Syuxtun, the Athabascan Muslim from Khalifa, gives the young drug smuggler Cai a little pep talk before going into battle.
“Don’t be afraid, brother,” Syuxtun said, soothingly. "As the prophet says, ‘Short is the enjoyment of this world; the Hereafter is the best for those who do right.’”

Cai looked at him, his confusion evident even through the tinted face plate. “I have no idea what you just said.”

“It means,” Syuxtun explained, “that life is fleeting, and to do your duty is to do right. God’s call to self-sacrifice is never unjust. And what do you gain from fleeing death, after all? ‘Wherever ye are, Death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!’ If you fear death you will not escape death by being afraid. Instead, face it boldly when duty calls.”

“Oh, thank you, great sage,” Cai said sarcastically, sounding near the point of breaking, “I feel much better about everything now.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


10 Overlooked Classics

I was poking around in an old archive folder this afternoon, looking for some old sources, when I stumbled upon the following. Six years ago this week (if the time stamp on the document can be trusted) I was asked to write a list of "10 overlooked classics" for some website or other. I came up with the following, and sent it off, but I don't remember if it ever appeared online. More than likely not, or if it did the website isn't there anymore.

In any case, here it is, six years later. The list, of course, begs the question, "overlooked by whom," since in retrospect a few of these were noticed by quite a few folks (but they're still classics, every one). And in the six years since, a few of these which had then been long out of print have since been reissued, in several editions in one or two instances. Be that as it may, here was the shape of my head, six years ago...

10 Overlooked Classics

The Quorum
Kim Newman
To say even a little about the plot of this passed-over gem would be to say too much, the magic hanging on the process of discovery. In short, though, it reminds us that when one makes a deal, with the Devil or otherwise, the bill eventually comes due. Newman will one day be recognized as one of the more talented writers of the age, and this will no doubt be listed at the top of his canon of works.

Michael Moorcock
Tragically out of print, this novel and its two sequels are the products of a master of the craft at the height of his powers. Shifting realities and loyalties, fantasy blending into autobiography and history and back into fantasy, Blood is in many ways the story of a world coming apart at the seams, and of the power of fiction to make it whole again.

Jack of Eagles
James Blish
Decades ahead of its time, this is the story of a man who discovers a) that psionic abilities are real, b) he possesses them, and c) that his world is much stranger than he ever imagined. Built on a solid basis of pseudo-science, Jack of Eagles was M. Night Shyamalan before M. Night Shyamalan was cool.

Philip Wylie
Before Clark Kent, before Clark Savage, Jr. even, there was Hugo Danner. An early look at what kind of life would be in store for a superhuman man in a strictly human world, Gladiator planted the seed that grew into the “superhero” genre.

A Feast Unknown
Philip Jose Farmer
Thinly veiled Tarzan and Doc Savage fighting, biting, and cavorting in Africa, exploring the text and subtext of pulp fiction, A Feast Unknown peers light into the dark corners of adventure fiction, exposing the sexual meat beneath the sexless skin of macho heroics. It opens closet doors that can never be closed again.

Tales of Neveryon
Samuel R. Delany
Swords, semiotics, and sexual confusion. What else do you need? Delany deconstructs the heroic fantasy genre in his Neveryon stories, and then puts it back together again inside out. Part adventure story and part literary criticism, Tales of Neveryon is a high-water mark in intelligent fantasy that has seldom been approached in the decades since.

Fritz Leiber
Along with the better-known related novel The Big Time, the Changewar sequence of stories show Leiber at his best. Clever, touching, brilliant structured, in a couple of hundred pages Leiber builds a better machine for telling stories than most authors manage in a lifetime. That this is only one minor star in his brilliant constellation of works makes it shine no dimmer.

Jorge Luis Borges
Borges should be required reading for anyone claiming to be a writer, and should be at the top of the list for readers as well. In a scant few lines, Borges was able to tell a better story than most can do in a few hundred thousand words. This collection of stories, none more than a few pages in length, displays Borges’ knack for invention and innovation, and is best sipped like a fine wine, a story at a time.

Voice of the Fire
Alan Moore
Best known for his work in comics, with his first (and to date, only) novel Alan Moore proved beyond any doubt that his talents were not bound by the panels of a comics page. The biography of a place as a character in and of itself, ranging over the course of thousands of years but never moving more than a few miles in any direction, Voice of the Fire is a sadly under appreciated work by one of the most talented writers working in the English language today. Magic, myth, and Alan Moore. How can you go wrong?

Robert Mayer
Anticipating by years the revisionist superhero craze that swept the comics industry in the 80s and 90s, Superfolks is a look at a world with the superheroes of childhood have all grown up. Struggling with midlife crises, family squabbles, and a loss of innocence, the character in Mayer’s novel in many ways present the end of the story begun by Wylie’s Gladiator decades before.


The Day's Progress

Knocking off writing early today to do a bit of outlining for tomorrow. I got to the cliffhanger ending of Act II today, and realized I wasn't quite sure where I wanted things to pick up in the next chapter. I'm a few hundred words short of quota for the day, but almost on track of the week since I came in ahead the last two days, so I should be able to make up the difference tomorrow and Friday.

It's looking more and more like it will be the week after next that I finish, after all, or at least a few days in. Or, who knows, I might surprise myself next week.

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63,091 / 90,000

No sample today, since it's all spoilery type stuff.


Ratatouille virtual tours

(via) Want a little awesome to start off your Wednesday? Check out some virtual tours of the sets of Pixar's Ratatouille in QuickTime VR, narrated by Remy himself, Patton Oswalt. The tours, evidently done by photographer Tim Petros, are just amazing, and I had to remind myself that I wasn't looking at shots of physical locations instead of virtual ones.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Voxtrot's "Steven"

So earlier today I was looking through the Moleskine I finished last month, digging for a note about Aztec culture for The Dragon's Nine Sons, and I come across a cryptic note.

"Boxtrot. Longplayer(?)"

What's this thing mean? I have vague memories of hearing a record review on the local public radio station after dropping Georgia off at school, and jotting down the name of the album, or the band, or the label, thinking I'd look it up later. But now it's a month and a half later and I can't work out whether I'd misheard, or misremembered, or what.

A little googling reveals that I'd done both, kind of, and that the band was actually "Voxtrot." Who, I'm surprised to discover, are based here in Austin (though maybe that shouldn't be surprising, as perhaps it was a Texas music spotlight kind-of-thing I heard, after all). And there's enough of their stuff online, either samples on their website or live clips on YouTube to remind me why I wrote down the name in the first place (albeit mispelled). Oh, that's right, because they're awesome.

Don't believe me? Give this a listen and see. (The video appears to just be edited tour footage, but the audio is where it's at.)


The Day's Progress

Today was one of those days where it seemed like I wasn't getting anywhere until after I was already there, if that makes any sense. Where I pounded away, seeming to get only a handful of words done at a time, and then all of the sudden I'd just sailed past my quota just in time.

There are days that are just the opposite, of course. Yesterday I was sure that I'd just written at least a thousand or even one-and-a-half after a prolonged bout of typing, but when I went to check the word count I discovered I'd done less than five hundred words.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
60,223 / 90,000

I got within a few hundred words of the end of the second act today, most of which was taken up with the captain fixing the OSFU ("Obligatory Space Fuck Up"). Along the way I spent a bit of time setting the scene by describing the "ignition" of the Aztec ship. To keep things interesting, naturally, it isn't just a matter of turning a key.
There were straps bolted to the deck just before the sacrificial altar. When the Dragon had been crewed by Mexica, these would have been used by the ship’s ritualist, possibly an agent of the House of Darkness itself, to remain in place at the altar when the ship was in microgravity or weightless conditions. The surface of the altar was covered with circuitry and ridges that combined in bas relief to form the image of the Mexic moon goddess, in the process of being cut into pieces by the warrior god of the sun. At the four corners were reinforced metal shackles, where the sacrificial victim would have been secured by their wrists and ankles.

The hemoglobin sensors incorporated into the altar’s surface were positioned at the base of small intake vents, which drew air into them with minor amounts of suction. If any fluid were brought in close contact with the surface, the suction would draw the fluid drop by drop into the vent, and from there into contact with the sensors.

If the ship were operating under centrifugal gravity, it was enough that the victim be bled directly above the altar, but if the ship were in microgravity or, worse, weightless conditions, then the victim’s bleeding form would have to be pressed down against the altar’s surface.

There were diagrams on the plastic-coated pages of the manuals Syuxtun had found, which indicated the proper stance the ritualist should adopt, accompanied by lists of Nahuatl glyphs which spelled out the prayers which should be recited, and which showed how the obsidian knife should be forced down and into the victim’s body, ideally pressing through to the other side, to open a wound on the side nearest the altar’s surface. It was generally understood that blood would drift in globules and droplets in all directions from the cut, propelled by the pumping action of the victim’s still-beating heart, but there were vacuum hoses mounted in the walls and ceiling of the bridge which could be used for clean-up after the sacrifice was performed.

In all, it was a gruesome, gory business. And yet it was one which was carried out on the bridge of every ship of the Mexic fleet, every time they went out into the black void.


The Future of History

Charles Stross is one really smart cookie. This is just more evidence to prove it.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Destination Prague special

The good people at Mike's Comics are selling the Big Finish Doctor Who anthology Short Trips: Destination Prague (which contains my story "The End of Now," featuring the Fourth Doctor and the second and more excellent Romana) at a special reduced rate. And as if that weren't enough they're throwing in signed bookplates, in the bargain! How can you refuse? Visit their site and scroll about halfway down the page for details.


You Need This: Michael Moorcock's The Metatemporal Detective

Lou Anders posts the exciting news of the forthcoming Michael Moorcock collection, The Metatemporal Detective.

Here's the book description, as Lou provides:
Seaton Begg and his constant companion, pathologist Dr "Taffy" Sinclair, both head the secret British Home Office section of the Metatemporal Investigation Department--an organization whose function is understood only by the most high-ranking government people around the world--and a number of powerful criminals.

Begg's cases cover a multitude of crimes in dozens of alternate worlds, generally where transport is run by electricity, where the internal combustion engine is unknown, and where giant airships are the chief form of international carrier. He investigates the murder of English Prime Minister "Lady Ratchet," the kidnapping of the king of a country taken over by a totalitarian regime, and the death of Geli Raubel, Adolf Hitler's mistress. Other adventures take him to a wild west where "the Masked Buckaroo" is tracking down a mysterious red-eyed Apache known as the White Wolf; to 1960s' Chicago where a girl has been killed in a sordid disco; and to an independent state of Texas controlled by neocon Christians with oily (and bloody) hands. He visits Paris, where he links up with his French colleagues of the Sûreté du Temps Perdu. In several cases the fanatical Adolf Hitler is his opponent, but his arch-enemy is the mysterious black sword wielding aristocrat known as Zenith the Albino, a drug-dependent, charismatic exile from a distant realm he once ruled.

In each story the Metatemporal Detectives' cases take them to worlds at once like and unlike our own, sometimes at odds with and sometimes in league with the beautiful adventuresses Mrs. Una Persson or Lady Rosie von Bek. At last Begg and Sinclair come face to face with their nemesis on the moonbeam roads which cross between the universes, where the great Eternal Balance itself is threatened with destruction and from which only the luckiest and most daring of metatemporal adventurers will return.

These fast-paced mysteries pay homage to Moorcock's many literary enthusiasms for authors as diverse as Clarence E. Mulford, Dashiell Hammett, Georges Simenon, and his boyhood hero, Sexton Blake.
The Seaton Begg stories are some of my favorites of all Moorcock's work, and for my money the best things he's done in ages. I've been looking forward to this collection for ages, and having read all but one of the stories in the collection (the original "The Flaneur of the Arcades d'Opera," which I'm dying to read), I can't recommend it highly enough. The Metatemporal Detective is due out in October, and is available for preorder.

(And for those keeping score at home, this is actually the public's first glimpse of John Picacio's Elric, which we'll be seeing quite a bit more of when the Picacio-illustrated Del Rey edition of the first Elric stories is released.)

UPDATE: John has posted a larger version of the image, sans text, as well as a glimpse of the art he did for the spine. Damn, that's one nice looking book.


The Day's Progress

I upped the quota today, to 3700 a day, in the hopes of finishing at the end of next week instead of the week following, to give me more time for a read-through and polish, but still managed to make a few words over the line.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
56,358 / 90,000

Today's reason I am grateful to the internet: For providing not only the US Marine's Close Combat manual in handy PDF form (MCRP 3-02B), which was invaluable, but also a text on Krav Maga pressure points, which was almost as useful.

The chapter I wrote today largely revolved around an altercation in the ship between a few of the reprobates, at a time when the ship is in weightless conditions. That meant that I had to adapt hand-to-hand close combat techniques for microgravity situations. Hopefully I did a believable job (and if I do, I've got the MCRP 3-02B to thank for most of it, since it provided the bulk of the terminology I used).

But, having said that, here's a sample from another part of the chapter entirely, when the trouble has just started.
It might have ended there, with Fukuda squeezing the life from Cai in a rage, with no one moving to intervene, but for the simple fact of physics. There were there other men in the common area, scattered around the room. The collision when Fukuda struck Cai had done little to burn off the momentum the Nipponese had generated when launching himself off the deck-plates, and that remaining inertia now carried them forwards, spinning end-over-end at a high rate of speed. And, as luck would have it, napping directly in their path, his hands folded over his ample belly and his eyes closed tight, snoring gently, was Guardsman Paik.

And then, the trouble was well and truly started.

And it was shortly after this point, as the now-awakened and enraged Paik sought to revenge himself on whomever had disrupted his slumber, that Yao entered the scene.


The Origin of Everyday Punctuation Marks

(via) Okay, this is damned nifty. Neato, even. Ostensibly the origin of punctuation marks, reprinted from Uncle John’s Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader.
Origin: When early scholars wrote in Latin, they would place the word questio - meaning "question" - at the end of a sentence to indicate a query. To conserve valuable space, writing it was soon shortened to qo, which caused another problem - readers might mistake it for the ending of a word. So they squashed the letters into a symbol: a lowercased q on top of an o. Over time the o shrank to a dot and the q to a squiggle, giving us our current question mark.
More interesting stuff in the link.


Kim Newman's "Missing Girl"

Kim Newman sends word that his short film, "Missing Girl", is now available for viewing on his website.
In May, 2001, the Studio – a UK cable channel which isn't around any more – set three film reviewers a challenge, to make a short film lasting precisely one hundred seconds, taking it from conception to completion inside twenty-four hours. The idea began with the Studio's Italian counterpart, which is why the overall term for these films is millimetraggi. A couple of dozen of the things were made all over the world (mostly not with the inside-a-day condition) and showed up in the interstices of the Studio’s programming.
And a creepy little one hundred seconds it is, too. Well recommended, if only to see Stephen Jones skulking around, looking menacing.

Sunday, July 08, 2007



The first rainless day in weeks here in Austin was the perfect excuse to pump up Georgia's new pool.

Today's lesson: It's impossible to win a game of tug-of-war with a three year old. I mean, you can win, but what have you gained if you do, really?

Saturday, July 07, 2007


R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life"

A series of unconnected thoughts collided in my head last night to remind me of the video for R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life," which I've not seen in several years. YouTube to the rescue.

Here's a snippet from the (unsourced) Wikipedia entry on the subject.
The single's video, depicting a scene of an elaborate pool party, was shot in Los Angeles by Garth Jennings. Michael Stipe, in an interview with MTV UK in 2001, explained how the video was made. "The entire video took twenty seconds to shoot. What you're watching is a loop that goes forwards for twenty seconds, backwards for twenty seconds, forwards for twenty seconds, backwards for twenty seconds [Mills, sitting on Stipe's right, sways left to right accordingly as the frontman illustrates his point], with one camera, static, and then using a technique called 'pan and scan', which is a technical thing that is used when they go from a widescreen format and reformat to fit your television or DVD, moving in on certain parts of the entire picture. And you'll see that we do that picking up various people within the frame."
This thing has always reminded me of something like "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" or the work of Hieronymus Bosch, crowded with detail that only becomes apparent on repeat viewing or closer examination, but instead of the viewer looking closer or again, the camera does the work for you, panning in on different elements of interest as the thing goes along.

And if this was really done in one 20 second take, I shudder to think how many takes that was before they got this one in the can. Yikes!

I was a bit surprised to see that Jennings had directed this--and that on a bit of examination he turned out to have directed a few other videos I dig--since otherwise I only knew him as the director of the recent Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy flick, which was considerably less impressive. Maybe there were other factors at work there, or else Jennings is better suited for the short form.


A Capsule History of Redonda

Maybe I'll just post links to Strange Maps stories all day. Here's another, a capsule history of the micronation of Redonda, which has land, a king (invested by Queen Victoria, no less), dukes, but no actual population. (It appears that it briefly had an embassy in the UK recently, but the Foreign Office rejected its legitimacy.)


Two Guys for Every Girl

If only I'd known...

Thanks to Strange Maps, I discover this morning that every place that I lived as a single guy is disproportionately weighted towards men, while all sorts of places I didn't live are overloaded with single women.

Come on, kids, can't we get this together? I know that ten percent of you are probably more than happy to be surrounded by loads of unattached folks of your own gender, but from personal experience I know that the rest of you must be pretty frustrated. What say we do a bit of cultural exchange, here, and ship a few guys from the blue dots to the red and vice versa?

Friday, July 06, 2007


True Types

Over on his blog, feuilleton, John Coulthart has an interesting meditation on fonts, inspired by the the recently released trailer for the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and it's use of Jonathan Barnbrook’s Mason font for the titles and typography.
Distinctive fonts take a while to get around and I don’t recall seeing Mason until at least 1994. From 1995 to 2000 it began to appear everywhere, even in newspaper ads for a while, before finding a permanent place in the book world. The trouble with this kind of ubiquity is that the novelty the design once possessed quickly vanishes and it begins to runs the risk of becoming a design cliché. Many typefaces go this way especially in the publishing world where the choice of font is often dictated by genre expectations. So Orbit-B and its variants used to signify “science fiction” or “the future” in the 1970s, Caslon Antique and Farquharson frequently indicate “horror” while FF Confidential has been over-used for crime titles.
John goes on to talk a bit about why he's used the Mason font in the past, and a bit about decorative typefaces in general. An interesting discussion, well worth checking out.


The Day's Progress

Ouch, my brain.

I managed to get the words out today, and have time enough to do a bit more work, but my brain feels about squeezed dry. Probably best to stop while I'm ahead, or what I end up writing could seriously suck.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
52,400 / 90,000

Today's sample is the brief dramatic exchange just before the commercial break, to make the audience tune in for more.
“So after restarting the system, the only way to get things back up and running...” Yao trailed off.

“Is to pour blood on that,” Zhuan said, indicating the altar with a nod.

“But didn’t the artificers pack a supply...?” Yao began, but Zhuan interrupted him with a shake of his head.

The captain's mouth was drawn into a tight line. “All of it went down the shower drain when Cai played his prank on Nguyen the other day.”

Yao’s eyes widened, if fractionally. “But that would mean...”

The captain nodded. “It means that someone is going to have to bleed.”
Dun dun dun...


New Interview

Iain over at Yatterlings has interviewed me about Set the Seas on Fire, about The Voyage of Night Shining White and the Celestial Empire, and about my work in general. Assuming you don't get enough of my blather over here, check it out, won't you?



Flight of the Conchord's "Hip-Hopopotamus vs Rhymenocerous"

I'm having trouble getting my brain to work today. So here is another treat from Flight of the Conchords, from episode three of the HBO series.

Watch at least to 1:16, and you won't regret it.

"... there ain't no party like my nana's tea party..."

Thursday, July 05, 2007



As I've probably mentioned, yesterday Georgia went to the movie theater for the first time. Being the kind of parents who wouldn't sit through something like Shrek the Third if you paid us, Brad Bird's new release for Pixar, Ratouille, was our pick for her inaugural trip to the cinema.

How did she like it?

She loved it, naturally. As did we. (For my money, this may be the best Pixar flick to date, and definitely in the top three.) And Georgia liked the popcorn just fine, too.

Naturally, as expected, it didn't take long for Georgia to start asking for "the rat movie" at home, since the concept that entertainment wouldn't be immediately available for her instant gratification is a somewhat alien one to her.

The solution?

May I introduce you to the Little Golden Book version of the story? We found it in the Newark airport on the way back from BEA a few weeks ago, and hid it in the closet until needed. The illustrations are by Scott Tilley and Jean-Paul Orpinas (who also did the splendid Cars Little Golden Book), the design by Tony Fejeran, and text by Victoria Saxon. It's completely charming. (And while we're at it, allow me to recommend the Toy Story 2 and Mater and the Ghost Light books, as well.) The Little Golden Book versions of the most recent Pixar flicks have been uniformly awesome, and are perennial favorites in our house.

We also picked up the beginning reader book Run, Remy, Run, which is surprisingly good for what it is. Likewise recommended, if not as much as the Little Golden Book version. And yes, we've already read both of these many times since yesterday.


The Day's Progress

Today sucked.

I hate Mondays, as I've established, since they are invariably my least productive days. And days after mid-week holidays are just as bad. So today I made quota, but barely, since I lost much of the afternoon in a panic after realizing that the physics of a pivotal middle sequence was all wrong. I had the Dragon going on a Brachistochrone trajectory when what I really needed was a Hohmann transfer orbit. Which was simple enough to fix, except that then my whole Obligatory Space Fuck Up from the second act (or OSFU, which was the short-hand that Matt Sturges and I used to use to refer to that moment in a Star Trek episode in which something inevitably went wrong, and which I now use in my head to mean the bits of business that keep the characters from just standing around and talking at one another) was completely thrown out the window. It took me about an hour to rejigger the physics so that it was all correct again, and to rework the outline (and the already written sections) accordingly, and then I was left having written only a couple of hundred words with only two hours left in the day. I managed to get the chapters done in time, but it was exactly like pulling freaking teeth again.

Tomorrow will be better again, and then Monday will be, of course, Monday.


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
48,689 / 90,000

Just a short sample today. I fell in love with "rutting" as a nice substitute for "fucking" the other day, but only later realized that Whedon had already used it in Firefly. Then I figured, what the hell? I've inadvertently (and advertently, for that matter) stolen from so many sources in this book, what harm could one more do?
“Rutting pile of dung!”

Steersman Ang slammed the heel of his palm against the control housing, his lips curled into a snarl. Then he hissed, shaking his hand as though he could fling from him the pain of the impact.

“Steersman, report,” called Captain Zhuan from his seat at the center of the bridge.

“Rutting thing is still not rutting working!” Ang raised his hand again, as though to slam it once more against the controls, then thought better of it before bringing it down.

“Details, Steersman?”

Ang shot the captain an angry look and gave a ragged sigh. “The thrust aperture is still not rutting opening, captain. That detail enough for you?”


The McSamurai/Hostess War (page 6)

I dig Ben Balistreri. He's currently the character design supervisor on Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, which has the distinction of being both my favorite animated series currently airing and my three-year-old daughter's favorite, as well. (Previously he was a character designer and storyboard arist on Danny Phantom, another series I've talked about before.) Well, he's also got a blog, and check out the little gem he posted this morning.
The crew of "Foster's" is having a group art show at Cartoon Network this Tuesday the 10th. The theme is "Copyright Infringement." Here's my entry.

How awesome is that?

Check out his blog for more great stuff (including some terrific designs from a Butch Hartman and Steve Marmel pilot that didn't make it to series).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


The Day's Progress

Best day yet on The Dragon's Nine Sons, and I just hit the halfway point in the story. That it's also the halfway point in my projected word-count is an extremely promising sign, since it suggests that I won't be running terribly short or long (though it doesn't completely rule out the possibility, sadly).

I may get a little done tomorrow, but I'm not counting on it. And then Thursday will be another Monday, effectively, which is never a good day. But I'm a little ahead of schedule as it stand, and in good shape heading into the second half, so I can't complain.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
45,582 / 90,000

Only the briefest of samples today. Almost an aphorism.
The first sign of trouble was the sound of bellowing rage from the lavatory. There were no circumstances in which such a noise coming from behind those doors would presage anything good.

But when Guardsman Nguyen burst out, stark naked and covered head and shoulders with blood, roaring like a bear caught in a trap, it was clear that things were about to get much worse.

Monday, July 02, 2007


The Day's Progress

A pretty good day today, especially considering I spent all morning doing interviews and other administrivia. Approaching the halfway point, which I'll probably hit in the next few days.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
40,685 / 90,000

A short sample this time. I wrote two chapters today, one of which was mostly Bannerman Dea's backstory, explaining why he killed a man (and why he nearly killed another member of the team over a stolen wallet).
“I was born in Jiangsu province,” Dea began, “but grew up in Zhili in the outskirts of Northern Capital. My father was a bureaucrat with the Imperial Bureau of Armaments, and so was responsible not only for the manufacture of firearms, but also that of keys, locks, hammers, needles, screwdrivers, and scissors. When I was young, it was assumed that I would study for the imperial examinations and follow my father in joining the imperial bureaucracy. But I was of a more... romantic bent. Throughout childhood I had seen all manner of weaponry, whether brought home by my father, or during impromptu—and often unauthorized—tours of the manufactories of the Bureau of Armaments. I suppose you could say I was seduced by the romance of the gun. I haunted theaters showing dramas of Vinlander gunslingers in the wilds of Tejas, from the days when it was still a lawless frontier between the Commonwealth of Vinland and the Mexic Dominion. And every coin that passed through my hands I spent on yellow-backed tenth-tael terribles, and I read every one of those stories until the pages were falling away from the spines.

“I spent all of my free time at the gun ranges, practicing my skills with rifle and pistol. I suppose, in retrospect, that I was one of those incurable romantics who feel that there are no frontiers left on Earth, with all of the land divided neatly between the Dragon Throne on the one hand and the Mexic Dominion on the other. It seemed to me that only the red planet Fire Star offered the chance for a man to prove his mettle, to live by his wits and his skills with a pistol alone.


Mark Gruenwald, the father of modern superhero comics

The folks at RevolutionSF asked me to write a few words about Squadron Supreme for their ongoing Comics of 1986 series, having previously done a bit about Miracleman. I set aside a few hours before starting work on The Dragon's Nine Sons to reread a few issues of the series and then type out my thoughts on the book and its creator, Mark Gruenwald. Well, it turns out I had more to say about Gruenwald than I thought I did. Too much, as it happens, as RevolutionSF had to cut the piece down to size a bit before posting it here.

What got left out? If you're interested in just the meaty bits, read the RevSF article linked above, but if you want the director's cut with all of the fat still in, read on...

Squadron Supreme

Mark Gruenwald was the father of modern superhero comics, and I can prove it.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that it’s Alan Moore, right? Or Frank Miller? Or maybe you’re a bit more old school and point to Denny O’Neil, or maybe even Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. Heck, you might be such a neophile that you look to Geoff Johns and Brian Michael Bendis. But whatever you’re thinking, if it isn’t that Mark Gruenwald was the father of modern superhero comics, it’s wrong.

Mark Gruenwald was the ultimate fanboy-made-good success story. With a degree in Art and Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Gruenwald moved to New York in the hopes of getting a job in comics. Working a day job at a bank, in his spare time Gruenwald clearly spent a lot of time thinking about comic books. He wrote “A Treatise on Reality in Comic Literature,” and with his father Myron Gruenwald cowrote “A Primer on Reality in Comic Books,” both of which attempted to systematize parallel dimensions and time travel in comic books. It was in these that Gruenwald introduced the concept of the “Omniverse,” which he described as the sum total of all universes. DC Comics had their Multiverse, Gruenwald said, and Marvel Comics had one of their own, but both were just subsets of the same overarching Omniverse (along with every other fictional reality). A short while later Gruenwald and Dean Mullaney (who later founded Eclipse Comics) copublished a fanzine entitled OMNIVERSE: The Journal of Fictional Reality, with contributions by notables such as Robert Rodi, Kim Thompson, Pete Gillis, and Rich Morrisey, and art by Pete Poplaski, Neal Pozner, and Jerry Ordway. In its brief run, OMNIVERSE examined weighty topics like where the dividing line between Earth-1 and Earth-2 could be divided (the simple answer was that there was no simple answer, and instead of a dividing line a whole separate reality was invented, Earth-E, in which all of the confusing stories that didn’t fit nicely into either world were consigned), whether Howard the Duck was from the same world as Donald Duck (or whether Howard’s reality was a parallel of Earth-Marvel or a Primary System of its own), and just how Doctor Doom, Rama-Tut, Kang the Conqueror, the Scarlet Centurion, and Immortus fit together, anyway (the answer: confusingly).

Gruenwald’s fan treatises and fanzines show the same level of ruthless attention to detail and desire for rationalization that were hallmarks of his later professional work. In the late seventies, it seemed that his fan writing had gained him some attention, as Gruenwald went to work for Marvel Comics, where he worked in one capacity or another for the rest of his tragically short life, starting as Assistant Editor to new Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. In 1982, Gruenwald was involved in the launch of two projects which prefigured most of the current state of superhero comics: Contest of Champions and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The former, Contest of Champions, which Gruenwald helped plot with Steven Grant and Bill Mantlo (who provided the final scripts) was the first company-wide limited series crossover, the now-familiar beast. Everything from Secret Wars to Crisis on Infinite Earths, from Civil War to 52, owes its genesis to the success of Contest of Champions.

But it was nothing compared to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. In TOHOTMU, as it’s sometimes called, editor Gruenwald brought the fan’s obsessive eye for detail and rationalization to the forefront, provided detailed schematics of secret bases and flying cars and jetpacks and trick arrows; rating the relative strength and speeds of heroes and villains, gods and monsters; and slowly working out an entire detailed history of a fictional universe that included everything from Norse gods to teleporting dogs to blue-skinned mermaids to mutants to dark dimensions to WWII super-soldiers. For the obsessive fan, it isn’t enough for stories to be good; they have to make sense. And so when confronted with the question of how Scott Summers optiblasts work, it isn’t enough to say that his eyes shoot lasers; after all, they are concussive blasts, but don’t generate any heat. Naturally, then, his eyes are really miniature portals to another dimension. (Likewise anyone whose powers involve projecting darkness—since darkness is the absence of light, after all, and not a physical thing, involves tapping into another dimension. Likewise anyone who shrinks shunts their extra mass into another dimension, which may or may not be the same dimension from which anyone who grows pulls the extra mass to do so.) The tenor of both the DC and Marvel universes in recent years is owed in extremely large measure to the obsessive rationalization of TOHOTMU, and to editor Gruenwald. (And it can be argued that the Ultimate Marvel universe is the finest realization of this kind of rationalization to date, but more on that later.)

But what does any of this have to do with Squadron Supreme, anyway?

Well, in addition to editing and co-plotting while at Marvel, Gruenwald turned his hand at writing, as well. In addition to a long run as scripter on Captain America, he wrote Spider-Woman, Marvel Two-in-One, DP7, Hawkeye, and Quasar, among others. And while Quasar was probably the clearest example of Gruenwald’s notions of superheroics and fictional realities (including the titular hero traveling to other worlds of the Omniverse, even going so far as to encounter a hero from another company entirely in an unacknowledged crossover with DC Comics Flash), it was in his Squadron Supreme that Gruenwald had the biggest influence on later superhero comics.

The Squadron Supreme was a thinly-veiled Justice League of America homage/pastiche/parody that was introduced by Roy Thomas in the pages of The Avengers in the early seventies, and who turned up a time or two over the years in the pages of The Might Thor, The Defenders, and others. Instead of Superman, the last son of Krypton, the Squadron Supreme had Hyperion, explorer from the sub-atomic world of Yttrium. Instead of Batman, the dark knight detective, they had Nighthawk. Instead of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Flash, they had Doctor Spectrum, Power Princess, and the Whizzer (yes, the Whizzer). The Squadron Supreme lived in an essentially Marvelized version of the DC Universe, with their own villains and supporting casts. Hyperion was secretly cartoonist Mark Milton, who was constantly bedeviled by his arch-nemesis the hirsute Emil Burbank, who hated Hyperion for accidentally causing his hormones to run wild, so that his hair would never stay cut. (Get it? Lex Luthor hated Superman for making him bald, and Burbank hated Hyperion for making him hairy. Isn’t that funny? Well, not really, I’ll admit, but you can see where they were coming from.)

In short, up until they fell into Gruenwald’s hands, not much interesting had been done with the Squadron Supreme. They were most often used to poke gentle fun at the Distinguished Competition, or to allow the creators to play with a new set of toys for a short while. When Gruenwald took over the characters in 1985, though, that was all set to change.

Gruenwald had always been a fan of the Justice League of America, apparently, but the fact that he was an editor at Marvel Comics meant that he wasn’t likely to get the chance to write them. In Squadron Supreme he was given the opportunity to write the JLA, or near enough to count; but better still, he was able to write them in a way that DC Comics would never allow. He was allowed to change them, and more than that, allow them to change the world around them.

A conceit of superhero comics, from the Golden Age onwards, is that the presence of beings with superpowers just doesn’t change the world all that much. Superman may have been flying in the skies over the DC Universe in the 1940s, but he wasn’t able to prevent World War II in that fictional reality anymore than the Flash was able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. The fictional worlds of the DC and Marvel universes map to the real world, the one that the readers inhabit, too closely for the worlds to diverge too much to be recognizable.

Which is the first way that Squadron Supreme differed.

In the characters last appearance before Gruenwald took over, the world of the Squadron Supreme had just been liberated from the mental control of the Overmind. The world was in sad shape, and the Squadron, who had been the unwitting tools of the Overmind’s control, were distrusted by the populace.

In the first issue of the twelve-issue Squadron Supreme limited series, Gruenwald establishes the tone of the book right off the bat. The superheroes of the Squadron (all except Nighthawk, who had by this point retired in order to run for, and be elected to, the office of President) unmask at a press conference on the steps of the nation’s capital, and announce their intention to eliminate hunger, poverty, crime, disease, pollution, and oppression in exactly one year.

Nighthawk, of course, can already see where this will go terribly wrong, and only barely avoiding assassinating Hyperion on the spot with an argonite bullet (argonite being Hyperion’s, well, kryptonite).

The second issue picks up the baton and runs with it, and introduces the second way in which Squadron Supreme differed from other books. A month had passed since the first issue appeared on newsstands, out here in the real world, and exactly a month had passed in the fictional reality of the book, as well.

Squadron Supreme played out in real time. Twelve issues over twelve months, with a month gap in the story between each monthly issue. Readers of DC Comics’ recently concluded 52 weekly series will recognize this gimmick. And though it had been used in other media before (Gasoline Alley, most notably), this was the first time the trick had been employed in the pages of a superhero comic book.

As the series progresses, it becomes clear that the status quo had been left far behind. The characters’ aggressive campaign to end the world’s ills almost immediately brings them into conflict with segments of the population, when they round up all firearms in the world and destroyed them. Then, when one of the characters creates a behavior modification device that could brainwash a villain into abandoning their evil ways, it is immediately perverted by a lovelorn hero who uses it to make a fellow hero fall in love with him. Heroes die, heroes kill, and heroes compromise their principles. Meanwhile, as the Squadron increasingly sets itself up as the dictatorial rules of Earth (albeit with the best of intentions), their former colleague Nighthawk begins assembling a team of dissident heroes and villains to act as a counterrevolutionary force.

In the final issue, the dissidents led by Nighthawk face off against the heroes led by Hyperion (the thinly-veiled Batman waging war on the thinly-veiled Superman), and in the end neither side truly wins as both sides lose. With most of their colleagues dead, the heroes are forced to admit that their tactic of saving the world through domination is doomed to failure.

Until recently, the worlds of superhero comics were virtually identical to the real world, with the exception of the brightly-clad heroes and villains flying overhead. If Superman met the president, it would be the president readers could see on the evening news. And even if Captain America learned that the president was secretly the head of the Secret Empire, for all intents and purposes he was unmasking Nixon (though thinly veiled). But in the world of Squadron Supreme, the former Nighthawk is elected president, and then has to stand by as his fellow superheroes successfully take over the world.

In recent years, the United States of the DC Universe has elected Lex Luthor to the presidency, while in the Marvel Universe Tony Stark has abandoned superheroics to take command of SHIELD in the interest of identifying and controlling all of the world’s superheroes. Each year DC and Marvel restructure their fictional worlds in line-wide crossovers that owe their format to Contest of Champions, and in at least one case their structure to Squadron Supreme. And the sweeping changes to the status quo, which push these fictional realities farther and farther away from the real world familiar to the readers, resembles nothing so much as Gruenwald’s masterpiece, Squadron Supreme.

Mark Gruenwald passed away in 1996 at the tragically young age of 43. He left the request that his body be cremated and the ashes mixed in with the ink of a trade paperback collection of his landmark work, Squadron Supreme. The first edition of the trade, published in 1997, fulfilled this request.

The current state of superhero comics, with its obsessive attention to continuity and rationalization, line-wide crossovers, multiple realities, and increasing divergence from the real world, resembles nothing so much as a Mark Gruenwald comic writ large. Everything that Gruenwald pioneered, from the late seventies through the mid-nineties, has now become industry standard. And the mainstream superhero comics of today resemble Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme more than they resemble the mainstream comics of the day.

And that is why Mark Gruenwald is the father of modern superhero comics.


Boba and Darth

Todd Alcott has posted some thoughts about the relationship between Darth Vader and Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back that you cannot miss.


uʍop ǝpısdn

Okay, this is pretty cool. Want to write uʍop ǝpısdn? Try it for yourself and see.

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