Friday, November 30, 2007


RIP Evel

We've had too few daredevils for a while now, and now we've got one fewer.

Image ganked from here.



Jeff VanderMeer says nice things over on the Amazon Daily blog about things with my name on them.


Free Fiction Friday: "The Likeness of a Wolf"

It's Friday, and around here that means free fiction. Today's offering is from the vaults, a story written years and years ago for the Clockwork Storybook webzine. For the 99.9% of you who have no idea what that was, Clockwork Storybook was originally an online shared world anthology of urban fantasy (how's that for a mouthful?). It ran for several years, with monthly stories from me, Mark Finn, Matt Sturges, and Bill Willingham. The vast majority of the stories took place in the fictional city of San Cibola, where mermaids, elves, werewolves, and wizards rubbed shoulders on a regular basis. The existence of the supernatural in San Cibola was an open secret; everyone in on the secret was part of the "Neighborhood," and anyone not in on the joke was called "Norman," a pun on "normal."

The following story is one of that bunch. Like too many of the stories I wrote then, it's overly concerned with seemingly clever stylistic tricks and needlessly complex narrative structures, but I think there's an interesting group of characters at it's core. For what it's worth, I'm gradually dusting off and reworking characters and plots I used back in those days, so don't be too surprised to see Ivy Koestler or Susan Kururangi turn up in a new story or novel, one of these fine days. But for the time being, this is the way the originally appeared. (And yes, there is a reference to "Olias of Sunhillow" buried in the story, for all of you Jon Anderson fans out there...)

The Likeness of a Wolf
by Chris Roberson

The first body was found in the Rue Livre over a month ago, and in all that time the police have come no closer to naming a suspect, much less apprehending one. They simply handed the whole affair over to Animal Control after the first body was found, and washed their hands of it. After three weeks, Animal Control began to grow worried, and discussed calling in an outside agent. Last week, Alexander “Buck” Sizemore, a private citizen and professional game hunter from Louisiana, began his hunt through the city streets, searching for the animal. Animal Control agreed to pay him five hundred dollars a day for his time, as well as a bounty of an addition thousand when the job was complete. Last night, police found the mutilated and half-consumed corpse of Mr. Sizemore in an alley in the southern section of the district. This morning, Susan Kururangi began her own, more clandestine investigation.


I think I saw an elf today, writes Ivy in her small spiral bound notebook, hunched over the page, her legs folded up under her. The other patrons at the coffee shop ignore her, casually, as she absent-mindedly chews on the end of a ratted strand of hair. At least, I think it was an elf. Or a Fae. Whatever the politically correct name is. I think it was one, I’m almost sure of it.

I’d just left the car in the alley behind Serendipity, and was heading towards the women’s shelter to take a shower, when this guy come out of a brownstone leading a little yippy dog on a leash. He was about seven feet tall, I swear, dressed all in silver and white, and he had this amazing silver necklace around his neck. I must have been staring as I crossed the street, because when he passed me he looked right at me and said, “Take a picture, Norma, it’ll last longer.” I swear I could have just died.

At first I was just embarrassed, caught acting like some kind of damned tourist, but after a while I started to get pissed. I mean, who did he think I was, some kid just off the bus from Norman County, Ohio? That was pretty prejudiced of him, once I got to thinking about it. Just cause I don’t have pointed ears (not today, at least) and fairy silver and a goddamned rat dog on a leash doesn’t mean I’m not a Neighbor. He’s just lucky I’m not in a wolfpack. I probably would have ripped out his damned neck, silky smooth skin and all.

Ivy almost breaks the lead from her pencil, jamming the period onto the sentence, and surprises herself when she realizes the low growling noise she’s been hearing for the last minute or so has been coming from her. Forcing herself to calm, she carefully places the pencil down on the notebook, and walks to the counter to have her tea-pot refilled. Then, in what she thinks almost regal movements, she dips the tea-bag in, once, then twice, letting it bleed its color slowly into the steaming water. She sets the pot aside, and brushes her hands on the fabric of her worn jeans, and only then returns to the notebook.

I’ve just read the last sentences again, she writes, and I am so full of shit. Like I’d ever have anything to do with a wolfpack. I don’t need that scum. That would be almost as bad as going back to Fortuna, hanging out with those guys. Worse, maybe. Besides, with the money I make tonight at the Holy Grounds I should have enough for a new set of strings, and then maybe I can play the open mic night at the Ginger Duck. Then it’s just a matter of time.

Ivy pauses, chewing on the end of the pencil, and then adds, or maybe I’ll just use it to get into the Paramount to see Ciren on Friday. I wonder if I can find anything to wear.


By Ivy Koestler
By Ivy

the moon, hanging above me
sings to me in my sleep
in dreams I finally let myself go
and blood runs the darkened streets
and run through the darkened streets


“Ciren, darling, your beautiful little angel has bit me again,” says Serge as Ciren walks into the kitchen, toweling off her damp hair. The little girl in Serge’s arms struggles violently, scowling.

“She doesn’t do that to anyone else, you know,” Ciren answers, gently pulling her daughter from his grasp. The little girl immediately calms, and rests her head on her mother’s shoulder.

“Well she bloody well does it to me,” Serge replies, rubbing at the red marks on his forearm with a delicate hand.

“I’m sorry, Serge, if she did it to everyone I’d be concerned, worried she had some condition. But as she just does it to one person, I’m afraid I have to point the finger at you.” Ciren brushes back a stray hair from the little girl’s face, and nuzzles her neck.

“She hates men, I tell you, all of them,” Serge answers. “You’ve made her pathological.”

“She loves Michael,” Ciren replies, citing the manager at the Ginger Duck. “And Raphael. And even Silas.”

The little girl raises her head, smiling broadly.

“Uncle Silas?” she says. “Where?”

“See?” Ciren says. “It’s just you.”

Serge scowls, and rubs harder at his arm.

“I’ve told you before, Ciren darling, I am your manager, not an unpaid nanny.”

“Well,” Ciren says, smiling, “you’ll do until something better comes along.”


I passed that creepy guy in the alley again today, Ivy writes. The one with the spider web tattoo on the side of his face. I was coming around the corner after spending a while reading in Serendipity, and there he was, leaning against the wall, smoking some cheap smelly cigar. I don’t know if he saw me, I didn’t see him look, but by the time I got back here to the car and looked back, he was gone.

Mr. La Violette came downstairs to talk to me today. I think he knows what I am, but he hasn’t really said anything. Just hints, now and then. But I know he has no idea I’m living in a car behind his store, because he keeps asking me about traffic to and from the Rue Livre. He must think I live down in College Town or something.

Mr. La Violette is one of the nicer people I’ve met in the city. If not the nicest. To me, at least. I’ve seen him be a real ass to people that come into the store that don’t know what they’re looking for, or come looking for things he wouldn’t possibly carry. Like yesterday, this guy came in looking for a Tom Clancy book, and Mr. La Violette almost threw him down the stairs. He doesn’t like Clancy very much. But he’s nice to me, lets me sit in the big, comfortable chair under the stairs, and brings me books he thinks I’ll like. It’s usually fairy tales and stuff like that, but he’s right. I do like them.

Besides Mr. La Violette (he keeps wanting me to call him Thad, but I can’t do it. It’d be like calling my grandfather by his first name… if I knew what my grandfather’s first name was), the only other person in the city who’s really been nice to me has been Stu at the Holy Grounds. I came in one day, wanting to ask him about playing a gig for him, and I had to buy six cups of coffee before I worked up the nerve. Before I could do it, he just walked over and asked me if there was something I wanted. Not angry, just curious. I was so jittery after all the caffeine that I jumped right up and started yammering at him. I had my guitar with me, under the chair, and Stu told me to get it out, calm down, and play him a song. I did, one of my own, and when I was done he asked me to play another. He liked that one, too. He said I could play at night a couple of times a week, but all he could pay me was in coffee and pastries and ten bucks a gig. I tried to act all cool, like I was thinking about it for a minute, and then I just started nodding.

Now, I can pretty much eat for free at the Holy Grounds whenever I want, fruit and bagels and whatnot, and I play three nights a week. I don’t drink any coffee anymore though. I read it was bad for the voice. Now I just drink tea.


Ivy sits in the back seat of the ’87 Pontiac 6000, her legs crossed, the battered guitar set across her lap. Humming softly to herself, she tunes each string against the first, and then strums out a few chords. She carefully adjusts the E string, and tries another chord. Satisfied, she plays one of her new songs, trying to work out a better bridge between the third verse and the chorus. The alley outside the car doors is empty, though in the distance sounds of traffic and construction drifts from the streets beyond.

Night falls, and Ivy feels her joints begin to ache, and her fingers miss the chords. A shiver runs down her spin, and as her bones start to pop and shift she manages to set the guitar down without breaking it. Ivy curses herself for not checking the calendar, for not knowing her time of the month was coming. She knows now she’ll never make the gig at the Holy Grounds. Not in any shape to play, at least.


Behind the microphone on the stage of the Ginger Duck, Ciren holds the final chord of the song “Sunhillow” longer than normal, and tilts her head back, eyes shut. She smiles to herself, remembering when it was just her and the music, before Los Angeles, before Rick, before all of it. Only now, all these years later, back on this stage where it all started, does it even begin to feel like that again. Finally she lets the chord die out, and opens her eyes. The applause she hadn’t noticed startles her, and her smile becomes self-conscious, almost forced.

To the side of the stage sits Serge, the toddler perched calmly on his lap. They share the same expression, those two, both beaming at her.

Ciren’s gaze brushes across the crowd, the faces remembered or forgotten or new. Ciren drinks in their smiles, their happy faces, their love. Only one face towards the back, the one with a spider web tattoo crawling across it, seems out of place. Ciren chooses to ignore him, and whispering a thank you into the mic strikes a chord and launches into “Homecoming.” The room explodes with applause.


The change is a bitch, Ivy writes the next morning, after finishing a bagel and bowl of sliced fruit at the Holy Grounds. It’s gotten easier the past few years, and I can remember almost everything now, but if I’m not careful I end up with all my clothes shredded the day after. I haven’t changed except at my time of the month since that time with Billy Collins behind the school gym, and I think if I could just skip those three nights a month I’d do it. God, I hate it.

I remember the first time. It was during a sleep-over at Samantha’s house. I woke up and thought I was going to be sick and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Halfway there I got short and hairy, and I was sure I was going crazy. And so hungry. I think I might have eaten Samantha if it hadn’t been for that furry little dog of hers. She was so upset the next day, thinking it had run away, and I never told her where it had gone.

I ran home the next morning, still wearing my torn nightgown under my clothes, and found my mother in the kitchen. It was like that scene in that crappy old horror movie Carrie, I just kept shouting at her, Why didn’t you tell me, Why didn’t you tell me? Dad had to come home from work to calm me down, and I took a whole week off of school. Samantha never did talk to me after that. I think she blamed me for the dog.

Dad was so full of shit, worse than Mom. He acted like it was some secret shame, us being who we are. He made me promise never to tell anybody. I was eight, what did I know? But he still kept up the holidays, at least in the house. I was ten before I realized that The Long Night wasn’t the same as Christmas. That was the year that Grandfather came to live with us. He was the first to tell me what being Volkdlak was really all about.


“The Creator made the Volkdlak in Its own images,” the old man had told Ivy, while her parents were in the other room watching television, “and made for them the day and night to live in. Two forms, two worlds. The Volkdlak were the first men, the True Men, who lived in peace in the Forests of Paradise until the coming of the False Deceiver. The Deceiver was a twisted, mirror image of the Creator, frozen in a single form. Out of jealous rage, he created the False Men and Animals. They were like the Deceiver, frozen in a single form. With the help of the Deceiver, the False Men drove the Volkdlak out of the Forests, and hounded them to the ends of the earth. Even now, generations later, the true children of the Creator are made to cower, hiding, for fear of the False Men.”


“So, Eyes,” Susan says, looking out the window of the little man’s little office above the bakery, looking down on the streets of Arcadia. “What do you think?”

“It’s hair,” Eyes replies, pushing his bottle-thick glasses up on the bridge of his nose and smiling.

Susan doesn’t like Eyes, doesn’t trust him. She doesn’t like his look or his smell or his cramped, uncomfortable office. But she has to admit that he’s good, the only unlicensed forensic pathologists the Neighborhood has worth talking about. He’s the one to go to when the cop cutters run into something that won’t fit into their narrow minds, that would send them shrieking if they ever understood.

“I know that,” Susan says, patiently. “The question is, what kind?”

“The cops say dog, no?” Eyes asks.

“Or wolf,” Susan adds.

“Well,” Eyes answers with grudging respect, “that’s closer than they usually get. It’s wolf, alright, but not everyday, if you get me.”

Susan exhales slowly, nodding.

“Skinwalker,” she says.

“Yep,” Eyes replies.

“Can you tell if he was born that way, or is he just wearing a new body for fashion?” Susan asks.

“It’s impossible to say,” Eyes answers. “To be honest with you, if I had one genetic and one spelled-up werewolf right here in front of me, I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference. Just too similar on a cellular basis.”

“Eyes,” Susan says in a soft voice, “if you had a werewolf in front of you now, I promise you wouldn’t last long enough to think anything.”

On her way downstairs, Susan balls one hand into a fist and slaps it into the heel of the other. Eyes had only told her what she didn’t want to hear. A wolf gone hunting in the Rue Livre was bad business. The Rue Livre was considered no man’s land, too close to the Di Lessa’s on the north, the Volsungs on the south and the Moondogs on the west for anyone to start making trouble. Susan only hoped it was a rogue, a lone wolf, and not a member of either wolfpack hunting in the other’s backyard. Otherwise, this could end up a full scale turf war.


I’ll be successful, Ivy writes in her spiral bound notebook, I just know I will. I have to be. I couldn’t stand a whole life of happy homemaker, or go-getter businesswoman. Just let me have a few years with my music, and then I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything you ask.

I know I can do it. My songs are good, everyone in high school said so, and my voice isn’t so good. I’m better at the guitar than I was, too, though still mostly just chords. I wish I could play classical, like Dave Matthews or Ciren, but right now chords work alright.

Ciren. She’s the reason I’m doing this in the first place. Cathy took me to see her when I was just a kid, when Cathy was living in San Cibola and we were both the only cousins in the family. Before Mom had Andy, and Cathy went missing. Cathy was ten years older than me, but more like a sister than the aunts just a few years older than her. I got to spend a whole week with her in the city one summer, while my parents took a cruise, and she took me to all the coolest places. Coffee shops and bars and record stores, and then came the night she took me down to the Ginger Duck to see Ciren play. I’d never seen anything like that, never heard music like that. Around my house, the height of musical culture was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, or maybe John Denver, and Ciren was nothing like any of that. Just her and a guitar behind the microphone, playing music that would make the angels weep. By the time we left, I knew just what I wanted to do with my life.

Later, after Ciren stopped playing, other singers came along in her wake. Ani, Jewel, Alanis, all following in her footsteps. But the magazines never really talked about her, not really. They might mention Suzanne Vega or Natalie Merchant, but never Ciren. It was like she didn’t exist outside San Cibola. Which, I guess, she didn’t, since I could never find her tapes or albums at the mall in Fortuna, and my friends from out of state had never heard of her. But I had. To me, Ciren was what music was all about.

I was seventeen before I found out what Ciren was. There were some kids talking about her in the Claremont High cafeteria one day, and I didn’t understand what they were saying. It was like those times when someone starts talking about an actor that everybody, I mean everybody knows is gay, and it just has never occurred to you. It should have, if you stopped to think about it for a second, but you never did. That’s what it was like when I found out that Ciren was a mermaid.

Okay, not a mermaid, that’s not the p.c. term. Andaro, or “Aquatic American”, whichever you prefer. I hadn’t even thought of it before, but once I heard those girls talking (mean whispers behind their hands, like it was some giant sin to be different), it suddenly made sense. Her songs, her look, everything. If I could have loved her any more than I already did, at that moment it would have doubled. My love for her, that is.

If she can do it, I thought, so can I. Being different didn’t mean being quiet, and my being a Volkdlak was no more a barrier to my music than Ciren’s being an Andaro was to hers. So fuck them all, I thought, all those prissy bitches with their big hair and expensive cars their daddies bought them. I didn’t need them anymore than Ciren did, wherever she was.

So I left. The day after school ended, I packed up my bag and left.


“Don’t run away,” Andy had said, in a trembling voice, standing at the door to her room.

“I’m not running away, midget,” Ivy had answered, stuffing her favorite sweatshirt into her bag. “I’m eighteen. I’m an adult. Adults can’t run away.”

Andy sniffled, loudly, but didn’t cry. He was too big for that, eight next fall.

“So don’t leave,” he said.

Ivy looked at him once, and for a moment reconsidered. It wouldn’t be long until the change hit him the first time, and she wished that she’d be there to help. But she had things she had to do, and places to go. The old Pontiac her dad had bought for her birthday was parked downstairs, the gas tank full. Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she paused once at the door to muss her brother’s hair, and then stepped outside.


Ivy sits on the wobbly stool on the low stage at the Holy Grounds, singing softly into the scratchy mic, one of her new songs. The chorus still doesn’t quite work, a bad rhyme on the third line, but if anyone in the place notices they don’t make a sign. Aside from Stu standing over in the corner, the only people who really seem to be listening are a couple of college kids sitting in the back, sipping slowly from giant cups of coffee and nodding appreciatively now and again. Ivy doesn’t care that no one else is listening. She just sings.


“I don’t care what you think, Thaddeus,” Susan says, “tell me what you know.”

“It’s not right, Kururangi,” La Violette answers. “It’s just not right.”

“You said you’ve seen a lycanthrope in the area,” says Susan, irritated. “Not one of the wolfpack gang, but an outsider. I wouldn’t have come if you hadn’t. And now you decide to go quiet on me?”

“I just mentioned it in passing, I didn’t know what you were after.”

Susan squares her shoulders, and glowers at the old man.

“Is she, or isn’t she?” Susan repeats.

The old man averts his eyes, and rubs at his broad forehead with the handkerchief.

“Oh, she is, alright, but she couldn’t have done that.” He shakes his head, nervously folding the handkerchief. “Ivy couldn’t have done that.”

“Thanks,” Susan says. “Just what I wanted to hear.”


Ciren climbs the stairs to her apartment, her daughter in her arms. Behind her on the steps, her manager Serge struggles under the weight of Ciren’s bag, the groceries, and all the children’s toys.

“I’ll quit if this goes on much longer,” Serge threatens. “You have got to get a personal assistant.” He pauses on the step, hoisting the bag higher on his shoulder, almost losing the groceries in the process. “Or hire movers whenever you leave the apartment.”


I think the crowd tonight really liked me, writes Ivy later that evening. I mean, no one got in a fight or had to yell into their cell phone to talk over my guitar or anything.

I still don’t have enough to get into the Paramount tomorrow night, though. I wish I could ask Stu for a loan, or Mr. La Violette. But I just couldn’t. It would be like giving up. Maybe I’ll just go to the show anyway. If I’m lucky, I can see her on her way in. I wish I had my records with me, instead of back in Fortuna. Then I could have her sign one.

Wouldn’t it be something if I actually got to talk to her?


lines from Haunted
By Ciren

Your shade follows me everywhere, a shadow of your memory.
I am haunted, pursued, each thought threading it's way back to you.
Sometimes I try to escape, a young girl sitting in a corner
trying desperately not to imagine a white horse, but it doesn't work.
Your mark is upon me, and it will not wash off.
It is on me, and I would not wash it off.


The next night Susan, her pou staff sheathed on her back, watches the girl round the corner of the alley and start down the crowded sidewalk. Susan hides in the dark shadows until the girl passes, and then falls in step behind her. She watches the girl as they walk, catching her glance at the happy faces of couples as they pass, catching her pause for a moment at the window of an upscale yuppie restaurant up the block. Susan doesn’t blame her. She must be hungry.

Part of Susan begins to hope that she is wrong, that the girl isn’t the one. It would be a shame to put someone like that down, some who seems so fresh and innocent. But a larger part, the part that makes her finger the silver bladed dagger in the sheath slung low on her hip, hopes that the girl is. Better her than a blood crazed Moondog, or a drunken Volsung, god forbid. No one would make a stink if Susan gutted a little street urchin werewolf with her knife. Oh, Thaddeus wouldn’t be happy about it, but he wouldn’t start a war over it.

As the girl heads down the steps to the SCAT station, Susan pulls the knife a fraction of the way out of the sheath, and tests the edge on her thumb. She’ll give the girl tonight to prove her wrong. Then she’ll end it.


Ivy stands in front of the Paramount, watching the crowd slowly file in. The man at the door, large and imposing in shaved head and leather jacket, eyes her once, and then looks away. She’s no threat. Ivy shuffles uncomfortably, awkward, sure that her poverty is spelled out on her forehead in neon letters.

Susan waits half a block away, hidden in the doorway of a business closed for the night. She rubs her palms together, proof against the slight chill in the air, and then grazes the sheathed knife with the tips of her fingers.

Serge pulls the car to a stop up the street from the Paramount, and leaning over the seat unstraps the young girl from the seatbelts. Ciren sighs deeply, and finishes the last of her water bottle before twisting back on the cap and dropping the empty bottle into her purse. She undoes her own seat belt, and Serge lifts the young girl over the seat back and carefully deposits her on her mother’s lap.

“I’ll find a place to park,” Serge says, “and then I’ll be right in.”

“Take your time,” Ciren replies, pushing open the car door and then swinging out her legs. “The shows not due to start for a while.”

The little girl in Ciren’s arm drowses, her head on her mother’s shoulder.

“I’d wish you luck,” Serge says, “but you don’t need it.”

Ciren smiles, and then climbs out of the car.

There she is, Ivy thinks, seeing that beautiful head of green hair appear down the street. Overcome with excitement, Ivy begins to walk forward, slowly at first, then picking up speed. There she is.

This is it, Susan thinks, seeing the girl pick up speed, practically breaking into a run heading for the andaro down the block. She’s making her move.

Ciren takes no more than half a dozen steps, and then hears the sound of footsteps approaching fast. A fan, she thinks, half turning towards the sound. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees an enormous timber wolf emerge from the alley way, rushing straight for her.

Ivy doesn’t even pause to think. She sees the wolf racing towards Ciren, knows its intent, can almost smell its blood lust. The hunger is on it, the wolf is rogue. Ivy lunges forward, baring her teeth, putting herself in the wolf’s path. A low growl escapes her lips, curled back in a snarl.

Susan sees the wolf twist in midair, its hindquarters wheeling around, and then it lands with all four paws forward on the wolf girl standing in its way.

Ivy bats the wolf away, one of its paws raking across her face as it falls, another catching a hunk of flesh from her arms. She falters, but doesn’t fall.

The wolf rights itself, and raises its back, growling. It pads left, then right, looking for an opportunity to lunge past this new obstruction.

Ivy sees the woman in leather with the braided hair appear from nowhere, barreling into the rogue wolf, a silver knife in one hand, a silver tipped wooden staff in the other. The woman and the wolf roll on the ground, a mess of metal and teeth.

Run, yells Susan to Ivy from the tangle. Get them out of here.

Ivy stands dazed for a moment, and then comes to herself. She turns to Ciren, standing stricken with the little girl clutched in her arms.

Let’s go, Ivy orders, grabbing Ciren by the arm and dragging her towards the entrance to the Paramount.

As they run, Ciren risks a look back. The leather woman straddles the huge wolf, the silver knife clenched in her teeth, the wooden staff laid across the wolf’s throat, choking the life out of it.

“I’ve been looking all over for you,” Susan says awkwardly, pushing the words around the blade held in her teeth. “I thought you’d never get here.”

Once Ivy and Ciren are inside the theater, the big shaved-headed bouncer rushes over to offer what ever help he can to the woman struggling with the wolf. By the time he gets there, it’s not a wolf, but a naked, scrawny little white guy with a badly tattooed spider web spreading over half his face.

“A friend of yours?” the bouncer asks the woman with the braids and black leather.

“No,” Susan answers, cleaning the gore off the silver knife on the fabric of her pants, and sliding the knife back into its sheath. “Just a stray.”


It got kind of hectic after that, writes Ivy the next morning. I figured Ciren would call off the show, after being attacked and everything. But she didn’t. She just waited until her manager guy showed up, handed over her daughter, and then went on stage. Before she did, she asked me to stick around after the show, she wanted to talk to me. I figured they’d kick me out after the bouncer finished bandaging up my face and arm, but they didn’t. The bouncer even bought me a drink, didn’t even ask to see my ID.

I don’t know what happened with that woman who fought the werewolf. By the time the cops arrived to pick up the body, everybody had the story straight, and the woman who killed him was nowhere around. So the cops got told that this crazy naked guy rushed out of the alley to attack Ciren and me, and a mysterious stranger showed up to save us. I thought the cops wouldn’t buy it at all, but they acted like it all made perfect sense, and after they zipped the body up in those big people-sized garbage bags you see on television, they just left. It’s too bad, though. They missed a good show.

Afterwards, Ciren took me back with her to her dressing room. She asked about me, about what I did, and we talked about music for a while. When she asked me where I lived, I didn’t even think to lie. I told her about leaving home, and playing in the coffee shops, and the Pontiac parked out behind the bookstore. I was afraid she might call the cops, or tell me I should go home. But instead she handed me her guitar, her own guitar, and asked me to play one of my songs.

I was so nervous I could have just died, but after a little bit of trouble I managed to play Moonsong. The whole time I was playing, Ciren sat there quietly, her little girl asleep in her lap. When I was done, Ciren was quiet for a long time, like she was thinking about something.

Finally, she asked if I wanted a job.

“A job,” I said. “What kind of job?”

“I need someone to look after my little girl,” she said. “Someone to take care of her when I’m in the studio, or when I’m playing a gig. I don’t have a great deal of money, so I couldn’t pay you much more than minimum wage.”

I was trying to figure out how much money that was, and thinking how much more it was than I was making at Holy Grounds, when she dropped the bomb.

“Of course, I could supplement the income by teaching you music,” she said. “Not that you need much help. Just a little bit. You’re very good for a beginning. But I could help you with your fretwork, and help you tone up the upper ranges of your voice.”

I think I must have stood there for about ten minutes, my mouth just hanging open. I don’t know if I drooled, but I must have. I just stared at her, unable to say anything.

“Are you okay?” she finally asked me, probably thinking I was a lunatic.

“Yes,” I shouted. “Yes. I’ll take the job. You can teach me. Oh god, you can teach me to sing. Yes, oh yes.”

I’m staying with her now, sleeping in the guest bedroom of her apartment. It’s really nice. I told Ciren who I was, what I was, and it didn’t bother her. She asked me to let her know when my time of the month came around, and that when it does I’ll have a couple of days off. She says she’ll make Serge take me to the park those nights, if I want, to get some exercise and doing a little hunting. Ciren says it’s really no different than her having to spend all that time every day in the salt baths, or going down deep every couple of months. I knew she’d understand.

Ciren says she’s going to have Serge go with me later to pick up my car and my things, and then I can stay with her for all long as I want. After lunch, she’s going to teach me some scales.

I think this is going to work, writes Ivy, sitting at Ciren’s breakfast table, looking out the window at the Neighborhood. I think I’m home.



Daily Picked

It appears that Set the Seas on Fire is one of Jim Agnew's Daily Picks for today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Questions need answers

Claustrophobic pirates vs. hypercondriac ninjas. Who would win?

The answer to this vexing question and many more can be found here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007



(via) Matt Burnett and Ben Levin spent a year animating this short, all about three LARPers who assay the roles of wise men in a nativity play. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Here's what they have to say about the project on their site:
It's the tale of three nerds who turn a nativity scene into a LARP battle, and various acts of sacrilege ensue. We conceived it around Thanksgiving of 2006, and hoped to have done in time for X-Mas. Well, we kind of underestimated how horribly tedious animation is, and lo and behold, it's November 2007 and we've got 6 minutes and 36 seconds of animation that we didn't really plan on devoting a year of free time to. So enjoy! Thumbs up!


Three Unbroken buttons and banners

Hey, as if a free novel isn't enough, the good people at Solaris Books have also provided snazzy buttons and banners to promote Three Unbroken. Isn't that thoughtful?


Three Unbroken

Hey, want to read a book for free?

Solaris Books has just started the online serialization of my new Celestial Empire novel, Three Unbroken. New chapters will be going up on Wednesdays and Fridays, every week for the next few months, until all sixty-four chapters have been posted. And there's a handy RSS feed, to boot.

The first chapter is up now, if you'd like to give it a test drive. And come on, it's free! So what do you have to lose?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Kay on Art & Entertainment

Guy Gavriel Kay's very excellent toastmaster speech from this year's World Fantasy Award ceremony contained considerable food for thought, particularly about the tension between art and entertainment. I'd hoped that a transcript of it might become available, and now Kay has gone and provided the full text of the speech online. I recommend checking it out, and in particular the section in the middle about Robert Jordan, which I really took to heart. (And the long fairy tale that namechecks all the nominees is a lot of fun, too.)

Monday, November 26, 2007


The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 2

Night Shade Books has posted the cover and full table of contents of Jonathan Strahan's The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 2.

I am definitely "...and puppet show" in this lineup.


Book Report

It's Monday, and in an attempt to get back into something resembling a routine, it's book report time again.

I've actually finished a few books since I last found time to post a report, including the second volume of GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire, and the first volume of Mark Smylie's Artesia, and may write about them in the coming weeks. Just last night, though, I finished a graphic novel that's taken up a considerable amount of mental real estate.

Ian Edginton and D'Israeli's Leviathan

I've earlier raved about Edginton's and D'Israeli's Scarlet Traces sequence (War of the Worlds, Scarlet Traces, and Scarlet Traces: The Great Game) and the terrific references and allusions hidden throughout. I've had another of their collaborations, Leviathan, on my To Read stack for the better part of a year. It appears that this book is not currently available in the States, though it was distributed at least for a while through Diamond (I picked mine up at Austin Books, my local comic shop), so you might be able to find a copy through a comic retailer.

Leviathan is a truly haunting story. It concerns a Titanic-like grand ocean liner, but where the Titanic was simply large, the Leviathan is positively gigantic. A mile long and half a mile high, it is a floating city, but organized along the same First Class, Second Class, Steerage hierarchy familiar from ocean liners of the period. In 1928, the Leviathan, pride of the White Hart line, sets out on her maiden voyage to New York. En route, the passengers will entertain themselves with the ship's many amenities, which include greenhouses, parks, cinemas, a railway, and a zoo.

Twenty years later, she still hasn't arrived.

At some point after leaving British waters, the Leviathan moved into some sort of sunless, starless limbo. For two decades, she has floated on dead waters that stretch out to the unbroken horizon in all direction. The ship is now ruled by a governing body of notable First Class passengers, including the ship's architect, Sir William Ashbless, who uses the ship's stewards as his own private police force. Passengers are only allowed to move from one class to another with travel dockets, and god help anyone who goes below to Steerage and loses their docket. The passengers dine on tapir and flamingo from the zoo, and drink rotgun bathtub gin. Suicides are seasonal, but murders are perennial, at least on the lower decks. It is not until murder runs rampant amongst the First Class passengers, though, that the governing body finds cause for alarm. And when the murders are blamed on the Stokers, the mythical bogeymen said to reside in the Engine Room, that strange place from which no travelers have returned in years, it falls to Second Class passenger and former Scotland Yard detective Aurelius Lament to go below and investigate.

The story of Leviathan is gripping, and sadly over all-too-quickly. There is a sequence of standalone stories that follow the main narrative, "Tales of the Leviathan," but frankly I'd been happier to see the main story continue for multiple volumes before it was through. There are so many narrative possibilities to the world of the doomed floating city, so many intriguing aspects of the makeshift society presented in the story, that the sixty-odd pages of the collection scarcely begin to scratch the surface. If they ever return to the world, I'll be the first in line to pick up a copy.

Leviathan is a perfect example of two creators, writer and artist, working at the peak of their abilities. D'Israeli's draftsmanship is deceptively simple, and is perfectly adept at everything from the claustrophobic confines of Lament's second class cabin to the cavernous and squalid spaces of Steerage, from the tiny details of the doom-haunted ship's captain to the monumental horror of what lays hidden in the Engine Room. And Edginton's script is clever and understated, packing two decades of hopelessness and horror into terse, effective bits of dialogue and narration.

The book is highly recommended. A haunting story that lingers in the mind much longer than the all-too-brief time it takes to read.



"Mere" Escapism

George RR Martin is one smart cookie. Give a listen to this audio interview he did with John J. Miller of the National Review Online. He starts off talking about the divisions (or lack thereof) between genres, and then midway through responds to the charge that much of sf/f is "mere" escapism, with a lively defense of escapism that resonates quite a bit with me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


How It All Ends

Tomorrow I'll be back to a more-or-less regular schedule, one hopes, after the last week-plus of unplanned and enforced vacation (for anyone keeping score, Georgia is pretty much completely recovered, my new steroid inhaler seems to be combating my weird sinus thing, and Allison is gradually figuring out the right balance of medications to keep her upright and functional). With that in mind, I figured it best to end my week of mostly just YouTube posting with one last one of the sort. This is an interesting call to action, a risk management take on the question of global climate change.

Friday, November 23, 2007



Terminus is Trevor Cawood's short film about a kind of urban haunting. Well worth checking out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy Turkey

Have a terrific all eating, all drinking Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year. (And for those poor unfortunates native to countries other than the US, feel free to join in the festivities by eating and drinking in your own benighted lands. Except for you Australians. You're on your own.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Feist's "Mushaboom"

Okay, now I have to go to the doctor, as the persistent low-level crud I brought back from Saratoga has resurged, and now seems to be a full blown sinus infection. But who will chauffeur the chauffeur, that's what I want to know. (Me, that's who...)

Here's another Feist video to keep you busy. Goddamn, but she's awesome...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Clandestine & Iron Fist

In the giant sea of suck that is the current crop of superhero comics, there are still the occasional gems, bobbing along. Here's two in particular, coming our way in February 08.

Written by ALAN DAVIS
Pencils & Cover by ALAN DAVIS
Alan Davis' freaky family returns! They've existed, hidden among mankind for centuries, a mysterious bloodline of superhumans, eternal and apart. And all they've desired is to be left alone, to pursue their individual interests in peace. But now, the existence of their hidden clan is threatened with exposure by the activities of one of their youngest siblings, Rory Destine, who aspires to be the costumed crimefighter called the Crimson Crusader! And now that the cat's been let out of the bag, who or what is going to come calling at the Destine family's Ravenscroft doorway?
32 PGS./Rated T+…$2.99

Mothers, lock up your daughters when we revisit the continuing adventures of that dashing rogue, Orson Randall, the Golden Age Iron Fist! The last time we flashed back to the life and times of Orson Randall, in the much fan-loved and critically acclaimed IMMORTAL IRON FIST ANNUAL, readers unlocked several secrets affecting Danny Rand, the Iron Fist of today. Now get ready for more! We promise you spine-tingling chills, ass-kicking action and pulp-fiction adventure like you've never seen, featuring gorgeous flashback art by Mitch Breitweiser, Chris Brunner, Russ Heath and Lewis LaRosa! Orson Randall goes head-to-head again and again versus none other than…the endlessly mystifying and unstoppably powerful Prince of Orphans! How will their battle through the ages echo in the life of Danny Rand?! You bet your kicked butt it has everything to do with the kung fu tournament of death unfolding in the pages of IMMORTAL IRON FIST!!
48 PGS./Rated T+…$3.99
If you don't know from Clandestine, it's one of the best things in the history of ever, and a high watermark in a career full of high watermarks from Alan Davis (he of Captain Britain, Marvelman, DR & Quinch, and Excalibur fame). To have Davis back, doing more of it after so many years, is a reason to rejoice.

And if you don't know from The Immortal Iron Fist, what the heck is wrong with you? Go get it already!


Feist's "I Feel It All"

You may note that I've done little more than post YouTube links the last few days. Since last week I've basically been driving Miss Daisy, ferrying an injured Allison (neck and back) and an ill Georgia (sinus infection) to and from various appointments and sessions and whatnot. Everyone is medicated and on the mend, so there's an end in sight, but with Allison unable to drive and Georgia not tall enough to reach the pedals, it's down to me to chauffeur everyone around, so I'm taking an unplanned week-long vacation.

In our rambles around town, though, from doctor to preschool to other doctor to physical therapist, I've been obsessively listening to Feist's new album, Remember. I'd heard one or two of her songs over the last few years (and saw her iPod commercial along with everyone else a few months ago), but never knew her name to hunt down more until she was on SNL a few weeks ago. After that I had a name and could go hunting. And goddamn if she isn't 100% awesome. See for yourself...


New Review

SF Signal's John DeNardo, who was previously very kind to Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, has now turned his attention to The Dragon's Nine Sons, and appears to have liked it. Giving it five out of five stars, he summarizes thusly:
PROS: Interesting setting; consistently high level of drama; believable action; well-crafted, layered storytelling; absolutely no padding.
CONS: None that I can think of.
BOTTOM LINE: Believable, lean-and-mean, military sf that offers dramatic tension every chance it gets.


Monday, November 19, 2007


Moore on Simpsons

Watch this clip (before Fox has it removed from YouTube) so that you don't have to suffer through the lamentable tragedy that was last night's Simpsons. The first eight minutes were highly watchable, with a few good comics-related jokes, celebrity guest voices, and Jack Black as the proprietor of the "cool" comics shop. Then inexplicably the comics plot was completely abandoned at the nine minute mark and an unwatchably subpar plot about Marge opening a gym and Homer getting plastic surgery (!) started up instead. I was sure that the comic plot wouldn't even be acknowledged again, and then in the last ten seconds of the show there's a brief and ludicrous callback.

Remember when the Simpsons used to be good? It was a long time ago, but if I think real hard, I can almost recall...

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Mike Huckabee's Border Security Plan (and more)

There's a lot about Mike Huckabee's positions with which I disagree, but I have to admit that this may be the best presidential campaign spot I've ever seen.



(via) Holy cow, this looks good.

Sadly, though, while the official site says that Dogstar is set to start airing the last week of November in Australia, and is already airing or soon will be in Africa, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, Latin America, and the Seychelles for god's sake, I don't see any sign of it showing anywhere in the States.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Free Fiction Friday: "Granma Stemple"

I've missed a couple of weeks of free fiction offerings, what with WFC and the recovery thereof. This week's offering is something of a trifle. I wrote it a long time ago, and it appeared online in a couple of slightly different versions on different webzines. This is, I think, the original version, one of a sheaf of stories I wrote set in the fictional Texas town of Denniston. Only a few of those stories have ever seen the light of day, but Denniston features prominently in a few projects I've got in development, so perhaps I'll dust the rest of them off sooner or later and see if they're worth salvaging.

In any event, here's this story I wrote...

Granma Stemple
by Chris Roberson

You can get just about anything you want at the Denniston Flea Market, if not quite everything you need. Held the first weekend of every month, rain or shine, for as long as anyone can remember, its about like any other flea market you might ever have seen, only a little more so. If you do go (just take the Pomo exit off the expressway, go south, and you can’t miss it) ramble around the eight acres of antique and junk dealers all you want, eat a corn dog or one of those foot long polish sausages if you feel up to it, by all means have some pink lemonade and cotton candy, but don’t even think about leaving before you stop by Granma Stemple’s stall. If you drive away before visiting Granma, you'll have missed the heart of the Denniston market. If there’s anything you’ve ever really wanted, anything at all, chances are you’ll find it there.

This is my opinion, you understand, and others would most likely tell you different, but I’ve spent one weekend out of four at the market now for some thirty years, and I’ve seen them come and go. Old retired couples with their life-long collections of porcelain knick-knacks and salt & pepper shakers, sitting in the shade of their prized r.v.; young hustlers with a crate load of shoddy Korean shoes, trying to pass them off for anything they can take; shop keepers trying to dump all the merchandise they wouldn’t even dare carry in their stores; folk artists selling bits of wood with paintings on them, or paintings done up like clocks. I’ve seen them all. But of every stall I’ve seen, Granma Stemple’s stands out the most for remembering.

Granma is one of the flea market’s best kept secrets. She’s been set up in the same spot for as long as I’ve been coming out, and doesn’t show any signs of moving. She was one of the earliest dealers to have a permanent building of any kind, even if it was only ratty old two-by-fours and corrugated tin siding hammered together into a lopsided box. That box kept the rain off of her in the rain, and the sun in the sunshine. And it holds a lot more merchandise than you’d ever think; a lot more.

I didn’t go over to Granma’s stall for a lot of years. I was at the market to sell, not to buy. I worked my weeks over at the VA hospital, and had a house and attic full of junk. My mother’s things, left there when she went to live at the nursing home those last few years; my boy’s books and toys and such from before he got run over by that car; my wife’s, because when she left it was in a hurry, and she didn’t take much with her. I had that stuff cluttering up my life for too long, I figured, so I rented out a spot and started ferrying stuff over once a month. It made from some extra cash, and made my house a bit easier to move around in.

Now, Granma Stemple’s stall was up just a ways from mine, and though I didn’t ever go in, I’d see her every now and again on my way down to the portalets. She’d always be sitting there, on her high wooden chair, smoking those long thin cigarettes of hers. She hardly ever spoke, only when spoken to first, and even then only to mumble a bit as to what the price of something was, or maybe just what it was exactly anyway.

From my stall I’d see people walking back from hers. Never many, one or two or three each market day, and they’d always have something with them, and they’d always looked kind of stunned. Like they’d found something they’d been looking for a long while, or maybe never even knew they wanted. Sometimes I’d ask them, if they happened to slow down near my tables, just what it was Granma sold. They’d just smile, kind of stupidly, and hold up whatever it was they’d bought. “This,” was all they’d ever say.

I saw old 45 records in those people’s hands, or metal lunch boxes, or key rings, or Barbie dolls. Every time something different, and every time it was like the most important thing in the world. People didn’t just hold the things they bought from Granma, they clung to them.

Now, as the years went by, and my house got more and more empty, I started to peek around the other stalls, to see if I couldn’t find something that’s look good in my place. One time I found an old cavalry sword, which the fellow said had come down from the Civil War; I knew it wasn’t any older than WWI, but it looked fine over my mantle so I didn’t complain. I found an old juke box another time, a battered old Wurlitzer, and once I got it hammered out, and polished up, it looked just fine in my den. And I found a few good paintings, and a strange little African statue (though most likely from Taiwan), and a new set of dishes, and a dresser. But after all that, after all those years of buying, I never once stopped by Granma Stemple’s.

I’d seen the things people bought from Granma, and it wasn’t anything I needed. Junk is all, I figured, and so walked on by. She kept everything in that shack of hers, and with the shades in there so dark you couldn’t see a thing from the outside. And she’d just sit there on her high chair, smoking and not talking.

So a few years went by, and I bought everything I thought I needed; but my house still seemed too big, and too empty. Everything left of my mothers, and my boy’s and my wife’s was up in the attic now, and I only had to go up a couple of times a year to get something to sell. But even with all their stuff up there, out of sight, or away in other folk’s homes, that still didn’t seem like my house. I still felt like I was just borrowing it, from all those that had gone away.

It was spring, when I’d been a regular at the market for about twelve years, when I finally went to see Granma Stemple. Most everybody else had come and gone since the old days, and I didn’t get on too well with the new dealers that were showing up. All hairy, in dirty clothes, acting like a bath was something to harm you. I saw one selling out Nazi patches, if you can believe it, right there in Denniston.

So I walked on down to Granma Stemple’s stall, and walked right up to where she sat. It was sunny out, and she had a big straw hat pulled down low over her face. About all I could see was her chin, and her bottom lip, and that long thin cigarette dangling.

“Afternoon,” I said.

She just mumbled back.

“Fine day,” I said again.

She mumbled back again.

I turned my head a bit, peeking into the shadows of her shack.

“So, what are you selling today?” I asked.

She just jerked her chin a bit, pointing it back to the shack.

“What people want,” she mumbled, down below her breath.

“That so? Guess I’ll have to take a look.”

She didn’t say another word, so I turned and walked back to her stall. It was small, but bigger inside than it looked, and when my yes had adjusted themselves to the dark, I could see that inside there was only one table, set against the back wall. And on that table was a yellowed old envelope. I bent down to look at it, all water stained and tattered, and saw my own name was written on it in simple, block letters.

I snatched it up and carried it back to where Granma sat.

“What’s this?” I asked, my voice kind of set on edge. I shook the envelope at her.

“What you want,” she muttered.

I look at her, and then at the envelope in my hands.

“You selling this, you mean?” I asked. Then I said, “How much?”

“Already yours,” she mumbled. Then she titled her head back and bit, and looked at me with one gray eye from underneath that hat. “See ya.”

So I thanked her, and walked away. She was one odd bird, I figured, and it was a wonder she ever made a dime. No merchandise, and leaving people little notes in the open. I stuck that envelope in my back pocket and didn’t think another thing about it.

That night, back at my house after my day at the market, I was changing into another pair of pants when I found that envelope in my pocket. I’d about forgotten all about it. Pulling on my other pants, I sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at it. It looked old, and worn, and I could tell there was something in it. The writing, my name on the front, looked to have been done some time before, and the handwriting looked familiar.

Sitting there on the edge of the bed, I tore open that envelope and took out what was inside. It was a little piece of paper, folded up, and when I got it unfolded I saw it only had four words on it, in the same handwriting as on the front:

I sat there a little while, trying to puzzle that one out, when sure enough I heard a pounding at the door. I pulled on my boots, and dropped that paper onto the bed, and went down to answer it, wondering would could be coming around at that hour. At any hour, really.

I opened the door, and there they were. My mother, my boy, my wife. All standing on the porch, smiling at me.

“Thanks, hon,” my wife said, “we all forgot our keys and couldn’t get in.”

“We got fried chicken for dinner, dad,” my boy said, grinning from ear to ear.

“You’ll get none ‘till you wash up, boy,” my mother said, patting her grandson on the back, pushing him in the door.

That night we had fried chicken, and sat around listening to the radio. Me, my dead son, the mother I’d buried fifteen years before, and the wife who’d up and run off to Nevada. We had a grand old time, and that big old house didn’t seem so empty anymore.

Come morning, I woke up alone. My wife wasn’t in my bed anymore, and I couldn’t hear the sound of my boy playing out in the yard, and I knew my mother wouldn’t be down in the kitchen at her sewing machine. I knew they were all gone. Don’t ask me how, I just did.

It was Sunday morning, the last day of the market until the next month. I got dressed, put that envelope back in my pocket and drove my truck down to the market. It wasn’t fifteen minutes before I was back at Granma Stemple’s stall, my cap in my hands.

“Ma’am,” I told her, stepping forward slowly, “I’m going to have to give this back.”

I held out the envelope to her, the piece of paper back inside. I figured I knew what would happen the next night I pulled that paper out, and the time after that, and all the times after that.

“It’s what you want,” she muttered.

She didn’t look up.

“Yeah,” I answered, “I imagine it is. Bit it ain’t what I need.”

We were like that for a bit, me standing and holding that envelope out, her sitting and smoking. Finally I said, “Please.”

“Alright,” she muttered back.

She took the envelope from me, and tucked it into her dress somewhere. And she didn’t say another word

I went back to my stall, and I never went back that way again. But I’d never steer anyone away, no. Everybody should have the chance to shop there, and see what they might find. But remember this: you can find most anything you want at the Denniston Flea Market, but you might not find what you need.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Reading Level

Klima did it, so I figured I had to, as well.

cash advance

I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing...


Schulz on work

The other day we finished watching the PBS documentary, American Masters: Charles Schulz. Well worth hunting down, if you haven't seen it. Insightful, bittersweet, and moving. One thing in particular that Schulz said, though, really struck me. It was from an interview fairly late in life, I gather, and concerned his work ethic.
"I just have to draw from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday and it goes on and on and on. People say, 'Well, why can't you work real hard and get ahead and then you could take a month off?'

"That's foolish. Mine is not the kind of job that I've worked all my life to get so that I don't have to do it."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


DJ Lance on tour

Hey, live in the American Southwest or Pacific Northwest and want to see Yo Gabba Gabba's DJ Lance live in concert? And get to see the Aquabats, to boot?

Well here's your chance...

What with Georgia's fairly fickle taste in television (she usually watches a show to the exclusion of all others for a week or two, and then never wants to see it again), we haven't seen an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba in a while. But if I lived anywhere near one of these Aquabats shows, I'd be sore tempted to keep her up past her bed time, just to watch her dance.


More Moore

The blog Again With the Comics, who a few weeks ago shined a spotlight on one of my favorite Alan Moore superhero stories, The Hypernaut chapter of 1963, now turn their attention to one of my favorite Alan Moore short stories from his days working for 2000AD, "Chronocops".

I think the first I heard of this story was an interview with Moore and Dave Gibbons in The Comics Journal, around the time that Watchmen wrapped up. This 2000AD "Time Twister", which is ostensibly little more than a parody of Dragnet in sf drag, was cited as a precursor to a lot of the formalist structure of the pair's seminal superhero collaboration. When I finally got a chance to read the story for myself a few years later, when it and the rest of Moore's 2000AD work was collected by Titan, I could definitely see the influence.

Moore later played with this kind of structure a fair amount in Tomorrow Stories and elsewhere, but there's something fascinating about seeing him work it out for what may be the first time. With the looping time travel narrative, he's able to revisit the same scene again and again (such as the meeting between the two pairs of Chronocops in the upper right panel above), and each time the reader encounters it, they see something different.

The story itself is a fairly clever twist on time travel cliches, but it's really in the structure that it soars. All five pages of the short are up at Again with the Comics, so check it out and see what I mean.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The Black Dossier

Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's latest installment in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, The Black Dossier, is out tomorrow, after a considerable delay. (If you're curious as to the reasons, you might check out what Moore has to say on the subject.) Tomorrow will be the first time in months that I've ventured into town to the comic shop, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the chance to dive into the book once I get back home.

Naturally, the book will be chock full of allusions and easter eggs and, as always, Jess Nevins knows the score. But if you can't wait until next summer for your own guided tour, he's given us a little sneak peak as to what's really going on in the background.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Book Report

As predicted, it's taking me about a week to recover from WFC. I've almost got my voice completely back, which I lost on the first day of the con, and today I feel near enough to normal to exercise for the first time in a couple of weeks. My brain is taking longer to recover than my body, though, which is typical. As a result, I've read precious little the last couple of weeks, and don't have anything new to report. As I've done a time or two before, then, I'll talk a little about a book I read earlier in the year, before I started posting reviews.

Ysabeau S. Wilce's Flora Segunda

That's actually not the full title. With subtitle, it's Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. And honestly, it was the subtitle that sold me on the book. Having read nothing of Wilce's before, seeing that subtitle in a capsule review spurred me to purchase it sight-unseen, and it went onto the top of my To Read list. When I finally started in on the book a few months later, around the time I went to Houston for ApolloCon, I was sorry I hadn't started it before.

I'd heard Wilce's name a few times before, the last few years, in connection with short stories in Asimov's, F&SF, and elsewhere, and we shared a ToC in Jonathan Strahan's Best Short Novels: 2007. Before reading Flora Segunda, though, I hadn't read any of those stories (though I've now hunted down and devoured them all). To any readers who have read and enjoyed things like "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire", "The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror", or "Metal More Attractive", I can't recommend Flora Segunda highly enough. And if you read and didn't enjoy those stories, I'd still recommend giving it a try.

Like many (and perhaps all) of Wilce's short stories, Flora Segunda takes places in a counter-factual/alternate-history version of California, the republic of Califa. In Califa there are four great Houses, each of which is governed by an artificially intelligent "magickal Butler," which is both a kind of agent of the house and an expression of the house's will. In the recent past Califa's Warlord led the nation in a war against their neighbors to the south, the Huitzil Empire, a variant of the Aztecs that absorbed and acculturated the Spanish instead of being conquered by them. At the war's end, an uneasy truce was struck between the two powers, but the echoing effects of the conflict are still being felt.

Flora Segunda is the story of Flora Fyrdraaca, the second of her family to bear that name. She's about to celebrate her fourteen birthday, her Cartorcena (an analogue to the quinceanera observed in Mexican cultural on a girl's fifteen birthday), on the occasion of which she's to deliver a speech celebrating her family, her House (one of the magickal variety), and her future. A scion of a military family and daughter of the Army of Califa's Commanding General, Flora is destined for a life of military service. But all she wants to do is to leave home and become a Ranger, one of a shadowy group of magic-users and scouts, celebrated in yellow-backed novels, who were officially banned at the close of the last war. Her mother is always aways on the army's business, her father is forever locked away in his room lost in drink and memories of the past, and it falls to Flora to keep her house in one piece. She has to sew her Cartorcena dress, write her speech, and keep the dogs fed, when all she really wants to do is hole up and read the adventures of Nini Mo, the greatest Ranger who ever lived. When Flora encounters the artificially-intelligent "butler" who is the expression of her house's will, she thinks she has found the solution to all her problems. But when she begins to fade, literally to turn transparent, it's clear that her problems are far from over.

From time to time I read something and immediately wish desperately that I'd written it. Flora Segunda is one of those books. This is a fantasy firmly rooted in traditions of the West, a counterfactual history blended from elements of English, Spanish, and Mesoamerican cultures. The republic of Califa is a fictional world with its own popular culture, an element often lacking from such things, and I love the fact that the saloon where all the toughs gather in Califa is an ice cream parlor. Upon finishing the book this summer I immediately sought out and devoured everything else of Wilce's I could find, which turned out to be tangentially related to Flora's story in interesting ways (at least one of which is freely available at her site). And it was with relief that I read on Wilce's blog that she was at work on a sequel. It honestly can't come soon enough.

Highly recommended to the kind of reader who thinks that the idea of tough guys bellying up to the bar in an ice cream parlor is their cup of tea.


Friday, November 09, 2007


New Review

SciFiChick, who previously reviewed Set the Seas on Fire, has turned her attention to Paragaea: A Planetary Romance.
Paragaea is a wonderful story with the feel of a fantasy, but the heart of a science fiction novel. Though it isn’t necessary to read Set the Seas on Fire, I found it helpful to already have a background on the character of Hero. I found myself loving Paragaea , the story and world, even more. With more swash-buckling action and stronger characters, Roberson is a truly gifted storyteller.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Secret Files of the Diogenes Club reviewed

Rick Kleffel beats the rush by being the first to review the awesomeness that is Kim Newman's Secret Files of the Diogenes Club.
In the past, I might have really kvetched about the trade paperback format; to be sure a book such as this deserves hardcover more than much of the dross you'll find littering the shelves. That said, this and the companion volume did actually get published, a feat for which we should thank MonkeyBrain. For all the synchronicity in the arrival and discussion of things Newmanian and Lovecraftian, synchronicity by itself ain't enough. Hard work, great design and great writing are what truly make 'The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club' hard to ignore. But it is certainly true that great books fall from the sky about as often as fish.
Rick is one of many who have praised the cover design and illustration of Lee Moyer, who was praised to the rafters at WFC this last weekend. The finished product truly is something to behold, and the scans and images online only begin to do it justice. Buy a copy for yourself and see, if you don't believe me.


New Review

The unflappable Peggy Hailey has reviewed Set the Seas on Fire for RevolutionSF. Actually, this is the second time she's reviewed it, having read the shorter version years ago. No reviewer should have to tackle the same book twice, but I'm glad to see that Peggy seems to have enjoyed the longer incarnation.
The realistic detail in setting and character makes it all the easier to suspend disbelief once the supernatural elements start showing up; you really care what happens to these people, which is quite a feat. So if you like fast-paced adventure stories that don't sacrifice characters on the altar of plot, then you really should be reading Chris Roberson.



World Fantasy Convention

It's Wednesday, right? I'm not entirely sure. Left Saratoga on Monday, stayed overnight in Dallas at my folk's place that night, and drove back to Austin at a leisurely pace yesterday. This morning we're more or less back on track, with Georgia off to preschool, Allison off to the office, and me sitting here at my desk, staring at the hundreds of unread emails and thousands (literally, thousands) of unread posts in Google Reader that need addressing.

If you even slowed down near me this last week you doubtless heard me blathering on about how World Fantasy Convention is the hub around which my year turns, which is something I say so often even I am tired of hearing me say it. But it's the honest, unvarnished truth. I've been attending every year for the last seven, which meant that the 33rd annual in Saratoga was my eighth consecutive. On the flight home Allison and I finally got a chance to pore over the convention souvenir book, and it was a point of some pride to discover that I have actually attended one quarter of the annual conventions in a series that got its start when I was five years old. (Allison was quick to point out that she's attended a quarter of the conventions that started when she was only one.) WFC is the capital city of a nonlocal nation, the town square of a community that ranges over countries and continents, and for which the only citizenship requirement is a love for the fantastic in art and literature. That Allison and I have been welcomed as a part of this community is one of the things about my professional life that I'm proudest, but I shouldn't be surprised, since the fantasy community really is the most open and welcoming group of people it's ever been my privilege to meet, and there are people in it who were as nice and gracious to us when we first walked in the door seven years ago, callow and full of unearned self-importance, as they were this last weekend, when we've managed to attain some small measure of success.

Lots of people come home from WFC and produce detailed convention reports, detailing all of the great conversations they've had, listing all the people they met and the things they saw. I don't even try. Even a cursory summary of the last week would run into the tens of thousands of words, and I couldn't even begin to do justice to what those conversations and late-night rambles mean to me in anything less than novel-length.

To everyone who suffered through my drunken ramblings this last week, thank you for letting me be a part of your convention, and thanks for being a part of mine. The vast majority of everyone in the world who matters a damn to me, outside of my own family, was there in Saratoga for those few days, and it was indescribably awesome to see you all. Getting to see old friends, having past acquaintances transmute like alchemical gold into true friends, and making more new acquaintances than I could count makes up for the long months of the year I spend alone in this room, writing. I'm solitary and curmudgeonly enough that I probably won't make contact with any of you for the next eleven months, content with spending my days talking only to myself, my wife, and a three-year-old, but if any of you happen not to be in Calgary next year for the thirty-fourth WFC, it just won't be the same without you. And for those friends who couldn't be with us this year (Alan and Jude, and Graham, and Charles and MaryAnn, and Justin, and Sean, and on and on), I hope you'll be there next year, because this year really wasn't the same without you.

Thanks again to everyone, and when you get to Calgary next year I'll be there waiting for you in the bar.

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