Saturday, May 31, 2008


Silence in the Library



I just watched the 2009 winner of the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. And it's only the first half!

Now I'm really looking forward to 2010...

Friday, May 30, 2008


Magic Words

Last week Georgia was asking Allison for something--I can't remember quite what it was now, a toy Allison was holding, more than likely--and Allison said, "What's the magic word?"

Georgia, without missing a beat, answered, "Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos."

Allison and I both literally collapsed with laughter, while Georgia looked at us in complete confusion, having no idea what was so funny.


Brains' Dance

The always excellent PuppetVision Blog points out this "viral marketing" for a UK bottled water brand, featuring Brains from Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds. As PuppetVision and the fascinating making-of video explain, the spot features a mix of marionette work, CGI, and motion-capture to update Anderson's Supermarionation, to awesome effect.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Arthur Edward Stilwell and the Brownies

Yesterday, poking around online researching a project I'm working on, I stumbled upon the strange story of Arthur Edward Stilwell and his friends, the brownies. After working as a clerk, traveling salesman, and insurance policy developer, in the 1880s Stilwell moved into the apparently lucrative business of trust companies and belt-line railways. One of his accomplishments was founding the town of Port Arthur in Texas. The town was to be a seaport, and a terminus of a railway that ran south from Kansas City, so that the agricultural products of the American midwest could be exported. The railway eventually failed, apparently, but the town of Port Arthur survived.

That's not the interesting part of Stilwell's story, though. The juicy bit is this:
Stilwell blamed the "Cannibals of Wall Street," and John W. Gates in particular, for his losses, and wrote several books on finance and world affairs. He then published novels, poems, and stories alleging that the ideas for his railways and Port Arthur came to him from "brownies." Stilwell was a Christian Scientist. He married Jennie A. Wood on June 10, 1879, and they had no children. He died in New York on September 26, 1928. Among the other Texas communities founded by his firms were Nederland, Diaz, Rochester, Hamlin, Odell, Sylvester, and Rule.
So this is a Gilded Age-era entrepreneur whose reach appears to have outstripped his grasp, who was advised in all his business dealings by brownies. Little elven creatures. And this wasn't anything that Stilwell kept secret, either.

The April 7, 1924 issue of Time Magazine carried a story simply headlined "Brownies."
The recent sale of the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad at public auction to Clifford Histed for $3,000,000, recalls the peculiar circumstances under which the line was originally constructed.

Its author was Arthur E. Stilwell, one of the foremost railroad buyers in the U. S. In a dream, what Stilwell described as "brownies" urged him to build the Kansas City Southern, the shortest line from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico. No sooner was this task completed than the same "brownies" became insistent that he run another line from Kansas, southwest, into Mexico. Stilwell even consulted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who declared that "spirits" were directing his work.

Accordingly, the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient was organized in 1901, capitalized at $50,000,000. Its line runs from Wichita, Kan., to Alpine, Tex; then there is a gap of unfinished line to Falomir, whence the road proceeds through Chihuahua to Sanchez; after another gap, it begins again at Fuerte and ends at its Pacific terminal at Topolobampo.

What kind of "brownies" suggested this unhappy venture is uncertain. The road has been beset by one difficulty after another, and has been involved in much litigation. Finally, the road was ordered sold to satisfy a government lien of $2,500,000 with interest, advanced in 1923 to enable the road to continue in operation.

The new owner, Mr. Histed, declares the road will be reorganized, built up and extended. And so far he has not mentioned "brownies."
(Even eight decades later you can hear the Time reporter chuckling over that last line, can't you?)

Stilwell's wife, apparently, shared his belief in the spiritual. And as this Time Magazine obituary from October 22, 1928 suggests, she was willing to follow his lead, even after death.
Died. Mrs. Arthur Edward Stilwell, 68, widow of the late famed railroad builder (TIME, Oct. 8); by an eight-story leap from her apartment, 13 days after the death of her husband; in Manhattan. Both Mr. & Mrs. Stilwell were spiritualists, students of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Oliver Lodge. Mr. Stilwell once declared that "brownies" advised him in his business enterprises. Mrs. Stilwell left a note, stating that her death would take her to Mr. Stilwell "on another plane of consciousness."
So at least eight towns in Texas, founded by a spiritualist (and "student of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle") who took direction from brownies that appeared to him in his dreams, and who blamed his business failings on the "Cannibals of Wall Street." Little elfin creatures situating communities in very particular locations at the end of railway lines--at the end of leylines, perhaps?--opposed by cannibalistic forces half a continent away, vying for control of the continent.... Sounds like there's a story in there somewhere, doesn't there?


Space Cowboy on Earth

Ready for more Space Cowboy? I am.

(for those just tuning in, "Space Cowboy" is the continuing adventures of a, erm, cowboy in space, which was written by Dan Meth when he was in the 8th grade, and then adapted by Dan Meth as an adult, and it is made of awesome)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

Only a few more weeks until...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Venture Bros. Shirt of the Week

I didn't realize that the new season of Venture Bros was almost upon us until last night. I knew it was coming up in June, but was jazzed to realized it was premiering this Saturday. A two hour Lostand a new Venture Bros in one week? Coming so close on the heels of trips to the theater to watch Iron Man (which was great, very nearly flawless) and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which was good, and much better than it could have been)--and in a week that sees the release of a new issue of All-Star Superman and the first issue of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis--this really is an embarrassment of riches.

The announcement of the Venture Bros. Shirt of the Week Club, though, is almost too much.

Here's the first shirt, available for a week following this Saturday's premier of the episode "Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny":



BookCrossing and Traveling Books

A while back I came across, an intriguing site. Here's the brief:
At BookCrossing, you can register any book you have on the site, and then set the book free to travel the world and find new readers.

Leave it on a park bench, at a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym -- anywhere it might find a new reader! What happens next is up to fate, and we never know where our books might travel next. Track the book's journey around the world as it is passed on from person to person.
I loved the idea of books being set "free," let loose like messages in bottles onto an unsuspecting world. I poked around a bit on the site, and wondered whether anything of mine would ever end up on the lists. That was a couple of years ago, and I don't think I've really thought of the site since.

This last weekend the site turned up in one of my automated ego-searches. Turns out a number of my books have been liberated, and are currently "traveling." Doesn't look like any of the traveling books have been found yet, though. If you happen to see any of the books I've written sitting on a park bench or at a bus stop, unattended, (or anyone else's book for that matter) go ahead and pick them up. They might be traveling books looking for a new home.


Italian Spiderman Movie, Episode 1

Remember the Italian Spiderman teaser? Well, here comes the first episode of the movie...

Monday, May 26, 2008


The League of Public Domain Properties

Mmm. I wonder where Ruben Bolling stands on the question of copyright reform?


The Adventures of Catman

A little Monday morning amusement, ganked from Dan Piraro's BizarroBlog:

Friday, May 23, 2008


Robert Asprin, RIP

I learn from Cheryl Morgan's blog that Robert Asprin has passed away. Kevin Standlee has more information.

I was a huge fan of the MythAdventures in high school, and followed the adventures of Skeeve and Aahz for years through a dozen or so novels before life distracted me and I lost track. In my twenties, I went back and reread most of the series, and was somewhat surprised to find that I liked it almost as much as an adult. Asprin was a much better writer than some gave him credit for, I always thought, and in amongst the groan-inducing puns of the MythAdventures books there are some really fine ideas and terrific characterization (to say nothing of a nicely worked out magical system).

Bob Asprin was a feature of the Dallas area conventions when I was a kid, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs and the like, and I must have seen him on a dozen panels over the years. For all I know it was his example that lead me to adopt as a career goal that I'd one day be on the other side of a panel, myself. (Once I was up there, I learned it wasn't as much fun as it looked, but I was able to tick it off the list, even so.)

A few years ago I was a program participant at an otherwise unremarkable convention in Huntsville, Alabama, where Asprin was one of the guests, and had the good fortune to be able to buy him a drink and tell him how much his books had meant to me as a kid. (I think I distressed him a little because I kept talking about how great it was to see the Myth books back in print, when apparently they'd never been out of print, but evidently merely not widely available.)

In my brief interactions with him in person, Bob seemed an affable, amiable guy, who was genuinely gracious with a goofy stranger who he didn't know from Adam. I remember his books with much affection, and in his memory I may get a couple of them down next week and revisit them.

Rest in peace, Bob.


New Review

Joe Crowe of RevolutionSF has reviewed Paragaea, and liked it:
Parageaa is a step ahead of most modern fantasies. It's not a blatant setup for a 17-part trilogy. Roberson isn't so in love with Paragaea that he spends pages of real estate describing the flora or the history. It's a backdrop for his characters to move through, and that's plenty.

Best of all, it's fun. It plays in the backyard of Philip Jose Farmer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Michael Moorcock.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


Mystery Tales

Okay, so we've got an entire week to wait for the next episode of Lost, the two-hour season finale, but to tide us over Jeff Trexler has pointed out this little bit of awesomeness.

Remember Mystery Tales #40, which was one of the items featured in John Locke's little Dalai Lama test in "Cabin Fever"?

Well, a group of Lost fans in Spain have succeeded in tracking down a copy, and have started a Mystery Tales blog, which will features scans of the stories and analysis of the ways they might tie into Lost, if at all.

Check out this similarity they found already between the cover and the Season Four promotional poster. Mmm...

And here is the first panel of the first story, "The Hidden Land,"

I love the internet...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Moffat to Helm Who

Begin celebrating... Now!
BBC Wales and BBC Drama has announced that Bafta and Hugo Award-winning writer Steven Moffat will succeed Russell T Davies as Lead Writer and Executive Producer of the fifth series of Doctor Who, which will broadcast on BBC One in 2010.

Moffat has penned some of the series' most unforgettable and acclaimed episodes, including Blink, with its terrifying weeping angels, for which he was awarded the Bafta Writer Award 2008 on Sunday 11 May.

His previous work on Doctor Who includes The Girl In The Fireplace for series two, which earned him his second Hugo Award.

His first was for the series one two-parter The Empty Child, which became famous for its terrifying refrain "Are you my mummy?"

For the current series, Moffat has written Silence In The Library, a two-parter starring Alex Kingston which transmits on 31 May and 7 June 2008 on BBC One.
Moffat's episodes of Who these last few years have been amongst the best Who ever, and among the best SF television in general, and his Jekyll was flat-out awesome. That he would take over after RTD has been rumored (and never denied) for a few years now, but to have it confirmed is about the best news the Who franchise has seen since it returned to air.
Steven Moffat says: "My entire career has been a Secret Plan to get this job. I applied before but I got knocked back 'cos the BBC wanted someone else. Also I was seven.

"Anyway, I'm glad the BBC has finally seen the light, and it's a huge honour to be following Russell into the best - and the toughest - job in television. I say toughest 'cos Russell's at my window right now, pointing and laughing."

Friday, May 16, 2008


Science Ninja Hero Batman

In the spirit of yesterday's "Most Excellent Superbat" of the Super Young Team, Cliff Chiang (whose work on Dr. Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality I've praised before) shares this little gem.
I was digging through the storage room here at the underwater headquarters and ran across these character sheets I did almost 10 years ago. So I slapped on a new coat of digital paint and put ‘em up for your amusement. Similar to Grant Morrison’s ideas for Super Young Team, I imagined that the DC universe had a band of Japanese superheroes inspired by their original Western counterparts. It’s basically a mix of DC, old school anime and kaiju.
He explains that, because DC already had a similar idea in the works, his pitch was shelved, but just look at what he'd cooked up.

Science Ninja Hero Batman!

And here's Science Ninja Hero Batman's sidekick, arch nemesis, and his sidekick...

Total Gatchaman, no? (Otherwise known as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, naturally. Or "G-Force," to you heathens...)

About this take on Batman, Chiang says "Here, Batman is a wealthy but orphaned college student, the Joker is an insane visual kei rock star..." Like his interpretations of Superman, Green Lantern, et al., he admits that these are "shameless pastiches," which they are, but in a way that is 100% made of awesome.

There's more awesome in Chiang's post, unless you hate goodness or something.


Wolverine in the 50s

Here's a little Friday night goodness for you. Joel Priddy, for reasons perhaps known only to him, has posted a slew of imaginary covers featuring "1950's Wolverine"--the kind of thing Mort Weisinger might have produced, had he gotten his hands on the character.

How awesome is that?


Flight of the Conchords' "Ladies of the World"

We've been listing to a lot of Flight of the Conchords in the car lately, with the release of their new LP. The other day, while Allison was out of town on business, Georgia and I were on our way to her preschool, listening to "Think About It," when she told me that she wanted another song. She wanted to hear "The Laters." Well, I'm thinking, which song is that? I skipped through a few tracks, trying to figure out what she'd latched onto in giving a song that name, and when I failed to hit the right one, she started singing it for me.

As you watch this new video for Flight of the Conchords "Ladies of the World," try to imagine a four-year-old girl singing "lay-ters.... lay-ters..." every time Bret sings the chorus.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Two Thoughts

I'm crazy busy this week, working on a new Celestial Empire novella (it's called "Mirror of Fiery Brightness," for those of you keeping score, and is a Cold War espionage thriller). But having been mostly quiet already this week, I thought I'd leave you with two thoughts.

(Oh, and in case anyone might have seen weather reports of tornado-level storms in central Texas, the good news is that the storm passed at least a mile or two north of us. But that didn't mean that we didn't spend a half-hour or so downstairs in the bathroom, the most secure room in the house, waiting for it to blow over. Allison watched the weather reports on her laptop while Georgia--who was delighted to be up past her bedtime and having a little adventure--and I read a big stack of library books.)

First thought.

You must buy Captain Britain and MI13.

Why? Well, not just because it's scripted by Paul Cornell, who in addition to being one of the most genuinely pleasant people I've ever met, is also one hell of a writer. And not just because the art by Leonard Kirk completely rocks the house.

No, it's because this book contains, for the first time that I can ever recall, the Black Knight absolutely kicking ass.

The Black Knight is one of those characters in search of a story--a good hook, decent look, and workable backstory that somehow has never gelled in the right way. In this issue, Paul and Leonard completely nail the character in a few brief panels, and immediately make me want to read a long-running ongoing Black Knight series with them in the driver's seat. Which isn't likely to happen, which is why we all need to pick up Captain Britain and MI13, so that it can continue happening.

Second Thought.

Though Lou Anders will hate it on sight, I love the idea of Most Excellent Superbat.

This glimpse of the awesomeness that our future holds is from the Final Crisis Sketch Book, which also came out this week, and which gives a peak into the preproduction work behind Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones's forthcoming DC Comics crossover series, Final Crisis. I'm looking forward to this book like I haven't looked forward to any big superhero linewide crossover since DC One Million, and for exactly the same reasons. (In the interest of fairness, I've read some criticism of the Japanese characters online, but while I think the critics raise some excellent points, this still hits enough of my buttons that I'm ready to give Morrison and Jones the benefit of the doubt.)

I love the way that the areas of negative space on Superman's shield get reduced to abstractions, and taken out of context become design elements in their own right. (And I'm reminded of the way that the shield evolved into the insignia of the future Superman in DC One Million, as well, becoming abstract in another direction.)

Those are my two thoughts, and now I'm done. Back to "Mirror of Fiery Brightness."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Miss Otis Regrets

For reasons surpassing understanding, I've had Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues' version of Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" (from Red Hot + Blue) running through my head for days.

My earwig, let me share it with you...

And as an added bonus, here's David Byrne's cover of Porter's "Dont' Fence Me In," from the same compilation, which usually bubbles up from my subconscious once every few months for the last couple of decades.

A great compilation, that Red Hot + Blue...


New Review

The unsinkable Rob Bedford has reviewed The Dragon's Nine Sons for, and appears to have enjoyed it:
The Dragon’s Nine Sons is a fast-paced story, set in future of a world similar to our own. The characters are well-crafted and in such a relatively short story, Roberson effectively fills in the right amount of details for the characters as well as the other elements of the story. The rich history of the world is only hinted at and Roberson provides a timeline of the Middle Kingdom as an appendix which illustrates the depth of divergent history in the Celestial Empire universe. Though this novel has some distinct differences from Paragaea, Roberson retains the same storytelling sensibilities and qualities. Part heist, part redemption story, part adventure The Dragon’s Nine Sons is a solid and entertaining novel.


Friday, May 09, 2008


Disaster Fiction and Freaky Angels

Warren Ellis and collaborator Paul Duffield are taking a week off from their ongoing webcomic, FreakAngels, to give Duffield a bit of a chance to catch up. In place of the five pages of serialized story we've been getting the last few months, Ellis offers up an interesting rumination on disaster fiction, and it's place in the British cultural landscape.
Disaster fiction is a British staple. There’s probably some kind of deep-rooted psychological reason for it. Maybe deep down we feel we need to be punished for the slave trade or something. Or, possibly, we react to the fact that we’re an almost completely earthquake-free, monsoon-free, hurricane-free, Ebola-free and rabies-free chunk of rock in a temperate zone. We imagine great natural (or unnatural) disasters because we’ll never actually experience them. Literary survivors’ guilt.
That's a really interesting and novel response to the question of the "cozy catastrophe" (and an interesting parallel to Chris Nakashima-Brown's thoughts on the subject).

As much as I love Ellis's (and Cassaday's) Planetary--and I love that book--his stuff the last few years has been fairly hit or miss for me. I really enjoyed the Apparat one-shots, loved Nextwave and liked quite a bit about newuniversal, but the William Gravel stuff lost me early on, and I was turned off of Fell within the first half-dozen issues. Ocean was an interesting but ultimately somewhat flawed story, and Desolation Jones just seemed too much a catalog of stylistic tics for me to fully engage with it.

FreakAngels, though.... FreakAngels is so good that I ache that I didn't think of it first. Here's the kernel of the idea, in Ellis's words:
One of the great touchstones of FREAKANGELS is, of course, the work of John Wyndham. The genesis of FA came from idle wondering, standing outside in my garden having a cigarette one night, what would have become of his Midwich Cuckoos if they’d been able to grow up into disaffected and confused twenty-one-year-olds.
Lensed through a post-global-climate-change flooded London, the very simple idea of the Midwich Cukoos as disaffected post-adolescents is a genius one, and brilliantly presented. And online for free, no less. It's a terrific science fiction serial, with new chapters appearing (almost) every week, and is highly recommended.


Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture

There are all sorts of reasons that I'm occasionally sorry I don't live in London. Here's another one to add to the list.

This morning I stumbled upon two blog posts that discuss Neal Stephenson's talk yesterday at Gresham College's symposium, Science Fiction as a Literary Genre. Stephenson's talk was entitled "The Fork: Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture".

Mssv offered a few notes about the talk, discussing some interesting highlights of what Stephenson had to say.
On Vulcan Ears: Neal recently had dinner at a very nice and respectable restaurant in New York. It was the type of restaurant that had professional waiters in their 30s and 40s, not kids looking to make a quick buck. These waiters regularly hear people name-drop famous policitians and celebrities, and they are experienced enough to not miss a beat. However, when Neal mentioned Lucy Lawless (of Xena: Warrior Princess and Battlestar Galactica) their waiter immediately spun around and joined the conversation. Neal’s belief is that science fiction fans all have Vulcan ears - they might be mechanics or scientists or waiters, and they might hide them in their pockets 99% of the time, but they sense the presence of other geeks, the ears come out and all bets as to propriety are off.
Torque Control, the Vector Editorial Blog,

The conceit of Neal Stephenson’s keynote address was to imagine what a xeno-ethnologist would make of our culture, and his conclusion was: it no longer makes sense to talk about “mainstream” versus “genre”. He described this split, between acceptable culture and a number of debased genres, as the “standard model”, and argued that it may have been accurate half a century or more ago, but was no longer relevant. However, he also defined his terms very carefully: not only did he specify that he was talking about speculative fiction rather than science fiction, he made it clear that he was using the widest possible definition of speculative fiction, to include, for example, “new historical fiction” like 300 (and presumably also The Baroque Cycle). He used “mundane” to describe all non-sf.

Sf, he argued, is unique among genres in that it has grown but remained separate. Westerns largely died (contemporary examples are all exceptional in some way, not part of a living genre; romance has become ubiquitous in film; crime has become a dominant narrative form on tv. Sf has become too common and too successful to be realistically described as a genre — hence his very broad definition of the term — but has not been absorbed in the way that romance and crime have. It remains a separate stream in our culture.

A xeno-ethnologist, he suggested, would see a “bifurcated culture”, with speculative on one side and mundane on the other. Evidence for this bifurcation: the redefinition of bestseller lists in, eg, the New York Times, to include only the types of books that the compilers of bestseller lists think should be on there (eg relegating Potter to YA); and the careers of actors such as Sigourney Weaver and Hugo Weaving, who have respectable success as actors but disproportionate fame among speculative audience relative to mundane audiences. He proposed that the unifying factor among actors achieving this sort of success was their ability to “project intelligence”; that intelligence (practical or intellectual or some other kind) was the key to identifying these characters. At this point it became clear that better terms for the split he was trying to describe would be between geeky and not, rather than speculative than not. His attempt to explain that split was, I thought, actually quite sophisticated. He argued that, in the everyday world, intelligence is not exceptional — though it comes in many forms — but that a lot of mundane fiction does not actually reflect this. In a complex world, the split is between art that encourages vegging out and that which encourages geeking out, and the latter is the stuff that has become the speculative stream of our culture. (Remember how broad his definition of speculative is: I strongly suspect he would attempt to claim, say, HBO shows, and certainly something like The West Wing.) The satisfaction of sf, he argued, was that its characters are not dumb, ie they act like we think real people would. (I leave you to decide how much “real people” is being defined as “people like Neal Stephenson”, although he was at pains, as I said, to point out that there are many kinds of intelligence.) He wrapped up with some rather strawman and largely unproductive attacks on academia as a factor behind this split, suggesting that the post-structuralist, post-modern principles of English teaching breed a sort of lack of confidence in writing about anything other than subjective personal experience.

This plugs into thoughts I had last year, inspired by John Seavey's comments about "cult fiction". Here's what Seavey said:
Ultimately, I think the only thing they have in common is that they all present the world, in some way, as stranger than real life. This is most overt in science-fiction, which is why I think that it all tends to get lumped in as sci-fi, but even the non-science-fiction series like '24' or 'Alias' show a world which is bigger, more dangerous, more exciting, and more vivid than the one we live in every day. (And sketch comedy shows, almost by definition, explore a "stranger than life" idea to its logical conclusion--like the Lumberjack sketch, for example.) I think this is what we're attracted to, the idea that we live in a super-interesting universe, and that these are looks around the corner to the bits that we don't usually see. Bits where kids can build a working space shuttle out of stuff they send away from on cereal boxes, bits where hidden wizard academies teach the sorcerers of tomorrow; bits, in short, that we can always imagine ourselves just about to stumble into.
There does seem to be some kind of commonality amongst the kinds of entertainments that obsess geeks like me. Continuity-laden superhero comics, novel series with extensive world-building, television shows with rich settings and intricate threaded storylines, immersive games both tabletop and online, et cetera. In the realm of television, it's not just genre shows like Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even Lost, but also Rome and Deadwood and West Wing. There is a kind of intense devotion to these constructed worlds I've only encountered with other geeks, whether the devotion is to an entirely imagined world like Middle Earth or Narnia, or the image of the world presented in Rome or Deadwood.

In the comments to my earlier post, Lou Anders talks about "richness of milieu & continuity," and that got me thinking about Seavey's "stranger than life" comment, and suggested to me that perhaps if all of these examples weren't stranger than life, they were definitely more interesting than life, richer and more detailed.

If, as the poster on Torque Control (Niall, I think?) opines, Stephenson's definition of "speculative" is broad enough to "suspect he would attempt to claim, say, HBO shows, and certainly something like The West Wing," then it may be that he's talking about much the same thing.

A few months ago I participated in one of SF Signal's Mind Meld roundtables, on the subject of "Today's SF Authors Define Science Fiction," and my half-joking response included the following bit of nonsense:
So what is science fiction, then? Well, I've just about given up on the question entirely. Lately I've trended more and more to something that might well be called Anti-Mundane-SF (hey, should I start a movement?), in which everything I like is science fiction. Why not? I like Lost, is it science fiction? Sure, you can make a strong case. And Pushing Daisies? Absolutely. Hell, James Bond does all kinds of stuff that isn't possible in the real world, so we'll call that sf as well, and if we have Bond we'll take Superman and Batman as well. And we'll claim as sf The Venture Bros and Avatar the Last Airbender and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. What the hell, toss in Flight of the Conchords too, I'm sure they did something sfnal at some point (for all I know New Zealand could be imaginary...).
I was, though, only half-joking, which means I was also half-serious, but now, a few months later, I'm starting to think I was more or less entirely serious. Taken together, Seavey's "cult fiction" and thoughts about immersion in worlds more interesting than reality, my own addled attempt to label everything I like as "science fiction," and Stephenson's discussion about speculative fiction being not a genre but instead a separate cultural stream seem to be pointing at something. Just what, I'm not sure yet. A "bifurcated culture," such as Stephenson describes? With the stuff that encourages "geeking out"--active involvement with entertainment, as opposed to simply consuming--appealing to the geeks?

In the discussions that followed Clay Shirky's "cognitive surplus" talk, I saw a lot of people objecting to what they saw as Shirky's classification of all television as mere consumption. But what I think Shirky was actually talking about was the "vegging" type of entertainment that Stephenson discusses, a non-immersive, non-interactive type of entertainment that stands in opposition to the "geeky", interactive and immersive type. The evidence is that any number of the "Wikipedia-scale projects" that Shirky says could be mounted if people watched less television are being mounted by people that watch quite a bit of it. Not just the Alternate Reality Games that are becoming increasingly common, marketing machines for genre tv and movies, but completely grassroots, ground-level enterprises. Every week, at about 10PM on Thursday, I head over to Lostpedia, to begin to take part in the international, collaborative process that is the digestion of the latest episode of Lost. This isn't standing around the watercooler the next day talking about the funny bits of last night's Gilligan's Island, this is an ongoing intellectual exercise carried out by thousands--millions?--of people ever week, who aren't just viewers, they are participants.

Obviously, not everyone who watches or reads these kinds of entertainments participates at the same level. On the far end of the spectrum you get people who wear Star Fleet uniforms to work every day or who prefer to speak in Elvish, and at the other end you have those who do nothing but watch the twinkling lights of some space opera or vampire hunting show with their brains turned off, with no more intellectual engagement than they'd have watching Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire Midget. And there are doubtless devoted viewers of mindless reality shows, the ultimate in vegging consumer product, who devote their lives to building huge databases of references found in them, as well. But those are outliers on either side, I think, and there's a large middle ground of geeks who do engage with these entertainments--whether you call them cult fiction, or speculation, or just plain science fiction--on a level that you don't find in regular, "mundane" entertainments.

So what does this mean for those of us who create entertainments in the first place? Is there a kind of checklist of qualities and characteristics that, if a piece of entertainment has enough, then the geek audience will engage? And, perhaps more importantly, are there elements that, if omitted, will mean they stay away? Perhaps the corollary to this kind of immersion is the cold-water-in-your-face realization that a particular "more interesting than reality" world isn't more interesting, after all. I've discussed before shows like Heroes or X-Files or Alias that appeared to me originally to hint at big mysteries that the viewer was invited to puzzle out over time but which, eventually, were revealed to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Isn't that the sting at the end of this tail, that viewers who do get immersed will be more disappointed when an entertainment fails to deliver its promises than a "vegging" audience would be by an entertainment that just limped along in its mindless way?

Mmm. I don't know. What do you people think?

Thursday, May 08, 2008


2007 Interzone Readers’ Poll

The results of the 2007 Interzone Readers’ Poll have been posted, and look at that! My own "Metal Dragon Year", which appeared in Interzone #213, manages to squeak into the Top Ten list of stories in the number 9 position. But even better, Kenn Brown's lovely cover illustration for issue 213, inspired by the story that shares its name, "Metal Dragon Year", gets top honors in the Art category. Way to go, Kenn!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Good (Secret) News

Yesterday brought two bits of good news, neither of which I can talk about. Both are essentially franchise gigs, both fairly high profile. One is a done deal, it appears, and the other is a possibility that's looking increasingly likely.

Without being in a position to share any details yet, I can say that my dance card has just gotten very full for the next couple of months, possibly even longer.


Pac Man

(via) I've always wondered what was up with the ghosts in Pac Man. This is the best explanation I've seen yet...

(So far I've only been able to track down the unattributed image that countless posts have pointed to the last few days . Anyone know who did this piece?)

EDIT: Thanks to Jake Hazelip for solving the mystery in the comments. The piece is actually entitled "The Madness of Mission 6", and is the work of Travis Pitts, as seen on Threadless, where it appears there are still a few T-shirt sizes of the print available. Hmm. It's been a few years since I've worn t-shirts with anything printed on them, but in this case I just may have to make an exception...


Another Other Cenotaxis Review

And now Texan, writer, and all-around swell guy Josh Rountree (whose first collection, Can't Buy Me Faded Love, is due out from Wheatland any day now) weighs in on the reasons why Cenotaxis is awesome:
I've never read anything by Mr. Williams before, but this one caught my eye at the book store. It's about 100 pages long, part of Monkeybrain's new "short novel" line. This is a killer book, and I read it in one sitting. Basically, a prophet of sorts is looking to unite the far flung worlds of humanity under one protective banner, but Earth isn't buying into the system, and the resistance is led by a man who lives his life out of sequence and might just be a god. Got it?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Myriad Universes has posted the final covers for the two "Myriad Universes" omnibuses coming out this summer, from the hand of the incomparable John Picacio, naturally.

Here's the cover for Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions, which includes my short novel Brave New World:

And in the interest of equal time, here's the cover for the other omnibus, Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism, which tragically I am not in:

Sexy, no?


Speed Racer Goes Crazy

(via) A skillful reworking of existing audio and footage from the old Speed Racer cartoons, in which, as it says on the label, Speed Goes Crazy...

When I was a kid, probably not much older than Georgia is now, I loved the Speed Racer cartoon. I could only watch it, though, when my mom wasn't around. Like The Three Stooges, it was forbidden when she was in the house, because of the frequent violence. As a kid, I thought she was nuts, but looking back now, rewatching old Speed Racer episodes... yeesh, but a lot of people die in those things.

My other favorite show at the time was The Rifleman, though, about a family man forced by circumstance almost every week to solve problems with his rifle, so I may have had a bit of a thing for televised violence, at that...

Monday, May 05, 2008


Hellboy and the BPRD

Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, which Georgia and I have both been looking forward to for a while now. Once we were all up and dressed, we headed out the door to Austin Books and got in line for the free goodies (and picked up a couple of non-free items as well, to be fair).

Georgia's favorite was probably the Tiny Titans offering from DC. As a big fan of the Cartoon Network Teen Titans and the associated all-ages title Teen Titans Go, she immediately understood that these were the characters she's familiar with, but as "babies" (everyone smaller than Georgia is a "baby" in her eyes, naturally), and with some extra characters added to the mix. Just why there are two Wonder Girls, though, was something difficult to explain to a four year old.

My personal faves were Atomic Robo, which was my reason for getting out of bed on Saturday morning (and which I wouldn't have been able to get at all, the copies have flown out before I arrived, if one of the staff hadn't generously offered me her own copy, since her fiance already had one of his own) and Hellboy. If you don't known Atomic Robo, pick up the trade collection in June and you'll discover the love. If you don't know Hellboy, well, I don't know what to do with you. There's the movie, another movie on the way, a couple of animated releases, a video game or two, loads of toys and statues, a bunch of novels and anthologies... Oh, yeah, and a whole slew of comics.

The success of Mike Mignola's Hellboy and the related titles is really every creator's dream. The original book itself is such a perfect marriage of concept, character, and style that it's at times difficult to separate the three. Over the years we've seen the gradual expansion of the Hellboy "universe"--Helliverse?--with the supporting titles of BPRD, Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, BPRD: 1946, et cetera, et al. I mean, just look at all of them. A growing franchise, all overseen by Mignola, who participates in each of them to varying degrees--plotting, scripting, writing, and drawing.

The Free Comic Book Day offering served as a kind of Whitman's Sampler of the current Hellboy titles currently on offer--Hellboy, BPRD, and BPRD: 1946. If you're the kind of reader who enjoys stories about dudes with guns facing off against Cthuloid monsters--and really, who isn't?--the Hellboy franchise really is the gift that keeps on giving. The three stories include a Hellboy short, "The Mole", by Mignola and Duncan Fregredo; a current day BPRD story, "Out of Reach," written by Mignola and John Arcudi, with art by Guy Davis; and a 1940's era BPRD story, "Bishop Olek's Devil," written by Mignola and Dysart, with art by Paul Azaceta. If you've encountered any of the Hellboy media stuff--movies, animation, games, etc--but not sampled the comics, this isn't a bad place to start.

And check out this little bit of awesome from the title page, a mashup of the characters from Futurama with the Hellboy universe. Some of the choices, like Dr. Zoidberg for Lobster Johnson, are nothing less than inspired.


Another Cenotaxis Review

The Australian site HorrorScope has posted a fairly unreservedly positive review of Sean Williams's Cenotaxis.
There are many concepts to like in Cenotaxis. Firstly, Williams has made a similar creation to the Forts with ‘the Apparatus’ – a seemingly artificial intelligence that is Jaspers advisor. It eventually intrigues Imre enough that he changes tactics to find it. The fact that Jasper believes himself an incarnation of God is utterly fascinating in itself; it gives Williams the opportunity to postulate how religions and creed play such an important role in shaping humanity’s future.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Amazon Review

I don't normally point to Amazon reviews, but this is the kind of response that writers who truck with histories and cultures other than their own dream of getting. Leong Kit Meng, the author of Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity--available from RTL in the US (though apparently readily available in Singapore)--has read The Dragon's Nine Sons, and liked it.
Well done!

His knowledge and grasp of Qing dynasty Chinese and Meso-american history is apparent in the way he is able to take known 18th century Chinese and 16th century Aztec/Mayan institutions and attitudes and extend it into the future, something many authors who attempt this usually fail to do convincingly.

He manages to stay away from rehashing stereotypical views of imperial China and therefore manages to do an impressively convincing job of putting together a world where a completely different set of rules, values, institutions and societal norms comes to fore, allowing the reader to envision a completely different historical timeline. This alternate history he opens up shows the reader a world far more diverse and interesting if these other world cultures had not been stymied and been allowed to develop into the modern world.

He takes the reader into the unknown by opening up the reader's mind and not only shows the possibilities of how other traditional civilizations could have progressed and modernized but that it is possible for them to progress and modernize. We will DEFINITELY be watching this author.


Friday, May 02, 2008


A Buyer's Guide to Maps of Antarctica

Despite my occasional Book Report feature, I don't often mention short fiction that I've read. I'll shortly be praising the name of Howard Waldrop, as soon as I finish reading the third of three collections I've been plowing through, but in the meantime it seems only fitting to send a little praise in Catherynne M. Valente's direction, as well. I just read her story "A Buyer's Guide to Maps of Antarctica" over on Clarkesworld Magazine, intrigued enough by the title alone to spend a few minutes with it. I'm glad that I did. It's a gem of a story, in the form of buyer's notes for an auction of historical items. To say more than that would be to spoil the story, I think, so I'll just summarize by saying that it's a haunting little piece, and well recommended.

(As an infrequent visitor to the Clarkesworld site, at best, I was pleased to see that this latest offering also includes a dandy interview with my pal John Picacio, conducted by Jeff VanderMeer.)


New Review

The indefatigable Tobias Buckell (whose Crystal Rain I've just started reading yesterday, as it happens) has reviewed The Dragon's Nine Sons for the Intergalactic Medicine Show, and seems to have liked it.
A unique use of setting, history, sub-genre, packed into a strong space adventure. Either Chris Roberson has created a super niche where only someone who is an alternate history reader and who also like space adventure will enjoy this, or, and I suspect this is more likely, anyone who likes near future SF, or space adventure, or alternate history will enjoy this.


Thursday, May 01, 2008


Mapping Gotham

As I've said before, I'm a little bit obsessed with maps. And in particular I'm interested in the worldbuilding aspect of mapping fictional locations. Well, something interesting turned up in Kiel Bryant's photostream this morning. It's tagged as "Nolan's Gotham, fully mapped," which I take to mean this is a map of Gotham City as portrayed in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins.

One of the interesting this map is the way it literalizes the social divisions in the city, by physically separating the upper, middle, and lower classes by water. So we've got Uptown, Midtown, and Downtown as the three major "lobes" of the city, separated by waterways.

The only missed opportunity I see here is that the "Narrows," the purview of the underclass, is situated in the middle of the mass, right between Midtown and Downtown, where I think it might be more symbolically appropriate in the position of "South Hinkey" at the bottom of the map.

Here's how David Goyer's script describes it...
AN ISLAND IN GOTHAM RIVER: a ramshackle LABYRINTH of crumbling
public housing, makeshift additions GROWING LIKE FUNGUS AROUND
AN INSANE ASYLUM. A walled city. Slick with rain.
A little digging this morning turned up this Wikipedia entry on Gotham City, which has the following unsubstantiated claim: "Director Christopher Nolan commissioned a map of Gotham for his movie Batman Begins that also used the "No Man's Land" map as a basis. The airport was moved to the Northeast, Narrows Island was inserted between Midtown and Downtown, and Wayne Tower was moved to Midtown, about where the "54" marker on the map to the left is located."

The "No Man's Land" map in question is that which appeared in
Gotham City Secret Files and Origins #1, and appears to have been done by Eliot R. Brown, the man responsible for codifying Iron Man's tech, writing The Book of Weapons, Hardware, and Paraphernalia appendix to the Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe, doing the cartography for The Marvel Atlas, and much more besides.

A glance at the two maps certainly suggests a familial relation between them. The excellent cartographical blog Strange Maps has done a post on the map, which includes a bit of interesting trivia about the fictional city itself (including mentions of Alan Moore's contributions to the city's history), as well as analysis of the map itself.

This article on points to the Gotham City Rail site, part of the viral marketing for The Dark Knight, Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins. The site includes an interactive map of Gotham's subway lines, and is evidently part of an Alternate Reality Game tied into the marketing campaign.

It appears some hard-working ARG players have gone through and pieced together a full map of the Gotham City Rail, incorporating pieces from various sources.

As the Strange Maps post and others point out, there have been several different maps of Gotham over the years, most of them based on existing cities. What's fascinating to me about these last examples is the way in which Eliot R. Brown's has been gradually refined and codified through the agency of the nameless designers and cartographers working with Christopher Nolan, and how it is gradually becoming, in a sense, a real place. But at the same time the literalization of the social structure of the city suggests that it can still be a symbolic place, as well.

Back in Clockwork Storybook days, we set most all of our stories in the fictional city of San Cibola. Starting from a very rough outline of its geography, with a vague idea of how the various neighborhoods related to one another, over time it became a fairly detailed place. Finn went so far as to draft a gazetteer of all the streets and place names, and Bill roughed out a fairly detailed wall-sized map. Of course, nothing we did even approached the level of verisimilitude that this Gotham map has achieved, but just looking at it now reminds me of that experience, and makes me hungry a little to start mapping a fictional city of my own. (But if I do, I'll be careful to remember James Gurney's mapmaking advice...)


The Chow Raid

Speaking of Larry Marder's Beanworld (as I just was), check out this action. Someone called Fashion Buddha Studio has animated the "Chow Raid" segment from early in the run, put to the music of They Might Be Giants' cover of The Allman Brothers' "Jessica"

Every few days the beans' spiritual guardian, Gran'Ma'Pa, produces a Sprout Butt which Mr. Spook must spear it on his trusty fork and lead the Chow Soljer Army on a Chow Raid against the Hoi Polloi Ring Herd. Chow is the Hoi Polloi's currency, but for the beans it is their soul source of food, which they consume by absorbing in a pool.

In exchange for stealing the Hoi Polloi's Chow, Mr. Spook leaves behind the Sprout Butt that will be transformed into more Chow by the Hoi Polloi's love.

"Tales of the Beanworld" ran for seven years with Eclipse Comics and after a fifteen year sabbatical is now going to be released as a complete collection (plus new stories!) by Dark Horse Comics.

Fashion Buddha Studio is composed primarily of comic book nerds and are, naturally, huge fans of Marder's work.

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