the contextual life

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Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi

Geek Dating with Eric Smith

with 9 comments

When one hears the words “geek” and “dating” in a single sentence images of awkward guys wearing taped glasses, too-short pants, and pocket protectors come to mind. Most likely they’re inching towards a girl who’s out of their league and scurrying off just as she’s about to notice.

While it’s true that many geeks, whether self-professed or labeled by others, might need a bit more help than the average person when it comes to socializing, Eric Smith is optimistic. Smith, a geek of the self-professed sort, believes that geeks are well-prepared for dating and, to prove it, has written a guide specifically for this vibrant and varied subculture.

In The Geek’s Guide to Dating, Smith harnesses the innate passion that connects all geeks, whether they’re spending their paycheck at the record store, on video games, or the latest epic fantasy series.

For the release of his book, Eric and I chatted about the definition of “geek,” why they’re well-suited for romantic involvement, and gay geek culture.

Contextual Life: This is a basic question but I feel like you might have an interesting answer, what made you write The Geek’s Guide to Dating?

Eric Smith: Actually, the book idea came from Quirk’s publisher, Jason Rekulak. He’s one smart guy that loves pulling ideas out of thin air.

I’d been writing essays about the intersection of relationships and my geek life (a few of which you can see on the Bygone Bureau), as well as rambling about local geek culture on my blog here in Philadelphia, Geekadelphia. He encouraged me to take my love of all-that-is-geek and mash it together with a dating book, one that we’d potentially illustrate with 8-bit artwork.

It was a natural blending of interests for me, and incredibly fun to write.

CL: You’re the Social Media and Marketing Manager for Quirk. What did it feel like to write a book for your own company?

ES: It was interesting! I mean, how many authors get to see the day to day creation of their book? I got to see incredibly early artwork, the “dummies” (blank copies of the book) floating around the office, specifics about the print run, publicity updates right from my colleagues who sit next to me; all that good stuff. I even put my own book on the company’s website!

There were also some challenges though. I promote all our titles via our various social media accounts. On the blog, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, you name it. I had to make sure I was balancing out promoting my book with everyone elses! It sounds silly, but it’s something I’ve been keeping very aware of. I adore all our authors, and I didn’t want them thinking I forgot about them.

CL: Another basic question, say we just met at a social gathering and I asked you to define “geek,” how would you answer?

ES: After I recovered from the shock that you didn’t know, possibly after sitting down and taking a deep breath, I’d explain that a geek is someone who is so invested in a hobby or a passion, that it becomes a part of their everyday life.

CL: In your book you differentiate between different types of geeks, which one are you?

ES: Me? I’m a video game geek and (much like yourself) a book geek. I’m the sort of guy who gets a kick out of midnight releases, takes days off to play new games, and plans evenings around gaming with friends on Xbox Live. I also love surrounding myself with books, from comics to classic literature. I spend a lot of time writing about both of those passions and love doing so.

Eric Smith

CL: I’m so far out of the video game loop it’s not even funny. What kinds of games do you play and why?

ES: You know, it’s never too late to start a hobby that’s cripplingly addictive, Gab.

I really just love a game with a great story. Perhaps that’s my book geek shining through. Games that have epic narratives really get me excited to sit down and experience a new world. Some recent favorites include the Mass Effect series, Bioshock series (Infinite was incredible), and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I still haven’t stopped making “I took an arrow in the knee” jokes.

CL: We’re kids of the 80s so I have to ask, what was your favorite Atari game?

ES: The Halo series holds a special place in my heart. I’ll admit it, I’ve even read the Halo novels. I know, I know.

CL: You seem to believe geeks have an extraordinary amount of potential for dating. This is counterintuitive. What made you come to this conclusion?

ES: I’ve always felt like geeks are social creatures at heart. We thrive in communities where people share our interests.

I mean, just look at an event like San Diego Comic Con, DragonCon, or [Insert City, Video Game, or Genre] Con. We descend on those conventions en masse, eager to meet our peers and talk to the people who produce the things we love.

You can’t play Magic the Gathering or D&D without a bunch of friends. There’s no going raiding in World of Warcraft by yourself. I mean, I’m sure you could find a way. It’s just more fun with others.

CL: Speaking of Cons, what’s one of the best experiences you’ve had at one?

ES: Probably two years ago, when I went to Philadelphia Comic Con in my Master Chief suit for the first time. I’d never tried walking a convention floor in a costume before, and I was actually a little nervous that my armor wasn’t going to size up to the rest of the outfits there. My best friend Tim (who runs Geekadelphia with me), showed up in his Stormtrooper armor, and we made quite the pair, wandering the con together.

People stopped me every few feet to take a photo and it took me all afternoon to make it from one side of the convention to the other … and I loved it. We made so many people smile that day. Such a great, great feeling.

Also, the 501st Legion invited me to change with them, which was great. I was getting suited up next to a Boba Fett and a Darth Vader. No big deal.

CL: You acknowledge that The Geek’s Guide to Dating is written from the male perspective and that you use the male pronoun throughout; however, you say that your “sweeping generalizations” apply to both sexes. Do you find that geek guys and geek girls adhere less to gender stereotypes?

ES: That’s an interesting question, and one that’s always a hot one in the geek community. Stereotypes and what makes a geek a geek. What constitutes a geek girl? A geek guy? I think, unfortunately for us, there are tons of stereotypes slapped onto those titles. Real geek girls should do this, real geek guys should do that … personally, I don’t think we adhere to them at all, but some people assume that we do, or worse, should.

Sidenote, the amazing writers over at The Mary Sue dissect this issue a lot, and way better than I can. This tag rounds up all their outstanding pieces.

CL: How does this stereotyping affect geek dating? 

Then again, if you’re the kind of person passing those kind of judgements, I really don’t want you talking to or dating any of my awesome geek friends in the first place.ES: The way all things do when you make assumptions based on no facts. Negatively. You’re judging a girl or a guy before you get to know either of them? Well, you might be missing out on someone totally amazing.

CL: Agreed! So, big news, you recently got engaged.  Meeting your fiance seems to coincide with the writing of your book. This leads me to wonder what your research was like.

ES: Hah! Yes, it was pretty serendipitous! We met a few months before I started working on the book, leading her to ask me if there will be a Geek’s Guide to Engagements and Weddings.

My fiancee was actually a big fan of reading dating books, so, while I was doing research, she let me borrow a few of her old books. It helped a lot with some of the sections in the book. I also let her read bits and pieces. Though as a very non-geek girl, she had plenty of questions. I didn’t mind though. It actually gave me a chance to teach her more about all the stuff I care about.

So I guess, in a weird way, my book helped me with dating as I was writing it.

CL: That’s beyond adorable. By now people can tell that you are a heterosexual guy. Your book focuses on heterosexual relationships but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on gay geek culture.

ES: Just that they have an amazing geek network! Geeks Out! does outstanding work, and now there’s the Gaymer X video game convention. All geeks rally together to support their passions, so it’s really no different.

And their gay geek icons are pretty damn incredible. Ian McKellen? Neil Patrick Harris? Sean Maher? So awesome.

CL: Huge thanks for taking the time to talk about your new book. I hope every geek reads it!

ES: Anytime! Thanks for having me! And hey, if you’d like to watch some cute geeky couples talking about their relationships, there’s an adorable webseries tie in to the book. You can catch them on the Quirk blog and on Geekosystem every Tuesday! Here’s a link to the recent videos.

Written by Gabrielle

February 12, 2014 at 6:58 am

New in Paperback for February

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Here are just a few paperbacks coming out this month that have caught my eye.

Artful by Ali Smith
Artful is a celebration of literature’s worth in and to the world—it is about the things art can do, the things art is made of, and the quicksilver nature of all artfulness. A magical hybrid that refuses to be tied down to either fiction or the essay form, Artful is narrated by a character who is haunted—literally—by a former lover, the writer of a series of lectures about art and literature. Ali Smith’s heady powers as a novelist and short story writer harmonize with her keen perceptions as a reader and critic to form a living thing that reminds us that life and art are never separate.

Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self by Jennifer Ouellette
me myself whyAs diverse as people appear to be, all of our genes and brains are nearly identical. In Me, Myself, and Why, Jennifer Ouellette dives into the miniscule ranges of variation to understand just what sets us apart. She draws on cutting-edge research in genetics, neuroscience, and psychology—enlivened as always with her signature sense of humor—to explore the mysteries of human identity and behavior. Readers follow her own surprising journey of self-discovery as she has her genome sequenced, her brain mapped, her personality typed, and even samples a popular hallucinogen. Bringing together everything from Mendel’s famous pea plant experiments and mutations in The X-Men to our taste for cilantro and our relationships with virtual avatars, Ouellette takes us on an endlessly thrilling and illuminating trip into the science of ourselves.

The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published by David Skinner
Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by editor Philip Gove, Webster’s Third broke with tradition, adding thousands of new words and eliminating “artificial notions of correctness,” basing proper usage on how language was actually spoken. The dictionary’s revolutionary style sparked what David Foster Wallace called “the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars.” Critics bayed at the dictionary’s permissive handling of ain’t. Literary intellectuals such as Dwight Macdonald believed the abandonment of the old standard represented the unraveling of civilization.

Entertaining and erudite, The Story of Ain’t describes a great societal metamorphosis, tracing the fallout of the world wars, the rise of an educated middle class, and the emergence of America as the undisputed leader of the free world, and illuminating how those forces shaped our language. Never before or since has a dictionary so embodied the cultural transformation of the United States.

What’s Important is Feeling by Adam Wilson
Bankers prowl Brooklyn bars on the eve of the stock market crash. A debate over Young Elvis versus Vegas Elvis turns existential. Detoxing junkies use a live lobster to spice up their love life. Students on summer break struggle to escape the orbit of a seemingly utopic communal house.

And in the title story, selected for The Best American Short Stories, two film school buddies working on a doomed project are left sizing up their own talent, hoping to come out on top–but fearing they won’t.

In What’s Important Is Feeling, Adam Wilson follows the through-line of contemporary coming-of-age from the ravings of teenage lust to the staggering loneliness of proto-adulthood. He navigates the tough terrain of American life with a delicate balance of comedy and compassion, lyricism and unsparing straightforwardness. Wilson’s characters wander through a purgatory of yearning, hope, and grief. No one emerges unscathed.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Electric, exhilarating, and beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go introduces the world to Taiye Selasi, a novelist of extraordinary talent. In a sweeping narrative that takes readers from Accra to Lagos to London to New York, it is at once a portrait of a modern family and an exploration of the importance of where we come from to who we are.

A renowned surgeon and failed husband, Kweku Sai dies suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of his death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Go charts their circuitous journey to one another and, along the way, teaches us that the truths we speak can heal the wounds we hide.

Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Age of Cultural Production by Nato Thompson
A fog of information and images has flooded the world: from advertising, television, radio, and film to the information glut produced by the new economy. With the rise of social networking, even our contemporaries, peers, and friends are all suddenly selling us the ultimate product: themselves.

Here curator and critic Nato Thompson interrogates the implications of these developments for those dedicated to socially engaged art and activism. How can anyone find a voice and make change when the world is flooded with images and information? And what is one to make of the endless machine of consumer capitalism, which has appropriated much from the history of art and, in recent years, the methods of grassroots political organizing and social networking?

Highlighting the work of some of the most innovative and interesting artists and activists working today, Thompson reads and praises sites and institutions that empower their communities to see power and re-imagine it. From cooperative housing to anarchist infoshops to alternative art venues, Thompson shows that many of today’s most innovative spaces operate as sites of dramatic personal transformation.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide; Eric Selland (translator)
A bestseller in France and winner of Japan s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens

Europe in Sepia by Dubravka Ugresic; David Williams (translator)
Hurtling between Weltschmerz and wit, drollness and diatribe, entropy and enchantment, it’s the juxtaposition at the heart of Dubravka Ugresic’s writings that saw Ruth Franklin dub her “the fantasy cultural studies professor you never had.” In Europe in Sepia, Ugresic, ever the flâneur, wanders from the Midwest to Zuccotti Park, the Irish Aran Islands to Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim, from the tristesse of Dutch housing estates to the riots of south London, charting everything from the listlessness of Central Europe to the ennui of the Low Countries. One finger on the pulse of an exhausted Europe, another in the wounds of postindustrial America, Ugresic trawls the fallout of political failure and the detritus of popular culture, mining each for revelation.

Infused with compassion and melancholic doubt, Europe in Sepia centers on the disappearance of the future, the anxiety that no new utopian visions have emerged from the ruins of communism; that ours is a time of irreducible nostalgia, our surrender to pastism complete. Punctuated by the levity of Ugresic’s raucous instinct for the absurd, despair has seldom been so beguiling.

Glyph by Percival Everett
glyphBaby Ralph has ways to pass the time in his crib—but they don’t include staring at a mobile. Aided by his mother, he reads voraciously: “All of Swift, all of Sterne, Invisible Man, Baldwin, Joyce, Balzac, Auden, Roethke,” along with a generous helping of philosophy, semiotics, and trashy thrillers. He’s also fond of writing poems and stories (in crayon). But Ralph has limits. He’s mute by choice and can’t drive, so in his own estimation he’s not a genius. Unfortunately for him, everyone else disagrees. His psychiatrist kidnaps him for testing, and once his brilliance is quantified (IQ: 475), a Pentagon officer also abducts him. Diabolically funny and lacerating in its critique of poststructuralism, Glyph has the feverish plot of a thriller and the philosophical depth of a text by Roland Barthes.

On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin; Helge Dascher (translator)
loving womenOn Loving Women is a new collection of stories about coming out, first love, and sexual identity by the animator Diane Obomsawin. With this work, Obomsawin brings her gaze to bear on subjects closer to home—her friends’ and lovers’ personal accounts of realizing they’re gay or first finding love with another woman. Each story is a master class in reaching the emotional truth of a situation with the simplest means possible. Her stripped-down pages use the bare minimum of linework to expressively reveal heartbreak, joy, irritation, and fear.

On Loving Women focuses primarily on adolescence—crushes on high school teachers, awkwardness on first dates—but also addresses much deeper-seated difficulties of being out: fears of rejection and of not being who others want one to be. Within these pages, Obomsawin has forged a poignant, powerful narrative that speaks to the difficulties of coming out and the joys of being loved.

Her first English-language work, Kaspar—a retelling of the life of Kaspar Hauser, the mysterious German youth who was raised in isolation and murdered just a few years after emerging from his imprisonment—was critically lauded for its simple but expressive storytelling, and for the way it portrayed traumatic material compassionately but without self-indulgence. Preview.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Written by Gabrielle

February 5, 2014 at 6:48 am

New in Paperback for January

with 4 comments

Ring in the New Year with these new paperbacks.

Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap
Rosie Schaap has always loved bars: the wood and brass and jukeboxes, the knowing bartenders, and especially the sometimes surprising but always comforting company of regulars. Starting with her misspent youth in the bar car of a regional railroad, where at fifteen she told commuters’ fortunes in exchange for beer, and continuing today as she slings cocktails at a neighborhood joint in Brooklyn, Schaap has learned her way around both sides of a bar and come to realize how powerful the fellowship among regular patrons can be.

In Drinking with Men, Schaap shares her unending quest for the perfect local haunt, which takes her from a dive outside Los Angeles to a Dublin pub full of poets, and from small-town New England taverns to a character-filled bar in Manhattan’s TriBeCa. Drinking alongside artists and expats, ironworkers and soccer fanatics, she finds these places offer a safe haven, a respite, and a place to feel most like herself. In rich, colorful prose, Schaap brings to life these seedy, warm, and wonderful rooms. Drinking with Men is a love letter to the bars, pubs, and taverns that have been Schaap’s refuge, and a celebration of the uniquely civilizing source of community that is bar culture at its best.

The Wisdom of the Myths: How Greek Mythology Can Change Your Life by Luc Ferry
A fascinating new journey through Greek mythology that explains the myths’ timeless lessons and meaning.

Heroes, gods, and mortals. The Greek myths are the founding narratives of Western civilization: to understand them is to know the origins of philosophy, literature, art, science, law, and more. Indeed, as Luc Ferry shows in this masterful book, they remain a great store of wisdom, as relevant to our lives today as ever before. No mere legends or cliches (“Herculean task,” “Pandora’s box,” “Achilles heel,” etc.), these classic stories offer profound and manifold lessons, providing the first sustained attempt to answer fundamental human questions concerning “the good life,” the burden of mortality, and how to find one’s place in the world. Vividly retelling the great tales of mythology and illuminating fresh new ways of understanding them, The Wisdom of the Myths will enlighten readers of all ages.

A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor
In the not-too-distant future, competing giant fast food factions rule the world. Leonard works for Neetsa Pizza, the Pythagorean pizza chain, in a lonely but highly surveilled home office, answering calls on his complaints hotline. It’s a boring job, but he likes it—there’s a set answer for every scenario, and he never has to leave the house. Except then he starts getting calls from Marco, who claims to be a thirteenth-century explorer just returned from Cathay. And what do you say to a caller like that? Plus, Neetsa Pizza doesn’t like it when you go off script.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s sister keeps disappearing on secret missions with her “book club,” leaving him to take care of his nephew, which means Leonard has to go outside. And outside is where the trouble starts.

A dazzling debut novel wherein medieval Kabbalists, rare book librarians, and Latter-Day Baconians skirmish for control over secret mystical knowledge, and one Neetsa Pizza employee discovers that you can’t save the world with pizza coupons.

Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life by Adam Phillips
All of us lead two parallel lives: the one we are actively living, and the one we feel we should have had or might yet have. As hard as we try to exist in the moment, the unlived life is an inescapable presence, a shadow at our heels. And this itself can become the story of our lives: an elegy to unmet needs and sacrificed desires. We become haunted by the myth of our own potential, of what we have in ourselves to be or to do. And this can make of our lives a perpetual game of falling short.

But what happens if we remove the idea of failure from the equation? With his flair for graceful paradox, the acclaimed psychoanalyst Adam Phillips suggests that if we accept frustration as a way of outlining what we really want, satisfaction suddenly becomes possible. To crave a life without frustration is to crave a life without the potential to identify and accomplish our desires.

In Missing Out, an elegant, compassionate, and absorbing book, Phillips draws deeply on his own clinical experience as well as on the works of Shakespeare and Freud, of D. W. Winnicott and William James, to suggest that frustration, not getting it, and getting away with it are all chapters in our unlived lives—and may be essential to the one fully lived.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
No fictional character is more renowned for his powers of thought and observation than Sherlock Holmes. But is his extraordinary intellect merely a gift of fiction, or can we learn to cultivate these abilities ourselves, to improve our lives at work and at home?

We can, says psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova, and in Mastermind she shows us how. Beginning with the “brain attic”—Holmes’s metaphor for how we store information and organize knowledge—Konnikova unpacks the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. Drawing on twenty-first-century neuroscience and psychology, Mastermind explores Holmes’s unique methods of ever-present mindfulness, astute observation, and logical deduction. In doing so, it shows how each of us, with some self-awareness and a little practice, can employ these same methods to sharpen our perceptions, solve difficult problems, and enhance our creative powers. For Holmes aficionados and casual readers alike, Konnikova reveals how the world’s most keen-eyed detective can serve as an unparalleled guide to upgrading the mind.

Written by Gabrielle

January 2, 2014 at 6:54 am

The Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle

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Clockwork ManSmall press HiLoBooks has been reviving stories from the “Radium Age,” a term coined by publisher Joshua Glenn to mean the era in science fiction encompassing 1904 to 1933. The Clockwork Man, having come out last week, is their most recent title in the series.

Written by Edwin Vincent (E.V.) Odle, a British playwright, critic, and short-story author, The Clockwork Man is considered by many to be the first cyborg novel. Unfortunately it came out in 1923, the same year as Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., which succeeded in taking all the glory.

For years The Clockwork Man languished in obscurity, ultimately becoming out-of-print. Joshua Glenn, having heard about the book, was tired of waiting for someone else to reissue it, found a first edition, and brought it back to life.

A forgotten classic, first serialized online at HiLoBrow, now published in paperback with an introduction from Annalee Newitz of io9, The Clockwork Man should be on the shelf of every science fiction fan.

Here’s an excerpt:

It was just as Doctor Allingham had congratulated himself upon the fact that the bowling was broken, and he had only to hit now and save the trouble of running, just as he was scanning the boundaries with one eye and with the other following Tanner’s short, crooked arm raised high above the white sheet at the back of the opposite wicket, that he noticed the strange figure. Its abrupt appearance, at first sight like a scarecrow dumped suddenly on the horizon, caused him to lessen his grip upon the bat in his hand. His mind wandered for just that fatal moment, and his vision of the oncoming bowler was swept away and its place taken by that arresting figure of a man coming over the path at the top of the hill, a man whose attitude, on closer examination, seemed extraordinarily like another man in the act of bowling.

That was why its effect was so distracting. It seemed to the doctor that the figure had popped up there on purpose to imitate the action of a bowler and so baulk him. During the fraction of a second in which the ball reached him, the second image had blotted out everything else. But the behavior of the figure was certainly abnormal. Its movements were violently ataxic. Its arms revolved like sails of a windmill. Its legs shot out in all directions, enveloped in dust.

The doctor’s astonishment was turned into annoyance by the spectacle of his shattered wicket. A vague clatter of applause broke out. The wicket keeper stooped down to pick up the bails. The fielders relaxed and flopped down on the grass. They seemed to have discovered suddenly that it was a hot afternoon, and that cricket was, after all, a comparatively strenuous game. One of the umpires, a sly nasty fellow, screwed up his eyes and looked hard at the doctor as the latter passed him, walking with the slow, meditative gait of the bowled out, and swinging his gloves. There was nothing to do but glare back, and make the umpire feel a worm. The doctor wore an eye-glass, and he succeeded admirably. His irritation boiled over and produced a sense of ungovernable childish rage. Somehow, he had not been able to make any runs this season, and his bowling average was all to pieces. He began to think he ought to give up cricket. He was getting past the age when a man can accept reverses in the spirit of the game, and he was sick and tired of seeing his name every week in the Great Wymering Gazette as having been dismissed for a “mere handful.”

He looked out the window, and there was that confounded figure still jiggling about. It had come nearer to the ground. It hovered, with a curious air of not being related to its surroundings that was more than puzzling. It did not seem to know what it was about, but hopped along aimlessly, as though scenting a track, stopped for a moment, blundered forward again and made a zig-zag course towards the ground. The doctor watched it advancing through the broad meadow that bounded the pitch, threading its way between the little groups of grazing cows, that raised their heads with more than their ordinary, slow persistency, as though startled by some noise. The figure seemed to be aiming for the barrier of hurdles that surrounded the pitch, but whether its desire was for cricket or merely to reach some kind of goal, whether it sought recreation or a mere pause from its restless convulsions, it was difficult to tell. Finally, it fell against the fence and hung there, two hands crooked over the hurdle and its legs drawn together at the knees. It became suddenly very still—so still that it was hard to believe it ever moved.

It was certainly odd. The doctor was so struck by something altogether wrong about the figure, something so suggestive of a pathological phenomenon, that he almost forgot his annoyance and remained watching it with an unlighted cigarette between his lips.

::[Links]::
Find The Clockwork Man at your local bookstore
Listen to Joshua Glenn on Gweek (second segment)
Read The Clockwork Man online
Check out the other books in the HiLoBooks Radium Age series

Written by Gabrielle

September 17, 2013 at 6:54 am

Road Trips in Science Fiction and Fantasy

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The other week I was asked to contribute to the popular science fiction and fantasy website SF Signal. They have a series called “Mind Meld” where they ask authors and bloggers to answer one question posed to them by the moderator. I participated once before and what I’ve found is that like contributing to the series because I start off unsure if I’ll be able to come up with an answer. Being asked to come up with a short post about something I never would have thought of on my own allows me to stretch my brain. Luckily, both times I’ve been able to come up with a few hundred words.

You can read the entry in full here. There are tons of book suggestions from others and well worth a look. Below is my answer.

Q: What are your favorite “road trips” in science fiction and fantasy? What makes a good road trip in a genre story?

American GodsWith summer in full swing travel is on the minds of many. Even if you’re staying put, the season conjures up of visions–and perhaps memories–of long car rides to beachfront locations, hours spent with family in close quarters, and days or weeks with only the most necessary amenities. It’s now mid-July and time for the outdoors, open space, and new adventures; a break from the tedium and habits of the day-to-day.

Whether you’re staying home this season or currently packing up your things, all of this makes summer the perfect time for stories featuring road trips. The protagonist is usually shaking off the constraints of everyday life and seeking something new. A good travel story creates a certain suspense that is inevitably propelled forward by the sheer momentum of whatever vehicle is used–a horse, a car, a spaceship. The circumstances set the pace: Is the character in a hurry? are they lost? do they have direction or is it simply an escape?

BlackbirdsGrowing up in the 90s I was a huge fan of 1960s counterculture. I was into the Grateful Dead and devoured the literature of the time period. With the amount of drugs everyone did, and then wrote about, their books might as well have been categorized as fantasy. From Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, these were tales of misadventure and chaos. However entertaining these stories were to me in my teen years, true fantasy and science fiction offers something more than reality is able to provide.

Three books immediately come to mind that, if you haven’t read already, you should pick up before the fall is here. The first is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The story begins with a character named Shadow, a man newly released from a three year stint in prison. With his wife recently killed in a car crash he no longer has a reason to go home. Aimless and heartbroken, he accepts a job from a stranger and sets off on a quest across America. What follows is a familiar landscape set slightly askew by fantastically eerie characters based on Norse mythology and a haunting mystery to be uncovered.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig is another book that came to mind as I thought about road trips. The protagonist, Miriam Black, has an unfortunate power: she can see the way people will die just by touching them. When Miriam, also an aimless wanderer, hitches a ride with trucker Louis Darling and shakes his hand she sees that they will be together for the next thirty days, for better or worse.

Finally, there’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, undoubtedly the lighter of the three. Hitchhiker’s is the story of Arthur Dent, an unwitting Earthling who is taken away from his planet moments before it’s destroyed. Dent and his saviour, Ford Prefect, travel through the universe encountering dangerous aliens, inhospitable climates, and bad poetry. It’s a true comedy of errors. This unintended exploration of space will make you think twice when you start to complain about your summer vacation.

While realist road trips take you on a ride through lands you might never travel to, their science fiction and fantasy counterparts take you worlds beyond your imagination.

Written by Gabrielle

August 6, 2013 at 6:48 am

New in Paperback for November

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November is upon us and the paperback releases are looking good. This month, keep your eye out for this excellent crop of new books—mostly originals.

The Ballonist by MacDonald Harris with an introduction from Philip Pullman
As in the best of Jules Verne or Albert Sanchez Pinol, “The Balloonist” is a gripping and surreal yarn, chilling and comic by turn, that brilliantly reinvents the Arctic adventure.

It is July 1897, at the northernmost reach of the inhabited world. A Swedish scientist, an American journalist, and a young, French-speaking adventurer climb into a wicker gondola suspended beneath a huge, red-and-white balloon. The ropes are cut, the balloon rises, and the three begin their voyage: an attempt to become the first people to set foot on the North Pole, and return, borne on the wind. Philip Pullman says in his foreword: “Once I open any of MacDonald Harris’s novels I find it almost impossible not to turn and read on, so delightful is the sensation of a sharp intelligence at work.

Kafka in Love by Jacqueline Raoul-Duval
Kafka was an attractive, slender, and elegant man–something of a dandy, who captivated his friends and knew how to charm women. He seemed to have had four important love affairs: Felice, Julie, Milena, and Dora. All of them lived far away, in Berlin or Vienna, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons that he loved them: he chose long-distance relationships so he could have the pleasure of writing to them, without the burden of having to live with them. He was engaged to all four women, and four times he avoided marriage. At the end of each love affair, he threw himself into his writing and produced some of his most famous novels: Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle.

In this charming book, author Jacqueline Raoul-Duval follows the paper trail of Kafka’s ardor. She uses his voice in her own writing, and a third of the book is pulled from Kafka’s journals. It is the perfect introduction to this giant of world literature, and captures his life and romances in a style worthy of his own.

Granta: The Best Young Brazilian Novelists edited by John Freeman
Since Granta’s inaugural list of the Best of Young British Novelists in 1983 – featuring Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes – the Best of Young issues have been some of the magazine’s most influential and best-selling. In 2010, Granta looked beyond the English-speaking world with Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.

Now, in an issue fully translated in partnership with Granta em Português, the magazine celebrates emerging talent from Brazil, many translated into English for the first time. Authors include Cristhiano Aguiar, Vanessa Barbara, Carol Bensimon, Javier Arancibia Contreras, J.P. Cuenca, Miguel del Castillo, Laura Erber, Emilio Fraia, Julian Fuks, Daniel Galera, Luisa Geisler, Vinicius Jatoba, Michel Laub, Tatiana Salem Levy, Ricardo Lisias, Chico Mattoso, Antonio Prata, Carola Saavendra, Leandro Sarmatz, and Antonio Xerxenesky.

Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin
Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a his­tory of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timeless­ness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys.

Hush Hush: Stories by Steven Barthelme
If you’re up $16,000 at the casino and missing dinner with the woman you love, how do you find the strength to drive away? If you give up your career and your beautiful wife and find yourself drinking vodka and fixing cars for a living, is that necessarily a step down? In Hush Hush, Steven Barthelme gives us a simultaneously twisted, heartbreaking, and hilarious account of learning to quit when you’re ahead.

The collection, which includes the Pushcart Prize-winning “Claire,” exposes the surprising dignity in lying on your belly in the pouring rain, in ringing your ex-girlfriend’s doorbell at 4 A.M., in sleeping with your dead wife’s best friend. Co-author with his brother Frederick of the brilliant and devastating casino memoir, Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss, Steven Barthelme seems to cast an eye at his own history and the characters he’s known. These are men and women who are down — but stirringly, not quite out. An unmissable, arresting book from one of the most seminal short story writers of the last twenty years.

The Other Side of the World by Jay Neugeboren
Charlie Eisner is a journeyman whose friend Nick convinces him to move to Singapore, where he falls in love with the vibrant and endangered world of nearby Borneo. One night, at a party in Nick’s Singapore apartment, Nick dies mysteriously, prompting Charlie to return to New England, where he discovers that Seana O’Sullivan has moved in with his father, Max, a retired professor with a beguiling and antic disposition. Seana, one of his father’s former students, is a wildly successful and provocative writer who is equally wild and provocative in life. Together, she and Charlie set out on a road trip, first to pay respects to Nick’s parents, and then on a journey where “weird things happen if you make room for them.”

From the forests of Borneo to the mean streets of Brooklyn and the haunting towns of coastal Maine, The Other Side of the World is a grand, episodic novel and yet another virtuoso performance by one of America’s most revered living writers.

The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House with an introduction from Francine Prose
The Writer’s Notebook II continues in the tradition of The Writer’s Notebook, featuring essays based on craft seminars from the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop, as well as a variety of craft essays from Tin House magazine contributors and Tin House Books authors. The collection includes essays that not only examine important craft aspects such as humor, suspense, and research but that also explore creating fractured and nonrealist narratives and the role of dream in fiction. An engaging and enlightening read, The Writer’s Notebook II is both a toolkit and an inspiration for any writer.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
The follow-up to Caitlin Moran’s breakout hit, How to Be a Woman–A hilarious collection of award-winning columns, available to American readers for the first time ever.

Possibly the only drawback to the bestselling How to Be a Woman was that its author, Caitlin Moran, was limited to pretty much one subject: being a woman. Moranthology is proof that Caitlin can actually be “quite chatty” about many other things, including cultural, social, and political issues that are usually the province of learned professors or hot-shot wonks–and not of a woman who once, as an experiment, put a wasp in a jar and got it stoned. Caitlin ruminates on–and sometimes interviews–subjects as varied as caffeine, Keith Richards, Ghostbusters, Twitter, transsexuals, the welfare state, the royal wedding, Lady Gaga, and her own mortality, to name just a few. With her unique voice, Caitlin brings insight and humor to everything she writes.

Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand
No one is innocent, no one unexamined in Shirley Jackson award-winning author Elizabeth Hand’s new collection of stories. From the mysterious people next door to the odd guy in the next office over, Hand teases apart the dark strangenesses of everyday life to show us the impossibilities, broken dreams, and improbable dreams that surely can never come true.

The Right Way to Do Wrong by Harry Houdini with an introduction from Teller
Originally published in 1906, The Right Way to Do Wrong was a masterclass in subversion conducted by the world’s greatest illusionist. It collected Hou­dini’s findings, from interviews with criminals and police officers, on the most surefire ways to commit crime and get away with it.

This volume presents the best of those writings alongside little-known articles by Houdini on his own brand of deception: magic. Revealing the secrets of his signature tricks, including handcuff and rope escapes, and debunking the methods of his rivals, he proves 
himself to be just as clever and nimble a writer as he was a magician—and surprisingly free with trade secrets! All of which makes this unique selection of works both the ultimate anti-etiquette guide and proof that things are not always as they seem.

The Road to Bedlam by Mike Shevdon

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In Sixty-One Nails, Mike Shevdon’s first book in his Courts of the Feyre series, Londoner Niall Petersen learns of special powers previously dormant inside him. His abilities, awakened on the Underground platform during rush hour, altered the course of his life in moments.

Dragged into a generations-old world of magic and danger, Niall must embrace his Feyre lineage, learn to move in the shadows, and save the world from the Seventh Court. He succeeds by the end of the book–and finds Blackbird, a female companion for his new life, in the process.

Now, in Shevdon’s follow up, The Road to Bedlam, Niall’s daughter from his previous marriage is involved in a tragic accident at school and the wrong people have noticed. Only when Niall hears her calling for his help through a mirror does he realize she’s not dead, as the doctors had led him to believe. With Niall on the hunt for his kidnapped daughter, Blackbird in her final months of pregnancy, and an unwanted houseguest at headquarters, The Road to Bedlam is just as packed with action, mystery, and suspense as its predecessor.

The contemporary landscape in which The Courts of the Feyre takes place and the fast-paced storytelling are two strong elements in the series but what strikes me most while reading is the way Shevdon makes you care about the characters. Niall’s a good-hearted guy–thoughtful and sensitive–and Blackbird is a feisty, independent woman who would much rather protect herself than rely on others You read compulsively–to find out what happens next, to know they’ll be okay.

The Road to Bedlam balances the tricky question of how much background to give: just enough for a newcomer to enjoy the current story but, at the same time, well-short of annoying those who come to it informed. Off to a strong start, The Courts of the Feyre series is an excellent example of modern, dark fantasy. Now that North America is heading into fall, this is the perfect set of books for those dark and chilly nights.

::[Links]::
Pick up The Road to Bedlam at your local bookstore
Mike Shevdon on Angry Robot
The Road to Bedlam on Angry Robot

::[Excerpt]::

From chapter one:

The pool of light was no more than twelve feet across and, for this critical moment, defined my world. Beyond its boundary circled my attackers. They would not kill me, at least not on purpose, but they would hurt me if they could.

The blade in my hand was heavy, a training blade made of dark wood, the handle worn smooth by calloused hands and burnished with sweat. I held it level, two-handed, keeping my grip light but firm, giving it the potential for movement in any direction and leaving my assailants no clue as to how I would react.

It had been a long day, both physically and mentally. I was already aching and sore from earlier sessions and I was unlikely to leave this circle without further bruises to add to my collection.

I took a slow breath, rejecting the distraction of consequences. I had to stay in the moment and not let my mind wander. I had to deny them an opening, an opportunity to step into my circle and attack.

This was my circle. It had been made for me to define the space I could defend. Every day the circle got smaller, sometimes by a little, sometimes a lot. I’d given up trying to predict how it would change, only acknowledging that it would not grow in size, only shrink.

A shift in the air brought me round as a dark figure danced into the light, blade arcing down at my head. I stepped forward and around, sliding my own blade diagonally upwards so that his slice glanced off my blade with a clack and swished down over my shoulder. I spun and sliced my blade where the shadow had been but it just whistled through empty air, the figure once again merging with the shadows.

“Too slow,” chuckled Tate, his deep voice rumbling from the darkness.

I stepped back into the centre only to have a figure leap in front of me launching a series of short diagonal strikes. I used my own blade to deflect each one, slowly giving ground, only to realise that her intent was not to strike me, but to drive me backwards out of the circle. Once outside the pool of light I would be at the mercy of anyone already accustomed to the shadow. I deflected the next slice and pushed the attacking sword away, using its momentum to break my attacker’s balance and letting my own point drop. I reversed my grip and punched the pommel hard into the attacker’s midriff.

There was an answering grunt as my blow sank home and the figure folded over, at the same time trying to tangle my wrist in her grip. I wrenched the sword away, lowering my stance to give me posture and drawing the blade up in a long slice. It found only shadows.

Written by Gabrielle

September 11, 2012 at 6:51 am

Book and Pop Culture Podcast Roundup

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For all my fellow podcast junkies, or those who don’t know where to start, I highly recommend these shows that recently graced my ears. In no particular order, other than my memory:

Other People podcast with Brad Listi: Karl Taro Greenfeld
Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of, most recently, Triburbia, a debut novel that follows his career in journalism and his previous memoir about his autistic brother. In this interview with Brad Listi, Greenfeld talks about his career in magazines, the trouble with memory and how it translates on the page, and levels of fabrication in works of nonfiction. After you’ve listened, you can read his Q&A with the Daily Beast.

Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler: RuPaul’s drag race, drag u, supermodel of the world
Aisha Tyler’s near-2-hour interview podcast is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Not only is she funny in this adorably nerdy way, she knows how to have a conversation. In a recent episode Tyler sat down with the legendary RuPaul, best known as the drag queen made famous by the 1993 song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.

In the interview Ru talks about his beginnings in California, moving to Atlanta, coming to New York City and making a name for himself in the club scene, first dressing in “punk drag” (think David Bowie), then “black hooker drag,” and finally moving on to the upscale diva he is today.

Listen to RuPaul as you’ve probably never heard him before then let Slate’s June Thomas help you decide if you should watch RuPaul’s reality show, Drag Race.

Nerdist Writer’s Panel: TV Fantasy Goes Mainstream
Live from the ATX Television Festival, Nerdist Writer’s Panel host, Ben Blacker, moderates a panel discussion with Jeff Davis (creator, Teen Wolf and Criminal Minds); Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time; Husbands; BSG; Buffy); Richard Hatem (creator, Miracles; Grimm); Jose Molina (Firefly; Terra Nova; Vampire Diaries); Ben Edlund (creator, The Tick; Firefly; Supernatural).

A show geared towards those looking to get into the television industry on the creative side, although highly enjoyable for all who love the inner workings of the entertainment industry, this all-star lineup discusses how they’ve pitched shows, mistakes they’ve made, and the climate for fantasy in television today.

Bookrageous: Stream of Consciousness Edition
For all of you unfamiliar with Bookrageous, this is one of the best book podcasts out there. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it simply because I think everyone should listen to it. Twice a month friends Jenn, a bookseller in Brooklyn, Rebecca, a book blogger in Virginia, and Josh, a blogger and bookseller in Maine, get together by Skype and talk about books. They start with what they’re reading—because all three have access to advance copies from the publisher, every so often a title to yet available sneaks in, which is good for other bloggers or readers who like to know about books early—and next they move on a topic for discussion.

Topics in the recent past have included essay collections, funny books, and the books they’d bring with them to a desert island.

For their most recent episode they came up with topics on the fly and it was just as enjoyable as their planned shows. Listen to what they have to say about parody books, books they haven’t read yet but wish they had, and “high fantasy” recommendations to the group from science fiction and fantasy expert Jenn.

Book Based Banter: Book Groups, Top Summer Reads, and Are You Literary Enough?
Another excellent book podcast. In this episode Gavin and Simon discuss book groups. They mention one in particular that instead of picking a specific book they choose a topic and everyone in the group reads a book within that theme. For example, Paris or a circus. I thought that was a great idea. They also ask themselves, and their listeners, what it means to be “literary”. What is a literary book? If you like to think about books, definitely listen to this one.

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour: On Fall TV And Whether Criticism Is Too Nice
The Pop Culture Happy Hour is always fantastic but this week they discuss the recent article that ran in Slate about Twitter ruining literary criticism. This roundtable of three pop culture critics have some interesting things to say on the topic, but first Linda Holmes talks about upcoming television shows and after they all rave about “what’s making [them] happy this week”. Great show, you should subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode.

SF Signal: Steampunk Roundtable
If you like science fiction, and steampunk in particular, you won’t want to miss this round table discussion with authors, reviewers, and editors Cherie Priest, Jay Lake, Gail Carriger, Paul Di Fillipo, Phillipa Ballantine and Tee Morris. Listen to them hash out a definition, talk about the history of the movement, and discuss books within the genre.

Bookworm: Sheila Heti
Interview Editor for The Believer magazine, novelist, and Canadian Sheila Heti sat down in Los Angeles with Michael Silverblatt to discuss her latest novel, How Should a Person Be?. What transpires is a great conversation about writing fiction from real life.

Sound Opinions: Jack White
Even if you’ve never heard one chord of Jack White’s music from his now defunct band The White Stripes, you will still want to listen to this incredible interview with the talented and bright musician. Throughout this oral history of White’s life getting into and being in the business are clips of his songs. Heading up one of the best shows about music on the air, Sound Opinions’ hosts Jim and Greg are perfect for getting White to open up about the things that matter—music, music, and music. Check out this gossip-free interview with an incredible musician.

Written by Gabrielle

August 16, 2012 at 6:57 am

The Terrible Mind of Chuck Wendig, author of Blackbirds

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In Chuck Wendig’s debut novel, Blackbirds, a mix of gritty fantasy and noir, death and torture wait in the wings. Miriam Black, a broken-down, take-no-shit, young woman, has a terrible affliction: she can see the future. At the slightest touch, skin on skin, the other person’s death flashes before her eyes. She’s seen horrible things, fates she’s tried to alter but whose warnings have had no effect.

Now, while hitching a ride with Louis Darling, a lone trucker going her way, Miriam shakes his hand and witnesses his end. In just thirty days he’ll die a torturous death … while calling out her name.

In a fight to outwit a seemingly unalterable outcome, a battle between free will and determinism forces Miriam out of complacency and into the role of fierce heroine.

Wendig is the man behind the website Terrible Minds, a site where he offers weekly writing tips in his column “25 Things You Should Know About Writing.” Not your average instructor, Wendig’s advice has included “25 Reasons I Hate Your Main Character,” “25 Ways to Unfuck Your Story,” and “25 Things I Want to Say to ‘Aspiring’ Writers.” In one of his recent lists, “25 Things I Learned While Writing Blackbirds,” under the second tip, “Your First Novel Usually Ain’t,” Wendig writes, “Blackbirds is my debut original novel, but it damn sure isn’t the first one I wrote. It’s just the first one that mattered. It’s the first one that deserved to live.”

Author, screenwriter, and all around “penmonkey,” Wendig took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his difficulty with plot, the importance of reading nonfiction, and what self-publishing and traditional publishing can learn from each other. After reading what he has to say, I urge you to follow Chuck on Twitter.

THE CONTEXTUAL LIFE: What made you start your “25 Things You Should Know About Writing” series?

CHUCK WENDIG: The writing advice in general is there for me above all else. I like to yell at myself. Whenever I run into problems with my writing or see funny things about the writing life, it feels a good place to both vent the steam and mine the “cray-cray.” That’s what the kids are saying these days, right? Cray-cray? Whew.

The “25 Things” in particular are my attempt to pare down the advice – which sounds, er, strange because those lists are pretty huge. But I pack a lot into ‘em, with each of the 25 items ideally being a weird Zen nugget of dubious writer wisdom.

This sounds like a good writing routine.

It helps me focus. Helps me tackle problems. Helps me help other authors, which in turn helps me by inflating my ego and making me feel like I actually know what I’m doing (and I most assuredly do not). Plus, on the barest, most simplest level, I’m writing. Any writing I do helps me to write better.

Plot is your trouble area. What have you done to overcome it?

Who told you that? Do you have cameras in my house? Is my computer bugged? Are you some kind of publishing witch?

Ahem. Yes. Plot is my biggest stumbling block. I countermand my own weakness by planning, plotting, scheming. I am a pantser by heart, but a plotter by necessity. If I don’t outline, then the book is lost in the woods for 5,000 pages. Covered in briar scratches and hunted by bears.

How was it to plot the first book in a series?

I did not know that Blackbirds would be the first in a series, necessarily. It was written to stand on its own, with the hope that it would one day earn a second in its series (which Angry Robot Books was good enough to grant me at the outset).

The trick in plotting was again outlining. I wrote an epic – and frankly unfinished – first and second draft that was meandering, unfocused, so blurry that as an artist I must’ve been considered legally blind. I found the first draft recently and read some of it. The core of the story and character are there, but it’s almost painful to read the way it stumbles around, zombie-like.

The way I focused the book was… erm, unorthodox, and just goes to show that every writer digs his own tunnel into this practice and business. I won a screenwriting mentorship with screenwriter Stephen Susco, selfishly thinking to use it to help develop Blackbirds both as a film property and then as a revived novel. First thing Stephen told me was to outline, and I laughed. “Ha ha ha, ohh, silly-man-from-Hollywood, I don’t do that. That would steal my thunder. It would wound my creative spirit!”

But he kept on me. And grudgingly, I tried it. Suddenly, I had a story that was gaining focus – and by the second outline, had a laser-like focus. So my fumbly bumbly book suddenly had a spine and a place to go. It was a zombie no more. So, I write the script, then used the outline and the script to rebuild the novel. The book that will be published is almost no different than that first post-outline draft.

What I find interesting is that Blackbirds is both the start of a series but can be read as a standalone. I find that refreshing, why did you set it up that way?

It was important in consideration of selling it. I didn’t want myself or my potential publisher to be pinned down in either a single or a series book. Plus, from a reader’s perspective, I didn’t want them to pick this up expecting it just to be a part of a story. It’s a whole story. A real boy. Nothing missing. All fingers and toes attached.

The next book in the series, Mockingbird, will it also be written as a standalone?

Well, it’s not precisely standalone – I mean, it helps if you read the first one. But I don’t think that’s precisely critical, either. You could pick up Mockingbird and it still gives you the information you need to move forward into the story. Further, the concept surrounding Miriam is, I think, relatively simple to understand: she touches you, sees your death, and then the question becomes, can she do anything about that and how hard must she fight fate to achieve it?

You’re also a screenwriter. The draft of Blackbirds was massive — about 90,000 words. Did your screenwriting background help you pare it down?

The screenwriting thing is all about brevity and focus. Each page of the script matters – in screenwriting terms, a single page equals a minute of screentime, and a minute of screentime is like, in Hollywood money, a bajillion-fajitallion dollars. So, you can’t blow up your script to 150 pages and expect to sell it. You have to compress. You have to possess an elegance of language – only including the dialogue that matters and the most critical descriptions.

Though there’s a lesson for screenwriters, too – the script still needs to be readable. I don’t mean legible, I mean, write to be read. Write to entertain even at the script level.

So, from screenwriting I borrowed that level of focus, particularly in descriptions. Dialogue, less so – and even still, Blackbirds still has to feel like a novel, still deserves to dig deeper than what you get in a script and on screen. I didn’t want to abandon what makes novels awesome, but I wanted to take some of the beauty and potency of scriptwriting and jack that into the novel mold.

As such, the novel is pretty mean and lean, I think.

I think so, too. It really moves along. It’s also a visual story. Is this because of your screenwriting experience? What are some things you’ve carried over into your novel writing?

I do write more visually. Some novels spend a lot of time in character heads or dally in scenes that, on-screen, would never work – oh, how often you see scenes of dialogue where it’s like puppet theater, just two characters standing there as mouthpieces for their respective ideas. Over-sharing, too. “Let me tell you my evil plan!” Blah blah blah. An expositional karate punch to the reader’s mouth.

I try to keep things moving. Try to show instead of tell – though there’s certainly a place and a way to “tell” the audience things, and that’s okay, but even there you kind of need to nest it in a process of showing. The way a character tells something or demonstrates a thing is powerful and meaningful. Or can be, at least.

You consider the author Robert McCammon a major influence on your writing. You first read him in your teens and would still read him today. What’s made you stick with him? How has he affected the way you approach your writing, and writing as a career?

McCammon’s Stinger was not the first horror book put into my hand, but it was the first I read and relished. My sister tried to get me to read some Stephen King and, as a young teen, wasn’t into it. But then she put Stinger on my desk and it was like – BOOSH, mind blown. Next came Swan Song, and that book blew even Stinger away. Epic 1000-page post-apocalyptic nuclear America. Powerful and horrific and with a spate of incredibly strong and damaged characters.

That book alone is plump with writing lessons if you care to find them.

But at that point I was reading McCammon – or, rather, devouring his entire back catalog – as a reader, not a writer. I knew I liked writing and telling stories but I wasn’t really sure it was a thing I could do. (Though I certainly wanted to.)

It was his book Boy’s Life that clinched it. It’s a coming of age book, not strictly horror, but it’s also very strongly about storytelling. And that told me: this is what I want to do. I want to write. I want to tell stories.

Interesting note is that, not long after, McCammon retired – despite being a bestselling author he had troubles selling non-horror work and he was moving away from that genre. So he dropped off the map for years, which was troubling to me: and it was my first glimpse of how being a writer was as much a business concern as a crafty, artistic one. It showed me that this would be a tricky industry.

You read nonfiction as well as fiction and consider it something all fiction writers should do. What kind of nonfiction do you read and how does it help you with your writing? What are the benefits of stepping away from fiction?

I do think that’s important! Reading fiction is reiterative. You’re reading other people’s creative pursuits and the best you can do with that as inspiration and research is remix and regurgitate (and you can see in Hollywood how much of it is a remix culture – some of that is fun and clever, but the lack of original ideas can be troubling).

Non-fiction can still be creatively delivered but is not itself reiterative or regurgitative. You read non-fiction and you get ideas that cannot come out of reading someone else’s story. It’s a far more fertile seed-bed in terms of both idea-farming and bringing pre-existing ideas forward through research and pleasure reading.

You read fiction, you can learn the craft and pick apart what XYZ writer is doing. Which is good, and essential. But it’s also an act of diminishing returns. Non-fiction doesn’t suffer from that.

As to what I read?

I’ll read anything. My non-fiction shelves are 75% of my total bookshelf space, with fiction only taking up 25% of it. Right now I’m reading a book about ants. Specifically: Adventures Among Ants by Mark Moffett. But I’ve got books on mythology and symbols and gun repair and Medieval weapons and warfare and the NSA and sex and culture and death and… well. The list goes on and on. And on.

In Blackbirds, your main character, Miriam, if she touches them, can see how people eventually die. What was it like to imagine peoples’ deaths? How did you come up with the idea?

Coming up with deaths are both fun and horrible. Some based in things I’d heard and seen. Others just straight up plucked from the twisted folds of my parasite-ridden brain.

The idea for Miriam comes out of that helplessness of death – both the helplessness you feel when your loved ones die and when you realize your own death is fast incoming.

A few years ago, there was a lot of death around you. At one point a few of your family members had passed away. I’ve heard it said before that much of fiction is working out personal problems. Do you think Blackbirds, specifically Miriam’s ability, which leads her to question free will, was a way of working out your thoughts on immortality? Maybe as a way to take control of it or maybe to face it head on?

Morality more than immortality – but yes, this is definitely me ripping off the scabs and letting the blood flow in an issue like this. Blackbirds in that way represents a harsh dose of reality (hey, holy shit, people die, you’re going to die, your dog will die, we’re all going to die) and also the fantasy (what does it take to move the seemingly immovable boulder of fate and force one’s free will by turning away the Grim Reaper’s hand?).

You’ve self-published in the past and were almost considering self-publishing Blackbirds before Angry Robot picked it up. What aspect of traditional publishing have you enjoyed so far and what are you looking forward to as your book goes out into the world?

I do think that writers these days – especially writers looking to make a living solely on their rampant penmonkeying – need to have a diverse publishing strategy which means taking advantage of all the publishing options that exist for us.

But while I do self-publish some work, I’m certainly enjoying traditional publishing, too. Listen, self-pub is tough stuff. You have to do a lot of stuff which is not writing – cover design and e-book formatting and needling self-promo. Admittedly, some of that is there with traditional publishing, but it’s amazing to me how much of what I do with self-pub just… magically gets done with traditional.

It’s like, out of nowhere reviews for Blackbirds started popping up like spring-time daffodils and I had nothing to do with it. And I see blogs talking about this kick-ass cover from Joey Hi-Fi, a cover I wouldn’t have earned by my lonesome, a cover that is most certainly a book-seller all by itself. (I cannot stress enough how lucky I got on the Kick-Ass Cover Artist lottery. I may not have won the Mega-Millions, but I won that one, for sure.)

I’m having a Blackbirds launch at Mysterious Galaxy in LA – also not an easy option for self-published authors. Sold German rights for it – not an easy option for self-pub. Talking to agents and filmmakers about film and TV rights – repeat after me, not an easy option for self-pub.

What are you working on now?

Eating some waffles.

Oh, wait, you mean creatively? Oh. Ahh. That makes more sense.

Well. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I’ve got the third Miriam Black book outlined and ready to roll. I’ve got the start of a new series with Abaddon (tentative series title: Gods & Monsters). Got the next two of the Dinocalypse trilogy to finish now that the Kickstarter for that has gone through the roof. Plus, the Kickstarter for my Atlanta Burns novel, Bait Dog, went over 200% funded, so I’ve got that going on, too. I am, it turns out, a busy little ink-slinger.

Plus I do work with my writing partner, so there will be films and other digital endeavors. Fingers crossed on those!

Fingers crossed here. Thanks so much for speaking with me.

Thanks for having me, Gabrielle!

Written by Gabrielle

May 15, 2012 at 6:47 am

The Jungle Books and Tarzan of the Apes: Imperialism Explored

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There’s a certain amount of bracing one does before reading books about boys in the jungles of India and Africa written in the early 1900s by white authors. It was the height of the British Empire and feelings of racial and cultural superiority ran rampant; many viewed the native inhabitants of far-flung colonies as barbarous and backward.

As I began The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1894, I expected outdated and offensive language and uncomfortable representations of the local people. Other than a cursory glance at Just So Stories I’d never read him before and my preconceived notions stem from my tendency to conflate him with Joseph Conrad, an author of dubious reputation. Reading The Jungle Books was less about coming to a supposedly enjoyable classic than embarking on a sociological experiment.

The Jungle Books, as I found out, is not a novel but rather a collection of short stories, the bulk of which make up the the well-known tale of Mowgli, the Indian boy orphaned in the jungle and raised among the animals. The other stories, dispersed between, are unrelated sketches of other animal stories set in various locations.

After reading The Jungle Books all the way through, I found the ancillary stories a distraction, and of mixed quality. Some were cute while others are entirely skippable. However, going back to my reason for reading the book in the first place, I was surprised to find that, with the exception of one mention of “Mohammedans,” a derogatory term for Muslims not often used today, there was very little, if anything, that bothered me. It could be that I missed something but I believe I gave it a good, close read.

Instead, it was Tarzan of the Apes, first published in 1912, another story about a boy raised by animals in the jungle, that made me cringe. Unlike The Jungle Books, which can be found in the fiction and literature section, Tarzan of the Apes, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is found in science fiction. Because of this connection with genre I expected Tarzan to be the more enlightened of the two. With few exceptions, sci-fi tends to be progressive, often questioning society’s norms and pushing the boundaries of cultural understanding through use of metaphor. For me, science fiction has always seemed forward-thinking.

Like Mowgli in The Jungle Books, Tarzan is orphaned at an early age. His father, John Clayton, an English nobleman is commissioned to investigate conditions in a British West Coast African colony. He brings with him his pregnant wife, Lady Alice, but soon there is trouble on the ship. Officers are murdered and the couple is left ashore with their belongings — marooned in Africa. John builds a small fortified cabin and Lady Alice gives birth to a boy. A year later she becomes ill and passes away in the night; shortly after, John meets his death at the hands of a king ape. The baby, thereafter known as Tarzan, is adopted by the king ape’s mate and treated as her child. He grows up with no memory of his birth parents.

The story continues, following Tarzan through his adventures in the jungle — biologically a man but part ape, strong and agile, by nurture.

The problematic part of the story comes when Tarzan spies other humans and stumbles into a nearby tribal village a number of miles away. They are native Africans and portrayed as the typical savages you see in old movies and cartoons: naked children and adults in dried grass skirts with brass and copper jewelry and large nose rings. They are superstitious and practice torture and cannibalism. The scenes were difficult to digest and I found it hard not to wince.

As if that weren’t enough, the only other representation of black people is Esmeralda, the nursemaid of Jane Porter, an American woman who arrives when Tarzan is a man. She is part of an exploratory group who also find themselves stranded on the island. Esmeralda is the only character in the group who speaks in dialect — a near-incomprehensible Southern pigeon-English — while everyone else speaks proper English. Gore Vidal, in his introduction to the Signet Classic edition says this:

Aside from the natives who are underdeveloped flat characters, Esmeralda, an African-American, is the only other black character that appears in the novel. Weighing in at 280 pounds, she is nonetheless a trembling ‘frightened child’ (page 131) rolling her eyes from side to side before fainting in the face of the ‘terrifical’ (page 177) circumstances and ‘carnivable’ (page 242) animals roaming the ‘jumble’ (page 243). Her character is a convention, her malapropisms a joke. She functions as nothing more than a stereotype of black superstitious fear for purposes of comic relief. . . . Blacks are treated mostly badly in this novel as they were during the period in which it was written.

Unfortunately, for the liberal-minded, the story as a whole is interesting and highly readable, more so than Kipling’s comparable novel. While The Jungle Books suffers from its disjointed nature, the main story of Mowgli continually disrupted, Tarzan of the Apes is a novel in the proper sense — coherent and linear.

But this begs the question, a question many avid, careful, and contextual readers often ask themselves: “how much can one with twenty-first-century sensibilities bare to overlook?” For guidance we can, once again, look to Gore Vidal:

Reading ourselves into Tarzan’s adventure is not, however, without problems. From a twenty-first-century perspective, the book doesn’t always feel like an escape, because it can so easily be arraigned as an unfortunate manifestation of the period’s assumptions about race, class, and gender. If one were in a prosecutorial mood, it might be tempting to cast off Tarzan of the Apes and simply catalogue it as politically incorrect for its social and cultural values, but to reject the book on such grounds would provide, in effect, a rationale for editing out many of the writers contemporary to Burroughs, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. . . . A more productive approach is to recognize that such attitudes were pervasive in the culture contemporary to Burroughs, a strategy that doesn’t excuse or mitigate them but that attempts to create a better understanding of the novel.

The amount of forgiveness given to books and authors varies based on the offender and the offended. As someone who loves philosophy but with a strong aversion when it comes to anti-Semitism, I still haven’t read Heidegger. So, while Tarzan of the Apes, racism aside, is a great book, consider yourself warned. The Jungle Books, on the other hand, skip the stories in between and you’ve got yourself a great story.

::[Links]::
Buy The Jungle Books at IndieBound or find it at your local indie
Buy Tarzan of the Apes at IndieBound or find it at your local indie

Written by Gabrielle

March 27, 2012 at 7:08 am

My Favorite Villain

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The popular science fiction and fantasy website SF Signal hosts a weekly “Mind Meld” where they ask a bunch of people — editors, authors, science fiction and fantasy bloggers, and such — to answer a question. In the recent past they’ve asked for favorite scifi and fantasy movie soundtracks, thoughts on the current state of politics in science fiction, the best opening scenes, and what books everyone is looking forward to this coming year.

When I saw an email from the coordinator of the series, I was ecstatic. Finally, SF Signal wants me to contribute! Then I saw the question, “Who are your favorite villains in science fiction and fantasy?” I immediately said yes and then, just as quickly, knew I had some thinking to do. As a late-comer to genre fiction I skipped all those gripping stories as a kid. The ones that feature heinous characters. I wasn’t much of a Disney kid either so I didn’t have films to fall back on. The follow essay is not just a remembrance of a particular villain, it’s an exercise in defining villainy.

You can read what others came up with at SF Signal. There you’ll find some great essays with excellent reading suggestions. If you have a favorite villain, or guidelines for villainy, comments are open both here and at SF Signal.

MIND MELD: Who Are Your Favorite Villains In Fantasy And Science Fiction?

When I think of what makes a convincing villain, I think of stories where good and evil is clearly defined. No room for gray; the hero is infallible and the bad guy barely human.

Because I’m attracted to murky realism rather than the more exaggerated genres — superhero comics, epic fantasy, horror, pulpy spy novels — I haven’t had much first-hand experience with black and white worlds; and though Merriam-Webster defines a villain as someone who is “deliberately criminal,” the characters who are most memorable to me don’t fit the definition of villainy. Often you have a good guy with ethical fissures and a bad guy always on the verge of redemption. It’s this moral ambiguity that confuses things.

But I was determined. Before digging through my three-row-deep book shelves to go over what I’d recently read, I made it easy on myself and asked, what makes someone truly loathsome? I came up with something pretty fast: cruelty to children. Unlike the uber-fit men in comic books, their 6-packs wrapped in spandex, children are powerless: the ultimate victims.

Then I remembered, I’d just read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

On the first page of Dahl’s surrealist classic, James, a four-year-old boy living in England, is orphaned when his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros. Up until that point he’s happy; he’s had a good life. But then everything changes; he’s sent to live with his two cruel aunts. They beat him, force him into hard labor, isolate him, and, on occasion, refuse to feed him. The first few chapters are so unsettling, I was actually angry. I saw the abuse in my head, even as it was shown through language meant for kids. With every page I wished that James would take revenge, preferably with deadly consequences.

When the two aunts were finally run over by the giant peach, I cheered. It was a satisfying demise. Those two were true villains.


Written by Gabrielle

February 23, 2012 at 8:28 am

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

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Serious or satire, on the page, on screen, or on-stage, the legend of King Arthur has inspired many artistic variations. With little knowledge of the original story, I set out to read T.H. White’s adaptation, The Once and Future King.

Hailed as “The World’s Greatest Fantasy Classic,” The Once and Future King was published in full in 1958, with the first three of four sections published separately beginning in the late 1930s. White opens his story with a young Arthur living under the care of Sir Ector, raised alongside Ector’s biological son, Kay.

Arthur, the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, the less-than-noble Norman King of England, and Lady Igraine, the once wife of the Duke of Cornwall, was conceived through deceit. In exchange for a roll in the hay with another man’s wife, Pendragon agreed to the wizard Merlyn’s demands of handing over the offspring that would come from the tryst.

One day, still a young boy living on Sir Ector’s land, Arthur set out on a hunting trip. He soon finds himself lost in the woods and is forced to sleep in a tree for the night. The next morning, hungry, he comes across a cottage and notices a man drawing water from a nearby well.

He was dressed in a flowing gown with fur tippets which had the signs of the zodiac embroidered over it, with various cabalistic signs, such as triangles with eyes in them, queer crosses, leaves of trees, bones of birds and animals, and a planetarium whose stars shone like bits of looking-glass with the sun on them. He had a pointed hat like a dunce’s cap, or like the headgear worn by ladies of that time . . . He also had a wand of lignum vitae, which he had laid down in the grass beside him, and a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, being without ear pieces, but shaped rather like scissors or like the antennae of the tarantula wasp.

Merlyn.

Merlyn had a long white beard and long white moustaches which hung down on either side of it. Close inspection showed that he was far from clean. It was not that he had dirty fingernails, or anything like that, but some large bird seemed to have been nesting in his hair.

The wizard invites Arthur in for breakfast before taking him back home. “Are you really coming all the way home with me?” Arthur asks. “Why not? How else can I be your tutor?” replies Merlyn.

Part of Arthur’s study includes shape-shifting into different creatures, allowing him to experience their lives firsthand. His first shift is into a fish: his legs fuse together and his toes and feet become fins; however, it was the lives of birds that Arthur enjoyed the most.

Right at the end of Arthur’s education, word spreads throughout the kingdom of King Pendragon’s death. There is no one to succeed him (only Merlyn knows the identity of Arthur’s father) and a contest is held to see who will be next in line. Knights joust for the chance to pull a sword out of a stone, the famous story of Excalibur: “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England”. By chance, Arthur has forgotten his stepbrother Kay’s sword, which he was tasked to carry as squire, and is forced to find a replacement at the last minute. Coming across the sword in the stone, he thinks to borrow it for the tournament. With ease, he releases the weapon from its fixed place and his royal origins are revealed. Arthur becomes the next king of England.

But alas, life as king is not easy. Pendragon had made a mess of the kingdom through violence and greed and it’s Arthur who is tasked with setting it straight, uniting the warring factions, and civilizing the land as a whole. Also to contend with is his famed right-hand-man Sir Lancelot’s love for his queen, Guinevere, and her mutual admiration for the knight. Internal plots to unseat Arthur and remove Lancelot spin throughout the pages as does White’s humor.

The Once and Future King, and the story of King Arthur itself, is a timeless drama, complete with elements of Greek tragedy: a love triangle, unclaimed children, matricide, and political sabotage. One does not need to be familiar with the original story or to have read Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. The Once and Future King stands alone as a comprehensive story; one in which you’ll lose yourself and never want to find your way out.

::[Links]::
Buy The Once and Future King at IndieBound or find it at your local independent bookstore
Learn more about The Once and Future King at SparkNotes

Written by Gabrielle

February 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

Interview with Lavie Tidhar, author of The Great Game, an Alt-history, Steampunk Mystery

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Science fiction author Lavie Tidhar is a busy man. He’s had two novels published in 2011 and will see two more this year. Along with his longform fiction, Tidhar fills his time writing short stories, editing anthologies and websites, and, of course, hanging out on Twitter. This month, science fiction publisher Angry Robot is putting out the third book in his Bookman Histories series, The Great Game. But for those of you who have yet to discover the first two, you won’t need to go back to the beginning, The Great Game is one of those few sequels that can be read as a standalone novel.

Infused with steampunk elements, The Great Game is an interwoven, alt-history tale of espionage, often with the feel of an old spy novel. Historical and fictional characters — Oliver Twist, Bram Stoker, Houdini, Jack London, and Frankenstein to name a few — mingle on the streets of Victorian-era London as a “secret shadow war” wages on between humans, a ruling class of lizards, and automatons.

In 2011, Lavie Tidhar was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for his international science fiction site, The World SF Blog, and recently, his book Osama has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Award. Lavie took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the writing process, the role of politics in science fiction, and his love of poetry. You can check out his site here and follow him on Twitter at @lavietidhar.

You’re a prolific writer — your Bookman series has come out in rapid succession and in between you’ve published another novel, a number of short stories, you’re Editor-in-Chief of the World SF Blog, and you maintain your own blog. You’ve also gained a reputation for your frequent Twitter usage. How do you balance your writing with your social media output? Your blogging, editing, and longer form writing?

I tend to do the blogs first — get up, check e-mail, have coffee, update blogs — that sort of thing. Then I can get on with writing. I’m not really a morning person, so it’s a good way for me to slowly ease into that semi-vegetative state required for writing.

Otherwise, it’s a catch-all for me, writing-wise – sometimes I have long stretches of novel writing, then I need a break and write a short story. I love short stories. At the moment I have four half-novels on the go so having to decide which one to focus on can be tricky! Generally I like working on a lot of different things, so I don’t get bored.

Are you someone who finds Twitter facilitates their writing process?

I do find Twitter quite helpful as an escape from writing. I tweet a lot, but only really when I’m writing. It’s like a lot of mini-breaks in between. I just get to be a big geek on Twitter. I was trying variations on The Wizard of Oz on Twitter a while back, came up with The Were-Wizard of Oz and thought, aha! Ended up writing that one and selling it to Ekaterina Sedia’s Beware the Night anthology.

In January of 2010 you wrote a piece for SF Signal about the growing interest in steampunk. You mention its current day relevance: the similarities between England as a colonial power in Victorian times and the US today. The title of your new book, The Great Game, brings to mind the struggle for control of Central Asia that took place between the British and Russian Empire during the 19th century. Your story involves a secret shadow war not only between nations but also between humans, lizards, and automatons. How do you use your work to draw parallels between the past, present, and future?

The Victorian era is so important, you know, in order to understand the world we live in today. Just look at the war in Afghanistan – the First Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-1842, that is. Really our world was shaped so much by that British Empire – no amount of goggles or parasols or cogs or whatever can really obscure the underlying political force of that era, the way it shaped borders, ethnicities, economics and war today.

In my own steampunk trilogy I tried to assume a better 19th century, really – an America only partially colonized by Europeans, an Africa with its intact empires and trade networks, an era where women have more freedom than they did – Irene Adler (from Sherlock Holmes) is a police inspector and becomes chief of Scotland Yard by the third book, for instance. Kind of ironic when the updated-to-our-present day TV series of Holmes makes her into a sex worker! I wonder what it says about our age. The world of the Bookman Histories is not a much better world – there’s revolution, poverty, discrimination, everything the 19th century was so good at – but that’s part of the fun, too.

Read the rest at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Gabrielle

February 2, 2012 at 7:05 am

Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery

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In 2007 Tor published Brian Francis Slattery’s debut novel, Spaceman Blues: A Love Song. Set in New York City and its surrounding boroughs, Spaceman Blues is the story of Manuel Rodriguez de Guzman Gonzalez, a Latino immigrant who one day goes missing.

The book starts off with just another day in Manuel’s life: a whirlwind tour through the city’s various neighborhoods. He’s one of those guys who knows everyone, who, throughout his time in New York, has moved effortlessly between diverse communities, making acquaintances, and taking on a near-mythic persona. Visual and well-crafted, the telling of Manuel’s day is possibly one of the most brilliant opening paragraphs I’ve read all year:

It is his last day, and by six in the morning he is already drinking, drinking and shot up, eyes frantic, limbs flailing like he’s ready to explode. At seven he is on the wasted docks across from Manhattan starting fights with the winos and the mechanics; by eight thirty he’s up in the Washington Heights playing dominoes on a fire hydrant some kids are getting ready to crack open with a sledgehammer because it’s so damn hot and the Hudson’s so dirty and the ocean is too far away. By noon he’s been thrown out of thirteen bars. He gets hit by a bus, gets drunk again with some boys in Spanish Harlem bobbing to bachata out of a static-ridden radio. The afternoon he spends smoking sweet tobacco and watching old movies in Arabic with Egyptians in Astoria. He kisses Daoud’s hand in Egypt’s Cafe, whispers something in his ear; then he rides the G back to Brooklyn, hops the train to Brighton Beach, where it’s getting dark and the families are getting ready to go home. The men on the boardwalk totter with vodka, chase women, and eat boiled eggs, and he goes from club to club to tell the Russian Mafia he’s leaving, he won’t bother them anymore. By dark he’s face-up on the pier at Coney Island, watching the fire suns flare in the sky, the first stars of summer, out for that rare time when the humidity breaks and all is quiet, like the city is taking a breath, swelling the land under it, diverting water in the river and the bay to places farther out, deeper places; then it exhales, and all that was displaced returns, all that was disturbed tilts back into place, settles, grows quiet. And then, Manuel Rodrigo de Guzman Gonzalez vanishes. Poof

Because Manuel is the type of person to take off without telling people where he’s going, his disappearance remains unnoticed for twenty-six hours. It’s not until his apartment explodes that those around him begin to speculate. Many think he’s dead — a reasonable conclusion — and soon people gather to mourn. Quickly, the atmosphere takes on an air of nihilistic celebration, another glimpse into Manuel’s temperament and choice of friends. There are three people, however, who take his absence seriously, inspectors Lenny Salmon and Henry Trout, and Manuel’s lover Wendell.

Most striking about Spaceman Blues is the inclusion of minorities — both ethnic and sexual. It’s not often that a protagonist in a science fiction novel is gay; Slattery’s inclusion feels unforced and without stereotype. Similarly, the portrayal of New York City’s immigrant population never feels gimmicky or politicized.

Much has been made of the subtitle: A Love Song. The interpretations are varied, all accompanied by solid arguments; Spaceman Blues, while it houses many stories — lost love and an impending alien invasion — often feels like a love song for multiculturalism, specifically in and around Manhattan. While “melting pot” might not be an accurate description of this city, as it’s a term that assumes a level of mixing and blending we have not yet achieved, New York is a place where those who come from other countries retain pieces of their former life and share them with others. The immigrant experience, a theme often overlooked in everyday life, is certainly long overdue for a spotlight in genre fiction.

On the topic of themes, Slattery consistently merges his various areas of expertise with his novels. A violinist, fiddler, and banjo player, his passion for music manifests itself in Spaceman Blues. Much of it is subtle and flows naturally within the sentences. Other times, it’s overt, like when he describes the relationship between the two inspectors, Salmon and Trout: “Once, they were jazz musicians, riffing on each other’s half-formed thoughts until they arrived through improvisation at a new place”.

His second novel, Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America, taps into Slattery’s career as an editor specializing in economics and public-policy publications. The novel, eerily published in October of 2008, is a “speculation on life in near-future America after the country suffers an economic cataclysm that leads to the resurgence of ghosts of its past”.

The first half of Spaceman Blues is the strongest part of the book with the plot weakening in the middle, however, it should be noted that Slattery’s writing style is enjoyable throughout. In their review of Liberation, BoingBoing called his prose “complex, poetic, visionary and reeling, a cross between Kerouac and Bradbury, salted with Steinbeck.”

In April, Tor will publish Slattery’s third novel, Lost Everything, a “story of a man who takes a boat trip up the Susquehanna River, through a version of America that’s been torn apart by a mysterious war, in order to find and rescue his lost wife and son”. Brian’s now moving into publishing-veteran territory — I’m curious to see what he comes up with next.

You have four months to get ready. Let the countdown begin.

::[Links]::
Spaceman Blues: A Love Story at IndieBound
Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America at IndieBound
Lost Everything at IndieBound
Brian’s fiction page on his website where you can find excerpts and short stories
Brian on the soundtrack to steampunk
Interview with Brian on the Bat Segundo Show
Interview with Brian on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show
Brian’s Playlist for Liberation at Largehearted Boy
An Interview with Jeff VanderMeer
BoingBoing’s review of Liberation

Written by Gabrielle

January 3, 2012 at 6:35 am

What to Listen To: The Functional Nerds

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Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’m a huge fan of arts & culture radio programs and podcasts. One of my favorites is produced by the science fiction and fantasy site SF Signal. Once a week they have a round table discussion with authors, bloggers, and other genre experts on a specific topic and then an author interview on a following day.

Patrick Hester, an author and blogger, is the host of the podcast and musician and blogger John Anealio is a sometimes guest. Both of these guys host an offshoot podcast, or what I consider to be an offshoot, called The Functional Nerds, also a weekly favorite of mine.

Once a week these two knowledgeable guys interview either a science fiction or fantasy author and discuss writing, music, movies, occasionally video games, and any other pop culture happening that comes to mind. Lately, they’ve branched out to include guests who might not have written a book but who are capable of discussing something nerdy.

When they asked me to be on the show, having first gotten to know each other through an author and then on Twitter (isn’t that how everything happens these days?), I was beyond psyched. Together with author Karin Lowachee, the four of us were to each come up with something we were nerding out about.

Oddly, or perhaps eerily, Karin and I both picked the FX show Sons of Anarchy. In the following podcast, you’ll hear me attempt to describe it and then Karin save us all from my bumbling. She does an impressive job explaining the deeper themes of the show — bringing in the Shakespearean elements and discussing why the characters are so compelling. Patrick decides he’s nerding out about Christmas, which is difficult for East Coasters (okay, me) to think about because it’s barely below 60 degrees here. Karin, at the last minute, because we’d doubled up on our nerdy picks, gave a plug for the graphic novel Damaged, the story of three brothers who choose different paths for meting out justice. You can read her interview with one of the creators, Michael Schwarz, at SF Signal.

And then finally, John threw us all back to the late-80s with his thoughts on Crowded House (opens with sound), possibly best known for their 1987 hit Something So Strong. Him and I then discuss a brief history of electronic music, referencing Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Amon Tobin, and the German techno scene happening now — with my suggestion, Pantha Du Prince.

A good time was had by all. I hope you’ll listen. Here’s the link.

Written by Gabrielle

December 22, 2011 at 5:59 am

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