Monday, September 30, 2013

A Political Rant

Can we please, please stop fighting over partisan agendas and actually run the country?

I'm at the point of wanting to vote every one of the rascals out. Seriously. We've hit gridlock worse than I-66 at rush hour and something really needs to give here. There's no civility at either the Congress level or the grass roots level.

I don't often talk about politics here, but I'm just fed up with it. Completely.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Updates

Sold "Safety Nets" to Ether World.

Still working on the kickstarter for Strange Voyages, which is also being edited. This is going to be a great book for all of you gamers.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Iceland Day 5: The Golden Circle

If you only have one day in Iceland, the Golden Circle is what you're supposed to do.

(Yes, I did things backwards, but the riding tour we wanted was only available on the Monday and I wanted to do the whale watching early so we could reschedule in the event of a weather cancellation).

Ideally, you should do this on the first day of your trip. And with a small operator. There are operators that take 60 person buses...and then there are ones that take 12 person minibuses. Guess which is better? Now, we did have one person on our tour who apparently believed anything anyone told her and asked some interesting questions, among them "Is it true that the ancient vikings didn't eat fish?"

That aside, despite a miserable day, we did enjoy the tour. The Golden Circle consists of three destinations. All of them are, to some degree, tourist traps - but sometimes tourist traps can be fun.

Stop 1: The Golden Falls

The Golden Falls are the largest waterfall in Iceland and one of the most spectacular in the world. They aren't that high, but they're wide and run at an odd angle through the gorge.

You can see why rain jackets are recommended for this trip even if it's a nice day...look at that spray! Oh, and if possible, eat at the cafe here. Get the traditional Icelandic lamb stew, which is absolutely delicious and rich with bone marrow and rutabagas.

Stop 2: Geysir

The original geysir after which all the others are named is all but dormant now. It does go off every few weeks, but you have to be insanely lucky. Fortunately, a nearby one, Strokkur, is still reliable - every two minutes or so.

The site also has multi-colored hot springs. In all kinds of hues. Don't cross the fences - they're scalding hot. And be aware that if it's a wet day, the soil around here is clay. I still haven't quite got the shoes I was wearing clean.

Stop 3: Thingvellir

Here's an interesting thing about Iceland: It's the only European country never to have had its own king. (External conquerors who never lived there don't count). Instead, Iceland was governed by the Althingr - Europe's first parliament. (The Isle of Man argues that theirs is older, but the linguistic proof is that the Tynwald was named after Thingvellir - however, they do win the prize for the longest-running, as the Tynwald still meets at the same site, albeit no longer outside).

The Althingr met at Thingvellir because it was at the point where all the pack roads crossing Iceland met - the ultimate crossroads. Or, as I put it, "equally inconvenient for everyone." Nowadays the Althingr meets in Reykjavik, but occasionally ceremonies are held at Thingvellir and the President's Summer House is used for diplomatic functions. It's Iceland's original capital...

...and yeah. That's the President's Summer House. That and the church? The only things here. (There's also a visitor's center). Thingvellir is also a rift valley, falling where the Mid-Atlantic ridge passes through the island. There's even a point here that's the, shall we say "official" meeting of the two continental plates with a sign to be photographed by. If you go for that sort of thing. It's an arbitrary point, anyway - the entire valley is where the plates meet and grind against each other.

As you can see, it really was a horrible day weather-wise. Ah well.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Moon's Prophecy

I'm very picky about talking animal stories. That doesn't mean I don't like them - I grew up on Narnia and still adore Watership Down.

Just...picky. And The Moon's Prophecy by Jonathan Sparrow is a talking animal story. It's book one of a series (or at least a trilogy) and is focused on the adventures of a group of small creatures (mice, shrews and hedgehogs) fighting to defend their home from evil marauding boars - apparently the sows stay at home. The issue I have is that they aren't animals at all. They're humans in animal form - which quite surprises me as it comes from a naturalist. The anthropomorphism is the standard kind to make the characters easier to relate to. In fact, the authors' note all but admits that the talking animals are really just mountain folk.

If you love talking animal stories, you'll enjoy it. At the very least, it's a light read - and well-suited to younger teens and tweens. Some kids at least will love it. If you're looking for something to fill a bit of time and relax with, it's not a bad book at all. If you want more depth to your book, then don't bother. And if you appreciate mountain stories - it will probably work very well indeed.

Three stars.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Editorial Compatibilty

I was recently given a rather large box of old paperbacks. Most of them were things like Amazing, Fantastic, etc.

I enjoy George Scithers' run on Amazing a lot. (I have the privilege of having had a story accepted by him. Sadly, the publisher got into financial difficulties and the magazine it was supposed to be in lasted one issue. I was in issue two...)

Ted White's run on Fantastic? A slog I'm reading out of a bizarre sense of obligation.

Now, to be fair, Scithers won four Hugos as an editor, whilst Ted White's sole Hugo was Best Fan Writer. So, in theory, Scithers is the better...or at least more acknowledged...editor.

Truth is, that I just don't like the stories White chooses to run. And that's fine. Editorial compatibility - the measure of how much your tastes coincide with a specific editor - is an important thing to acknowledge as a writer. My husband loves Stanley Schmidt's Analog (He has yet to get to Trevor Quachri's run), but is strongly indifferent to Sheila Williams' Asimov's.

Paying attention to the editor will help you buy what you want to buy if you're shopping for periodicals or anthologies.

As a writer, you need to pay extra attention to the editor. Submitting to an editor who, like Ted White for me, buys absolutely nothing you like is a waste of time - because we all write what we like to read. It doesn't mean your work sucks. It just means you don't have editorial compatibility.

(And as a writer, there's little worse than selling a story to the publisher and then finding out you don't have compatibility with the person hired to edit it...)

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Return of the Pulps

A lot of us aren't old enough to remember the pulps, although we might have read them - or reprints from them.

Hundreds of magazines printed on cheap "pulp" paper could be found at newstands and in bookstores. "Pulp" novelists churned out twenty or thirty books a year, sometimes writing under multiple names to conceal the sheer size of their output.

Then came...television. A lot of people stopped reading. Popular entertainment switched to video.

Those old pulps offered cheap entertainment. They were written by competent writers - not always great ones, but people who knew how to put one word in front of another well and how to follow a formula. Pulp fiction was mostly science fiction, sword and sorcery, mysteries, romances, and westerns - what we now call genre fiction. The novels were short, transparently written, and quick reads. (The sparse style of some of the best science fiction writers recalls this). They didn't pay writers well (and sometimes the writers had to go after them for money). Some kept stables of writers and offered a stable, if low, monthly income.

All that went away. The number of science fiction and fantasy magazines dwindled, with the higher quality digests such as Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction surviving and becoming a venue for big names and talented newcomers alike.

So, why is this post titled the return of the pulps? When was the last time you saw a science fiction or western magazine in a newstand? And weren't the pulps the very reason why literary and even mainstream commercial writers looked down on genre fiction.

Truth is that, very quietly, something has happened. Now we have magazines such as Bards & Sages Quarterly, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind (there's a title to conjure with) and, of course, Big Pulp. And a plethora of others. They don't pay writers very much, but often feature the same writers multiple times. Some of them don't even pretend or claim to pay. The difference is that unlike the old pulps, they don't buy to a formula. In fact, the new pulps cross genres both in their tables of contents and sometimes even in individual stories. They publish science fiction, fantasy, horror, westerns, even mainstream fiction. They tend to prefer their stories short. Instead of offering readers the expected formulas, the new "pulp" magazines are all about variety.

The "pulp" novelist is back too - writing double figures of novels a year, sometimes under multiple pseudonyms. Many of the new pulp writers write romances - taking advantage of a voracious readership and the fact that romance novels tend to be shorter. They make their money from writing as much as possible.

Is this a bad thing? No. Once more, the reader who wants cheap, competently written entertainment can get it. In fact, quite a few of these pulp magazines offer their content for the best price of all - free. The down side is that the reader has to wade through all of this output - but hey, that's what reviews are for.

The new pulps are where the new writers are breaking in and where you can find the unique, the experimental, the unusual. But you won't find them in the newstand printed on yellowing paper - because these days, they aren't printed at all...

The internet has brought back pulp fiction - and that's a very good thing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Updates!

First of all, That Blasted Horse is now LIVE at Untied Shoelaces of the Mind. If you're in the mood for a brief trip to the weird west...

Regular version here.
Printer friendly.

I also got my contributors' copy of Shades of Blue & Gray yesterday. The production values are as high as I was expecting.

This book is awesome!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Iceland Day 4: Ice,Ice, Baby

In summer, most of Iceland doesn't live up to its name. It's actually quite a green island in places (albeit with shades of green that seem subtly off to those who haven't spent time in Arctic environments.

But it is still called, well, Iceland. We took a multi-hour bus ride along the country's ring road, passing through Iceland's horse country (where the best horses are bred - Iceland's Kentucky, as it were), mountains and the wasteland of the black sands to the Skaftafell National Park, which is dominated by the Vatnajokull glacier.

There, we donned crampons, grabbed ice picks and went for a stroll...

...brr! Well, actually, it wasn't that cold. It just looked cold. That is the Solheimajokull (Falling Ice) glacier.

Don't worry. It looks far more dangerous than it long as you don't step on your own crampons and pull your shoe off, as one unfortunate person did. (She wasn't hurt).

Then we headed for the Jokulsarlon lagoon - which many of you have seen, as the lagoon was used for scenes in two Bond movies (A View to a Kill and Die Another Die), Batman Begins, Beowulf and Grendel and the Tomb Raider video games.

We headed out onto the lagoon in, believe it or not, a mildly ice-rated...amphibian, and hung out with the seals for a while before the long bus trip back.

(It was so damp at the lagoon in the rain that my camera was fogging up faster than I could clean it!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Red Rising

I wanted to hate this book - I really did. Kid from oppressed mining caste ends up in arena fighting against other teenagers? Does sound familiar, doesn't it. It was very obvious from very early that Pierce Brown's debut novel is an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of the fabulous success of The Hunger Games.

Not that it's the same story - Darrow is recruited by the resistance before he enters the arena and is more obviously an adult than Katniss Everdeen. But still. I wanted to hate it.

There's a problem. Red Rising might be an attempt to follow The Hunger Games - but it's a good attempt to follow The Hunger Games. True, Brown's work lacks the deep emotional impact of Collins' - the emotional impact that has led me to consider Hunger Games to be the best anti-war novel of recent years. But it is still good. His protagonist manages to be likable despite his darkness and willingness to do what it takes to win the game for his people...but one wonders how his revolution will fare. The copy I got was an ARC and marked "uncorrected proofs", but I still found no obvious errors, which is rare these days even in a book from a major publisher.

I can't go into what I loved about it without spoilers, but this book is the kind of solid debut novel that makes one hope for a long and healthy career for the author. It's the first of a trilogy and I am certainly convinced to look for books two and three.

I have a strong dislike of riding on people's coat-tails, but Brown pulls it off. His future Mars is well-realized, whilst explaining no more of its complicated society and caste system than is needed for the story (Too many debut novelists waste time on exposition that isn't necessary). His worldbuilding is there, and so is his story. I'm honestly a little jealous.

Four and a half stars.

(Copy picked up for free at Balticon)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


It's only 56 degrees outside right now. Of course, we're still looking at highs in the eighties this week. Sigh.

There are times when I just want to move somewhere cooler, but no place on this planet is perfect. Or on any other, in case one's tempted to move to Mars.

(Sometimes I am. Fewer homo sapiens. But then most places outside Japan have fewer homo sapiens than right here).

Not that I don't like people. It's crowds that get to me, and the effect being in a crowd has on people. It makes you rude. It makes me rude, and that annoys me as much as anyone else being rude.

Yeah. A bit of a personal rant in lieu of having anything more interesting to write about. Sorry.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Images of Villains

Yes, this is another comic book post - but I think it has a level of relevance.

Think about the best supervillains in comic book history. Here's my personal off the cuff list...the kind of list a fan would come up with if under the wire:

Lex Luthor
Mr. Sinister
Poison Ivy
Dr. Octopus

I could go on, but that's my preliminary list. Only one character on the list is a woman.

What do the rest all have in common? They're straight white guys! With the exception of Sinestro, who is an alien. Only one is a minority - Magneto, who is Jewish.

Wrack your brains, thinking of mainstream and close to mainstream comics and you'll notice something.

Where are the black villains? The only black "villain" I can think of right now is Amanda Waller, and she's not really that evil - she's ruthless and sociopathic, but she's ultimately dedicated to the survival and future of humanity. I'd call her neutral.

Where are the gay villains? Resounding silence.

Here's the problem.

If somebody writes a villain who is a member of a minority - ANY minority - then they fear, rightly or wrongly, being accused of racism, homophobia, you name it. The one exception on my list, Magneto, was never intended by Stan Lee to be a true villain (and in early drafts he was Xavier's brother).

In short, we are collectively afraid to show minorities as evil - because doing so seems to imply denigration of that minority. Thus, even as comics slowly become more diverse, our villains remain straight white guys.

As weird as it sounds, we won't have equality until we feel we can create bad guys who are gay, bad guys who are black or Asian or Roma or whatever - until we feel safe enough to do that without the allegations, we don't have racial equality. That's not to say there really are no black villains - if you dig around you will find a few. But they aren't fighting the Justice League, they're hovering around on the fringes.

As for the gay villain - on that side the fear makes sense, as homosexuality was once used as evidence of inhumanity, weakness, or cowardice. Gay villains do show up in other genres, but I can't think of or find a single one in comics.

And that is really rather sad.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Update

No actual news to report. I will be wandering around SXPO tomorrow (I don't have a table because I don't have anything to sell).

Plodding along with various projects. I have a couple of leads - so watch this space.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Today's Science News

A team of Spanish scientists has managed to reprogram adult mouse cells to revert to the embryonic stem cell state - a holy grail of biology that opens all kinds of possibilities if it can be duplicated in humans.

In a public poll, the official ugliest animal in the world is now the blobfish, which rather resembles Jabba the Hutt's infant offspring.

And in proof that some of the best discoveries are made by accident, a team at Cornell who were making graphene managed to produce a two atom thick layer of glass.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review: Redeye by Michael Shean

The second book of Michael Shean's Wonderland cycle is slightly better than the first.

It's also a little bit less noir - the first book was from the point of view of a cynical detective. The second enters the head of Bobbi January, who isn't nearly as jaded. She's actually a good female character - not afraid to use her sexuality, extremely competent at what she does.

Which leads me to a minor but annoying issue - please, please Michael, do not create a wonderful female character then, at any point, refer to her as a "hackette." Women flinch at words like that, and for a reason - the 'ette' suffix is commonly seen as belittling. Now, to be fair, this is the biggest problem in the book - but word choice is important these days. I'm not an over-sensitive feminist and it got to me.

That aside - Redeye is a well written cyberpunk/noir thriller, highly dystopian and explaining more of the world introduced in Shadow of a Dead Star. The editing is slightly better (I was thoroughly unimpressed with the editing in the first volume). It's worth it if you're a fan of the genre - Shean tells a good story and his pacing is solid throughout.

Just don't call people hackettes and we're good.

Four stars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Iceland Day 3: Whale Watching

Really, to do proper Icelandic whale watching you have to go to Husavik on the north coast. We seriously considered it, but we would have had to fly (or spend a full day on a bus) to Husavik with our gear, stay there overnight...and in the end with everything else we wanted to do, we didn't want to take that much time out of our trip.

Instead, we went with Elding Whale Watching out of Reykjavik itself. This is a reputable operator which also has the appealing policy of allowing people to reschedule on another trip if they have to cancel due to weather. This is the North Atlantic, so boy do they get weather.

Yeah. No whales. We did see whales, but they were too busy eating to hang out with us (as whales have been known to do - off Alaska we had a female humpback circle the boat for quite some time for no reason other than, as far as we could tell, to say hi to the silly humans).

And boy did we get weather. I was expecting Alaska cold, but the cruise we went on there was much more sheltered.

Much more sheltered.

Here's the action plan. You dress as if you were going for a trek to Antarctica. Then you don the partial survival suit they provide.

Then you get cold.

Okay, we did have weather. We had a lot of rain and some pretty choppy seas. I was mildly seasick despite my ginger pills, but I get seasick pretty easily. We saw several Minke whales - pretty small by whale standards, a small pod of harbor porpoises and more gannets than one would ever want to see. And we got cold.

Afterwards, we fled to Svarta Kaffid for some of the most amazing soup I've ever had in my life. Or maybe it just tasted that way after being out on the cold water. And sprayed on. And rained on. Yet, somehow it was a lot of fun.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Baltimore Comicon...

...ended up involving some short conversations with Keith Giffen and J.M. deMatteis (both very nice). So was Mark Waid, but he was being pretty much mobbed.

Laura Martin had the same exact issues with Elysium that I did.

Bumped into Bryan Tillman's afro again. Yes, it's still attached to him. (He's very high on my list of Coolest People In Comic Books and likely to stay there).

Jim Starlin told me why he's not using Hawksmoor in StormWatch - supposedly Hawksmoor's now hanging out in Gotham, although whether he's been used yet I'm not clear on.

Oh, and I ended up in a situation where the only logical course of action was to ask Walter Simonson how he researches Norse mythology and gets it iambic pentameter.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Updates!

Some exciting ones.

Allegory 22/49 went live on Sunday morning, containing my short story/tall tale "Ben's Moonshine." You can read the story free here.

Shades of Blue And Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War is now available in paperback and Kindle versions. It contains my story "Mistress." Get your copy here: Shades of Blue and Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War

I'm going to be hanging out at Baltimore Comicon on Sunday - not as a guest as my comics credits are still all in production, but I'll be there. Just in case anyone wants to corner me about anything.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

R.I.P. Frederik Pohl

This is slightly belated, I know.

Pohl passed away over the weekend at the age of 93.

He was best known for the Hugo winning Gateway, but he also contributed to the growth of science fiction in another way - he was Asimov's agent. His last novel was published in 2011.

I never cared for Pohl's work, but we owe him as an editor and an agent, as well as a writer. I also believe he may be the last of the Golden Agers - I hope somebody can correct me, but I am pretty sure of this fact.

And 60 novels. I envy that...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Phantom: Going Beyond The Scare

This anthology is a lot smaller than the ones I've reviewed lately - only containing fourteen stories.

The editor calls it literary horror, and that's a fair assessment. These stories are quietly chilling, subtle, and focus more on use of language to create atmosphere. Personally, I don't find modern literary fiction does anything for me - but I can't deny that the stories in this volume are well-written and well chosen.

My favorite of the stories was "A Stain On The Stone" by Nick Mamatas and my least favorite was "Kinder"  by Steve Berman - a surprise as I normally like Berman's stories. I think it messed with my suspension of disbelief a little. (Sorry, Mr. Berman, I do still like you). However, none of the stories stood out as bad.

If you like your horror subtle and your language flowery, then you'll appreciate this little sampler of literary horror. If you prefer simple language...or like gore...then don't bother. I think this one is going to have niche appeal, but it IS very well done for what it is.

Three and a half stars.

(Book picked up for free at Balticon).