Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Trekkie giveaway and NaNo kudos

First of all, my heartfelt congrats to all those who participated in NaNoWriMo, whether you stayed the course or not. I didn't, but I did learn something. I'm a short story writer. At least for now. I love writing them, especially flash. Maybe I should rejoin Other Worlds Writers' Workshop, so I can do their semiannual SSIAWs (Short Story in a Week challenges). I wrote some really good stories with those. Well I think they were. And most of them were published.

And the winner of the copy of Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall is... Shauna Roberts. Congrats!

Alas, no one guessed the bonus question. I guess I get to keep another Quirk poster. Darn! ;) What was the question, you say? Who was the talkative, blue crew member on Star Trek Next Gen? That's the Bolian barber, Mr. Mott. Captain Picard even posed as him - in name, not color - on the "Starship Mine" episode.

Here he is, a little more than 3 min. into this clip from "Schisms".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Gift of SF – It’s Not Just for Birthdays, Arbor Day, and Easter Anymore

Yes, son, it is cool to buy SF stuff for the holidays! Today is, of course, the day we in the US celebrate Thanksgiving. The Canadians, ahead of us in so many more things than we willingly admit, already did theirs, Jour de l'Action de grâce, last month. But it's never too late for a party. After we finish the turkey (or ham), the fixin’s, the pie (or pies), the football game (or marathon Risk game), and the perfunctory family chats about holidays of yesteryear, eventually our minds turn toward the other part of this weekend’s traditions: Black Friday. Tomorrow, some of us will be up at pre-dawn, joining the rest of the “Open Open Open!” crowd for that great bargain price on the latest electro-high-def-wonder-spiffy-amazing gizmo. Still others of us will be at home, cowering in fear for what our significant others are doing to our cumulative credit card debt.

Yet there are other ways to gather your holiday gifts, ways that say “Enjoy!”, “Live life!”, and “Celebrate!” without busting the bank or forcing you to merge with the larger herd of shopping frenzied humanity. Yes, my dearest daughter / son / wife / husband / girlfriend / mom / dad / Barely Acquainted Facebook Friend (BAFF), you can learn the ways of the shopping force and become an SF shopping master like your “person of interest” before you. Just buy me something from the Science Fiction gift tree.

Other than making me happy, which of course is a virtue with its own rewards, there is all the good it does to support our beloved authors, artists, and creators of all these wonderful, inspiring, imaginative worlds and characters. No facetiousness here: they feel the tough times just like we do. So throw them a bone and spare me the usual trip to Goodwill to donate all those "imaginative" sweaters.

Don’t know what to buy me? Hmmm, lemme think. Oh, yeah! Here’s a short list:
  • Cool stuff from Bradley W. Schenck’s Retropolis line of inspired SF art wares. These include T-shirts, coffee mugs, and the usual Café Press fare, but with some outstanding illustrations. And yes, there are Bradley’s books, too. My favorite item has got to be the Space Piracy poster, though it would make a great coffee mug, too. And the clocks, boxes, and blank books are also pretty cool. Other favorites of mine include Don’t Trifle with the Big Brain and Ask Me about My Death Ray. It would not be fair to skip over Bradley's gorgeous Celtic art works, either. The style, design, and color choices are just very wow indeed.

  • A copy of Digital Domains, edited by Ellen Datlow. I heard good things about this anthology and it speaks to my love of the fine stories that appeared in OMNI under her watch back in the day. (See Ann Wilkes’ intereview of Ellen here: http://sciencefictionmusings.blogspot.com/2010/09/editor-ellen-datlow-anthology-queen.html )

  • A copy of New Model Army, by Adam Roberts, mostly because I want to see what the fuss is about and see if I can detect ‘literary scifi’ within.

  • A copy of the Inception DVD. Yeah, I know I saw it in the theater, but my DVD player really wants to play it!

  • A copy of the DVD set for the original Invaders TV series, seasons 1 and 2.

  • Tickets to Tron Legacy! But at the theater with the good seats and the popcorn made the same day we see the movie. ( Catch Ann Wilkes’ “TRON Legacy – First Glimpse” article here: http://sciencefictionmusings.blogspot.com/2010/10/tron-legacy-first-glimpse.html )

  • A decent copy of the entire Star Trek TOS on DVD. It’s not too late for me to step into the 90’s. Buy me something slightly newer, even if you get it used off of eBay. My old, crusty VHS-conversion copies are frail and pale compared to the DVD versions.

  • A subscription to Analog, Asimov's, Locus, or Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine.

That’s all I can think of for now. But hey, you know what I like. There are literally hundreds of very awesome sites out there with amazing fiction content, art content, even SF-inspired music. If you are having trouble figuring out the whole on-line purchase thing, I know at least a couple of close friends/relatives who can help you. And yes, Holiday SF shopping can also be green, or at least greener. You can always drop by my favorite bookstore if you want to think globally but shop locally.

This year, I promise not to peek.

- D. E. Helbling

Image courtesy of Bradley W. Schenck. Any plugs for Bradley's wares and those of other authors, artists, and enterprises are unencumbered, "for the love" recommendations.

Lincoln Note: Last week I mentioned the Time Lincoln comic from Antarctic Press, which I inadvertantly ordered in hardcopy, thinking I had ordered access to on-line copy. Well, the magazine arrived in just 3 mail days and I really enjoyed the issue. I don't really need more reasons to buy stuff, given that half or more of my volitional spending is already on books, but this could lead me to a new comic buying habit. Hey, fun is fun!

Happy Thanksgiving! Shopping or no, a sincere wish to you all for a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend, no matter how much snow, ice, wind, bad stuffing, and airport probing you have to endure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peering behind the curtain with Juliette Wade

I asked Juliette to guest blog about constructing alien languages, because I find it fascinating and thought you would, too.

Sneak Peek at Khachee

Thanks for inviting me, Ann! 

Khachee is the language featured in my latest Analog Science Fiction and Fact story, "At Cross Purposes" (out in bookstores right now!). Let me start by saying that I never design an alien language to require a lesson before reading - so if you don't read this, you should be just fine enjoying the story! However, you can expect a bit of insider knowledge to come from this introduction. I promise not to divulge any spoilers!

Because the aliens in "At Cross Purposes" have a playful side and are easily excited, I designed them on the basis of river otters. This meant I could use all kinds of river-otter-like similes and metaphors in the story, having them compare things to water, to fish, to boats, etc. I also looked for inspiration about river otters' social structure and the sounds they made. These provided major influences for the aliens' language and behavior.

First were the sounds of their language. 

I found recordings of river otter sounds - this one among others - and tried to see if I could imagine extracting consonant-vowel patterns out of it. What I got from all the whistling and clucking was that vowels would be long, that consonants would have a striking quality, and that there would be a tendency to duplicate things. Based on this, the first word I created was the name of the species: Cochee-coco. It has a meaning, which I'll discuss further below.

To make the consonants of Khachee stand out, I decided the language would have a more extensive system of voiceless affricates than English does. Affricates are sounds like "ch." These sounds begin as stops (p/t/k), and then release into fricatives (f/s) at the same location:

  • t->sh = ch

  • t->s= ts

Thus, in addition to "ch," I decided that Khachee would use "ts," "pf," and "kh." To make the contrast with English clear, I decided Khachee wouldn't use plain fricatives at all. A Khachee mispronunciation of the name "Doris" would therefore be "Dorits."

The other thing I picked out from otter life is that they have a small number of young in a litter - usually one to three.

I had independently come up with the idea of a society where people were always born as twins, and therefore this fit well with what I had in mind to do. Cochee-coco are always born in pairs, and while each has a name, they go by the name of the pair. The main characters of "At Cross Purposes" are a brother Chkaa, and a sister Tsee, who go by "ChkaaTsee."

This brings me to the two organizing principles of Cochee-coco social life: Purpose, and Apfaa. I'll have to be a bit vague about Purpose, but I can say that every individual has one - it even becomes part of their name - and it's one of their reasons for being. For this reason, when I named the species, I decided not to have them call themselves "the people" (a common strategy I have used before). The direct translation of Cochee-coco is "Pursue Purpose, pursue-pursue." The name of their language, Khachee, translates as "speak Purpose." Morphologically, it breaks down as follows:

  • chee=purpose
  • co=pursue
  • kha=speak

Obviously, Purpose is something they get very excited about! However, it is a chaotic force in their society because it tends to drive individuals apart. A society based on Purpose wouldn't work without something else to temper it. I therefore set up the opposing force, "apfaa," to rein Purpose in. I actually spent a long time trying to find just the right English word for this, but finally gave up and decided to create one. It's the expression of the twin relationship, established at birth and continued throughout life, and it includes both attraction and repulsion between pair members: "the duality that holds agreement in one hand and conflict in the other."

The presence of these two forces is really important to the language, because Tsee, the alien point-of-view character, constantly judges situations and events around her in terms of either Purpose or apfaa. Apfaa is in fact the basis of the most distinctive feature of Khachee: turn-taking rules. 

English is spoken by individuals. When we speak in conversation, we say what we want to say; then, as we listen to what the other person is saying, we keep our ears alert for natural breaking points. These breaking points are opportunities for us to seize our own turn again. If you've ever felt someone has interrupted you, usually it's because a person began speaking in a place that you didn't recognize as a natural turn-taking break. There's wide variation in what counts as a proper breaking point for turn-taking, even within the usage of English.

Khachee is not spoken by individuals; it's spoken by pairs. Any member of a pair can initiate a statement, question, etc., but the turn is not complete until it has been "chimed" by the other member of the pair. The person "chiming" is responsible for commenting on the quality of the information provided by the initiator. The chimer will indicate whether what has been said is true, or an opinion, or something they overheard, something they want, something they think is horrible, etc. Starting to speak before the second member of the pair has had a chance to chime counts as an interruption. When a Khachee speaker listens to a human speaking, she will tend to assume that the speaker is not finished. This can - and does - lead to awkwardness!

The effect of the Khachee turn-taking strategy for the story's purposes - when it's rendered in English - is a distinctive intonational pattern. This pattern resembles call-and-response, something like what you might have heard in church contexts. I deliberately had to stop myself from including the phrase, "Testify, sister!" because it would have evoked the church context too directly. The turn-taking strategy also influences the way that Khachee speakers organize their own thoughts. They'll tend to express judgments of their own thoughts, acting internally as a pair-member for themselves.

Here are some examples.

A pair turn

Tsee: We won't leave you to speak alone, but will return you to your people.

Chkaa: Truth!

An individual's thought

Pointed at us are weapons, deduced - these aliens are as wary as the Rodhrrrdkhi, suspected.

The last thing I'll mention here is the question of pronouns. When I first imagined the Cochee-coco and their focus on pairs, I toyed with the idea of not using the pronoun "I" at all, but having members of the pair think of themselves as "this half" and "that half." When I tried it, I discovered it was disastrous from a story perspective: it became difficult to track who the alien protagonist was. Pronouns are extremely resistant to change, so watch out for them! In the end, I decided to use a different, more subtle strategy - a strategy of avoidance. Tsee will typically talk about "we," the pair, and won't refer to herself as "I" unless she has to draw a deliberate comparison between her own actions and those of her brother.

I hope you've found this intriguing, possibly useful to your own thoughts on language design, and that you'll take an opportunity to pick up the story to see Khachee in action! Thanks again to Ann for inviting me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lincoln: Still Busy Changing the Future

This Friday, November 19, marks the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, one of the most well known and celebrated speeches in American history. History.com does a fine job of concisely reporting on this moment in time. Regardless of our individual left/right/middle political leanings, few Americans will disagree with the notion that he was indeed a great president and an inspiring leader, one who served the nation with tremendous courage during some truly troubled times. The key message of his 272 word speech is one of dedication toward making a just future for all. Who can argue against such a message?

What can I say? I am a Lincoln Lover.

What makes Lincoln so inspiring in real life also makes him a great character in many works of fantasy and science fiction, in comic, film, and written form. My first exposure to Abe as an SF character came in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, where he reminded us to "Be excellent to each other" and to "Party on, dudes!" Robert V. Barron aptly played Abe in what was one of four different Lincoln portrayals he did over the years.

Not all Lincoln appearances in Speculative Entertainment Land are quite so inspiring. Take Time Lincoln, for example, as seen in this YouTube clip: Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Time Lincoln . But then inspiration takes on different forms for different people. Even this little segment acknowledges Abe's likely impact on the future with its people-and-buggy ending. And I am guessing that the comic book version (Antactric Press Time Lincoln Issue 1) is a little more in depth. ( I might actually know, but when I bought the issue, I thought I was purchasing read-me-right-now e-copy, and ended up ordering a hardcopy instead. As of this writing, the issue is still in transit, so I can't tell you the real story just yet. )

Of course we have a bloodsucker tie-in because lately there simply must be a vampire-themed version of, well, everything. Here we get Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (YouTube clip). I heard from several personally trusted sources that Seth's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a lot of fun. I cannot say anything very specific about Seth's Abe book because I have not read it. But esteemed SFOO site owner and writing friend Ann Wilkes highly recommends it in her review of the book on the Mostly Fiction Book Review site.

This is no exhaustive list of all things fictionally Lincolnesque. But it would be boldly beyond incomplete without mention of a Star Trek tie in. Trekkies know of what I speak: "The Savage Curtain" episode of the original series, from March of 1969, where Abe again gets to battle evil doers and fight for justice.

Past, present, or future, I just can't imagine him doing anything else.

- D. E. Helbling

Special Note: Kudos to Jeff Wilkin, who wrote another article on fictionalized Abe I found after writing this entry.

Because bandwidth is cheap, but ideas are not, below are those 272 words, just in case you didn't memorize them back in middle school.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

- Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New owner of Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Damnation Books' Kim Richards Gilchrist

Realms of Fantasy was purchased by Damnation Books. Co-owner and CEO, Kim Richards Gilchrist is a friend of mine. My big chance for a scoop! ;) Not to mention a great full circle since she once interviewed me.

AW: What prompted you to get involved in the publishing industry?

KRG: I started out editing for Eternal Press and a couple of book review places. I’ve written columns; from there I moved on to marketing manager at Eternal Press where I learned a lot about publishing.

Back in 2000, I self-published a book with IUniverse because I had the opportunity to do it free. Though it’s never sold well, the lessons I learned about how the industry works were worth the time and energy spent on it. In some cases, I learned things the hard way. The knowledge I gained from others in the business who taught me what they know and the professional contacts I’ve made along the way have been invaluable. I’ve never been afraid to ask the dummy questions and constantly take online classes, go to webinars and read books on how to produce, market and distribute books.

Since that time, I’ve had books and a number of short stories published. I’ve co-edited The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal Stories for Dragon Moon Press and am currently working on editing a Writing Horror guide for them.

In March 2009, I quit Eternal Press to start Damnation Books. I’d have loved to do both but felt it was a conflict of interest. It’s funny how, nine months later, we bought Eternal Press when it was on the verge of folding. The combining of the two companies doubled distribution. It opened doors early to a few distributors for Damnation Books because of Eternal Press' reputation. Then we took Eternal Press and added additional formats, including Kindle editions. We also changed the EP printer to Lighting Source for better distribution. I’m proud to say both companies have grown in 2010.

Now we’ve added Realms of Fantasy Magazine to the mix. I know there’s a lot to learn, but most of the staff is staying with us and willing to share their knowledge. Additionally, Warren Lupine, the former owner will consult for us as needed.

I think all of this is in my blood. I’ve found my niche and will never look back. This is a job I love doing so I don’t mind the long hours. I can’t wait to get going in the mornings. That’s saying a lot for someone who’s not a morning person. I also have to give credit to my husband (who co-owns these companies with me). I couldn’t begin to attempt this without his support. He’s neck deep in it too since he’s the financial officer and the webmaster. He created both the Eternal Press and Damnation Books web sites. I know he already has plans for an updated look for Realms of Fantasy after the first of the year.

AW: Where can I find your guidelines? There didn't seem to be a link on the ROF website.

KRG: We have added the guidelines back to the web page at http://www.rofmag.com. Click on the Contact Us tab. Pay rates, submission addresses and everything are staying the same for now.

AW: Will the flavor of the mag shift under your ownership?

KRG: Hopefully not. It’s a professional market with a great look and wonderful stories. We are talking about possibly adding poetry.

I know there are some concerns that Realms of Fantasy will become more horror-oriented so let me lay those to rest. We are planning a dark fantasy theme for the April 2011 issue to coincide with World Horror Convention, because we are already set up with a booth in the dealer’s room and a party.

The 100th issue of Realms of Fantasy is the June 2011 issue. Plans are already in the works for a longer issue to celebrate this milestone.

AW: What has been your experience with digital offerings with Damnation Books and how will you apply that to ROF?

KRG: The magazine has mainly focused on print sales with very little into the digital market. We plan to continue with the existing print model but expand in as many formats and distributors for electronic editions as possible. I believe it’s important to stay current to survive the long term. Hopefully, I’m correct. You’ll see the back issues and then the December issue begin to appear in the next month or so.

AW: Can you tell me more about your plans to expand your digital offerings?

KRG: Right now PDF editions are available on the web site. I believe Kindle editions are also available now. Part of the plan is to make issues available in various digital formats from a variety of online stores and then tell people about it. We also want to add email subscriptions.

AW: Can you tell us what we might find in the "birthday bash" issue?

KRG: More of everything! I know that sounds vague, but we’ve bounced around a lot of ideas and are just now taking the steps to make them happen. It’ll be longer with more fiction and good stuff. Most likely that’ll be the issue in which poetry debuts.

AW: Will the magazine have more author interviews or reviews?

KRG: I can’t answer that with a definite yes or no. If we do well, those are certainly areas open for expansion, so is adding more fiction. One thing is for sure. We don’t want to mess with the professional quality of the magazine. That’s what makes it so incredible.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Riese: Kingdom Falling SyFy Web series

Riese: Kingdom Falling, even though it's steampunk, has a fairy tale feel to it. It put me in mind of the Brothers Grimm in that there is an exiled princess and young innocents – in this case infants – in danger. The narration by Amanda Tapping certainly added to this overall impression. The difference, of course, is that in 2010 the hero is a heroine. The princess doesn't cower in a dungeon waiting for rescue, but fights, defends and rescues.

Another great aspect of the show is that Riese has a wolf companion. I recently learned that all domestic dogs are descended from the white wolf. Fenrir is loyal and fierce. But he has to stay to the shadows as he is also hunted by Amara's new regime.

The cast includes Christine Chatelain as Riese (photo upper left by Adam Blasberg), Sharon Taylor as Amara, Ben Cotton as Herrick, Patrick Gilmore as Trennan , Ryan Robbins (from Sanctuary) as Rand, Emilie Ullerup as Aliza, Alessandro Juliani as Garin and Allison Mack as Marlise.

L to R: Patrick Gilmore as Trennan, Alessandro Juliani as Garin and Sharon Taylor as Amara. All photos by Adam Blasberg.

I interviewed co-creator and Executive Producer Ryan Copple to find out more about this wave of the future.

AW: Can you tell my readers a bit about the spark for this story idea?

RC: The story actually began as an idea for a short, but Kaleena Kiff (the other co-creator) saw the script and said we should develop it into a series. As for the inspiration, we really wanted to tell a story about someone journeying through a bizarre, but hauntingly similar world to our own. Once we decided to turn it into a series, we introduced the royalty background for Riese and other serialized elements.

AW: Is this the first time SyFy has acquired a Web series? Does it have plans to acquire more in the future?

RC: As far as I know. They did a webseries for Battlestar Gallactica, but I think we’re the first original acquisition. They’re definitely looking into doing more online content though. The fun thing about Syfy as well, is that if the programs do well online, there’s the possibility they’ll develop for other mediums.

AW: I have only peeked at one other Web series, but I gather that there is a definite difference in the medium. The episodes are very compressed, rather like a "previously on ____" summary. As a matter of fact, I was just marveling at one of those for Eureka. Putting those summaries together is an art in itself. Like flash film instead of flash fiction. But I digress. My question is, if Riese becomes a TV series, will it have the same look, or will it be more fleshed out, less compressed? Would it still be narrated, or was that a necessary device for the Web medium?

RC: Riese as a television show would be extremely similar aesthetically, but telling a story on the web is much different than telling it on television. We’d definitely want to flesh out the characters, the world, and especially the steampunk elements. When working on the web, you definitely don’t have the same budget that you would for a television show.

I honestly can’t say about whether or not narration would be part of the television series. It was crucial for the webseries, because we needed a way to smoothly introduce much of the backstory for Riese and the other characters. It also served as the glue for our re-edits, allowing us to move scenes around and bring footage from later episodes into earlier ones. If we do have a narrator, I think it’ll serve a much different purpose than it did in the Web series.

AW: What sort of metrics are you using to track its popularity and what can fans do to help?

RC: Views are definitely the most important metric. Syfy is monitoring the traffic for Riese, so the more eyes fans can get on the series, the better. I also recommend watching them more than once.

Syfy’s also watching the online response as well, so the more positive things people say about the series, the more likely they’ll consider it a good fit for their channel.

AW: When might you know if it will make it to TV?

RC: Syfy is going to wait till all 10 episodes air online before discussing the possibility of a television show internally. I’m guessing we won’t know anything either way until the new year.

AW: Will the present cast continue in that event?

RC: They’re all on board verbally, as they love the story and the characters. However, it’ll really depend on their schedules once we start talking television.

AW: What prompted this shift in story acquisition?

RC: Online serials and dramas are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s a medium that everyone’s trying to dig themselves into and find a way to make it work for their specific brand. For someone like Syfy, it’s an affordable way to do a ‘test run’ for a property without shooting a pilot.

AW: Can you speak to the current trends in TV series production (shorter seasons with shared spots, mini-series instead of a full run, influences from and marketing through the Internet and social media) and how this new method of acquisition might improve programming?

RC: With shows now having a mid-season hiatus, the web can really open up opportunities to keep their fans engaged with supplemental content or additional storylines while waiting for the broadcast episodes to return. Social media is also a force to be reckoned with, because now fans can actually become engaged with the people behind their favorite shows, and really do become part of the team. We’ve always said that if Riese were to go to television, we’d still want to embrace the online aspects of the show as much as possible.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Contrast in Outer Space - Two SF graphic novels reviewed

The Martian Confederacy (Vol. 1): Thieves. Outlaws. Rednecks. Humanity's last hope on Mars. written by Jason McNamara, illustrated by Paige Braddock

Astronauts in Trouble: Live from the Moon written by Larry Young, illustrated by Matt Smith

Review by Lyda Morehouse

After reading both these space adventure graphic novels, my first thought was, “there are too damn many white boys in space.” I felt this way not because I particularly have some kind of diversity agenda, but because, in both black & white comic books, I had trouble keeping the male characters straight because they all looked so much alike. In the Martian Confederacy the big physical difference between Boone (the hero) and Alcalde (the villain) seemed to be the thickness of their sideburns. In Astronauts in Trouble, I had difficulty distinguishing between the main TV anchor, the villain, and the villain’s main henchman.

Despite this slight artistic handicap, I found The Martian Confederacy to be immediately accessible and engaging. Part of that might be my own predilections, however. I’m always up for a story about a thief, and our hero, Boone, is exactly that. The Martian Confederacy is the story of a corrupt, lone wolf cop, Alcalde, and his personal quest to keep an economically (and atmospherically) struggling Mars under his thumb. Our thief/antihero Boone and his band of classically misfit friends get in Alcalde’s way, and wacky hijinx ensue.

The main plot, while entertaining, wasn’t the main appeal of The Martian Confederacy for me. I ended up surprisingly invested in the various characters, particularly the female android, Lou, as well as some of the odder side characters, including a slightly-insane, grieving widow/show girl and the “duplicitous” girlfriend of Alcalde. In fact, the true marvel of The Martian Confederacy is that I even ended up caring about a talking bear and his family.

Perhaps therein lies the difference between The Martian Confederacy and Astronauts in Trouble. The only character I felt I could hang onto in Astronauts in Trouble was the hard-drinking, hard-livin’ cameraman, Heck. Astronauts in Trouble follows the adventures of a band of TV journalists who get invited along to an historic return to the moon by billionaire business mogul Ishmael Hayes. When the launch is nearly hijacked by eco-terrorists it becomes clear that there’s more going on than a simple space launch. There’s some truly excellent science in the science fiction of this graphic novel, but ultimately the characters never felt fully realized to me.

Honestly, I was nervous when I read Warren Ellis’ intro to Astronauts in Trouble because I’m not a huge Ellis fan. I mostly know him from Freak Angels, much of which I’ve found compelling yet… a bit “arty.” Astronauts in Trouble might suffer from too much hype, too. Its cover blurbs ranged from Harlan Ellison (an old school science fiction writer I mostly respect) to Ed Brubaker (my current #1 favorite comic book writer), and with that and a forward from Ellis I may have come into Astronauts in Trouble expecting to be completely blown away, and thus felt disappointed when I was only mildly entertained. Perhaps, if you’re a fan of Ellis, you’ll disagree with my assessment. Certainly plenty of other big names would back you up, if you did.

World Fantasy Convention highlights & an e-reader raffle

Alas, I missed this year's World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. But I couldn't let it come and go without a mention. Fortunately, my new reviewer Clare Deming went this year and offered to report on her experience.

World Fantasy Convention 36 - A Newcomer's Perspective

Halloween weekend found writers, editors, publishers, agents, and other professionals gathered in Columbus, Ohio for the 36th World Fantasy Convention. Spanning four days, the Hyatt Regency and Columbus Convention Center hosted panel discussions, author readings, a dealer's room, art show and sale, and after-hours social events. This year's theme was a Celebration of Whimsical Fantasy.

Information on former and future locations, nominees and winners of the World Fantasy Awards, and some history can be found at www.worldfantasy.org. Guests of honor this year were Dennis L. McKiernan, David G. Hartwell, Esther Friesner, and Darrell K. Sweet.

As my first time attending this convention, I had not known what to expect. Making my way through check-in on Thursday, a volunteer at the end of the table handed me a massive black bag. When I peered inside, over a dozen new books greeted me with whispers of strange tales and bizarre creatures. I immediately returned to my room to gloat over my prize, like a dragon with a newly acquired chest of gold and jewels. The weekend was off to a great start.

Once I could extricate myself from my heap of books, I decided to venture into a few panel discussions. Topics spanned many aspects of the field. One way in which World Fantasy Con differs from other conventions is that there are no classes on the mechanics of how to write. You won't find instruction on creating believable characters, using proper manuscript format, or avoiding smeerps, "said" bookisms, or info-dumps. Instead, I enjoyed discussions of Fantasy Gun Control, The Tension Between Art & Commerce, Slaughtering the Evil Hordes, and Why There Is No Religion in Middle Earth.

Having an introverted personality, I was unsure of my ability to socialize in a crowd of strangers in the evenings. Well, it turns out that if you put enough introverts together in one room, conversation suddenly explodes. The Con is a business and networking event in disguise, so it even the introverts are eager to meet each other. Contact information is relentlessly exchanged. For other first-timers--don't forget to bring business cards.

One of the most amazing aspects of this convention among newcomers and repeat attendees alike seemed to be the mutual understanding and love for the fantasy genre. I discovered an esprit de corps among the attendees that I had previously only encountered among my high school D&D group. People there understood that the original Conan was not a movie, elves and dwarves aren't always necessary, and that a book can be about a Torturer, without being about torture.

By that first evening, I recognized why events on Friday began no earlier than 10:00 am. Book launch parties and other social events stretched well into the night, every night. And the attendees preferring the hotel bar demolished all the Guinness on the first evening. Even managing to appear the next morning by 11:00 am required a heroic sacrifice of shut-eye and lucidity.

Despite the timing of the Con coinciding with Halloween weekend, costumes were sparse. However, I glimpsed a few corsets and vampires in the evenings, as well as a publisher dressed entirely in orange. Name badge decorations were more common, and I'm pleased to have come home with two spaceship pins from Tor.

Open mike sessions for poetry and story-telling, an autograph reception, and the artists' reception also took place in the evenings. The autograph reception let attendees meet and chat with nearly all of the authors, as well as receive autographs and purchase books. At the artists' reception, I drooled over paintings I could not afford while snacking on wonderful desserts. A large number of authors gave readings during the days and evenings, and I enjoyed those by Patricia McKillip, Joshua Palmatier, and Nancy Kress. I also managed to escape the dealer's room with only four additional books.

From an unscientific survey of other members, the hotel and convention facilities were deemed above average compared to other years' conventions. Being on crutches and unable to venture far, I had consumed a few meals at the food court in the convention area, and a few in the hotel's restaurant before discovering the con suite. A rectangular chamber of delightful free cuisine had been hidden on the first floor of the hotel. By that time, a horde had descended upon the Italian meal and the line was lengthy, but worth the wait at that price.

On Sunday afternoon, the World Fantasy Award winners were announced at a banquet. Gene Wolfe's acceptance of his award for Best Collection brought the audience to their feet as he made his way to the podium, and I believe was the most touching moment of the afternoon. He spoke only a few words, but appeared to sincerely appreciate the honor of the award.

At the close of the banquet, many attendees headed home. For those of us who stayed through Sunday night, exhaustion tempered our sadness at the end of a great weekend. Packing my books into my suitcase on Monday morning, I thought about all the people I had met, and I hope I will see them again next year. And yes, I managed to keep my suitcase under the airline's fifty pound limit. Next year's convention will be held in San Diego. Get your memberships now--rumor has it that they expect to sell out early.


Not to have you miss the seasoned veteran's perspective as well, you can also read Nancy Kress' daily con reports on her blog, complete with pictures, beginning here.


I still don't have an e-reader. If you don't either, here's a great way to win one. Nisi Shawl gave me the scoop on this great fundraiser, the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund eReader Drawing.

Details can be found at the link above and the full press release is below.

November 3, 2010

The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity in speculative fiction, will hold a prize drawing of five eReaders to benefit the Butler Scholarship, a fund that sends two emerging writers of color to the Clarion writers workshops annually.

In keeping with the Society’s support of literature from and about people of color, the prizes include five eReaders: two Barnes & Noble Nooks, two Kobo Readers, and one Alex eReader from Spring Design. Each eReader will come loaded with books, short stories and essays by writers of color from the speculative fiction field. Writers include: N. K. Jemisin, Nisi Shawl, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Terence Taylor, Ted Chiang, Shweta Narayan, Chesya Burke, Moondancer Drake, Saladin Ahmed, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and more.

“Octavia wanted everyone to enjoy the powerful stories writers of color can produce when we write speculative fiction, so this drawing would have made her very happy. It’s a wonderful win-win event, raising money for a scholarship that helps writers of color while sharing their creations with the world,” said Carl Brandon Society co-founder Nisi Shawl, a winner of the 2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

“It’s so appropriate that booksellers are supporting the development of the next generation of writers, with the next generation of reading devices. This fundraiser will help ensure that great and thought-provoking literature will be coming out of our community for a long time,” added Claire Light, CBS Vice President.

“We’re thankful for the generosity shown by Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Spring Design in donating the devices for this drawing,” said K. Tempest Bradford, Special Events volunteer. “Thanks to them we can offer some of the best eReading devices available.”

The drawing’s tickets will cost one dollar US ($1) and can be purchased at
http://carlbrandon.org/drawing.html. Entrants may purchase an unlimited number of tickets, which will be available from November 5, 2010 through November 22nd, 2010. Sales will close at 11:59PM EDT on November 22nd. Winners will be drawn randomly from a digital “hat” and announced online.

To purchase tickets, read details about the eReaders, or to learn more about the Carl Brandon Society, please visit

About the Carl Brandon Society
The Carl Brandon Society’s mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. We envision a world in which speculative fiction, about complex and diverse cultures from writers of all backgrounds, is used to understand the present and model possible futures; and where people of color are full citizens in the community of imagination and progress.

About the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship
Established in 2006 after the author’s passing, the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship provides funds to writers of color accepted to the Clarion and Clarion West writers workshops. The scholarship has been awarded every year since 2007 to a total of seven students. The fund allows the Carl Brandon Society to further the author’s legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan (now located in San Diego, California), giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

Carl Brandon Society Website:
Spring Design’s Alex: http://www.springdesign.com

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cell Phones in Charlie Chaplin Film?

Image courtesy of TheMovieDB.ORG We all have our guilty pleasures. One of mine that I can report publicly via a G-rated media outlet (and without fear of prosecution) is an ongoing fascination with conspiracy theories. (Can you spell Grassy Knoll? Can you say Bilderberg Group five times fast? ) Another such fringe interest is in the paranormal. Think Ghost Hunters without the collar tug and the artificial hysteria of reality television. Of course there is no way I would consider my interest in Science Fiction a guilty pleasure, it being a much more high brow form of entertainment / distraction / inspiration (we’ll pretend for a moment that I do not have any movies like Terror from the Year 5,000 or Plan Nine from Outer Space in my DVD collection).

Imagine my surprise when several of my various email lists, on-line discussion groups, and blogs in the SF, conspiracy, and paranormal realms all lit up at once this last week with a common subject: news of a time traveler, caught on film in an old Charlie Chaplin movie.

Of course there is a YouTube video involved ( LINK - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiIrpEMbQ2M).

The basic story seems to be that a documentary film maker, George Clarke, spotted a suspicious woman in the background of some “making of” out-take video segments included in a rerelease of Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 film, The Circus. The woman in the film appears to be holding to her ear what looks to some of us present day observers like a cell phone. Maybe it was just a slow news week, because even ABC and Fox News picked up the story. But I think it was the subject matter itself, time travel, which caught everyone’s attention. We are all apparently extremely fascinated by the possibility. Even folks who would not consider the idea of UFO’s, ghosts, or a second gunman seem willing to embrace the potential reality of time travelers visiting us in the here and now, or in the yesteryear.

If you are not already buried under viral remnants of this ‘event’, I invite you to check out the story for yourself, and to draw your own conclusions. While the concept intrigues me, the public’s willingness to suspend disbelief, for even a few moments, is even more interesting. The sheer magnitude of the response suggests that the public is eager for any kind of strange story that does not have some potential end-of-days payload attached.

One of my favorite responses to this news outbreak was a list of top ten time travelers, put together by Eoin O’Carroll at the Christian Science Monitor website (LINK - http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2010/1028/Top-10-time-travelers/Donnie-Darko ). That list is of movie and TV time travelers. The list is a very good one, but like any top ten list of anything, the list manages to leave out a couple of my favorites.

Before long, I had my own top ten list of favorite video time travelers:

  • Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Randall (Robert Colbert) of The Time Tunnel (LINK - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060036/ ) . These are the guys who first got me hooked on SF TV.
  • H. G. Wells, starring Rod Taylor in arguably one of the best versions of the H. G. Wells classic, The Time Machine (LINK - http://www.themoviedb.org/movie/2134 ).
  • Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (LINK - http://www.themoviedb.org/movie/36819 ) - just a whole lot of dark fun, with a lovely sprinkle of Shelley Duvall, John Cleese, and even Sean Connery thrown into the mix.
  • Nearly the entire crew of every Star Trek series every made (OK, so this one is derivative since Spock does show up in Eoin’s list, too.)
  • H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell in a Good Guy role) and Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) in Time After Time (LINK - http://www.themoviedb.org/movie/24750 ), a love story with a time traveling serial killer (David Warner).
  • Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), finding love Somewhere in Time with Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour).
  • Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), aboard the mysteriously missing Queen Anne in an X-Files episode that may or may not have occurred in 1939 (LINK - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_(The_X-Files) ).
  • Jack, Hurley, Kate, Sawyer, and the entire awesome crew of Lost, a show with time travel antics that quite frankly lost some of the audience, but not me (LINK - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0411008/ ).
  • Ben Wilson (Jeff Daniels) and various rubbernecking disaster groupies from the future in Grand Tour: Disaster in Time, also known as Timescape (LINK - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104362/ )
  • Bill Smith’s (Kris Kristofferson) girlfriend from the future, Louise Baltimore (Cheryl Ladd) in Millennium (LINK - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097883/ ), perhaps one of the most paradox-ridden time travel movies ever.

There are a couple of movies about time travel that are not on my faves list, The Time Traveler’s Wife among them. Then there are some time travel movies I have yet to see, including the 2009 movies Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (LINK - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0910554/ ) and The Trouble with Time Travel (LINK - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1514077/).

And then there are a couple of movies that should have been about time travel, but were not, most notably Starship Troopers (LINK - http://www.themoviedb.org/movie/563 ), a movie from a Heinlein book I loved where space travel at relativistic speeds severely impacted the elapsed time and the life of future soldiers. Time was a huge part of that storyline which never made it to celluloid.

Alas, the temptation to throw in more time-related puns is nearly overwhelming. But I think that Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) said it best in Star Trek: First Contact, with the help of abundant spirits, when she said:

Timeline? This is no time to argue about time. We don’t have the time!”

- D. E. Helbling