Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tempest Rising scores a thumbs up

Tempest Rising
by Nicole Peeler
Orbit 2009

Review by Deirdre Murphy

In Tempest Rising, the first book in an ongoing series by Nicole Peeler, Jane True is something of a pariah in her small Maine town. Her mother arrived in Rockabill during a winter storm, walking down the road stark naked. She disappeared when Jane was six. Jane's dark history, which takes her a while to fully reveal, is already known to the town folk. In addition, she’s not quite normal:

It was all I could do to get through the meal without banging down my fork and running off into the night like some maenad. I was still so angry from my biweekly run-in with Linda that I was short-tempered with my father. Which made me feel guilty, which made me feel frustrated, which made me feel even more angry…

When I got like that, only a swim helped.

And if any old swim was therapeutic, a swim during a storm was better than Prozac.

Jane goes off to swim naked after dinner on a stormy November night (remember, this is Maine), near the very strong whirlpool called “The Sow.” The Sow’s deadly currents and the “piglets”, smaller, spin-off whirlpools created by The Sow, are Rockabill’s main claim to tourist fame. While swimming, Jane finds a body of a man who is, like herself, half-human (though she doesn’t know that yet). She learns this part of her heritage for the first time the next day, when strange beings tell her that her mother (whereabouts unknown) is a selkie, and she should expect a supernatural investigator to show up asking questions

The man who shows up the next day glamours her big-city boss, Grizelda, at the bookstore into believing he’s a friend of Jane’s from college. He doesn’t magically befuddle Jane’s brain like he did to Grizelda, but Jane notices (aloud, to her dismay) that he’s hot—really hot—er, really good looking. He also has sharp, sexy teeth. He insists on questioning her over dinner, in Rockabill’s one year-round restaurant, The Trough. (All of Rockabill’s potential tourist attractions are named with a pig theme, thanks to the afore-mentioned whirlpool.)

There’s plenty of both action and romance, all in Jane’s own words. I enjoyed Jane’s sense of humor throughout, despite the fact that a lot of humor falls flat for me. Overall, I very much enjoyed the book, although the first chapter is slow enough that I told the author (aloud, knowing she couldn’t possibly hear me from the “throne room” in my house), “I get that Jane doesn’t fit in small town Rockabill, get on with it!” But once the story got going, it kept on strong, alternately making me laugh and hold my breath, wondering how Jane was going to survive.

I won Tempest Rising in a random online contest for which I picked out books by five authors who are new to me. So far, the books I’ve received from that contest, sponsored by urban fantasy authors, are urban fantasy/romance crossovers, and of the three that have arrived so far, Tempest Rising is the best.

There is a teaser from Tracking the Tempest in the back of the book, and two more titles, Tempest’s Legacy and Eye of the Tempest, are listed in the front. For more information you can visit Peeler's website.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Minister of Chance giveaway! Three people will win!

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. I have some presents for you. Call them Christmas presents, Hanukah presents, Solstice goodies, whatever you want, but have at them and enjoy a beautiful weekend!

First, to get you in the mood, is the Hobbit trailer, in case you haven't seen it yet.

Let's have a couple more, shall we?

The Dark Knight Rises - Official Trailer [VO-HD] by Eklecty-City

And Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is playing this weekend!

My fabulously talented friend, Camille Picott, is giving away here short story "Warming Demon". Her Raggedy Chan was reviewed here by Lyda Morehouse. Camille's writing is an exquisite blend of fantasy and fairy tale that puts a face on cultural persecution for young readers. Keep checking back for a review of her next novel: Nine-tail Fox right here.

I'm bloody balmy about the The Minister of Chance. Check out my full review of episode one. Episode two is every bit as awesome.

Listen to the prologue of The Minister of Chance below and leave a comment describing the princess' first observation of the Ambassador. What did she expect him to have? The first person to do so wins the first two episodes.

The first person (and this has to be someone other than the first and third winner) to tell me the ambassador's name will also win the first two episodes.

Finally, name the actor who plays the king (and be someone other than the first two winners) to win the first two episodes as well.

Come on people. I want episode three, so listen, like them on facebook, tweet them and tell all your friends. They make great Christmas presents for those who have waited too long to mail something in time. You just send them the code in an email. How easy is that?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wednesday geeky this and that

This is how you know you've arrived as a writer. When you're the geek behind the scantily-clad lead singer and the crowd goes wild when you play your three notes on the toy piano. Neil Gaimon upstages his wife from behind.

This song is a classic. It just occurs to me that it's filk. Right? I think it fits the Wikipedia definition: Filk has been defined as folk music, usually with a science fiction or fantasy theme, but this definition is not exact. ... In addition, while the majority of filk songs are in the folk style, other styles such as blues, calypso, and even rock periodically appear.

Here's the new movie poster for The Hunger Games. The publicist told me to let her know if I want to collaborate on the film. I don't think she means what we think it means.

Planning a trip for 2012? Here's some geeky ideas.
12 Sci-fi Film Locations You Can Actually Visit

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Earthbound - a post-apocalyptic tale

A Marsbound Novel
by Joe Haldeman

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

Earthbound is a post-apocalyptic tale with enigmatic, all-powerful aliens holding the earth's fate in their . . . well, gaseous something or others. Carmen Dula, who made first contact with the Martians by falling through the roof of their underground home and breaking her ankle, her space pilot significant other, Paul, the three spies they shared their trip to the Others with, her brother Card and Snowbird (a Martian) are back on earth after the Others have pulverized the moon.

When Earth tried to fly a ship through the thick debris field that surrounds the planet, the Others shut off the earth's "free" power. They're determined to keep humans earthbound.

In Earthbound, the group fight to survive and preserve as much of the humanity around them as they can. The perils are non-stop. Carmen must even lose her own brother while still coming to terms with missing out on seeing her children grow up. There are ambushes, deprivations, battles won, lives lost and hopes dashed.

The twelve passenger seats unfolded into lumpy beds, angled like chevrons. Some of us rested or napped. Paul took a pill. The plane was on autopilot, but if the Others turned off the power we'd be on a glider looking for a flat place to land.

We were over Hudson Bay, after about six hours, when we made contact with the president's people. I couldn't hear what was going on, but I presumed they were livid. They gave us a plane and we hijacked it to Russia. Paul was grinning broadly as he gave them monosyllabic replies.

The avatar of the Others pops in and out, sometimes rescuing them, but mostly just apathetically observing, adding just the right touch of creepy.

The storyline, as I said in my Starbound review, is a truly original first contact scenario. The Others play the long con or take their time with new relationships. These novels only show us a glimpse at the first tentative steps - at least from the humans' perspective. Who knows what they decide in a thousand years?

The plot moved along at a fast clip with lots of action. However, I wanted more character development and richer descriptions. I did like the ending, though.

If you've read the other books, you'll definitely want to read this concluding volume. If you haven't, you could download all three on your Kindle or other e-reader and read them in a weekend. Aside from dialogs that need more tags, Earthbound is a very easy read. I hope we hear from the Others again, perhaps with an all-new cast in our distant future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SFOO interviews sci-fi author David Boop

Interview by Ann Wilkes

AW: What do you read besides science fiction for story ideas?

DB: I don’t have to read much for story ideas, as I have more ideas right now than I’ll ever probably write, however, I have three main places I generate ideas: dreams, conversations and research. I joke, when people ask me where I get my ideas, that I don’t sleep at night. This isn’t totally untrue. I wake with concepts and try to jot them down immediately. This is where “She Murdered Me with Science” came from. I also find myself in discussions with my son, friends, and peers and hit upon a lot of ideas that way. I’m co-writing stories with a few authors now that came from intense discussions. Finally, while doing research on one novel or story, I sometimes hit upon a fact that spins an entirely different story out of it.

AW: What first sparked your interest in writing? In science fiction?

DB: I blame it on Star Wars action figures. I didn’t just play with them. I built stories, with full three act structures to them. They had character development, epic battles and comedy. I had friends (Well, two to be exact. I was a nerd in WI, after all) that would come over to watch them play out. However, I had a hard time getting them down on paper. This was the era of the typewriter still, and I found revision due to mistakes almost physically painful. It wasn’t until many years later I was diagnosed with ADD. The advent of the word processor allowed me to finally overcome the majority of that condition and viola! A writer is reborn!

AW: Do you find it easier to write in short bursts, turning out short stories and comics, rather than novels?

DB: Short stories are the palette cleansers between novels. I used to get deeper into the writer’s trance, allowing myself anywhere from five to six hours of writing time. I can’t do that, as I get older, due to a combination of life responsibilities and just aching body. I’ll finish an act of the novel, and then slide out to catch up on short story deadlines. I come back to the novel fresh and ready to tackle the next section. Certainly, one doesn’t have to go as deep into the trance for a short story as a novel, so it’s easier from an investment POV, though some stories are just as demanding from a craft POV.

AW: I noticed from your website that you are a two-time winner of a community college literary contest. What are your thoughts on contests in general and the benefit of paying to enter them?

DB: To be fair, technically, I won one essay writing contest, and was accepted into the college’s literary magazine, which they ran as a contest. So, that’s how I got two. I’ve rarely paid for contests. When I do, it’s usually a low ante. The only ones I do these days are writing challenges, where you have to write to a prompt and with a time limit, such as the 48hr Film Festival. Everything you do as a writer is a contest, when you break it down to the brass tacks. Magazines, anthologies, e-zines. You’re entering a competition to get included in an issue or a book, earn money and get recognition. Some contests are better than others, such as “first chapter” ones, where you can earn yourself a publishing contract or agent. The competition is rough in them, maybe rougher than other arenas. Research the group running it, the judges judging it, the winner’s from previous years. Don’t drop money on anything you can’t validate. Remember, money should flow TO the writer, not away.

AW: Can you share your thoughts about web comics and the future of printed comics with everyone so often plugged into an e-reader or an iPhone?

DB: I recently downloaded the Marvel Comics app and read a few of their free comics. I had to keep turning my phone depending on the panel. I found this annoying. Four panel comics, such as “Control-Alt-Delete” I find work better than full page comics, but I may just be old. LOL! I think single comics will go away, replaced by daily pages from sources like the Marvel app, but these will be collected quarterly into trade paperbacks for the people who want something tactile. I could read “Dreamland Chronicles” or “Looking for Group” online, and have, but I still buy the graphic novels and find I’ve missed something every time.

AW: If you could spend a month anywhere and anywhen on Earth, where/when would it be and why?

DB: Previous to becoming an author, I’d romanticize the past, but as I research various eras for stories, there is always a dark side. Unless you’re one of the rich, things don’t work out to well for the commoner in most places in history. I’d love to spend a month somewhere, sometime in the future, maybe a colony world. Hopefully, unlike the past, it won’t smell nearly as bad.

AW: What are you working on now?

DB: Looking at the WIP board behind me, I have a novel to finish. The follow-up to SMMS called “Murdered in a Mechanical World (and I’m a Mechanical Girl!)” I have two novellas and four short stories I’d like to finish in the first quarter. I’d also like to try my hand at editing an anthology next year. Additionally on my plate are two other novels, a comic, a short film and a TV pilot. It’s going to take the Mayan apocalypse to slow me down in 2012. And chances are… I’ll still be trying to make a deadline even then.

Read more about David Boop at davidboop.com.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Geeky and literary booty and writers' dens

GeekChicDaily is hosting a geeky swag contest that includes lots of Dr. Who stuff and is valued at $1,000. See their contest page for the details. And if you win, and don't want the Dr. Who Series Six DVD, remember who sent you. :)

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University now has the first installment of author Fred Saberhagen's papers. Saberhagen, best known for his Berserker novels, died in 2007 in New Mexico, but was born in Chicago. View the press release on the NIU Today website.

Canadian author Terence Green’s “Blue Limbo” is Phoenix Pick’s free ebook for December.

The coupon code for December is 9991437 and will be good from December 2
through December 31. Download available at www.PPickings.com

Mitch Helwig is a cop on the edge, “a man who’s gone through the valley of the shadow and hasn’t quite made it out the other side” (Toronto Globe & Mail). Vengeance and heroism, the subtleties of family woven into the metaphysics of life and death, all come together here in a page-turner, “a near-future tech-noir thriller” (SF Site) that moves at breakneck speed.

"A chilling picture of Toronto in the not too distant future."—The Toronto Star

I had such a fabulous time at OryCon that I wanted the party to continue. Toward that end, I searched for a local writer's hangout. Santa Rosa doesn't have one, so I'm trying to create one. I got a lot of great response from folks, but most wanted to hear about it after it formed, rather than help form it. The hardest thing of all is that people are so accustomed to set dates and times for meetings and structured settings, that the whole concept seems quite foreign to them. Maybe I'm just dreaming.

What I have in mind is a place - it can be a pub, a café, a corner of a book store, a restaurant - where writes and readers hang out for literary discussion, or just to chew the fat with other folks seeking intelligent conversation. I named it (Santa Rosa Writer's Den), started a yahoo group and gave it one rule: no promotion. I'm sick to death of writers marketing to other writers. I'm sick to death of hearing about promotion. I want to talk about writing and books I've read. If you just had a book published, fantastic, just don't try to sell it to me at my hangout where I'm coming to escape all that commercialism. It's scary how much writers have to focus on promotion these days. But, above all, we're writers. My aim is to create a refuge where we can hang out and not be bothered by the dark side of the biz.

We're still building critical mass and then will have to pick a spot or try several until we find the right one. I'll set it up to meet on maybe two specific nights (with a wide window of time to just drop in) and one or two days per week until it gets more established.

If only I had a time machine, I'd go hang out with the Inklings (whose members included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien). They surely would turn me out because of my gender and dislike of pipe smoke. But they had the right idea. C.S. Lewis' older brother, Warren, who was also a member, wrote, "Properly speaking, the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections." Of course, there's was more of a critique group and they did meet once a week.

I'd be interested to hear how many of my readers have found such a place where they live. Is there such a thing as a "Cheers" for writers and readers? Would it be too boring? Should we invite bull-fighters and race-car drivers to liven things up? Am I missing something here?

Monday, December 5, 2011

BBC interviews of 10 SF Authors now on CD

Science Fiction Writers
British Library Board 2011
Interviews date from 1977 through 2001.

Distributed by the University of Chicago Press

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

I completely enjoyed listening to the interviews on this CD. The majority of the interviews were conducted in such a way as to bring out interesting anecdotes and facts of which I was formerly unaware. The authors interviewed are as follows:

Douglas Adams
Isaac Asimov
J G Ballard
Ray Bradbury
Arthur C Clarke
Ursula K Le Guin
Michael Moorcock
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Also included is what seems to be a joint panel discussion or lecture led by Brian Aldiss and Doris Lessing as there is not interviewer on that recording. These are ALL previously unreleased recordings.

The gems you'll hear on this crisply mastered CD include an interview with Isaac Asimov on his 70th birthday in which he states that the kinetic theory of gases is what sparked his idea of psycho-history that is the "science" running through his Foundation series. Brian Aldiss tips his hat to Mary Shelley for writing what he thinks is the first truly science fiction novel.

Doris Lessing said she was struck by the defensiveness of pulp sci-fi authors in the States. She also said that though she thoroughly enjoyed Asimov's Foundation series, it's not really sci-fi, because there's no science. She goes on to say the Foundation series contains "brilliant sociology." Since when are robots, space travel and sociology not science?

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. explains why he chops up his books in short bursts. He also addresses his use of social commentary and satire, pointing out the reason why the defenders of the Alamo were really fighting in his novel, Hocus Pocus: for their right to own slaves.

Did you know that Ray Bradbury had a hand in the archetectural designs of Epcott Center, Disneyworld and World Fairs? A builder in Glendale (CA) even made a mall based on an article of his about a city of the future. He talks of his dream of globalism and a united space exploration instead of men of the same planet fighting one another. "Men want to be destroyed. But they should be destroyed for a good cause and the good cause is space."

The woman who interviewed Ursula K. LeGuin basically asks her if she would fancy being a father and a mother like the characters in The Left Hand of Darkness. And asked her if she thought of herself as an anarchist because she wrote about anarchists. Why is it that the one woman actually interviewed was interviewed by someone who obviously doesn't understand science fiction? LeGuin, however, handles the situation with aplomb and grace with wonderful tidbits like, "You can have books and babies. They are not mutually hostile occupations."

I highly recommend this CD for any sci-fi fan or writer. For more information or to buy your copy for $15, visit the University of Chicago Press.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Approaching Omega - familiar plot surprises in the end

Approaching Omega
Eric Brown
e-book, Infinity Plus (September 2011)
Novella, originally published in 2005 by Telos Publishing

Review by Lyda Morehouse

This novella length e-book by award-winning novelist Eric Brown tells the story of Ted Latimer, team leader of the maintenance crew of the Dauntless – a ship filled with thousands of cryogenically frozen colonists, headed to the first suitable Earth-like planet. Their mission: save humanity.

I could have saved Latimer some heartache. After all, cryogenic deep-freeze space travel rarely goes well in these sorts of stories, does it? No one ever wakes up, thousands of years later, arriving in paradise where everything is hunky-dory. Thus, rather predictably, Latimer and his crew are awoken early. First to a possible collision that’s left the ship massively damaged. After they set the autobots to fix things, they go back to sleep.

The second time they wake up, everything has gone from bad to worse – much, much worse.

The plot that follows reminded me a lot of the movie “Pandorum,” including the strangely up-beat ending. If you haven’t seen “Pandorum” (which many people likely haven’t), suffice to say that the autobots fixed a number of things that weren’t broken, including some of the colonists.

I’m a fan of science fiction horror, and Brown is certainly a skilled writer. Yet, for some reason, I never quite connected enough with the main character to get truly emotionally invested in his survival. Perhaps it was Brown’s stylistic choice to refer to the hero by his surname throughout the narrative that kept me at a distance. Or, maybe it was the sheer gruesomeness of the situation they woke up to the second time that left me certain that everyone left alive was utterly doomed that made it hard to connect. Strangely, I think it would have made a better movie in that way. The action was very gripping and well-rendered, but I tend to want something a touch meatier in my fiction.

None of that stopped me from reading all the way to the last page, however. The ending surprised me by pulling back from a full-on horror conclusion to something much more science fictional. Was it more satisfying? I found myself unsure. In some ways, a bleak ending is its own kind of satisfaction. On the flip-side, if you’ve been rooting for these people the whole time…

For the price (Kindle is offering it for $2.99), it may well be worth reading and deciding for yourself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Firedancer - and SA Bolich on weaving a rich tale

by S.A. Bolich
Sky Warrior Books (2011)

Review by Clare Deming

In Firedancer, S.A. Bolich introduces us to a fascinating world in which Clans have power over the elements of fire, wind, earth, and water. This is more than elemental magic though, and the way in which Bolich weaves her world together creates an organic tapestry of cultures that is completely convincing. At the heart of this first volume is Jetta Ak'Kal, a Firedancer of the third rank.

The story opens when a fire erupts in Jetta's home village of Firehome Vale, and we instantly see that this fire is not a simple thing. The opening line gives the perfect description:

This fire was malicious.

A delicate balance exists between the Ancient - the deepest fire that smolders beneath the earth - and the Clans that remain vigilant against it. Trapped underground, the Ancient perpetually searches for a way to reach the abundant fuel on the surface. Jetta has fought against this fire all her life, like all Firedancers, using a learned Dance, the moves and forms passed down from master to student. In her previous assignment in the village of Setham, Jetta's Dance failed, and she lost her lifemate, her reputation, and her confidence.

Healed in body, but not in spirit, Jetta is given a new assignment in Annam Vale, a mountain village where the Delvers mine the containment stone used throughout the land to build fireproof structures. Yet rumors tell that Windriders also inhabit the distant village, and when fire is fed by the wind, catastrophe could result.

On arrival in Annam Vale, Jetta meets both encouragement and resistance from the Delvers. Yet it is the abrasive and secretive Windriders that provide her with unique challenges as she works to unravel the mysteries of the Vale. For Old Man Fire has started to resist the Dance. The forms and patterns that Jetta has always known no longer work as they should, and she must use all her resources to discover a solution before fire escapes from the mines beneath the town.

This book was nearly impossible to put down, with compelling characters and such an original concept that I was driven to discover more about this world. Bolich has infused so many details into the cultures - whether it's a Firedancer's braided hair and dance leathers, or the carvings made by a Delver - that I found myself completely enraptured.

The threat of the Ancient lurked beneath all of the other plot threads, creating an ever-present tension. As the story progressed, multiple subplots emerged that added complications of politics, love and jealousy, mistrust, and tragedy. And it all flowed naturally from very real characters. Firedancer is the first book in a planned trilogy that is off to a great start.

Interview with SA Bolich, conducted by Ann Wilkes.

AW: When did you first start writing fantasy?

SAB: When I was 14 my best friend lent me her copy of The Lord of the Rings, doling out each book one at a time. I flew through them in three successive days. And then I immediately sat down and began to write my own Tolkien-inspired epic. The first two are still in my drawer. I never finished the third, but it taught me a lot and I still use elements of it in some of my stories.

AW: Who were your major influences, both authors and those who encouraged you in your craft?

SAB: I read in a lot of genres. My favorite authors when I was a teen were Andre Norton’s YA SF and fantasy stories and Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote awesome historical fiction. I very much enjoyed Anne McCaffrey’s dragons and Heinlein’s SF and pretty much everything else I could get my hands on. I won my first writing contest in the 6th grade; my 9th grade English teacher wanted me to try and publish some of my stories. In high school my teachers encouraged my writing in every way they could, and I’m grateful to them, because they somehow stuck it in my brain that I should nurture the writing spark that has never quite gone out no matter how much life has gotten in the way.

AW: Where did you get the idea of the dancers who control elements?

SAB: Heh. Good question. I distinctly remember the first line of Firedancer landing in my brain. Like all of my stories, the thing built itself. When my fingers start on the keys, I truly am never sure what is going to fall out. Things appear that have zero meaning until a few sentences farther on, and then I think “aha!” But after Jetta first began to dance on page two, the whole story took off and all at once the correlation between fire and the Dancers who fight it fell into place.

AW: Your prose is so rich, your characters so well-drawn. Where did you learn to write so descriptively? Do all the descriptions come in the first draft or do you go back and flesh out the scenes and characters later?

SAB: Description has always come easily to me. I’m fortunate, I guess, in having lived in many interesting places and grown up on a farm, forever outside running around in the dirt and the wind and the rain atop a horse. It has embedded a great deal of sensory memory into my bones, I think. I remember when I was still in junior high I started writing a historical novel about a girl from the hills of Tennessee who came west. I handed my mother two versions of the first page and asked her which she liked better. She handed me back one and said “This one. I feel like I’m there.” Sometimes I let the scenery get too rich, which interrupts the pacing, and have to cut it back. In fact, my editor made me put in a lot of sensory detail I had left out of Firedancer because I was afraid of stretching the word count and slowing the story too much. Now I’m hearing all kinds of good things about the richness of the writing in Firedancer and how it really puts people into the story. So…I guess I will follow my instincts and continue to wrap words around what I visualize in my head. Not everyone will like it, but my personal taste leans toward really rounded descriptions of the worlds I visit. I just like the big fat doorstop books, I guess.

I often do flesh out the bare bones of a scene in the revision, but more often I find myself cutting rather than adding.

AW: I know you're a co-founder of Other World's Writers' Workshop. Would you like to tell my readers more about that?

SAB: I am always happy to pitch www.otherworlds.net. It’s one of the oldest genre workshops on the Web, founded in 1998 and hosted at Yahoo Groups (OWWW) since 1999. It is an all-levels workshop, from beginners to pros. The critiques are detailed and intense, because we warn people up front we are geared toward publication. We’re not a reading group and we thin out the lurkers every month to keep people focused on actually writing and submitting and improving their work. We have some wonderful writers who have progressed from pretty raw beginners to published authors.

AW: When can readers get a hold of the next volume?

SAB: Windrider comes out in April 2012.

AW: Do you have shorter works readers can find online or in e-book format?

SAB: I have many stories out at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, On Spec, Damnation Books, Science Fiction Trails, and several other magazines and ezines. I also have stories in the Wolfsongs 2 and Defending the Future IV: No Man’s Land anthologies. My short ebook Who Mourns for the Hangman? is available along with Firedancer pretty much everywhere ebooks are sold.

AW: What are you working on now?

SAB: I am in the final revision stage with Windrider and then I will start on the next book, tentatively titled Seaborn, that will come out in 2013.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gezlinger's Knot - exciting possibilities

"Gezlinger’s Knot", Book 1: Traveling Rimside Blues
By JG Nair/J. William Myers
Mutant Horse 2011

Review by Lyda Morehouse

The world of Gezlinger’s Knot is nifty, a cool as heck concept and is accompanied by Myer’s strong visuals that evoke a kind of cross between “Blade Runner” and “Road Warrior.”

In a future where we’ve destroyed the ecosystem beyond repair, Earth is now a wasteland riddled with plague and pestilence and freakish mutations. Most of humanity survives in the remaining domed cities, while a few rugged individuals brave the soup of disease looking for clean genetic code to sell to gene tailors who can rebuild extinct animals for fun and profit.

The story starts with Jim Gambol, a gene trader, and because things begin with him one must presume he’s ultimately the hero of this tale. Unfortunately, I learned much more about him in the publicity materials attached to the comic than I did in the first issue. What we see of him in this book has minimal emotional impact. There seems to be a lot of wandering around the rim (another cool concept – a subculture that exists in the maintenance spaces between the dome proper and the outside,) but, otherwise, there’s not a lot in the text to latch on to. I have no sense of what’s at stake for him, or why I should care.

That could be a massive fail, but the last couple chapters follow a free trader (one of the brave/insane souls who venture outside) called Jobeam and his awesome mutant horse, Stogo. (I can’t explain it, but I really loved this horse.) I found myself much more emotionally attached to both of them because they faced an immediate conflict – the dangers of outside. Their section also ended is a startling cliffhanger that left me wanting more, right now!

My only regret is that the first part of the issue was not as strong as the last. However, as a science fiction reader, I can wait. I was given enough of a taste that I can be patient for the story to progress. Thus, the debut issue functions as a successful hook and the good news is that subsequent issues are planned every 1 – 2 months, with a graphic novel compellation when the story is finished.

If episode two delivers Jim Gambol’s conflict and thus, engages the reader in his story, I think “Gezlinger’s Knot” will spin a
marvelously rich, exciting tale.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My negative review of an anonymous book

Title (I can't tell you)
Author (I so can't tell you)
Review by Ann Wilkes

I read a bad book through to the end yesterday. No I haven't devolved back into that person who thinks she has to finish everything she starts - even a bad book. If I tell you the reason, you might figure out what book it was. Since I'm going to pull no punches about why it was bad and why I wanted to throw it across the room, I can't tell you the title. I have already established in my guidelines that I don't post negative reviews, and I'm not likely to read another bad book any time soon, so my guidelines will have to stand. That's enough of my preamble. I'm going to deliver this review of an anonymous book as a sanitized (no title, author names, character names, etc.) critique.

Dear writer,
Good for you that you put yourself out there and your novel was published. When I learned the topic of the book and it's connection to XYZ, I felt compelled to read it. I was looking forward to it, even.

I had been reading another book that has a large cast of characters and a grand scope with myriad complex issues. More work than I was ready for just then. So, finding out what an easy read yours was felt like a relief. Ahhhh. A book I can wiz through on the weekend.

However, around page 100, I'm getting sick of your one-dimensional protag who goes through life in a Pollyanna way, never making mistakes and solving problems with the greatest of ease. Where's the conflict? Where's the tension?

On page 236, I read the fly to see what the book is actually supposed to be ABOUT. Some of the stuff on the jacket had not happened yet and didn't even get introduced until the last third of the book. I want to know about those stakes and that conflict way sooner. I need way less of your protag's wonderful ninja career skills in minute detail. OK. I get you know your subject. You're an expert. But please give me a story. A plot!

And that first two-thirds would have been half as long if you paired down all the info dumps, eliminated all the wordy language and repetition, and quit telling me about every single opening and closing door.

We all have pet phrases. It's OK if your characters have them, but the narration shouldn't. Don't tell me character A completely understood this, that and the other, and the other. Sometimes, perhaps they knew full well, or grasped the subject. And please don't have them always hating to admit this or that. (The real over-used phrases have been changed to protect the author.)

And we all have favorite mannerisms. But not everyone in the room is a hand wringer or a lint picker. Give them different ones, please. The mannerisms should set them apart, not make them homogenized.

So, you decided to throw in a romantic interest. Good for you. I don't mind a little romance in my sci-fi, so long as it doesn't take over. This did the opposite. Those few tender moments were all tell, no show. I'm not asking for graphics, here. They're only kisses. But don't tell me he or she felt thrilled. Show me what it looked like. Have (we'll say her) touch her lips after (we'll say he) walks away, or have the lips quiver before the kiss. Something.

And twice during a kiss, the protag suddenly has eyes in back of (we'll say his this time) head and knows what the other people in the room are doing. The whole thing is in his Point of View until he's lip-locked. Then suddenly it's an omniscient POV.

Also, there's a chapter toward the end that is in another character's POV. I just wish you had done that sooner and more often. It came out of left field so far into the book.

Now about that ending. I'm so totally not a happily ever after kind of writer, but wow. That was brutal. But as brutal as the protag's loss was, the protag still spouted advice about coping to everyone else and didn't fall apart. Perfect to the last. I get that he might be in shock and will fall apart later, but he was way too peachy and preachy. At least if you're gonna give your character a blow like that, have him grieve, grow and change.

But you got published. So, there's that.

Wow! I feel so much better. I just hope no one guesses the book - especially the author - since I've seriously ripped his or her book to shreds.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trailer House - Get your geek on

You've had a hard week. Look both ways, put on the head phones and get your geek on.

On the other hand, if your week's been super hard, this will definitely not cheer you up. That apocalyptic trend is still going strong.

And here's a free read:

Phoenix Pick’s free ebook for November is Paul Cook’s “The Engines of Dawn.”

The coupon code is 9991522 and will be good from November 2
through November 30
. Get the e-book download at PPickings.com.

The great engines of the Enamorati have enabled humanity to travel the
stars, but at what cost? Little is known of the jealously guarded engines
while a complacent humanity slowly loses its edge and becomes increasingly
dependent on mysterious alien technologies.

However, when an engine failure strands a university ship, Professor Ben
Bennet and a group of students challenge the status quo and start
discovering hidden secrets that threaten the future of humanity itself.

“A lot of contemporary SF satisfies but doesn’t excite. Cook’s latest
delivers everything you could want”—Science Fiction Chronicle

At www.PhoneixPick.com you can also enter to win a membership to Worldcon in Chicago (Chicon 7) which includes dinner with GOH, Mike Resnick.

Monday, November 14, 2011

OryCon Blew Me Away

Con Report by Ann Wilkes

Can we do it again next weekend? I had a ball at OryCon in Portland, OR last weekend. I sat on 9 panels, did my pro bit at the writer's workshop and read at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading (twice).

The Writer's Workshop was my first gig at 5PM on Friday. It went well, but could have used more time. We had 3 pros and 3 victims-er beginning writers. Each writer heard a critique from their peers and the pros and then had 5 mins for questions all in an hour. If you do the math, you will see that it simply does not add up. We did the best we could and handed over very detailed crits to the authors.

Who would have guessed that "To Outline or Not to Outline, that is the question" would be an animated, fun panel? We had fearless moderator, MK Hobson, who is the anal outliner, Alma Alexander whom you couldn't pay to produce an outline and Peter A. Smalley, who mostly does outline, but not in as much detail (70 pages, really? ) as Mary. I just hope we weren't having so much fun that we forgot about the audience. ;) And where do I stand? An outline? Only if I'm desperately trying to find my way out of blind alley and then only a couple sentences per chapter, no tiered structure.

"Women Role Models in Science Fiction" sort of morphed into a study of the shifts in gender roles and how both sexes are still figuring things out in the real world. The fact that a strong female role model is not a warrior with tits was only the beginning.

I moderated "That's gotta hurt!" with GOH EE Knight on my left and Rory Miller, with a gory photo album of real injuries, on my right. We went the full gamut from torturing characters with set backs, to nearly killing them, to killing everyone around them. And Rory kept it real, with real-life examples, the physical and emotional cost and what doesn't work.

Aimee Amodo and I delivered "How to give a stellar reading". Aimee talked about all the things that make writers - or anyone - afraid to speak or read before a crowd. We went on to list numerous tips to make your reading the performance it should be. Then came the fun part. I asked for volunteers (very forcefully - ;) ) to deliver readings to work on their voice inflection, volume, modulation, eye contact and body language. So they wouldn't be distracted by unfamiliar words, I had them use nursery rhymes. Imagine hearing Humpty Dumpty and Three Blind Mice as a eulogy, Mary Had a Little Lamb as a candidate speech and others as a newscast or an acceptance speech. And Aimee charmed us with one as William Shatner. Fun stuff.

I actually learned stuff on the "How to Prepare a Manuscript" panel from my fellow panelists, moderator John C Bunnell, Patrick Swenson and Camille Alexa.

Mary Robinette Kowal deftly moderated the "Alien Etiquette" panel. The discussion continued to lead back to how hard it is to come up with aliens who are more alien than some isolated tribes on our own planet. We mostly take a custom that is odd to us and push it to the extreme or invert one. And the devil's in the details. We have to come up with the cultural norms, manners and behaviors for our aliens that fit their unique setting and circumstances.

I had a ball moderating "Blah, blah blah, she said". We had five or six pros (including GOH EE Knight and William F. Nolan) who never tired of sharing dialog don'ts and giving examples of best practices.

My last panel on Saturday was a Feedback Workshop, the expected structure of which no one understood. As moderator, I sort of winged it based on who showed up and what they expected to get from it. It turned out fine and I think everyone had something to take away.

Sunday I was glad to be the traffic cop for "A Touch of Farmer, a Pinch of LeGuin" since I was the least-well-read person on the panel. Just going down the table sharing our influences took half of our time. Writers are passionate about good writing.

While reading at the Broad Universe reading, a crying baby made its entrance. I had no trouble speaking over the dear, but BU host extraordinaire, MeiLin Miranda felt bad, and since we fired a little more rapidly than expected, I was able to read a second piece that I had brought in case I couldn't shave the first one down to the required five minutes. I read an excerpt from a story I'll be sending out later this week after a few more final touches and my fractured fairy tale that always gets a roomful of laughs, "Troll Games".

Friday night after my panel marathon, I hosted a dinner with Broad Universe pals and other con friends. I should have got off my tush and taken more pics. I know Joyce took a bunch, but I don't have them yet. Here's what I do have.
Left to right - David A Levine, MeiLin Miranda, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, SA Bolich.

Even though her eyes are closed, this is great of Alma Alexander. That's Brenda Cooper to her left. On my other side were Andrea Howe and her hubby, Jeff. At the other table, besides David and MeiLin, were Mark Ferrari, Shannon Page, Camille Alexa and a couple of Mark's friends.

And across from me were Renee Stern and an unfortunately blurry Rhiannon Held.

At a room party Friday night I became fast friends with Vivian Perry, who lives in Oakland and sings Jazz. Definitely won't wait till the next con to get together with her. She gave me a CD and the girl can sing. ;) And don't you think she looks like Moriarty's girlfriend, the Duchess Bartholomew from STNG?

I also had fabulous conversations with Richard A. Lovett, G. David Nordley, Bob Brown, Amy Thompson, SA Bolich, Brenda Cooper, Alma Alexander, Joyce Reynolds-Ward and many others. After the con, I met my Aunt and cousin Richard and family for lunch. Then my cousin, JoAnn took me to the airport. When she picked me up at the hotel I still had to fetch the books that didn't sell in the dealer's room. I'm pretty sure next year I'll be staying with her and she'll be coming to the con. The dealers room alone bowled her over - yes I snuck her in. But, hey, I converted her for next year. ;)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Psyche's Prophecy might make you look over your shoulder

Psyche's Prophecy
Ann Gimpel
Gypsy Shadow Publishing (2011)

Reviewed by Clare Deming

In Psyche's Prophecy, author Ann Gimpel takes us to a near and possible future in which resources are scarce and rolling blackouts and gasoline shortages are increasing. Amid this burgeoning dystopia, psychotherapist Lara McGinnis stays busy, counseling disturbed teenagers, OCD patients, and couples with marital problems.

The story immediately takes on the trappings of a thriller before delving into the fantasy aspects that are at the heart of this mixed genre tale. Dr. McGinnis learns that patient Ken Beauchamp is abusing his pregnant wife and steps in to offer the woman assistance. Her help comes nearly too late. Mr. Beauchamp puts his wife in the hospital in critical condition, disappears from the authorities, and begins a course of stalking and retaliation upon Dr. McGinnis for her interference.

In her private practice as a psychotherapist, Lara has found that her long-time ability to read auras has always been handy. However, she has more frequent and disturbing visions as the conflict with Mr. Beauchamp and the unpredictable blackouts across the city continue. On top of this, a graduate student, one of her other patients, and even her live-in boyfriend, Trevor, have all had a common dream. Lara tries to solve this mystery while everything else around her spirals deeper into chaos and her visions become darker.

The first half of this book kept me up at night, both as a page-turner and in sympathetic fear for Dr. McGinnis. This is a very good thing if you're a fan of that type of story, but if the thought of having a stalker break into your residence will give you nightmares, then you may want to read this only during daylight hours.

As the story progresses, Lara must face who she is and what her paranormal abilities mean. There are dark forces at work other than Ken Beauchamp, and ancient mythologies turn out to have real relevance to modern life. Lara and Trevor's characterization sparkled as they confronted new facets to Lara's power and the inevitable changes to their world.

In the second half of the book, I felt like the tension lagged. Although to be fair, it was more like the type of tension changed, because this is where the fantasy aspects became heavier. A lot of information about magic, witches, and power is introduced that seems more like buildup for the next volume.

Psyche's Prophecy was recently announced as a Finalist for an EPIC e-book award. While there is a definite conclusion to this book, there are also many questions left unanswered. Psyche's Prophecy is the first book in a planned trilogy and the second volume, Psyche's Search, will be released soon.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Honeyed Words - yeah, they are

Black Blade Blues
Honeyed Words
J.A. Pitts
(TOR, April 2010, July 2011)

Reviewed by Deirdre M. Murphy

Black Blade Blues looked like it would be a fun read. It’s a modern-day adventure with dwarves and dragons, starring a female blacksmith who is dating a bard. Throw in SCA fighters, a Norse god or two, and an ancient, broken sword with runes running down its length, and I figured, how could it go wrong?

And indeed, though there were some places that felt rough, especially in the earlier part of the book, Black Blade Blues proved to be a good solid adventure story. Stuff did go wrong, of course, but in the story, not in the writing. Our hero was faced with an escalating series of challenges that ended in a confrontation between the evil dragon who had kidnapped the love of her life and his minions, which included ogres and trolls, and our hero and her allies. The good gals and guys didn’t win all they wanted to, but they survived (they had to do that—there’s a sequel!)

The world is grittier and more real than I expected from the delightfully disparate ingredients I mention in the first paragraph. The climactic battle is exciting and the end poignant. Black Blade Blues read like a first novel to me, but a solid one, and I’m glad it found its way onto my reading list.

Honeyed Words picks up not too long after Black Blade Blues, though we happily get to skip the hospital and physical therapy bits. Our blacksmith-hero, to her frustration, has found that knitting is helping her burned hand regain function. She sets all of her worries aside to take her girlfriend away for a birthday trip, to go see a friend and ren-faire musician, who made it big, perform.

After the performance (hey—was that a real elf in line?) the musician is kidnapped, elves show up to do mischief, and then our hero ends up working with a very strange blacksmith who has an odd—well, I don’t want to say too much, but more than one strange and magical family legacy is involved, and so are the dragons and both their minions and their opponents. As if that wasn’t enough, someone’s making a magical “blood mead”. These various strange and fascinating things were easy to follow as I read, but seem more complicated now that I’m writing this review and looking at the book structurally, instead of experiencing the adventure.

Honeyed Words more than lives up to the promise of Mr. Pitts’ first book. It’s fun and riveting. The relationships between the various magical peoples, and especially between dragons, gods, and humans, are more complicated than they first appeared (and they are perhaps, less black-and-white). I had trouble putting this book down when it was time for chores or bed. I wanted to see how all the disparate threads in the story came together in the end. I finished the book satisfied and wanting more.

I’m always happy when the second book in a series is better than the first. It just seems wrong when it’s the other way around, but that’s not the only reason. I’ve found that an author whose work gets better cares about the craft of storytelling, and is therefore someone I’m willing to trust my all-too-scant recreation time to again and again. One thing is certain—when the next book, Forged in Fire, comes out next spring, I won’t start reading it on an evening when I have to get up and go to work the next day.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Fire Upon the Deep - a science fiction symphony!

A Fire Upon the Deep
Vernor Vinge
TOR 1992

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

With Vernor Vinge's new novel, The Children of the Sky, coming out that picks up where it left off, I decided to read A Fire Upon the Deep. I'd read Vinge's Rainbow's End when it first came out and was impressed with the detail, imagination and scope of his worldbuilding. And made suitable uncomfortable by the lack of printed books in that imagined future.

Fire Upon the Deep did not disappoint. It takes readers to a far distant future in which the homeworld, Earth, is all but forgotten. In this universe, that is divided into layers, or thought zones, from the Bottom to the Middle and High Beyond to the Top and the Transcend, worlds spanning vast reaches share information via the "Known Net".

Ravna Bergsndot works at a relay station for the Net when the biggest disaster of the age descends in the form of an angry Power, an awakened God that becomes known as the Blight. In Vinge's universe, races die out or transcend, some of them achieving a god-like state as a Power. As in Greek mythology, godhead and benevolence don't always go hand in hand. This Power is a destroyer of worlds.

The most interesting characters are the sentient, dog-like Tines who operate only as a pack of four to eight members. In fewer numbers, they lose their intellect down to the level of a dog. These packs function as one and cooperate to use tools. However, they cannot come nearer than 15 feet of another pack without losing their faculties. Something they only dare for sex. They can speak to each other in hums and vibrations and verbally. Once they meet humans, they can even communicate with human speech and specific voices once they learn the language.

The skroderiders are a sort of sentient sea creature with large fronds that is found across the galaxy. Skrodes lack the ability to form short term memory and ride on wheeled devices that help them store memories in order to function intelligently.

Vinge's alien cultures in this novel are incredible! These weren't talking animals. And if that's not enough, Ravna's new boyfriend Pham Nuwen turns out to be a Frankenstein made by a Power from human parts - minus the scars and knobs and possessing a personality, albeit an egotistical one. When the Blight kills the Power that made Pham, he is left with "Godshatter". This piece of the Power can take Pham over - and does at opportune moments - but Pham can't access it or be aware in any meaningful way while being used. If you're a Stargate SG1 fan, this is like Jack having the ancients' knowledge downloaded into his head.

When the Blight destroys relay, Ravna, Pham and two skroderiders head for the Bottom of the Beyond in search of the ship that fled there with what they believe is a secret weapon that will destroy the Blight. Meanwhile, the family aboard that ship is attacked by the locals, leaving the two children orphaned and held in opposing camps, neither knowing the other survived.

The interspersed transmissions from various people sprinkled throughout the book were an interesting device that added additional perspectives through the Known Net's discussion groups.

The alien version of the concept of a complete individual in the Tines culture necessitated different pronouns. That I could follow. However, the dialog was expressed three ways. There was verbal dialog in quotes. Fine. And dialog in italics that always seemed to be what we would sarcastically think or mutter under our breath so that the person we're conversing with doesn't hear. Finally, there were unuttered thoughts that were not in italics. I'm wondering now, after reading the entire book, if these were the packs talking to itself. Would have been nice to have figured that out sooner. And I'm still only guessing. I think the reader needs a little more clues when dialog has that many layers. It should not be confusing or distracting.

In spite of that one flaw, I heartily recommend the book. It's full of action, intrigue, loss, betrayal, complex cultures, politics, warfare and evolution. And unlike so many novels written more recently, no matter how dark things got, the characters always found hope. Not many writers can do so much in one tale. Bravo! And now to read The Children of the Sky!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ashes of the Earth - the mystery runs dark and deep

Ashes of the Earth: A Mystery of Post-Apocalyptic America
By Eliot Pattison
Counterpoint Press April 2011

Reviewed by Deirdre M. Murphy

Many things in the dark world depicted in this post-apocalyptic murder mystery aren’t what they first seem to be—a facet of this book that starts with the very first paragraphs:

The faces of the many child suicides Hadrian Boone had cut from nooses or retrieved below cliffs never left him, filled his restless sleep, and encroached in so many waking nightmares that now, as the blond girl with the hanging rope skipped along the ridge above, he hesitated, uncertain whether she was another of the phantoms that haunted him. Then she paused and reached out for the hand of a smaller red-haired girl behind her. Hadrian threw down the shovel he was using to dig out the colony’s old latrine pit, gathered up the chain clamped to his feet, and ran.

He scrambled up the steep slope of the ravine, ignoring the surprised, sleepy curse of his guard and the shrill, angry whistle that followed. Grabbing at roots and saplings to pull himself forward, he cleared the top and sprinted along the trail, his spine shuddering at the expectation of a baton on his back, his gut wrenching at the sound of a feeble shriek from the opposite side of the ridge. As he reached the open shelf of rock, he sprang, grabbed for the swinging rope that hung from a limb over the edge, heaving it up with a groan of despair. He froze as he hauled the child at the end of it back onto the ledge. What he found himself holding was an old coat fastened over a frame of sticks, and he found himself looking into the blank eyes of a pumpkin head with dried wheat for hair.

As fascinating as this opening is, much of what follows in this opening scene grated on me. Parts were heavy-handed and, well, gross. I really am capable of figuring out who’s supposed to be the hero and who’s supposed to be the villain without seeing the protagonist attempt, mostly futilely, to rescue pages of destroyed books from a latrine pit. Happily, as I got further into the book, I found an interesting, nuanced, multi-faceted future world, with an abundance of heroes, villains, and (best of all) people with aspects of both roles.

Other than the first scene, my primary quibble was an inability to resolve two facts: our protagonist, Hadrian Boone, knows nearly everyone in Carthage because he taught nearly every child born there and because he was a founding father of this first thriving settlement after biological agents and radiation killed nearly everyone in the world. Yet he keeps seeing lots of people he doesn’t know or even distantly recognize wandering around Carthage, and this doesn’t surprise him. At times, this contradiction acted like a speed-bump for me as I read, jostling my attention away from the immediate events of the story to the question of just how large Carthage is.

It isn’t long after Hadrian rescues the pumpkin that the first corpse is discovered, and the Governor of Carthage—a former friend of Hadrian’s—rushes to hide the body and the news. It is only when Hadrian points out that this murder could point to a threat to the Governor himself that he commissions Hadrian to find out what happened to the man. The governor attempts to keep Hadrian in line by threatening Hadrian’s oldest living friend, a threat that Hadrian fears even though the old man is the scientist behind much of Carthage’s success, and who is, we are told, the only reason Hadrian has not been exiled already.

Hadrian has only barely started his investigations when there’s another murder—one closer to Hadrian. This new loss turns his determination to find out what happened from a tired and fearful longing for knowledge and justice into a passionate quest.

Hadrian's investigation of the murders leads him to the gritty roots of corruption in this new world, which is all too reminiscent of the flaws in our pre-apocalyptic world. Can he redeem the dreams of the dead men and turn the children away from their suicide cult? Can he redeem himself, and overcome the emotional scars of losing his world and his family before the first log was cut to build Carthage? Can he at least save some part of the history and literature of the modern world from being used as toilet paper and cigarette wrappers?

There's an inherent promise to mystery readers that the murders will be solved. But will doing so do any good, for Hadrian or his world?

I enjoyed finding out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The history of Science Fiction

While I'm busy slaving away at non-fiction, you can be entertained and stimulated by the history of science fiction. After watching this first clip about the British Museum exhibit, I waded back through my emails and requested a review copy of Science Fiction Writers, a CD containing radio interviews with sci-fi authors from the 70s-90s that was just released by the British Library's audio archives. It's being distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

Now let's get specific, beginning with Jules Verne.

And here's a British doco on H.G. Wells.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do tricks, get treats

HURRY! This first contest is today (Wednesday, October 19th) only!

Log onto Twitter for your chance to win tickets to the LA premiere of IN TIME, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried!

Tweet #intimepremiere today to see a virtual map with the location of the ticket giveaways. There will be five people secretly located around Los Angeles with pairs of premiere tickets to give to fans. As the amount of tweets increase,the closer you'll be to discovering the secret giveaway locations... until time runs out.

Each time fans reach a tweet goal, the virtual map will zoom closer to reveal the location. Be one of the first on the scene and say the passphrase "Every second counts" to claim your tickets to the LA premiere on Thursday, October 20th.

Visit www.intimemovie.com to begin the race!


Release: October 28, 2011
Written and directed by: Andrew Niccol
Producers: Eric Newman, Marc Abraham
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki
Synopsis: In a future where time is literally money, and aging stops at 25, the only way to stay alive is to earn, steal, or inherit more time. Will Salas lives life a minute at a time, until a windfall of time gives him access to the world of the wealthy, where he teams up with a beautiful young heiress to destroy the corrupt system.

And how about a chance to win a Worldcon membership and more?


Phoenix Pick / Arc Manor will give one lucky recipient a full voting
membership to Chicon 7 (the 70th World Science Fiction Convention) PLUS a
dinner with select authors including Guest of Honor Mike Resnick. Three
runners-up will also get an invitation to the fully paid dinner.

No purchase is necessary to participate. Sign up at www.PhoenixPick.com

Winners will be notified February 15, 2012.

Chicon 7 will be held in Chicago from August 30 to September 3, 2012.

And now avid SF Readers can find all the best titles in one place. See what you think of Adam Doppelt's BestSFBooks site which rates books by awards they were nominated for or have received. It looks a little like my book shelf...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Low Town raises a hero

Low Town
Daniel Polansky
Doubleday Aug. 2011
(editor's note: see snazzier foreign jackets below the review)

Review by Clare Deming

Low Town is a colorful but dangerous place, as well as being a fast-moving first novel from author Daniel Polansky. In this blend of gritty fantasy and murder mystery, the unlikely hero is the Warden, a drug dealer in the seedy district of Low Town. When he stumbles upon the mangled body of a missing girl, he cannot leave the investigation to the agents of the Crown. He was once an agent, one of the best in Special Ops. With his former partner heading the investigation, and his friends pressuring him to find Little Tara's killer, the Warden has to act.

Orphaned by the plague, the Warden was raised by the Blue Crane - a senior mage who developed the wards that still protect Low Town from the return of the Red Fever. When he needs assistance with the case outside of official channels, he breaks his self-imposed exile to reunite with the elderly magician. The visit also reintroduces him to a Celia, a childhood friend now grown. Nearly a Sorcerer First Rank, she will soon take over the Crane's duties.

While waiting for word from the sorcerers, the Warden uses his underworld connections to track down the man who molested and killed Little Tara. He is unable to accost the man when a wraith-like creature appears, summoned by magic. The murderer is slain by the wraith, but no one else witnesses the event, and the guardsmen and agents are stumped. The Warden has seen such a wraith before, and his suspicions lead him further into danger just as another child goes missing.

There was an awful lot going on in Low Town, both in terms of plot, worldbuilding, and backstory. While I thought that some aspects of the plot didn't make as much sense as I would have liked them to, I was so swept up in the action that the overall experience was positive and exciting. The writing was fresh and the foul language the characters used was nicely original. While some of the characters had annoyingly patterned names (Tancred the Harelip, Yancey the Rhymer, Eddie the Quim), this was a minor complaint for me. The Warden was likeable in some ways, but a real jerk at other times, and this made him intriguing to read about. The only problem that I had with him was that for most of the story he seemed to function fairly well for someone who dabbles in his own merchandise of pixie's breath and dreamvine.

I did find the conclusion moderately predictable and I wished that more space was given to the final scenes. Once the culprit was discovered and confronted, the book was over really fast, and I had hoped to see a greater emotional resolution. But perhaps being disappointed that the book was over is a sign of how much fun I had reading it.

Here are the foreign jackets, from left to right, for the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany. The UK version has a different title, but it's the same novel. Told you they were snazzier.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Envisioning a near future that works - examples?

Post-apocalyptic tales are still popular, with and without zombies. I read three such novels this year: Directive 51 and Daybreak Zero by John Barnes and Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh. I arrived in San Diego for Conjecture on September 9th, the day after the wide-spread blackout. That's all anyone talked about wherever I went: the wait staff, the bellmen, convention-goers from San Diego, everyone. And they all said the same thing: I finally met my neighbors. People pulled together, had block parties and helped each other out. The restaurant served sandwiches by candlelight. People at the bar, without the constant noise and distraction of the game on TV, had real conversations.

Two nights ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the other response to impending doom: folks stockpiling food - not just for a month or a year, but for many years. They envision an utter collapse, a semi-permanent loss of infrastructure. And they're buying guns. That's nothing new, but they may be gaining in numbers, although I'm hesitant to take a poll. I'm afraid of the results.

I'm reminded of the Twilight Zone episode "The Shelter". The family with the only bomb shelter on the block is assailed by previously friendly neighbors when the nuclear threat turns real and immediate.

Personally, I'd rather work on community solutions, not "us and them" or "every (hu)man for himself" ones. The folks in San Diego had the right idea. I'm not sure where the Occupy Wall Street movement will lead, but I see people identifying with each other across a multitude of demographics. Pulling together for a solution for us all. I hope they find one that can then be implemented. Corporate greed and political ambitions have made such a huge mess of things, it's hard to know where to start. I'm glad that doesn't stop them trying.

Then I had a conversation with someone last night about how hard it is for humans occupying this planet at this time to envision a different way to live. We only know what we know. He wants to help start the discussion about a better way. Ways we haven't considered. And where is he looking? To science fiction authors, of course.

But even for us, it's a challenge. As I told him, "How do you write alien thought? Or a truly alien alien?" It's very hard and few of us can pull it off. Extrapolating our present into a better future with a healthier planet, people who solve problems together and politics that work can be just as hard. When I thought about examples for him, I kept coming up with examples from current science fiction of how we make it worse, not better. I find it easier to write tragedy. Somehow, the happy endings just seem too implausible. Perhaps I'm not alone.

Identifying the problems and seeing where they're leading is easy. Finding the different path that no one is seeing is the challenge.

I invite my readers to help me come up with examples of plausible, near-future utopias from current works of science fiction - or at least ones plausible to an open mind. Post a comment with your favorites.

Now if only we knew how to open minds…

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pictures and gamer and gadget goodies

I didn't get around to posting these pictures from the book fair. They were taken by Camille Picott's mother. That's Camille with me on the Redwood stage after the Broad Universe reading at the Sonoma County Book Festival on September 24th.

I read "Troll Games".

I never get tired of reading that. It works so well for a short reading because I can read the whole thing - or a slightly abridged version - in three minutes. And it's fun to read with the troll voice and everyone laughs at the ending. I'm seriously considering recording it and putting it on my website for readers to get a tiny taste of my funny side. As I've said before, I write in two flavors: funny or tragic. Occasionally, I combine the two. I love irony!

I've had several game-related press releases lately and thought I'd give them some airtime. Here's some eye candy for the gamers out there.

Gameforge interviewed Star Trek DS9 actors Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys) and Rene Auberjonois (Odo) about their upcoming release of Star Trek Infinite Space. You can view an HD trailer on the its website.

The load-down from Gameforge about its free-to-play online game:
About Star Trek - Infinite Space

Star Trek - Infinite Space is set in the diverse "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" timeline focusing on the looming war with the menacing "Dominion," featuring:

* The first browser-based Star Trek game eliminating the need to download a client

* Advanced Unity 3D technology, delivering rich 3D graphics in the web browser

* Some of the series' most beloved characters and recognizable locations

* Easy-to-pick-up gameplay, and is enjoyable for both casual and hardcore gamers

Star Trek - Infinite Space is slated for a late 2011 release. Players can secure exclusive items and benefits, such as beta key priority, by pre-registering for the game at http://landing.startrek-is.com.

Now this is the kind of thing that makes me wish I had an iPad. I'm just going to have to leave it to my buddies, Allen M. Steele and Greg Bear to tell you how great it is. Bear reviews it at Tor.com. And according to the publicist, Steele endorsed it with, “Journey to the Exoplanets turns your iPad into a starship. What an amazing app!” Here's a peek at what this iPad app from Scientific American in collaboration with Farrar, Straus and Giroux can do.

Finally, this was just way too cool not to share. An invisibility cloak. No. Really. Check it out. First, here's the video.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Winchester Mystery House's Fright Nights - Not for the kiddies

I received an invitation to check out the premiere of the Winchester Mystery House's Fright Nights. I dithered for a while, then justified the expense of the trip by combining it with a trip to see the grandkids in Fremont on the way. But then, who would be my plus one who would want to make that stop on the way? Her Aunt Debbie! We got there around 6:40. Apparently there was some sort of press briefing in front of the house that we were not directed to. I only know from reading the email they sent at 10 AM the day of - over an hour after I left the house. ☹ Oh, well.

We braved the rap and hip-hop blaring in the courtyard to check in at the press/VIP table and headed into the Winchester Room for hors d'oeuvres and drinks. Fortified with Winchester wine, we joined group six for the flashlight tour of the Winchester House. I visited the Winchester House as a girl and remember seeing the brick wall behind the door and the door that led to a two-story drop to the garden below. I didn't see the brick wall Friday night and only saw the closed door to nowhere. I so wanted to see where all the doors led and see the secret passageways. But that apparently wasn't part of the tour.

If you go on the flashlight tour, be sure not to go with a migraine. Imagine being in a dark room with 30 people all shining flashlights everywhere, including, occasionally in your light-sensitive eyes. I didn't have a migraine when I left Sonoma County that afternoon. It came on just in time for the flashlights. ☹

For those unfamiliar with the Winchester story, Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Wirt Winchester, the maker of the Winchester repeating rifle - a revolutionary design. They had one child who died at about 6 months old. After her husband died of TB, the grieving Sarah visited a psychic in Boston. According to legend, the psychic convinced her that the spirits of the people killed by Winchester rifles sought their revenge upon her and her family. The psychic advised her to construct a home, but never stop construction lest the spirits overtake her. She moved west and bought an eight-room, unfinished farmhouse near San Jose.

The Winchester Mystery House, at its height before the 1906 quake, had seven stories of labyrinthine craziness. Her 24/7 construction project transformed the farmhouse into a sprawling 160-room mansion with 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 2 basements, three elevators and six kitchens over the course of 38 years.

Tour guides matter. They really do. Make sure you aren't led by the strapping young Joe. He was unenthusiastic, uninformed and unenergized. And on about four occasions, I asked him a question. The answer was always a variation of "I don't know." I just read a SF Gate blog in which my counterpart had a similarly unfortunate tour guide. Hers was all gush and no substance.

Here's a video if you can't make it to the mansion yourself. These Weird US guys got a better, more inclusive tour.

The rushed tour of the house didn't frighten, but the maze surely made up for that. It was a screamfest. I screamed my fool head off, to the point of hurting my throat. The last good haunted house I'd been through was when I was probably 12 or 13. I don't remember the ghouls jumping directly in front of us or being free to get right in our face. It seemed they could lunge, but not trespass onto our designated path. They could scare you, but not "get you".

Such is not the case on Fright Night. Beware the ghouls that can jump out at you from around any corner or from behind, and totally violate your personal space. Several even followed me down the path for a while. The Curse of Sarah Winchester Maze: Legends Never Die is not recommended for children under 13.

My nerves got so frayed that I told Debbie it was her turn to be in front and be the early warning system when we were about half-way through.