Thursday, June 30, 2011

CA Conventions this weekend

This weekend in once-again-sunny California, we have two big conventions. Westercon 64, The West Coast Science Fantasy Conference, is in San Jose this year. Writer Guests of Honor are novelist Patricia A. McKillip, and Kaja and Phil Foglio (Creators of the Girl Genius graphic novel series).

In LA, we have the Anime Expo 2011. Their GOHs are numerous and include these two designers:

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (May 20, 2011) ­ Fans of the world of anime rejoice as celebrated directors and character designers Akihiko Yamashita and Miho Shimogasa join this summer¹s most anticipated anime, manga and music convention, AM2, this coming 4th of July weekend as official guests of honor. More info can be found at

TOM & JERRY and LUPIN III: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO were two of the most influential animations that brought attention of the world of anime to celebrated anime director Yamashita-san. Yamashita-san has worked as a character designer for GIANT ROBO: THE ANIMATION-THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and ZEGAPAIN, his first directorial work was at the world famous Studio Ghibli animation studio where he directed CHUZUMO. Yamashita-san has gone on with directing some of Studio Ghibli¹s biggest and most known works including HOWL¹S MOVING CASTLE, ARRIETTY, PONYO and the latest film from the studio Š KOKURIKO. Yamashita-san has huge admiration for the works of J.J. Abrams and is an avid "Trekker/Trekkie".

Born in Yokohama, Shimogasa-san loved anime characters such as Susumu Kodai (Derek from SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO aka STAR BLAZER) and decided to become an animator with her first part-time job as a cell painter while still a student. Upon graduating, Shimogasa-san joined the highly recognized anime studio Artland as an animator. Later, she became a freelance animator and has worked on such notable titles including CUTEY HONEY FLASH, KOCCHI MUITE MIIKO, NIGHTWALKER, GOKUDO, GRAVITATION, PSYCHIC ACADEMY, THE PRINCE OF TENNIS, GOOD MORNING CALL, ULTRA MANIAC, POWERPUFF GIRLS Z AND BATTLE SPIRITS: SHONEN TOPPA BASHIN. As an Animation Director, Shimogasa-san directed SAILOR MOON SUPERS, SAILOR MOON SAILOR STARS, SAILOR MOON SUPERS PLUS-AMI¹S FIRST LOVE and also served as Assistant Director in GALAXY EXPRESS 999: ETERNAL FANTASY. An interesting tid-bit of information Š Shimogasa-san¹s name was used to name a twin maid character in DETECTIVE CONAN.

"We are truly blessed and honored to have such amazing anime talent join us this year", states Chase Wang AM2 representative, "having someone from the world famous Studio Ghibli and a celebrated character designer of SAILOR MOON and more is a treat for our fans here in the Southern California area-especially with such a huge fan base of that series! Get your Passports today and experience the difference!"

Attendees can avoid the anticipated huge lines at autographs, premiere screenings, workshops, main events, concerts and panels by purchasing a Passport fast pass for the event. The Passport fast pass will also provide holders with premier seating options at Main Events and at Concert events as well as major discounts with theme parks, retailers and local restaurants.
Bypass the lines and get your Passport today and experience the difference!

Yamashita-san and Shimagosa-san join current Guests of Honors Scandal, Sadie, Kanon Wakeshima, kanon x kanon, heidi., Gashicon, IBI and MINT with more to be announced soon!

AM2 current activities include Exhibit Hall, AMV¹s, Arcade, Summer Festival, World Cosplay Summit, Behind the Voice Actors Studio, Rum Party Pirates, Masquerade, Cosplay Chess, Dances, Fashion Shows, Table Top, Console Gaming, AniMaid Café, AniMaid Café Host Club, Workshops, Panels, Concerts and more!

*end press release*

Go check out Anime Expo's list of directors, industry leaders, voice actors, creators, singers, video game developers, etc.

BIGLOBE sent this press release regarding SUGOI BOOKS' Android app and their presence at Anime Expo.

Tokyo, June 28, 2011- NEC BIGLOBE, Ltd. (BIGLOBE), one of Japan's leading internet service providers, announced today its participation in Anime Expo 2011 (AX), the largest anime/manga convention in North America, from July 1-4, 2011 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. BIGLOBE is the creator of SUGOI BOOKS, an Android-based bookstore application, as well as its dedicated website aimed at the manga community: .

BIGLOBE will supply smartphone devices for demonstrations at booths 813 and 815 during AX, enabling visitors to experience their manga bookstore app firsthand. A cosplay photo contest will also be held at the booths, where participants may win an assortment of prizes.

On Sunday, July 3 from 3PM to 4PM, representatives from BIGLOBE Japan will hold a panel discussion in LP4 to personally introduce this innovative and entertaining application to AX visitors. New comic titles will also be announced, and members of the panel discussion audience will be eligible to win prizes.

To commemorate its presence at AX, BIGLOBE will give away 300 free tickets that can be used to buy manga chapters through Saturday, July 8 at midnight (PST) to anyone who downloads the app and registers an account on SUGOI BOOKS.

Just prior to AX, the website was completely updated. Visitors now have easy access to information about available manga titles, can communicate with other manga fans via Twitter and Facebook, and can find the latest anime and manga industry news. In close contact with its fans, NEC BIGLOBE aims to become the largest manga provider for users of smartphones and multimedia devices.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

News from Rowling and Gaiman

Just a quickie this time. I'm having too much fun in the finally-summer-sun. :)

Neil Gaiman's American Gods comes to HBO in 2013.

And my news is that No Man's Land is no available on Kindle. Woo hoo! Kick-butt sci-fi stories written entirely by women (including Ann Wilkes) and many of them "Broads" (Broad Universe members).

That's all! Have a great Sunday. I'm heading to the beach!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Word fun: mangled, co-opted and brand new words

How many times have you seen a good sentence go bad? As often as you've seen a good word go bad? Perfectly good words are constantly co-opted as slang to mean something completely different. But it doesn't stop there. How long do you think it will be before "I suspicioned" will be correct? Ugh! Let enough people mangle or misuse a word and it becomes morphed to what they intended and the rest of us have to deal. Language has always been organic, but some of it just plain grates on me.

I still bristle about spelling the once-contraction of until ('til) as till, which was formerly ONLY a money drawer in a cash register.

I'm all for making up new words. Procrastinatable (mine), for instance, is an awesome word. But I can't say it's awesome because awesome is a prime example of one of those morphed words. In fact, it devastated the title of Awesome Lavratt, where I meant it in the literal sense. And if you go to sf/f conventions, you'll know what I mean when I say, "contastic!" And elsewhen. Another great word that grew most likely out of science fiction.

I wrote a short, funny essay years ago about writing diseases in which I coined quite a few new words and phrases. They include: diarrhea of the pen, terminal tenacity, descriptitus, starkosis and spelldentia. Feel free to read Common Diseases of Writers.

Has abfab made it yet? Other than the nickname for a British TV series? I use a lot. Does that count? I also use "warm fuzzies" as a salutation on emails and when signing my books. I'm not so sure I want that phrase used that way to get in the dictionary. Then it won't be my special signature anymore.

I'm still waiting for the just-right pronoun for a person of unknown gender. It would come in super handy (notice super?) when referring to an unborn child or a person whose appearance doesn't make its gender obvious. This is becoming an increasing problem today. What if we had a polite word to use that gave the person the opening to let us know without causing them offence?

Here Kieran McGovern (in the Oxford University Press blog) ranks his top ten "young words" to be avoided by those not-so-young. OMG, Awesome!, Dude and Whatever were among them.

I have four adult sons, by the way, and all of them answer the phone with "hey" even though they know it's me. And it's not even a completely articulated "hey". It's more of a grunt. Then one of my sons told me how he and his friends call each other names by way of telephonic greeting. After hearing some examples, I was thankful for the grunt.

I was confused by the last sentence in this CNN article about the additions to the Oxford Dictionary in the March quarterly update. Someone please tell me what the last sentence even means. Do people say "it it" or is that a typo in the article?

I'm guessing it's a typo. The next article I perused (from the Telegraph) had one in the first paragraph. Does anyone proof anymore? This one was more recent than the last, pulling from the OED's June update.

I'm done ranting, but would love for folks to jump on board with their pet peeve new words. And most definitely your favorite new ones. Come on, it will make you feel better!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Freaky Weather: Flash It! winner - "Careless Wishes"

Congratulations to D.E. Helbling on his winning entry in the Freaky Weather: Flash It! contest. I also want to thank all the other writers who participated. I hope you had fun writing your flash pieces and wish you all the best submitting them elsewhere.

Here's what our judge, Paula Johnson, of Rose City Sisters had to say of the entries:

Each of the submitted stories reflected an inventive take on the "freaky weather" theme, but the tale that drew me in the most was "Careless Wishes."

The writer's effective use of dialogue (with just enough Southern patois) revealed both the nature of the main characters' relationship as well as the curious backstory to the action taking place.

While "Careless Wishes" told me everything I needed to know to enjoy its satisfying ending, it made me ponder what the future holds for the characters.

Careless Wishes
by D.E. Helbling

“I’m sorry, son,” she said as I helped her up from her rocker on the front porch.

“Never mind that now, Momma. Let’s get you to safety.” I led her down the steps and across the brown, patchy lawn of the front yard. I whistled for Scruffy, her Jack Russell, as we made our way toward the storm cellar. The sky had grown dark in just a few short minutes. I was fixing to pull the door shut behind us when Scruffy appeared and nudged his way past me. I shoved the heavy crossbar into place and descended the steps into the depths of the shelter. I flicked on the switch for the battery light, and then joined Momma and Scruffy on the tiny couch in the back of the little room.

“I’m so sorry, Billy,” she started again.

“I’m sure you didn’t mean it, Momma. Maybe it wasn’t even you. You know, sometimes storms are just storms.”

“If only I wasn’t so greedy,” she said, shaking her head. She looked grayer, more tired and frail than I’d remembered ... it had been too many months since my last visit.

“Now, Momma, you can’t help wishing for things.”

“Like that scholarship of yours?”

“You didn’t know the kids on that bus were after the same scholarship as me, did you? You didn’t wish that bus into the river. Momma, that was years ago. You gotta let that go!”

“Or your sister’s new husband?”

“Now, come on, Momma. None of us liked Harold, not even me, and I went to school with him. Did you wish Harold into bumping that radio into his bathtub? I know you didn’t wish him into beating up Charlene every time he and Johnnie Walker got together.”

“I’m just saying---“

“I’m just saying, too, Momma. I’m saying it’s all about silver linings. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. OK, so maybe Harold was an exception. But still, sometimes those bad things mean good things for somebody else. If that somebody else is you or me, or Charlene, well, that’s just God evening out the blessings is all.”

The door to the shelter started to rattle and shake, straining against the big iron hinges. The wind howled through the cracks. Momma looked up at the ceiling in surrender. “I think I used up our share of blessings, son.”

“Let’s never mind that mean old storm,” I said. “Say, I know you have some shortbread down here in one of these tins.”

“Over there on the second shelf.”

I found the tin, opened it up, and fished out three cookies. I gave one to her and one to Scruffy. The three of us sat there, nibbling our cookies, while the wind roared above like a train was running over the top of the shelter.

“Still the finest cookies in the county,” I said.

“Or what about that time---“

“Jesus, Momma!” I almost choked on my cookie. “You can’t go on blaming yourself for every little thing that happens.”

“Now let’s not be bandying about the Lord’s name.”

“I’m sorry, Momma,” I said. “But I’m sure Jesus wants you to be happy, just like the next person.”

Scruffy perked up his ears, turned his head toward the stairwell. I started to hear it myself. Plops, first a few, then more, then a thunderous smashing, pounding barrage. “It is surely hailing big time out there, Momma.”

“Oh, my,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t think that’s hail, son.”

The pummeling sound stopped as quickly as it had begun. Now there was no howling wind behind it. We sat in silence, listening for further signs that the storm had really passed. Scruffy decided we’d waited long enough. He bounded up the stairs, barking at the door for us to let him out. I followed him. I put my ear to the door. Nothing but a couple of birds chirping. I slid the crossbar over and shoved on the door. It resisted. I shoved again. Fallen tree limbs, I hoped, though I feared it might be the remains of Momma’s house on the other side of the door.

I shoved again, harder, and the door finally gave way. I stepped out of the stairwell and promptly slipped, my feet flying out from under me as I slid a few feet into the yard. I propped myself back up, my arms wrist deep in dark goo, a mush of red and green and black that seemed to cover the entire yard.

The house, at least, was still standing. Scruffy was running all over the yard, barking wildly, bits of goo hanging from the corner his mouth.

“Oh, my,” Momma said from somewhere behind me.

“Be careful, Momma,” I said. “The ground’s pretty slippery. It looks like the twister dumped a load of silt from the river right here on top of the yard.”

About then the smell of the goo hit me. I raised one hand to my face, gave the mush a sniff. That’s when I saw that some bits of the mush had form. And shape. This one little bit looked like a salamander leg. That bit wasn’t worm, but a trace of tiny intestine. Those round things: little eyes.

“Oh, my, Billy,” Momma said. “Looks like we got us a frog puree.”

I brought myself up to my feet, found a sturdy looking branch poking out from the goo, and brought it over to Momma for a makeshift cane. “What’d you wish for, Momma,” I asked, as we made our way slowly across the yard and up the steps to the front porch.

“Fertilizer,” she said. “That soil around here is so tired, I figured it was due for some kind of ripening up. Good thing.”

I helped her back into her rocking chair and began to pull off her shoes. “Good thing?”

“Good thing I didn’t wish for a new rock garden.”

“Good thing, Momma.”

D. E. Helbling is an engineer, writer, and a native of the Dakotas, now living in Oregon. When he’s not working on strange cryptography projects, he explores fiction, philosophy, paranormal research, and game A.I. software development. He can be reached via email at

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Daybreak Zero and Barnes on system artifacts, apocalypses

Daybreak Zero
by John Barnes
May 2011, Ace

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

With Daybreak Zero, John Barnes continues his post-apocalyptic saga which began with Directive 51. Most of the "Daybreak" disasters have happened already: nuclear bombs, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), nanoswarm – nanotechnology that attacks electronics - and biotes that turn plastics and rubber into odiferous, brown goo. The government is fractured into two when Directive 51 kicks in and the National Constitutional Continuity Coordinator and the acting President he appoints have a difference of opinion on how to proceed during the current crisis. The NCCC wants a military leader capable of bringing the fight to the enemy while the President believes there is no enemy. Daybreak seems to be the result of a system artifact, the propagation of an idea across the Internet and across the globe inciting people to wish to cleanse the Earth by destructive means to "heal" it.

In Daybreak Zero, Heather O'Grainne's Department of the Future sets up shop in Pueblo, Colo. to discover what's behind Daybreak and to help America get back to a semi-industrial society with transportation, communication, and a 1940s or 1950s level of comfort. Meanwhile, the Daybreak followers storm the populated areas like raging bands of primitives bent on destruction and annihilation.

Arnie Yang, an uber-cyber analyst, still believes a system artifact is behind Daybreak and that the ongoing, moon-based attacks are automated.

The country is set to split down the middle or launch into a second civil war with two governments claiming authority. Both sides finally agree to meet to discuss putting the country back together under one government. The talks are delayed when it's learned that some of the negotiating parties have been brainwashed by Daybreak followers.

He could see the watch's lantern glinting half a mile away. I could run and join them and just stay with them till they passed my house. Lots of people do that. But the time to have done that would have been to catch them on Main, in front of the courthouse; no, they'd wonder what had frightened him. They might ask. What could he say?

Deep breath. Walk and breathe like you're going to fight; if it turns out you are, it's one less thing to wrry about, and if not, it calms and clears the—

"Doctor Yang. Doctor Yang, doctus in the doctrine, the indoctrinated doctor."

Arnie spun ne step backward into the space he'd been about to walk into, cross-drew his knives and held them at ready. "I've been expecting you."

Teeth gleamed in the dark under the blanket; the eyes were black blobs around the greasy promontory of the nose. "Expecting to stab me?"

"If necessary." Arnie shifted his weight for a better stance.

Barnes' style, at least in this series, includes quite a few rambling, conversational sentences that seem to derail in the middle, which kind of bugged me, but his excellent gift for storytelling kept me reading. In fact, as I said in my Directive 51 review, I couldn't stop reading to wait for Directive 51 to arrive, so I finished reading it out of order.

I liked Heather's tactile, old-school war-room. And teenage couriers sprint messages to and fro and are tipped with meal coupons. People who used to be obscure hobbyists are new tech leaders making radio tubes, building printing presses, and creating steam and water-powered this and thats.

And castles! Their neo-land-baron owners could pose a threat to the government or be a lesser evil that keeps order in their vicinities.

There were quite a few witty monologues and inner dialogs. I would expect the survivors of the apocalypse to have a good sense of humor. It would be a survival mechanism, right? Anyway, I enjoyed Heather's wit and Cameron Nguyen-Peters' (the NCCC) ironic sense of humor.

This novel provided a good balance between science, politics and the human condition. Barnes' offers believable characters with engaging conflict both external and internal. I look forward to the next book in this series.

Now let's get to know John Barnes.

AW: Can you explain what a system artifact is for my readers?

JB: Actually, I'd love to. The editor and I disagreed about what the basic appeal of the book is (and there was no market research to settle the question), so a lot of my "how it works" material ended up on the cutting room floor. Warn your readers there'll be a quiz after this …

System: in communications, anything where multiple communicators are passing multiple messages over time. That might include networks, like the internet; communities, like small town gossip; discourses, like Shakespeare scholarship; or distribution systems, like mass media.

Artifact: something that arises arbitrarily from the way things work, an emergent property. Classic examples are that our inability to think about more than seven objects at a time, give or take, is an artifact of our brain; the potential for a stalemate is a system artifact of the rules of chess; the discomfort of time at the DMV is a system artifact of the way that our time is structured and the number of clerks and what they are and are not allowed to do.

So a system artifact is a message that doesn't have a single author/speaker/sender within the system, but arises in the interstices of the system. Cars on the highway send and receive messages, but congestion is a system artifact – it's a property created by all the cars, the highway, weather, work schedules, real estate prices, etc. together. A performance of a play is a system artifact – the audience's experience is created by everybody working together, including the playwright who is usually absent, the past experiences and expressions of other artists, and the behavior of the audience. Catholicism is a system artifact produced by the interactions of all the Catholics with each other and with the world around them, and possibly with things beyond this world, depending on whether or not you're Catholic.

Some system artifacts have fairly person-like qualities – hard science fiction, for example, tends to be stern and tough, telling people the world is this way and you can't just have it any old way you like. (Imagine a hard sf novel titled The Cheerful Void or Planet of the Soft Life). Whereas the whole self-help category is relentlessly positive and never-say-die (you'll never see anything on the self-help shelves titled Oh, Get Over It, You Big Baby! or Childish Dreams: How to Know When It's Really Too Late and You Should Just Give Up.) Those personalities of genres, again, are not any one person's conscious decision; they just happen over time, but they're nonetheless real.

Other system artifacts seem to be a relentless overall value or commandment repeated forever – very often we become aware of those when someone finally objects, as with, for example, the Disney Princesses, a complicated message that says girls should be plucky and cute, their fathers are bumbling nitwits, and the whole universe including inanimate objects and singing seafood will unite to bring them a boyfriend, which is the most important thing that a princess can have. There's a system artifact in Christianity that says that people who suffer are good, and one in the American version of democracy that says the lone arguer in the middle of a consensus is a vital resource to be protected, and one in the environmental movement that says energy conservation is nearly always preferable to energy production. Nobody thought those up individually and sold everyone on them; they evolved out of thousands or millions of exchanges.

Still other system artifacts seem to have evolution-like purposes, seeking to be reproduced, mutating to accommodate it. I don' t mean so much the simple ones like tweets with RT in them so much as songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which goes far beyond earworminess and turns into a whole collection of feelings, symbols, words, notes that partly take over the recipient's musical taste ever after; Heinlein juveniles keep trying to reproduce at science fiction publishers despite their dwindling audience (which doesn't include very many young people anymore), partly by constantly waggling the attractors of "this is where many existing customers came from" and "remember how much fun these were when they were new?" which they obviously acquired long after Heinlein wrote the original texts.

Now, a really complex message coming out of a really enormous system – say, two thousand years of Christianity, or a million lines of computer code, or tens of thousands of interactions within a family – can have all three kinds of qualities: a personality, a value, and a reproductive drive. And at that point you have the kind of system artifact I'm talking about – a little like the way some compulsions seem to pass from parent to child, or some religions seem to be more extreme than their own practitioners, or the way that whatever physics is reaching for, it has gotten beyond the comprehension of any individual physicist. But, of course, since this is a science fiction novel, I have it magnified in the imaginary future, increased enormously by the power of the internet and by an improving understanding of what really happens in motivational psychology and brain chemistry.

AW: What sorts of hobbies do you have that would come in handy in your Daybreak scenario?

JB: I enjoy looting, inciting mobs, and leading from the rear. Also, I know the locations of several survivalists I expect to have large caches ready. All right, that's a joke. Sort of. I was an Eagle Scout ages ago, back when you had to earn your own badges instead of having your mommy do them for you. I can cook wild game and have cooked and eaten critters for which I did not have directions. Having worked in theatre tech for many years I can improvise machines pretty well. And I'm not a bad teacher; I could open a school if people would feed me in exchange for teaching.

AW: If you lived in the aftermath of an apocalypse, what would you miss the most?

JB: Whatever was gone; different apocalypses would have different patterns of what was missing afterwards. I'm an old fat guy with bad eyesight, I prefer to live in densely urban areas, and I'd be a sitting duck. Almost certainly, I'd miss civil order briefly and intensely until whatever got me, probably in the first week.

AW: What are you working on now?

JB: At this moment I'm finishing The Last President, the third of the Daybreak trilogy. Then I'll do some finishing work on Losers In Space, a hard-sf YA. My agent is peddling The Wordly Evidence of Grace, a mainstream YA, because Tales of the Madman Underground has done much better than most of my science fiction. In between, I'm working on moving to the self-publishing model; in the grand old ship of publishing, water is pouring into the hold, and I am not going to be the last rat down the hawser.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Raining Good Intentions" - my Freaky Weather Flash

Raining Good Intentions
By Ann Wilkes

Irwin stepped through the door of their modest duplex and wiggled out of his trench coat, carefully avoiding touching its outer parts. "Is this rain or snot?" Then he removed his hat and gloves the same way.

"I don't know why you had to go out in it," called Isabel from the kitchen.

"I told you, I had to get that insurance premium posted today." He listened to make sure Izzy was still in the kitchen and put his pint of whiskey in the bookcase behind War and Peace. He had bought two, but finished the first on the way home.

But you couldn't have thought about that last week when I reminded you to cut the check? Isabel thought, but didn't say. Isabel frowned as she looked at the sign she'd stuck on the fridge that read, "Poor planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part." It was originally meant for the kids, who were now grown and gone.

"Channel 4 news," said Irwin to the entertainment and interaction (EI) wall. The wall shimmered to life with a perky blonde delivering more bad news.

"Scientists have yet to identify the foreign compounds in the rain. People are advised to stay indoors as much as possible and wear protective clothing when outside, even if it's not currently raining."

"Hear that, Izzy? Still don't know what it is." He scratched his stubbly chin.

"You think it's from aliens?" she said, wiping flour off of her hands on an apron as she scuffed into the room. "If the compounds aren't known, they must be new or extraterrestrial, right?"

"I spose. I hope they figure it out soon. I'm getting sick o' bein' cooped up." Irwin was already wondering how he could sneak out for a drink later on. Maybe the rain is harmless. Just slimy. Heck, he thought, scientists tell you something different every time you turn around. Maybe it will be a miracle cure for eczema. He chuckled to himself.

Irwin snuck out for a drink or a bottle every day over the next four rainy days, sometimes forgetting his gloves or hat.


Irwin and Izzy crowded in their living room window craning their necks to see the large, bright light streaking through the afternoon sky. The same newswoman narrated from the EI wall behind them. "Dr. Nora Mirsch at MIT says the object is not of natural origin, and therefore must have been constructed by intelligent beings from outside our solar system. When asked the purpose of the device, she said it is not clear. All astronomers at major observatories agree that its trajectory will just miss both the earth's atmosphere and its gravity well.

"Scientists at NASA and JPL are trying to determine the type and severity of its radioactive emissions."

Irwin fell asleep on the couch that night. Isabel woke him up the next morning. Her face was a pasty grey and her eyes were red.

"What's wrong, Izzy? You sick?"

"I'm dying, you fool! Look at me! That thing in the sky. The news said it was an alien probe leaking radiation."

Then she scrutinized him. He certainly looked hung over, but not sick, she thought.

"How come you're ok?"

"Don't know."

Izzy held her hand over her mouth and ran for the bathroom.

Irwin went to the window. The thick rain fell mercilessly. He ran his fingers through his unruly, greasy hair. He needed a drink. Then he grabbed the windowsill to steady himself. That's it! Must be the booze what kept me well. Maybe the radiation can't attack pickled people. Then he thought of Izzy puking in the bathroom. He'd have to go get enough for her, too.

He donned his raincoat and poked his head into the bathroom. Isabel still sat on the floor facing the toilet. "Izzy, I'm gonna go get you some medicine. Everything's going to be alright."

Isabel looked at him with a kind of defeat in her eyes. She thought he'd finally gone completely nuts. And now he's leaving me alone to die! When she heard the front door close, she leaned against the bathroom wall and wept.

Irwin was surprised that people were out and about. He bought two fifths of the cheapest rotgut at the corner store and headed back out into the rain. He thought he was hallucinating when, as he turned the corner he encountered a couple dancing in the rain without raincoats. And a whole family were in their yard playing in the mud in their underwear. That's it. We're all doomed for sure and these poor bastards have lost it.

When he got to his block, he saw half his neighbors playing in the rain. None had on raincoats and a few had on nothing at all. They were twirling in the rain, reveling in it.

Maybe it's alien mind-control, that muck. And the booze's what spared me. He felt conspicuous in his trench coat and kept his head down. At home, he threw off his coat and rushed to find Isabel. She wasn't in the bathroom. Has she been got at? Was she dancing outside and I didn't see her? He found her on the bed. His heart thudded in his chest. She wasn't moving. He felt her wrist for a pulse. His own pounded so hard he couldn't tell where hers was. At least she wasn't cold. He felt her faint pulse on her fevered neck. Her eyelids fluttered open.

"Izzy?" he held her hand.

"Irwin, the rain."

"What, Izzy? What about it?"

"It's a protection from the radiation. They think the aliens couldn't stop…" she convulsed and coughed blood. He held her and wept as she tried to continue. "…their malfunctioning probe. They…they…the slime…it's for the planet. Protects…" Isabel coughed again. Her eyes rolled back into her head as she collapsed, lifeless, onto the pillow.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Fallen Moon Trilogy - both sides of an age-old struggle

The Fallen Moon Trilogy
Book 1 - The Dark Griffin
Book 2 - The Griffin's Flight
Book 3 - The Griffin's War
by K.J. Taylor
Ace Mass Market Originals 2011

Review by Clare Deming

This trilogy by Australian author K.J. Taylor takes the familiar idea of a human-creature partnership common to many fantasy tales, and twists it into a harsher version of that cliché. The griffins in the world of Cymria aren't domesticated beasts, existing only to serve human masters. Rather, from their point-of-view, partnering with a human brings them more advantages than remaining in the wild. The griffins are intelligent and have their own language, customs, and social structure. Some griffins choose to live in their Eyries among humans, but without ever taking a human partner. The griffins retain much of their savagery, killing or maiming humans when they're threatened. Although it is not socially acceptable in griffiner society, the griffins will even eat humans when they have a chance. The opening chapter of the first book even starts with a griffin, although this is a true wild griffin in the mountains beyond human lands.

Our story begins rather slowly, with the hatching of the dark griffin of the first book's title. It is apparent that this griffin is unusual, but the relevance isn't clear. The heart of the story begins in chapter 3, with Arren Cardockson, Master of Trade in the city of Eagleholm. Arren is a griffiner by accident, since he is of the Northern race from beyond the Northgate Mountains, most of whom have been enslaved by the griffiners and other Southern people. Although Arren was born in Eagleholm, the son of freed slaves, he still suffers discrimination since his black hair and distinctive features make his heritage clear to others. His griffin, Eluna, is the only thing that gives him any status and protection amid griffiner society.

When Arren is not able to restrain Eluna from killing a criminal, he is obligated to pay a debt. Lord Rannagon, Master of Law, offers Arren an alternative to a monetary payment. Arren attempts to hunt down a wild griffin (the dark griffin from the opening chapters) that has been eating farmers and livestock in a distant district. The mission goes badly, and even though Arren is able to use poison to capture the dark griffin, Eluna is killed. Returning to Eagleholm bereft, everything Arren has worked for crashes into ruin about him. The worse his life becomes, the more certain he is that Lord Rannagon has orchestrated it all. At the same time, the dark griffin fights his captors in a parallel struggle as he learns more about the human world.

By the end of the first book, I felt like this novel was a decent effort by a new author, but other than some interesting worldbuilding, lacked anything unique. I was even a bit perturbed by Arren's actions at the end because he appeared to care only for revenge, no matter the cost. However, reading on, I think I misread Arren's attitude at the conclusion of the first book - he wasn't actually aware of the cost until later (which he discovers in the second book).

A quick warning - minor spoilers ahead.

I believe the cover of this mass market paperback edition and the chapter titles did the book a disservice by telegraphing too much of the plot. I mean, since there was a man riding a dark-colored griffin on the cover, I expected Arren and the dark griffin to pair up at some point. This expectation ruined some of the tension through the book for me. Despite the sympathy that I felt for Arren as terrible things occurred, his attitude at the end of the first book caused me to dislike him. If I hadn't had the next book in front of me already, I might not have continued reading. However, as hinted at above, Arren only later realizes what he has done to Eagleholm, and struggles with it as the story continues.

In the second volume, The Griffin's Flight, Arren flees with the dark griffin, now named Skandar. They are outcasts with an uneasy truce, hunted and alone, knowing that they cannot dare to trust anyone. Yet, when Arren rescues a strange woman from drowning, he finds that she has as many secrets as they do. For Skade was once a griffin, but has been cursed by another griffin's magic and is bound in human form. While Arren wanders the countryside, he tries to resist his increasingly evil nature, but cannot avoid causing more death and suffering as he tries to avoid capture.

Eventually Arren encounters enslaved Northerners and finds sympathy among them. His journey leads him further north, seeking a place where he and Skandar can live apart from the harassment of others. Yet in his travels, he realizes that he has the notoriety and power to help the slaves reclaim their homeland. When he is visited by the patron Dark Goddess of his people, Arren cannot refuse her pact, and his fate is bound to that of the North. Arren feels the evil spreading within him, only tempered by a growing love for Skade.

The second and third books also follow Erian, son of Rannagon, as he pursues his father's murderer (Arren). Erian may be annoying, entitled, and naive, but his griffin is knowledgeable and crafty. Together they earn a place in Malvern, the griffiner stronghold in the North. Erian strives to please the Eyrie Mistress so that he will be granted the freedom to search the North for Arren.

The more I read through the second book, the more I started to like Erian. The story let me see the struggle of good versus evil from both sides. While Arren appears to fulfill one side of a prophecy, transforming into the Dark Lord in The Griffin's War, Erian is his opposite, setting out on his own quest in the third book. Yet Arren as the Dark Lord is humanized in a way that we don't usually see. While Arren is growing more ruthless and evil, he still fights for a noble cause - the freedom of an enslaved people. The Southerners are defending their adopted home and their way of life, as well as their lives. Yet in the end, both sides cannot win.

I enjoyed the second and third books more than the first volume because of the way I was able to see both sides of the struggle. It was an interesting experience to have no idea which side would triumph, but also to be unsure of how I wanted it to end. Who should win - good or evil? Maybe it's not always that simple.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Paula Johnson to judge Freaky Weather contest

If you missed it on Friday, I launched another flash fiction contest.

Here's the deal:
I have till Friday to write and polish a flash (under 1K words), speculative fiction story in which freaky weather features prominently. You're going to hold me to it. And for your trouble, I'll post it here Friday, June 10th.

Write one of your own and get it to me at kawilkes AT gmail DOT com by Friday, June 10th and I'll post the winning entry the following Friday (June 17th). Put Freaky Weather in the subject. RTF attachments are fine, or put your entry in the body of the email.

I have a guest judge lined up and may add another depending on the number of entries.

Paula Johnson is the founder and editrix of the Rose City Sisters, a blog that presents flash fiction with a Pasadena twist. By day, she's a copywriter/designer whose client projects include everything from website development to radio spots to book design.

Please visit Rose City Sisters to see what she likes. You can also read my "Your Smiling Face" there. :)

And while you're crusin' the web, you might like to read an interview with yours truly over at Wordshaping. I'm interviewed there by Amber Polo about why I write fantasy (she includes science fiction in her fantasy category).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Freaky, frigid California - Flash it! contest

Freaky weather! I'm still using my heater in JUNE! And I had finally turned my sprinkler system on a couple weeks ago, only to turn it off again because of the RAINS – in JUNE! What happened to sunny California? And tornados? This isn't Kansas! Check out this aritcle article about our frigid, storm-filled state. I feel a story coming on…

I've been keeping up with my blogging, but not my fiction lately. My solution? I'm going to make my blog feed my fiction! I have till Friday to write and polish a flash (under 1K words), speculative fiction story in which freaky weather features prominently. You're going to hold me to it. And for your trouble, I'll post it here next Friday. Free fiction! Can't beat that with a stick.

Want to have even more fun? Write one of your own and get it to me at kawilkes AT gmail DOT COM by Friday, June 10th and I'll post the winning entry the following Friday (June 17th). I will announce the names of my qualified, guest judges next week.

I just lined up two gigs in one day! I'll be reading at the San Mateo County Fair on June 18th and hosting a Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading at the Sonoma County Book Festival in September. I'll post the details soon.

Pauline Baird Jones takes a stab at defining Steampunk, complete with pictures in "Defining the Undefinable" at Novel Reaction.

Realms of Fantasy is celebrating its 100th year! See press release below:

Realms of Fantasy publishes 100th issue

Santa Rosa, CA, May 29, 2011: Kim Richards Gilchrist, publisher of Realms of Fantasy announced today the publication of the magazine's milestone 100th issue.

Realms of Fantasy celebrates 100 issues with an expanded 100 page issue for June 2011

Gilchrist mentioned in her announcement that in celebration of the magazine's 100th issue, the June 2011 issue is 100 pages long with additional fiction and art, more columns, a few surprises and the debut of poetry with work by Ursula Le Guin. The popular column, Folkroots, addresses the subject of fairies.

"We're thrilled and excited to share this issue with fantasy fans. You only get to 100 once and so we've pulled out all the stops," Gilchrist says.

The June 2011 issue of Realms of Fantasy ships to stores this week. It will be available in a digital format from the Realms of Fantasy website on Saturday, June 4, 2011. For more information and a sneak peek at what's in store for the 100th issue, visit Realms of Fantasy online at

And here's a heads up for Manga fans:


Special Discounts Available for 3-Day Passport Holders on Manga, Toys,
Posters, Anime and More! Get your Passports Today and Experience the

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (May 13, 2011) ¬ Attention all manga enthusiasts, this
summer¹s most anticipated anime, AM2, manga and music convention this coming
4th of July weekend will be hosting a liquidation sale for the world-famous
manga giant, TokyoPop, in its exhibit hall with special discounts made only
to Passport holders. More info can be found at

Some of the most popular TokyoPop titles will be made available. Titles
will include both English and Japanese mangas, posters, toys, anime and
more! Special discounts will be provided for 3-Day Passport holders.

³Fans who love manga will be able to take advantage of this amazing
liquidation sale at AM2², states Chase Wang AM2 representative, ³AM2 will be
the place to be with all the amazing guests of honors, concerts, exhibit
hall and other amazing activities for fans and enthusiasts! With five
concerts and the price of a Passport being $45.00, that is $9 a concert!
Where else can you get a deal like that? Get your Passports today and
experience the difference!²

Entrance to the event is free, but attendees can avoid the anticipated huge
lines at autographs, premiere screenings, workshops, main events, concerts
and panels by obtaining a Passport fast pass for the event. The Passport
fast pass will also provide holders with premier seating options at Main
Events and at Concert events as well as major discounts with theme parks,
retailers and local restaurants. Bypass the lines and get your Passport
today and experience the difference!

Current Guests of Honors including Scandal, Sadie, Kanon Wakeshima, kanon x
kanon, heidi., Gashicon, IBI and MINT.

AM2 current activities include Exhibit Hall, AMV¹s, Arcade, Summer Festival,
World Cosplay Summit, Behind the Voice Actors Studio, Rum Party Pirates,
Masquerade, Cosplay Chess, Dances, Fashion Shows, Table Top, Console Gaming,
AniMaid Café, AniMaid Café Host Club, Workshops, Panels, Concerts and more!

Partnerships include Ani.ME. and Cure Magazine

Prize sponsors include Atlas Games, Cosplay Wigs USA, FUNimation, Gaia
Online and TokyoPop.

Follow us on Facebook at:

Follow us on Twitter at:

Also, 25% of all official Passport sales will be donated directly to
Japanese Disaster Relief efforts.

About AM2
Located in Anaheim, California ¬ AM2, established in 2010, is a multi-day (3
days) event with no general attendance/badge purchase requirement and is
aspiring to be a key meeting place for fans that share a common interest in
Asian music, Animation/Anime, and Comics/Manga. Nominal fees are charged
for certain activities that attendees choose to participate in. AM2 will be
held on July 1-3, 2011 at the Anaheim Convention Center in sunny Anaheim,
California. More information can be found at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Directive 51 - Post-Apocalypse, Barnes style

Directive 51
John Barnes
May 2011, Ace paperback

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

John Barnes paints a unique picture of a post-apocalyptic Earth, focusing on the United States, or what's left of it. He poses some interesting questions about what might happen to the chain of succession. Not something we really think about except if the President is assassinated. But what if we lose everyone that's in line for the job?

The main character is Heather O'Grainne, a former FBI agent in charge of the Department of the Future's office of Future Threat Assessment. The DOF is suddenly the most important department in the government as Daybreak unfolds. Daybreak is either a systematic campaign launched by an as-yet-unidentified enemy who is able to coordinate simultaneous, global attacks or a system artifact - an idea that propagates, mutates, adapts and effectively recruits people across the globe to do it's bidding. The obliteration of the centers of defense and commerce cripples civilization in a way that leaves little hope for rebuilding.

Daybreak is about sending the planet back to the dark ages – maybe further. Maybe before it was inhabited by two-legged, thinking beasts. How can you fight an enemy who isn't there? This isn't a light-hearted read to be sure. The scale of devastation is hard to take, but compelling in its originality. Daybreak hits the Earth with bombs the likes of which few have imagined, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), nanoswarm – nanotechnology that attacks electronics - and biotes that turn plastics and rubber into odiferous, brown goo.

In order to orchestrate the huge cast of players and events that span the globe, Barnes uses a devise that seems helpful at first, but soon becomes tedious. Sections of less than a page to two pages are headed with the location, sometimes what it was before Daybreak and the time, often resorting to "about the same time". I found it distracting and choppy.

Barnes' characters and scenes leap from the page. He throws in some very witty inner dialog that not only make the characters come to life, but make them fun to read. A welcome relief amidst all the doom and gloom of the subject matter.

Heather felt the implicit criticism--as Cam had doubtless known she would--in the pit of her stomach. She could feel herself being fitted with the tag that read FAMOUS UNKNOWN IDIOT, the tag that adhered to the officer at Pearl Harbor who saw planes on the new experimental radar and thought they must be a much smaller flight of American planes he was expecting, the intelligence officers who ignored aerial photos of all that Russian construction gear moving into Berlin in 1961, and the FBI administrator who didn't see anything urgent in so many Saudi men with al-Qaeda links taking flying lessons; she could imagine headlines on a billion screens: DOF COP COULD HAVE PREVENTED DISASTER. ...

Heather sketched it out in a few brief sentences--a leaderless, directionless-on-purpose anti-movement, built around the idea that with enough small, self-replicating bio- and nano- sabotage carried out simultaneously, the Big System--the modern world, really--could be taken down so that it never rose again. She took full blame for not alerting people earlier. "Just this morning, Graham Weisbrod himself had to corner me and tell me that we needed to talk to the rest of DoF, and while we were doing that my chief researcher on the project discovered that Daybreak had started."

Heather hooks up with her colleague who's confined to a wheel chair and has a number of high-tech gadgets throughout his body to keep him functioning. This was the hardest thing for me to buy. Not because she's attracted to someone in a wheelchair, but because it's not really clear that they have a connection until she's suddenly ready to attack him. He establishes that they've dated a few times, but nothing about her feelings for him. Barnes wrote her like a guy (in my opinion). Maybe it's that Barnes doesn't clue me into Lenny's charm enough. I need to see what she sees in him to believe she will be so in love with him the next minute.

I enjoyed Barnes' portrayals of three, very interesting leaders: one who is a slave to his ideals; one who quite literally snaps under pressure; and one who seizes his opportunity to lead for the sake of the position, completely ignoring the reality around him and concerning himself only with his new role and the next election in order to keep it. You'll recognize who these characters are when you read the book, which I hope you will. I don't want to spoil it for you. The last third of the book didn't have the zing it should have, but that was my fault for reading them out of order. I received Daybreak Zero, it's hardback sequel, for review and couldn't put it down while waiting for the paperback its predecessor.