Jul 29, 2009

Keeping an Eye On... Chris Roberson

Chris Roberson is the subject of this week's Keeping An Eye On... interview. Unlike my first two interviews, Mr. Roberson has had no problem making the leap to novels, releasing books like Michael Phelps wins gold medals. In 2009 alone, Roberson is releasing Three Unbroken, End of the Century Book of Secrets, and two Warhammer novels. That's 5 books in 1 year! Not to mention the fact that he also dabbles in comics and manages to crank out the occasional short story from time to time. I only wish I could be that creative. I can write an almost humorous interview introduction once a week, and that's good for me. Roberson manages to not only write, and not only to write a lot, but to write a lot and write it well. Hmph.

Creative jealousy aside, Chris's answers are as plentiful as his work so I won't waste any more space.

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

CR: Actually, most recently I’ve been buried under an avalanche of fantasy novels and short stories, the reading I’ve been doing as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards this year. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel (assuming it isn’t an oncoming train), and in another week or so I should be done.

I’m just doing the final rewrites on my next Warhammer 40K novel, Sons of Dorn, which is out early next year, and have written a few short stories the last few months, most notably a piece for Lou Anders’s forthcoming superhero anthology, With Great Power, which was loads of fun to do. Other than that, most of my time this year has been spent writing the scripts for various comic book projects that will be appearing over the course of the next year, all of them for Vertigo Comics. The July issue of Jack of Fables has a guest story from me, featuring the story of how the title character once assayed the role of Lord of the Jungle, and this fall the first issue of a miniseries spinning out of Bill Willingham’s Fables will hit comic shops, Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love. Next spring my new creator-owned ongoing series will debut, I, Zombie, which is being co-created and illustrated by the marvelous Michael Allred.

I’m still doing novels though, of course, and in a few months Harper-Collins’ new Angry Robot imprint will be releasing my secret history novel, Book of Secrets, which is a particular favorite of mine.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) would you like them to read? (This can be for whatever reason you would like)

CR: I’m inordinately proud of my short story “Death on the Crosstime Express,” which manages to hook into nearly all of my different worlds and series (the alternate history Celestial Empire series, the pulp-inspired science fantasy Bonaventure-Carmody sequence, and a few more that only I know about as yet). Anyone that reads and enjoys that story would probably find something that appeals to them in my other stories and books.

SoY: You’ve managed to write novels at an astounding pace for the last 5 years. How do you keep the words flowing without getting burned out?

CR: I think that switching from one series and genre to another from time to time has certainly helped. If a project begins to feel like a slog, I can go and think about an entirely different one for a while until I recharge my batteries. And the discipline that I learned while writing for years with a day job, needing to produce a certain number of pages every day no matter what, means that now that I’m doing it full time it actually seems like a cake-walk (“You mean I have all day to do this?”).

SoY: What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

CR: I love alternate histories, and history in general, and that’s probably related to my attraction to stories about parallel universes. I’ve also always been fascinated by stories that put cultures in contact or conflict that you don’t normally think of as interacting. I’m always drawn to metafictional stories the explore familiar fictional “types” and dig into them to discover what those kinds of characters might actually be like if they really existed. And I love stories that take the biggest, craziest ideas from real science and find the wonder inherent in them, approaching scientific concepts the same way magic is employed in fantasy.

One of the interesting discoveries from my year as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards has been that I do enjoy reading the kinds of stories that I most enjoy writing. And this year I’ve also been gradually coming to the realization that I enjoy writing some kinds of stories more than others. The farther away I move from the things listed in the paragraph above, the less engaged I am, both as a reader and as a writer. The less the world resembles our own, the farther the history is from our history, the less traction I get on a story. Purely secondary world stuff tends to leave me cold, while I can’t get enough of secret histories and things that deal with the intrusion of the fantastic or otherworldly into our own reality.

I don’t know that there’s a handy label to put on the subgenre that I most enjoy, except something clunky like “metafictional secret-historical science-fantasy.” How’s that for a bumpersticker?

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)

CR: I think that every writer thinks that every other writer’s process is insane, to be honest. Mine is particularly strange, though.

Do you know the old adage, “measure twice, cut once”? My approach is more like “measure two hundred times, cut once.” I am obsessive about outlining, and the majority of any writing project is actually spent mapping out in exacting detail in advance everything that the characters will do and say in the course of a story or chapter. Often times I’ll have outlined to the level of paragraph, and know the content of every exchange. By the time I start “writing,” what I’ve produced is something closer to an extremely rough first draft, often times with a first pass at the dialogue already included. But my outlines are always in present tense, and never in the narrative’s “voice,” so the action of writing for me is essentially rewriting my outline in the correct tense and voice. Since I’ve spent so much time working out what happens when, though, when writing I never have to worry about what happens next, but only about how it should sound on the page.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

CR: If I go down, I’m taking everyone else with me!

SoY: Describe your writing style in haiku-form.

CR: Mix science, history,
and reconstituted pulp,
then hijinks ensue.

SoY: Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

CR: It changes from time to time. For years it was “Edenic,” which cropped up at least once in everything I wrote. These days, I’m not sure what the recurrent word is, which is actually worrying, because that means I’m putting it in all the time and don’t even realize it!

SoY: Years ago you were a part of Clockwork Storybook, a writing group that included Fables writers Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges. What were those early days like before your respective careers had taken off?

CR: Well, to be fair Bill already had a career at that point, though he has rocketed to even greater fame in the years since. But Matt and I, who had been classmates and roommates back in college, and our friend Mark Finn, hadn’t really sold much of anything in the way of fiction. So what was it like? Well, we used to meet every week at somebody’s house or apartment, read stories out loud to each other that we’d done since the previous week, rip them to shreds, and spend the rest of the time talking about how the publishing industry was run by blinkered fools who failed to recognize our genius.

Of course, the real problem wasn’t with the publishing industry, at least not in those early days, but with the fact that most of our stories weren’t any good. But we kept at it, gradually became better writers, learned a little humility, and sooner or later we all started selling stories.

We still get together once a year for a week-long writing retreat, which are always one of the highlights of the year. Meeting every week? We didn’t know how good we had it.

SoY: You are approached to write a tie-in novel in an existing (and your favorite) SFF universe. Which universe is it? Do you take the offer?

CR: Actually, having written tie-ins for Star Trek and X-Men to date, I’ve already gotten to play with some of my favorite fictional universes from childhood. There’s probably still a seven-year-old inside me who would wet himself if offered the chance to write a Star Wars book. But honestly, at this point in my life? My favorite SFF universe is probably The Venture Bros, and a tie-in novel seems like a long-shot.

One of the guiding principles of my writing, actually, is to identify what I loved about other people’s work growing up, and figure out how to capture that same frisson in my own universe.

SoY: What advice do you have for struggling writers? What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

CR: Well, there’s craft advice, and career advice, but it basically boils down to this.

  1. Read everything you can get your hands on.
  2. Write constantly, and finish what you write.
  3. Submit what you write to paying markets.
  4. When rejected, immediately submit to another market, and send a new submission to the market that just rejected you.
  5. Rinse, and Repeat
If you follow those steps, over and over and over again, sooner or later you’ll start placing stories with paying markets. It could take weeks, months, years, or even decades, but if you continue to work at improving your writing ability, continue to churn out finished stories, and continue to submit those stories to market without pause, you’ll break in eventually.

I realize that I should have a caveat at this stage, and point out that I’m talking here about short stories, not novels, but there’s a reason for that. It is much easier to sell a short story than a novel, and much easier to sell a novel once you’ve sold a few short stories. (Which is the point in these discussions when others always helpful point out all of the writers who have sold their first novels without ever selling a short story. Granted. It is possible to break in with a novel, but somewhat rare and extremely difficult.)

As for self-publishing, I don’t recommend it. I did it, as did all of the other members of Clockwork Storybook, and the lesson that we learned was that unless you already have an audience for your work built-up, you very likely won’t be able to sell more than a handful of copies. Are there exceptions? Of course, there are those rare stories of people who self-publish a novel or story collection and sell huge numbers. But for every one of those exceptions, there are thousands of writers who self-published and sold five copies to their friends and family. Don’t do it.
If you build up a significant audience, though, through a high-traffic blog or by being first published by major publishers? Then maybe give it a shot. But until then, I say give it a miss.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

CR: I’ve read loads of stuff this year, as I said, but the ones I’ve probably enjoyed the most were Daryl Gregory’s Pandemonium, Cherie Priest’s Fathom, Kage Baker’s House of the Stag, Terry Pratchett’s Nation, Jeff Ford’s The Shadow Year, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The best short stories were definitely John Kessel’s “Pride and Prometheus” and Daryl Gregory’s “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm.”

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

CR: Why yes, there is, as a matter of fact. At chrisroberson.net there are scads of free stories to read, and a blog I update (mostly) daily with amusing videos I’ve found online and ruminations about old action-figures, cartoons I like, and superhero comics.

I warned Chris I would use the unicorns if he didn't suggest some pictures. I wasn't bluffing. Let that be a lesson to you all.

But I'd like to thank Chris again for responding to my questions. I encourage anyone looking for a new author to read check out his books even though it's pretty clear he's doing pretty well all on his own.

G is for Good Books?

Whoever is making the book deals at Angry Robot must have watched a little too much Sesame Street when they were little. Over at their website, there are two new author announcements for Guy Adams and Gav Thorpe. This is after last month's announcement featuring Matt, Mike, and Maurice.

Here's the key pieces of information from the PR (you can read the whole thing at their website):

(Regarding Guy Adams): Now he’s moving into original fiction, with a pair of novels starting with THE WORLD HOUSE. Frankly, we were sold by the summary: “In a room is a box. In that box is a door. Beyond that door is a house. And in that house is a whole world.” The story comes to life when characters from different parts of the real world, and from different times, find themselves trapped within the World House – and not all will escape its secrets. We’ll bring you this extraordinary modern fantasy in February 2010, with its sequel, RESTORATION, towards the end of the year.

I'd agree with Angry Robot that it's certainly a interesting premise. I would need to read a little before I was willing to buy anything however. Does anyone else read the description and think of the Futurama episode where there is a box in universe A containing universe B, and a box in universe B containing universe A?

(Regarding Gav Thorpe): Aaaand in two, it’s GAV THORPE, popular author of bloodsoaked fantasy sagas under the Warhammer banner, now moving into original fiction with a truly epic historically tinged fantasy trilogy, THE CROWN OF THE BLOOD. Tipping a helmet to the decline of the Roman empire and the conquests of Alexander the Great, this sweeping tale looks at what happens when a great general realizes that he’s conquered all there is to conquer, and sets his sights on returning home – only to discover that the empire he has helped found is rotten to its very core. Massed battles, political mayhem and some truly startling priests, it’s a genuinely original retooling of what makes fantasy great. Volume one, itself called THE CROWN OF THE BLOOD, will be published by Angry Robot at the start of Summer 2010.

Bloodsoaked fantasy is always fun. But it's also fairly prevalent so it will be interesting to see what Thorpe has in mind to establish himself from the other books out there. I do like the Roman Empire angle though, it's much more promising than Farmer Finds Sword, Realizes Destiny, And Kills Ulitmate Evil. There is also no hint of magic (other than what may make the priests "startling") so the fantasy world might be more GRRM than Tolkein or Jordan for those mage-haters out there.

Either way, congrats to both Gav Thorpe and Guy Adams!

And for Angry Robot, when are you buying the "P" authors? I need to know when I should send in my manuscript that I haven't even conceived an idea for yet.

Jul 27, 2009

Covering Covers: Darker Angels

I was looking through my Amazon Wishlist's today at upcoming books and I saw that a certain book had updated it's cover profile. To quote M.L.N. Hanover (a.k.a. Daniel Abraham):

"I've seen the cover for the second book, and lemme tell you, it's totally going to fail for you too."

FTW! or is it FTL? We've got the Improbable TopTM, the Tramp StampTM Wrap-Around Edition, and the Deadly ObjectTM. Plus Leather! Who doesn't wear leather? In New Orleans?

I must say though, knowing that I'm going to read this book regardless of the cover makes the Epic TropeFail of this cover almost entertaining. It's laughably bad. The sad thing is that it's actually not that bad for a Urban Fantasy cover.

I expect the story will more than make up for the travestacular cover, just like Hanover's 1st offering, Unclean Spirits, did.

Matthew Stover to Write GOD OF WAR novel

Over at Rob's Blog o' Stuff Rob has mentioned that Matt Stover will be writing an adaption of God of War. While Suikoden is obviously the greatest video game of all time, God of War is a pretty good one, and with an author like Stover on the case, the tie-in is one I might check out.

I wonder whether it will comprise all of the God of War games (the third of which will come out this winter I believe) or just the first one.

Jul 26, 2009


Just a heads up, I'm still here. Been doing a lot of non-review reading related to the Keeping An Eye On series, particularly some short stories from various authors. While I'm using the stories to inform the interviews, I've decided not to review them for various reasons. I may review some of their debut novels as they are released, however.

But on the positive note, I've got through most of the stuff I was trying to read and I should be back on track with a normal series of reviews, the first of which should be Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock, which was released earlier this summer.

Other books in queue
Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold
Mike Carey's Dead Men's Boots
C.C. Finlay's Traitor to the Crown Trilogy
Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box
Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule Trilogy
Troy Denning's Abyss (Star Wars)
Paul McAuley's The Quiet War

Which book/books should I pick up next off this list?

Jul 23, 2009

Congrats to Laird Barron

Just a quick note, Laird Barron (who happens to be one of the authors that I'm Keeping an Eye On has sold a collection and DEBUT NOVEL to Night Shade Books.

Throughout the interview process, I've noticed that many of these "future genre stars" are at that critical first novel point in their careers. Some have a few books out, some are still shopping them to publishers, and some are still making the transition from short story. This is a huge deal for any developing author so I'm sure Laird is ecstatic. Here's Laird's announcement:

I am proud to announce that my agent Brendan Deneen has sold my second collection and debut novel to Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade Books. These will appear in October 2010 and summer 2011 respectively.

The collection is titled OCCULTATION and is introduced by Michael Shea.


Introduction: Michael Shea
The Forest
Six, Six, Six
The Lagerstatte
Catch Hell
The Broadsword

"Six, Six, Six" and --30-- are orginals. Two of the stories are in the vein of Lovecraftian dark fantasy. The rest are occult and psychological horror pieces. In many ways the collection is a departure from THE IMAGO SEQUENCE. The book clocks in at about 90k, so it's leaner than the first one.

The novel is called THE CRONING. It's kind of like ON GOLDEN POND, if Henry and Jane Fonda were preoccupied with black magic, machetes, and cosmic horrors. This one is still underway with an estimated delivery date of July 2010.

Definitely sounds interesting. Lovecraftian is always fun and who doesn't enjoy a good occult story as long as it's not happening to you. The only downside is 2011! That's not tomorrow.

Head over to Laird's livejournal and congratulate him.

Keeping an Eye On... David Moles

In this weeks installment of Keeping An Eye On... David Moles was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding what he has been writing recently and what you need to know about him as an author. He even provided genuine Japanese characters (not sure what they say) for his writing style haiku. Hopefully he refrained from anything offensive.

David Moles has had short stories published in several magazines including Strange Horizons, F&SF, and Asimov's as well as a few original anthologies, including the most recent Eclipse anthology from Night Shade Books. His work has also been reprinted on a frequent basis in the range of Year's Best SFF Antholgies published in the last few years. David Moles was nominated to the list by the likes of Johnathan Strahan, Niall Harrison and Gardner Dozois mostly for on the potential represented in his short work. I've only read a little of Moles work due to a lack of novels and/or anthologies but he provided plenty of places for me to jump on the bandwagon.

SoY: So, if we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

DM: Lately I've been stuck in novel hell. The near future is looking pretty grim, but late this year or some time next my novella "Seven Cities of Gold" should be out from PS Publishing. It's an alternate history, post-9/11, post-Katrina Conrad / Coppola homage about a Japanese relief agency doctor going up the Mississippi through a war between invading European Muslims and mestizo Catholic indigenes. If Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois get the green light for a The New Space Opera 3, I might have something for that, too -- if I can extricate myself from this novel in time.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) would you like them to read? (This can be for whatever reason you would like)

DM: That depends on the reader. "Planet of the Amazon Women", on Strange Horizons and "Finisterra", in F&SF give a pretty good idea of what I'm about as a writer, I think, or what I've been about up to this point. But I'd like "Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom", from Eclipse 2, to find more readers, particularly Gen X and younger readers who (like me) grew up post-cyberpunk.

Readers with short attention spans should dip into the "Irrational Histories" I wrote a few years ago -- there's only nine of them and none is more than a thousand words long.

SoY: Describe your writing style in haiku-form.



SoY: To date you haven’t published any full-length novels but you have written several excellent shorter works. Will we see a full-length novel from you some time soon? Or perhaps a small press anthology?

DM: I'd like to answer yes to the first question. I have a novel I'm working on, a loose sequel to "Planet of the Amazon Women", but after getting to 70,000 words a couple of years ago, I've been stuck in rewrites ever since. Sooner or later I will extricate myself.

As for the second question, I have enough material to fill a collection, I suppose, but I'm not sure I'd want to just throw everything in there. Maybe when there's a bit more to select from -- and an editor who's enthusiastic about doing the selecting.

SoY: What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

DM: I keep hoping that one day I'll find a doorstop fantasy I can enjoy as much as I enjoyed Eddings and Feist when I was fifteen, but so far no luck. It looks like being fifteen may have been a crucial part of that experience. I may yet write one some day, though.

I have a love/hate relationship with space opera, broadly defined -- with exploding spaceship fiction in general. I grew up on stories from the 60s consensus future history, our Glorious Future in Space, mercantile interstellar civilizations exploring and colonizing and turning themselves into colossal galactic empires -- Asimov's Foundation, Niven's Known Space, later C.J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe. Le Guin's Ekumen. Even the New Wave guys like Delany believed in it for a while; I think Ballard was the only one prescient enough not to. I still read and enjoy the occasional Iain Banks or Alastair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, and I guess some of what I write is in the British New Space Opera tradition -- but I don't think I believe in those futures any more. If you read between the lines of stories like "Finisterra" or "The Third Party" you can see the special pleading, me making excuses to myself.

I admire the near-future madness of Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling, but I'm not clued-in enough to the contemporary world to write it. Maybe some day, if I quit my day job.

I'm also a huge admirer of what I have no choice but to call infernokrusher fiction -- which I would hazily and negatively define as slipstream that can't be pigeonholed as contemporary fantasy, and that lacks the 80s, Thomas Canty baggage I (probably unfairly) associate with interstitial. Stories like Meghan McCarron's "Tetris Dooms Itself" or Alice Sola Kim's "We Love Deena", that combine a lit-fic, post-Raymond Carver engagement with raw human feeling and a Dada bricoleur willingness to take from anywhere and work with anything, subgenre pissing matches be damned. George Saunders with a heart, Aimee Bender with a knife. I don't have the necessary courage or spontaneity for that, yet.

SoY: You’ve been blogging over on chrononaut.org for several years. How do you balance blogging with writing that you don’t intend on publishing for free?

DM: Blogging and writing fiction are very different head spaces and very different physical processes for me. Writing fiction mostly happens on paper, in cafes, in the morning. Blogging mostly happens at home, at night, or over my lunch hour. There are occasional exceptions, but in general, I find blogging -- for me -- has a lot more in common with answering email or even just surfing the web than it does with fiction.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)

DM: My physical writing habits are pretty basic. Weekdays, before work, an hour (give or take) in a cafe with a notebook and pen. (Rediform 8x10 narrow-ruled, spiral-bound for preference -- at least when I can't get Japanese stationery -- and any gel-ink roller that won't bleed through the paper.) Weekends, type up the week's product. I don't think anyone would have a real problem with those, though I know plenty of folks who won't write longhand and go straight to the keyboard.

My conceptual writing habits are maybe a little more idiosyncratic. I have a lot of friends who write to find out what happens next, who say that if they knew what was going to happen before they wrote it they'd lose interest. Me, I need to know what's going to happen before I can write it -- I don't write to find out what happens, I write to tell what happens to other people.

The down side of that is that I have to know what happens, which can be tricky. And if I decide partway through that I'm wrong about what's happening, there's a lot of backtracking to do. I like to think this is saving me time in rewrites, but I could be deluding myself. It's worked well for me up to about 20,000 words, but it may not scale much farther.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

DM: Neurological trauma resulting in damage to the arcuate fasciculus with concomitant associative aphasia, and/or chronic generalized idiopathic disenchantment.

"Nominate" implies a power I don't have and probably wouldn't want. Among writers I know who aren't on that list, I'd vote Meghan McCarron and Alice Sola Kim -- mentioned above -- as most likely to shake up the place. If they don't, it'll be because the world beyond the genre walls got to them first and made a better offer.

I'm also surprised -- looking at the list again -- not to see the name of Christopher Rowe. He's been quiet since "The Voluntary State" was up for the Nebula a few years ago, but he's got a couple of books coming out and I think when they do folks will pay attention.

SoY: What will the short fiction marketplace look like in 5 years?

DM: Like the poetry marketplace 5 years ago, only without the academic support.

SoY: Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

DM: If I have one, someone will have to do some frequency analysis and tell me what it is. Out loud, I use too many basicallys. On paper, I suspect my tics have more to do with sentence structure and rhythm.

I bet I use "some" more than most people, though. And "maybe".

SoY: Rumor has it you were once formally censured by the SFWA. Care to elaborate?

DM: So, you may have heard about Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis during the Hugo ceremony at the Anaheim Worldcon in 2006. (If not, google "Harlangate".) A number of people who should have known better said some indefensible things in Harlan's defense. I made a blog post excerpting and linking to some of these.

As it happens -- I suppose it's not accidental -- the venue for many of these indefensible defenses was the SFF.net SFWA Lounge, a closed newsgroup accessible only to SFWA members and known for studied unpleasantness. Suffice to say that to a lot of SFWA veterans, my breaking the SFWA code of silence by reposting from a closed newsgroup was much worse -- and much more worth talking about -- than anything Harlan might have done, or anything the Anaheim incident (and reactions to it) might highlight about sexism and sexual harassment in science fiction.

That I wasn't expelled from SFWA outright is thanks to then-SFWA president Robin Bailey, who fought the rest of the SFWA board to get my expulsion reduced to censure -- a new process that had to be invented for the occasion.

SoY: You get to choose a single SF/F author (can be living, dead, or zombie) to write one additional book. Who do you choose and why?

DM: Roger Zelazny. Of the great SF writers who died before I got into the field, he's the one I most regret not having the chance to meet. He died in 1995, having not written a standalone, solo novel in more than a decade. I like to think that if like so many of his characters he were to be resurrected, he'd write a good one.
Dead writers aside, I'd like to finally see Samuel Delany's The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities; and if Maureen McHugh could be dragged away long enough from the alternate reality game industry, I'd like to see any new novel of hers at all.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

DM: You're lucky, this year I've actually been keeping track . (I'm a couple of months and seven books behind on the posts, though.) I'd say the best so far is Jeff VanderMeer's Finch, which I was lucky enough to read in advance electronic copy, but for which the rest of you will have to wait till November or so. He asked me to write a blurb for it, and I gave him a selection for his publisher to choose from.

Here's one:

"Finch is a revolution disguised as a police procedural, an unholy wedding of hard-boiled Hammett noir and Ballardian catastrophic landscape, presided over by the ghost of Philip K. Dick."
Sounds worth reading, doesn't it?

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

DM: My website, bibliography included, is at http://www.chrononaut.org/, and my blog is at http://www.chrononaut.org/log/. If there's news, it'll be there.

I'd like to thank David for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. I'll definitely keep an eye out for his work in future Best Of anthologies and hopefully David will send me an update when Seven Cities of Gold is available from PS Publishing. I'm catching up on a ton of reading right now but I hope to have some reviews up of selected stories from both David as well as Ted Kosmatka.

2 down, 19 to go. Come back next week for Part 3.

Jul 21, 2009

A Discussion with Daniel Abraham

As anyone who has been following my blog is undoubtedly aware, I’ve recently reconsidered some of my bias toward certain types of Urban Fantasy books, thanks in a large part to author Daniel Abraham. After some back and forth discussions via e-mail, Mr. Abraham agreed to answer a few questions about his new Urban Fantasy series (Black Sun’s Daughter) and his opinions on the subgenre in general.

SoY: What’s in the future for Jayne? Is there a set story arc with a defined conclusion or is her future fairly open-ended at this point?

DA: One of the things that was really hard about writing Unclean Spirits is that about half the things happening in it aren't what they look like. I have a very clear idea where Jayné's headed. I know the last scene of the last book. I know some of the things that need to happen to her between here and there. I know the secrets about herself and her past that she needs to confront. I'd like the series to read kind of like watching a season of Buffy. Some books stand alone, some are part of a larger arc story, with all of it coming together at the end. I'm aiming toward ten books right now, but it could be more or fewer, depending on the market.

I'm one of those folks who thinks that the best stories end. If I get to actually go through my whole plan, the story we started in Unclean Spirits will definitively end.

SoY: Black Sun’s Daughter is somewhat late to the game in the Urban Fantasy market. Why should readers pick up your series instead of the some of the more established series out there?

DA: In part because it isn't an established series. Someone coming to the genre new doesn't need to track down the previous twenty books in a series. Or, for folks who've already read all those, Unclean Spirits is a slightly different take on the material.

Plus, it's got bones in parasitology and fringe Christian theologies. How much fun it that?

SoY: Many Urban Fantasy series start off with the protagonist already within the world of the weird. Why did you choose to start Black Sun’s Daughter where you did?

DA: There are advantages and disadvantages in both strategies. If you start with the protagonist knowing the score, you can dive straight into the action and the story of the individual book. But then you have to go back and backfill a bunch of the details of the world, and that's awkward. If your heroine knows all about vampires -- how they work, what their vulnerabilities are, that if you poke them in the neck with the Cross of St. Christopher, they break into showtunes, whatever rules set the book uses -- you still have to find a way to tell the reader all the things she knows. By having Jayné come into the supernatural world fresh, the reader learns about it along with her. All I need to do is make sure it moves fast enough that she doesn't seem dim. *You* know she's in one of those books with the tattooed girl on the cover, but *she* isn't aware of that. So you, as the reader, know more than she does. My job is to catch her up to you in a way that's still fun to read.

SoY: Based on the quality of Unclean Spirits, it appears you are well read in the genre. What are some of the tropes that annoy you most in Urban Fantasy and what did you set out to do when you started writing Urban Fantasy.

DA: Oh, there's a hell of a question.

Without naming names, there are a lot of traditions within urban fantasy that I find very problematic, some of which I've done in Unclean Spirits. The confusion of empowering women and weaponizing them. The "powerful" woman who is acceptable because the power was forced on her; God forbid any of these people have ambitions. There is a really great analysis of what the genre is about at:

Carrie's Analysis of Urban Fantasy: Part 1 (The Formula)
Carrie's Analysis of Urban Fantasy: Part 2 (When Things Go Wrong)
Carrie's Analysis of Urban Fantasy: Part 3 (Deconstructing Urban Fantasy)

And yes, the Black Sun's Daughter books are supposed to be both a bunch of entertaining adventures with characters we all grow to love and admire, and also my response to the things I think are unhealthy about this setup.

SoY: Why did you pick a female protagonist rather than a male? What were the biggest difficulties in writing a cross-gender perspective?

DA: For me, urban fantasy started with Laurel K. Hamilton's Guilty Pleasures and season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's certainly broadened out since then, but that core conversation about the problematic relationship between women and power is what turns my crank. So when I took a swing at it, it just made sense to me that I'd start out with something that looked like the things that got me started on it. Plus which, I always wanted to write the Hellblazer comic book by killing off John Constantine and putting in his niece, Gemma Masters, investigating his life and death. Jayné really got her start there.

SoY: Similiarly, your past work in the Long Price Quartet has been described at times as “feminist”. Are there some larger themes that you like to address across even series boundaries?

DA: Anything I write is going to come out of my head. I don't have an overt political agenda or anything like that. But between being on the one hand skeptical of the traditional limits we put on ourselves because of our genders and on the other wanting to write believable characters, I think there's a kind of intellectual and psychological common ground anything I do is going to have. Just by default.

SoY: The cover to Unclean Spirits is guilty of several sins of stereotypical Urban Fantasy covers. You’ve got a female with her back to the reader, complete with lower back tattoo. She’s also holding a dagger which I don’t remember from the book. What are your feelings on the lack of cover diversity in the sub-genre? What would you like to see in the future?

DA: The covers of any book is supposed to do one thing: sell the book. I knew pretty well how the book was likely to be marketed when I wrote it, and you'll notice that, for instance, I gave Jayné a tattoo on the small of her back. It was going to be there anyway. Might as well make it matter in the plot.

I have to say I like the cover of Unclean Sprits better than you do. It does the two things I wanted it to do: it said this was an urban fantasy book (or as I often describe it "the books with the girl looking over her shoulder with improbable top and the tramp stamp tattoo") and it got people to pick up the book.

In the future, I would like to have more covers that do both of those things. It's less important that the images be illustrations of the literal story than that they set the right expectations for the readers and talk people into picking up the book. The thing I actually like best about the cover of Unclean Spirits is the spine of the book. They have a little square with Jayné's face in it. It's high contrast, it's a face, and it's on the spine so it shows even if the book is spine out. As a piece of design, it's just sweet.

SoY: What was your reasoning behind writing Unclean Spirits behind a pseudonym?

DA: It turns out I have no hesitation in picking up pseudonyms. I know some people do. I'm just not one.

I wanted to do this under a different name for a couple of reasons. First, it's such a different project from the Long Price books that anyone picking up Unclean Spirits expecting it read like An Autumn War would be disappointed no matter how good the new book was. It's like forgetting that you ordered a Coke, and expecting iced tea. It can be a really great Coke, but as iced tea it's just *wrong.*

SoY: M.L.N. Hanover is both gender neutral and conveniently positioned between Lauren K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris, arguably two of the most prominent (and female) Urban Fantasy writers in the market today. Who made the decision to choose the name M.L.N Hanover

DA: MLN was my choice. The gender neutrality was a big part of it. I've had several people write to me or leave comments on the blog that they wouldn't have picked up the book if they'd known I was a guy, but having read it, they liked it.

As far as the placement on the shelf . . . well, one of the things I've learned as Daniel Abraham is that people don't browse in alphabetical order. I think the middle of the alphabet is a more likely place to get picked up at random than the folks up in the As and down in the Zs. The placement between Laurell K Hamilton and the Charlene Harris/Kim Harrison complex is either a blessing (because I have books kind of like theirs close to where they are) or a curse (because my one little book is getting swamped by the shelves and shelves and shelves of other people's more popular titles). I'll tell you how that plays out when I know.

SoY: In a recent interview, Ginjer Buchanan (editor-in-chief for Roc and Ace) said they were receiving too many Urban Fantasy manuscripts. Has Urban Fantasy reached its saturation point? How long do you forsee the golden age of Urban Fantasy lasting?

DA: I've been proclaiming the End of the Golden Age of Urban Fantasy for about ten years, and I've been wrong the whole time. I don't think it's reached its saturation point because people keep buying it. That popularity has the seeds of its own destruction. If writers and publishers start thinking of this as an easy-A kind of genre, we'll be in trouble. When we as writers stop turning out good stories, readers will stop reading them.

SoY: Ignoring sales figures, who is writing at the top of the Urban Fantasy market today? Who should we be reading?

DA: You may have picked up on the fact that I'm a Carrie Vaughn fan. She reads like fluff, but she's doing some of the most interesting, subversive work in the field. I think Patricia Briggs is also doing some things I find interesting. I want to see how they play out over the next few books.

Branching out from my particular project, Mike Carey's Felix Castor books are great, and Diana Rowland (full disclosure: she's a friend of mine) is doing some fairly mind-bending work putting paranormal romance together with police procedural. Diana is both an ex-cop and a long-time serious fangirl, and the combination makes for some really interesting writing.

That’s all for now but I’m definitely interested in continuing the Urban Fantasy discussion and potentially expanding it if some other authors are interested in joining in. I’d also like to express my thanks to Mr. Abraham for both initiating this dialogue and taking the time to provide some insight on the state of the sub-genre. There are a lot of authors who write well but can’t take criticism well or shouldn’t be allowed to speak in public and there are the nicest authors in the world whose books just plain suck. Daniel Abraham has proven to be an author who impresses both on and off the page and one I will continue to support where possible.

I’d encourage anyone who enjoyed this to comment and let me know and if there are any Urban Fantasy related topics that you would like to see discussed in future interviews with genre authors.

Jul 19, 2009

YetiReview: Unclean Spirits

21 Words or Less: An Urban Fantasy offering that doesn’t try to reinvent the genre but is so well written it doesn’t need to.

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Good: Excellent Urban Fantasy, great characters I want to see more of, natural dialogue, fast-reading prose.

The Bad: The cover, some gender specific details are jarring, a few “paranormal romance” tropes, the cover

Unclean Spirits is the debut novel in the Black Sun’s Daughter series. The story itself is simple: Jayne Heller inherits her uncle’s fortune and accepts his legacy as well, setting out to finish the job he died attempting and to kill the man responsible for his death. We get the typical cast of characters complete with questionable loyalties, mysterious pasts, and more than a hint of sexual tension.

Sounds like a typical Urban Fantasy book, right? In some respects it is; Unclean Spirits doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground. But what it lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for in quality. There’s a lot of Urban Fantasy books out there, some good, some bad, most falling somewhere in the middle. Unclean Spirits reads like Hanover/Abraham consumed everything he could, both good and bad, really thought about what worked and what didn’t, and then sat down and wrote a novel. There’s angst without being whiny, humor without being cliché or punny, inter-character chemistry that is subtle and natural. The bad guys don’t summarize their plots while waiting for the characters to recover and there isn’t a leather trenchcoat with bottomless pockets of just the perfect solution for the situation at hand. All of the characters are interesting and mysterious enough to want to see more. Unclean Spirits is everything that’s right with the genre with almost none of the wrong.

Abraham makes it look easy. The dialogue feels realistic, like something you might actually hear real twenty-somethingse say while moving the story quickly along with a “show don’t tell” style that is a lot more rare than you’d think. Like most Urban Fantasy, the story is very character driven and my enjoyment of the book really stemmed from their interactions. All of the characters worked as they were really written but I felt like Midian really stole every scene he was in. His dark humor and calm collectedness really complemented Jayne’s gradual entry into the world of “riders” and magic. His aptitude for cooking and poker prowess were also brilliant touches, a natural result of two hundred years of life experience.
In the end, the dialogue, the characters, and everything else really worked well together, making Unclean Spirits a fun, fast read that was well worth my time.

The only grievances I had with Unclean Spirits were more on my end than on Hanover’s/Abraham’s. The story is written from a first person perspective and in most FP narratives, it’s extremely easy to get into the main character. Unclean Spirits is no exception. There's nothing wrong with that but Jayne’s a woman. I’m not. The only problems arose when there was a distinctly feminine detail that I couldn’t identify with. For example, at one point, Jayne is picking out some clothes and realizing that none of her shirts would hide any of her clean bras. That’s not a problem I’ve ever had. Now there isn’t anything wrong with these details, they just made the book occasionally (and it’s very very occasionally at that) jarring for me as a reader, compounded by my awareness that it was a male writer writing a female perspective. But again, this was my issue as a reader not a problem with Abraham’s/Hanover’s writing. In much the same way, I had a few problems with the pace at which some of the relationships in the story developed. They were a little fast for me, but again that’s my own personal bias. It’s most likely not an issue for most readers.

I also had some minor qualms with how the magic system (and Jayne’s seemingly innate abilities) were’t fully fleshed out in Unclean Spirits and some of the character back stories remained untold. These aren’t necessarily bad things as I’m sure these details will come to light in future volumes. While Abraham/Hanover probably could have provided more detail, the results might have felt forced or unnatural especially considering that no one was fully aware at the full extent of Eric Heller’s work before his death. Again, it boils down to the Show don’t Tell writing philosophy that Abraham deftly utilizes. Not to mention that the hints at a deeper story leave the reader looking forward to the next volume. I know I am.

As I mentioned in my apology earlier, the first book was a gift from Mr. Abraham. I’ll definitely be buying the next one myself.

Jul 18, 2009


Oh Fox. You just can't do something right, can you?

Give Firefly a shot, and then show the episodes out of order...
Renew Dollhouse but give Sarah Connor Chronicles the axe...

And now this?

Apparently, Fox is looking for new voice talent to replace Fry, Leela, and Bender among others. Seriously? You give us more Futurama and then chop out the soul of the show?

A casting call has gone out for voice actors for the roles normally voiced by John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West and Katy Sagal. Besides the big 3, their roles also include Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, Zap Brannigan, Mom, and Kif.

Those are some pretty important roles that are responsible for the majority of the best lines. Not to mention all of the tertiary roles that the characters voiced, characters recognizable to the fans who've worn out their DVDs over the past few years such as Morbo or Robot Nixon.

The best result that can come from this is a show that looks like Futurama, sounds like Futurama, but doesn't feel like Futurama. The worst result is something that just doesn't work. Not to mention the voice actors losing their jobs.

If you feel strongly about this like I do, send an email to FUTURAMA@SCOTTMULLERCASTING.COM and voice your opinion.

Bad Fox. Bad.

Jul 17, 2009

Additional Apologies to Daniel Abraham

When I originally heard that Daniel Abraham was writing Urban Fantasy under the pen name M.L.N. Hanover, I was intrigued. I like Urban Fantasy. I like Daniel Abraham. After a quick google search, I found the publisher’s blurb to be interesting enough to add the book to the Amazon wishlists I use to track release dates.

Then I saw the cover.

I’ve hated the stereotypical Urban Fantasy covers since I started noticing the trend. Attractive girl with a lower back tattoo facing away from the reader while holding a weapon, et cetera, et cetera. While not ever thing fits the exact description, 90% of the Urban Fantasy books featuring female protagonists have covers with at least a few if not all of the trademark clichés. Covers I would be embarrassed to be seen reading. Covers I was determined not to purchase.

So I had a decision to make, either I could succumb to my desire to read the book. Or I could hold out and stick to my principles. I chose my principles.

So I wrote this post, and said I wasn’t going to pay to read Unclean Spirits in protest over the lazy covers, while offering my apologies.

Somehow, Daniel Abraham actually ended up reading the post on my fledgling blog and he very professionally and politely responded:

“Your objection to the cover is well-taken. It is very much an urban fantasy cover, and it ain't breaking any new ground. And if it turned you off the series, I certainly respect that. I've seen the cover for the second book, and lemme tell you, it's totally going to fail for you too.

As far as your promise to never put your money into that kind of cover art . . . well, should you ever choose to shoplift a book, please keep me in mind.
I thought this was exceedingly cool and we kicked a few e-mails back and forth and talked a little about the book, about urban fantasy in general, and about the covers. In the end, Mr. Abraham ended up sending me a review copy of the book, allowing me to read it without “putting my money into that kind of a cover art.”

YetiNote: It’s also important to note that this isn’t something that he normally does. Please don’t swear off his work in some attempt to get free books from him. It would negatively affect his sales, which would negatively affect his ability to sell more books, which would negatively affect my enjoyment derived from reading them.

So I read it. And I enjoyed it.

I would like to offer my apologies again to Daniel Abraham for judging his book on its cover. He should be proud of the way he was willing to stand behind his work and challenge my opinions in a professional and productive manner. And he should be proud of Unclean Spirits. It's a great read. He’s got one more person who is going to pick up the next installment in his Black Sun's Daughter series.

Regardless of how bad the cover art is.

Look for a review of Unclean Spirits and a discussion with Daniel Abraham regarding the Black Sun’s Daughter and the state of Urban Fantasy in the coming days.

Jul 15, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Ted Kosmatka

For my debut interview in the Keeping An Eye On series (and for this blog), I had the pleasure of running a few questions by Ted Kosmatka. Mr. Kosmatka is primarily a short story author, selling pieces to Asimov's, F&SF, and Cemetary Dance among other places but he also has a couple of novels in the works for those editors looking to buy. Several of his stories have been reprinted in various Year's Best anthologies in the past few years; probably why he was nominated to the list by Niall Harrison and Jonathan Strahan, not to mention being the first author mentioned by Gardner Dozois himself. Besides his genre work, Ted has also written some normal, boring literary fiction if you are into that non-genre trash. I've found that Ted likes to take a slightly darker tone than most authors, as evidenced by some of his answers found below, not to mention the fact he sent a picture of a skull for use in the interview.

But before I lose any more people to failblog.org, here's the interview:

If we are "Keeping An Eye On" Ted Kosmatka, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

I have new stories forthcoming in both Cemetery Dance and Asimov's. I also have stories in four Year's Best anthologies this year which have either just come out, or will be coming out in the near future. Lately I've been working on a longer project, so I don't have a whole lot of new short stories in the pipeline right now.

YetiNote: For reference, those anthologies are Year's" Best SF 14, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer; The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois; The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 3, edited by Jonathan Strahan; and The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2009 Edition, edited by Rich Horton.

If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) you would like them to read?

The story I'm best known for is probably "The Prophet of Flores". It was originally published in Asimov's, but was reprinted several times last year and ended up on the long-list for the Nebula Award. (It was cut from the short list.) Another story I particularly like is "Deadnauts," which is available to read for free at the Ideomancer website. http://www.ideomancer.com/main/vol6issue3/kosmatka/one.html

Describe your writing style in haiku-form.

rhythm trumps grammar
info, how shall I dump thee,
Comma, what comma?

To date you haven’t published any full-length novels but you have written several excellent shorter works. Will we see a full-length novel from you some time soon?

I'm really not sure. I used to think so, but my confidence has eroded quite a bit since I first started writing. I've actually finished two novels already-- the second of which I still really like a lot. It's been in submission for years now. I'm currently working on a third novel but live in fear that I'll actually finish it. The idea of having to find a publisher for it, while still looking to find a publisher for the other one... well, just the thought of that makes my eye twitch.

What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

I like post-apocalyptic sci-fi. I also really like lab opera. Lately I've become much more interested in video games as a medium for sci-fi stories. Valve Software in particular has had a slew of really good science fiction games that I think push the boundaries of what video games can be.

What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)

I used to have writing habits. Now I have both a two-year-old and a two-month-old at home, so any writing habits that I used to have went out the window. My day job keeps me pretty busy as well, so I write when I can in the evening. Between diaper changes sometimes. I actually do some writing in my head during my drive to and from work, little bits of prose which I scribble down when I get out of the car. Somehow-- and I'm honestly now sure how exactly-- I still manage to accumulate a weekly word count, even if it tends to be small.

An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

Probably a car accident resulting from me spacing off while driving. Or maybe it'll be something totally off the wall. I've always had this weird feeling that I wouldn't live to be old. My father died relatively young, so when I look into the future, I just see this gray area past the age where he died. That's coming up soon, too.

Oh, there are a bunch of writers who could fill my empty magazine pages if I died. I really like Joy Marchand's stuff; it's every bit as dark as mine. I also think Maya Lassiter is an amazing new writer, and I'd really like to see a publisher snap up her novels. Eric James Stone is also writing some great stories, and he and I explore similar themes. Another writer, Rick Novy, has written dozens of really good stories, and I'd love to see him get more recognition. Rick and I have explored common territory in that we've both written stories about Neanderthals.

During your life it sounds like you’ve worked quite a diverse range of jobs. How has your work experience influenced your writing?

Work has always been a huge part of my life. A lot of my stories revolve around work-- sometimes in ways that are obvious, sometimes not. My upcoming Asimov's story, "Blood Dauber" is a collaboration with a friend of mine, Michael Poore, and it basically started as a conversation about past jobs. I was telling him about my experiences as a zookeeper, and he was telling me about some stuff going on with him, and one thing lead to another, and the next thing you know we were writing stuff down on post-it notes, and we had a rough outline. My stories "Divining Light" and "The Art of Alchemy" are both loosely based on my experiences working in laboratories. (As is my novel manuscript, THE HELIX GAME.) Some earlier stories of mine draw from my experiences working in a steel mill. My story "Bitterseed" has its genesis in my experiences working as a corn detassler in Indiana at age fourteen. If I dug hard enough, I'm pretty sure I could come up with a story about being a paper boy.

A couple of years ago I did my very first reading at the Bauer Museum of Art. I'd written a short literary piece about my experiences working as a laborer in a sinter plant, and the theme of the new exhibit was Big Steel. Someone in charge of the exhibit had read my story and asked me to do a reading opening night. I get nervous in front of crowds, so the experience almost killed me. I literally didn't know if my voice would even function when I got up to the podium. I somehow managed to get through the reading, and the applause afterward was this strange experience for me. I didn't expect it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, really. Maybe crickets, or silence. Maybe a few polite claps. An older gentleman from the audience, a retired steelworker, came up to me later and shook my hand and said about my story "that's exactly how it is in the mill. That's exactly it." It was the best compliment anyone had ever given me. That story later ended up as part of a spoken word CD put together for a national workers' conference and you can listen to it here:


Along the same lines, what is your advice to young (teenage/early 20s) authors who feel frustrated with the publishing world? Do you think that significant life experience is necessary to write well?

Well, if you're frustrated, it means you're paying attention. But you aren't the only one. The editors are frustrated, too. And the agents. And the established writers. It's not easy in the publishing industry right now. It's actually pretty bad. Most publishing houses have slush piles years and years deep. The only advice I could give... and I'd hesitate to presume to give advice to anyone as I doubt I'm worthy to give it, but since you asked... I'll say this: write if you love it. As you accumulate stories, send them out. Keep sending them out even after the rejections start to pile up. If you do that for long enough, then good things might happen. By the time I sold my first story, I'd been rejected so many times that I'd long ago given up. I just couldn't stop writing though, even though I'd lost hope of ever selling anything. I used to joke that I was going to wallpaper my bathroom with rejection slips; I certainly have enough to do the job.

Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

My favorite word is redemption. It's not a fancy word, but it can mean a lot of different things to different people, and a writer could spend his whole career writing about redemption and never repeat himself. The obscure word that seems to keep wanting to make its way into my stories is "periphery," for some reason.

What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

Marc Laidlaw had a story called "Flight Risk" that was podcast on Tony C. Smith's Starship Sofa that completely blew me away. I also really liked Camille Alexa's debut collection this year, PUSH OF THE SKY. Jeremy Lewis also had a great new novel out, REVAMPED. Jack Skillingstead has his first short story collection coming out soon, and I know there are some great stories in there as well.

[Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

Ted.kosmatka.com has links to several of my stories. You can also listen to a reading of "Indiana Harbor Jones" HERE.

I would just like to say thanks to Ted for taking the time to answer my questions. I encourage everyone to go out and read Ted's stories to see if he's an author you want to add to your Watchlist. Hopefully, we can get that novel sooner rather than later.

I'm contemplating doing some companion pieces to these interviews, spotlighting a few of short stories mentioned if I can find them, so that might be coming down the pipeline if I find enough reading time. Also, I must say that the whole interview process is quite fun. I love hearing from people who are passionate about genre topics and are willing to talk about it. For the longest time, I always considered authors to be people too busy/important to talk to a simple fan like me.

Come back next Thursday (or as often as you can) for the next Keeping An Eye On interview.

New Poll: What subgenre needs more books?

As I mentioned earlier today, Ginjer Buchanan wants to see more Military SF submissions.

Now most of us don't read submissions, but what subgenre do YOU want to see more books in?

You can vote in the poll located on top of my right column.

The poll will be open for the next week or so. I'm interested to see what people have to say.

The Next Big Thing...

Over on the Odyssey Workshop Livejournal, they've got an interview with Ginjer Buchanan. Ginjer Buchanan is the editor-in-chief of Ace and Roc, two rather prolific publishers.

The interview is short but interesting, go check it out.

I found the most interesting comment to be the following:

OW: Which subgenres do you see way too much of? Which subgenres do you not see enough of?

GB: These days, we have a deluge of Urban Fantasy. As to what we don’t see enough of—I guess I’d say military sf. It works well for us in mass market.

So Ginjer is suggesting that Urban Fantasy has reached it's saturation point. Coming from the editor of Ace and Roc thats a strong statement. Roc and Ace publish almost every genre sub-genre out there, including Urban Fantasy heavy hitters The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher) and the Nightside books (Simon R. Green), so it's fairly safe to say she's got her fingers on the pulse of genre fiction.

I would concur with the opinion that there's plenty (on the side of too much) of Urban Fantasy out there. I've got my series (the aforementioned Dresden Files and Nightside, along with Felix Castor and Joe Pitt) so my plate is just about full when it comes to Urban Fantasy. I'm sure everyone else has their series as well. While I'm sure some of the new stuff has merit, it's not going to sell as well as the established stuff.

Regarding Military SF, my plate is almost empty. John Scalzi isn't writing any books in the Old Man's War series (for the time being at least), I believe Robert Buettner's Orphan series is wrapped up, and I'm not sure whats left in Jack Campbell Lost Fleet sequence (which is published by Ace, coincidentally). Those are the Military SF series I'm reading currently and even those aren't exactly flagship titles (minus Scalzi who isn't writing that series currently). So there is room for more Military SF.

However, I wouldn't say that a Military SF Renaissance is upon us. I'm tempted to say the next big thing is Historical Fantasy / Steampunk , similar to what Stephen Hunt (The Court of the Air, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves) and George Mann (The Affinity Bridge) are doing but I don't know if the market for that is as high as that of Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy got a huge boost from Harry Potter and a life extension from Twilight. I don't know if there is any subgenre out there right now with a feeder system like that. We might just see a rebalancing of subgenre publishing (and hopefully no more vampires).

Can Military SF make a comeback? Will Urban Fantasy sales level off? Whats the next big subgenre?

Comments are encouraged. I'd love to hear some opinions as to what the next big thing is.

Jul 14, 2009

Interview Series: Keeping an Eye On...

I'd like to announce a little project I've been working on for the past few weeks.

In June 2008, there was a SF Signal Mind Meld entitled Who Are Tomorrow's Big Genre Stars. Basically, a group of genre superstars involved in editing, publishing, and writing weighed in on who they thought were going to be next genre heavy hitters in the years to come.

They came up with a list of 21 names to Keep an Eye On.
Now some people most likely had different opinions on what "Tomorrow's Big Genre Stars" meant, as evidenced by the inclusion of Jay Lake, Cory Doctorow, Naomi Novik, and Scott Westerfeld, all of whom I would consider to be some of Today's Big Genre Stars. I'm going to focus primarily on the authors who haven't been on the NYT Bestseller Lists but if they are kind enough to respond we can Keep an Eye On them too.
For my "Keeping an Eye On..." interviews, I'm going to focus on what each author is writing now, what piece(s) of work they think you should read to best sample their style, some various other writing related questions, as well as a few more "fun" questions to let them put a little of their own personality into the interview.
My first "Keeping an Eye On..." interview will be up on Thursday and published on subsequent Thursdays as long as authors are still responding.
If you've got any questions to suggest, send me an e-mail at yetistomper[at]gmail(dot)com or leave something in the comments and I just might pass them on to the authors.

Syphye's Choice

Here's an honest question.

If you could pick between Virtuality and Warehouse 13 which would you choose to get a full season?

I would choose Virtuality in a heartbeat. Its about as hard of SF as I've seen on TV in the last 5 years. It's a unique take, an SF show set within the next 100 years of space exploration. Wide cast of characters, plenty of potential past the 3-person Warehouse 13. Not to mention that Ron Moore gave us Battlestar which is one of the best SF show of the last 5 years.

Warehouse 13 on the other hand is the exact opposite. We've got a fairly standard set-up: Two government agents (one male, one female) with conflicting personalities get paired up and tasked with dealing with bizarre and unusual cases. X-Files/Fringe/Eureka. Throw in some sexual tension, a weird character for a little comic relief (See the Lone Gunman/John Noble/Fargo), and a loose overall arc and you've got yourself a show. We've already got Eureka, we didn't need Eureka light.

Don't get me wrong, there was nothing explicitly wrong with Warehouse 13. I will most likely be watching it as long as it improves on the pilot. It's just that it's more of the same. And while it's safe (see ratings for proof), it's also going to be forgetable. You create classics (Star Trek, X-Files, Lost) by stepping outside the box, by doing something different. I can't guarantee that Virtuality will enter that Pantheon of Genre TV but unless someone is willing to give a new idea a shot, no show ever will.

Now realistically, there's a 1% chance of getting more Virtuality and a 99% chance of getting at least 13 episodes of Warehouse 13. You can file Virtuality in the Warehouse 13 of television along with Firefly, Farscape, and the one television executive willing to cancel Smallville.

But we can always hope.

Jul 13, 2009

Covering Covers: The WindUp Girl

Over at his website, Paolo Bacigalupi is showing off the cover to his debut novel The Windup Girl. And what a cover! A little digging (i.e. a quick Google search) revealed the cover art was done by Raphael Lacoste (Link) who I don't know if I've ever heard of doing cover art before. But looking at that cover and some of the work on his website, I would like to see more covers from him.

The artwork is fantastic. I love the megodonts (genetically engineered elephants originally referenced in Bacigalupi's fantastic short story anthology Pump Six and Other Stories) and how "Mammoth" they look. The dualism of the trash littered slums versus the futurisitic high rises is a great visual and also ties into some of the themes that were prevelant in Bacigalupi's short stories "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man" both of which take place in the same future setting as The Windup Girl. Covers that actually echo the content of the book are few and far between in today's publishing landscape.

I also love the title font and it's placement. The two lines seperating the title really make it pop and emphasize some of the background artwork in interesting ways. I'm less entralled with the blurb and the author text but I have a sneaking suspicion that that might not be the final edit. The pixelation and simplicity scream Microsoft Paint.

The publisher's summary is also available on the publishers website (Night Shade Books)

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of "The Calorie Man" ( Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and "Yellow Card Man" (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.
The Windup Girl will be available in September. This is a must buy for me for sure. I absolutely loved Pump Six and Other Stories particularly the all-too-real feel of this future world in which calories are cash. If you haven't done so, I would recommend reading Pump Six before The Windup Girl is released.

Jul 11, 2009

YetiReview: Nekropolis

20 Words or Less: A lackluster urban fantasy that fails to offer empathetic characters almost as often as it fails to be funny.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Pros: Interesting setting with potential for future stories,

Cons: Poorly written humor, inconsistent “rules”, lack of protagonists to empathize/identify with

The Review: Angry Robot Books is pushing 4 launch titles. Moxyland was spectacular. Nekropolis? Not so much. Urban Fantasy is very hit-or-miss with me. The characters have to be heroes I can cheer for and the author has to have a certain narrative style that distinguishes the story from the sea of paranormal dreck out there. Unfortunately, Tim Waggoner doesn’t deliver with his characters or in his delivery.

Matt Richter. Private Eye. Zombie. I’ve read paranormal fantasy with wizard protagonists, vampire protagonists, and exorcist protagonists. This is my first zombie. What’s so special about a zombie?, you might ask. Nothing much besides dulled senses and an increased attention span. They don’t feel pain, they don’t breathe, and they apparently don’t have emotions or a libido. Except that they do. When it’s convenient for the story or necessary for character development. Also, Waggoner repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) hits you over the head with the fact that zombies can’t smell, can’t taste, and can’t feel. Yet Matt has no problem with seeing or hearing. If there’s one thing that bugs me more than anything else, it’s a lack of internal consistency and logic within a story. I wouldn’t have a problem if Matt was a zombie whose only quirk was a lack of pain receptors. Just don’t set up the rules and break them a page later.

I also was irritated by Waggoner’s tone and the lack of consistency in his writing. At times, the story flowed extremely well and the pages flew by. At other times, there was a pun or an attempt at humor that was so painful that I had to set the book down in disbelief. Here’s just one example:

I found myself blasted across the street and through the front window of Les Escargot, a gourmet restaurant run by giant snails. The food's suppossed to be great, but you wouldn't believe how slow the service is. - Pg 229
If you are trying to create a city of darkness, malice, and evil, where everything humans are afraid of resides, don’t make it so pedestrian. It’s takes itself too seriously to be campy and it takes itself too lightly to be scary or suspenseful so it ends up being neither.

Waggoner’s titular city, Nekropolis is certainly a strange one. Advertised as “Tim Burton does Sin City from a Coen Brothers script”, I would say its more Beetlejuice meets Discworld, minus Terry Pratchett’s gift for humor. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghouls, sorcerers, alchemists, ghosts, zombies, and everything else you can imagine (and some things you couldn’t). The city is interesting and well concocted (at least when Waggoner lays off the jokes). It could (and will) support multiple Matt Richter adventures. There is plenty to do in Nekropolis and Waggoner introduces us to dozens of characters and creatures, some of which work better than others. However, while the world itself is incredibly diverse, it's also significantly flawed in the fact that's lacking any sort of relatable character. The main plot revolves around the destruction of this extra-dimensional city and it’s sinful residents. I simply didn’t care if a bunch of bloodthirsty monsters die. And Matt? He’s already dead. The closest thing to a sympathetic character is Matt’s “love” interest who is 50% human, 50% vampire and 100% the stereotypical librarian type who doesn’t know her own inner strength until she needs to save the day. And I was rooting for the chiranha (that’s a cringe-inducing Chihuahua-Piranha hybrid) to eat her.

To be fair, this is only the first book in a series. Storm Front, the debut novel in The Dresden Files, is definitely the worst book in the series. The difference here is that Storm Front was Jim Butcher’s debut novel whereas Tim Waggoner has written over ten and it doesn’t show. There is an abundance of dialog tags, sloppy character exposition, and deus ex (how do you say coat in latin?). At one point, an informant character actually trades Matt some information in exchange for his origin story which Matt conveniently supplies in an out of place flashback chapter. At another point, yet another informant asks him word for word, “How do you feel about being a zombie?” These are certainly relevant details but the methods Waggoner employs to communicate them are lazy at best and amateur at worst. Waggoner also resorts to the Jacket of Bottomless Pockets that Richter must have stolen from the early Harry Dresden novels. He just always seems to have the perfect solution to every problem to the point where it begins to stretch past my willing suspension of disbelief. Not to mention that the vast majority of characters seem to be best friends of Matt’s that are more than willing to help out. This is surprising given that he is a passionless zombie who has lived in the city for less than two years. It’s the friendliest bunch of homicidal deviants I’ve ever read about.

I realize that I have been nitpicking the book a lot and honestly the book isn’t all bad. The world building in Nekropolis is fantastic and could easily support future Matt Richter stories. There are stretches were the writing is fluid, the characters are interesting and the plot is dynamic. But there are also a lot of stretches where those things don’t happen, and unfortunately, those portions really ruined the story for me. Maybe it just wasn't for me, maybe I just didn't "get it", I'm not sure. If you are a hardcover paranormal fantasy junkie, give this a try. Otherwise, just go read Moxyland again.

YetiPreview: Read here
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