Sep 30, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Tim Pratt

This week's Keeping An Eye On Interview is with none other than Tim Pratt. Tim is one of the more established authors of the SF Signal's watchlist, having published genre work since 1999. Over the past 10 years he has slowly put together a very respectable writing career publishing 5 novels and 2 short story collections. If you've been reading these interviews, you know the drill. Lots of reprints in Year's Best Anthologies, award nominations (among a few wins) and other praise. I'm running out of ways to say it but it's more of the same with Pratt. High quality writing, and lots of it. If you don't take my word for it; take Neil Gaiman's. Pratt beat Gaiman for a Hugo (2007 Hugo for short story "Impossible Dreams". That doesn't happen. You could write a short story where Gaiman doesn't win an award but you'd have to shelf it in the genre section: cause you're writing fantasy.
But Pratt did the impossible. Let's see what else he's been up to.

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?

TP: I've been publishing a series of urban fantasy novels about a character named Marla Mason (the latest, Spell Games, came out this past spring), but that series has come to an end (the publisher's choice, not mine). I am, however, publishing an online serial novella called "Bone Shop" set in the same world, at my website:

And it's always possible, though not likely, that some other publisher will want to continue the series. Time will tell.

Apart from that, I have a couple of finished novels out to editors, and a couple of proposals I'm polishing up to send out to more editors, and I'm hoping some or preferably all of them will be published sometime. And there are always more short stories coming out, including an SF novelette called "Troublesolving" that will appear in Subterranean magazine sometime and a new Marla Mason story in an anthology next year.

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, etc.) would you like them to read?

TP: My most famous story is "Impossible Dreams", my Hugo winner from a couple years ago, which can be listened to in podcast form at Escape Pod.

Or else "Little Gods", which can be read (in glorious texty form!) at Strange Horizons.

Both are pretty representative of my short work -- that is, if you like these, you might like my other stuff, and if you don't, maybe you won't.

SoY: As you most likely mentioned, you are currently writing an Urban Fantasy series centered around sorcerer Marla Mason. Can you tell us more about the series? Is it a set storyline or open-ended? What makes the Marla Mason novels distinct in the world of Urban Fantasy?

TP: It's an open-ended series, with each novel intended to stand alone, though the characters do develop and change a bit as the series goes on. The books follow the adventures of Marla Mason, the brusque, tactless, violent chief sorcerer (sort of a cross between a mob boss and a superhero) of an East Coast city called Felport. She contends with various menaces, supernatural and otherwise.

As for what makes the book distinct... people tell me Marla differs from many UF heroines in that she doesn't have much of a love life (or even a sex life, really), doesn't suffer from low self-esteem, and doesn't spend much time angsting; there's not a lot of distance between her thoughts and her actions, and she's almost always sure she's right... even when she's wrong. One reviewer described her as "the world's bitchiest superheroine," which I liked.

SoY: I’m generally critical of the Tramp Stamp Sex Warriors that shame the covers of a disturbingly high percentage of Urban Fantasy novels. Your Marla Mason covers are very stylized and much stronger than the typical book. Who does the covers for your books? How did you manage to escape the UF curse?

TP: I had zero input into the covers, really (most authors don't get a say, so that's not remarkable). I don't know how I got so lucky, but I had amazing cover karma with Daniel Dos Santos. He did all four covers. I named a character in Spell Games in his honor -- Danny Two Saints. Dan's a super nice guy. I have a big framed signed print of the art from Poison Sleep hanging over my desk. All credit goes to the good people at Bantam Spectra who brought him on board.

SoY: What authors would you describe as your primary influences in developing your personal narrative style?

TP: When I was young I read a lot of Stephen King, Charles de Lint, Clive Barker, and Jonathan Carroll, and I think they influenced me a lot, in obvious and subtle ways.

SoY: Some of the other up and coming authors I’ve interviewed have mentioned how hard writing a novel is compared to their experiences writing shorter fiction. What did you find hardest about making that transition? Has it gotten easier with time?

TP: Eh, I've been writing novels since I was twelve. (Well, trying to, though I tended to stall out around 100 pages in those early days.) I actually finished my first complete novel when I was 18, and completed five more books, all failures and learning experiences, before I finished the first book I actually got published, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. Writing novels and stories are different, but I don't find either harder than the other. Novels take longer, of course, but you return every day to write with characters and a world you've established, so that's simpler in some ways -- whereas, with stories, you have to invent a new world and new characters every time. They each have their own challenges and rewards. I love both. (But freely admit I'm better at writing short stories. I've written hundreds of them, though, so I've had more practice)

SoY: I’m calling you out on the gender neutral pseudonym. What are you feelings toward the importance of gender in Urban Fantasy (both for authors and characters)? Do you think its comparable to the relatively male dominated Hard SF market?

TP: My first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, sold like crap. Thus, my publisher wanted the new books to appear under a different name so bookstores wouldn't look at my existing sales record and refuse to buy any copies. Such renaming is a pretty common practice these days to deal with lackluster sales. They chose a gender-neutral pseudonym because the books were urban fantasy with a female heroine, and most such books are written by women. I had nothing to do with the decision, really, though it didn't bother me. I don't care what byline my work appears under, so long as I can keep publishing it. There are probably more pseudonyms in my future. That's life in the midlist.

I know very little about the current hot trends in urban fantasy, honestly. After my agent and editor told me Blood Engines was UF, I read some of the popular stuff (Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, etc.) in the genre, saw the broad similarities, and decided I shouldn't read much more lest it influence my own work!

I come much more from the earlier urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy/mythic fiction tradition that includes Charles de Lint, Jonathan Carroll, Emma Bull, Megan Lindholm, Terri Windling, etc. etc.

SoY: You and your wife edited a twice yearly ‘zine by the name of Flytrap which unfortunately was discontinued in November 2008 with issue 10. What was the hardest part of trying to maintaining a regular release schedule?

TP: Paying for the printing and forcing ourselves to do the tedious mailing. :)

Everything else was easy. My wife and I both have editorial/slush reading experience, and I do layout/production all day long at my day job, so it was only the logistical administrivial stuff that was difficult. We did delay an issue or two, due to impending childbirth and such unavoidable scheduling conflicts. The 'zine was great, but with a kid and our own other writing commitments, we just didn't have time to keep it going.

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)?

TP: I just write whenever I feel like it. Fortunately, I enjoy writing, so I feel like it often enough to produce a quarter million words or so every year. No rituals, no habits. Sometimes I write longhand in the park, sometimes I type on a laptop on the balcony, sometimes I type at my desk. I've been writing fiction since I was in third grade. It's just a part of my life, no more remarkable than eating or bathing or napping.

SoY: Who wins in a fight between Harry Dresden, Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, and Stephanie Meyer?

TP: Stephenie Meyer, since the other three are fictional, and real people usually have an advantage, being corporeal and all.

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?

TP: Oh, I suppose someone could notice that my publisher decided not to continue my urban fantasy series and decide I'm actually already a has-been.
I think Meghan McCarron and Alice Kim are too of the most interesting and exciting short fiction writers I've encountered in recent years.

SoY: Is there a difference between the genres you read and those you write? What are you favorite subgenres to read?

TP: I read SF of most varieties, fantasy of most varieties, and horror of most varieties, and lately I've been reading a lot of mysteries and crime novels. Crime novels are probably my favorite at the moment. Westlake/Stark, etc.

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

TP: I blog at, my website is

That's it from Tim. Not to take anything away from any of the other authors but Tim was one of the friendliest and accessible authors I've interviewed (he ties for 1st with about 10 other authors).  I hope to see more Marla Mason books in the future and I'd encourage all of my 12 readers to go check out his stuff.

I'm thinking of making October "Urban Fantasy Month" here at Stomping on Yeti and Marla Mason might be one of my featured series. Hope to see you back here for more.

YetiPreview: The Wind-Up Girl

After the dense and somewhat disappointing The Quiet War (review) and the light, fun The Lost Symbol (review), I'm plunging back into the Sci-Fi deep end with paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel The Wind-Up Girl.

I already gave my feedback on the cover in a Covering Covers post (quick summary: absolutely fantastic cover except for the top left and bottom right text) but I have to say I'm excited to finally get my hands on a Bacigalupi novel. His Pump Six and Other Stories simply blew me away. It was bleak, depressing, and I couldn't get enough. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that this is my most anticipated book of 2009 and I guarantee it's in the Top 5.

I'm a bit late in posting this as I'm already a hundred or so pages in but so far The Windup Girl has not disappointed. Bacigalupi paints a future landscape with such deft brushstrokes that you don't even notice as he gives you the tour of the place. It's world-building but it's top-notch and expertly subtle. I would go on further but I want to save some of my thoughts for the review.

My only complaint so far are the frequent use of Thai words. While they're probably accurate, I've only picked up only some of them so far and it bugs me not to know the exact context of the words. Much like Ian McDonald's Brasyl, The Windup Girl could definitely benefit from a glossary at the end of the book. And unlike Brasyl, I looked for a glossary first so I didn't struggle through the cultural elements for the majority of the book before finding it.

Expect a review up sooner rather than later because I am loving what I've read so far.

Sep 29, 2009

YetiContest Reminder

Just a reminder that the contest for Galileo's Dream ends midnight on Wednesday, Sept 30th. There's still time to enter and as the contest only has 2 entries, you've got a spectacular chance at winning.

Contest Rules
  • 1 entry per person (total, not per day)
  • US Residents Only (Excluding Hawaii and Alaska) - This is my own money here, and I'm not made of it. I'm already shelling out for a free book.
  • Contest will run until midnight, Sept 30th, 2009.
  • Winner will be selected via random number generator

If you want to enter, send an e-mail to YetiContest [at] gmail [dot] com (replace [at] with @ and [dot} with .) containing the following:
  • Name
  • Mailing Address
  • Favorite Up-and-coming Genre Author (who has published less than 5 novels)

Sep 28, 2009

YetiReview: The Lost Symbol

21 Words or Less: Everything you expect from a Dan Brown thriller plus a extra helping of preachiness intended to start controversy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Good: Typical Dan Brown Thriller; Well-researched, interesting asides about American history and Freemasons; Fast-paced, popcorn read full of hidden messages and secret history.

The Bad: Preachier than previous thrillers in what appears to be an attempt to recreate Da Vinci controversy; Formulaic (although in a way that works)

I'm going to keep this quick because everyone knows what this book is all about and Dan Brown isn't going to see any increase in sales from me mentioning The Lost Symbol on Stomping on Yeti. On the other hand, I'd be more than willing to reciprocate if he felt like mentioning my site in one of his books. I'm not going to say no to an increase in viewership of... How do you divide by zero? Anyway, this past week I breezed through the 500 odd pages of the newest Robert Langdon adventure. Was it a great book? No. Was it a fun book? Yes.

I rate books based on expectations and with Dan Brown it's easy to know what to expect. You're going to have short chapters, fast pacing, and lots and lots of short asides disguised as conversation between characters as they attempt to decipher the latest clue in a series of connected mysteries. I wasn't disappointed. In the Lost Symbol, Brown brings the action back to America, where Langdon and friends explore the rich history of the nation's capital.  I'm not going to delve into the plot much as half the fun is trying to figure out whats really going on. My recommendation is simple: If you liked Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code you will most likely enjoy The Lost Symbol.

My only caveot is that Brown seems to be struggling to find controversial material. The main "concept" with The Lost Symbol is tenuous at best and Brown tends to expound upon it to drive home it's importance. He does this by having characters who believe preach to characters who don't and their "arguments" are suprisingly one-sided for people intelligent enough to solve mysteries that have endured for centuries. The short infodumps work well for Brown; prolonged discourses? Not so much. I also think that controversial plotline was tacked on. The thriller would have been exactly the same without it and it didn't raise the stakes or impact the plot at all. If anything it was a poor attempt to bring the female lead into the story. I had to take away a half a star for deliberate trolling.

That's it for my review of The Lost Symbol but I'd like to talk a little bit about my feelings on Dan Brown in general. His writing is very deceptive but he knows exactly what he is doing and he excels at it. First he writes short chapters. In The Lost Symbol he divides 510 pages into over 130 chapters. That's less than 4 pages a chapter. Doing this tricks the reader into feeling like they are reading faster and also boosts the page count as almost half the pages contain less than a full page of text. It's easy to assume that the book is captivating when the pages just fall away.

Secondly, Brown switches point-of-view any time there is about to be a discovery/action scene/revelation and he doesn't get back to it until a few chapters later. Since the chapters are so short, the reader keeps turning pages until they find out what happened. However, if you read to chapter 36 to get the resolution to the cliffhanger from chapter 33, you are left with the cliffhangers from chapter 34 and 35. It's a never ending cycle of teases and it works. It's especially apparent when Brown introduces time lapses mid-chapter which would serve as natural breaks but aren't exciting enough to keep the pages turning.

Brown does excellent research (although he could be making it all up) but he tends to write it in "tell don't show" fashion. It's infodumping but interesting infodumping in very small packets. If Langdon wasn't obsessed with explaining every little attribute. I feel like he would be very irritating to be around if you weren't solving a centuries old mystery. At least Brown has a thesaurus so Langdon doesn't ask "Do you want to know how I knew that?" every half a page or so.

All in all, Brown isn't the best writer and his books tend to be very formulaic if read closely together but I feel like he's got tremendous staying power. In order for his books to work he's got to do a lot of research and tie everything together. The research is going to prevent Brown from releasing books on a fast enough schedule for the vast majority of his audience to realize how formulaic the books actually are. This often happens with Grisham, Sparks, and other consistent NY Times Bestselling authors. They publish too fast and people catch on that they've read this book before. It doesn't keep them from selling a million copies, so I'm not sure they mind. A Robert Langdon thriller every three years or so will be a big hit. It's easy to see why the pieces work the way they do, but it's hard to resist their charm.

Sep 23, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Alex Irvine

I first heard of Alex Irvine through my Star Wars addiction when his name was announced among the writers who were part of the next Del Rey contract. At that time, I hadn't really heard of him so I did a little more digging into his previous work to set some expectations. Based on what I found, those expectations were set and they were set high. So it came as no surprise when Alex's name appeared on SF Signal's Watchlist. Like so many of the authors I've interview in the Keeping An Eye On Series, Alex is just beginning what looks to be a long writing career, but already has a few of the awards and honors that aspiring writers dream of. He didn't have to wait long either as his debut novel, A Scattering of Jades, won several awards including the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2003. Since then he has gone on to write several more novels as well as some more diverse work, including comic books, non-fiction, and even some ARGs.

I hoped that Alex would spill the info on his secretive Star Wars book but Lucas has a lightsaber to his throat. Instead I had to settle for a great interview full of rabid fans, tree-hugging pinkos, and other information not bound by an NDA. Read on for more!

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?

AI: I’m working on a couple of novels. One is a big historical SF book that starts off in the 2070s and moves back to 1913 before ending up in the 1960s. It involves HG Wells, nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and Europe during the two world wars, as well as a bunch of other stuff. The other one is a picaresque fantastical-historical novel that takes the form of a fake memoir written by a famous 18th-century hoaxer named George Psalmanazar, in which he gives the real story behind his real-life memoir in which he said he was giving the real story.

Also I’m doing a couple of other comics projects, writing a screenplay for Buyout, and working on two licensed projects—one a Dungeons and Dragons novel and the other a Star Wars novel set in the Old Republic period. And then there are the short stories, which I’m always pecking away at. So lots of things are on the boil.

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, comics, etc.) would you like them to read?

AI: I think Buyout is a good entry point. From my perspective, which is the only one I have, that book has most of my good qualities as a writer and manifests the fewest of my flaws. I have my own sentimental favorites for other reasons—I still love The Narrows because there’s one character I got absolutely right, and A Scattering of Jades because the research and story came together better than I had any right to expect, and various of my stories for various reasons—but if a reader really wanted to know what makes me tick as a writer, then Buyout would probably be the book to start with.

SoY: Describe your writing style in haiku-form.

AI: Eek. This one is tough. Maybe:

What is this feeling?
How would this person react?
Try to get it right.

SoY: Your first novel, A Scattering of Jades, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2003. Can you describe the journey between setting out to write A Scattering of Jades and getting it published? What was it like to win an award with your first novel?

AI: I started to write Jades in August of 1993, and had a complete draft by December of 1996. There followed a (retrospectively) comical series of miscommunications and resignations and lost manuscripts etc., by the end of which I was ready to tear my hair out because people kept telling me they loved the book right before they left publishing forever or were murdered by elements of the Black Hand or disappeared on an expedition to Lemuria or whatever. The first guy who ever read the book all the way through, John Klima, bought it—but it took nearly six years to get someone to read it all the way through.

Jades came out and won the Locus Award, which was terrific—it also won the International Horror Guild and Crawford awards for best first novel, which was extra terrific. This is where the ‘rising star’ appellation seems in retrospect a bit ironic, since I haven’t had a sniff of an award since then. I was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award in I think 2003 for “Gus Dreams of Biting the Mailman,” but for whatever reason I don’t seem to get on awards ballots very often. When Jades was just out and all of that was happening, though, I was over the moon. I was convinced that stardom was imminent. The intervening years have maybe taught me otherwise. It’s a little odd for me to consider myself a rising star in a field where I’ve been working for ten years.

SoY: You’ve worked with two of the most complex continuities out there in Marvel Comics (Daredevil) and Star Wars. How do you handle starting a project in such an established universe? Do you approach writing differently if you are writing in a shared universe versus a universe of your own creation?

AI: There are differences to working with an established continuity, sure—but in some ways I think they’re akin to the differences between writing formal poetry and free verse. The strictures of the sonnet or villanelle or sestina drive you to see what can be done within those strictures. If you’re writing free verse, the only rule is that you do something good. Probably when I’m working on a story that I build from scratch, I can let myself go a little more, but established continuities are an exciting challenge, and because they’ve been around for so long and have such passionate followers, they inspire a writer to create work that deserves that passion. At least that’s how I approach it.

SoY: Similarly, with established universes come established fanbases with preconceived notions of what should or shouldn’t happen. Have your experiences with these often rabid fanbases been positive or negative? Any particular stick out in your memory?

AI: One thing I remember is reading on a couple of comics websites, shortly after Daredevil Noir was announced, that it was a stupid and redundant idea. People had already formed their opinions about it based on how they felt about the existing character without giving a single thought to the possibility that the story might be worth reading. Then it was interesting to see a number of those commentators change their minds and decide it was a pretty cool story. This is the dynamic you let yourself in for when you work in established continuities. But it’s all good in the end because the readers are interested and respond to what you do.

SoY: You’ve written both novels and comics. How did you transition from writing novels to writing for comics? Does working across multiple formats make it easier to stay creative?

AI: I find that working in different formats is great for creativity. Not only are you telling different kinds of stories, but you’re constantly discovering new ways to tell stories. Some of those discoveries are transitive across formats and some aren’t, but all of them get you thinking in unexpected directions, which is always great. There’s a learning curve, though. It was tricky for me at first to learn how to say less in a script. My instinct was to go into great detail about everything I wanted in every panel, but I found it worked better (at least in terms of my relationship with the artist(s) I was working with) if I wrote the script so that it had everything in it I really needed to see in a certain way, and left the rest up for discussion as the script gets transformed into a comic book. Until I find a better way, that’s what I’m going to do—and of course that interaction is much different from the internal discussions you have while you’re writing a piece of fiction.

SoY: You are contracted for a 6 issue miniseries but you get to pick the superhero/comic book character. Who would you choose and what type of story would you want to tell?

AI: I think I would do a story in which Dr. Strange and Wong fall in love and confront an occult menace accidentally brought into our world by Jack Parsons in 1950s San Francisco just as the Beat era is really coming into its own.

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)?

AI: The truth is, I wish I had writing habits. I write whenever I can snatch a moment or an hour. If you’re a single guy with no kids and no job, you get to have a writing schedule. If not, you sledgehammer it in wherever you can make it fit. That’s what I’ve been doing for eight years now, and it has sort of worked. In the end, it’s the writer and the blank page. If you want to make something happen, you will; if not, that’s a separate question. I do confess to a weakness for writing in bars because I like the background noise they provide. Beyond that, all I can say is that it may be bizarre, but I take time where I find it and I try to find time wherever it appears. It’s all pretty ad hoc.

SoY: Excuse my geek-out but I am a complete and utter Star Wars junkie. Can you provide any details of your upcoming Star Wars novel featuring Nomi Sunrider?

AI: I really can’t say much. The story develops the relationship between Nomi and Vima Sunrider and involves a resurgent threat from Sith and Mandalorian forces. Plus I introduce a new character that I’m really enjoying, a sort of interstellar scavenger who runs across some artifacts that are a little more than he can handle.

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?

AI: The passage of time is probably the one thing most likely to make me no longer up-and-coming. My first book came out seven years ago, and my short fiction started to appear two years before that. I’m a little surprised (pleasantly, of course!) to have been included on that list; I guess sometime in the last few years I had stopped thinking of myself as up-and-coming, and I’m glad that people disagree! If, however, I were to be removed from the list, I would nominate Vandana Singh to replace me. If she isn’t already on it.(She is)

SoY: Who wins in a fight to the death between Harry Potter, Optimus Prime, Tom Bombadil, and Boba Fett?

AI: Because I am a tree-hugging pinko at heart, I’m going to say Tom Bombadil.

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?

AI: I want Philip K. Dick to write The Owl in Daylight. Or, if that’s not possible, I want him to write the sequel to The Man in the High Castle he began and apparently abandoned. There’s a chapter of it in his papers at Cal State-Fullerton. Either way—especially with The Owl in Daylight—I want Tessa Dick to stop her graverobbing.

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

AI: Probably Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. It’s not new, and it’s not SF, but it really is the best thing I’ve read in the last year. Killer book.

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

AI: Funny you should ask. There’s the blog and the twitter and the Facebook, etc. There’s also a web site that is still in the process of being rebuilt. That’s at and will soon have actual information on it.

Unfortunately for me, Irvine's Star Wars novel won't be out for a while. Fortunately for me, and for anyone who isn't hopelessly addicting to Star Wars continuity, that Historical SF novel sounds might intriguing. H.G. Wells? I'm thinking time travel... The George Psalmanazar fake story about a fake book written by a conman sounds pretty good as well.

On a related note, I wonder if I stopped learning about new books now, would I finish everything I wanted to read before I died? Sigh. At least some authors COUGH* GRRM *COUGH give you time to catch up on your reading.

Anyway, thanks again to Alex for participating. And go out and buy Buyout!

Kindle Killer?

I saw this little device over on Gizmodo and I must say it looks impressive. The dual touch screens and color display could really make for an excellent eBook reader. Granted it all comes down to functionality but I feel like I would enjoy reading from this more than a Kindle or an iPod Touch.

Who knows if this will every see the market but if it did, I might have to get one.

Sep 20, 2009

YetiReview: The Quiet War

21 Words or Less: A Hard SF extrapolation of intrasolar colonization that emphasizes excellent scientific elements at the expense of plot and characterization

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Good: Solid Hard SF that lacks any scientific errors apparent to the average reader; Filled with intriguing ideas of genetic manipulation and social experimentation; Offers a complex, multifaceted political system that seems realistic

The Bad: Characters are all bland and unappealing; Plot suffers from book-one-itis; Pacing problems make retention more difficult.

Space is a cold, dark place; unwilling to compromise and necessitating brilliant science and fantastic technology just to stay alive. Paul McAuley's The Quiet War is no different. Arrogantly intelligent, dispassionate, and otherwise off-putting; the five central characters fail to create any type of tension or reader engagement. Two are genetic scientists who are reluctantly pulled into the rapidly dissolving political situation between the Earth based nations and the populations of the Outer Systems. No matter the abuse or external manipulations Macy Minnot and Sri Hong-Own face, they remain self-centered and otherwise disinterested in the titular "quiet war." Not to mention the fact that they repeatedly assert their own intelligence, despite making illogical decision after decision. This brings into question, McAuley's choice of including these characters in the book. They do stuff but it's just stuff: forgettable events that don't influence much of anything and aren't particularly interesting or entertaining.

Similarly, the inclusion of Cash Baker, another of McAuley's PoV characters, is suspect. Cash, a fighter pilot who is genetically cut to interface with his ship, has only a few point of view scenes and his minor contributions to the book are outweighed by the extra page count they result in. There was simply no reason for including him in this already bloated book. While the fourth character, Loc Ifrahim, manages to evoke some emotion, the desire to see a character die so his scenes stop is rarely a good thing. He's wormy, irritating, and insignificant (despite his own delusions of grandeur). The last character is Dave #8 who as his name suggests, is one of a batch of clones who are raised to be perfect supersoldiers devoid of personality. He's also the most interesting character in the book.

Luckily, the novel is mostly redeemed by the strengths of McAuley ability to conjecture. His vision of the future solar system is extremely interesting and the technology that allows humanity to survive in the harsh environs of Jupiter's and Saturn's moons is fascinating. Vacuum organisms that are engineered to construct valuable resources in the cold emptiness of space, futuristic cults that believe they are receiving messages from their time-traveling selves, secret underwater gardens where no life should exist, livable outposts on every place imaginable (and some that aren't), plants that utilize electrical currents or temperature gradients instead of photosynthesis. And those are only a few of the wondrous concepts introduced by McAuley. The science appears to be solid if hypothetical, and on more than several occasions the potential repercussions engaged the ever important "What If?" function of the imagination. The problem here is that the story and the characters are what distinguish a science fiction novel from a science journal article or text book entry and it's not good when your science is more interesting that the people interacting with it.

To be fair, The Quiet War is the first book in a multiple book arc. It's possible that the books are more serial than episodic and there are several volumes telling a single story. If that's the case, then The Quiet War represents little more than an introduction of the characters and settings that will be utilized down the road. Cash Baker and Mary Minnot might end up influencing the political future of the entire solar system. It's certainly possible. However, in the 470 pages provided thus far, McAuley doesn't appear interested in maintaining an audience to reach that point.

Not only does he bloat what should be 200 pages or less of introductory material into a full novel, the way McAuley chooses to structure the book is almost unexplainable. Rather than rotating point-of-views, he opens the book with two quick scenes with Dave and Cash and then doesn't return to them until 125 pages later by which time I had almost forgotten about them both. The infrequent Dave chapters feel out of place for the majority of the novel and the even more infrequent Cash chapters never manage relevance. And it's not only the PoV decisions. The Quiet War lacks a concrete plot and any semblance of a traditional story structure (rising action, conflict, etc.) except for lots of introduction/exposition and a very weak climax. The closest thing to a plot is the repeated encounters between Loc and Mary but it simply doesn't work and even if it did, it still wouldn't have mattered in the big picture. Throughout the book, the ratio of page count to plot relevance is mind boggling. If it wasn't for the strength of the occasional aside as McAuley expounds upon the hypothetical science of the Outer System colonies, the book would suffer greatly.

All in all, whether it was overly inflated expectations resultant from positive UK reviews, the nearly flawless record with an otherwise brilliant line of Pyr books, or the unrealized story potential represented in McAuley's carefully crafted future, The Quiet War was a disappointment.  I expected more and I simply didn't get it. At this point, I don't know if I will read McAuley's follow up, The Gardens of the Sun, which makes its UK debut in October. I still might tune back in as I remain curious why McAuley included the characters he did. They've got to do something down the line, right? It's also possible that McAuley simply wrote an epic too large for a single book and didn't do enough editing to turn the first part of the story into a story capable of standing on its own. While that's still worrying, it's less disturbing than the alternative. Either way, you've got to weigh the inferior story elements against the excellent setting they occur in. It's your call on this one.

Sep 18, 2009

YetiContest: Galileo's Dream

Long story short, I accidentally ordered 2 copies of Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream. Rather than send the package back to the UK, I'm going to offer a free copy to one of my few readers. Oh and it's the one with the pretty cover. You can read more about the book here.

Contest Rules

-1 entry per person (total, not per day)
-US Residents Only (Excluding Hawaii and Alaska) - This is my own money here, and I'm not made of it. I'm already shelling out for a free book.
-Contest will run until midnight, Sept 30th, 2009.
-Winner will be selected via random number generator

If you want to enter, send an e-mail to YetiContest [at] gmail [dot] com containing the following:

-Mailing Address
-Favorite Up-and-coming Genre Author (who has published less than 5 novels)

Good luck!

Sep 16, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Laird Barron

It's Thursday (or close enough) and that means the next installment in the Keeping An Eye On Interview Series. Most of the authors on SF Signal's Watchlist would be shelved on the SF or Fantasy shelves in the local bookstore. Not Laird Barron. He does his own thing and he does it well. Barron specializes in the terrifying, the occult, the things that live in the dark and go bump in the night. Okay, he writes horror and, quite obviously, he's a hell of a lot better at it than me. But don't take my word for it. Take the word of Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, or Gardner Dozois. Or if you don't trust any of them as a result of some sort of Lovecraftian paranoia, you can look at the shortlists for the World Fantasy Award, Sturgeon Award, Crawford Award, Shirley Jackson Award, or the International Horror Guild Award. You'll find his name there as well. Laird's biggest work so far is probably his first collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories but I was pleased to report that he has since sold a second collection as well as a debut novel to be published in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

But now that my lack of authorial talent has scared you into submission, it's time to see what Laird had to say.

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?

LB: I have a novelette called “Catch Hell” coming out in Ellen Datlow’s Lovecraft Unbound in October, and another novelette, “The Broadsword,” in S.T. Joshi’s Black Wings. Black Wings, also a Lovecraft-themed anthology, is due this winter. Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas recently co-edited an anthology called Haunted Legends, and my piece, “The Redfield Girls,” is in there. Tor looks to be releasing that sometime during 2010. There are some other pieces that I can’t divulge as of yet.

The biggest news for me is that Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade Books purchased my sophomore horror collection, Occultation, and my debut novel, The Croning. The collection contains two original tales and is introduced by the great Michael Shea. Look for Occultation in October, 2010, and The Croning in the summer of 2011.

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, comics, etc.) would you like them to read?

LB: Probably a novella called “Hallucigenia” that first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The novella is my favorite form. It possesses several advantages of a novel and none of the limitations of a short story. “Hallucigenia” hits a good cross section of themes and set pieces central to my work -- hard bitten protagonists, dark cults, insanity, gratuitous rumpy pumpy, esoteric lore, super science, monsters, and cosmic horror all tangled up in pulp-noir webbing.

SoY: I was happy to see that you sold your DEBUT NOVEL to Night Shade Books recently. What was your reaction when you heard the news? How is work on The Croning going?

LB: I worked on my first book, The Imago Sequence & Other Stories, with the gang at Night Shade. It’s a beautiful book. Eleni Tsami created the art and Claudia Noble designed the cover. They did a terrific job. So, it pleased me to no end that Night Shade picked up my new collection and green lighted The Croning. The first collection has done well critically and commercially, but this demonstrates faith on the company’s part and I appreciate that immensely.

The Croning novel is well on its way to a first draft. It’s about an elderly man who discovers his wife has kept some dark secrets from him over the course of their marriage. Or, high concept: Wilford Brimley Goes to Hell. The manuscript will be delivered to Jeremy Lassen by July 2010.

SoY: Out of all the authors on the list of up-and-comers, you seem to be the “horror” guy. What do you love most about the horror/dark fantasy genre? Is there a difference between the genres you read and what you write?

LB: Horror is my motor. It gets to me on an animal level and satisfies my impulse toward scenario building. Probably a product of a childhood that was often more about basic survival than maturing into a well-adjusted adult. I’ve always been plagued with vivid nightmares and much of my work originates from these seeds. Supernatural horror is an escape valve for my unresolved questions of spirituality. It’s my way of licking wounds that refuse to heal.

Most of what I read in my formative years adhered to pulp, fantasy, and science fiction formulas. Lots of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Louis L’Amour, Roger Zelazny, Robert Howard, etc., etc,. However, once I got into Poe and Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell, Michael Shea and Peter Straub, Michael Moorcock and Clive Barker, I felt like I’d come home.

On the balance, I’ve read a lot more nonfiction than anything else these past seven or eight years. I research my stories to a great extent. The research consumes a significant portion of my non-writing time. It often leads me astray as I tend to get sidetracked by divergent subject matter. I start out studying therapy for mental depression and wind up, hours later, reading about the mighty Argentine ant super colony that will inherit the Earth.

SoY: How are you finding the transition between the short form and writing a novel? Any advice to authors struggling with their first novel?

LB: I once wrote an epic fantasy of some three hundred thousand words. The manuscript is safely trunked alongside an emergency lighter. The process is similar to producing a novelette or novella, only magnified. I hesitate to dispense advice regarding novels. On the other hand, regarding fiction writing in general -- art doesn’t materialize from a vacuum. Read a book, watch a play, listen to music. Pay attention to your surroundings, turn everyday trials toward a creative purpose. Absorption is far more important than distillation.

For me, it boils down to ninety percent intake and ten percent output. That said, cultivate discipline, put yourself in The Chair on a routine basis, and make the words, the sentences, the paragraphs. Building mental endurance operates on the same principal as building a tolerance for physical exertion. If you want to run a marathon, you run. You want to become larger and stronger, you lift weights. For best results, you don’t train in fits and starts. Performance is a result of routine and regimented activity. Frankly, when it comes to writing, that’s the easy part, the part you get to control.

SoY: Which authors influenced your writing style the most? What author would fill in this blank, “If I can write a novel as good as ___________ , I’d consider my career a success.”?

LB: Sticking to horror/dark fantasy authors: Roald Dahl, Roger Zelazny, T.E.D. Klein, Michael Shea, and Peter Straub are all tremendous influences of mine. Over the past decade I’ve come to love Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, and Shirley Jackson. “The Summer People” is among my favorite stories; its atmosphere and characterization resonate with me, rattle around in my head when I’m putting my own stories together. If the last thing I ever did was write a novel half as remarkable as Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or Peter Straub’s KOKO, it’d be the literary equivalent of dying with my boots on.
SoY: You grew up in Alaskan and even raced the Iditarod several times. What was that like? What’s harder; racing the Iditarod or writing a novel?

LB: Alaska is a tough place to live. Dwelling in poverty in the wilderness of Alaska, as my family did, is another kettle of fish altogether. I think growing up in an environment hostile to humans is a formative experience, physically and psychologically. Profound cold, profound heat, exaggerated extremes of light and dark, and intense isolation, are elements of the person I’ve become and inform the subjects I choose to write about. These days, I live in a quiet, shady greenbelt suburb with a house and a white picket fence. My snowshoes, guns, and knives are in storage. I’m fine with that.

The skill sets involved in wilderness travel and fiction writing don’t overlap much, except insofar as both require the ability to withstand prolonged interludes of mind-crushing boredom. Novel writing is fraught with its own brand of peril. However, I’m pretty sure I won’t be freezing my balls off during the process. That’s really all the encouragement I need to persist.

SoY: Your short story, "Procession of the Black Sloth," is being developed by Fineprint Productions. What is that story about? How is that going? What has been your experience with that segment of the entertainment industry?

LB: “Procession of the Black Sloth” is a novella about a security consultant sent to Hong Kong to hunt down a corporate spy. The protagonist takes residence in a compound reserved for foreign nationals -- an old, decaying structure that is inhabited by an insidious cult. It’s an homage to horror, especially that found in Asian cinema. I’m a devoted fan of Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa and have found inspiration in films such as Audition, Gozu, and Cure. The “Sloth” piece was original to The Imago Sequence & Other Stories, and my agent has taken a special interest in developing it for film. Developmental work on “Procession of the Black Sloth” is in the embryonic stage. A couple of other stories are actually farther along the path to production at the moment.

I’ve been contacted by a number of producers since my stories first began appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. A couple of pieces were optioned. My collection attracted quite a bit of interest from Hollywood. Who knows where it all will lead? I certainly count myself fortunate to have film and lit agent Brendan Deneen on speed dial. A former executive with Dimension Films and others, he’s a good man to have in your corner.

SoY: If you have one, what your opinion of Hollywood “horror”? It seems like their take on horror recently is more torture porn than anything else. What would you like to see change?

LB: It’d be nice to see fewer remakes. I long for the return of the hard R film as a staple. Down with the jangling music, incessant jump cuts, and the almost sterile, clone-like similarity of pop films. Asian horror tropes have infiltrated Hollywood over the past decade-plus, but much of the complexity, the quirkiness, and unpredictability has been lost in translation.

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)?

LB: I’m a night owl. I do my best work between midnight and dawn. My sleep schedule is pretty odd -- I have a tendency to nap for two or three hours at a stretch rather than actually go into deep sleep. Every couple of weeks I hibernate for twelve hours.

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?

LB: William Goldman. He hasn’t written a novel since Brothers, back in the ‘80s. Magic, The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, are all classics. I learned a great deal regarding characterization from reading his books and watching Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. Goldman has been one of the brilliant lights for many, many years.

SoY: What’s your favorite horror subgenre?

LB: I’m fascinated with the occult, the pursuit of forbidden lore, the consequences of attaining such knowledge. Cosmic horror, technology run amok. I also have a soft spot for tales that feature strong noir/mystery aspects.

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

LB: "The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti", a novella by Stephen Graham Jones, and several excellent collections: Mr. Gaunt & Other Uneasy Encounters, by John Langan, The Autopsy & Other Tales by Michael Shea, Worse Than Myself, by Adam Golaski, When They Came by Don Webb, Northwest Passages by Barbara Roden, The Darkly Splendid Realm by Richard Gavin, Eyes Like Sky and Coal & Moonlight by Cat Rambo, The Fungal Stain by Wilum Pugmire, You Might Sleep… by Nick Mamatas, and The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer.

Novels: Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep is a sensational work that beats crime conventions to a bloody pulp. I just discovered a novel from a few years back by Cody Goodfellow called Radiant Dawn. Goodfellow writes supercharged cosmic horror -- Lovecraft on crack..

Poetry: Unexpected Light by C.E. Chaffin. A veteran poet and editor, Chaffin’s work is spare, romantic, and dark as hell. I worked with him and his wife Kathleen Carbone at the now defunct Melic Review. Melic was a classy outfit, once recommended by US poet laureate Billy Collins. I have a great love of poetry and have written quite a bit over the years. I believe it’s helped refine my prose.

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

LB: Readers are welcome to drop by my journal The Imago Suite at imago1

Now horror is typically not my thing but I gave Laird Barron a try when I originally came across the SF Signal Watchlist and I came away impressed. It was something outside my normal reading patterns and a very welcome change. I strongly recommend The Imago Sequence as well as any of the anthologies featuring Barron's short work, particulalry anything edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow.

As always, thanks to Laird for participating and thanks for reading. Come back next week for more!

Sep 15, 2009

Reading Retention

I was reading a brief article on the new Dan Brown book today and it made mention of Digitial Fortress and Deception Point; Dan Brown's two first books which made it big after the success of The Da Vinci Code. Coincidentally, those are the two books in which I figured out that Brown "Scooby Doo's" all of his book. The main antagonist always ends up being someone you thought was on your side. His books are fun but formulaic. It will be interesting to see if he grew as a writer since The Da Vinci Code hit it big.

But back on topic, I remember reading both Digitial Fortress and Deception Point after enjoying Brown's Robert Langdon adventures. But thinking back on it, I only remember that one of the books was about cryptography and the other involved some type of government scandal involving an NSA director. That's about it. No characters, very very few plot points, and suprising little setting. I probably read those books 5 years ago and have read approximately 100-150 novels since then but it still seems a little strange that I remember so little. What alarms me even more is trying to recall character names from books I read earlier this year (albeit over 10 books ago).

Sometimes I worry that I'm so eager to get to the next book that the book I'm currently reading doesn't really sink in. Maybe I don't read in quiet enough locations. Maybe I don't engage my mind fully enough to commit the stories to long term memory. Maybe there isn't anything wrong with me and it's just what happens with reading so many books. I also tend to get very caught up in things like this. If I read a line where a character has a injury that I don't remember them getting, I have to go find the line that I missed and make sure everything fits together. Nothing bugs me more than internal inconsistencies. It's also one of the reasons I don't like reading series until I can read them all together. Otherwise the little details I forget will drive me crazy. I guess it's something I will have to get used to as I'm sure my life will only become more hectic as time goes on.

But think back to that book you read a few months ago. Last year. When you were a teenager. How much do you remember? Am I out of the ordinary?

Vampires? Vampires. Vampires!

Over at Pyr-o-mania. Lou Anders announces the first Pyr published stories featuring vampires. The Vampire Empire series, written by Clay and Susan Griffith, promises "Alt. history steampunk vampire."

Anders goes on to provide a little more detail on the series as described by the Griffiths:

"We are thrilled to be working with Pyr books on Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar," they [the Griffiths] say. "Pyr has always published the sort of rich fantasy we enjoy reading, so it’s a great treat to write for them too. Vampire Empire is the culmination of our love of fantasy, history, and rousing pulp adventure. The world of the novel consists of familiar Victorian history blended with strange twists to create a vast tapestry of politics and war fueled by odd steampunk technology. We think our take on vampires will excite you. But mostly, we promise that we know, as any reader does, characters count more than anything else."
I'm slightly intrigued as it is Pyr. But on the other hand, the mediapalooza for all things Twilight and True Blood have really soured me on vampires. That's not to say that these won't be good books. It's just that when the most popular vampire on the planet also is a raving pedophile, it just makes the bloodsuckers appear kinda sucky. It will also be interesting to see how Steampunk fits in. I've found that the term Steampunk is thrown around a lot, sometimes where it doesn't really belong. It seems to be a SFF buzzword in today's circles.

I'm also not liking the title. Vampire Empire? It rhymes, or does it? It just doesn't do it for me. If you are reading this Lou, I would recommend Blood Empire instead.

Right now this one is a wait and see for me. I'm going to need to see some reviews and/or some more information. Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar is penciled in for late 2010/early 2011. It should be interesting to see if the vampire market survives until then or if people will get burned out on Twilight and other vamp stories by then.

So what do you think? Vampire Empire or Blood Empire? Are you still interested in vamp-centric fiction?

Either way, congrats to Clay and Susan, I'm eager to hear more!

Sep 14, 2009

Covering Hypothetical Covers: The Sage King

Yesterday at a neighborhood art fair, I stumbled upon this piece of art by a local artist by the name of Bryan Sperry ( It's called The Sage King, which is also what the Asian characters translate to. Either that or The Fairy Princess. I don't read whatever language that is, so I took his word for it. But I love the picture and it was the right price so now it's hanging up on my wall.

So why bring it up on the blog? Because I think that "The Sage King" would be a great fantasy title. And I happen to think that this would make eye-catching cover art.

Ignoring the horrible picture I took, what do you think? Would you pick up "The Sage King"? Would this cover art attract your eye on bookstore shelves?

Sep 9, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Paolo Bacigalupi

I was particularly excited to interview this week's subject for Keeping An Eye On...: Paolo Bacigalupi. Like all of the authors on SF Signal's Watchlist, Paolo's early work has been spectacular. What distinguishes him in my mind, is his skill at writing plausible, provocative, and more-than-slightly disturbing environmentally-themed fiction. In a lot of ways, the next couple of decades will be shaped by the success or failure of the green revolution in the same way that the space race and the computer age influenced the 60s and 80s. Paolo Bacigalupi will be there, setting the bar for genre authors when it comes to predicting the problems and the improvements of the next generations.

There's a reason why Paolo sits on the top of the Watchlist with no less than 5 nominations.

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?

PB: The main thing you should be looking out for is my novel The Windup Girl. That's the big project that's eaten my attention for the last three years. We launched the book at Worldcon in Montreal, and it will be in wide release soon after. The story is set in the same universe as my Hugo-nominated novelettes "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man." and it focuses on the hunt for a seedbank hidden in Bangkok. It's a bit of a political intrigue and spy novel wrapped around the hunt for genetic diversity. Or, at least, that's one of the storylines. There are four main characters with varying agendas, and as they bump into each other at different points in the novel, mayhem ensues.

SoY: Your work tends to focus on environment issues, often projecting a somewhat pessimistic outlook toward the future. What is the driving force behind this? Is your upcoming work in the same vein?

PB: Most of the news about the state of the environment is pretty ugly. This is frightening for me personally, but actually motivational for me artistically. Environmental science is telling us a lot about our future and what it could look like, whether we're talking about global warming (the current poster child for the environment) or a loss of genetic diversity in our food supplies, or the effects of low-dose chemicals on human development. The surfeit of bad trends pushes me to set my stories in worlds which are often diminished versions of our own present. Mostly, I write these versions of the future because I'm worried about what seems to be happening, and I'm worried that we as a society aren't particularly interested in changing our ways. Certainly the next couple novels you'll see from me will be set in fairly ravaged futures. I'm trying to find ways to tell compelling and engaging human stories within those futures, but yeah, the future looks a bit bleak to me.

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?

PB: Sorry, can't pick one. The main reason I want someone to read a story of mine is so they can enjoy it and feel like they got something interesting out of it. But that means different stories will appeal to different readers. For a science fiction reader, I'd say probably "The People of Sand and Slag," because I like the ideas and the twists, and I'm still a fan of the ending. For someone who doesn't read science fiction but is interested in environmental issues -- probably "The Calorie Man," or else my new novelette "Pump Six." For a general reader just looking for an interesting story, I'd say "The Fluted Girl." Not all of my stories strike the right notes for all people; I've seen people who hated a story like "Yellow Card Man" come back and rave about "The Fluted Girl."

SoY: Your short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories focuses on a range of cultures from all over the globe. How do you go from learning about a culture to prognosticating the future of said culture while remaining genuine and avoiding stereotypes?

PB: The more you read about and immerse in a culture, the more it comes alive, and the more textured and nuanced and detailed and unstereotypable (if I can use such a word) it becomes. And as you research, I think that themes tend to emerge about what a culture values, and what's happening in its daily life that could plausibly influence its future. With The Windup Girl, which is set in a future version of Bangkok, there were a number of things that jumped out at me: a huge amount of political unrest and a history of coups and counter-coups, a deep reverence for the Thai monarchy, terrifying poverty, both urban and rural, conflicts with a Muslim minority in the south, refugees from Burma to the east, a country completely vulnerable to rising sea levels, a history of political independence and survival in the face of western imperialism, a deep reverence for Buddhism.... And of course, the more you read, the more you learn, and ultimately there is more information than you can ever use. The difficulty is that as an outsider, you know you're too ignorant for your own good, and so the urge to keep researching and *never* start writing is pretty strong. At some point, you realize you can't provide a perfectly monolithic description of a foreign culture's future any more than you can provide a monolithic description of your own hometown's future. Your choices about what to emphasize and what to leave out make all the difference, and ultimately, your fingerprints and biases and viewpoints are going to be all over the story. Take three different Thai writers and ask them to extrapolate their county's future, and one hopes that you'll get three very different--but all deeply honest-- versions. Plenty of people say my guesses about a future drought in the western U.S. (where I live and grew up) are wrong, so I don't see why I won't be wrong in some people's eyes when I go set a story on foreign shores. What I'm hoping to do though is to ground my extrapolations in specificity, and to make sure that the story I tell is deliberately and honestly told.

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

PB: I like fast plots with things that explode. When I read, I'm either reading to learn, or I'm reading to switch off. So for pleasure, I'll read military sf, or Elmore Leonard capers, anything that's fast and fun. Otherwise, I mostly pick at books, without any clear focus. I read a few pages here or there, and then set them down again. I used to love reading, but since I've started writing, it's harder for me to immerse, because I spend so much time looking at how the story is structured and trying to see what the author is doing behind the curtain. Otherwise, I'll often read outside of sf and fantasy. I've been dipping into a bunch of Indian novels that I picked up the last time I was Mumbai visiting my wife's family. I've got a reader called Tamil Pulp Fiction that I'm itching to dive into, and I just started a novel called Chowringhee by a Bengali author named Sankar that looks promising.

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)?

PB: Not really. I like to have a good selection of tea on hand. I write at a standing desk, which has helped me be much more productive and solved some back problems, but mostly all my quirky habits have to do with procrastination and avoidance rather than with work. I'm slowly trying to stamp those out.

SoY: FACT: The solution to all of the world’s environmental issues is bioengineering photosynthetic humans. As a speculative author, what’s the first consequence that comes to your mind?

PB: At first, I think, death of the meat industry, but really, we don't need to eat meat now, so there's no reason we'd stop eating it just because we don't need it. Ditto for the rest of the ag industry. But there is the possibility of foodie culture becoming an even more rarefied and elite object, something for aesthetes. On the other hand, if we're all photosynthesizing, maybe that causes mass equatorial migration, so we can maximize our children's health and access to sunlight, so the sun-deprived north wages war on the equatorial zones for better sunlight territory. I think Alaska basically depopulates. Of course, then the question really is... can we *only* photosynthesize? Or is it supplemental energy? Maybe the effect is that we keep eating just like always, but we're also photosynthesizing, and so we GET REALLY OBESE, and just lie around as giant green lumps on lawn chairs, soaking up free sun food and doing nothing else at all. Come to think of it, if we photosynthesize, it would also mean a change in our food spending, so grocery stores and convenience marts would disappear... which would mean that stoners with the munchies would be completely out of luck. But as long as we're engineering ourselves to have chlorophyll, maybe we could add in THC, and sit around clipping our hair and toenails and smoking it. And if we photosynthesize, does that mean we go around naked all the time, or at least wearing transparent clothing so we can absorb as much sunlight as possible? Maybe because we're photosynthesizing we'll do more work outside. So our laptops will have to get rid of these damn glossy screens that have become so popular. And then we'll sit around outside, sucking up sun, getting fat and green, and surfing the net.

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?

PB: I spend enough time worrying about death as it is, I don't think I'll dwell on this one. But I do like Nathan Ballingrud's writing.

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

PB: F***
But then I have to take it out.

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?

PB: I suppose it would depend how much money I was offered. If I could give my family some real financial security by doing tie-ins for Grand Theft Auto... I'd totally do it.

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

PB: FEED, by MT Anderson.

SoY: At what age did you finally learn how to spell your last name?
PB: Three. My mother had to spell it a lot for other people, so it became a bit of a singsong chant to me.

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

PB: I'm also on Facebook and Twitter.

I don't think I can recommend Paolo's work highly enough. If you asked me to pick the one short fiction writer I was confident I would see on SFF Award novel shortlists sooner rather than later, I would have no second thoughts about nominating Mr. Bacigalupi. The day I finished Pump Six and Other Stories I sent an email to Paolo via his website, eagerly hoping that a novel was in the works. When he responded that his debut novel was coming out later this year, I was ecstatic and I've been counting down the days ever since.

The Wind-Up Girl comes out next Tuesday, Sept 15th. You should go get it. I'll be the one ahead of you in line.

Still here...

Just an update as I haven't posted since last Thursday. I'm still alive but doing a bit of traveling and visiting with family and friends. Also attended the opening game of the 2009 Notre Dame Football Season (Go Irish!).

I'm currently reading Paul McAuley's The Quiet War and I'm liking it so far, even though I'm still not that far. Eagerly looking forward to Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl which hits shelves next week.

After that I'm trying a Jack Skillingstead book based on recommendations by a number of authors that I really enjoyed. Not sure if it will be Harbinger or Are You There and Other Stories but that's what I've got in mind right now.

As usual, Keeping An Eye On... will be back tomorrow with an interview with Mr. Bacigalupi focusing on The Wind-Up Girl among other things.

To steal a page from SF Signal, which one of these covers is your favorite? [You can click the picture for a larger view]
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