Steles of Sky starred Kirkus review; Audie Award noms!

February 22nd, 2014

And to complete my heaviest blogging day in years, I think, a couple of cool things!

First off, Kirkus starred review of Steles of the Sky!!

Spoilers for the whole freaking series, so be cautious of your clickthrough. But the takeaway makes it all worthwhile:

Considering the trilogy as a whole,
the overused term masterpiece justifiably applies.



*mic drop*

The other cool thing is that two audio anthologies I was part of are nominated for Audie Awards!

One is Rip Off!, edited by Gardner Dozois, featuring a suite of stories that borrow their first line from a classic work. (Mine is from Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. ;) )The other is METAtropolis III: Green Space, edited by Jay Lake and Ken Scholes–third in a series of shared-world anthologies about a possible adaptive, non-apocalyptic future for Earth and the human race.

They are both nominated for the Best Anthology Award. So I’m competing against myself, and the best bit is that Mary Robinette Kowal is also in both. Maybe she can win one and I can win… crap, that won’t work. :(

Oh, and the best bit is, That Boy I Like is nominated for the best audiobook in the Fantasy category for The Republic of Thieves, along with reader Michael Page!

and the only solution was to stand and fight

February 21st, 2014

A FABLE OF SFWA:
or,
WHY I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO GEORGE R. R. MARTIN TEN YEARS AGO AND HOW YOU CAN LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE

So, ten or so years ago, when I was a very new young published novelist, I was thrilled to send in my dues check to SFWA and (red alert) go wandering the forums for the first time. NB: This is the first of many errors I will be confessing to in this article.

While on those forums, I compounded my error by chiming in on a thread about “Why the new writers aren’t joining SFWA.” I pointed out that among my peers–who, even then, were showing signs of being the vanguard of the current Rainbow Age of Science Fiction–SFWA had a reputation for harboring a lot of people with racist, sexist, homophobic agendas.

Well, some people really didn’t want to hear it. In particular, I got into it with two of the same Rabid Weasels***** who still kick around the message boards, creating an aura of toxicity and self-complaints about how they should really be writing novels rather than getting into internet slapfights wherever they go*.** And to make a long story short, I quit SFWA in a huff, as is traditional in our tribe.

If I remember the timeline correctly****, some time later that same year (or early the next one) I got into a conversation (on his livejournal) with no less a light than George R.R. Martin about the same topic. And this is where I owe George an apology, which I make here, and publicly: because George took the time to point out to me that the way organizations change is through new blood joining them, and also tried to educate me about the work done by the Emergency Medical Fund, the Emergency Legal Fund, and Griefcom.

At the time, I was still way too stung to want to hear it.

In the decade or so since, I’ve realized that he was entirely correct, and I was entirely wrong.

I am a SFWA member again; I expect to be one until I die. Because I have come to understand that the people mouthing off on the forums are not in fact the heart of SFWA. The heart of SFWA are the people who do the hard boring work (volunteer work, mostly, by the way–I myself have done a very very small part of it and I am boggled by the scale of the chores that need to be done) of digging through paperwork and sending endless emails for Griefcom, for the Medical Fund, and so forth.

Yes, SFWA does have a certain percentage of Racist Sexist Homophobic Bigots. No, I don’t actually think we should be hunting them down and driving them out. (The Recent Unpleasantness With Mr. Beale being an exception to that rule, because Beale misused SFWA resources to pursue his disgusting agenda.) The reason I don’t think we should be driving out people whose politics differ from my own is simple: witchhunts are a flawed model, and easily turn in the hand.

But I also believe that when people voice their opinions, they can live with the pushback–both from colleagues, and from fans.

I do think we as writers who hold more progressive views should be joining SFWA. I think that SFWA is a valuable organization, and I think that viewing it through the lens of the worst-behaved members is tragic. SFWA is not a social club: it’s a professional organization serving some of the same purposes as a labor union.****** We don’t all have to get along and want to go drinking together to productively support the careers of speculative fiction writers.

I think SFWA should be striving for professionalism in the house organs; I support the SFWA Bulletin being edited with an eye towards modern recognition of equality of and dignity for all people. (I do understand that there are generational shifts in language and how it’s appropriate to refer to one’s colleagues and friends; I think we should strive not to come across as escapees from Mad Men or Life on Mars.)

The thing is, every organization of any size has people I am going to disagree with on many levels–personal and political. Hell, some of my close friends have politics I find incomprehensible, though I draw the line at conscious bigotry. The bulk of the people in SFWA are not horrible human beings; even some of the folks who have recently put their feet in their mouths are not horrible human beings.

But it’s not complicated to insist that female writers, trans* writers, queer writers, writers of color, writers of marginalized creeds need to be treated with respect by their (our) peers. And if that means everybody walking on eggshells for a while until we sort out how we can be comfortable around each other, well so fucking be it.

There is nothing wrong with being on your good behavior in a professional setting. It’s how most people go to work every day.

Mirrored to my livejournal: please comment over there.


*For those of you who just nodded in recognition, yes. Them.
**I also got a number of totally reasonable reactions of dismay, and some calls for my peers to join the organization and change it from the inside***. And several lasting friendships, with people who actually listened to what I was trying to say.
***Oh, the sweet irony of hindsight.
****Forgive me. It was in another country, and several email clients ago.

*****This simile metaphor unfair to weasels

******Edited to clarify hyperbole

Ahem. I have a small announcement to make.

February 21st, 2014

One-Eyed Jack
A Novel of the Promethean Age

Publication Date: August 13, 2014

Yes, for reals this time, and now with a shiny new cover.

The One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King: personifications of the city of Las Vegas—its history, mystery, mystical power, and heart…

When the Suicide King vanishes—possibly killed—in the middle of a magic-rights turf war started by the avatars of Los Angeles, a notorious fictional assassin, and the mutilated ghost of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel–the King’s partner, the One-Eyed Jack, must seek the aid of a bizarre band of legendary and undead allies: the ghosts of Doc Holliday and John Henry the steel-driving man; the echoes of several imaginary super spies, decades displaced in time; and a vampire named Tribute, who bears a strikingresemblance to a certain long-lost icon of popular music.

All stories are true, but some stories are truer than others.

On the naming of parts. Er, storms.

February 13th, 2014

By now, it’s pretty plain that the Weather Channel’s plan to market and merchandise winter storms get people to “take winter storms seriously by naming them” is an abject failure, in large part due to the unintentional hi-larity of the names they have chosen. (Okay, I was fond of “Gandalf.” Next year: Erebor!)

Basically, it fell prey to the same sort of problems these top-down plans always have: in addition to being mockworthy, the names were unmemorable and externally imposed.

So I propose a a plan to name winter storms things that people will actually use. Twitter-friendly handles that combine a unique identifier with a succinct expression of the situation.

Please consult the table below to Name Your Winter Storm.

Date Storm Name
Oct 30-Nov 15 What, Already?
Nov 16-21 Snowball Fight!
Nov 21-31 Well, This Is Gonna Fuck Up Travel
Dec 1-19 Guess We Were About Due
Dec 20-25 Maybe We’ll Get A White Christmas
Dec 26-30 Hey, Let’s Go Skiing!
Dec 31 Ambulances Are Gonna Be Busy Tonight
Jan 1-15 I Really Don’t Mind Shoveling This Fluffy Stuff
Jan 16-31 Why Didn’t We Buy A Snowblower This Year Again?
Feb 1-5 Well, It Always Hits In February
Feb 6-10 I’m Getting Tired Of Winter
Feb 11-15 This Month Is Too Fucking Long
Feb 16-20 My Grandfather Used To Call This Heart Attack Snow
Feb 21-25 Seriously, This Can Be Done Now
Feb 26-28(9) Isn’t It Spring Yet?
March 1-15 There’s Always One Last Good One
March 16-31 Now Cut That Out!
April 1-May 31 You Have Got To Be Fucking Kidding Me

Last night, the Minnesotan admitted it was cold.

January 23rd, 2014

I’ve only seen that happen a few times before. I’ve only heard him admit to being personally cold once–in Grand Marais, at 40 below zero plus a bit of windchill. Neither one of us wanted to be outside, and I’m a Yankee born and a Swede and Ukrainian bred, and a long-term pedestrian and bus rider. I usually sweater up and get on with my day, but that was ridiculous.

It’s not that cold. It’s not even (quite) as cold as it was at the beginning of the month. But it’s sufficiently cold that when I was outside shoveling and taking care of my mom’s dogs yesterday I could not afford exposed skin for even three minutes. (I pulled off my outer glove and used my phone in my glove liner, and my damned hand nearly froze. Likewise an ear, when my alpaca snood/cowl/ear-and-face-covering-tube slipped away from the edge of my hat.)

-14 when I got up this morning, counting windchill. Up to a balmy and tropical -9 now.

As you no doubt have heard, we’ve been having some rollicking weather in the U.S. It was sixty degrees last week, and -20ish with windchill the week before that. (In our barbaric Fahrenheits, yes. Some of us still can’t get over the idea the Earth is round. At least we have thermometers.)  And I live in a house that’s eleventy-four years old, and has some original windows. They’ve been retrofitted with storms, and we have a lot more insulation now, but due to the vagaries of old houses, there are some quirks. For example, my fridge is in the mudroom, which is uninsulated and unheated.

So we dress warm around the house. Witness and behold my styling January fashion ensemble:

Two layers of longjohns (wool and silk) (I guess we’re supposed to call them “base layers” now?), an alpaca skirt, and a cashmere turtleneck. I have a rag wool cardigan for if I get chilly, and I debated a layer of polypro on top as well.

When I got downstairs, I added two layers of fingerless mitts and a beanie.

…and the thing is, you know, secretly I kind of enjoy winter. But I can enjoy it because I’m prepared, because I have this wardrobe (painstakingly assembled out of end of season sales and secondhand stores though much of it is.) I own a down coat that’s basically a sleeping bag with sleeves, and I have more scarves than I know what to do with. (Bless knitters in the family.)

A lot of people don’t have the resources to handle it. They may live in parts of the country where it never usually gets this cold. Or they may just not be able to afford warm clothing. Or heat.

And we’re looking at this hard weather continuing for at least the next seven to ten days, and if that’s the last of it this winter I will be surprised.

I guess the moral of the story is that it doesn’t hurt, if you have to resources, to give to a coat drive or a food pantry or a heating subsidy charity, this time of year. To put out some high-calorie treats for the birds. (Seeds and suet, not bread, if you please.) To build a feral cat shelter.

It’s never a bad time to be kind.

Where to Find your Bear

January 5th, 2014

travel and appearances 2014:

January 10th at 6 pm: MIT SFS: Cambridge, Massachusetts (with Scott)

February 13-15, 2014: Boskone: Boston, Massachusetts

March 14-16, 2014: Tucson Festival of Books: Tucson, Arizona

March 22-24, 2014: Vericon: Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts

April 17-20, 2014: Minicon: Minneapolis, Minnesota

April 25-27th, 2014: RavenCon: North Chesterfield, Virginia (Guest of Honor)

May 1-5, 2014: Mo-Con: Indianapolis, Indiana (Guest of Honor with Scott)

May 8, 2014: Signing at Pandemonium Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts 7-9 pm

May 10, 2014: Signing, Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MAssachusetts 3-5 pm

June 5-9, 2014: Phoenix Comicon: Phoenix, Arizona (Guest of Honor with Squeecast)

June 20-23, 2014: 4th Street Fantasy: Minneapolis, Minnesota

July 3-7, 2014: ConVergence: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Scandinavian Micro-Tour!

July 11-13, 2014: Finncon: Jyväskylä, Finland (Guest of Honor with special guest Scott Lynch)
Then between July 16th and 22nd, Scott and I will be visiting

  • SF Bokhandeln Stockholm
  • SF Bokhandeln Gothenberg
  • SF Bokhandeln Malmo
  • Fantastik Copenhagen
  • (exact dates eventually)

August 8-10, 2014: Nine Worlds, London, England

August 14-17, 2014: Worldcon: London, England

October 9-10, 2014: NYC ComiCon, New York, New York (Thursday and Friday only)

October 31-November 2, 2014: ICON: Iowa City, Iowa (Guest of Honor with Scott)

November 14-16, 2014: Windycon: Lombard, Illinois (Guest of Honor with Squeecast)

Kintsugi and me

December 28th, 2013

Abi Sutherland sent me a kintsugi kit from the Netherlands, and I have just spent a very happy hour using it to fix a pottery vase my dad gave me years ago, which was damaged in a move, and to give prosthetic ears to two pottery bears. I think it would be pretty easy to assemble such a kit from modeling epoxy, resin epoxy, and gold dust, and it turns out the repair process is ridiculously easy and quick.

Kintsugi is one of my favorite metaphors for surviving trauma–it’s true, after all: you’ll never be the same again. As Tom Waits sang,

you can never go back
and the answer is no
and wishing for it only makes it bleed.

But here’s a repair process that proves that even things once broken can be made beautiful and useful again. And the character can be part of the charm.

But the best part is…

Working with the powdered gold means that the entire room fills up with tiny beautiful magical pixie-dust sparkles that glitter and flash.

I’m totally putting that in a book.

Now I Just have to decide which bear will be known forevermore as Tycho Bearhe.

The Shining Girls

December 22nd, 2013

Last night, I finished reading Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, which has been much-discussed this year.

It’s quite good. Good enough that there was some stuff about it that I felt like talking about. There will be spoilers, natch.

2013 appears to be the year in which people publish books about supernatural serial killers and the brave girls who escape and oppose them. It’s the escaped trope of the year. Volcano asteroid movie summer!

So, the central metaphor of the book is for this reader its most interesting element. The Shining Girls functions on several levels, but for me the most telling one is the thematic; the book follows the career of a time-traveling serial killer who destroys extraordinary women, and the life of the one woman who escapes him…

And that central metaphor, sadly for me, is never more than glancingly resolved. Beukes presents a really brilliant overview of the lot of women of the 20th century–of how they have struggled with sexism and in many cases been destroyed by the unflinching serial murderer of the patriarchy, as it were–but of course, the joke is… these women aren’t extraordinary, although the narrative presents them as such.

Or maybe it’s fairer to say that in the real world, women are extraordinary in a lot of ways. I know extraordinary world-changing women who are teachers, preachers, stay at home moms… not just artists of one sort or another.

Every single one of them is a sympathetic and worthy character, which makes their inevitable deaths the more appalling, and on that level the book is stupidly effective. (I was particularly attached to Alice and Zora, and I’m not sure I ever quite forgave the book after they were lost.)

But the thing is… the book postulates, in a fashion that bothered me a little, that they are somehow special women. Or maybe it’s just that the antagonist and his time-traveling evil House perceive them as Special, and as Must Be Destroyed. (Protagonist Kirby’s mom Rachel is no less special than the Shining Girls, but she’s damaged and self-destructive… and the majority of non-Shining female characters are too venal and banal even to qualify as “evil”. So I’m not actually sure what the narrative wants me to think here.)

So there’s no clear thematic resolution or argument here–at least none that I was able to unpick. Patriarchy Destroys Women Who Dare Step Out Of Line. Film at 11. I wanted the book to tell me something more. To illuminate a complexity I hadn’t considered otherwise.

Of course, the fact that this is the biggest thing bugging me is pretty indicative of the general quality of plot, prose, characterization, structure, and just about everything else, I couldn’t find much to complain of. (The book is completely uninterested in how the House works, and what it’s relationship with this particular psychopath is, except for some hints that it provides what its resident desires, but I’m not sure that’s really a weakness when the narrative so patently does not care.)

The other thing that I’m still chomping on with regard to this book is the chewy unresolved issue of the causal loop. Of lack of free will. Of predetermination and predestination. In other words, on one level it seems as if these women are destined to be great… but they are also destined to die. There is no future in which they live.

Time does not fork in this book–nothing that happens is ever presented as escapable. This is made definite and more than definite by the limits placed on the antagonist’s ability to time travel–he can never go past his own death, though of course he doesn’t know it. (He also never seems to meet himself, which is a little odd, given how his activities create loops all over the place. Also, I wondered why he didn’t go for medical treatment in, say, 1984 instead of 1930. I’m just saying.)

On a different note, though. I’m impressed as hell by the South African writer’s ability to express certain aspects of the American zeitgeist, or weighty moments in American history. I’ve said for years that often, the people who write most tellingly of a place were not from there (Robert Frost was born a Californian. Willa Cather spent the first ten years of her life in Virginia.)

I’m pretty sure Lauren Beukes didn’t spend much time in Depression Chicago. But then again, maybe she’s got a House of her own.

2013 in review, fiction edition

December 17th, 2013

It’s been a pretty good year for me, productivity-wise. I’ve published four short stories, a novella, a novelette, a piece of flash fiction, and a novel. And I’ve written and delivered a whole bunch of stuff that’s not coming out until next year…

…and my dance card for 2014 is officially full. That’s a pretty nice feeling right there.

If you want to find any of my work from the past year, here’s your handy year-end list for doing so.

Shattered Pillars, the second Eternal Sky novel, came out in March. This central-Asian epic fantasy has been pulling in great reviews and reader response. I also made an intemperate blog post about being the first writer of an epic fantasy trilogy in history to deliver the third book on time. And I did it, albeit by the skin of my teeth. Steles of the Sky is scheduled for April of next year, and the ARCs are already in the hands of reviewers.

My other stand-alone book of the year was Book of Iron, a novella from Subterranean Press, the prequel to Bone and Jewel Creatures. These stories are also in the Eternal Sky universe, set about four hundred years later and in a different part of the world. In this one, Bijou and her friends race through poison Erem in order to stop a foreign Wizard from making a very, very bad mistake.

The flash fiction was an untitled piece for Popular Science, published in the July 2013 issue, dealing with interstellar travel and the way space smells.

The novelette was audio-only, in METAtropolis III: Green Space. It’s called “Green and Dying,” because everything is improved by Dylan Thomas, and it’s a caper story about an attempt to liberate some IP from a seastead. Of course, something goes… really, really wrong.

And then there’s the short stories!

From Fireside III, “Form and Void,” a science fiction story about mean girls and hurt girls and space exploration and Io. I’m awfully proud of this one, and you can read it for free here. (I think this one is technically a 2012 publication, but it happened very late in the year, and you can actually read it online now.)

From Dark Faerie Tales, “Samarkar’s Tale of the Three Genjia,” in which one of the Eternal Sky protagonists retells a fairy tale. You can read this one for free as well. Obviously, this too is an Eternal Sky story.

There’s a second Eternal Sky story out this year: “The Ghost Makers,” in Fearsome Journeys. It’s about a Gage and a Dead Man who discover they have an enemy in common, and what they do about with that knowledge.

My last story for 2013 is “The Governess,” which was published in Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells. It’s about an unlikely alliance between two very different women… and some other things.

In which I fanwank #Doctor50.

November 29th, 2013

This is going to be a long blog post full of Doctor Who fanwank.

You have been warned.

Also? SPOILERS!!!!!

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So, after skipping the last season and a half of 10, and nearly all of 11 that wasn’t written by Neil or a Christmas episode, I came back, like a strayed lamb, for the fiftieth.

…and I surprised myself by in general, without nitpicking (I could nitpick), liking it a lot. The Doctor being generous of spirit. Check. (A thing I felt often lacking in 10′s tenure–a writing, not an acting, issue) Structural and narrative integrity? Check. The beautiful play of the sonic screwdriver joke into the deadly serious climactic reveal? Check. Archive footage?

Oh god. I made a noise, you guys. A NOISE.

God bless CGI, you guys. My heart.

I wanted to see 8.5 regen into 9, but I guess the powers that be aren’t over fucking with the honorable Chris Eccleston yet, so fuck them sideways. And that is Not Elizabeth Tudor, you motherfuckers. Not in any parallel Earth.

Although yes, I laughed at the deconstruct of the “Body of a weak and feeble woman” quote. Well played, sirs. Well played.

But anyway, what I want to talk about is Osgood. Osgood, yes. And Osgood’s scarf. And Four.

Where did she get that scarf, I ask you? Why is she the girl who calmly (and compassionately) hands her Zygon impersonator her inhaler when it has an asthma attack? Why is she the person who, when the world is falling down around her ears, screams, “Doctor, help me!”

People. This is not Osgood’s first rodeo. And she’s not screaming for 10, 11, or 8.5 for that matter. She barely knows any of them.

…Perhaps I should put it this way.

What is Tom Baker not wearing, when he shows up at the very end, stepping out of his retirement for a word with his future self? (Yes, we once saw him regenerate at a much younger age… but Time heals paradoxies, do it ain’t?)

I say ye, Osgood is not just one Osgood’s daughter*. She is Four’s last Companion.

You doubt me. I see it in your eyes.

But what gesture does young Osgood make, in her scarf, when she hands her Zygon counterpart the inhaler, preserving its life–and by not revealing themselves, protecting the pact the younger (older?) Doctors have forced upon her (both of her) colleagues?

…the prosecution rests.


*Tom by name