Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

About the Campbell Award

Just a note to add that I am in my last year of eligibility for a John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Also, I hope my competition involves Felix Gilman, Amal El-Mohtar, Shweta Narayan, and Camille Alexa.

Mr Gilman is in his second year of eligibility, like me, so it's now or never for us.

Best of luck, regardless, to all the spaceships and dragons in the race to the tiara!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Favorite Films

We talk about these things, sometimes: the movies we love.

I'm sitting on my couch, and just over the screen of the laptop is my little collection of DVDs, and I think it's worth mentioning the couple films I watch regularly, over and over again, whenever such a mood strikes.

In no particular order:

#) Howl's Moving Castle - the perfect blend of all that is good about Anime fantasy with all that is good about Western fantasy. Jesus but this film is just beautiful to behold. I often watch it dubbed into French, because I think the sound of French - a language I don't speak - enhances the romantic gorgeousness of the film, the dresses and set pieces and magic spells.

#)The New World - A moving masterpiece of metaphor and space, like an epic poem of this country's foundation turned into a visual/audible dreamscape. It's like an entire movie about the song of birds, wind in the trees, the quiet yearnings of a landscape operating through thoroughly human people in love. Alas, the trailer is terrible and wrong. Here's a scene about John Smith's return from edenic captivity among the natives, into the hard life of a leader of the colonists.

#) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou - If the "manchild" is a major theme of American cinema, I think this is the film that most captures that spirit and the art of that spirit, to me. The boy who would never grow up, who has created this marvelous imaginary world where he can sail the seas with his friends forever encounters middle age, failure, and the death of people he loves. It reminds me a lot of this MGMT fanmade video where "Time to Pretend" is juxtaposed with beautiful scenes of nature's majesty, terror, and huge fucking size. The power and strangeness and beauty of life writ large against the backdrop of the sea.

#) Labyrinth - In a parallel universe, Brian Froud and Jim Henson never stopped collaborating on gorgeous, amazing, strange films. I have the Dark Crystal, too, but I watch Labyrinth more because it is a tad more accessible. The Dark Crystal is also really sad, and gave me many, many nightmares about the apocalypse of the gelflings at the hands of the skeksis when I was a child. I guess I could put either one here, but today I'm in a Labyrinth mood, because I was inspired to write a mosaic novel about labyrinth-style-spaces and I am thinking about when I will hear back from that guy about it...

I've got a few more films I watch a lot, though not quite as much as these few. The Dark Crystal, Pan's Labyrinth, Mirrormask, Princess Mononoke, Cowboy Bebop, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, etc., etc.

My favorite movies of this last year were, in no particular order, "Julie & Julia", "Up!", and "The Fantastic Mr Fox".

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Review: THIS IS NOT A GAME by Walter Jon Williams

[Remember, back in September, when I said this: I'm thinking of converting a couple of the little papers I had to write for school into something resembling actual "book reviews"...]
Just out in paperback this January, THIS IS NOT A GAME by Walter Jon Williams.
As I am working in games full-time, at the moment, I thought it would be interesting to read a book about the future of games and on-line social networks. It's a hot topic, at the moment, and Walter Jon Williams is a solid SF author, capable of tackling the subject intelligently, with an exciting plot. Fundamentally, the book is entertaining and the SF-nal ideas are sound and interesting. However, as a work of narrative, I found the "novel" fundamentally, structurally flawed.
Beginnings, middles, and ends are the fundamental building blocks of plot structure. Implicit with these building blocks is the assumption that the three pieces of narrative connect in meaningful ways. Even with shifty, experimental beasts, like the elusive “Mosaic Novel”, there is an understanding of a fundamental and consistent connection between the chunks of narrative. “This Is Not a Game” by Walter Jon Williams disconnects the narrative between the beginning and the middle in a jarring way, and fails to rise above anything but SF-nal entertainment.
The main character, Dagmar, has two locations in the book, and two sources of primary narrative conflict. First, she is in Indonesia during a financial meltdown. Then, she is located in Los Angeles, during a murder mystery. The disconnect between these two sections doesn't just end with the major source of narrative conflict. In the moment-to-moment actions of the story, the section in Indonesia involves a slew of characters that make no more appearances in the novel once Dagmar leaves Indonesia. The martial arts school that literally saves Dagmar's life out of the kindness of their hearts disappears from the rest of the book. The Israeli private security company that loses a helicopter and the lives of its men trying to rescue Dagmar make no appearance in the second half of the book, despite constant phone calls and contact during the first section. The major players of the murder mystery make only a minimal appearance in the Indonesian section, if at all. As important a role as Great Big Idea's computer ninja plays in the murder mystery, the character isn't part of the Indonesian section at all.
How does Williams try to make it work, with this structural disconnect, and does it work? The first section's action is broken up with a shift in narrative perspective to the individual members of the gamer group that are the heart of the murder mystery section, including a veiled reference to the software that's destroying the Indonesian marketplace. The narrative mechanic of the message board, complete with many of the major players of the second section, ties the larger theme of the whole story, of group minds accomplishing great things that individuals cannot. The character of Dagmar is placed in Indonesia, initially, as her response response to a love affair gone bad, with a man that will become a stalker and murder victim in the Los Angeles section. Finally, much of Dagmar's time in Indonesia is spent in introspection about the characters of Charles, BJ, and Austin, ruminating on how and why things ended up as they did with each character. Combined, however, these tools pulled the reader out of the moment, and out of the intensity of Dagmar's situation in the disintegrating situation in Indonesia.
The conspicuous absence of the Israeli mercenary company during the troubles that result in the Los Angeles, as Charles runs for his life from hotel to hotel and Dagmar integrates an increasingly more dangerous murder mystery investigation, is compounded by the sudden arrival of one of the most important figures in the murder mystery: Richard the Assassin. The tech security chief at Great Big Idea is a vital part of the endgame, but is only introduced as an aside late in the game, and never given a chance to be as much of a character as side characters that aren't as vital to the action of the story, like “Hellmouth”, the game designer, who plays almost no role in the murder investigation but does try to steal every scene in Los Angeles.
The disconnection between the two sections is jarring. The book manages to be entertaining regardless, but after completing the novel, one can't help but feel like Walter Jon Williams began his novel idea with a short story, and then tacked on a larger story at the end, much later.
I am interested, fundamentally and deeply, in what Jeff VanderMeer calls the “Mosaic Novel”, and though I see pieces of that idea present here in Walter Jon Williams' book, I do not see enough to bridge the gap between structurally flawed book and a mosaic piece, like his prior, excellent novel "Implied Spaces". Instead, with “This Is Not A Game”, I feel like I'm reading a short story, and the novella sequal, jammed inelegantly together in the guise of a novel.
Is it a fun book? Sure, it's fun. Go for a ride, if the subject interests you, and you - like me - are a fan of Walter Jon Williams, but expect a big, huge bump in the narrative tracks between Indonesia and LA.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Supreme Court Creates Zombie Apocalypse

I didn't think the Supreme Court was in favor of the zombie apocalypse until I read the news about their latest ruling.

Corporations aren't people, and cannot be referred to as "WHOM" in the same grouping as natural humans... Until now. Treating them as such is a confusion of a legal metaphor, and dangerous to society. Until corporations can also vote, hold office, serve on juries, and have a conscience this idea of Will's is a systemic problem where the very ideals he upholds are being assaulted by the very thing he now support. We both want the same thing - free speech - but the law existed to protect free human speech from the terrible flood of zombie speech.

As it stands, corporations, like people, have a will to "life". The way they stay alive is to profit. It isn't by eating food, pooping, being a good neighbor, and taking care of human health. Nope. Profit alone maintains the "life" of a corporation. More profit=more life. Political speech is very profitable at a large scale. Very, very profitable. the bang for your buck on political ads and flyers is amazing. If I could harness it for book promotion, I would do it right now, this second. Zombie speech is not "speech" as in constitutional free speech, but a business that vampirically skims their lifeblood - money - off the systems humans create to maintain ordered societies. Free speech for natural humans should be the goal of the constitutional law, and that ideal was squashed.

The zombies just got the power to go out and eat your brain - to flood it with disinformation in equal scale to the zombie's life blood: money.

I'm not anti-corporation, and I'm not anti-zombie. I just think that when you know you have a friend who is an alcoholic, locking that friend overnight in a liquor store is a bad idea for the store owners, and for the alcoholic. Giving zombie life the keys to their own, personal, proverbial liquor store - the ability to influence laws to generate profit - is an invitation to a disaster.

It's only a matter of time, now. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. Incorporate or be their gristle!

I have to say, I would not have pegged the Supreme Court for being the harbingers of the zombie apocalypse, but these sorts of things always come about unexpectedly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Luxury of the Palm

When I was flying back, I wrote longhand in a lovely notebook. I enjoyed it. I always enjoy it. When I landed, the daunting task of typing up what I wrote reminded me why journaling is such an act of luxury - like sleeping in on a weekday.

If I had written that rough draft on my computer, I would not have to spend the time doing data entry. That slowing down of the process means I don't do the dishes on my way to work in the morning, because I've got a deadline. It means, I've got to skip a workout video. It means, I've got to lose sleep.

Writing longhand is a luxury, and I enjoy it when I can do it. Alas, I can't always do it. It takes too much time to get to the second draft.

Someday, I will go on vacation without a computer, and spend weeks wandering some exotic place - a state park, New York City, underwater caves - and I will press the ink into the paper.

Halfway through my plane journey, I stopped using the pen and paper, and I started using my own e-mail on my iPhone. I couldn't mail it out right away, what with the plane settings, but I knew I could mail it out eventually, and cut and paste, and gallop into my second draft without any lost time scrivening.

I wonder if someday typing on a full keyboard will be as luxurious as a pen and ink, because we're all tap-tap-tapping on our mobile informational devicery.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

About to take my car to the shop, and thinking that the last time I did that, I got a phone call from Phil Athans wanting the full manuscript of my first novel. Will I be so lucky, today? I doubt it. Still, it reminded me that Phil Athans has a book coming out in July 2010, which I got to see a bit early. It's geared specifically towards the epic/heroic fantasy that leans heavily towards adventurism. Even folks who aren't interested in writing that sort of stuff can learn from it the lessons of Tolkein and Lieber's children.

If I were to give this to a writer, it would be teen writers, especially. I wish I had this book handy when I was a teen.

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When I watched this video...

When I watched this video, I couldn't help but think of Jetse de Vries and his Shine Anthology of Optimistic SF

The music and video are both Royskopp:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I read the news of Haiti, and I wonder what the point of blogging is in the big picture, when human voices are so close to the void.

I'd rather pray for Haiti.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Expedia Sucks.

I spoke to two individuals on the phone with Expedia while trying to resolve a major booking error that left me stranded.

I spoke to two people on the phone about it, both of them were so incredibly rude I was amazed they worked in customer service.

They talked to me like I was a five year old, and used demeaning tones of voice and did not do anything to help me with my situation. The situation was misreading a "0" for an "8", one time in November, likely off my iPhone screen. As everyone who knows me knows, even on a large computer screen, I read with giant glasses because I am practically blind. In the process in place, at no other time would any sane, rational human being have been able to discover there was a mistake with the dates, as that one e-mail is the only e-mail they send, and the only contact I recieved until I found out my flight had been cancelled.

Looking back over other Expedia flights, I used to receive this 24 hour advance notice of a pending flight. What happened to that? Did my spam filter eat it, or did they just stop sending those because they're actually trying to be unhelpful, and strand people? Seriously, Expedia, spam filters do eat e-mails with HTML from time to time. It just happens. When regular customers call with major booking errors, it is very, very rude to assume I am lying when I'm saying that I had to call and confirm with the airline and heard nothing about my return flights - as I did not think I needed to ask about flights ten days away.

Expedia, I boo at you. BOO! HISS!

I had no other opportunity to realize this was in error until I received e-mails telling me I had been canceled out of flights I didn't even know where happening, oh, and now I am stranded in Portland.

After my very unpleasant experience with Expedia, I took a deep breath and called the airline itself. The airline, at least, acknowledged that I had already purchased one ticket, and should probably receive credit for that.

How bad was Expedia's customer service? The guy at the airline, itself a discount airline - US Air - was actually helpful in resolving the issue, polite, professional, and pleasant. You have to have pretty bad customer service to be outdone by an airline.

Boo Expedia! Boo!

The supervisor I spoke to on the phone was named Darcy, and I really don't understand why she felt it necessary to be so rude to me. Does she have any empathy for my situation, where I am suddenly stranded in the middle of Maine, and looking at shelling out a couple hundred bucks to fix something I didn't know was a problem until it exploded?

Also, Expedia, where was your confirmation e-mail? You know, the only e-mail I see in my inbox between purchasing the tickets is one trying to sell me incredible cruise deals(?). It is no surprise to me at all that a spam filter would pick that up as spam. Because it is. THat's why I pushed the spam button. And that's probably why your confirmation e-mail has already been lost to the aether as spam. Because you've been sending me lots of unwanted spam. (You realize, expedia that affects my ability to receive important e-mails from you, yes? Like if I get about twenty e-mails from someone about their attempts to sell me spoons, I'm probably not going to get the one about how my hamster just died. Because, at this point, I'm shouting "SPOOOON SPAAAAM" to this hypothetical e-mail person and dumping it into the very intuitive filters that keep me from getting such things as incredible discounts on cruises <- which I absolutely hate as the worst vacation idea, ever.)

Anyway, that is where I found the last e-mail I ever got from your company, by the way, until I got a cancellation: in my spam folder. The only other e-mail I have from Expedia is trying to sell me a cruise. And there's no flight information at all included in that e-mail.

Frankly, I'm amazed the cancellation e-mail made it through the spam filter.

This sounds very ranty, and it is a bit of a rant, but please bear in mind this is about Expedia, and not US Air, and that it is not only resolved, but I am amused and smirking while I rant because I am amazed at how Expedia seemed to do everything they could, at every step, to make my trip awful, scary, and more expensive.

My experience with US Air was this. I called them. I pounded the zero button three times, like some kind of summon human ritual, until I got a human. The human connected me to another human who could solve my problem. The problem was fixed, immediately, politely, professionally, etc. If I hadn't had the experience with Expedia, I would be posting a lovely note about how the airlines are such nice people, and isn't it nice to know they're looking out for travelers.

And let me do that now. The airlines are basically nice people who are doing what they can to look out for travelers. (Except for those silly check-bag-fees... But when I was checking in and my bag was a couple pounds overweight, the guy at the counter let me repack my bags to at least try and get a little closer to the scale's margin of error, and he even urged me to do so, and even let me slide a little on the weight at no extra cost because he was basically a nice person who was doing what he could for travelers... So, kudos airline!)

Boo Expedia. Boo.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In Maine

Might as well be Iceland... F***ing cold!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Jersey has FAILED.

Some day we're going to look back on things like that with embarrassment and shame. We're going to look back at those guys and wonder why anyone thought it was a good idea to elect the prejudiced lunatics to office. We're going to be sitting around, wondering what the heck we were on to let idiots like them cast votes that hold apart the loving families of the world.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Campbell Eligible Zombies

I'm in my 2nd year of eligibility for a Campbell Award, but I can't say I feel like a new writer, at all.

I felt like a new writer last year. This year, I feel like a dead writer. I am a ghost, watching my first novel, after all the reviews have happened and all the fanfare dies away and the ticker tape has to be swept up by someone and I'm the only one standing around and I, the dead writer, fade into obscurity via google alerts - pings that reach beyond the grave, to my iPhone, while I'm sweeping up the mess in the empty store.

My eBook - a ghost in the machine - hanging on and hanging on... I've got this short fiction that takes so long to sell and so long to see in print after it has sold, so much so that often I forget exactly what the story is until I see it again, and then I wonder where it came from, where I was going with it, and who I was when I wrote it because it feels so far away from me right now. I'm disconnected from all the things that make me eligible. I'm standing on a hill, looking down at all the little houses in time of fiction. I don't know where the next houses are coming from, mostly, only that I've crossed over that hill and I won't be coming back.

I'm eligible for a Campbell for another year - my 2nd year of eligibility - but I don't feel eligible. I feel like I should be getting something posthumous.

Is there a Zombie Campbell Award, for writers who have undead careers?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Marshmallows in a Vacuum Chamber

I did not know they did this until I saw that this is, in fact, a pretty common vacuum chamber experiment for kids, and other people who like marshmallows.

Monday, January 4, 2010


[This is an old bit o' nonsense I put on a message board somewhere and was recently thinking about because my brother just got his accounting degree. Where's his literary/artistic movement? Accountants can actually be cool dudes, you know. With the end of the aughts, and the punk-y discussions included in that, I thought I'd mention my favorite punk movement, in honor of my brother.]

One of the basic tenets of AccountsPunk! is that corporations are basically the undead, as they are legally alive without actually being alive.

I learned this because I read the AccountsPunk! story "Bicentennial Charter", wherein an AI-powered business plan came to life, but had to struggle for the legal right to be considered not a real person in the eyes of the law.

For a while, the movement spun around the conference rooms of various conventions, where meetings were held and ideas were discussed. It wasn't long before the inspirational speakers at these meetings - not one of them a writer, mind you, nor an accountant - emerged from the meetings with actual protoplasmic ideas to be illuminated in written work.

Thusly came the classic short stories such as "No Angels Dance On The Head of This Pin", and "Red Space Money, Blue Space Money", "How To Steal From the Fed and Escape on a Rocket Ship", "If You Thought Ulysses Was Labyrinthine, Wait 'Til You See My TPS Reports"

Fans note that this is the only genre where books are told almost entirely in numerical symbols, charts, and power point flow graphs. Notorious AccountsPunk pranksters encode subtext in binary hidden in the equations that themselves pollute computers used to read the work, sending spam containing the work hidden in binary code inside the spam mail - a puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle, which itself infects and e-mails new puzzles.

The goal of each artist is to tear down corporations from the inside by hypnotizing their superiors with inscrutable performance art projects during meetings.

Followers of the movement can be deduced by the pencils and paperclips used as body piercings, and the copy of the AccountPunk classic, "Add, Subtract, and DIE!" by the movement's founder Chuck Palahniuk's brother, Norman Palahniuk, the novelization of what happened after Monty Python's skit about the corporate pirates, told in the actual numbers that reflect the reality of their actions. At this time, Norman Palahniuk is the only person to have written a complete novel in the movement, though it is rumored that secret novels exist, being passed around from one accounting firm to another - passed in secret like porn or anarchy. Rumors persist of "World War A", when the whole planet is infected with deadly Accountancy that must be stopped, and "House of Expense Reports" where a corporation is larger on the inside than on the outside, once you run the numbers.

After all, say the mad geniuses of AccountPunk, written words are a reflection of spoken words that are a reflection of reality. Numbers are the pure expression of reality.

Strangest of all, in this artistic movement built by money wizards, not a single dime of profit has been made. The anarchic tendencies of the movement precludes the notion of getting paid for one's art.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I'm blogging about games for Apex Book Publishing...

Expect a column once a month, a lot like this one:

Seriously, I played the F*** out of that game.