I have a story up at Podcastle(!!!)

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Well, how about that!

The story I wrote for John Joseph Adams’s HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects has been turned into an audiobook (audiostory? audiofic? radioplay?) and is live at Podcastle right now–“Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One”, my Lovecraftian Taco Kickstarter story.

I guess it should be listed as a radioplay, since they have an actual cast, not a single reader. And that cast has some names in it. Yikes. Imposter Syndrome, ACTIVATE!

I’m listening as I type this, and… is it embarrassing to announce that these guys made me laugh aloud?

Give it a listen, and check out the other stories they’ve done: for example, there’s an N.K. Jeminsin story that includes the disclaimer “Rated X. Contains sex and wolves.” ::sprains mouse clicking finger:: (My story is PG.)

The Rapist’s Respectable Public Face

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There’s been a lot of talk on the internets lately about the allegations against Bill Cosby, and how that secret truth conflicts with his public persona, especially the persona he offered on The Cosby Show. I want to chime in, briefly, to say this is the most common thing in the world.

(Digression: if my assertion that the allegations are true makes you uncomfortable or prompts an argument, please don’t bother. I don’t live my life by standards like “Innocent until proven guilty” or “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” Those are checks on state power to do things that would be illegal for average citizens, things like kidnapping and imprisoning them for ten years, or forcing them to work without pay, or taking their money without their permission, or–in some states–killing them. I don’t have the authority to execute, arrest, fine, or demand community service from anyone; at best, I can think mean things and refuse to watch someone’s TV show. The burden of proof for that is “common sense” and at this point so many women have come forward that it would be absurd to pretend our doubts are reasonable.)

Anyway, as James Poniewozik says in Time, Cosby deliberately tied his real life persona to his own agenda and personality. We were meant to conflate the two because Cliff Huxtable was made for that.

But even if we pretend that Cosby was actually playing himself and not a sitcom character, there’s no reason to be shocked that a likable, seemingly decent man is actually a rapist. Most rapists seem like normal good guys. The ones who write PUA books recommending pressure and sexual assault to get a woman into bed are easy to spot, but most seem like normal, everyday people. They’re family, co-workers, and friends.

“My buddy wouldn’t do that,” is their first line of defense. Respectability is camouflage. And when you’re hanging out with that friend, they laugh along with your joke about what you do when your dishwasher stops working and quietly believe you’re just like them.

The thing about Cosby isn’t that there’s such a disconnect between his public and private life, it’s that it’s so common.

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

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The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, I guess.

I picked this one up because I wanted to see how a recent, successful epic fantasy series started. Like many others, the literal answer seems to be “With protagonists as kids”

More specifically, this seems like a promising start that goes wrong in a bunch of interesting ways.

For example, the setup: This is a pre-industrial world where demons (aka “corelings”) rise from the ground at night, hunting and killing humans. The only protection humans have is to hide behind wards, magical symbols that hold demons at bay.

Once, people had more wards that were more powerful, but as the population has been fragmented and centuries pass, much of the old weapons have been lost. It’s a war of attrition, and humans are slowly losing.

As it is, a fine setup. The story opens with Three Admirable Protagonists–as children–who need to be instructed on The Way The World Works, for the reader’s benefit, and it’s the usual slow-paced epic fantasy thing, where we have to follow them to each new place, to meet new people and see new wonders, mainly because epic fantasy readers are tourists in a made-up landscape.

But… the problems. Brett does play rpgs, apparently, but he doesn’t think about his setting the way a player would.

For instance, wards seem perfect for ingenious, demon-destroying traps, but no one tries to build them. The only traps in the book are really tame.

Also, since you can attack across wards, you might expect the people huddled behind them to be the greatest archers in the world. Nope. Bows just don’t come into it. Yeah, the corelings have thick armor that makes them hard to hurt, but what about a windlass crossbow? What about aiming for the eyes? Sure, you’ll miss most of the time, but it beats the current plan, “cower and hope”.

The corelings themselves must be dumber than dogs or cats… Wards can be thwarted by partially covering them, but none of the demons ever tries to kick dirt or wet leaves onto them.

What’s more, wards (while not exactly rare) are not nearly as ubiquitous as they ought to be. Not enough people know how to do them, and portable circles are too expensive; this shit should be everywhere, because the demand is so high. It just wasn’t believable that towns and houses had one layer of protection, or that repairing/creating wards was an occupation that could make you rich. I didn’t believe it.

Beyond the implications of the setting is the odd pacing of the story, which follows each major development in the three characters’ lives right up to the point where the author realized the book was called “The Warded Man” so best skip a bunch of things to get right to that. The main character vanishes, replaced by Tattooed Batman, and… well, let’s just say it’s a little jarring, especially since so much of his character has been completely changed.

Finally, something serious: it’s one thing to have multiple cultures engaged with a resistance to genocide put heave pressure on women to have babies. It’s not fun, but it’s not surprising. What is surprising is the appearance of fantasy Muslims, complete with burkas and merchants who love to flatter and haggle. I’m especially not pleased to see them set up as antagonists for the next book.

It’s funny. Enjoying sf/f has made me a very forgiving person, artistically. Dude in a rubber suit destroying a balsawood Tokyo? Sure, go with it. It doesn’t look real but I’m willing to pretend it does because I want that thrill.

The same goes for this novel. There were plenty of good things here, especially the supporting characters, and under normal circumstances I’d be willing to pretend that Our Hero is the first person to think of tattooing wards onto himself. But I just don’t want to revisit those warlike, treacherous, faux-Muslims again, so I’ll wait for Mr. Brett to start a new series before returning to his work.



Buy a copy for yourself.

Today marks 25 years in Seattle

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Leaving Philadelphia didn’t fix my life, but it sure gave me a new perspective on it. I also acquired a brand new opportunity to do things for myself. All my life I’d been told I was a lazy person who did the bare minimum to get by, and I believed it. Living in Seattle, I was waking up at 2am so I could write before leaving at 4:30am for my day job, but I still believed that story about being a slacker.

I haven’t made the friends here that I did back in Philly, but I did fall in love with and marry an amazing woman. It’s a good life, if a little quiet. It would be even better if we could move again, preferably someplace sunny.

Yesterday marks 25 years since I left Philadelphia

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I meant to post this on the actual day, but I was busy working on the Fate game supplements and fucking around on Twitter.

Yes, on November 13th, 1989, I hopped on the train and headed off to Seattle, where my friend Andrew had just moved. He promised to put me up in his living room, and I took off.

Was I excited to be going to Seattle? Not for itself, no. Andrew had moved here for a girl but I was just looking to get out of Philly. I had great friends there, but I was stuck in a rut, having graduated from college the year before and fallen into bad habits. In 1989, I was a wake-and-bake stoner, going nowhere, doing nothing, no money, no girlfriend, no prospects. I was still living at home, too. I knew I had to get out, but it just seemed impossible.

Looking back, I was probably dealing with some kind of mental health issues. Depression or anxiety or some mix of the two? Maybe? I don’t know. I’d suffered through a lot of self-loathing over the years, and getting high made it bearable. I’d also had lots of suicidal thoughts, but maybe they weren’t as commonplace as I’d believed. I’d never gone any further than laying a knife against my wrist, just to see how it would feel (answer: not sharp enough) but I figured everyone had those thoughts all the time so I brushed them off and never acted on them. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Anyway, Andrew had a going away party sometime near Labor Day, and I floated through it thinking “I should be doing this, too.” When I contacted him about coming out there a couple weeks after he left, he was enthusiastic about a friendly face.

So I left my friends, my family, and a McJob with a 90-minute commute each way. Plus side for the job, they were nice enough to let me bring my Brother WP 75 to the shipping dock, where they bagged it, stuck it in a box, and packed it with quick-drying spray foam. It arrived in Seattle in perfect working order.

Anyway, late in the day yesterday, 25 years ago, I boarded a train for the west coast to remake my life. I figure that’s probably a big deal.

Randomness for 11/11

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1) An entire Tumblr dedicated to the question of whether MilSF author Myke Cole lays eggs.

2) Stan Lee responds to people who ask him when he’s going to retire. Video.

3) Dewitos: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew.

4) Seventeen-year-old wins science competition by building an efficient algae biofuel lab in her bedroom. I hope this kid becomes a billionaire.

5) Do you get your hair cut at a barber? How to talk your barber about the haircut you want. Includes a helpful video.

6) Museum of selfies.

7) The novel then steps back in time to explain how Rico went from being just another one of Heinlein’s incurious teenaged dullards to an enthusiastic war criminal. In the process, it paints an interesting picture of the world Rico lives in, as well as of the contents of Heinlein’s id. James Nicoll reviews Starship Troopers.

Bad idea number 3,229: comparing authors’ book sales

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Mary Robinette Kowal (who seems like a nice person but I know so little about her that she could be a Nazi eugenics researcher and I’d have no idea) posted a Debut Author Lesson that includes this:

I just got an email from my editor that Shades of Milk and Honey is going into its 7th printing.

Seventh.

Between all the US editions so far, we’ve netted 23,793 copies. That’s not counting the UK or foreign language editions.

Seven printings, but under 24K copies. For comparison, Child of Fire sold over 29k copies over the same length of time plus six months. Again, that would be lower than Pat “Maybe I’ll help Nathan Fillion buy the rights to FIREFLY” Rothfuss’s new book sells in a week, but more than many other authors might sell.

Also, we’re not talking identical formats. Ms. Kowal’s novel came out in hardback first, and those editions are more lucrative than mass market paperback. And maybe her sales numbers don’t include ebooks (my paper ed. sales numbers are ~17K). She doesn’t say and I’m not going to ask.

Why?

Because as she says, it doesn’t matter. You can’t really compare the sales figures, because they’re in different genres, different formats, with different expectations. There are probably a lot of UF books that would be considered a success at 29K ebook & mmpb sales, but Del Rey really invested in the CoF, the sequels sold significantly worse than the first, and Del Rey had high expectations.

So congratulations to all writers who are succeeding by their own standards, and supportive fistbumps to all those writers who haven’t succeeded but keep trying.

NaNoWriMo exists so you can fail

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I wasn’t going to blog about NaNoWriMo (which should be called InNoWriMo) again this year, but I’m a writer and it turns out to be one of the job requirements. My main blog (if you’re reading this on LJ or DW) has a search function so you can check out actual advice from earlier years, if you’re curious. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a plan to write 50K of a novel in the month of November: (Inter)National Novel Writing Month)

In earlier years, I’ve said that I think November is a terrible month for NaNoWriMo. In the U.S., Thanksgiving falls right at the end of the month, and Giftmas planning comes right after. If you’re barely keeping to your daily goals, those big holiday events along with friend/family obligations, can be a deal-breaker.

As CC Finlay pointed out on Twitter, that’s part of the challenge. You’re supposed to make your goal despite increased demands on your time.

To me, though, it seems like an attempt to make writers give up at the last minute, like mapping out a marathon that ends on a long, steep hill, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a fine thing. The thing is, you can work like crazy on a book, fail to meet some arbitrary word count goal, and still succeed beyond your wildest because the draft is pretty good.

It’s good to strive and fail. It’s good to strive and fail at something that is only of peripheral importance (such as the number of words written in a month) if it leaves you with a solid draft.

Sure, there will be plenty of people claiming to “win” NaNoWriMo because they hit the 50K mark. Hell some will declare victory in the first week. Those people don’t matter. All that matters is what you create. And you can’t really call it a failure if the end of November comes and you’ve only written 40K, or 20K, or even 10k words. Just do what you can do, aim for the word count goal if that seems like an opportunity to stretch, and have fun.

Also:

The Dr. Strange Movie

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Yesterday, Marvel announced their upcoming Phase 3 movies, and the earliest new character is going to be Dr. Strange. They’ve even announced that they offered the role to Benedict Cumberbatch.

For those who aren’t familiar with the character, he’s basically the superhero wizard of the Marvel Universe. Origin in brief: Arrogant surgeon injures his hands in car accident. In seeking a cure so he can go back to being his old self, he stumbles upon a world of magic spells, extra-dimensional demons, and fetishized orientalism. He becomes apprenticed to a sorcerer, then takes the role of the Sorcerer Supreme (the magical protector of his reality).

Basically, he faces magical bad guys, extradimensional weirdness, and fights with magic items and spells. And back in the Steve Ditko days, we got art like this:

Note to Disney: get that shit in the movies.

However, it seems that the MCU will continue to run away from the idea of actual magic. In the upcoming movie, Strange’s spells let him “tap into the supernatural, which involves everything from quantum mechanics to string theory, all of which you can manipulate with your hands and your thoughts.” Which makes no sense, really, but if you’re afraid of driving off any segment of your audience, you change Thor into an alien (and turn his story lines into sword and planet adventures) and base Dr. Strange’s spells on “string theory.”

Which… whatever. It’s just a different kind of hand-waving, and I seriously doubt it will satisfy hardcore “Harry Potter recruits for Satan!” types. The truth is, I’m hoping this movie works. Dr. Strange has always been better in the concept than the execution–although I wish Marvel would hire Chris Bird to write the book. His ideas are more interesting than the usual stuff Marvel runs with.

How I think it should be done:

    Skip the origin. Just to show it’s possible.
    At least three Ditko-esque acid trip landscapes.
    Keep Cleo, but without the creepy student/teacher romance.
    Keep Wong, but make him more than a kung fu manservant. Better roles for POC > fewer
    Lose the costume.
    Get a better costume. The big cape is cool, but change the look.
    Keep magic spells
    Lose rhymes required to chant them.
    Lose the magician swears. “By the Vishanti!” Seriously.

Villain: Mordo, with Dormammu lurking in the background.

As for the casting of Cumberbatch (if they’re correct) I don’t really have an opinion about him. I’ve seen him on Sherlock and Star Trek, and was underwhelmed both times. Maybe his performance in THE IMITATION GAME will surprise me, since I thought ST was boring and wanted to walk out of the room when Sherlock was on. We’ll see.