Sunday, February 26, 2006

Multiple Worlds & Frightening Futures

Sean Williams is interviewed by John Joseph Adams on SciFiWire, about his upcoming Pyr release, The Crooked Letter: Books of the Cataclysm: One. Central to the novel is Williams' unique take on the afterlife, which applies ecological laws and Darwinian "survival of the fittest" concepts to other planes of existence. Recently, New Scientist ran an article that suggested the various parallel worlds of the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics are not as independent as supposed, and that the larger universes may pose a danger to smaller ones occurring below a varying size threshold. I'm fascinated, not the least of why because Sean proposed something very much like this in Crooked Letter, where I encountered it over a year before this article.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Morgan has some very nice, and some very insightful, things to say about FutureShocks in the latest edition of Emerald City. Cheryl writes, "Anders, of course, produced the highly regarded Live Without a Net, and it is likely that anything new he produces will also contain some very good stories." She finds the contributions by Louise Marley and Robert Charles Wilson particularly noteworthy.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

On Writers

Professional writers are those people whom, when at some point in the early development of their craft, they were inevitably told, "You will never make it as a writer," didn't listen.

So, I'm telling you now.

Listen closely.

You will never make it as a writer.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another Pre-Quake Tremor

I've already blogged about David Louis Edelman's extensive website,, launched in support of his upcoming Pyr title of the same name, the science-fiction business novel that takes speculative fiction into the corporate boardroom of tomorrow. The site contains a detailed future history, an extensive glossary, sample chapters, numerous articles on the society and technology of the world Dave has created.

Now, he had added the following to the already content-rich website:

The new downloads page contains downloadable files of Infoquake chapters 1-3. Files are available in Microsoft Word (DOC), Adobe Acrobat (PDF) and Plain Text (TXT).

New background article On Government, exclusive to the Infoquake website. Descriptions of the L-PRACGs, the Congress of L-PRACGs, the Prime Committee and the Defense and Wellness Council, as well as a listing of important High Executives of the Council.

Infoquake is scheduled for release in July of 2006 . Pre-orders are available now on and Booksense and a handful of other places as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Batman of Birmingham

I met the real Batman once.

I'm not talking about any of the actors who have played him on the big screen. And I'm not talking about Adam West, although I was first in line more than once as a child when he made his annual appearance at the World of Wheels.

I'm talking about the real Batman. I'm talking about the Batman of Birmingham.

A bunch of us kids were horsing around in someone's front yard and he drove up in his Batmobile. Batman was an African-American. He didn't wear black or blue tights but instead a sort of jump-suit that was white with brown trim. He had a brown motorcycle helmet that said "Batman" on it. He did have the right shape cape, although it was brown. He was very friendly, not particularly educated, and kept insisting "I'm the real Batman" to us a little more than was necessary, though, admittedly, he looked a good deal more like Evil Knievel than the Darknight Detective. And even as a kid, I wondered why he had latched onto the name "Batman" and not picked something more original or at least more appropriate. I think it had to do with his car, and with the fact that Batman was the only superhero so strongly identified with his wheels.

The Birmingham Batman drove a suped-up corvette, white with brown trim just like his costume, and covered in reflective decals. It had funky flashy lights, fins, and a half dozen different types of radio aerials. There was no such thing as GPS back then, but the car had CBs and police-ban radios, and some sort of bulky telephone. I remember a rocket launcher too, but that's probably just the embellishment of my childhood imagination.

And this Batman really was a genuine, honest-to-god superhero. He didn't have Bruce Wayne's billions--I recall he worked in a garage or something and spent all he had on his car--but every free moment he had, he spent on the road assisting motorists in distress. If you needed a ride, if you had a flat tire, if you'd been in an accident, he would come to your aid. He was all about helping people, every free minute of every day. And that's what made him a true hero.

I don't know his name. I remember reading it when he died, but that was a long time ago, and I was too little then to remember it now. The details were in the local paper, and I've been unable to find anything else about him since, on the Internet or elsewhere. But he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was working under his Batmobile, of course, when his garage door slid closed. He asphyxiated without ever knowing what was wrong. I don't know his age, but he would have been in his twenties or thirties. Those whom the gods love die young. He's the only real life superhero I ever met, and I still think of him from time to time.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Batman: 1970s Hairy-Chested Love God

My favorite comic book writer is taking over the reigns of my favorite comic book character.

And I couldn't be more worried.

Grant Morrison is indisputably the most creative person working in comics today. While he doesn't always succeed with what he does (IMHO), he dares more than anyone else, and the level of his invention is just astounding.

He's also responsible for two of my three favorite runs in the history of comics: his Doom Patrol and his The Invisibles. (The third, in case you are wondering, is Alan Moore's Swamp Thing). Morrison has an enviable ability to see right to the heart of a character and pick up on some essential truth that has always been lying there unexploited, obvious in retrospect.

Case in point is what he did for Cliff Steele in Doom Patrol. A former athlete, injured in a car crash, who is resurrected as a human brain in a robot body, "Robotman" was a relatively uninteresting second-string character until Morrison came along. His Doom Patrol run opened with Cliff on his ranch, riding a Clydesdale (the only horse strong enough to carry him), driving it faster and faster. But having a steel epidermis, Cliff can't feel the wind. He's pushing the horse harder and harder, all in an effort to feel a sensation he's forever denied. Morrison nails the essential pathos from the get go. Later, when Cliff's artificial body is deactivated and his organic brain torn out and stomped flat, he's surprised not to be dead. Then he's told that he comes equipped with a hard disk in his chest, and that they booted him up from a backup. While everyone else glosses right over this - isn't he happy to be alive? What did he need a vulnerable brain for anyway? - Cliff says, "But that was the only human part of me left."

Morrison's Invisibles, for its part, is a really clever melding of Philip K. Dick's Valis with Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy and is probably the most ambitious comics series I've ever encountered. Sure his New X-Men didn't live up to expectation, and while I'm not following his current Superman effort, but I've no doubt it will emerge as one of the definitive works in the Big Blue's cannon.

So why am I worried about him taking on the Dark Knight Detective?

Because I love Morrison for precisely the opposite of what speaks to me in Batman. Morrison grooves on obscure continuity, on looking at the utter absurdity of comic book history, and bringing in precisely those elements we'd like to sweep under the rug when talking about the maturity of the genre. He's a genius at finding the weird nth degree implication of a character's powers, or bringing back that intergalactic romance from a character's wackier Silver Age past. And Batman is a character that has always danced a line between its more realistic and more absurd interpretations. The Dark Knights first year, back in 1939, was utterly grim, but it didn't take more than a few more for Batman and Robin to rapidly descend, in the post-WWII world that had had enough grimness in real life, into zany adventures every bit as silly as the Adam West television show. Soon after this, Batman and Robin were swapping places with their far-future counterparts (something Morrison has already revived) or taking off to be the "Super of Planet X," (also known as planet Zur-En-Arrh.) It was from this past that Denny O'Neil rescued the character, reinterpreting him along his grim detective roots, and banishing most of the rogues gallery for a decade while Batman dealt with mobsters, corrupt politicians, and international terrorists. But the rogues gallery crept back in in the 70s and 80s. While the Joker and Two-Face are fundamental villains that shouldn't be omitted when done well, we got everything from the King of the Cats to both versions of the Mad Hatter, and Batman became a schizophrenic comic book, insisting on its maturity while parading out villains from its early continuity like the Calendar Man. Personally, I miss the brief run Detective had as a sort of House of Mystery style title, in which the Batman would arrive (often on foot) at a mysterious house or would encounter a phantom woman in the woods, and have a very Weird Tales adventure. But I digress...

The point is, with Morrison at the helm - and he's already describing his Batman as a "hairy-chested, love-god" (his take on the Neal Adam's era) - can a return of Bat-Mite be far behind?

Then there is Arkham Asylum, which is a brilliant examination of Two-Face's character, and a more than passable Joker episode. Morrison understands, as Batman never has before, that the Joker is trying hard to communicate something to him, and that by listening, he can defuse the Clown Prince of Crime entirely. There he goes again - right to the heart of a character. Brilliant. But the stand-alone graphic novel disappoints horribly as a Batman story, because of Morrison's fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Batman's masochism, which would never EVER be so blatantly direct in its self infliction. Nor does it take anything but a few choice words from the Mad Hatter before Batman is plunging shattered glass through his palm. Christ-symbolism aside (and Batman is the wrong hero to deify folks; he's the Count of Monte Christo, self-damned for assuming God's rightful claim to vengeance), this comes out of nowhere character-wise. It says to me that Morrison just doesn't get Batman the way that Frank Miller used to or Paul Dini (late of the brilliant Animated Series and related) does. But then, few people at DC do get the character these days. Which is what prompted me to stop reading the monthlies over ten years ago when they phoned in Jason Todd's death and then had Bane break Batman's back. I gave up after that, only picking up the occasional graphic novel to keep tabs on what was going on (best of which is Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale's contributions). But now.. well, now I'm going to start picking up my first monthly in over a decade to see what Mr. Morrison has going.

He's already stated that the first issue has Batman facing off against 15 Man-Bat ninjas (a perfect example of Morrison ferreting out that bit of continuity - after all, in 30 years nobody else has thought to have Dr. Kirk Langstrom's extract administered deliberately to someone else, and why not several someones?). And the issue will feature Talia and be called "Batman & Sons," a suggestion that it will go back into Mike W. Barr's exceptional Son of the Demon, picking up a plot thread nobody else has touched (and one near and dear to my heart).

So, I'll be watching you Grant, to make sure you don't destroy the character forever, not that you care! I'm sure you are going to be infuriatingly brilliant. I'll probably pick it up in trade hardcover when it comes out that way too, damn it! You've pulled me back to monthlies where nobody else could.

But hey, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Paul Dini's going to be taking over Detective, and he wants to make the title about actually solving mysteries. Like I need anything else to read!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mike Resnick's Bilsang: A contest of sorts....

Mike Resnick and I are running a contest of sorts.

Mike has just delivered the manuscript for his upcoming novel, Starship: Pirate, book two of his five book military space opera that began with Starship: Mutiny. The series chronicles the adventures of the starship Theodore Roosevelt, a military vessel operating in the years 1966-1970 G.E. (Galactic Era).

SF Reviews describe the first book as "the kind of easygoing and unabashedly old-school space opera romp for which we've come to know and love him ... whip-smart, fast-paced pure entertainment ... simply pure escapism, impossible to resist by anyone who still remembers that good old fashioned sense of wonder."

Now, if you'll excuse a tiny spoiler, in Starship: Pirate, one of the characters introduces the crew of the Teddy R. to a wildly popular, presumably alien game called "bilsang," said to be as "a game that makes chess and toprench look like kid's games." Mike describes some of the aspects of the game, but leaves the actual rules up to the reader's imagination.

Now, because I thought it was a pretty nifty idea last time, we are running some fairly extensive appendices in the back of each of the Starship books. And when I came to the passage about bilsang, I thought, what a good appendix a set of bilsang rules would make.

So, that brings us to the contest.

We're looking for some brilliant, talented gamers with time on their hands to have a go at creating the rules of bilsang. Entries can be posted here, if you prefer to keep your ideas to yourself, emailed to me through the form on the contact page of my website: Mike and I will review all entries, and, provided we find one we like, we'll run it as one of the appendices of Starship: Pirate. Winners will get a credit in the book as being a co-created of bilsang alongside Mike Resnick, as well as a couple of signed copies of the first edition. (Mike also offers 50% of anything that comes should someone actually make a bilsang game one day, but as you'll see below, there's not really that much required to be made.) Entries should come in before April 15th, but be advised that if we find something that we're sure is just plain perfect before then, we'll take it and declare the contest closed. (Starship: Pirate itself will be published by Pyr in December, 2006, so you won't have to wait too long to see yourself immortalized in print.)

Now, here's what we do know about bilsang:

1. Bilsang is " harder than it looks."
2. It's "simplicity" is what makes it so hard.
3. Bilsang does not require a board, cards, or a computer.
4. Anyone can play it, but not anyone can win.
5. Games last "Anywhere from five minutes to three months." Given that Mike and I want to be able to play test this, we suggest the "three months" description be ignored.
6. Learning the game takes "five minutes for the rules, a lifetime for the subtleties."
7. All that is required is "a flat surface, and twenty pieces. Coins will do. Or medals. Or anything that you can fit twenty of on a tabletop."

Now, since bilsang can be played with any kind of token—coins, medals, pebbles—we can infer that the tokens are not color specific, do not have markings on one side, etc... and since remembering the position of your own pieces among twenty identical tokens is probably too much for the average gamer, this seems to suggest that bilsang is not a game like chess or checkers where each side plays only their own army. My guess is that bilsang must function similarly to go or pente, games that also take five minutes to learn, but a lifetime for the subtleties to unfold. However, how bilsang is really played is up to you.

So, the game is afoot! Who knows, maybe years from now, they'll still be playing your game alongside Jetan and Fizzbin.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I wonder if this ever happens next door...

"Hey, have you seen Rome on HBO?"

"No, no. I haven't really seen that."

"Oh man, you should. It's great."

"I don't know. It takes place in the past, right?"

"Well... yeah. It's about Julius Caesar."

"Yeah, see, I'm just not into into historical fiction."

"It was nominated for a Golden Globe!"

"What? For like Best Costumes or something?"

"No, no. Best Drama."


"Yeah, this is an HBO series. It's like Sopranos or Six Feet Under. You like those, don't you?"

"Yeah, I guess. It's just all that history. I mean, dates and places. It just seems so cold and technical. I just have trouble relating. And everybody talks weird. Thee's and thou's. What is that? It's just not real."

"No, you don't get it. I'm mean, sure this takes place in the past, and they have Romans and Greeks and Egyptians, but that's not what it's about. They are just using those as metaphors for the purposes of drama so they can talk about character. I mean, it's all about people, you know, like relationships, and conflict, religion and politics and in-fighting. It's just like Sopranos, just with Romans. It's not really historical fiction at all."

"So, do you like watch the History Channel all the time?"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Even More Pyr in the News

Keith Brooke is interviewed on SciFi Wire about the extremely positive advanced word on his novel, Genetopia, and George Zebrowski and Yours Truly are jointly interviewed over at Barnes & Nobles' Explorations newsletter. Paul Goat Allen of Explorations has this to say about George's Macrolife:
"One of science fiction's most visionary -- and underacknowledged -- masterworks, George Zebrowski's Macrolife, has been fatefully reissued by Pyr. This 1979 classic about mobile, self-reproducing space habitats elevating humanity to a new evolutionary level is just as wildly thought-provoking today as it was almost three decades ago...Science fiction fans who are tired of what Zebrowski calls "print television" -- novels with little or no intellectual substance, written like they were made-for-TV movies -- should definitely check out this sweeping and profound look at the long-term future of humankind -- a work described by Arthur C. Clarke as "one of the few books I intend to read again." Looking for brain food? Here's a gourmet feast from one of the genre's most sagacious writers."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More Pyr in the News

A very nice review in the January 30th issue of Publishers Weekly for Ian McDonald's River of Gods (forthcoming this March):
“This ambitious portrait of a future India from British author McDonald (Desolation Road) offers multitudes: gods, castes, protagonists, cultures…readers will become increasingly hooked as the pieces of McDonald's richly detailed world fall into place. Already nominated for both Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke awards, this is sure to one of the more talked-about SF novels of the year.”

And Cheryl Morgan has this to say about Keith Brooke's Genetopia (due out February) over at Emerald City:
"a very fine book... Genetopia is not a comfortable read. It is full of vicious and unpleasant people who have become that way because they have found that it works... Brooke cleverly uses imagery from the real world’s slave trade, from the persecution of Jews, from misogyny and so on to reveal the true message of the book... I suspect that Genetopia is rather too disturbing to garner any major awards, but I warmly recommend it to next year’s Tiptree Committee. It is, after all, a plea in favor of diversity."