What a crazy happenstance at a SF book club

Attended the SF Book Club that meets monthly at Powell’s book store in Beaverton, OR, for the first time. The book for discussion was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I liked it well enough when I read it the first time years ago, if a little disappointed in it. Liked it a lot better this time around. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. a lot of people, but the moderator did a great job being fair and pulling out discussion. Didn’t feel like we really got into any deep discussion, however. Seemed very brief and superficial.

Anyway, doing Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora next. That one I’d not read before, but I sure have wanted to. Especially after the Sword and Laser featured it.

Oh, the wild happenstance? Lauded fantasy author Terry Brooks just happened to stop by and say hi to the group! How wild is that? Portland, I love you! And thankfully, he cleared up and confirmed it’s pronounced SHA-nar-uh, not shuh-NAR-ruh. :)

(Honestly, I’ve not read much Brooks. I thought Sword of Shannara was embarrassingly horrible, but Elfstones and Wishsong were much better. I’d stopped reading him after that. But, there’s no denying his popularity and acclaim.)

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Best week evar!

So, I may have mentioned that I’m in Portland and loving it. There’s been so much to report and talk about, and I’ll have to parse it out over the next few days as I post more (promise!), but for this one, I want to report on the best week ever!

Where to begin….

more »

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Privilege

For reasons, I’m linking these pages here. If you want to read them, please be my guest! But I’m just going to set them here and go.

Later.

In Which Cracked.com Does a Follow-up On “Straight White Male”

Privilege 101: A Quick and Dirty Guide

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My future plans for study and growth

scholarHaving just moved to Portland from the midwest, it’s obvious I’m looking to start a new life. Well, a new chapter. I like my life, and most of what’s in it, so I don’t want a new one. Just, improved. Full disclosure, a large part of the “deal” with moving here is so that my wife can find her own new life. I won’t go into detail as that’s her story to tell. But, suffice it to say, much of my role, at least initially here, is to support her in her search and discovery. And I’m happy to do so! But, while I’m looking for that elusive and decent-paying tech job, I do have some of my own goals — some I’m already working on. . . .

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working on the sequel to Singularity Deferred. And, just moments ago, I finished two intense chapters of it and feel really good about where it’s going. I’m making a decision about its structure that fans of the first novel may find annoying, or really like — we’ll see. Anyway, that’s my main personal goal right now. But, ennui, dissatisfaction, the draw and tease of scholarly subjects, many influences have made me pine for grad school. I miss it. I miss the research, the studying, the reading, the papers, the learning and developing and widening and understanding of things…. I miss it something terrible.

Of course there’s no reason to stop learning and developing! Of course. But since graduating with my Masters, it’s felt like a demarcation, a transition from “scholar” back to working drone, and the old habits and floundering. (Although, like I said, I’m somewhat pleased that I’ve been writing semi-regularly, still!)

Today, it hit me hard. I was reminded of my work in mediated experience in a postmodern world, and the writers I used to research and use, and discovered new books by them… and I felt the need, the absolute need, to continue to study them, model them, and carry on my own scholarship and add to the discourse.

Part of me has been in wait. I’ve known since before I graduated in 2010 (oh my god!) that my next step was to be a PhD from Trent University in Ontario. Their Cultural Studies department is enviable and arguably the best in North America. Either their “culture and tech” or “culture and theory” course of study, I can’t yet decide. But, I figured that’d be something I’d do after our daughter graduated high school, three years from now. Sure, by that time I’d likely be one of the oldest PhD candidates they probably have (I was one of the oldest MA students MSU’s English department had), but I don’t care. I can’t let the unstoppable passage of time and my advancing age prevent me from seeking my goals. After all, how many people take up and climb mountains mid- and post-mid-life? Explore other countries? Take up diving and explore the ocean bottom? Why can’t my graduate degrees be my Mount Everest?

But will Trent happen? Even in three years? I’m in Portland now, and Portland is my home. Sure, I could move to Ontario for 2 to 3 years, then come back. But will I? Sure, if I want it enough, and can afford it….

But then, if I want it enough, why wait until then? Why not start now? Why wait until I enroll in a new school? Do Sherry Turkle or Katherine Hayles or Slavoj Zizek or Hardt and Negri wait to get yet another degree before they research and write their next books?! Of course not! They are scholars, and that’s what it means to be a scholar. You research, study, synthesize, and contribute now, despite where and when you are. Why can’t I do that now?

Soon I will have another mind and body sapping job in order to pay the bills, and I will have to conform and contort my writing and scholarship around that. To do that, I’ll have to give up other distractions: Facebook for the most part, TV and movies, sleep. But it’s not enough, for me, just just proclaim abstinence from distraction, find the latest book on posthuman cultural criticism and read… I need focus, goals, a program and a plan. I need to create my own doctorate program. No, I won’t get more letters I can put after my name from it, but that doesn’t matter. Zizek doesn’t get a new degree for every new topic he researches and then writes a book on. Just as I can’t in good conscience call myself “a writer” unless I’m actually writing, I can’t call myself “a scholar” unless I’m doing the work of scholarship. And I know myself well enough to know I’m unlikely to engage in actual scholarship (and commenting on Facebook articles is not scholarship), unless I have a plan and structure and goalposts.

And so, before work takes up most of my time and energy, I need to get to work creating my own personal PhD program. I feel excited, challenged…happy at the prospect!

…starting and editing a regular literary journal has been a goal of mine for a few years now–I wonder how to incorporate that.

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Portland, I’m in you. To stay.

yay oregonI despise “update” blog entries, but I set myself up for that every time I take such huge breaks from blogging. A lot has happened in the last several months, and I owe it to my fans (all those faithful comment-spam bots that lovingly message every day), to update what’s been going on. I’m sure if John Scalzi ever took a break from blogging for a month or 9, he’d update, yeah? Well, I promise I will try to keep this brief and just the highlights….

So, a few months ago my family and I, and a very close couple, jointly decided to sell most everything we own and move from the midwest to Portland, Oregon. How did it go? Well, we’re here, we have a town house (aka glorified 3-floor apartment), my wife has a job she likes (yay!) and I have been fielding a slew of “1st interviews” with promises of 2nd interviews that tend to not come. These are interviews for places doing jobs in the world of Web development — the field that has been earning my family money since 1998. It’s a field that I enjoy, have enjoyed, but I’m desperately sick of. But, it’s the only thing I know how to do that earns a modicum of money, and it’s money that we have to trade for shelter and food and entertainment, so….

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to write as much as I can. Frequenting coffee shops until I find The Comfortable One and writing a chapter or two of the sequel to Singularity Deferred. My goal is to have it completed and edited by the end of 2014. Then, come 2015, I can go gangbusters on marketing and selling parts 1 and 2 and earn a bit of monies from that. (I have hope. I’ve done virtually no marketing and promotion of book 1, and I still get a small royalty “check” from Amazon and Smashwords each month. Well, enough to buy a couple of my iced mochas at least. But that makes me curious what can be done with some real marketing.) By the way, it kills me that I sell copies every month, but get virtually no reviews, good, bad, or otherwise.

Okay, that last couple paragraphs felt like some self-pitying kvetching. So, let’s move along….

Portland! Why? Because of “Portlandia” maybe? Heh, no. I lived a brief time, as a kid, in Washington, and I knew ever since then I would come back. I loved the weather, I loved the mountains, the ocean, the…”vibe” for lack of a less squishy word. And the art and culture and “vibe” I have kept an eye on coming from Portland and Eugene ever since has always been in the back of my mind as a land I must pilgrimage to. The idea of moving to Oregon, Portland even, never formed much more than a fleeting thought, but the seed was planted back in 1980, ready to be watered.

It’s been 4 weeks here, and despite the rough and troubles and bit of chaos in areas of work, family, household, etc…. I know as certainly as I knew after the first week and a half: I’m home.

I grew up in Colorado, mainly, and I will always consider it my foundational home. My place of origin, the place that will always be in my heart. And when my family moved me to Missouri as a teen, I knew despite all the other moves in my youth, that one was going to stick for a while — and I did not like it one bit. Never have. Sure, the Ozarks have some beauty to them. And I’ve met all my current friends, and my wife, and the things and people that are important to me, in Missouri. But I have never, once ever, felt like Missouri was home. It was my place of exile. I’ve only been in Oregon a month, I have experienced a tiny swath of the land and the insane variety of the landscapes and terrain it holds, a tiny sampling of the city and the people and the culture, visited the ocean once and walked among the trees a smidge… and  I know I’m here to stay.

A couple of days ago while visiting a park (that was more like a national forest situated in the middle of a city), my friend and I spoke with a native with adorable dogs, and she has observed, dealing with many people in her career, that Portland seems to draw in a lot of people, but then spit back out a lot of people “who don’t belong.” I don’t know what Portland, or Oregon, feel are the belonging people (wry grin), but I feel I belong. So this place is going to have to spit me out while kicking and screaming.

Some points of interest being here: Red and Black Cafe, will need to visit more often. Powell’s Bookstore, wow! I will be seeing William Gibson there next month! *swoon* Guardian Games, which is huge and fascinating! And loud and annoying. I’m making Rainy Day Games my gaming home. They also have a huge selection of disc golf equipment, which I’ve wanted to get into for some time.

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New year; new projects. And thoughts on Fading Suns

image

Has it really been an entire year since my last post? Well, no John Scalzi am I! I plan to remedy the lack of communication issue in 2014, especially since I’m working on some projects this year that I can’t wait to talk about.

On the novel front, I’ve switched my focus. I had been working much of last year on my epic SF/fantasy trilogy. Some good research, some good outlining, and a decent amount of narrative written. But I reached a stopping point at the same time that thoughts of finally getting that sequel to Singularity Deferred out of my head started to peak. So, I’ve shelved the trilogy for now and picked up the sequel–which should make 6 people on Amazon and a couple on Smashwords happy.

Now, some truly awesome news: I just started working with FASA on one of my mostest favoritest role-playing games evar! Fading Suns. (Some additional info.) I’ve been into this system since the late 90s, ever since I got the “Emperor of the Fading Suns” strategy PC game, and then checked out the RPG it was based on. (That game has a truly amazing soundtrack that could be ripped off the CD! I’ve used it for years as part of my writing soundtrack.)

So they released a newly revised edition of the core rules about a year and a half ago, and a new game master’s guide this last December (with much old, revised material). Now, they’re working on redoing the supplemental source books. And that’s where I come in!

I can’t say much, but I’m working right now on a source book that’s going to contain a pretty big ratio of new content! It’s very exciting! And the fact that I get to have a role in the creation process really is like a dream come true.

As for the game itself, I’m quite pleased where it’s going. I won’t get into the messy details, but the original creators of the game were supposedly working on an entirely new 3rd edition of the game before Crazy Stuff Happened, and the line changed hands and people left…. And what happened instead was the Revised Edition was released. And as much as I was really looking forward to a new version, I think this is better. I mean, at the core of Fading Suns is a very good rules system that really did only need some fixing and enhancing. Which they did. It’s a much better system now.

Though, I’m still unsure about the physical copy of the new book. It’s a nice, portable size now, but it doesn’t lie open on the table anymore. Which is a shame. But I think I’ll live. :) I’m excited to see what the source books end up looking like.

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Agyar… oh my god! Also, I’m irked at Jo Walton

agyarI said, oh, just a post ago, that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. I come to this assessment primarily because of his 1st-person Vlad Taltos novels, and the Alexandre Dumas homage Dragaeran novels. They take place in the same world, but where the Taltos novels are a combination of Raymond Chandler and Robert Block while the so-called “Khaavren Romances” are some of the most clever and fun novels as if written in the style of Dumas. Then there’s the hard-to-get Brokedown Palace, which also sort of takes place in the same world, but takes on yet another completely different style.

But, oddly, I’ve hardly read anything else by him. His “Firefly” fanfic was pretty fun (and I hate fanfic, even by successful authors), and Freedom & Necessity, written with Emma Bull, was intriguing. So, when Nebula-winning Jo Walton wrote an article a few months ago extolling and wonder and glory of one of Brust’s older stand-alone books, Agyar, and primarily focused on the fact the there’s a huge spoiler involved that changes the entire way the book read when you know it, well, I just had to finally read it before I got spoiled, right? Amazed that all these years of being a Brust fan, I hadn’t yet been ruined.

I hadn’t read it yet, hadn’t even bought it yet (I have a couple others of his I’ve bought and hadn’t read yet) because well, it’s a vampire story and I hate vampire stories. They have been so over-done, and honestly, Anne Rice (despite the brilliant Interview With a Vampire), completely ruined me on them with her horrible later novels. I just could never bear to try to read another, especially from my favorite author. I didn’t want to have that bad taste in my brain and taint on my fandom. But, Jo Walton was so  over-the-moon with it, and her spoiler-focused article made me really wonder if maybe it really even is a vampire novel (perhaps it’s about a guy who thinks he is), I was convinced.

standing alone, kind of an odd cover. But when you read the novel, you discover this is the best cover for a novel, evah!

standing alone, kind of an odd cover. But when you read the novel, you discover this is the best cover for a novel, evah!

The next week I bought it, and devoured in in 36 hours (darn work days). And now, it is easily my favorite Brust novel, and one of my all-time favorite novels. It has some issues, it’s a little plodding in places, and, very similar to his Vlad novels in many ways, has a mystery that needs solving that doesn’t really get much attention until it kind of solves itself around the anti-hero protagonist. But the writing is beautiful and compelling, and the sense of danger and drama Brust creates around the eponymous character, is strong and brutal.

So, what’s up with Jo? Why am I upset? Because I think she unintentionally sold me false expectations. I think she is implying in her article, that the fact that Agyar is a vampire, is the spoiler. This is so absurd of an idea that I have no problem mentioning the vampire issue in this blog because it’s referred to not just on the book’s back and jacket, but it’s obvious within the first chapter.

But here’s the absolute cool thing about what Brust does: Agyar is the narrator. So never once in the entire book is the word vampire mentioned. Now, it’s not like how zombie films act like there aren’t such things as zombie films so you get zombies being called “walkers” and stuff. Vampires and their representation likely exist in the world of Agyar, but there’s ever any reason for the character to ever say the word. And when he describes vampire-like things he does, like mind control/hypnotism and blood drinking, it’s described in the same manner anything normal is described, by focusing on outcomes and reactions, not the act itself.

Like this, it sounds like Brust is being opaque and annoyingly obscure, but when you read it… well, it’s just brilliant and skillful writing. And why I’m afraid Jo might be implying that the vampire thing is the spoiler, when it’s so not. It’s obviously Brust does not intend Agyar being a vampire to be secret and surprising — what he is doing, at worst, is playing a game with the reader (in a good way) in seeing if the reader can grok what’s going on when Agyar describes something with spare and careful description.

Now, there is one actual spoiler, that actually isn’t revealed until the end, and it does affect the early reading of the book. And it is brilliant and incredibly emotion-wrenching. So, why do I think Jo wasn’t referring to this spoiler? Well, yes, she could have been. But as impactful and emotional as it is, it’s still not that significant and mind-altering as to claim it changes the way the entire book is read, like say “Sixth Sense” of “Fight Club” did.

Well, if you’re a light horror fan, an anti-hero story fan, a vampire fan, or even fantasy/drama/romance fan at all, you must read this novel! In a way, I’m glad I did wait so long to read it, so that my life of experience and emotion could help Agyar make as strong of an impact on me as it did.

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Steven Brust, on blacklisting Orson Scott Card, has somewhat changed my mind

steven brustI’ve made no secret of the fact that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. (In fact, I’ll be making another post shortly regarding his novel Agyar, which I actually only recently read for the first time! Wow.) He’s made a couple of blog posts recently about the kerfuffle regarding the raving homophobe Orson Scott Card’s stint writing some Superman for DC comics, and whether the calls for boycott and forcing DC to refuse to have him is ethical or effective, especially for those of us who identify as liberal or politically left.

Allow me to break in for a moment with some dreaded metablog stuff: This here lil blog of mine, I’ve set up and desire to keep in the style of John Scalzi’s (one of my favorite SF writers). That is, keep it reasonably politics-free and avoid controversial issues too much. I get all controversally elsewhere, and I want to keep this blog focused primarily and nice ol’ writing and craft-related issues. But, well, when you have something like my favorite writer talking about one of my most disliked writers, regarding an issue that I find personally important–well, I guess I have to take a moment to risk controversy.

So, Brust’s latest post, “Free Speech, Blacklisting, and Tactics,” provokes thoughts and challenges many ingrained liberal reactions to go beyond protesting a perceived injustice to boycotting and preventing someone from work and expression of their opinions. In very brief, he essentially says that limiting the free speech of someone whose purpose is to actively harm the rights and liberties of another group, is right and just. However, what possibly outweighs that lesser evil, is the greater evil that the tactics of boycott and censorship and limiting people’s speech and right to free enterprise, is far too easily turned on to and used against the usual minority that fights for rights and liberties of the oppressed. In other words: because we leftists and liberals are the usual victims of fascist oppression, we should not use the same tools of oppression that those in power use on us, regardless of the rightness of the intent.

It’s a very compelling argument, and, naturally, better presented and explained in Brust’s own words. That said, while, I may no longer support efforts to keep Card from getting work or speaking his bigoted opinions, you can be sure as shootin’ that none of my money will ever be going to him and his works. (Seeing the upcoming “Ender’s Game” film, a book I loved before I realized what a d-bag Card was, is problematic. Maybe I’ll see it when it hits the second-run theater where it’s less likely much of my money will end up in his pocket. Even .001 cent is too much.)

mccarthyI want to copy here a follow-up quote that Brust posted on his blog later:

This brief excerpt is from The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk (one of my heroes) page 75:

“Years later, I was talking with him [Oscar Brandt] and expressed my disgust that that he, or maybe someone else, had put on a show with Burl Ives, who had outraged us all by naming a string of names in front of HUAC. Oscar just quietly said, ‘Dave, we on the left do not blacklist.’ Put me right in my place.”

 

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What I’ve been doing while not blogging; and good novel news

Ugh, I hate having to get meta on the blog. Which usually only happens because I haven’t been on for a great long time. So, why? Some good, some bad–none of it a good excuse.

First of all, there’s my day job. I won’t get into it because I hate talking about my day job (here, at least. It’s a good job, but I hate the fact that I have a day job that’s not writing or the business of writing). Anyway, it’s been killing me lately with this big-ass project that I’m in charge of. Even though it’s not too many more actual hours at work, it’s been more brain-killing lately.

Then there’s the pencil-and-dice role-playing games. Now this is a good one! In the last few months I have been planning and prepping and running several games: A new regular Eclipse Phase campaign, a short-run Spycraft (converted to Savage Worlds rules) campaign, and the return of my 1st edition AD&D campaign. Oh, and a couple of convention games of EP I ran at Visioncon. Writing and prepping RPG games is a lot of hard work, but it’s so very much a labor of love! I adore game mastering RPGs! Given the choice between being a player and GMing, well, I like playing now and then, especially under certain GMs, but I pick GMing over playing by default any ol’ day. I love the world-building, creating plot and stories and characters, and then the facilitation of crating a shared experience where players get to play with these elements and create their own story with the tools I provide. Love it love it love it!

Writing, you say? Have I been doing any of it? Well, not much, I’m afraid. Once the day job project is essentially over in early April, and the Spycraft game is done, I should have more time and brain-power to spare to doing writing. I got well into my next novel before time and energy got away from me, and I need to get chugging on that. Especially since there’s been more call for a sequel to Singularity Deferred.

Speaking of my first novel, I got some good news there. I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition, and mine has advanced to the second-round judging. If it doesn’t move on from there, I at least get an Amazon review out of it and can claim “third prize” (along with 399 other sf/fantasy novels). So that’s neat. (It doesn’t help the competition any; but, if you would be so kind, maybe buy and/or review the novel on Amazon?) :)

Okay, that’s as much of an update as I’m going to do now. I have the gumption I’m going to post, I think, two more posts after this on something not meta. Thanks for reading. :)

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Print is dead; long live Apex

Okay, speaking of magazines, let’s be honest about something here: Sure, despite the rise of e-books, print novels will stick around for a very long time. But when it comes to short fiction, print is dead. It’s drawing its last gasps. People just aren’t buying magazines and digests and journals. Yeah, ASIMOV and SF & FANTASY are still around, but they’re published super-cheap and have an old, die-hard readership. REALMS of FANTASY, a slick and popular genre magazine, was saved two or three times before it finally gave up the ghost, and there just isn’t anything waiting in the sidelines.

Conversely, short fiction, especially genre fiction, is as popular as ever! This is where e-publishing has really found a niche. People are reading much more short fiction on devices and the Web, where it’s easy, and even more comfortable, to digest a single serving of fiction on an electronic device than in a cumbersome magazine. The weekly online SF e-magazine, STRANGE HORIZONS, has become quite popular over the last few years. They’re great! But even they have a limit of convenience and enjoyment — they’re still published as a go-and-visit Web page without any of the special features one gets from an e-book device.

Which bring me to APEX MAGAZINE. Sure, you can read them on the Web if you like. But what I love is the fact you can subscribe to them and get them on your e-reader, where you can make notes, add bookmarks, change settings, close and come back . . . all the great things that make reading e-books so convenient! (It’s available as a monthly download in EPUB (Nook and other readers), MOBI (Kindle), and PDF (the dreaded computer screen). But you can also get it as a pushed subscription through Amazon direct to your Kindle… and even if you don’t have an actual Kindle, I bet you have the Kindle reader on your phone and tablet!)

Anyway, each issue of APEX has short fiction — often from award-winning authors — poetry, non-fiction, and fascinating cover art.

So, they’re doing a subscription drive right now because they are a pro ‘zine (meaning: they actually pay their contributors! What an idea, artists getting pay for their work. You can support that, right?) and want to make sure they can continue to provide award-winning material from award-winning authors and writers. It’s like $18 for a year until November 15 (then the price goes back up to normal if you subscribe after that) or $2 an issue through Amazon. That is a great deal! But save $4 and get it by the year.

Here, again, is the link to their subscription drive; at least check it out and consider supporting great genre fiction!

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