Friday, February 25, 2005

Pre-convention update

In a couple of hours, I'll be departing with the family to Dallas to partake in ConDFW. There will be some advance copies of Voices of Vision available for sale. Yea! Which means I'll have something to do during the autograph sessions other than twiddle my thumbs. Double yea!

Here's my programming schedule for the weekend:
Saturday, 10 a.m. Magnolia Room
Online Publishing: World Wide Writing (Moderator)

Saturday, 11 a.m. Reading Room
I'll be reading a bit from Voices of Vision

Saturday, 1 p.m. Magnolia Room
The Editor’s Panel: The Red Pen Rises

Sunday, 11 a.m. Mesquite Room
The Reviewer’s Art

Sunday, 12 p.m. Autographing

Should be lots of fun. The ConDFW gang has a great lineup this year, with lots of editors, so no telling how wacky things will get. Plus, I have special Voices of Vision promotional materials which I'll unveil on Saturday. In just a few year, this stuff'll be going for the big bucks on eBay, so you know you don't want to miss out!

Now Playing: The Kinks Give the People What They Want

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The curse of publishing economics hits home (sorta)

Geeze. I don't know how I missed this, but the Lincoln Journal Star reported two weeks back that the University of Nebraska Press (being my publisher) has cut six full time employees as part of a wider effort to trim half a million dollars from the publisher's budget:
They admitted Monday that the financial problems plaguing university presses across the country have reached Nebraska as well.

"There have been high-profile presses in more significant trouble," Perlman said. "This is not a crisis state … but we needed to do something now rather than get into real difficulty."

The decision to make the cuts is driven by the bottom line, both Perlman and Dunham said.

Less demand for the academic books and journals the press publishes has resulted in revenues that barely cover expenses, a trend that would've soon put the university publisher in the red, Dunham said.

The cuts also stem from a desire to protect the press's editorial and acquisitions departments from the sort of trimming that already has happened at the Stanford University and University of Wisconsin presses.

None of the current layoffs come from those departments, Dunham said, and no future layoffs are planned.

It's good to see that the press is protecting the editorial department. And it's also reassuring to know that the press, overall, is still operating in the black. The past 10 years or so have been vicious to university publishers. Those with strong journal lineups have continued to do well, but the ones that traditionally have concentrated on obscure fields, limited interest books and monographs have taken a beating. Nebraska is one of the largest university publishers in the country, and exceptionally diverse, but there's no way anyone could mistake them for one of the colossal multinational publishers that so dominate bookstores today.

That said, where the cuts did come from aren't reassuring:
It's the firing of six full-time business and marketing employees that comprise the lion's share of the more than $500,000 the press will cut from a $6.5 million operating budget in the coming fiscal year.

Dunham said $100,000 will be saved annually by an upcoming March move to 1111 Lincoln Mall, a new home with roughly half the space of its old headquarters at 247 N. 8th St.

Coming from a marketing and journalism background, I always cringe when a company's first reaction to declining sales is to reduce its marketing budget and staff. It just flies in the face of reason. I just hope this doesn't trickle down to the marketing plan they've outlined for Voices of Vision. It's a modest one, no doubt, but I believe it does a good job of targetting the ideal audience. I'd hate to lose that. Especially since I want VoV to do well enough to warrant a second volume.

One thing I find surprising, however, is the fact that the press isn't housed on campus. What's this rent stuff? The Texas A&M University Press has digs on campus in College Station, as do most other university presses I'm familiar with. Renting commercial space simply strikes me as odd, particularly considering how strong a reputation Nebraska has. Texas State University, unfortunately, has no press. There's been wishful thinking in that direction, but no real action. Our faculty produces some very strong work, but has to go through the UT Press for actual publication. Ah well. Whatcha gonna do?

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

Stupid @#&%! IRS

So I busted my hump and filed my tax return back in January in order to get our tax return as soon as possible. We need that money to get a new car, as the wretched red Neon (please don't laugh) has three wheels in the grave and the fourth is flat. Today, instead of getting the refund check, we get a letter saying we need to file an EIC form before they can process our return (which means another 6-8 week delay in getting the refund).

This pisses me off mightily for two reasons: 1) the "do you need to file ECI form" worksheet in the instruction manual (or whatever the hell it's called) unambiguously said "No, you don't have to file that form"; and 2) The only requested information on the form they provided was for my daughers' names, social security numbers and whether they lived with us or not. Every single bit of that info was already included on the 1040 I filed. Then the letter had the nerve to imply I could've avoided all this if I'd just used TurboTax or any of the other commercially available software. Tell you what, IRS, I'll start using those programs (which you're oh so keen on driving everyone to) once you start offering a tax credit to compensate for the cost of buying them.

In the meantime, I'm still stuck with the dying car.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Stops aliens from abducting humans! Guaranteed!

Telepathic war! Alien telepathy! These are just some of the dangers facing the human race today. Overwhelming? Sure, but don't give up hope yet--now there's a way for you to fight back and protect yourself and your family. No, I'm not talking about aluminum foil hats. Modern science has advanced so much beyond those early, haphazard efforts, and you can learn all about it from Stop Alien Abductions
The thought screen helmet blocks telepathic communication between aliens and humans. Aliens cannot immobilize people wearing thought screens nor can they control their minds or communicate with them using their telepathy. When aliens can't communicate or control humans, they do not take them.

The thought screen helmet has effectively stopped several types of aliens from abducting or controlling humans. Only two failures were reported since 1998.

Adults and children all over America, all over Australia, in Canada, the United Kingdom, and in the Republic of South Africa are wearing thought screen helmets to stop alien abductions. Many former abudctees have been wearing thought screen helmets successfully since 1999.

Other shielding material was tried in previous models with less success. Only thought screen helmets using Velostat are effective.

You can make a thought screen helmet for $35 if you purchase Velostat by the yard.

I don't know about you, but I always buy my Velostat by the furlong.

Now Playing: Marty Robbins The Essential Marty Robbins

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Miyazaki galore!

Remember those Studio Ghibli DVDs I insufferably taunted folks about having advanced copies of a week ago? Well, my reviews of Porco Rosso and The Cat Returns are now live for the world to see over at RevSF. My review of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind will be following later this week.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash

What book will you be?

I hang out at quite a bit, and the other day Roby James posed an interesting question: If the world of the future suddenly became analogous to that of Ray Bradbury's classic Farenheit 451, what book would you choose to memorize in order to preserve it for future generations? For those of you who've never read the Bradbury novel, it's about a future society in which all books are burned in order to supress knowledge.

It's a difficult question. The easy responses are pithy--Farenheit 451 and Orwell's 1984 spring to mind. Then there's the obvious, factual ones, such as the entirety of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Others go for the Bible or the classics such as the works of Shakespeare or The Illiad, The Epic of Gilgamesh or perhaps Beowulf. From a practical, survivalist standpoint, the Official Boy Scout Handbook would be quite useful to have on instant recall.

Personally, I don't think I'd go for the obvious choices. After all, if they're so obvious, then quite a few other people would likely be hard at work, memorizing them. That's a built-in redundancy. I'd be more inclined to devote my feeble mental prowess to preserving books that are perhaps less "valuable" but no less important. Something like Nevil Schute's On the Beach, as powerful and disturbing cautionary tale about nuclear war as anything I've ever read. That kind of elegant hopelessness is something that needs to be passed along and preserved. Likewise, I'd be inclined to preserve Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz, a landmark book--not only in genre, but in contemporary literature as well--that utterly floored me when I first read it. Ironically, I didn't want to read it at first. I'd ordered it by mistake from the Science Fiction Book Club, and was mighty pissed at the fact when I figured out what had happened. Oh, for happy accidents.

Clearly my tastes run towards the speculative end of the spectrum--no way I'd waste precious brain cells on something like Steinbeck--but what of everyone else? Given the urgency, given the need, what book would you become?

Now Playing: Counting Crows August & Everything After

Sowell redux

Remember how I got a bee in my bonnet a couple of weeks ago over Thomas Sowell's column based on the urban legend of the German waitress denied unemployment benefits because she refused to work in a brothel? Well, the San Antonio Express-News has finally published my letter. Not that it will have any further impact, but I'm happy there is at least one print record of the fact that Sowell screwed up because of sloppy journalism. It's no surprise that Creators Syndicate hasn't responded to my letter pointing out the error. The most popular way of dealing with mistakes, after all, is to ignore them...

Now Playing: Billy Joel An Innocent Man

Monday, February 21, 2005

Frozen seas on Mars?

Whenever something stupid comes up to cast a pall over spece science research (last week's awful news report that scientists had "discovered" life in Martian caves) I have to remind myself to just wait a few days, and something truly marvellous will turn up to wash the bitter taste of stupidity away. Such has come to pass:
A frozen sea, surviving as blocks of pack ice, may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, suggest observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft. The sea is just 5° north of the Martian equator and would be the first discovery of a large body of water beyond the planet's polar ice caps.

Images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express show raft-like ground structures - dubbed "plates" - that look similar to ice formations near Earth's poles, according to an international team of scientists.

But the site of the plates, near the equator, means that sunlight should have melted any ice there. So the team suggests that a layer of volcanic ash, perhaps a few centimetres thick, may protect the structures.

"I think it's fairly plausible," says Michael Carr, an expert on Martian water at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, who was part of the team. He says scientists had previously suspected there was a past water source north of the Elysium plates. "We know where the water came from," Carr told New Scientist. "You can trace the valleys carved by water down to this area."

The complete article can be read online over at New Scientist. The researchers estimate the buried sea (would it be appropriate to call it permafrost?) is approximately 900 by 800 kilometers in size, annd 45 meters deep. That's a heck of a lot of water. It's located in an area a number of massive "outflow channels" drained into historically. And, since it's so close to the equator, that improves the chances of more aqueous deposits being located elsewhere around the planet, rather than just confined to the cold areas around the poles. If the Martian water is as briny and/or acidic as theories suggest, or if there is subterranean heat rising from the Martian interior, it is not too far a leap to imagine there are liquid pockets mixed in there at some point. Since methane continues to be tracked in the Martian atmosphere, which must be produced either by active biological or volcanic processes, I think this is exciting news indeed.

A show of hands for the newest prime candidate for a Mars lander? It's not a smoking gun, or silver bullet, but an important piece to an increasingly large and complex puzzle.

Now Playing: U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Sunday, February 20, 2005

SFWA Grand Master Named

Science fiction author Anne McCaffrey, best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, has been named to the select group of authors designated as SFWA Grand Masters. She is only the twenty-second writer so honored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1974. The selection was made by SFWA President Catherine Asaro, in conjunction with the Board of Directors and the past presidents of SFWA.

Presentation of the award will be made during the Nebula Awards Weekend in Chicago, April 28-May 1, 2005. Please see for more information.

Ms. McCaffrey's career spans nearly forty years and has broken new ground in the genres of both science fiction and fantasy, for adults and young people alike. It began with the publication of the novella "Weyr Search," (1967), and includes over seventy novels and several short story collections. In 1968 and 1969, "Weyr Search," the initial story in the Dragonriders of Pern series, won a Nebula and a Hugo for Best Novella, marking the first time a woman has received a Hugo for fiction. She has received the Writers of the Future Life Time Achievement Award, the HOMer award, and the Science Fiction Book Club's Book of the Year. Her 1978 novel The White Dragon established another milestone: it was the first science fiction novel to make the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

Ms. McCaffrey has done an immense amount to bring new readers into our genre. She has also nurtured the careers of many writers. Her other series include the "Freedom" series, the "Doona" series (with Jody Lynn Nye), the "Dinosaur Planet" series (with Jody Lynn Nye and Elizabeth Moon), the "Crystal Singer" series, the "Brain & Brawn Ship" series (with Margaret Ball, Mercedes Lackey, S.M. Stirling, and Jody Lynn Nye), the "Petaybee" series (with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough), the "Talent" series, the "Tower & Hive" series, the "Acorna" series (with Margaret Ball, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, and various other authors), and, most recently, the "Coelura" series. McCaffrey's contributions to the field include not only her groundbreaking literature, but her service to SFWA as well, in particular her stint as an officer, when she served as Secretary/Treasurer under two past presidents, Jim Gunn and Gordon Dickson.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 1, 1926, Ms. McCaffrey graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College with a degree in Slavonic language and literature. Though she wrote her first novel in college, after graduating she turned to theater, studying voice for nine years and eventually directing the American premiere of Carl Orff's Ludus de Nato Infante Mirificus.

In 1970, McCaffrey and her three children moved to Ireland, where she lives in a house of her own design, called Dragonhold-Underhill. She also runs a private livery stable and has watched her horses enjoy much success in the show ring.

Ms. McCaffrey's current efforts focus on collaborations with several authors on various series. She has passed the Dragonriders of Pern torch to her son Todd McCaffrey, with whom she coauthored Dragon's Kin. He has just released his first Pern solo effort, Dragonsblood and also penned his mother's biography, Dragonholder: The Life and Dreams (So Far) of Anne McCaffrey.

For more information about Ms. McCaffrey and her prolific accomplishments, please see

Ms. McCaffrey is the twenty-second writer recognized by SFWA as a Grand Master. She joins Robert A. Heinlein (1974), Jack Williamson (1975), Clifford D. Simak (1976), L. Sprague de Camp (1978), Fritz Leiber (1981), Andre Norton (1983), Arthur C. Clarke (1985), Isaac Asimov (1986), Alfred Bester (1987), Ray Bradbury (1988), Lester del Rey (1990), Frederik Pohl (1992), Damon Knight (1994), A. E. van Vogt (1995), Jack Vance (1996), Poul Anderson (1997), Hal Clement (1998), Brian Aldiss (1999), Philip Jose Farmer (2000), Ursula LeGuin (2003), and Robert Silverberg (2004).

Now Playing: nothing. it's bedtime.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The marvels of Miyazaki

My first exposure to Japanese animation was, like most folks my age, via Speed Racer, which I thought the coolest thing ever. Then, as I got older, I discovered Star Blazers, which simply blew me away, and Battle of the Planets, which was fun if predictable. In college, I saw Akira and thought it interesting, but it didn't convert me into a worshipper at the anime alter. In fact, I took great delight in referring to the art form as "JapCrap" simply to send its passionate devotees into spasms of apoplexy. In the years since, I watched a bunch of anime's offerings, including Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Record of Lodoss War and a host of others. They were all quality for the most part, but none sent me scrambling to the video store to snap up more. Well, except for Star Blazers, but that's more nostalgia than anything else.

Until I saw Spirited Away during its brief theatrical run in the U.S. I'd never been so awed by a movie, with the possible exceptions of Star Wars and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I'd wanted to see Princess Mononoke during its release, but it never showed near me, and I was never in the mood for a rental after that. But Spirited Away blew me away on every level. The sheer imagination at work was stunning. Sure, the platitudes about love towards the end disrupted the honesty of the film some, but I put that down more to East-West language and philosophical differences than everything else. When Disney released it on DVD, my wife bought it for me as a gift and I can't remember how many times I watched it with my girls (who loved it, except for the pig scenes, which horrified them). In short order, we got Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky on DVD as well, and found both of them brilliant in different ways. When Lisa and I finally saw Mononoke (no way are the girls going to see it until they're older. Far too violent for them) we were suitably dazzled. What a great film.

I have become an unabashed fan of Hayao Miyazaki's work. Apart from the great animation and artistic skills he brings to the films, and the afore-mentioned towering imagination, he is an excellent storyteller. His plots aren't linear, veering off into unexpected directions, but at the same time once the resolution is reached it comes off as the only possible outcome. I greatly admire that. But possibly the biggest single reason his work is welcome in our household is the fact that he invariably features the strongest female characters around. I'm not talking Thelma & Louise us-against-them females or Sarah Connor kill-the-machines-before-they-kill-us types. I mean just normal women who are portrayed as the equals of men, fully capable and intelligent in their own right, without a big deal being made of this fact. That this work comes from Japan, where Crown Princess Masako has been driven to the brink of a nervous breakdown by pressure to give birth to a son (as having an Empress on the Chrysanthemum Throne is forbidden under Japanese law). The U.S. has many gender stereotypes ingrained in society, but from what I've seen, Japan has far more.

I love the fact that my daughters are growing up with the pro-active Sailor Moon and Miyazaki's films to instill a strong degree of positive gender identity in them. And that continues in the next three Miyazaki releases from Disney--The Cat Returns, Porco Rosso and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. One of the really cool things about reviewing books and DVDs is that sometimes you get copies of the respective works before the general public. The new Miyazaki discs won't go on sale until next Tuesday, but we've had them for almost two weeks now. The Cat Returns isn't really a Miyazaki film, and isn't as good as the other two. But both Porco Rosso and Nausicaä are very entertaining, if uneven at times. And they both feature as strong female leads as anything Miyazaki's ever done. These are two excellent films and I recommend them to anyone--my reviews should be published at RevSF sometime in the coming week.

But yeah, Miyazaki continues to amaze me. I find myself incorporating some of his stylistic storytelling techniques in my writing on occasion, referencing the way he handled certain plot difficulties when I'm working through various concepts. That doesn't say all that much, because it's not as if I'm Stephen King cribbing from Miyazaki, but it illustrates the degree of respect I hold him in. To say I'm looking forward to the U.S. release of Howl's Moving Castle is an understatment, to say the least.

And lest you missed it, I've had the new DVD releases for two weeks now, nyah nyah nyah!

Now Playing: Greg Kihn Kihnsolidation

Thursday, February 17, 2005

YLEM Journal

I'm monstrously behind on my reading, and rather than frantically catch up (which I know I'll never do) what I'll end up doing is simply bypassing many of the items on my to-read stack in favor of newer strata. But one interesting arrival from a couple of weeks ago finally floated to the surface: The YLEM Journal. Published by YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology, it nicely intersects some of the overlapping boundaries of technology and speculative fiction. The current September/October issue has some fine material in it, including an interview with China Miéville. In the interview, Miéville says a number of thought-provoking things, which he has a tendency to do in such interviews:
Loren Means: William Gibson was talking with me about London and the people like Ian Sinclair who are doing this deep geography...

China Miéville: ...Psycho-geography...

LM: And I asked him if Vancouver was such a place, and he said, "No it's too new, but San Francisco is."

CM: Absolutely. And I like cities that one can do that in, cities that have a--to sound monstrously pretentious--a psycho-geographical hinterland. I think London, I think New York, I think Cairo, Havana, and I absolutely take your word, San Francisco has that feel to it. There is a San Francisco literature, isn't there? And certainly one of my favorite films of all time is Vertigo. One of the things I like about Vertigo is the way it does this really strange thing which is to create a feeling of absolute architectural uncanny and strangeness. It does it not by doing anything weird with the landscape of San Francisco, but by looking at it simply too precisely. It just follows everything very, very carefully. You have these long, winding journeys through the streets. The city becomes uncanny through its very physical existence. You couldn't do that with all cities. I doubt you could do it with Vancouver, to take an example. But with San Francisco, it works brilliantly.

I like this line of thinking, and believe there's a good deal of validity to it. There are places I've been, cities, towns and other locations that have a tangible weight of history to them, which literally gives them an invisible, omnipresent personality. A well-defined psycho-geographical terrain, as it were. Houston and Dallas don't have this--their history is long since buried under vast slabs of urban concrete. I think most Texas writers would say Austin is a prime candidate--after all, it attracts writers like flies--but Austin's history and personality is rooted in the recent past, if not explicitly in the here and now. It's so cutting edge, the past doesn't exist, except in the context of wistful mourning for the halcyon days of clothing-optional apartment complexes and the Armadillo World Headquarters.

I would venture to say that the only two real cities in Texas that could claim to hold well-defined psycho-geographical topography are San Antonio and El Paso. Marty Robbins alone might be responsible for the majority of El Paso's mythology--that and proximmity to Juarez. That place is barren and desolate, though, all the negatives of the West Texas desert concentrated into one dismal town. That's a psycho-geography I have no desire to ever revisit or explore. San Antonio, however, that place speaks to me. It's a lot more than the Alamo, River Walk and tourist traps. It's got age and maturity to it. If you know where to look--and even if you don't--remnants of the Spanish colonial town are still there. San Pedro Park, created in 1729 by King Philip V of Spain, is the oldest public park in the United States, behind only Boston Common. There's history here, enhanced by the overwhelming Latino flavor throughout the city and willing belief of the population in all manner of cultural and religious mythology. It's almost like visiting the single largest concentration of magic realism in North America. I find it somewhat depressing that the city hasn't developed a high profile literary community to capitalize on the unique environment. Certainly not to Austin's level. Perhaps that will come in time.

Now Playing: Dr. Hook Greatest Hits and More

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Andre Norton hospitalized

As if news of Jack Chalker's untimely demise wasn't bad enough, now word comes to me via SFWA channels that Andre Norton, a veritable cornerstone of modern day science fiction and fantasy, has been hospitalized with what is obviously a serious condition. This news is most unwelcome:
I'm sorry to report that Andre Norton is in the hospital, with the flu AND pneumonia. Since she'll be 93 this Thursday, this development is very serious. At the moment, she's in ICU.

Cards and notes would be much appreciated. Andre's address is:

Andre Norton
1007 Herron Street
Murfreesboro, TN 37130

If anyone is thinking of sending flowers, Sue suggests that potted plants that can be replanted outside might be a good choice, since it's almost spring. Andre has a lovely little garden right outside the glass doors in her bedroom and she loves her garden.

Healing thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

-Ann C. Crispin

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel UP

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

It's alive! ALIVE!

Lisa just called. A package arrived via USPS containing 10--count 'em, 10--copies of Voices of Vision. It's real. It exists. And it'll be seven more hours or so before I can actually see them for myself and hold in my hands.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Voices of Vision

I've been on the lookout, though, since I'd had a heads-up that Nebraska had indeed released this new species into the wild. Yesterday morning I come into work to find a message from Harlan Ellison awaiting me. Seems that he got a copy on Saturday a wanted to call and let me know. "Apart from the fact that the front cover is possibly one of the most horrendous and off-putting images I've ever seen," says Mr. Ellison (a fact I believe we've already covered here in detail), "it's wonderful." He goes on to offer some very kind words about my effort, which left me all warm and fuzzy inside.

There comes a time in the life of any piece of writing--be it a short story, article or book--when it is turned loose to fend for itself in the world, and as the author, all you can do is hope for the best. Some people will love it, others will hate it, and still more will be indifferent. Ultimately, you hope the former outnumber the latter two, even though the deed is done and the book must stand on its own merits. I'm under no illusions that some critics will grouse and poo-poo my efforts. To say that I won't find those literary slings and arrows discouraging would be a lie. I, like most other writers, much prefer accolades to denigration. But I recognize reviews and commentary for what they are--the opinions of individuals. I can't be all things to all people, nor can my writing, so reviews--be they scathing or adulatory--won't influence my future efforts to any recognizable extent.

That said, starting off this whole publishing thing with words of praise from Harlan Ellison, well-known for his exacting, demanding critical standards... damn. :-)

Now Playing: Falco The Remix Hit Collection

Monday, February 14, 2005

Spring has sprung

Geese flying north, flowers blooming, buds busting out on trees... forget it. None of those are as dependable a sign of spring returning as bikinis returning to Sewell Park.

It's 80 degrees and sunny in San Marcos today, and the bikinis are out in force. Whenever I question my sanity for weathering another 100-plus degree Texas August, I think of February days like today and remember that I hate cold weather even more.

Now Playing: The Hooters Nervous Night

Friday, February 11, 2005

Silver tongued bunny slippers

Bill Crider has a phenominal review of the movie Dodgeball up at his blog. It's an audioblog, but you shouldn't have any trouble accessing it. I didn't, and I'm still using a primitive 52K phoneline modem. I agree with everything he says, except for that bit about Denise Richards. That skanky ho is so dumb, even boxes of hammers make fun of her. But Crider 'fesses up to the bunny slippers, so all is forgiven.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel Plays Live

Jack L. Chalker (1944-2005)

Damn. I only met Jack Chalker once, at the 1997 Worldcon in San Antonio. He was as nice a fellow as you could ask for. I'd hoped to interview him, but we couldn't work our schedules out. I never read much of his work, but my overriding memory of belonging to the Science Fiction Book Club throughout the 80s--when I had no other access to SF books--was his Four Lords of the Diamond, which was a perennial selection there. I mean, that one was always a prominent selection, right beside Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. Still have my SFBC copy, too, boxed away somewhere.
Jack L. Chalker passed away peacefully at 11:12AM EST on February 11, 2005.

Jack was hospitalized for congested heart failure on December 6. Although there were ups and downs, his condition had been poor during the intervening two months and his kidneys and lungs had failed near the end. He was receiving care in the ICU at Bon Secours in Baltimore, MD.

Funeral details and date are being finalized, but the service will be in the Marzullo Chapel 6009 Harford Rd, Baltimore, with a reception to follow.

Biography condensed from

Jack Lawrence Chalker was born December 17, 1944 in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up in Baltimore and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Towson State College (Towson University) and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University. He taught history on the high school and college levels, and was a lecturer at the Smithsonian, The National Institutes of Health, and numerous colleges and universities, mostly on science fiction and technology subjects.

He had a varied career which included being a professional typesetter, a sound engineer for outdoor rock concerts, an audio and computer reviewer, free-lance editor, a publisher (founder and owner of The Mirage Press, Ltd.), a book packager, an Air National Guard Information Director, new and used book dealer, and teacher as mentioned above. He was a special forces Air Commando during the Vietnam war, stationed in the United States.

Since 1978 he made his living solely by writing and published over 60 science fiction or fantasy novels and anthologies. During their years of publication, Jack wrote a regular column on SF/fantasy small press for Fantasy Review and continued the column on an irregular basis in Pulphouse magazine.

A long time science fiction fan, he attended hundreds of conventions. As a SF professional, he stayed very accessible to fans. He was Toastmaster at the1983 WorldCon, and co-chaired the 1974 WorldCon, Discon II. He was a 3-term treasurer of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

His awards included the Dedalus Award (1983), The Gold Medal of the West Coast Review of Books (1984), Skylark Award (1985), and Hamilton-Brackett Memorial Award (1979). He was nominated for the Hugo Award 4 times.

Jack married Eva C. Whitley in 1978 and they have 2 sons, David Whitley Chalker, and Steven Lloyd Chalker.

Posted February 11, 2005

See full article at:

Now Playing: Men At Work Business As Usual

Signing sheets

I got in a package of signing sheets the other day from Pete Crowther at PS Publishing for the upcoming issue of Postscripts (that's issue 3 for those keeping track at home). I have to admit I still get a geeky, giddy feeling when I do signing sheets--it's something of an emotional validation of myself as a writer, particularly when my illegible scrawl goes down on the page beside that of such phenominally talented authors such as Lois McMaster Bujold and Gene Wolfe.

The signing sheets are available only in the hardback edition of the magazine, which is limited to 150 copies. It's very nicely done. Still, there's little drop-off in quality if you simply spring for the mass-market softcover version of the 'zine. After all, you still get this top-flight content:
  • Chaz Brenchley, 'Dragon Kings Play Songs of Love'
  • Gene Wolfe, 'Comber'
  • Jayme Lyn Blaschke, Interview with Lois M Bujold
  • Stephen Volk, 'Curious Green Colours Sleep Furiously'
  • David Herter, 'black and green and gold'
  • Jack Dann, 'Dreaming With the Angels'
  • Richard Bowes, 'Circle Dance'
  • Paul Di Filippo & Barry Malzberg, 'Beyond Mao'
  • Adam Roberts, 'And Future King'
  • Brian A. Hopkins, 'Red Nails'
  • Garry Kilworth, 'Murders in the White Garden'

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead--send some love Pete's way!

Now Playing: Night Ranger Greatest Hits

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Vote early, vote often

Thanks go out to Chris Nakashima-Brown for pointing out that Strange Horizons is holding a readers' choice 2004 vote as I type this. My Interview with Lucius Shepard is nominated in the "Favorite Article" (ie non-fiction) category, and seeing as how it's a groovy-cool interview that I'm quite fond of, I would not mind it one bit if some or all of the 70-plus people who visit my blog daily in search of chupacabra pictures would mosey on over there and cast a vote for yours truly. Heck, I'll even throw in a highlight of the interview at no extra charge:
JB: When discussing your Dragon Griaule stories, you've said you got the original idea while smoking a joint under a tree, and while writing it you would drop acid. What role does altered consciousness play in your creativity?

LS: The first story I sold was "Black Coral," which I sold to Marta Randall for New Dimensions. I wrote the first draft of that on LSD. So I guess it was instrumental. I mean, I don't use drugs as much as I used to. It used to be about the only way I'd get myself working, but I'm more disciplined now. So, I think I've kind of generated an altered consciousness in that way. I don't do that too much any more.

It started out when I was in bands. My cousin had this really beautiful barn out in the country. This old barn with boards missing and stuff like that, with all these swallows. I'd go out there and write songs. I'd go out there and drop acid and write six or seven songs in a day. So, when I started writing, that sort of came to with it.

Now Playing: The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels

Because we haven't talked about chupacabras in a while...

I decided to check up on what, if any, new information Whitley Strieber has uncovered regarding the strange, doglike creature killed in Elmendorf last year (followed shortly by another killed in East Texas, a couple hundred miles away). The verdict of DNA testing? It's some sort of canine, but we can't tell what it is: has received word from the laboratory doing DNA studies on the Elmendorf animal, the strange creature killed near Elmendorf, Texas, last May, that the DNA is canine, but that it has been subjected to too much stress to tell anything about a specific species.

There's also another article on the site discussing similar animals attacking pets in California, but the size of these West Coast chupacabras is way bigger than the scrawny, malnourished animals from Texas.

Now Playing: Stu Phillips Battlestar Galactica 25th Anniversary Soundtrack

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Rollin' in dough

Tobias Buckell has conducted a survey to determine how much money new writers make on advances of their novels.
The typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500. Having an agent at any point increases your advance. There is some slight correlation between number of books and number of years spent writing as represented in the 5-12.5 thousand dollar advance shift of an average of 5-7 years. Charting individual author's progressions, which I will not release to keep anonymity, reveals a large number of upward lines at varying degrees of steepness for advances, some downward slides.

Some authors noted that they'd gotten large advances in the 90s but were being paid less now.

That $5,000 figure for a first novel falls in line pretty much with what I've heard over the years. Unfortunately, that figure hasn't changed in the 15 years I've paid attention to it, and those in the business much longer than I may be able to tell if that's been the standard even longer. That $12,000 for ensuing novels isn't bad if writing is a sideline to the day job, but if you're trying to eke out a living, it pretty much sucks.

And if you publish genre-related non-fiction, you generally look at those advances and think "Damn! Those folks is rollin' in dough!"

Now Playing: The Eagles Their Greatest Hits

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Thomas Sowell: Indignant over urban legends

There's a story floating around from email to email lately regarding the unemployment situation in Germany and how the government is forcing women into prostitution to get them off the welfare rolls. Mainstream new media in Britain and the U.S. have picked up on it, and today in the San Antonio Express-News I was treated to a column by conservative columnist Thomas Sowell:
A young waitress discovered one of these "solutions" recently when she turned down a job as a prostitute and was threatened with the loss of her unemployment benefits because prostitution—-"sex workers" is the politically correct term-—is a legal occupation in Germany, so a job offer from a brothel cannot be declined.

So far, so good. A concise statement of the facts. But then:
This is one of the many areas in which we Americans are lagging behind the more advanced thinking in Europe that our intelligentsia want us to imitate. However, in one sense the general pattern of political decision-making is very similar on both sides of the Atlantic: When political solutions create new problems, the answer is never to go back and stop doing what started a string of disasters in the first place.

Ah. I sense a deep-seated feeling of moral superiority emanating from Mr. Sowell. Note that he doesn't condemn legalized prostitution directly--only the "advanced thinking" of Europeans and "intelligentsia" of America. He is, naturally, painting with an oversized brush, tarring the opposition with the feathery spectre of mothers and daughters forced into a life of essential sexual slavery. Egads!
On the other hand, the mounting costs of unemployment benefits cannot be ignored—-and there is only so much that you can raise taxes to pay for these benefits without risking being voted out of office. The latest quick fix: Girl, take off your clothes and hop into bed, so that the government can save some money by not paying you unemployment benefits! Yet, in the eyes of much of the intelligentsia, it is America that is lacking in compassion because we don't have the kind of job security laws and generous unemployment benefits that Germany and other European countries have.

It apparently never occurs to right-thinking people-—which is to say, left-thinking people—-that such laws may have something to do with the fact that unemployment rates in Europe are not only consistently higher than those in the United States, but are especially higher when it comes to people who are unemployed for a year or longer.

Ah ha. So worker's rights and job security are the issue. Right. And women being forced into sexual slavery is Exhibit A . Which is all fine and dandy, except for the inconvenient fact that the waitress at the epicenter of Exhibit A does not exist.
In fact, the origin of this story was evidently a 18 December 2004 article published in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung (also known as TAZ) which did not report that women in Germany must accept employment in brothels or face cuts in their unemployment benefits. (Although it claimed there had been "isolated cases" of such, it did not provide any source or documentation to back up that statement.)

The Tageszeitung merely presented the concept of brothel employment as a technical possibility under current law; it did not provide any actual cases of women losing their benefits over this issue. The article also quoted representatives from employment agencies as saying that while it might be possible for employment agencies to offer jobs as prostitutes to "long-term unemployed" women, they (the agencies) could not require anyone to work in a brothel. (The agencies noted that brothels used "other recruitment channels" anyway.)

If there's one thing that gets my goat almost as much as Creationists monkeying with science textbooks, it's people reporting urban legend as fact. People, and are your friends. When you hear an absurd story that is "absolutely true" even though it sound too bizarre to be, check them out before you forward it to someone else. That kind of sloppy writing ticks me off so much that I sat down and wrote a letter to the Express-News, and included a generous dollop of snark to go along with it:
I read with some interest Thomas Sowell’s column in the Feb. 8 edition of the San Antonio Express-News regarding an out-of-work German waitress who faced the loss of her unemployment benefits because she turned down an offered job in one of Germany’s legalized brothels. I found Mr. Sowell’s column confident and lucid, the ideas presented clear and concise. I, and anyone else reading the column, would have no trouble agreeing that Germany’s decadent bureaucratic morass--and by extension, Europe in general--is a tragic comedy of Orwellian proportions.

Except, of course, that it’s not true. It took me all of 10 seconds online to track down a thorough debunking of this urban legend at With all the hoopla in recent years about accuracy and journalistic integrity, it strikes me as more than a little ironic that Dan Rather and the rest of the “Liberal Elite” media aren’t the only ones who refuse to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Mr. Sowell--if he ever see my missive (I forwarded a copy to Creators Syndicate as well)--will dismiss my protests as "semantics" or somesuch. That his main point of Germany (and the rest of the world, for that matter) going to hell in a handbasket is because of the morally bankrupt policies of the liberal "intelligentsia" is what matters. So what if his main example (and, I might add, the basis of his entire column) was not only faulty, but wrong? Hello, pot--it's the kettle calling...

Now Playing: Ray Clarles The Ultimate Hits Collection

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Celebrity pitchman redux

Interesting day, today. I received a phone call last night from the Freebirds marketing people, desperate to get ahold of me. Seems they'd taken down my phone number wrong and had been trying--unsuccessfully--to reach me for several days. They were filming their "Freebirds Fanatics" commercials in Austin today, and wanted to know if I could make myself available.

Hey, there were free burritos involved. Of course I could make myself available.

Traffic was somewhat lighter than expected, so I rolled into the Hancock Center around 10:30 a.m., plenty early for my 11 a.m. reporting time. The film crew was just setting up as I arrived, and right away I learned they had me down for 11:30 rather than 11. Okay, a little communication difficulty is to be expected, so I grabbed a drink and watched as they started filming the guys scheduled ahead of me. The first was a fellow who'd dressed up as a Freebirds burrito for Halloween, complete with the backwards "F" logo on his chest. Watching the guy wearing a roll of aluminum foil go through the line ordering his burrito was surreal, to say the least. The next guy was a fellow who, as a starving college student, donated plasma twice a week to get enough money to eat at Freebirds every day for two years. Or something like that. Man. I know I love Freebirds, but something about that is just downright creepy!

It's not like I have room to talk, though. Back in 1992, in my senior year at A&M, the Aggies swept Texas in baseball for the first time ever. The brooms came out, and the fans in the stands at Olsen Field leapt onto the diamond to celebrate with the team. We're talking about 5,000 fans for a college baseball game. From the lower deck of Olsen to the playing surface is a sheer drop of 10-12 feet. I'm not the most agile of people, and when I landed pain shot up my right leg. We're talking 57 kinds of hurt. Something was broken, I knew, so after the singing and cheering and celebrations waned, I swiped a broom from someone to use as a crutch. I limped my way back to my truck, and started for the hospital. But you have to realize, this was a late game. It was close to 10 p.m., and I hadn't had dinner. I was hungry. Really hungry. From my past experience with hospitals, I knew they wouldn't let you eat or drink anything while awaiting diagnosis, and maybe not even after that. So I turned around and drove over to the original College Station Freebirds location at Northgate. Using my broom as a crutch again, I limped across the street and ordered a monster chicken on whole wheat, with pico, cilantro and guacamole. And every hot sauce they had in the place. When I was finished, maybe around 11 or so, then I headed over to the hospital.

My leg still hurt, but I wasn't hungry anymore.

Turns out I broke my heel. Managed to give myself a circular fracture running around the ball of the heel, which didn't show up on X-rays, so they ended up pumping me full of radioactive gunk and imaging my foot that way. I don't recommend it. Was on crutches for a month. But man, was that burrito good.

Today in Austin, I brought a broom along, and they had me re-enact my limping across the parking lot to get to Freebirds. They gave me a free Monster burrito for lunch, enough gift certificates to feed my family a bunch of burritos and then some, plus a nifty black Freebirds shirt which is just the right size for me now, but will shrink to Lisa's size after the first washing. Yeah, not a lot of compensation, but I love Freebirds and didn't expect much more. I'm not a professional actor, after all. The Freebirds staff and the film crew thought my tale of woe hilarious, and thought the broom a suitably pathetic prop. They assured me I gave them some good material, even if I tended to ramble on rather than get to the point (Me? Ramble on at length?)

All in all, it was a fun trip. If they make the commercials available online, I'll post the link here so everyone can see how much of a nincompoop I look when I'm expounding about breaking my leg for a burrito.

Now Playing: The Georgia Satellites In the Land of Salvation and Sin

Friday, February 04, 2005

Jack's dead

It saddens me to no end to see that Ossie Davis was found dead Friday in a Miami hotel room. He was in town to start filming a new movie, and it's a shame that film will never be completed now. He was a very talented actor that brought dignity and character to every role he played. He was one of many highlights in Bubba Ho-Tep, where he played an aging president John F. Kennedy ("The dyed me this color!") opposite Bruce Campbell's rest home-confined Elvis. The two had great chemistry together, especially when they teamed to battle an ancient Egyptian soul-sucking mummy. None of the obits I've seen mention his performance in Bubba Ho-Tep, which is sad, because it was a great role in one of his last films. It might not be the most highbrow thing he'd done, but he obviously had a great deal of fun doing it, and as an actor, that's probably what counts the most.

Now Playing: The Moody Blues Time Traveler

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Promotional experiment

A few weeks back, Simon over at LitHaven mentioned he was considering adding advertising to the blog, and was looking for guinea pig books for a test run. Essentially, participants would get a month's free advertising in exchange for sharing sales figures with Simon, so LitHaven might set accurate ad rates (and/or see if ads were productive enough to even be vaible). Me, being the promotional whore that I am, immediately offered up Voices of Vision.

When initially listed VoV for pre-order some months ago, it started off with a sales ranking of 445,510. In the months since then, I've watched as the sales ranking steadily spiraled downward, hitting the depressing low point somewhere around 1,600,000 late last week. I didn't write that number down for obvious reasons, but I should have. I checked Amazon today, with LitHaven having run a small ad for VoV since Tuesday, and the sales ranking has zoomed up to 191,444. Holey moley! That's the highest ranking it's ever held.

Now keep in mind that Amazon numbers are meaningless in anything other than relative terms. All that number means is that there are 191,443 books that are selling better than mine. A jump that large could theoretically result from as few as five books being bought over a one day span, for instance, if they were bought at the right time during Amazon's byzantine sales rank calculation process. But the sudden change does tell me a few concrete things: 1) A number of people have responded to the LitHaven ads and pre-ordered the book; 2) Online ads can have immediate impact (if they're placed wisely); 3) VoV is selling more copies at this point in time than 1,200,000 other titles available on Amazon (sorry, but I'm as suceptible to gratuitous ego boo as anyone).

Those sales rankings are useless for anything other than judging comparative popularity on Amazon. But the smaller numbers do give a heightened veneer of credibility to the book, more exposure and better placement in Amazon's internal searches. Breaking into the five-figure range would be even nicer. I've still got almost a full month left for the ad to run on LitHaven, so I'll keep an eye on the numbers and keep track of whether this is just a front-end spike that will quickly tail off, or if the sales momentum builds throughout the month.

Now Playing: Gipsy Kings Volare!

I'll bet there was clinching involved

You know you've got a drinking problem when you make your wife give you enemas using sherry. You should know your husband has a drinking problem when he asks you to give him the same. But apparently, Tammy Jean Warner didn't learn these pertinent facts at finishing school, since she enema'd her husband to death by helping him with the bum chugging:
Michael Warner, a 58-year-old machine shop owner, had a long history of alcoholism, but couldn't ingest alcohol by mouth because of painful medical problems with his throat, said Lake Jackson police detective Robert Turner. The enema was a way he could become intoxicated without drinking alcohol, Turner said.

"I heard of this kind of thing in mortuary school in 1970, but this is the first time I've ever heard of someone actually doing it," Turner said.

Turner said police think Warner gave her husband at least two large bottles of sherry, which is stronger than wine, in the enema.

"We're not talking about little bottles here," Turner said, "These were at least 1.5 liter bottles."

The sad thing is that this happening in Houston doesn't surprise me. Come to think of it, it wouldn't surprise me if it'd happened in Austin, either. But in that case, fraternities would have to be involved. Something this stupid just begs for copycats.

Now Playing: Buffalo Springfield Retrospective

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Button-pushing alert

The latest issue of Newsweek has an article in it regarding the ongoing--and escalating--conflicts between real science and fundamentalist Christians over evolution. Namely, the so-called "theory" of Intelligent Design:
Proponents of I.D., clustered around a Seattle think tank called the Discovery Institute, regard it as an overdue challenge to Darwinism's monopoly over scientific discourse. "To say, as Darwinians do, that everything has to be reduced to a chemical reaction is more ideology than science," asserts Discovery's John West. Opponents, led by the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, regard I.D. as an assault on a basic principle of the Enlightenment, that science must explain nature through natural causes. "Intelligent design is predicated on a supernatural creator," says Vic Walczak, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging Dover's introduction of the concept into biology classes. "That's not science, it's religion."

Indeed. It's almost enough to make me buy a copy of Unintelligent Design for all of those whose religion and faith are so fragile it can't withstand the slightest bit of critical thinking.

Now Playing: Modest Mussorgsky Night on Bare Mountain

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

On rejects and rewrites

I don't normally share rejections letters on my blog, just as I don't normally show off various surgery scars and such in public. But I got in one from Sheila Williams at Asimov's yesterday that I have to share (if only so Lou Antonelli can gloat that he's been published in Asimov's and I still haven't been):
Dear Jayme,

Thanks for letting me see "Herne's Children." I thought the writing was lovely, but I'm afraid the story isn't quite right for the magazine. Please let me see more of your work when you have it, though.

Story of my life. Everything I write is good enough for someone else to publish, just not the editor I've submitted it to (well, not everything. I still write the occasional stinker. But the smell gives those away). Que sera sera. Unlike other positive rejections, which usually send me into a raging fit of indifference, this one actually piqued my interest. "Lovely" writing? Hmm. That's new. Progress, of sorts, with the new editor. We'll see how she responds to the current submission, which is written in the same style, but slightly more mainstream (as far as contemporary fantasy goes).

And now for the rewrite segment of this post. Friends and neighbors, a word of writing advice: If you, for some unfathomable reason, happen to have two versions of the same story saved on your computer in different formats (WP and RTF for the technically inclined), do not assume these two files are identical when you begin your long-delayed rewrite of a rather long story. And when you finish rewriting the first couple of pages, and keep running into sections that don't read the way you remember, there's probably a reason for that. Don't just ignore those gnawing doubts of confusion. Turst me on this one. You'll save yourself wasted hours, public humiliation and much random cursing.

Now Playing: Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues