Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Night Videos

I've never been a huge Duran Duran fan, and think the group lost its creative direction post "From a View to a Kill," but they were so much a part of the iconic 80s I can't help but look back at them in fondness. They had a string of big hits with "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf," but for me one of their most interesting and experimental singles was "Wild Boys." It took some chances, and for the most part pays off. The video, too, is an ambitious attempt to shake up the status quo, and the post-apocalyptic Road Warrior/cyberpunk/Peter Pan mishmash hold up surprisingly well today.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Aerosmith.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

First maypop of 2007

My incarnata bloomed for the first time this year today! This is the one I wild collected last spring from my parents' property, the one I've dubbed "Texas Giant" because of its large 4" flowers and goose egg-sized fruit:


I've read that incarnata flowers can be highly variable, even on the same plant from year to year. I'd never really given that much thought, but the difference between the more pastel, lavender flowers from last year and the more intense blue/purple this year is striking. And the flower size is the same:

Interesting, no? I'm quite curious to see if my other two incarnata vines show such flower variation this year. Unfortunately, I visited the site where I collected this vine last spring and didn't see any growing in the immediate area--there were at least four vines last year. This time, I counted just four total vines (none flowering) along the fence line where there were a dozen or more last year. I remember finding them growing in the open field 15 years ago, but these past two years I've seen none outside of the brush on the other side of the fence. All of which has me concerned that something is killing them off, or at least presenting a less favorable environment in recent years.

Now Playing: nothing

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Interzone 210

Friends and neighbors, Interzone no. 210 is at the printer, and should start hitting the newsstands in Europe in early May, with the U.S. to follow a few weeks thereafter. Why the sudden interest? Why, because this issue contains my story "Being an Account of the Final Voyage of La Riaza: A Circumstance in Eight Parts."


Issue #210, 8 pages longer than the usual at 72, features fiction from Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Rachel Swirsky, Stephen Francis Murphy, David Ira Cleary, Tim Lees and Tim Akers.

Non Fiction in this issue includes a guest editorial from author Geoff Ryman, '25 IZ' - which continues the celebrations of Interzone's 25 years, with contributions from Bruce Sterling, Dominic Green, Ken MacLeod, Brian Stableford, Terry Pratchett, Paul McAuley, Adam Roberts, Edward Morris, Ellen Datlow, Sarah Ash, Mercurio D. Rivera (current readers' poll
winner) and Douglas Sirois - '25 Film', continuing the series looking at the last 25 years of other media, this time with IZ film reviewer Nick Lowe choosing his top ten SF and fantasy films.

There are two feature interviews: with Steph Swainston and Stephen Baxter, as well as book reviews, including John Clute's regular 'Scores' column, a new series - Podzone, with Rev-Up Review podcaster Paul S. Jenkins on short stories for your iPOD, SF & F podcasts - Nick Lowe's regular 'Mutant Popcorn' film review column and David Langford's 'Ansible Link' news and gossip column.

Cover art and fiction illustrations in this issue are by Douglas Sirois, who is also profiled and interviewed (with more artworks from his portfolio). Doug also writes a brief introduction to each story detailing his thought and work processes, how he approached that particular assignment.

And finally, the main feature in this issue is 'Abiding With Sturgeon: Mistral in the Bijou', Harlan Ellison's, 10,000-word, revealing, funny and deeply moving tribute to Theodore Sturgeon, in which Ellison writes of his friendship with Sturgeon and their time together.

The Harlan Ellison essay is a neat bit of synchronicity, since H.E. was the first author I ever interviewed for Interzone way back when, an event that put me on track to interview a heck of a lot more professionals than I'd ever anticipated, with a book deal coming out of it as well. But "La Riaza" is what I'm most excited about. I have no idea if the title survives intact or is truncated in the magazine, but we all know what the real title is, don't we? This was actually one of the first speculative fiction short stories (and when I say short, that's relative, okay?) I ever wrote--I was still in college, IIRC, so that back dates it considerably. The plot, major events and characters are pretty much the same as written circa 1992. Everything else--such as narrative, dialog and generally anything having to do with words on the page--stunk to high heaven. I didn't do heavy edits on this story, but rather started over from scratch and wrote an entirely new piece using everything I liked from the earlier one, and the result is something I'm quite proud of. So much so, in fact, that I used the setting, some throwaway lines and at least one minor character as the basis of "The Whale Below," the pirate story forthcoming in Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's Fast Ships, Black Sails anthology. You don't have to read the first to understand the second, but there are a few Easter Eggs in there for loyal fans. I'm a big believer in continuity.

So, if you're in the U.S., how can you get your own copy of Interzone? Unlike in the olden days when I first broke into that market, various chains carry that magazine now. Hastings, for one has it, and I've seen Interzone on the racks in San Marcos and New Braunfels. But it is my understanding that Borders and Barnes & Noble stock it as well. So mark your calendars to run out on June 1 and buy up one or two dozen copies for me to sign at Apollocon or NASFiC this year. You'll make me very happy by doing so.

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua

Monday, April 23, 2007

Right place, right time

I'm not the photographer in the family. Lisa is. But every once in a while I stumble into a decent shot myself. Yesterday we had drizzly rain all day, and I thought it a good idea to move my Lady Margaret passion flower onto the front porch to keep it from getting waterlogged. It happened to be blooming at the time, and, well, I think the pic speaks for itself:


I don't know about you, but it looks to me like something future explorers would find on an alien world...

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Night Videos

I became a fan of Aerosmith in high school when the band's "Permanent Vacation" album came out, and quickly discovered their back catalog. You know, the good old stuff from the 70s. Then I saw them in Houston in concert, which stands out for the drum solo, in which the drummer strapped on some sort of synthesizer kit connected to his drum sticks, and proceeded to jump into the audience and "play" an extended drum solo on the crowd. Very cool. And Lisa's a big fan too, which comes in handy when we can't agree on what music to listen to on road trips.

Rag Doll is one of my fave songs off of that strong album, and has a killer video. I remember being dumbfounded when I first saw it, simply because I'd never seen anything that risque (granted, it's a stylized, tongue-in-cheek risque) on broadcast television before. And it still holds up well today, reminding me of a happy time before Aerosmith's music gravitated toward the commercial and formulaic.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Toto.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Meddle

Remembering Va Tech

Texas State held a memorial service for the Virginia Tech shooting victims here on campus yesterday. There are some very moving photos by Don Anders which can be viewed here.

Now Playing: Dvorak The Best of Dvorak

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Toto is one of those groups that always seemed right on the verge of superstardom--they'd come out with a single that was simply amazing, showcasing their depth and range as songwriters, but follow it up with a string of releases that was, for lack of a better description, uninspired drivel. Night Ranger is another band that showed this wild inconsistency, IMHO. "Africa" is probably Toto's best-known song. Musically and lyrically, it's also probably their most... I don't know if ambitious is the right word. Maybe mature is what I mean. In any event, the video for the song certainly is their most ambitious. It's dated, sure, but the fact that it's a mini movie with a stylish set and plot makes it one that I'll stop and watch every time I see it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Now Playing: Toto Past to Present

Thursday, April 12, 2007


So. Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday, and 300,000 bloggers and journalists use "So it goes" in their remembrances of him. Clever. I was never what you'd call a Vonnegut fan, although I respect his writing and have read a number of his books. Those who know me will probably find no surprise in the fact that my favorite book of his is The Sirens of Titan. I first encountered his writing in high school, with the ubiquitous "Harrison Bergeron." I did not like it, and still don't. Maybe the ham-fisted satire worked at the time it was written, but I was bored with it by the second page. I also wrote a book report on Slapstick my senior year. Since they'd made a Jerry Lewis movie out of it, I figured it must have a workable plot. Profound mistake on my part. I did love the microscopic Chinese, however.

For the most part, though, I harbor a mild resentment against Vonnegut. He got his start writing science fiction (or perhaps "speculative fiction" is more apropos), and although his writing never really changed, once he became a critical darling, he shunned any SFnal categorization. He set the stage for the Margaret Atwoods of the world to continue disparaging a genre that had finally grown up. I understand the reasons for holding SF at arm's length--in a nutshell, mainstream sales. But I can't help but think that if Vonnegut had stood up and said, "Damn straight I write science fiction. I also write fantasy, satire, absurdist and mainstream. I refuse to be categorized, but will work in any genre I damn well please if its tools and conventions suit my purpose. I am no single kind of writer--I am whatever writer I choose to be. Deal with it."

If someone of his stature had stood up and said that, especially at the height of the New Wave when Ellison, Delany, Moorcock, Tiptree and the rest were really blowing the doors off stodgy notions of what SF was and could be, well, I like to think the perception of SF would be significantly better than the mind-numbing Sci-Fi drek popular media often holds up as an example of the whole of the genre.

Maybe that's Pollyannaish of me, but if so many authors have the courage to stand up for social causes they believe in, why not the genre that gave them their start? Hi-ho.

Now Playing: Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Meet the Robinsons

Pixar really screwed Disney animation up. Somehow, the success of Pixar's films, coupled with some really mediocre Disney offerings, convinced the powers that be that traditional animation was dead, and all you needed to ensure a hit was to make it computer animated. Um... no. Pixar films succeed because of story and character, with the form being a pretty (but incidental) tool. Computer animation is no substitute for quality. Disney's first effort, Dinosaur was a stunningly mediocre remake of The Land Before Time. It was very pretty, but everyone'd seen it before. The next real effort, Chicken Little was a jokey mess of pop-culture references with little heart or substance. I'm glad to report that Meet the Robinsons is a vast improvement on all fronts for Disney.

Now, for any of you out there that have read any kind of science fiction involving time travel--or heck, anyone who's ever watched even one of the Back to the Future films--you can pretty much figure out the big twists well before they happen. But there's an unbridled exuberance running throughout this film, a manic enthusiasm, plenty of genuine laughs along with some heartfelt character development that make it a winner. No, the animation isn't Pixar quality, and neither is the story, but it is better than the stream of digital films Dreamworks has churned out since the original Shreck. The villain of the piece, "Bowler Hat Guy," steals the show as the most incompetent "Snidely Whiplash" type ever to grace the silver screen. He's great, almost as great as the fact that the movie isn't chok full of pop-culture references. Also, while there are a handful of recognizable celebrity voices in the mix, the marketing isn't hyping them as if they were the only reason to see the movie. I remember back when all Disney films were treated this way--a good sign that John Lassiter's influence on the studio is already bearing fruit.

Now Playing: Various Artists Songs From The Vaults A Collection of Rocky Horror Rarities

Friday, April 06, 2007

Friday Night Videos

This week's edition of Friday Night Videos is dedicated to new University of Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Hall & Oates.

Now Playing: Camerata Labacensis The Best of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart vol. 1

Oh #%@*!

After fending off N.C. State and Indiana last year, and Arkansas and (presumably) Kentucky earlier this year, you'd think A&M could rest easy about it's coaching situation. You'd be wrong.
Gillispie, who became a hot basketball commodity by leading startling revivals of programs at UTEP and Texas A&M this decade, is thought to be keenly interested in the Kentucky job. It's widely assumed that unlike Donovan, he would not need to be persuaded to come to UK. For one thing, he's an avid horseracing fan who regularly attends the Kentucky Derby.

Barnhart sought permission from Texas A&M Athletics Director Bill Byrne at 8 tonight to speak to Gillispie. After granting permission, Byrne issued a statement.

"Coach Gillispie is one of the top coaches in the country and we certainly do not want to lose him," Byrne said. "At the same time, we do not want to stand in the way of any member of my department who wants to explore another option if he or she feels that's in their best interest."

You want my gut feeling? He's gone. Damn. It sure was nice having a basketball team playing in March for a change. I'm going to miss it.

Now Playing: nothing

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Plague of Banjos

John Klima, head guru and soothsayer over at Electric Velocipede has kindly informed me that he's buying my story, "A Plague of Banjos," for a future issue of his happening zine. Some of you may have actually heard me read "Banjos" at a con sometime--it's the only piece I've ever had requests for, so those of you who've asked me where a hard copy can be found, now you know!

Now Playing: Gustav Holst The Planets

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Oh yeah... I went to Aggiecon, didn't I?

This year's Aggiecon was a surreal one for me--I had a strange sense of disconnect almost the entire weekend. A big reason for that, no doubt, is the university's decision to convert the on-campus hotel to office space, which meant that all the guests ended up shuttling back and forth between the convention and the off-campus hotel. Personally, I call B.S. on the university's contention that the hotel is empty more often than not. Unless things have changed significantly from my college days, the MSC Guest Rooms were difficult to book because they were in such demand. I suspect creative bookkeeping or hostile policy changes as the real culprit behind this decline. Awkward, to say the least, but a situation the convention has no control over. (Below left, Zane of Edge Books; below right, Rick Klaw)


Beyond that, however, the con itself had a dramatically different vibe going on. The current students have given themselves over almost entirely to a Dragoncon-style media approach, focusing on performance and anime. It didn't help that the Author Guest of Honor, Gene Wolfe, canceled a month before the con. They were unable to find an equivalent substitute on such short notice, so the literary/writing aspect of the weekend was marginalized even further. This was highlighted by my conversations with book dealers there, who said they were averaging $1,000 less in sales than in previous years. (Below left, Kasey Lansdale; below right, Richard Hatch)


It was very strange, but this is the first time I can remember walking through Aggiecon's huge dealers' room and not seeing anything I really, really wanted. The same goes for the art show, which suffered from the lack of an artist GoH because of a late-in-the-game cancellation (Ruth Thompson, I think, but don't quote me on that). So what guests did show up? Richard Hatch, for one. I don't have any problems with media guests, but the whole pay-for-play approach makes my skin crawl. A bunch of anime voice actors showed up as well, and GhoulTown, a genre-themed rock band, had high visibility throughout the con. (Bottom left, Alain Viesca; bottom right, Kim Kofmel)


Scheduling proved to be the most challenging aspect of the con. I have never, ever seen a convention where things were changed so often, and seemingly at random. At one point, I checked three different schedules for a particular panel--my personal one on the back of my con pass, the one posted on the door of the meeting room and one posted on the table itself where the panelists would sit--and each one said something different. Making things worse was the fact that the concom didn't set up a central update area to post schedule changes. If a panel's time and room were changed, you didn't find out until you went to the room originally scheduled and checked the door. One of my panels was canceled in favor of a stand-up comedy routine (I kid you not) and only later did I discover said panel had been hastily rescheduled in another location, at a different time. Ugh. (Bottom left, A.T. Campbell III; bottom right, GhoulTown)


Like most old farts at these things, the real reason I go is to catch up with all the old friends I see year after year. Sadly, a lot of familiar faces seem to have dropped off the guest list this time around. Bill and Judy Crider made it, though, as did Joe and Karen Lansdale. I got a chance to talk with Willie and Chuck Siros, Martha Wells and Troyce Wilson, and even Rhonda Eudaly made it to the con, even though she's not a regular. Saturday night I even made it over into Bryan for the Monkey House party, where I talked with Bill Page and Tom Knowles for a good long while. I was even introduced to Habanero Mead, a product from the Purple Possum Winery in nearby Navasota. "Interesting" is the only word that readily comes to mind. There's a slight heat in the aftertaste, and the habanero flavor is somewhat fruity. But I'm thinking the mead could've stood a little more in the way of tannins, to give it a little more depth of flavor. I've got them bookmarked, however, and plan on sampling their other flavors. (Bottom left, Bill Crider, Joe Lansdale, Karen Lansdale; bottom right, Willie Siros, Richard Hatch, Allan Porter)


I had the expected good time hanging out beside the hotel swimming pool talking with other folks late into the night, and was surprised to see Richard Hatch joining in the conversation Saturday night (In my experience, media guests rarely mingle with anyone). I introduced Lou Antonelli to Freebirds World Burrito for lunch on Saturday. I drove around B/CS for a while, gawking at all the construction and change that has overtaken the place since last year even. I had a good time, yes, but this was far from the best Aggiecon for me. I'm hoping things improve next year. (Bottom left, Rhonda Eudaly, her significant other, and a third guy I don't know; bottom right, Purple Possum Habanero Mead)


Now Playing: Slowakische Philharmonie Peer Gynt Suites I & II

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not really running for president

This is obviously coming at least a day later than it should have, but some kind of virulent plague is running through our household and I literally spent all of Sunday night and Monday morning walking with Orion trying to sleep on my shoulder, because whenever he'd lie down, the congestion would block his breathing. And today Lisa's picked up the same thing, pretty much. And my right ear is numb. Doubtful the ear is related to the other afflictions, but it feels downright weird.

So, by now you've probably twigged to the fact that my announcement of running as a write-in candidate for SFWA president was an April Fool's gag. Jeff VanderMeer put me up to it, along with the dozen or so other folks online who played along. I'm still particularly proud of mine, not just because of the fact that a number of folks bought it and got behind my presidential bid--but also because several people bought it and got behind my presidential bid after they'd already learned of others doing the same as an April Fool's joke.

So how'd does one achieve such verisimilitude? First, lay your cards on the table with a straight face. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge gives it away every time. Second, it helps if you remember pretty much all the big push-button SFWA flamewar issues from the past 30 years. Take these issues, tweak them just enough to seem modern in appearance, and serve them up for people to fume over. Thank you, and good night.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Tossing My Hat Into The Ring

I'd really hoped it wouldn't come to this, but in all honesty, the field of candidates eager to be elected the next president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has left me profoundly underwhelmed. Which is why I'm now announcing my write-in candidacy for president of SFWA. My credentials speak for themselves: I've been a member of SFWA since 1997 and an active member since 1998. I've volunteered as the SFWA Net Ring Master since around 2002 or so and for the past year have served as the SFWA Media Director, heading up the publicity committee. Beyond that, I've experience in the fandom roots of the genre, having worked numerous conventions and running AggieCon 22 back in 1991. I've a decade and a half's worth of experience as a journalist, published short fiction, non-fiction and a book. I've done reviews and criticism, essays and pop culture riffs. I edited fiction for RevolutionSF for three years, publishing such writers as Gene Wolfe, Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen Dedman. In short, I've got the widest range of experience of any of the announced candidates, not to mention a tremendous sense of history and a vision for shaking off the ossified shell of the moribund organization. The publishing world has changed greatly over the past decade, yet SFWA still functions as it did when Damon Knight founded it nearly five decades back. Here are my platform proposals by which SFWA will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern era:
1) Short fiction will no longer count toward Active Membership. Short fiction is a dying art, kept on life support by dying markets. SFWA should no longer encourage writers to pursue this dead-end form out of misplaced nostalgia, instead encouraging writers to pursue more viable forms. Short fiction sales will continue to count toward Affiliate Membership and requalification.

2) Active Members must sell a minimum of three (3) pieces of short fiction or one (1) novel to professional publishers in the preceding five-year period to maintain active status. If a member fails to meet this modest requirement, their membership will be downgraded to non-voting Affiliate Membership.

3) All online publication of fiction, be it via established webzines, blogs, podcasts, vidcasts or other downloadable forms will be considered "professional sales" as long as they have a payment option available. Online publication IS the future, and SFWA must take a leadership role rather than continue to hold it at arm's length.

4) The Nebula Awards Weekend will permanently rotate between New York City and Los Angeles. These are the United States' two largest media centers, and SFWA does itself little good by holding the annual ceremonies in such publicity backwaters as Santa Fe, New Mexico and Austin, Texas.

5) All short fiction categories will be eliminated from the Nebula Awards ballot (see proposal 1), replaced by awards for Best Podcast, Best Blog, Best Webzine and Best Vidcast (see proposal 3). Additionally, SFWA will also name a "Member of the Year" (not a Nebula) at the ceremonies, recognizing one of the rank-and-file who make the organization what it is.

6) Works will become eligible for the Nebula Award at time of payment. Publication is nice, but payment is what keep writers from eating dog food.

7) The Nebula Awards bizarre "rolling eligibility" will be eliminated. Instead, works remain eligible in perpetuity, which benefits writers who a) publish mainly via the small press before landing mass-market distribution and b) writers who only gain popularity late in their career, or posthumously. Once a work receives sufficient nominations to make the preliminary ballot, or enough votes to reach the final ballot--provided it doesn't win the award--the totals are reset to zero and the nomination process begins again. I call this the "Philip K. Dick" clause.

8) There will be a five-year moratorium on all bylaws amendment proposals. These contentious events are divisive to the membership, which has demonstrated aggressive apathy toward them in recent years. Imposing a moratorium will allow lingering ill feelings to subside and allow the president and board of directors to manage the organization without the specter of rules changes every six months.

9) The president will serve a five-year term, with the board of directors serving staggered four-year terms. Elected officers may not seek reelection, but may serve non-consecutive terms. The greatest obstacle preventing SFWA from reaching its full potential is the lack of continuity inherent in single-year presidential terms, with presidents leaving office before initiatives come to fruition. With this simple change, SFWA's presidential administration focus can change from short-term and reactive to one of long-term strategy. In the event of officer maleficence, said offender may be removed from the held position by a simple two-thirds majority vote of all Active Membership.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my position statement. Your attention is gratifying and I humbly look forward to your support.

Now Playing: Ettore Strata Music from the Galaxies