Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Day in the Life with Android (Part 1)

[Updated: December 29, 2012; see below under "Apps/Swype keyboard."]

If you read my September 21 blog post, then you know that a few months ago I purchased a Google Nexus 7 tablet (built by ASUS).

I haven't been very active on this blog since that purchase, and when I'm not working on book projects1 to pay the bills, I'm probably attached in some fashion (my wife would probably say "umbilically") to the Nexus 7.

My goal is to be able to perform all work-related activities on the N7. A lot of that ability is dependent on the quality and performance of the apps that I use. I'll install an app that will work perfectly, and then after the next update (and some apps are updated often, even daily at times), possibly the app won't even open on the N7. It's the nature of Android: developers attempting to make their apps compatible with dozens (hundreds?) of devices, running various levels of the Android operating system (OS), and from a multitude of manufacturers.

My N7 has the latest (and not always greatest) "Jelly Bean" (JB) OS, version 4.2.1. That point-1 update occurred just last month, and since then the device's Bluetooth functionality has been erratic. This is a known issue. Unfortunately for me, Bluetooth capability is critical to my end goal.

Hardware

1. When I need to do some serious input, I use the Logitech 920-003390 Tablet Keyboard for Android 3.0 Plus and the Targus Bluetooth Comfort Laser Mouse AMB09US. The keyboard is full-size with an excellent "feel," and the case flips open to serve as a stand for the tablet.

But when the N7's Bluetooth keeps dropping the keyboard (re: see above known issue), well, not a lot of serious work gets done. The tab's onscreen "Swype" keyboard (more on this in a bit) is fairly fast, but still error prone, and I also have a tendency to fat-finger the screen -- so a keyboard is a necessity.

2. To avoid the onscreen fat-finger effect, I often use the amPen New Hybrid Stylus. I would be lost without this stylus at times (especially playing the CrossMe Color game!) and it is compatible with all capacitive touch screens. The stylus has a plastic anchor that fits in the audio headphone jack on the N7 so you never have to worry about setting the stylus down and then forgetting where you set it.

3. And lastly (for now): When I end up in an AC outlet-deprived environment and the N7's battery is running low, I have the IOGEAR GMP10K GearPower Ultra Capacity Mobile Power Station -- great for powering a phone and tab simultaneously.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A "True Review" of Alien Contact

Alien ContactWhispers in the night... quiet words spoken amidst the rampaging hordes of vampires, werewolves, zombies... and superheroes.

Only a few of us, now, speak -- albeit resolutely -- of our Alien Contact experience. Of the stories therein, and their impact on our collective psyches, our thoughts, our visions of what is, what could be....

Recently, another spark of light has emerged from the darkness to wield its mighty words in approbation of this tome of some of the best stories from the past 30 or so years: 'zine True Review, edited by Andrew Andrews, reviews Alien Contact in its current issue (No. 82, Vol.25, Oct. 2012).

The review is brief, considering that the anthology contains 26 stories, but recognition in any size or shape is always welcome. The review highlights 10 of the stories; here's what Andrew had to say about Neil Gaiman's "How to Talk to Girls at Parties":
Two London blokes find out about a party coming to town like no other, with beautiful women who seem, well, kind of odd. But the guys want one thing only: to get to know the girls with perhaps some extended "benefits." Everything goes as planned until the dudes realize THESE women aren't of this world.

And Ursula K. Le Guin's "The First Contact with the Gorgonids":
Jerry and Annie Laurie Debree, tourists from a plastics conference in Australia, make it to Grong Crossing, one of the most unlikely places for humans to make first contact with aliens. But for these arrogant and ignorant tourists, fame will come, whether they like it or not.

For more of the review, please check out True Review.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Writing 101: Self-Editing Notes and Resources

This weekend (November 2-4) I will be participating in the first Convolution convention, to be held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel in Burlingame, California. So if you just happen to be in the neighborhood, please do stop by and join the festivities.

I am moderating a panel on "Self-Editing" at 6:00 PM on Saturday (tomorrow) in the Sandpebble-A room. While reviewing notes, online resources, etc. in preparation for this panel discussion --

I decided to write down these notes and links and such here, on More Red Ink, as a way of gathering my thoughts, and providing a virtual resource to the panel attendees. This way I can simply point the audience to this blog post and not have to worry about spelling out web links, names, and such during the actual panel discussion.

So, let me begin by saying that what follows are strictly notes, quotes, links, bullet points, etc. No fancy paragraphs and flow; these are literally reference notes for the panel discussion. However, if you are a writer, then by definition you are a self-editor, and you may find some of what follows of interest in your pursuit of perfection and publication.

* * * * * * * * * *

Recommendation:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King (William Morrow Paperbacks).

Update: 11/05/2012.
As I was gathering my notes for the panel, I realized I neglected to include one of the best writing books ever:
On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Scribner).

I know writers who reread this book once every six months or so, just to be inspired once again.


References:

Alan Cooper's List of Homonyms: words that have the same sound and often the same spelling but differ in meaning; a wonderful list of homonyms, but the list is old (1997) -- though words don't really change, do they.


Eclectics.com: "Self-Editing" by Lori Handeland.
Self editing is a very important aspect of re-writing. It is the last thing a writer does before sending the manuscript off to their agent or an editor. I look at self-editing as a final housecleaning chore. Not a lot of fun in itself, but don't you feel good when you're done?

I always do a final edit with a hard copy. There are so many things you won't see by reading your manuscript off a computer screen--beside the problem of going blind from reading an entire book that way. The printed word needs to be read, as it was meant to be read, on paper, so you can see the mistakes--and hear any with your inner ear. There is a flow that comes with a well written, well rewritten, well edited manuscript that you can hear when you read it. You must also be able to see your work as an editor or agent will see it. Too much introspection or narrative all in a row with no breaks for dialogue or adequate paragraphing makes a reader skip ahead for some excitement. Sometimes you don't notice this until you read your hard copy in the self-editing stage.

1. Are you telling instead of showing?
2. Are you establishing your character gradually and unobtrusively?
3. Is your point of view consistent?
4. Are your dialogue mechanics sophisticated? (reflect adequate knowledge of proper writing technique)
5 Have you checked for breaks?
6. Have you checked for unintentional repetition?
7. Have you checked for sophistication throughout the novel?
8. Have you checked your general mechanics?

Each bullet point has excellent content with examples.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dorchester Publishing May Be Looking for You!

Earlier this year, Dorchester Publishing closed its doors and sold approximately 1,000 titles to Amazon.com.

Dorchester is now trying to transfer rights back to authors, but they have a huge list of authors for whom they have no contact information. You may be on this list -- or you may know someone who is and could put them in touch with Dorchester. Here's what the publisher has to say:
Thank you for your support over the last 75 years.

At this time, we are completing the reversion process, transferring all titles back to their respective authors. Though we have made great strides, our research has uncovered a number of authors for whom we have no contact information. In addition, there are a number of titles without corresponding authors. To complete this reversion process, we will need your help.

So check out Dorchester Publishing's full list of authors and titles. You just may be on that list.

Note: A lot of the authors are deceased, so agents and estates need to review this list as well.

(Thanks to @StaciaKane and @galleycat.)


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Survive an Atomic Bomb...

A January 1951 advertisement from the Mutual of Omaha insurance company, courtesy of "v. valenti" on flickr, and boingboing.net:

How to Survive an Atomic Bomb

The flickr link above provides a much larger image.

You gotta love this text in the header: "GAMMA RAYS VIRTUALLY HARMLESS OVER 7000 FT."

I assume this type of propaganda was initiated by the government to give the population a false sense of hope that an atomic attack was, in fact, survivable simply by following this "duck and cover" procedure. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha....

Monday, October 1, 2012

Charles Stross and Five Loads of Laundry

ApocalypseCodex
I'll begin with a couple references to previous blog posts: the first post details my work on Charles Stross's The Apocalypse Codex, book four in his Laundry Files series, for Ace Books. The second post excerpts, and links to, a couple reviews of this novel.

In the intervening two months since that second blog post, The Apocalypse Codex has again been reviewed a number of times, and I would like to share with you a brief excerpt from just five of those reviews, in order of their publication. So, if you haven't picked up a copy of TAC as yet, if you're still undecided whether the Laundry Files novels are for you, then please read on; hopefully these reviews will help you decide that this series of books, and The Apocalypse Codex in particular, are a must read (and a must have).

I'll begin with the review by NancyO on oddly weird fiction (subtitled: "the fantasy, sci-fi and other weird books from my reading year"). What's so very cool about this particular review -- especially if you are new to the Laundry Files series -- is that NancyO reviews all four books in the series. So instead of focusing on TAC, I would like to quote from the introduction to her review:
There's something to be said about a guy who can combine HP Lovecraft, various writers of spy fiction, computer geekness and a little of the management nitwitedness of Office Space and come up with a series of consistently good novels that incorporate all of the above.... Along the way he throws pointed barbs at iPhones, cults, Power Point presentations, evangelical Christians, handguns and other sources of irritation -- all of which come off as funny, but only because you realize that some of the things he pokes sarcastic fun at resonate with your own fears, peeves, and annoyances. This guy is Charles Stross, who is the author of four books that comprise The Laundry Files, one of my favorite series of novels ever written. If you'll pardon the expletive, I don't know he manages to keep coming up with this amazing shit -- each book is different, sending the main character Bob Howard, computational demonologist, into perilous adventures as he and the Laundry, the super-secret civil service organization Bob works for, prepare to save humanity from the onslaught of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN -- an apocalypse arriving from the multiverse. The people at the Laundry have developed some very modern and secret technologies that combine the most high-tech electronics with the occult to keep Bob and others like him safe to defend the world -- all based on magic as a form of mathematics. These novels remind me of old-time adventure stories with a hopped-up occult/geek/horror twist that for some reason unknown to myself I just can't seem to get enough of.
I couldn't have asked for a better recap of the Laundry Files series. And as I said, NancyO goes on to review all four books in the series.

This next review of TAC is on mentatjack (subtitled: "sff book reviews and subversive ontology"). MentatJack writes:
Stross likes to play with point of view.... At the start of The Apocalypse Codex, Bob Howard (protagonist) is established formally as an unreliable narrator:

If it happened to me, I'll describe it in the first person... If it happened to someone else I'll describe it in the third person… And if there's something you really need to understand... I'll [use second person.]

Bob tells us that in the prologue and then we're dropped immediately into a 3rd person section.... The super spy, Persephone, gives us a glimpse of what Bob is being trained to be.

Bob's accelerated training is a big part of the British defense against the future and it'll be interesting to see how Stross handles the inevitable "hell on earth" he’s forecasting. He does a great job with his central characters and the bits of insanity they encounter, but there's a distinct fog of war hovering over the rest of the world these stories are set in.
The Apocalypse Codex isn't your typical spy novel, or Lovecratian novel, or geek/hacker novel, or any combination thereof, simply because of the style in which it is written, which is dependent on the point of view of the content at any point in the story: first person, second person, and third person.

Friday, September 21, 2012

CrossMe Color app for Android

I have been remiss in posting on More Red Ink over the past few weeks. And therefore I must confess: I have become an addict. Yes, you read correctly! I have become addicted to an Android app, a game, called CrossMe Color on my Nexus 7 tab.

The game is available from Google Play and the Amazon App Store, and probably wherever else one might purchase Android apps. The cost for such an addiction is a mere $4.95; but let it be known that my addiction came to me free of charge: CrossMe Color was Amazon's free app of the day a couple weeks back.

I'm only on level two (Ashigaru), but there are eight levels (level eight being Shogun, or Expert, level) for a total of 150 puzzles.

The object of the game is to fill in the appropriate number of squares with the appropriate color, matching color and number of squares both horizontally and vertically. Here's the opening screen of the puzzle I just completed in level 2; this one is 25 by 25 squares, but many of the puzzles are rectangular.



It actually looks more difficult than it really is, at least at this level; though a couple of the puzzles, so far, have been fairly trying. This one only has three colors, but I completed one just the other day that had five colors. Here's the completed puzzle:



Note: Should you care to share in my addiction struggle, be sure to purchase the "Premium" $4.95 version of CrossMe Color. Otherwise, you will be sorely disappointed to discover the lack of color...regardless of the word "Color" in the title.

By the way, I tend to keep the sound off on my N7 when playing this game, but you might want to leave the sound on for the traditional Japanese music that accompanies the game play. And lastly, the developers promise future updates -- with more puzzles.

If you seriously want to check out this game, you can "test drive" it on the Amazon App Store.

Here's one more screen: a completed puzzle from the Expert level. I didn't complete this myself, rather I snagged the graphic from Amazon:



And when I'm not playing this game, or doing real work to pay the bills to allow me to play this game, I've been reading a dozen or so Android-related blogs and forums and ezines, trying to learn this new OS.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Harper Voyager to Accept Unagented Manuscripts for Two Weeks in October

This is not something I typically post in and of itself; rather it would be more appropriate for my month-end Links & Things roundup. However, if I wait until the end of September (considering that I haven't tackled the lengthy August Links & Things as yet!), there would be insufficient time for readers to act. So... this information is courtesy of mediabistro.com's @galleycat email newsletter:

Publisher Harper Voyager, "the global science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins," will accept unagented -- and complete -- manuscripts for two weeks in October: from October 1 until October 14.

Note that manuscripts are being accepted during this two-week period for "digital publication." Here's more:

The manuscripts will then be read and those most suited to the global Harper Voyager list will be selected jointly by editors in the USA, UK and Australia. Accepted submissions will benefit from the full publishing process: accepted manuscripts will be edited; and the finished titles will receive online marketing and sales support in World English markets. Voyager will be seeking an array of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly novels written in the epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural genres.

The link above provides submission guidelines: please read these carefully and completely. Harper Voyager has even provided an online "submissions portal," which is not yet active, and probably won't be until October 1.

So finish up those manuscripts, and be sure to at least spell check your work! You have a wee bit more than 4 weeks until that cutoff date.

One final note: I have absolutely no connection whatsoever with Harper Voyager -- but should they be in need of an experienced editor, line editor, copy editor....

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11, 2012

Politics may divide us, but there are always those who will hate us specifically because we can and do argue so openly with one another. Freedom – especially of speech – has always been anathema to dictators, tyrants and ideologues. Let's not forget that on this of all days.
—Dani Kollin




---------------
Dani Kollin, along with his brother Eytan, is the author of The Unincorporated Man, a Tor Books SciFi Essential book, which went on to win the 2010 Prometheus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the year. Their second and third novels, The Unincorporated War and The Unincorporated Woman, were also nominated for the same award. The Unincorporated Future, fourth in the series, was published in July 2012.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Does Google Dream of Electric Sheep?

"Nexus 6 Replicants" graphic by Superior Graphix

I got the urge recently to reread Philip K. Dick's Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? as it's been about 20 years since I last read this wonderful novel. It's so much different than the movie Blade Runner, which is based on DADOES?

The novel doesn't have the visual impact of the movie, nor does it have the manic emotions and level of violence of the movie. The novel is a completely different [reading] experience -- and if you are a fan of the movie and have not read the novel, I encourage you to do so.

But the novel notwithstanding, I am a huge fan of Blade Runner and, in fact, I own three versions of the movie: the original version with the voice-over (on video), the Director's Cut and the Final Cut (both on DVD). One of my favorite scenes: following the fight between the replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), on the rooftop, after Batty saves Deckard, when Batty could have easily just let Deckard fall to his death below. Batty, with symbolic white bird in hand, says to Deckard (and to everyone):
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

PKD was offered $400,000 to write a novelization of the movie, but he refused, stating that the novel would remain as is and there would be no novelization. Now, to put that $400,000 in perspective: Since the film was released in June 1982, let's assume that the novelization offer was made in 1981. According to DollarTimes's inflation calculator, the inflation rate since 1981 is 3.15%; so $400,000 in 1981 is equivalent to $1,045,988.41 (let's not forget the 41 cents!) in 2012.

So, my question to you: Would you be willing able to turn down a million-plus dollars to maintain the integrity of your novel, your writing? Sorry, but I don't think so, not in this day and age of me, me, me....

In the end, in 1982, Del Rey Books released a mass market paperback movie tie-in version of the novel, featuring the Blade Runner title and promo poster on the cover, with the subtitle -- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- in parenthesis. And on the copyright page the following blocked text was added:



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

July Links & Things

The past five or so weeks have been very busy for me -- but having work to do is always a good thing: it helps to pay the bills. I completed a developmental edit on a manuscript for an unpublished author; I completed a line and copy edit on reprint anthology The Apes of Wrath for Tachyon Publications (edited by Rick Klaw); and lastly, I completed a comprehensive line and copy edit (and some content editing as well) on Kameron Hurley's Rapture, the final volume in her Bel Dame Apocrypha series, for Night Shade Books. Oh, and for my own personal reading (which occurs so seldom anymore), I read the omnibus edition of Wool by Hugh Howey -- one of the finest works of post-apocalyptic SF that I have read in years. I don't recall any typos at all, though there was the occasional dropped word, missing hyphenation, etc., but that's it. Imagine that -- and a self-published book, too!

I also attended Readercon in mid-July; there are aspects of Readercon that I truly enjoy, but too much of it is simply cliquish and pedantic -- and thus not my personal preference; but I attend roughly every other year for the sole purpose of seeing friends whom I would not ever see otherwise. But, it turned out that this year's Readercon wasn't so typical after all, as a lot of controversy ensued afterward. Just search for "Readercon controversy" in any search engine and you'll find enough links. Or, you could check out John Scalzi's blog post: he links to a list of "Readercon controversy" posts, and provides his own personal view on convention harassment. Bottom line: the Readercon board of directors reversed their initial decision regarding a Readercon attendee, and they have all resigned from their positions as directors. You can read the official public Readercon statement.

Now to resume my regularly (albeit late) scheduled programming: This is my monthly wrap-up of July's Links & Things. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern; or Friending me on Facebook (FB). Note, however, that not all of my tweeted/FB links make it into these month-end posts. As with prior months, June was a busy month, so there is a lot of content here. Previous monthly recaps are accessible via the "Links and Things" tag in the right column.

  • If you are a Facebook user -- and a writer -- you may want to add the following group to your FB profile: OPEN CALL: SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & PULP MARKETS. The majority of posts are made by Cynthia Ward, publisher of Market Maven, but anyone can post an open call for genre submissions. There have been a half-dozen posts already today, which is fairly typical.
  • I recently critiqued a couple stories for a "new" writer, after which he contacted me about ways he might improve his grammar. I recommended that he read works by a few specific authors, one of which was Lucius Shepard. Shortly thereafter I read a blog post by Michael Swanwick (another author whose work I would highly recommend) in which he quoted a lengthy paragraph written by Lucius Shepard; in this paragraph, a tyrant's son restores a dragon skull. The paragraph is approximately 160 words, and includes very few adjectives and only two adverbs. As Michael says about the paragraph: "Beautiful stuff, eh?"
  • On Salon.com: In an article entitled "Thank you for killing my novel," author Patrick Somerville explains how the New York Times "panned my book, then had to correct the review to fix all their errors"; he then shares the email communication one of the book's characters (yes, that's right, a character from the book) had with an NYT editor. (via Curt Jarrell's Facebook page)
  • I do a lot of copy editing in my line of work, and if you've ever wandered just what a copy editor does -- a good copy editor -- then read this next link and be amazed: courtesy of Angry Robot Books (@angryrobotbooks). (also via Curt Jarrell's Facebook page)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Firefly-class Serenity


"They" say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, this one photo is simply not enough to do justice to this amazing wonderwork: a minifig-scale model of the Serenity spacecraft created with Legos. That's right, boys and girls: Legos!

This model was recently featured on io9:

The designer is 37-year-old Adrian Drake. According to Adrian, the model took 475 hours to build over a span of 21 months; it measures 7 feet 2 inches in length, weighs 135 pounds, and contains approximately 70,000 lego pieces. Adrian states that he spent $800.00 specifically for the model in addition to the "many many many thousands of dollars I've spent on Lego over the years."

Adrian debuted the Serenity on August 4 at Brickfair in Chantilly, Virginia. And to get a sense of the size of this model, you need to see this picture, taken at the Brickfair:


But even this photo doesn't do this masterpiece justice -- because... the interior features the bridge (in fact, Wash has his toy dinosaur to hand), crew accommodations, the dining room, and cargo bay, plus Inara's shuttle. And, the cargo bay and Firefly drive light up.

Seeing is believing: Adrian has posted a 31-photo Flickr set entitled "Serenity Construction," and the coup de grâce: a 75-photo Flickr set featuring a look at the finished model, inside and out, from every angle imaginable.

Please do check out these 106 photos, which showcase Adrian Drake's Serenity.

Now, who's for getting out their Lego sets?

Monday, July 23, 2012

More Alien Contact Anthology PR



Michael Swanwick, author of the story "A Midwinter's Tale," doing his best PR routine for Alien Contact at Readercon, Burlington (Boston), Massachusetts, Friday, June 13, 2012. [Note the stack of ACs on the table next to Michael!]

And speaking of PR:

If you are interested in reviewing the Alien Contact anthology, please contact me: you can post a comment below or, if you would prefer a private email, just click on "View my complete profile" for a link to my email addy. I can provide a print copy, a PDF file, a Kindle ebook, or Nook/Sony/Kobo ebook. In your comment or email, please include a link to your book review site or, if you review for another resource, a link to one of your reviews. And if you have any questions, you now know how to contact me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"One" by George Alec Effinger (Part 3 of 3)

One
by George Alec Effinger


[Continued from Part 2]


"I have strange thoughts, Jessica," he admitted to her, one day during their ninth year of exploration. "They just come into my head now and then. At first I didn't pay any attention at all. Then, after a while, I noticed that I was paying attention, even though when I stopped to analyze them I could see the ideas were still foolish."

"What kind of thoughts?" she asked. They prepared the landing craft to take them down to a large, ruddy world.

Gillette checked both pressure suits and stowed them aboard the lander. "Sometimes I get the feeling that there aren't any other people anywhere, that they were all the invention of my imagination. As if we never came from Earth, that home and everything I recall are just delusions and false memories. As if we've always been on this ship, forever and ever, and we're absolutely alone in the whole universe." As he spoke, he gripped the heavy door of the lander's airlock until his knuckles turned white. He felt his heart speeding up, he felt his mouth going dry, and he knew that he was about to have another anxiety attack.

"It's all right, Leslie," said Jessica soothingly. "Think back to the time we had together at home. That couldn't be a lie."

Gillette's eyes opened wider. For a moment he had difficulty breathing. "Yes," he whispered, "it could be a lie. You could be a hallucination, too." He began to weep, seeing exactly where his ailing mind was leading him.

Jessica held him while the attack worsened and then passed away. In a few moments he had regained his usual sensible outlook. "This mission is much tougher than I thought it would be," he whispered.

Jessica kissed his cheek. "We have to expect some kind of problems after all these years," she said. "We never planned on it taking this long."

The system they were in consisted of another class-M star and twelve planets. "A lot of work, Jessica," he said, brightening a little at the prospect. "It ought to keep us busy for a couple of weeks. That's better than falling through null space."

"Yes, dear," she said. "Have you started thinking of names yet?" That was becoming the most tedious part of the mission—coming up with enough new names for all the stars and their satellites. After eight thousand systems, they had exhausted all the mythological and historical and geographical names they could remember. They now took turns, naming planets after baseball players and authors and film stars.

They were going down to examine a desert world they had named Rick, after the character in Casablanca. Even though it was unlikely that it would be suitable for life, they still needed to examine it firsthand, just on the off chance, just in case, just for ducks, as Gillette's mother used to say.

That made him pause, a quiet smile on his lips. He hadn't thought of that expression in years. That was a critical point in Gillette's voyage; never again, while Jessica was with him, did he come so close to losing his mental faculties. He clung to her and to his memories as a shield against the cold and destructive forces of the vast emptiness of space.

Once more the years slipped by. The past blurred into an indecipherable haze, and the future did not exist. Living in the present was at once the Gillettes' salvation and curse. They spent their time among routines and changeless duties that were no more tedious than what they had known on Earth, but no more exciting either.

As their shared venture neared its twentieth year, the great disaster befell Gillette: on an unnamed world hundreds of light-years from Earth, on a rocky hill overlooking a barren sandstone valley, Jessica Gillette died. She bent over to collect a sample of soil; a worn seam in her pressure suit parted; there was a sibilant warning of gases passing through the lining, into the suit. She fell to the stony ground, dead. Her husband watched her die, unable to give her any help, so quickly did the poison kill her. He sat beside her as the planet's day turned to night, and through the long, cold hours until dawn.

He buried her on that world, which he named Jessica, and left her there forever. He set out a transmission gate in orbit around the world, finished his survey of the rest of the system, and went on to the next star. He was consumed with grief, and for many days he did not leave his bed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"One" by George Alec Effinger (Part 2 of 3)

One
by George Alec Effinger


[Continued from Part 1]


He remembered how excited they had been about the mission, some thirty years before. He and Jessica had put in their application, and they had been chosen for reasons Gillette had not fully understood. "My father thinks that anyone who wants to go chasing across the galaxy for the rest of his life must be a little crazy," said Jessica.

Gillette smiled. "A little unbalanced, maybe, but not crazy."

They were lying in the grass behind their house, looking up into the night sky, wondering which of the bright diamond stars they would soon visit. The project seemed like a wonderful vacation from their grief, an opportunity to examine their lives and their relationship without the million remembrances that tied them to the past. "I told my father that it was a marvelous opportunity for us," she said. "I told him that from a scientific point of view, it was the most exciting possibility we could ever hope for."

"Did he believe you?"

"Look, Leslie, a shooting star. Make a wish. No, I don't think he believed me. He said the project's board of governors agreed with him and the only reason we've been selected is that we're crazy or unbalanced or whatever in just the right ways."

Gillette tickled his wife's ear with a long blade of grass. "Because we might spend the rest of our lives staring down at stars and worlds."

"I told him five years at the most, Leslie. Five years. I told him that as soon as we found anything we could definitely identify as living matter, we'd turn around and come home. And if we have any kind of luck, we might see it in one of our first stops. We may be gone only a few months or a year."

"I hope so," said Gillette. They looked into the sky, feeling it press down on them with a kind of awesome gravity, as if the infinite distances had been converted to mass and weight. Gillette closed his eyes. "I love you," he whispered.

"I love you, too, Leslie," murmured Jessica. "Are you afraid?"

"Yes."

"Good," she said. "I might have been afraid to go with you if you weren't worried, too. But there's nothing to be afraid of. We'll have each other, and it'll be exciting. It will be more fun than spending the next couple of years here, doing the same thing, giving lectures to grad students and drinking sherry with the Nobel crowd."

Gillette laughed. "I just hope that when we get back, someone remembers who we are. I can just see us spending two years going out and coming back, and nobody even knows what the project was all about."

Their good-bye to her father was more difficult. Mr. Reid was still not sure why they wanted to leave Earth. "A lot of young people suffer a loss, the way you have," he said. "But they go on somehow. They don't just throw their lives away."

"We're not throwing anything away," said Jessica. "Dad, I guess you'd have to be a biologist to understand. There's more excitement in the chance of discovering life somewhere out there than in anything we might do if we stayed here. And we won't be gone long. It's field work, the most challenging kind. Both of us have always preferred that to careers at the chalkboards in some university."

Reid shrugged and kissed his daughter. "If you're sure," was all he had to say. He shook hands with Gillette.

Jessica looked up at the massive spacecraft. "I guess we are," she said. There was nothing more to do or say. They left Earth not many hours later, and they watched the planet dwindle in the ports and on the screens.

The experience of living on the craft was strange at first, but they quickly settled into routines. They learned that while the idea of interstellar flight was exciting, the reality was duller than either could have imagined. The two kittens had no trouble adjusting, and the Gillettes were glad for their company. When the craft was half a million miles from Earth, the computer slipped it into null space, and they were truly isolated for the first time.

It was terrifying. There was no way to communicate with Earth while in null space. The craft became a self-contained little world, and in dangerous moments when Gillette allowed his imagination too much freedom, the silent emptiness around him seemed like a new kind of insanity or death. Jessica's presence calmed him, but he was still grateful when the ship came back into normal space, at the first of their unexplored stellar systems.

Their first subject was a small, dim, class-M star, the most common type in the galaxy, with only two planetary bodies and a lot of asteroidal debris circling around it. "What are we going to name the star, dear?" asked Jessica. They both looked at it through the port, feeling a kind of parental affection.

Gillette shrugged. "I thought it would be easier if we stuck to the mythological system they've been using at home."

"That's a good idea, I guess. We've got one star with two little planets wobbling around it."

"Didn't Apollo have... No, I'm wrong. I thought—"

Jessica turned away from the port. "It reminds me of Odin and his two ravens."

"He had two ravens?"

"Sure," said Jessica, "Thought and Memory. Hugin and Munin."

"Fine. We'll name the star Odin, and the planets whatever you just said. I'm sure glad I have you. You're a lot better at this than I am."

Jessica laughed. She looked forward to exploring the planets. It would be the first break they had in the monotony of the journey. Neither Leslie nor Jessica anticipated finding life on the two desolate worlds, but they were glad to give them a thorough examination. They wandered awe-struck over the bleak, lonely landscapes of Hugin and Munin, completing their tests, and at last returned to their orbiting craft. They sent their findings back to Earth, set out the first of the transmission gates, and, not yet feeling very disappointed, left the Odin system. They both felt that they were in contact with their home, regardless of the fact that their message would take a long time to reach Earth, and they were moving away too quickly ever to receive any. But they both knew that if they wanted, they could still turn around and head back to Earth.

Their need to know drove them on. The loneliness had not yet become unbearable. The awful fear had not yet begun.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"One" by George Alec Effinger (Part 1 of 3)

GAE Live! CoverAs I mentioned in my previous blog post, if there was one previously published story that I would have included in my original anthology Is Anybody Out There? (co-edited with Nick Gevers, Daw Books, 2010), that story would have been "One" by George Alec Effinger.

In a posting to Usenet group "rec.arts.sf.written" on December 13, 1998, George wrote: "...the most difficult short story sale I've ever had was a piece called 'One,' which I wrote almost twenty years ago.... It was rejected by editors who thought... it would be an unpopular idea among their readers. It was bounced at 'Isaac Asimov's' by three different editors over the years."

The "unpopular idea" to which George referred is that we are, in fact, alone in the universe. Readers want to read about aliens, and alien contact—not that the galaxy is completely void of other intelligent life, or any life, for that matter. What kind of story would that make, anyhow?

So GAE's "One" remained unpublished for nearly 20 years until it was finally purchased in 1995 by noted SF author Greg Bear for his New Legends anthology, published by Legend Press UK. And there the story remained until 2001, when Orson Scott Card selected it for his reprint anthology, Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Century.1 And, lastly, I included "One" in George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth, a collection (the second of three) of his work, which I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press in 2005.2 The story was introduced in the book by Barbara Hambly, George's ex-wife and executrix of the Effinger Estate.

Here is Ms. Hambly's introduction to "One" from George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth:
Like a meditation returned to over and over—or a recurring dream—George revisited the image of a lone man trying his best to perform an assigned task that is both impossible and meaningless, and getting no thanks or support for his efforts. Sometimes these stories are ironic, like "King of the Cyber Rifles," sometimes bleakly funny, like "Posterity."

I suspect this was how George viewed himself and his work.

But "One" rises far above that.

I can think of no other science fiction writer who would tell a story so completely antithetical to the whole concept of science fiction. The genre is based, almost as a given, upon the fact that there is life, civilization, intelligence out there: sometimes benevolent, sometimes hostile, sometimes completely incomprehensible...but there. It is a literature of hope.

It is a literature of "What if...?"

But what if we are alone?

What does that do to hope? To sanity?

George had this story in his files for twenty years before Greg Bear bought it for his New Legends anthology, I think for precisely that reason: in the 1970s it was an almost unaskable question. George was absolutely delighted when it finally sold.

Science fiction is a genre of possibilities, of humanity meeting and dealing with unthinkable situations.

This one's about as unthinkable as they get.

—Barbara Hambly

And now, for only the fourth time in nearly 20 years—and with the most gracious and kind permission of Barbara Hambly and the George Alec Effinger Estate, I bring you, in three serialized parts...

Monday, July 16, 2012

"One" Is the Lonliest Number....

Frank Drake, Seth Shostak, former SETI Institute director Jill Tarter, Astronaut Tom Jones, science fiction author Robert J Sawyer – these are just a few of the luminaries that were on hand for the SETI Institute's second SETIcon, held at the Santa Clara (California) Hyatt, from June 22 to 24, 2012.

I had made arrangements to sell copies of my two anthologies – Alien Contact (Night Shade Books, 2011) and Is Anybody Out There? (DAW Books, 2010) – through the SETI Institute store in the exhibitors room (actually, more like a ballroom!). So I was on hand all three days – and I mean all three days, from opening until closing – during which I chatted with attendees and, in the process, managed to sell a few copies of the books.

One of the exhibitors was the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, from whom I snagged a few back issues of their newsletter Astronomy Beat. The April 5, 2010, issue (Number 46) features a cover story entitled "The Origin of the Drake Equation."1

Having co-edited (with Nick Gevers) anthology Is Anybody Out There? – stories based on the Fermi Paradox2 – my interest in the Drake Equation is more than just a passing fancy. And to see Frank Drake up close and personal, as it were, well, it's like being in the same room with one's favorite actor, or musician.

According to Astronomy Beat, in the summer of 1961, J. Peter Pearman, a staff officer on the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Science, contacted Frank Drake about a meeting of the minds "to investigate the research potential" for "discovering life on other planets." Noteworthy scientists, researchers, and inventors were then invited to the meeting. Here's an excerpt from Frank Drake and "The Origin of the Drake Equation."
I took on the job of setting an agenda for the meeting. There was no one else to do it. So I sat down and thought, "What do we need to know about to discover life in space?" Then I began listing the relevant points as they occurred to me.

[...]

I looked at my list, thinking to arrange it somehow, perhaps in the order of relative importance of the topics. But each one seemed to carry just as much weight as another... Then it hit me: The topics were not only of equal importance, there were also utterly independent. Furthermore, multiplied together they constituted a formula for determining the number of advanced, communicative civilizations that existed in space.

The result of Frank Drake's list was, of course, the Drake Equation:



I'm not going to define each of the variables in the equation at this time, but you will see this equation again soon.

Benevolent (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) or deadly (Independence Day), contact with the alien "other" is one of the basic themes of science fiction. And we as readers and moviegoers thrive on this content. The basic premise of Is Anybody Out There? is that we are not alone, but that we haven't quite figured out ET's mode of communication. And/or we haven't yet learned what is important to ET to intrigue them enough to even want to make contact with us mere Earthlings. That is what the stories in IAOT? explore.

But the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation bring to mind another story by one very special author, George Alec Effinger who, alas, is no longer with us. The story is called "One." I would have loved to have included this story in Is Anybody Out There? as the antithesis of the anthology's theme, but all the included stories were written expressly for the book, and "One" was previously published in 1995.

I will leave you, for now, with this question:

What if we really are alone in the universe: How far would you go in search of that truth?



[Read the story "One" by George Alec Effinger]


---------------
Footnotes:

1. The excerpt entitled "The Origin of the Drake Equation" was adapted and updated for Astronomy Beat from Is Anyone Out There? The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Delacorte Press, 1992) by Frank Drake and Dava Sobel.

2. From author Paul McAuley's Introduction to Is Anybody Out There? co-edited by Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern (Daw Books, 2010): "The galaxy contains between one hundred billion and four hundred billion stars: even if only a small fraction possess planets capable of supporting life, and technological civilisations arise on only a few of those life-bearing planets, there should still be a large number of civilisations capable of communicating with us. And although the distances between stars are very large, and even if exploration of the galaxy is limited to speeds below that of light, exponential multiplication of interstellar colonies would mean that a determined star-faring civilisation would be able to visit or colonise every star in the galaxy within 5 to 50 million years, a trivial span of time compared to the lifetime of the galaxy. From these basic assumptions and calculations, Fermi concluded that Earth should have been visited by aliens long ago, and many times since. But where was everybody?"

One additional note: Seth Shostak, the SETI Institute's senior scientist, is author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (National Geographic, 2009).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

June Links & Things

This is my monthly wrap-up of June's Links & Things. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern; or Friending me on Facebook (FB). Note, however, that not all of my tweeted/FB links make it into these month-end posts. As with prior months, June was a busy month, so there is a lot of content here. Previous monthly recaps are accessible via the "Links and Things" tag in the right column.

  • Mediabistro's @galleycat recommends that writers try SmartEdit, a free software program. No, this program won't edit your manuscript, but it will find clichés, along with overused words and phrases. The link showcases a SmartEdit of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I've tested the program on a couple short story manuscripts, which revealed little of interest; but I'll be using it shortly on a novel I am editing.
  • Speaking of editing: Guest blogger @JaneFriedman shares an interesting piece [hint, hint] entitled "How to Influence Editors in a Way That 90% of Other Writers Don't." Jane writes: "One of the most important qualities of successful people I know (regardless of profession) is that they understand what motivates the people around them. Some authors—even though they are experts in understanding the hearts of their characters—forget to look into the hearts of editors and agents.... Well, how do you win anyone over? You start by listening and showing you understand." (via @RachelleGardner)
  • I found this next link via the Facebook page of Testy Copy Editors [And though it's not my page, I certainly would qualify!]: From CNN.com comes "Why 'Amercia' needs copy editors.": "But most important is that a copy editor stands in for the reader, gingerly reshaping, clarifying and correcting things before the reader can see them and post an excoriating comment. But more and more publications are laying off their copy editors, replacing them with Web designers or more reporters, or with nothing."
  • In past "Links & Things" I've included links to blog posts by both Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@KristineRusch) and @DeanWesleySmith, both of whom post regularly on the business of books and publishing. In a recent "Business Rusch" post, Kris tackles the difference between traditional publishing and indie publishing, or, as she words it: the difference between "hurry up and wait" and "wait and hurry up." This latest Business Rusch post has more than 75 comments, too.
  • After reading "The Business Rusch" above, you might want to read this post on duolit entitled "8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Deciding to Self-Publish," by guest poster @AndrewGalasetti: 1) How will my readers benefit? 2) Do I mind the long wait for traditional publishing? 3) If so, is it because I'm impatient? 4) If so, will my impatience negatively impact the quality of my writing? 5) What skills do I possess? 6) What skills can I outsource? 7) How will I outsource these skills? and 8) How bad do I want it? You'll find the details at the link. (Via Hugh Howey's FB page; see my May Links & Things for more on Hugh Howey's self-publishing success.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Today we celebrate our independence day!"

Good morning. Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.

Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can't be consumed by our petty differences any more.

We will be united in our common interest.

Perhaps it's fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live, to exist. And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:
"We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We're going to live on, we're going to survive."
Today we celebrate our independence day!

—President Thomas J. Whitmore
    July 4th, 1996




Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reviewing the Apocalypse

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Stross' 'Laundry' series for years now and seeing how Britain's brave secret agents fight creatures from extra-dimensional space whilst dealing with the latest round of meetings and Civil Service budget cuts. Having worked in government I find this really funny because it's true (the bureaucracy I mean, not the extra-dimensional creatures...)
—Graeme Flory, Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
ApocalypseCodexEarlier this year, on January 27, I posted a blog update entitled "Doing Charles Stross's Laundry with Style," in which I wrote about working on the author's newest Laundry Files novel, The Apocalypse Codex, for Ace Books. And, specifically, that the publisher required that I provide a Style Sheet along with the edited manuscript.

The Apocalypse Codex will be published this month and the reviews are starting to appear. All very positive, so far....

I opened this blog post above with a quote from Graeme Flory's review on his Fantasy Book Review blog. Here is another snippet from his review:

...Stross appears to be of the mind that he is done explaining all the technical stuff that underpins this setting....We've had a few books for it all to sink in and now it's time for the plot itself to have some room to breathe. It's a great move on Stross' part; his plots are normally brimming over with cool stuff anyway but the extra room allows things to ramp up to another level.
And Graeme concludes his review with:
...there are still some nasty surprises in store to trap unwary characters and make The Apocalypse Codex a book that you simply have to finish. My only regret is that I finished the book too quickly and now I have to wait for ages until the next installment.
I suspect every author would like to read a review of their work end like that!

The second review is from Elias F. Combarro (@odo), whose name you may recognize on this blog. In a blog post on May 9, I linked to Odo's review of my Alien Contact anthology on his Spanish-language blog Sense of Wonder. If Spanish isn't your thing, Odo also now posts all his reviews in English as well. As a follow-up to his review, Odo also interviewed me about a week later. I've included a link to the interview in that previous blog post as well.

But back to The Apocalypse Codex -- Odo writes in his review on Sense of Wonder:

I found The Apocalypse Codex a bit closer to urban fantasy than the previous books in the series, and some parts even reminded me of The Magician King by Lev Grossman and Kraken by China Miéville. The plot is tighter, more interesting and easier to follow than some of the other novels of The Laundry Files.
And the last paragraph of his review ends with a dire warning:
All in all, The Apocalypse Codex is possibly the best novel of The Laundry Files (and my favorite book of 2012 so far, together with Existence by David Brin) and that is a lot to say. Buy it. Read it. You don't know when CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN will happen and you'd better be prepared.
Orbit Books, the U.K. publisher of TAC, has kindly made the book's Prologue available online for your reading pleasure. So, if you're not already familiar with The Laundry and Bob Howard, here's your chance for a sneak peak at the new novel.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is Anybody Out There? -- Variant Covers and a Second Printing

While attending SETIcon II this past weekend, one of the attendees, who was purchasing a copy of my co-edited anthology Is Anybody Out There? (Daw Books, 2010), pointed out to me not only a difference in the books' covers but also that some of the books were a second printing. Learning that your book has sold well enough to necessitate a second printing is always great news. And to learn, too, of the cover variants was surprising as well.

In preparation for SETIcon, I had previously ordered a number of copies of Is Anybody Out There? direct from Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Aside from checking that the number of books in the box was accurate and that none were damaged, well, that was as far as my keen observations went.

I've tried to scan the covers to show the differences, but the glare and all prohibits such distinctions. So, I will do my best to explain.

For all you completists out there: What we discovered is that the first printings had a matte-finish cover, whereas the second printings had a glossy cover, with a press line on the left side of the cover about three-sixteenths of an inch from the edge. Another way of describing a press line (possibly "press line" is not the correct term, but that's how I know it) might be a manufactured/built-in reading crease near the left edge on the front cover.

Also, the first printings have the full number line 1 through 8, whereas the second printings begin with the number 2.

But wait, there's more! When I returned home that evening I pulled out my own first printing of IAOT? -- a copy that I had received in 2010 when the book was published -- and verified the full number line. This copy has a glossy cover but no press line.

So, we have two different covers on the first printing: glossy and matte finish; and a different cover than either of those on the second printing: glossy with a press line.

Is anybody out there? Does anyone really care?

Unfortunately, I had no knowledge that the book was going back to press. Had I known I would have alerted the publisher to the two typos (at least the only two that I am aware of) and asked that they be corrected. One typo is in the David Langford story, "Graffiti in the Library of Babel," and the other is in the Ray Vukcevich story, "One Big Monkey." Sorry, guys....


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing 101: Reality Check

Fair use allows me to use the cover art to this wonderful manga comic Reality Check!, however truth in advertising requires I state that this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with this comic. I just needed a catchy graphic that contained the words "Reality Check" -- and this Rikki Simons comic [full title: Super Information Hijinks: Reality Check!] serves that purpose.

My reality check, the one about which I am writing today, has to do with that point in a writer's life when s/he has to come to grips with the manuscript they've been working on for months, possibly even for years.

In mid-2007 when I was acquiring for Golden Gryphon Press, I received a submissions query from a writer who was a fan of "pulp sword & sorcery" fantasy fiction. He explained that since little fiction had been written recently [at the time of this query] in the style of Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter, among others, he had written his own pulp sword & sorcery novel and was seeking publication.

His email was well-written and quite intriguing; he had my attention, so I replied in kind. In his next response, he attached a copy of the full manuscript, but included a caveat:
...the opening couple of chapters are admittedly the weakest portions of my novel, and I am at a loss as to how to improve them, so if you wouldn't mind reading ahead to chapter three or so where the real action begins, I would greatly appreciate it.
Trust me, this is not something I want to hear as an acquiring editor, that the first two chapters of a submission are weak and the author is at a loss on how to fix it. [Maybe just begin the novel with chapter 3 and weave in the necessary back story from chapters 1 and 2 where appropriate?]

So I read the first three chapters; actually, the novel began with a lengthy prologue, too! The overlong, wordy, winding sentences, that seemed to ramble on and on, nearly drove me to drink (well, at least an excessive amount of coffee)... As a test, I rewrote one paragraph (only two sentences!) without all the unnecessary verbiage and reduced it from 84 words to 77 words. Doesn't seem like much but it made a huge difference in the flow of the paragraph. In another scene he introduced five major characters -- plus a demon -- all with names that weren't...well, they weren't as easy to pronounce as "Conan."

So I sent him a response that included quite a bit of feedback: the paragraph example from above, the overwhelming number of characters in the scene from above, a few examples of sentence structure issues (misplaced phrases), grammar errors, etc. I also suggested that he find himself a local writers group, through a bookstore, or library, or college, so that he could obtain feedback from fellow writers. His response to my email was quite cordial [I had also mentioned that I was leaving Golden Gryphon Press at the end of the year] but not what I had expected:
Thanks for taking the time to evaluate my submission, and best of luck to you, as well, in your future endeavors. As for your suggestion to allow my work to be critiqued by some manner of reader group, I will have to pass, as I generally find writers to be a rather pretentious lot, and I have no desire to associate with such. Just so you know, I wrote this novel for my own personal amusement, and only decided to shop it around to publishers at the behest of friends and family. Obviously, based upon your critique of my work, I should just stick to writing for pleasure as I obviously haven't the necessary skills to compete in the professional market nor do I have the drive to make myself more competitive. Lesson learned.

That, boys and girls, is a reality check.