Friday, February 19, 2010

Kage Baker Redux

As a follow-up to my earlier tribute to author Kage Baker, her family has posted Kage's parting words to her readers on her website:

"I want you to tell all these people that I wanted more time to spend with them. Tell them I meant to, tell them I wanted to hear what they said and tell them what was on my mind."

Kage's family promises to maintain the website and to continue posting news about her work. [To which I say, Thank you!]

And lastly, Stephanie Klose, Senior Editor/Reviews Coordinator for
RT Book Reviews1, emailed me on February 4 with the following request: "RT is putting together a short tribute to Kage for our April issue. Would you be willing to contribute a few sentences about her impact on the genre and/or on you as a reader? Our senior sci fi [sic] reviewer, Natalie Luhrs, sent me your blog post and I'd love to include some of your thoughts about Kage."

The email was time stamped 3:01 P.M. and my deadline was noon the following day, so I spent the remainder of that afternoon pulling together some additional thoughts about Kage. Today, however, I received this follow-up email from Stephanie: "I ended up not having room to use your tribute to Kage, but thanks again for sending it along -- it was a pleasure to read."

Therefore, I am going to take this opportunity to share with readers of this blog my "thoughts about Kage" that were originally intended for RT.

* * * * *

When I worked with Kage Baker, as her editor, on her short story collection Black Projects, White Knights (Golden Gryphon Press, 2002), I often had questions about unfamiliar words, or historical events and people. In the story "Lemuria Will Rise!" Mendoza finds a sprig of Oenothera hookeri ssp. sclatera. I was unable to find anything online about "ssp. sclatera," so I asked Kage about this (and others), specifically was it a real or made-up species. On November 4, 2001, she responded:

All are made up. There's a joke buried in the word "sclatera": the word Lemuria was originally coined by a nineteenth-century zoologist named Sclater as a term to describe a hypothetical land bridge that once existed in the Pacific region, possibly being the method by which lemurs had spread through the different ranges they inhabit. Mystically inclined people seized on the idea of the long-vanished land bridge and interpreted it as a sunken continent in the Pacific, complete with a civilization to rival that of Atlantis. Eventually someone pointed out to them that Sclater had invented the word Lemuria, after which they began calling it Mu... but there are still old editions of Rosicrucian books in the San Luis Obispo library, and they go into great detail about the amazing ancient Lemurians...

For me, it was such a joy to work with Kage; she had a vast knowledge and could twist that knowledge into ways unimaginable in her stories, as evidenced above. And she was quick to share that knowledge as well. Editing each story with Kage was a history lesson in and of itself. She is sorely missed.

Marty Halpern


1 Just goes to show you how up-to-date I am: When did Romantic Times change its name to just RT -- and why? I notice that the domain name is still ""

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Aliens Have Entered Mainstream's Orbit

After joining Warren Lapine's Fantastic Books imprint as an acquisitions editor1, a bit less than a year ago, the first book I acquired for reprint was Judith Moffett's novel Pennterra. This was her first novel and had been out of print since 1993. In an email to Warren on February 27, 2009, in which I introduced Judy (virtually speaking, that is) to him, I described her as follows:

...Judith Moffett is not your typical sf author! She is an award-winning poet with a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, a couple of Fulbrights under her belt and grants from both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is also a world-class translator of Swedish poetry, and presented at the 1998 Nobel Symposium on Translation of Poetry and Poetic Prose held in Stockholm.
Now I know that when Judy reads this, she'll be all "Aw, shucks," and the like, but how many science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream -- hell, even mainstream fiction -- authors do you know with this kind of street cred? Just check out all her awards and recognitions on Wikipedia and then come back here and leave me a comment if you're not totally knocked out!

What influenced my decision to blog about Ms. Moffett and her fiction was a recent online review of Pennterra. The review is by Sam Kelly on a blog entitled Cold Iron and Rowan-Wood. But first, a bit about the novel itself: A group of Quakers colonize a planet -- Pennterra -- already inhabited by the alien hrossa. In order to live in peace and harmony with both the planet and the natives, the colonists are restricted to a single valley, and they must limit their population and forsake all heavy machinery in their building and farming. Not exactly what they had in mind when they left a devastated Earth for a new home amongst the stars. Without the use of machinery, the colonists' days are completely filled with exhausting, backbreaking work, and consequently they have had little time to study the hrossa -- until now. A small group of scientists are sent to live with, and study, the natives, and this is detailed in a large section of the novel through the use of field notes and personal journals; the hrossa have a very interesting set of sexual mores, which has a direct impact on the scientists themselves (sorry, no spoilers here). There is a particularly fine "first contact/coming-of-age" story arc involving the son of one the scientists. The main conflict arises in the novel when another colony ship arrives on the planet and these folks are not so inclined to limit and forsake.

Now, what makes Sam Kelly's review of Pennterra interesting is that he makes little mention of the aliens, but he does comment on the Quaker religion portrayed in the book: "Moffett does a good job of showing us how they find the nature of the planet out...making no distinctions between biological research, botanical studies, practical anthropology, and conversation between friends. At the same time, we see the characteristic painful Quaker honesty about themselves and their reactions to their work. The pacing of discovery is good, without playing I-know-something-you-don’t-know tricks on either reader or characters; it might have been good to have seen the author coming down less heavily on the Quaker side, but then I may well be seeing more of that than is there as a Quaker myself." [Note: I believe the reviewer is sensing more of the Quakerness of the story than a typical reader (myself) would.]

All of this, of course, is to encourage you to read Pennterra. Judy and I spent approximately two weeks copyediting the page proofs, discussing each and every correction during very lengthy (two to three hours) telephone conversations. The Fantastic Books edition of Pennterra is indeed the most accurate text of the novel and thus the author's preferred text. However, copies of earlier editions are available through secondary markets, or you can purchase the Fantastic Books edition directly from the FB website, or via Amazon or other booksellers. (And yes, I'm shilling books here; what can I say...)

Monday, February 1, 2010

January Links & Things

I spent a few hours the other day trying to tweak the code on my previous blog post so that it worked correctly with Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. The blog worked perfectly using IE, but not the other three browsers, which actually are used more than IE. I tried everything; I must have reviewed and tweaked the blog post code (seven printed pages) a half-dozen times, but I couldn't get the blog to list properly on those three browsers. I slept on it, and then tried a different kind of search the next day and discovered that the code I was using for the "jump" break (i.e. "Continue reading...") was obsolete; Blogger had updated the template code, unbeknownst to me. I deleted the old code I had entered, inserted the new jump code, and here we are. Would have been nice to have received something from Blogger proactively; instead I had to do a multitude of Google searches until I found the problem explained, along with its fix, in the Blogger Help forums. I sure could use those hours back!

Following are my links and such for the month of January. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • In an earlier blog post, I wrote about my involvement in Andrew Fox's novel The Good Humor Man, Or, Calorie 3501 (Tachyon Publications, 2009). Unfortunately the book didn't get the attention that I felt it deserved. With the constant talk on the news, news-magazine programs, health-oriented websites and blogs, etc. on the alarming increase in obesity in this country, particularly childhood obesity, I thought that these folks would have eaten up this book! (Sorry, I couldn't resist...) Thankfully, io9 has published Chris Braak's thoughtful, and thought-provoking, review: Headline: "One Lipsuctionist's Wild Ride Through American Gluttony" -- "Fox's presentation of the Good Humor Movement -- the neo-fascist organization that, in order to preserve an overburdened healthcare system from the catastrophic expenses associated with obesity -- doesn't just seem frighteningly plausible; the way [liposuctionist Dr.] Schmalzberg describes it, it actually seems like kind of a good idea. The underlying intelligence of the novel is its recognition that, even in organizations whose actions are manifestly evil, the individual members of that organization imagine themselves to be doing good.... an intensely interesting, wild ride through a wickedly accurate depiction of the American psyche that, fortunately for all of us, doesn't bother hewing too closely to its ideological forebears. This is more than just a goofy reversal of Bradbury's classic [Fahrenheit 451], but a witty, incisive satire all on its own. By turns heartbreaking and mesmerizingly grotesque, The Good Humor Man is well worth the read."

  • Another series of books that I had the pleasure to edit is Matthew Hughes's Henghis Hapthorn trilogy (Night Shade Books), which consists of Majestrum (2006), The Spiral Labyrinth (2007), and, finally, the just released Hespira. Henghis Hapthorn is a freelance discriminator (read: investigator/detective) in a world where the scientific method and technology are quickly losing ground to the emergence of "sympathetic association" (i.e. magic). It's a delightful series, which I have seen described as "Sherlock Holmes meets Jack Vance's Dying Earth." You can read Chapter 1 online, on the author's website, but be forewarned: the series builds upon itself beginning with the first book, so you really need to read the series in order. The Publishers Weekly starred review concludes with: "A droll narrative voice, dry humor and an alternate universe that's accessible without explicit exposition make this a winner."

  • Author Philip K. Dick spent his final years in Southern California, specifically Orange County. Scott Timberg, for the LA Times on January 24, looks back at PKD's years in the OC, based on interviews with his ex-wives and comments from Tim Powers (which Powers gleaned from his journals). Some revealing content, particularly PKD's marital divorce advice to Powers (PKD was married and divorced five times). The article also touches on the events and paranoia that caused Phil to flee from Northern to Southern Cal, and his health issues, which affected his writing. (via @maudnewton)

  • Author Jeff VanderMeer shares with us an excerpt from his recent publication Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer (Tachyon Publications) -- "Seven Points to Consider When Submitting Short Fiction": "1) Standard approaches are still the norm; 2) There are complexities to the term "highest paying market"; 3) Repurposing the public perception of your fiction may be important; 4) Pro rates do not necessarily mean an overall level of pro quality stories; 5) Breaking your standard submission cycle may teach you something new; 6) To a new writer, encouragement can be a kind of payment; and 7) Not every writer's career path is the same because not every writer's fiction is the same." For all the specifics, you'll just have to read Jeff's blog post. (via @ericrosenfield)

  • If you think that publishers are looking for big fat wordy fantasy novels, think again. Lit agent @ColleenLindsay, of FinePrint Literary Management, has more than a few words to say on the subject of "word counts and novel length." It's an old post, but since Ms. Lindsay continues to see such abuses in the submission queries that she receives, she has retweeted this blog post yet again. Colleen writes: "If a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted. Remember that part of the payout schedule of an author's advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance." The word counts are broken down into these areas: middle grade fiction, YA fiction, urban fantasy/paranormal romance, mysteries and crime fiction, mainstream fiction, and science fiction and fantasy. A must read. There are more than 65 comments posted that are also worth reading.

  • But before you worry about word counts, you had best master the art of writing first! Caro Clarke points out "four faults" that all beginning writers make: "As an editor, I know when I am reading someone's first novel. I have nicknames for the four give-away faults beginners make: (1) Walk and Chew Gum (2) Furry Dice (3) Tea, Vicar? (4) Styrofoam. I see at least one of these in every manuscript where the author has not mastered the craft of writing before submitting his or her work. What are these four faults and, more importantly, how can you cure them?" If you want to know what these four faults are, and determine if you are guilty of them yourself, then you'll need to read this essay.