Monday, October 31, 2011

SFSignal's Close Encounters Continues: Oct. 31

Per my previous blog post, which provides the complete three-week schedule, and links to the first four entries:'s close encounters with the contributing authors to Alien Contact continues with Nancy Kress and the "Alien Contact" interview.

The Alien Contact Anthology Table of Contents

For the past 26 weeks I have been blogging about each of the 26 stories included in my anthology Alien Contact, from Night Shade Books. That last story was finally unveiled on Saturday, October 29 -- and the anthology is on schedule for publication tomorrow, November 1.

So here is the anthology's complete table of contents, with links to each blog post that pertains to that story. In some instances, the entire text of the story was provided; in other instances, a link was provided to elsewhere online for the text and/or a podcast of the story.

Alien Contact anthology contents:
Marty Halpern -- "Introduction: Beginnings..."
Paul McAuley -- "The Thought War"
Neil Gaiman -- "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"
Karen Joy Fowler -- "Face Value"
Harry Turtledove -- "The Road Not Taken"
George Alec Effinger -- "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything"
Stephen King -- "I Am the Doorway"
Pat Murphy -- "Recycling Strategies for the Inner City"
Mike Resnick -- "The 43 Antarean Dynasties"
Orson Scott Card -- "The Gold Bug"
Bruce McAllister -- "Kin"
Ernest Hogan -- "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song"
Pat Cadigan -- "Angel"
Ursula K. Le Guin -- "The First Contact with the Gorgonids"
Adam-Troy Castro -- "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s"
Michael Swanwick -- "A Midwinter’s Tale"
Mark W. Tiedemann -- "Texture of Other Ways"
Cory Doctorow -- "To Go Boldly"
Elizabeth Moon -- "If Nudity Offends You"
Nancy Kress -- "Laws of Survival"
Jack Skillingstead -- "What You Are About to See"
Robert Silverberg -- "Amanda and the Alien"
Jeffrey Ford -- "Exo-Skeleton Town"
Molly Gloss -- "Lambing Season"
Bruce Sterling -- "Swarm"
Charles Stross -- "MAXO Signals"
Stephen Baxter -- "Last Contact"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Close Encounters with the Contributing Authors of Alien Contact!

Alien ContactThis was the headline as it appeared on on Tuesday, October 25, 2011, a few minutes past midnight. Actually, the words "Starting Today" prefaced that headline, but that was Tuesday, and today is Sunday -- nearly a week later....

In support of the release this week of Alien Contact from Night Shade Books, SFSignal is hosting a series of guest blog posts and interviews with a number of the authors who contributed to the anthology.

World Fantasy Award nominee Charles Tan conducts all the interviews, in which the authors answer questions like: "What's the appeal of alien contact stories for you?" and "What was the first alien contact story you read that made a lasting impression?" as well as a question or two specific to their story. The authors also discuss their current projects.

The guest blog posts revolve around each author's story in the Alien Contact anthology. Readers will gain some insight into the genesis of each of these stories.

The blog posts and interviews will be posted at approximately 2:00 PM (Central time) each weekday (well, almost), from Tuesday, October 25, through Monday, November 14. Here's the schedule; links have been provided for the first four entries, which have already been posted:
* Tue, 10/25: Nancy Kress, Guest Blog post: "Building a Story from Fortuitously Nearby Construction Materials"
* Wed, 10/26: Mike Resnick: The "Alien Contact" Interview
* Thu, 10/27: Mark W. Tiedemann, Guest Blog post: "It's Not About the Buttons"
* Fri, 10/28: Adam-Troy Castro: The "Alien Contact" Interview

* Mon, 10/31: Nancy Kress: The "Alien Contact" Interview
* Tue, 11/1: Ernest Hogan, Guest Blog post: "Once Upon a Time in SoCal: The Making of 'Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song'"
* Wed, 11/2: Paul McAuley: The "Alien Contact" Interview
* Thu, 11/3: Jack Skillingstead, Guest Blog post: "Thermalling"
* Fri, 11/4: Mark W. Tiedemann: The "Alien Contact" Interview

* Mon, 11/7: Ernest Hogan: The "Alien Contact" Interview
* Tue, 11/8: Barbara Hambly, Guest Blog post: "George Alec Effinger and the Aliens Who Knew Everything"
* Wed, 11/9: Jack Skillingstead: The "Alien Contact" Interview
* Thu, 11/10: Bruce McAllister: The "Alien Contact" Interview

* Mon, 11/14: Pat Cadigan: The "Alien Contact" Interview

Remember, you can check in with at approximately 2:00 PM every weekday -- that's 3:00 PM on the east coast and 12-noon on the west coast -- or, you could just check back here at More Red Ink each weekday for the next two weeks and I'll provide each forthcoming link in a new, albeit very brief, blog post.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #26 (the last story)

Story #26. This post ends my journey, so to speak, which began 26 weeks ago -- one-half year ago! -- to blog about each of the stories included in my anthology Alien Contact, forthcoming from Night Shade Books. The anthology is actually available this weekend at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, and should begin shipping, on schedule, November 1. I got behind only one week -- the week of August 28, due to a family emergency -- but made up for it the following week by blogging about two stories. I'm actually amazed that I've been able to maintain the weekly schedule, on top of everything else these past two months (more on this in my month-end recap). So let me get on with it already....

"Last Contact"
by Stephen Baxter

Solaris Book of New SF V1This story was originally published in 2007 in what has now become the first volume of The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann and published by Solaris Books UK. The story is approximately 4,400 words in length.

I first read this story in December 2007: it was included in Jonathan Strahan's anthology The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Two, which I was proof reading and copyediting at the time for the publisher, Night Shade Books.

There are only two characters in this story (though other family members are spoken of) -- a mother and daughter -- that is, unless you want to count our galaxy as the third character. The daughter, Caitlin, is an astrophysicist, who discovered the Big Rip: "...the dark energy is pulling the universe apart, taking more and more of it so far away that its light can't reach us anymore. It started at the level of the largest structures in the universe, superclusters of galaxies. But in the end it will fold down to the smallest scales. Every bound structure will be pulled apart. Even atoms, even subatomic particles." The mother, Maureen, is a "search-for-ET-at-home enthusiast." The action, and dialog, all take place in Maureen's garden, when Caitlin comes to visit -- on three specific days: March 15, June 5, and October 14.

This is a minimalist story, yet powerful enough to stay with me such that, eight months later, shortly after proposing the Alien Contact anthology to Night Shade editor-in-chief Jeremy Lassen, I knew I wanted to include this story in the book -- and to make it the last story as well, the one that closes out the anthology. Here's an excerpt from March 15:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

eBook Editions of Alien Contact Anthology

Alien Contact Kindle EditionI'm pleased to announce that eBook editions of my forthcoming Alien Contact anthology are now available for preorder. Well, sort of...

The Kindle edition (MOBI format) can now be ordered on, and is currently priced at $7.99. Not too shabby for approximately 170,000 words of some of the best "alien contact" stories of the past 30-plus years.

The EPUB format -- for the Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo eReader -- has been submitted to the respective eReader stores, but is not yet available. If the EPUB edition is your eBook of choice, please keep checking back at your favorite eReader store.

I wish to thank the publisher, Night Shade Books, for making these eBook editions available simultaneously with the print edition.

The cover shown here is for the Kindle edition. If you carefully compare this particular cover with the print edition cover (shown everywhere else on this blog), you will notice one significant difference between the two covers. If you discover the difference please comment below, at which time I would be happy to confirm said difference, and explain why.

One final comment: If you are a book blogger/book reviewer and you would like to review this anthology, I can provide either the EPUB or MOBI eBook editions, or a PDF of the print edition. The caveat: Please contact me via email only at FirstContactStory[at] -- and state your request, including a link to your book blog/review site. And feel free to highlight any previous reviews you are particularly proud of. I'd like to give them a read.

Alien Contact Anthology Review - 1

Alien ContactThere was a time, not all that long ago, when "professional" book reviewers and "professional" publications were the only source for book reviews. I relied on genre 'zines like Locus, Asimov's SF, and Fantasy & Science Fiction for my monthly book reviews fix. And also non-genre sources such as Publishers Weekly. As years passed and the internet grew, we could read book reviews online, on sites like Locus Online and Tangent Online, to name just two.

But with the rise of blogs and blogging, and other social media sites like Goodreads and Library Thing, the sources for quality book reviews have grown exponentially. A new class of blogger -- the book blogger -- has taken his/her place alongside the "professional" book reviewer. Reviews from the likes of PW and Kirkus may still hold more cachet than a book blog review -- but the average reader neither subscribes to nor reads these publications, primarily because they can't afford them! [Besides, I'd rather spend my money on the books themselves, rather than on publications that write about those very same books.] And if readers spend much of their time online, then online is where they will find book reviews as well.

The first review (so far) that I have found for my forthcoming anthology Alien Contact (Night Shade Books, November 1) is courtesy of Ria on the Bibliotropic blog. The book was originally reviewed by Ria on Goodreads1 -- which is where I first read the review -- and then posted to her book blog.

Here are a couple excerpts from Ria's review:
I'm not normally much for short story collections, but something about this book just spoke to me, so I couldn't resist taking the chance to read it, especially after seeing such a stellar (if you'll excuse the pun) list of contributing authors. Neil Gaiman, Ursula K Le Guin, Stephen King, and yet more. There's all kinds of talent evident in this collection, and I'll say right off the bat that this is a book that no sci-fi fan should really be without.


The fun thing that I find about alien encounter stories is that they end up saying more about humanity than about any alien culture we can dream of. Whether it's displaying our own human arrogance about the universe and all within it, or displaying our sheer curiosity about what lies beyond us, all stories I've found that involve humans and some unknown sentient life form end up showcasing humanity in ways that a human-only cast of characters just couldn't....

If these snippets intrigue you, please take this opportunity to read the full review.


1. Goodreads requires a user account and password, so I was quite pleased to learn from Ria that her review was also posted publicly on Bibliotropic. If you do have a Goodreads account, and you haven't yet ordered a copy of Alien Contact, please feel free to sign up for the giveaway that I am sponsoring, along with with publisher Night Shade Books. (See the Goodreads widget at the top of the right column of this blog.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Marty Halpern Interview on

Publicist Matt Staggs (@mattstaggs) interviews me for Matt writes: "...When Halpern told me that he had finished a new anthology called Alien Contact, I thought now would be a good time for us to have a conversation about his career as an award-winning editor1 and what it takes to get a start in the business today."

Here's a taste:

Tell me about your new project. How did it come together? Who is involved?

When I queried authors about contributing to the Fermi paradox anthology (the previously mentioned Is Anybody Out There?), a few responded with similar comments: they had already written what they felt was their best alien contact story, and they didn’t wish to write yet another. So this got me thinking about all the incredible alien contact stories that have been written in the past, say, thirty years — and wouldn’t it be great to have these all (or at least as many as possible) collected in one volume. And thus Alien Contact was born. After much perseverance, I sold the anthology to Night Shade Books. (Note: I actually have enough quality stories to easily fill another volume!)

Please check out Matt's interview with me on


1. Actually, that should be "award-nominated editor" -- though I'm a winner in my own heart!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #25

Alien Contact is now available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and hopefully other booksellers as well, and will be published in November by Night Shade Books. If you are new to these "Story" postings, you may want to begin here. This is story #25 (of 26):

"MAXO Signals:
A New and Unfortunate Solution to the Fermi Paradox"
by Charles Stross

This "story" was originally published in the August 25, 2005, issue of Nature magazine, and is a short-short of approximately 800 words.

In fact, due to this story's short length -- and the style in which it was written -- I won't be quoting any of its actual content in this blog post. Regarding the story's style and content, Charles Stross had this to say:

I got an invite to write a short-short for Nature, one of the most prestigious real science journals there is! Which was great. However, there's a fly in the ointment: Nature's SF stories run on the back page. Not back pages, page singular.

It's kind of hard to write a one-page short story: you have to throw out a whole bunch of stuff you'd normally need in an SF story. Characterization, plot, theme, ideas -- pick any two and trash 'em ruthlessly and you'll still have to cut, and cut, and cut.

In the end, I decided to go tech: write a pastiche in the general style of a Letter to Nature -- not a peer-reviewed paper but a communiqué from a research group. What could they be researching? How about extra-terrestrial intelligence?

Let's take SETI seriously. We're listening for messages that Someone Out There feels strongly enough about to broadcast to the stars for decades or centuries on end. What on earth (or off it) could possibly repay the investment implicit in running an interstellar transmitter (a fearsomely high-powered device) for such a length of time? Well, there might be two-way communication: "I'll tell you how I build fusion reactors if you tell me how you build..." -- sort of a very slow-motion Galactic internet. But that's pretty unlikely. Because once you build an email system that anyone can broadcast on or listen into, sooner or later you'll get MAXO Signals...

I don't want to give too much away, but let me say that anyone who has received a solicitation email from Nigeria -- and that's pretty much everyone who has an email account -- will appreciate this short story. If you would rather not wait for the publication of Alien Contact, you can read an actual scan of the story from Nature via this PDF link.

[Continue to Story #26]

Friday, October 14, 2011

Alien Contact at World Fantasy Convention

Alien ContactThe upcoming 2011 World Fantasy Convention will take place October 27-30 at the Town and Country Resort Hotel and Convention Center in San Diego, California.

The fine folks at Night Shade Books assure me that Alien Contact is still on schedule to ship nationally on October 28, and that copies of the anthology will indeed be available at their booth in the dealers room at the convention.

The following contributing authors to Alien Contact will be in attendance at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego:

Neil Gaiman (Author GOH)
Jeffrey Ford
Bruce McAllister
Pat Murphy
Robert Silverberg
Harry Turtledove

And hopefully yours truly, Marty Halpern. (see previous Status post)

Friday evening at the World Fantasy Con is always devoted to a mass meet-the-pros and autograph signing. Hopefully, all of the above authors -- and me as well -- will be on hand for this event. So attendees should be able to have copies of the anthology signed by all present at that time. We're also trying to arrange some various times when these individuals can stop by the Night Shade booth in the dealers room to do a bit of book signing, too. I, for one, plan to have them all sign my own copy of the book.

So, if you'll be at WFC in San Diego at the end of the month, please try to track me down, introduce yourself if we don't already know one another, and do say "Hi" and chat a bit. I look forward to meeting many of the readers of this blog at the convention.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #24

If you are a Goodreads member, please sign up for the chance to win a free copy of Alien Contact. (See the Goodreads widget to the right.) Pictured in the giveaway is the Advanced Reading Copy, but winners will be receiving copies of the published version of the book. Alien Contact is also available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and hopefully other booksellers as well, and will be published in November by Night Shade Books. If you are new to these "Story" postings, you may want to begin here. This is story #24 (of 26):

by Bruce Sterling

This story was originally published as the cover story in the April 1982 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and is approximately 9,600 words in length. (The cover art for this particular issue was created by Carl Lundgren, who went on to create poster art for classic bands such as The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Pink Floyd.)

"Swarm" is part of Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist world, which includes four additional stories as well as the novel Schismatrix. As I was preparing for this blog post, I dug up my copy of Schismatrix Plus (Ace Books, 1996) -- a single volume that contains the complete Shaper/Mechanist stories, and reread Bruce's introduction, written in November 1995. Here are a few excerpts:

"Swarm" was also my first magazine sale...[and] is still the story of mine most often reprinted. I'm still fond of it: I can write a better prose now, but with that story, I finally gnawed my way through the insulation and got my teeth set into the buzzing copper wire.


In those days of yore, cyberpunk wasn't hype or genre history; it had no name at all. It hadn't yet begun to be metabolized by anyone outside a small literary circle. But it was very real to me, as real as anything in my life, and when I was hip-deep into SCHISMATRIX chopping my way through circumsolar superpower conflicts and grimy, micro-nation terrorist space pirates, it felt like holy fire.


People are always asking me about—demanding from me even—more Shaper/Mechanist work. Sequels. A trilogy maybe. The schismatrix sharecropping shared-universe "as created by" Bruce Sterling. But I don't do that sort of thing. I never will. This is all there was, and all there is.

When I asked Bruce to share some thoughts on "Swarm" with readers, this is what he wrote:

I have scientists in my family, and one of my uncles is an entomologist. That was how I came to understand, as a child, that insects were not just creepy vermin in one's Texan backyard, but could be proper objects of prolonged and serious study. They were here long before us and have every likelihood of being here long after us.

Social insects have a parallel alien world. One has to like the modest way they go about their own business without attempting alien contact. If these much older civilizations levelled with us about our current dominion of the planet, we likely wouldn't much care for that conversation.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #23

I have set up an "Alien Contact Anthology" Facebook page; in the column to the right, scroll down a bit to see the widget. If you are an FB user, please consider a "Like" on this FB page for future updates, including the full text of more stories, book giveaways, and more. Alien Contact is now available for preorder from Amazon and other booksellers, and is forthcoming in November from Night Shade Books. This is story #23 (of 26):

"Lambing Season"
by Molly Gloss

This story was originally published in the July 2002 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, and is approximately 5,700 words in length.

The weekend of March 11-13, I attended the first of what appears to be an annual Bay Area SF convention: FOGcon. One of the panels I sat in on was on the idea of "Regional SF." Panelist Terry Bisson raved about the story "Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss, stating that it was one of the best stories he had read that dealt with "sense of place." I was able to support Terry's comments about this story, and also to state that I had acquired it for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology. But I will let this excerpt from the beginning of the story speak for itself:

From May to September Delia took the Churro sheep and two dogs and went up on Joe-Johns Mountain to live. She had that country pretty much to herself all summer. Ken Owen sent one of his Mexican hands up every other week with a load of groceries but otherwise she was alone, alone with the sheep and the dogs. She liked the solitude. Liked the silence. Some sheepherders she knew talked a blue streak to the dogs, the rocks, the porcupines, they sang songs and played the radio, read their magazines out loud, but Delia let the silence settle into her, and, by early summer, she had begun to hear the ticking of the dry grasses as a language she could almost translate....


The wind blew out of the southwest in the early part of the season, a wind that smelled of juniper and sage and pollen; in the later months, it blew straight from the east, a dry wind smelling of dust and smoke, bringing down showers of parched leaves and seedheads of yarrow and bittercress. Thunderstorms came frequently out of the east, enormous cloudscapes with hearts of livid magenta and glaucous green. At those times, if she was camped on a ridge, she'd get out of her bed and walk downhill to find a draw where she could feel safer, but if she was camped in a low place, she would stay with the sheep while a war passed over their heads, spectacular jagged flares of lightning, skull-rumbling cannonades of thunder....

As I read this story I could smell the air of Joe-Johns Mountain -- the way it smells on an early summer morn, or when there is a bit of storm in the wind. Or the scent of wet grass after a heavy downpour. The two paragraphs above are only a small taste of this story's sense of place. Here's one more brief excerpt, with a hint of what is in store for Delia:
Lame Man Bench was a great upthrust block of basalt grown over with scraggly juniper forest. As she climbed among the trees, the smell of something like ozone or sulfur grew very strong, and the air became thick, burdened with dust. Threads of the yellow contrail [which she had seen moments early in the night sky] hung in the limbs of the trees. She went on across the top of the bench and onto slabs of shelving rock that gave a view to the west. Down in the steep-sided draw below her there was a big wing-shaped piece of metal resting on the ground, which she at first thought had been torn from an airplane, but then realized was a whole thing, not broken, and she quit looking for the rest of the wreckage. She squatted down and looked at it. Yellow dust settled slowly out of the sky, pollinating her hair, her shoulders, the toes of her boots, faintly dulling the oily black shine of the wing, the thing shaped like a wing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

September Links & Things

This has been one of those days, one of those weeks, one of those months....for any concerned individuals, please see my earlier "Status" blog post.

This is my monthly wrap-up of September's Links & Things. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern. Note, however, that not all of my tweeted links make it into these month-end posts. Previous month-end posts are accessible via the "Links and Things" tag in the right column.
  • My friend, the New York Times Notable author Judith Moffett (about whom I have blogged on numerous occasions, two examples being here and here), has a newly revised website: It's still "under construction," as they say, as Judith is currently in the midst of relocating from Kentucky to Pennsylvania.
  • As we say good-bye and bemoan the loss of Borders Books & Music (chain store or not, the loss of any bookstore is sad), this poignant photo was taken by Reddit user "Jessers25" at a Borders going-out-of-business sale:

    The photo (with additional links) was originally posted on (@galleycat).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford (Part 4 of 4)

Exo-Skeleton Town
by Jeffrey Ford

[Continued from Part 3]

Suddenly the house lights went up, as they used to say, and again I was buried up to my neck in nightmare. I entertained the idea of coming clean with Gloriette and telling her of my predicament. Out of the kindness of her heart, she might turn the movie over to Stootladdle to save me, but at the same time she would know I had betrayed her. I did not want to lose her, but I did not want to die either. Even Cotten, expert thespian that he was, couldn't disguise my quandary. After dinner the night that Vespatian had delivered the dreaded message, Gloriette asked what was troubling me.

"Nothing," I told her, but later, after we had taken the smoke, she asked again. The drug weakened me and my growing fear forced me to rely on her mercy. I was sitting next to her on the couch. I reached over and took her hand in mine. She sat up and leaned toward me. "I have a confession to make," I said.

"Yes?" she said, looking into my eyes.

I did not know how to begin and sat long minutes simply staring at her beautiful face. From out across the veldt came the sound of thunder, and then an instant later the rain began to fall, tapping lightly at the parlor window.

I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came forth. She took this as a sign and moved her face close to mine, touching her lips against my own. We were kissing, passionately. She wrapped her arms around me and drew me closer. My hand moved along the thin material of her dress, from her thigh to her ribs to her breasts. She made no protest for she was as hot as I was. We fondled and kissed for an unheard of length of time, more true to the manner of the twentieth century than our own. When I could stand it no longer, I reached beneath her dress. My hand sailed along the smooth inner skin of her thigh, and when I was about to explode with excitement, my fingers came to rest on the cold steel of her exhaust spigot. I literally groaned.

The suit makers, in all of their art and cunning, had left out that which may be the most important aspect of human anatomy. Think of the irony, a suit made to enhance a commerce dealing ultimately in sex, but having no sex itself. At the same moment I groped her steel pipe, she was doing the same to mine. We released each other and sat there in a state of total frustration.

"The box," she said. "Tomorrow we will go to town, to the box."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"We have to," she said.

"But can you afford it? I haven't the money," I said, still slightly trembling.

"No, I can't afford it either, but there is something that Stootladdle wants that I can trade for a half-hour in the chamber," she said.

Then it struck me, just like in Gloriette's movie, love would prevail. She was going to trade the film for me, and I would live and not be found out by her. Frank Capra himself couldn't have conceived of anything more felicitous.

Vespatian woke me from a warm, bright dream of summer by the sea. "Mrs. Lancaster is waiting for you in the truck," he said. I hurriedly got dressed and went downstairs.

As I climbed into my chair, I saw that Gloriette was holding the movie tin in her hand. She tapped it nervously against her knee.

"Good morning, Joseph," she said. "I hope you are well rested."

"I'm ready," I said with a lightness in my heart I had not felt since landing on the bug planet.

She wore a yellow dress and a golden bee pendant on a thin cable around her neck. Her hair was done in braids, and she shone more vibrantly than the veldt itself.

"Exo-Skeleton Town," she called to Vespatian.

"As is your pleasure, madame," said the grasshopper, and we were off.