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)

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)

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?"


"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]


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 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.