Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jack Vance 1916–2013

Today we lost one of the greats: Jack Vance -- a Grand Master of science fiction; or maybe his style of writing would be better served were I to call it "science fantasy." Jack Vance was 96 years young, with a lifetime of experiences that ranged the entire world.

In memory of Jack Vance, I would like to post the following, which I originally published on this blog on July 31, 2009: I recount my two visits to the Vance household in the Oakland foothills, in 1989 and 1990; I also hold Jack Vance responsible for my book collecting addiction....

At Home with Jack Vance

Jack Vance at 92At 92 years of age (soon to be 93, on August 28), author Jack Vance is finally garnering some long-overdue, well-deserved attention in the media. And considering that he hasn't published any new fiction since 2004 (novel Lurulu, sequel to Ports of Call, 1998; both from Tor Books), this is indeed a remarkable accomplishment. Why all the media attention now? Because Vance has two books that have just been published by Subterranean Press. First and foremost is Vance's autobiography, This Is Me, Jack Vance! (more on this in a bit). The second title is anthology Songs of the Dying Earth, which is subtitled "Stories in Honor of Jack Vance." Songs features some of the best writers in the genre: Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin (who co-edited the anthology), Lucius Shepard, and Dan Simmons, to name only four, with an appreciation by Dean Koontz. What makes this book even more special is that Vance himself has written a new preface to open the anthology.

Carlo Rotella, director of American Studies at Boston College, wrote an excellent and lengthy piece (nearly 3,700 words) on Jack Vance entitled "The Genre Artist" in the July 15 New York Times. Rotella's introduction to Vance's fiction occurred when he was 14 years old, and he's been reading the author's work ever since. In this article Rotella quotes from a number of Vance novels, quotes from contributors (Tanith Lee and Dan Simmons) to the Songs anthology, and even quotes from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon: "Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don't get the credit they deserve. If 'The Last Castle' or 'The Dragon Masters' had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he's Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there's this insurmountable barrier." Well said, Mr. Chabon! I'm awaiting my copy of This Is Me, Jack Vance! from Subterranean Press, but in the meantime I have Rotella's article to tide me over. By the way, Rotella notes that "Vance takes pride in his craft but does not care to talk about it in any detail, going so far in his memoir as to consign almost all discussion of writing to a brief chapter at the end." If you're not familiar with Jack Vance, this article is a great mini-introduction to Vance's work, and his life. Kudos to Carlo Rotella.

I personally lay all the blame for my rampant book collecting on Jack Vance... Well, that's not really fair: his mass market paperback publishers Berkley Medallion and DAW Books actually share that dubious honor. I was already an avid book reader, but it was Jack Vance's Demon Princes series that drove me to my bibliophilic behavior. I don't recall how the Demon Princes series was brought to my attention, but in the early '80s I made a concerted effort to track down these five books. Now, you have to remember that at that point in time, there was no internet; there was no "online" in which to do an online book search. In those days we actually had to visit bookstores; and we used the telephone and, dare I say it, book catalogs sent through the mail to acquire specific titles. My favorite bookstore was Books, Inc. in the Town & Country shopping center near the corner of Stevens Creek and Winchester boulevards in San Jose. Books, Inc. closed down not too long after the Barnes and Noble superstore opened about a block away; and now the entire Town & Country shopping center is gone, replaced by the upscale Santana Row. But back to Books, Inc.: The store was a panacea for SF readers in particular because the management never returned a book. Regardless of the number of copies they ordered of any particular paperback, those copies would remain on the shelves until they sold. You could find paperbacks on the shelves that were years old, the pages often yellowed from age. So that's where I went to purchase the five volumes in Vance's Demon Princes series. The first three books in the series -- Star King, The Killing Machine, and The Palace of Love -- were published in the '60s by Berkley Medallion; the final two books in the series -- The Face and The Book of Dreams -- were published by DAW Books in 1979 and 1981 respectively. Unfortunately, I only found one of the DAW books on the shelf. A clerk assisted me by looking up the other four titles in Books in Print (available as a set of humongous hardcovers as well as on microfiche). It turned out that two of the five titles were out of print -- one from Berkley Medallion and the first book from DAW. And, not understanding the stupidity of publishers at the time, I couldn't comprehend why any publisher would allow the middle books of a five-book series to go out of print. It just didn't make any sense to me -- then. But in the course of looking through Books in Print, the clerk discovered that the series had been published in a hardcover edition by an independent press called Underwood-Miller. Great, I said, let's order them. Sorry, said the clerk, we don't deal directly with that publisher, and those titles aren't available through our regular distributor. Sigh... Time to go home and make some telephone calls to other bookstores in the area.

This is how I discovered genre bookstore Future Fantasy in Palo Alto, about a 25-mile drive from where I live. I telephoned the store, and yes, they could order the books for me, but I would have to pay for them in advance. So I made the drive to Palo Alto, only to discover that the store proprietor would only order one volume at a time -- even though I was willing to pay for the five books all at once, up front. Not sure of her rationale; but keep in mind that this was the early '80s and each of these trade hardcovers cost, I believe it was, $20.00 each -- so the set of five books was $100.00 (plus tax). Anyhow, I paid for the first book in advance, returned to the store a couple weeks later when the book arrived and paid in advance for the next one in the series, and so on until I owned all five books. Of course, I was now hooked on hardcovers and limited editions, having been in Future Fantasy -- browsing and buying -- six times over the span of about three months: the road to ruin, you might say. Future Fantasy moved a few years later to a larger store, but then the local competition and the internet finally took its toll and the store closed as well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CrossMe Color app for Android Redux

As I've mentioned in two previous blog posts (here and here), I have a rather strong addiction to an Android game called CrossMe Color. It's sort of like Suduku, but with numbers and colors.

I have now completed all the puzzles through level 8, which is the "Shogun" or "Expert" level. The game has a level 9, but all the puzzles are random. By that I mean the puzzles are simply random patterns, squares, and colors. Once a puzzle is completed, a return to the main menu will automatically clear the puzzle and randomize the patterns, squares, and colors again. When I get desperate enough for a CrossMe Color fix, I will work a random puzzle, but I'm not particularly fond of them: I prefer a puzzle of an actual picture/object, which is saved when the puzzle is completed.

Of course, I can always delete any puzzle solution and re-solve the puzzle, but for now I want to retain the completed puzzles. I'm hoping that the CrossMe Color developers will have an update soon that adds a few new puzzles to the existing levels.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a few of the level 7 (Sensei/Advanced) and the level 8 puzzles and solutions; I enjoy discovering what those rows and columns of colored, numbered squares will form when I complete a puzzle.

Puzzle 7.10 - Young Homer

Puzzle 7-23 - Bird

Puzzle 8-3 - Dog

Puzzle 8.4 - Giraffe

Puzzle 8.7 - Cat

Puzzle 8.14 - Parrot

Puzzle 8.16 - East

Puzzle 8.20 - Turtle

A few of the "expert" puzzles presented some difficulty, and I had to snag a few hints from the CrossMe Color Solutions Blog. But what I've pictured above are some of the puzzles that I solved completely on my own, and were personal favorites.

The CrossMe Color Premium app is $4.95 on both Google Play and the Amazon Appstore: a small amount for the hours (and hours) you'll find yourself engrossed in these puzzles.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Jonathan Strahan's Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 6

Best SFF 6
A couple weeks ago I published a blog post (Doin' Hard Time at Night Shade Books) on my nine years with Night Shade Books. In that post I listed the 125 books that I worked on throughout those nine years. One such book was Jonathan Strahan's annual anthology The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 6.

When I checked my email this morning, I found a note from Jonathan Strahan awaiting my perusal. In the email, which was also addressed to Ross E. Lockhart, Jonathan informed us that his book, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 6, had just won the Aurealis Award -- Australia's premier genre award -- for best anthology of the year, and that he wanted to thank Ross and me for our work on this, and his previous books.

Of course, receiving a "thank you" email from an award recipient for one's contribution is very cool. However, as I was catching up on my online reading (Google Reader feeds) I saw that Jonathan had also posted about his award win on his blog Notes from Coode Street. Included in his post was his acceptance speech, which had been read by James Bradley, in Jonathan's absence, at the awards ceremony. With Jonathan's most kind permission, here is his Aurealis Award acceptance speech in its entirety:

Thank you so much. If James Bradley is reading these words to you, which I promise I will keep brief as absent winners should, then it means my anthology The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Six has won the Aurealis Award. It is a great honour and I wish I was there in the Independent Theatre in Sydney, and not sitting in Perth following this on Twitter, so that you all could see just how thrilled I am.

I would sincerely like to thank the judges Kathleen Stubbs, Matt Chrulew and Sarah Fletcher for their hard work (and commend them on their excellent taste), and I also want to thank awards administrator Tehani Wesley and the AA team for their hard work. It is an honour to be nominated alongside my editorial colleagues Liz Gryb, Talie Helene, and Amanda Pillar and the great team at my dear friend Russell Farr’s Ticonderoga, and I extend my congratulations to them as well.

Editing The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series has defined the past seven years of my life. It’s a strange, wonderful experience, and I am deeply proud of the books I’ve been able to produce with the Night Shade team. I would especially like to thank Ross Lockhart and Marty Halpern at Night Shade Books for the care and attention they gave to this book, and for their work on the rest of the series. They are my unsung collaborators and deserve your congratulations as much as I do.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of my spectacular agent Howard Morhaim, and the tireless support of my family Marianne, Jessica and Sophie who give me time to do this strange editing thing that I love doing so much.

Thank you all very much! Have a great night! I’m going to turn Twitter off now and go have a glass of champagne (or at least get the kids dinner on).

Like I said, receiving a thank you email for contributing to an award-winning book is one thing; having one's name mentioned in an acceptance speech takes that "thank you" to an entirely new level.

I, in turn, would like to thank Jonathan for the opportunity to work on his "best of the year" anthologies; I read many fine stories in these volumes that I wouldn't have had the occasion to read otherwise. And while I'm at it, let me thank Ross Lockhart, who kept the work flowing for the past five years at Night Shade Books. Ross could have sent Jonathan's anthologies to any number of other copy editors, but he typically sent the books to me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kage Baker's In the Company of Thieves

Company of Thieves
In May 2001, I contacted Kage Baker via email about a collection of Company stories; at the time I was acquiring and editing for Golden Gryphon Press. Kage responded the very same day, stating that she was intrigued with my proposal and that she has forwarded my letter to her agent, Linn Prentis. On May 9 I received a response from Linn: the collection was a "go."

Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers premiered at the San Jose WorldCon on August 29, 2002. The book was even more successful than I had anticipated: Publishers Weekly gave the collection a starred review; the first printing of 3,000 copies sold out in only two months; there was a second hardcover printing, and the trade paperback edition was published in October 2004. In a blog post dated January 27, 2010 -- just four days before Kage Baker passed away -- I detailed how Kage and I worked together on this book, how it all came together.

Black Projects, White Knights
And now, nearly to the day and twelve years later, I have the good fortune to be able to work on what will, unfortunately, be the last new collection of Company stories by Kage Baker: In the Company of Thieves, forthcoming from Tachyon Publications.

Working on these stories is like meeting up with old friends again, like the immortal cyborg Joseph (in "Hollywood Ikons," a new story original to the collection; more on this in a bit), Edward Bell Fairfax and Lady Beatrice, of the Gentlemen's Speculative Society and Ladies Auxiliary, respectively (in "The Women of Nell Gwynne's" and "The Unfortunate Gytt"), and the evil Labienus and his Plague Cabal (in "Mother Aegypt"). Note that I didn't say they were all "good" friends....

So many memories have come flooding back since I began work on this collection of stories: working on Black Projects, White Knights and then the limited edition chapbook story The Angel in the Darkness; meeting up with Kage at cons -- she was always with her sister Kathleen and I was usually with my wife Diane -- which typically entailed a long chat over lunch or dinner. Did you know Kage's favorite drink is (was) a mojito? Meeting niece "Emma Rose" (read the novel The Hotel Under the Sand, also from Tachyon Pubs) at Kage's appearance at SF in SF on July 25, 2009. And... I could go on, but you get the drift. We were friends, and I always looked forward to the next meeting/lunch/dinner at the next con.... And now we (Diane and I) get to continue that friendship with Kathleen, hopefully sharing a meal at BayCon over the Memorial Day weekend.

Only six stories make up In the Company of Thieves, but those six stories entail more than 100,000 words of very fine fiction. Three of the stories are novella length, at 25,000-plus words. Two additional stories clock in at around the 12,000-word mark. And one story ("The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park"), one of my very favorites, is a mere 3,700 words. I am constantly amazed at what Kage can accomplish in so few words.

Previously I mentioned a new story, "Hollywood Ikons" (one of the 12,000-word stories mentioned above), to be published in this collection for the first time. The story is a collaboration, as it were, between Kage and her sister Kathleen Bartholomew. From the draft copy of Kathleen's story notes:
Before Kage died in 2010, this was one of the stories she told me to look at first....Kage had already assigned Joseph as the hero of this one, so all I had to do was channel her and connect the gold-limned dots."
So I can only hope that Kage has left behind piles of notes and outlines and that Kathleen is able to continue channeling Kage into new stories of the Company, of Dr. Zeus Incorporated, of the Gentlemen's Speculative Society... Or, better yet, I can hope that Kathleen eventually graces us with her own unique tales of wonder.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Doin' Hard Time at Night Shade Books

How often, how many times, have you asked yourself, What have I done with my time? What have I really accomplished?

I've been asking myself this very question quite a bit of late; or, at least, more than I normally do....

I spent about nine years of my professional career working for Night Shade Books. If you are a genre writer and/or reader, then you probably have seen an online article, or blog post, about the publisher's demise. Essentially Night Shade Books is bankrupt, they just haven't declared it legally (yet), but are hoping to sell the assets of the company to a pair of publishing houses. I won't go into any of that here; you can just search for "Night Shade Books" and you'll find enough to read: posts from authors talking about the deal with the new buyers, posts from bloggers both objective and subjective about Night Shade, and so on.

But what I see is the demise of a publishing house that had the potential to make it into the "big leagues" as an independent. I recall an early telephone conversation with publisher/owner Jason Williams, in which he told me that he wanted Night Shade to be the next Baen Books. And they could have been, I honestly believe that, but they squandered it all away....

But six months from now, a year from now, will new readers even know who Night Shade Books is? And for those of us who know of them now, what will we think of them going forward? Will readers think of the books with positive memories: the great books like The Algebraist and The Windup Girl; the beautifully designed covers and interiors? Or will they remember the orders not fulfilled, the books promised and never published? Will former Night Shade authors remember Night Shade as the publisher who gave them their first break, bought and published their first book, bought and published the book that they were unable to sell to any New York publisher? Or will they remember that they were never paid their advance, never paid royalties, or if they did get paid, that they had to fight for every dollar, or that their book never even got published as promised?

But getting back to my original question: Just what have I accomplished in nearly nine years with this publisher? And what will I remember?

I sat down and reviewed all my invoices -- 190 of them -- dating back to 2004, and compiled a list of all the books I touched, so to speak. The first book was Adam Roberts's short fiction collection, Swiftly; the last book was Jonathan Strahan's anthology, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Seven, just this past January. And in between were a helluva lot of books.