Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Rhesus Chart Revealed

In my blog post on October 15, at which time I was working on Charles Stross's forthcoming Laundry Files novel The Rhesus Chart, I stated that I had seen the preliminary cover art but was not permitted to post it at the time.

Well, the final cover art has been released -- so, behold, The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross, to be published by Ace Books in July 2014:

The Rhesus Chart

You'll note that at the bottom of the front cover, below the book title, the text reads: "Bob Howard, the vampire slayer?" So I won't be spoiling anything if I present here the novel's opening sentence (which the author himself has posted online as well):
"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo, "everybody knows vampires don't exist."
But in Bob Howard's world of Applied Computational Demonology, can we be so sure?...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Editing in Process...James Morrow

The Madonna and the Starship
Cover Art & Design by
Elizabeth Story

My working relationship with author James Morrow dates back a good ten-plus years. In 2003 I included a reprint of his story "Auspicious Eggs" in my co-edited anthology Witpunk (with Claude Lalumière). Then in August 2008 I line/copy edited Morrow's novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima, which was published by Tachyon Publications the following year. Shambling received critical praise, winning the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2010, as well as being named a finalist for both the Nebula and Hugo awards. Also in 2010, my original Fermi paradox anthology, Is Anybody Out There? (co-edited with Nick Gevers) was published, for which Morrow wrote "The Vampires of Paradox," one of the more celebrated stories in the book.1

James Morrow is an absolute master of the sardonic, which was one of the reasons Claude and I selected his story for inclusion in Witpunk. (The other, primary reason, being that he is a master craftsman.) But a reader wouldn't need an anthology like Witpunk to know about the sardonic side of James Morrow: simply look at the individual titles of his stories -- "Auspicious Eggs," "The Vampires of Paradox," and "Shambling Towards Hiroshima." And his new book is no exception. The title? The Madonna and the Starship, forthcoming from Tachyon Pubs in early 2014.

I recall the book launch event for Is Anybody Out There? at ReaderCon in Boston in July, 2010. In addition to James Morrow, authors Yves Meynard and Paul Di Filippo were on hand to read from their stories. My blog post "Readercon Recap," published on July 27, 2010, covers the details, but to quote from that post: "About five or so minutes into his reading, Jim [Morrow] reached under the table and -- surprising us all (myself included) -- brought forth a purplish brainlike thing with long tentacles, which he perched upon his shoulder as a visual representation of the parasitic cacodaemons in his story. Great bouts of laughter ensued."

Fast forward three years.... In late September I received an email from Jill Roberts at Tachyon Pubs informing me that James Morrow had requested that I work on his new novella. And two days later I received an email from the author himself: he would send me "a version of the file with a few new nips and tucks and tweaks" when I was ready....

So, here I am working on The Madonna and the Starship, a story that takes place in the early 1950s, the decade in which commercial television was finally affordable for mainstream America. Television sets first appeared in the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1949, and by 1950 nine percent of U.S. households could boast of owning a television set. By 1951 the television networks broadcast a total of twenty-seven hours of children's shows each week, and promoted the educational aspects of television to parents.2 Which brings me to Kurt Jastrow, the protagonist of our story. who is the head writer for the NBC children's program Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers. In addition to cranking out weekly episodes of Brock Barton, Jastrow was also tasked with writing -- and starring in -- a ten-minute segment at the end of each episode: Uncle Wonder's Attic. Wearing a cardigan sweater and hiding behind a fake grizzled beard and equally fake eyebrows, Uncle Wonder would rummage around in his attic until he found just the right materials to perform some experiment related to the Brock Barton universe. Here's Kurt:

I liked my job. Just as our show enabled kids to fantasize that they were star sailors, so did my scripting duties allow me to imagine that I was a playwright, though I knew perfectly well that nobody was about to confuse a space schooner called the Triton with a streetcar named Desire.

But, Jastrow's day-to-day normalcy was interrupted by the arrival of two lobster-like aliens -- Wulawand and Volavont, from the planet Qualimosa in the Procyon system: a planet of "logical positivists." Unfortunately, this didn't bode well for Kurt Jastrow's love interest, Connie Osborne, who wrote and produced a Sunday morning religious program called Not By Bread Alone. Certain that the program's audience represented "a hive of irrationalist vermin," the Qualimosans planned to piggyback their death-ray onto the broadcast signal of Not By Bread Alone, to every NBC affiliate. Come Sunday morning, at ten minutes past ten o'clock, the Earth would be cleansed of nearly two million irrationalists.

Kurt and Connie now had less that two days to write, cast, and rehearse a replacement episode of Not By Bread Alone, one that was so perfectly rational and utterly absurd as to foil the Qualimosans' plans.

The Madonna and the Starship is available for preorder on Amazon.com.


1. This blog also has a dedicated Is Anybody Out There? page, which includes the complete text of six of the anthology's stories.

2. "Television History - A Timeline: 1878-2005," The University of Texas School of Law, Tarlton Law Library, Jamail Center for Legal Research.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Winter in the City Kickstarter

Art by Kip Ayers
If you read this blog even irregularly -- which is pretty much how I post to it anyhow -- then you've undoubtedly seen the two or three "teasers" I've posted about a Kickstarter project entitled Winter in the City.

Winter in the City is -- will be -- an anthology of urban fantasy stories about real cities. The Kickstarter campaign launched on November 1, which means we're now at the halfway point.

Though I will be editing this anthology, the idea for the project -- and the management of the Kickstarter -- belongs to authors R. B. Wood and M. J. King. The idea came about during R. B.'s and M. J.'s attendance at ReaderCon in Boston this past July. If you would like to read more about the actual genesis of the Kickstarter project, please read R. B. Wood's guest blog post on Fantasy Book Critic. But for now, and in their own words, they share some thoughts on Winter in the City. (I'm surprised they even asked me to join the team... I don't have any initials in my name!)

* * * * *
R. B. Wood: Ever since I was old enough to hide a copy of Analog or the now defunct Amazing Stories in a random text book, I've loved short stories. My library is filled with anthologies of the fantastical dating back to the 1970s, and I continue to collect, read, and reread them to this day.

The Winter in the City Kickstarter project is a culmination of decades-worth of adoration for the short story. And for one boy's obsession for more worlds to explore.

M. J. King: The awesome thing about urban fantasy, for me, is that it takes the familiar and makes it fantastic. The places that each of us sees every day made magical. Or perhaps urban fantasy taps into the magic inherent in these places, allowing us to see it more clearly.

Urban fantasy is just sideways of everything we know and experience in our waking lives. There's always this niggling wonder in the back of my mind: What if it were real? What if the magic of fey, and gods, and demons joined our everyday sort of magic?

RB: What if all the things in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream or Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or even Dracula were transported into the real world of city life?

And how could you use the complexities inherent when large populations of thinking and feeling people live in close quarters with the supernatural?

This is at the core of the anthology. Exploring different cities from around the world and how monsters, faeries, magic, and ghosts play with the millions of city dwellers.

MJ: As a new writer, the opportunity to work with a project with so much potential has been awesomely staggering. To go from talking over the concept with R. B. to this stage has been a huge learning curve, and I'm sure it will only grow steeper from here.

RB: The response to WitC has been overwhelming and exciting, while also being a bit daunting. Key for us was engaging with an editor that not only is the consummate professional, but has the industry experience to take this project to an entirely new level than even I had imagined. I've known Marty Halpern for a number of years -- and not only was he perfect for the role, he was excited to join the team. His guidance and support has been invaluable.

MJ: Marty has been fantastic, and because of his involvement, this project has already become so much more than I imagined it could be.

RB: The authors -- many of whom I am a fan-boy of -- responded to their project invitation with not only the response we were looking for, but with offers to help with things like reward levels and advice for the Kickstarter. These storytellers have begun to share ideas, and more specifically the cities in which they want to set their Winter-tales.

MJ: We owe a giant thank you to all the Kickstarter backers, because without them, this project won't happen. I can't wait to read the submissions and discover what magic the authors find in their cities!

RB: Our goal, really, is very basic: great stories that focus on the one constant in Urban Fantasy (no matter what definition of the genre you subscribe to) -- The City.

Because, in the middle of the night, we all know that the unexplained and fantastic will walk, crawl, slither, and fly amongst the concrete, steel, and glass of the metropolis.
* * * * *
A brief explanation of Kickstarter if you're not familiar with the term, or these types of projects: Kickstarter is a website that supports crowd-funded projects. Readers of this blog, for example, help make up the "crowd." A Kickstarter project will offer rewards, or incentives, hopefully intriguing enough -- or at least interesting enough -- to compel the "crowd" to part with some amount of their hard-earned $$$ to help support the project. No matter how much money any one individual "invests" in the project, no money actually changes hands -- and no rewards/incentives are sent out -- unless the project is fully funded. And that, of course, is the goal: Winter in the City needs to be fully funded for this anthology to happen.

Our Kickstarter project website lists the authors who plan to submit stories to the anthology, but I'll just throw out a few names here: Kevin J. Anderson, Brad Beaulieu, Pat Cadigan (a 2013 Hugo Award winner for best novelette), Alex Irvine, Gini Koch, Nick Mamatas, James Morrow, Pat Murphy, Shauna Roberts, and Harry Turtledove -- and that's just a very few names that come immediately to mind.

Winter in the City has a goal of $15,000, of which nearly one-half is earmarked for the authors so that they may receive professional rates for their work. Kickstarter works when a lot of people know about the project: the more people who know about the project the larger the support pool becomes. Even if you don't choose to participate in the project, if you think it's a worthy endeavor, then helping to spread the word will aid the project in the long run.

We hope you'll join us in this endeavor to help make Winter in the City a reality. And please share the link to the Kickstarter campaign with others as well.

"The underground of the city is like what's underground in people. Beneath the surface, it's boiling with monsters." ~Guillermo del Toro


R. B. Wood (@rbwood) is a technology consultant and a writer of Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction and quite frankly anything else that strikes his fancy. His first novel, The Prodigal's Foole, was released to critical acclaim in 2012. Mr. Wood is currently working on the second volume of his Arcana Chronicles series, The Young Practitioner, as well as numerous short stories, a graphic novel, and a science fiction trilogy that he dusts off every few years. Along with his writing passion, R. B. is host of The Word Count Podcast: a show that features talent from around the globe reading original flash-fiction stories.

M. J. King (@mjkingwrites) currently lives on the Maine coast with her husband. Her urban fantasy short story, "A Trick of Shadows," can be found in the Kickstarter-funded anthology Fight Like a Girl. She is an occasional contributor to The Word Count Podcast and is one of the three women behind Anxiety Ink.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Editing in Process...The Very Best of Tad Williams

The Very Best of Tad Williams
Art by Kerem Beyit
My latest copy editing project is a hefty collection of Tad Williams stories, 135,000 words (including front and back matter) to be exact, titled The Very Best of Tad Williams, forthcoming from Tachyon Publications in May 2014.

I have Tad's four-volume Otherland series in my library, but except for the Otherland novella, "The Happiest Dead Boy in the World" (included in Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg, Tor Books, 2003), I've not read any of the author's other short fiction --

Until now. And my excuse for not having read any of Tad Williams's other short stories? Well, can I plead insanity? As I must have been insane to have overlooked some of these stories.

I was pleased to see that this collection contained the more recent Otherland story, "The Boy Detective of Oz" (originally published in Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond, edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, 47North, 2013), which I hadn't previously read -- so now my Otherland series is complete.

My favorite story, by far, in the collection is "The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of" -- a story of stage magicians, a locked-door mystery, and a missing book of memoirs. This novelette is pure gold, written in the style of the noir detective story, with just the right touch of sardonic wit provided by the occasionally drunk protagonist, one Dalton Pinnard -- also known as "Pinardo the Magnificent." And, of course, we have Pinnard's receptionist Tilly, and the requisite damsel, Ms. Emily Heltenbocker.

Second favorite would have to be another novelette, "And Ministers of Grace" (originally published in Warriors, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin, Tor Books, 2010). A heady tale of two religious factions: the Rationalists of Archimedes and the Abramites of Covenant. An assasin's beliefs are so ingrained that he completely closes off the ability to even listen to, let alone consider, the beliefs of others.

Here's the table of contents:
The Old Scale Game
The Storm Door
The Stranger's Hands
Child of an Ancient City
The Boy Detective of Oz
Three Duets for Virgin and Nosehorn
Diary of a Dragon
Not with a Whimper, Either
Some Thoughts Re: Dark Destroyer
Z is for...
Monsieur Vergalant's Canard
The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of
A Fish Between Three Friends
Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth, Every Pink Fowl of the Air
A Stark and Wormy Knight
Black Sunshine
And Ministers of Grace
Omnitron, What Ho!
The last story, "Omnitron, What Ho!" is original to this collection. It's the tale of Werner Von Secondstage Booster, his Aunt Jabbatha, and how "Wernie" first met his robot servant Omnitron. As I read this story, I pictured Jeeves and Wooster....only instead of Jeeves rescuing Wooster from one of his typical hijinks, Omnitron saves Wernie from a more deadly romantic liaison.

And the longest story in the collection, "Black Sunshine," which clocks in at nearly 28,000 words, is written as a screenplay. Five friends, Brent, Eric, Janice, Kimmy, and Topher, party down on the last Saturday night of the summer, before school begins. Then, twenty-five years later, on the last Saturday night before school begins, they all meet once again, and slowly begin to realize exactly what happened that night, twenty-five years ago -- except that it is happening right now.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winter in the City

"The underground of the city is like what's underground in people. Beneath the surface, it's boiling with monsters." ~Guillermo del Toro