Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Received...David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksBack in the summer of 2012, when I learned that the Wachowski Brothers' directed Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, was to be released in October, I decided it was about time that I read the novel, considering that David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas had been published eight years earlier.

Cloud Atlas was even one of the few books I added to my Goodreads shelf -- that's how intrigued I was with the prospect of finally reading this book. The story is divided into seemingly unrelated sections: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, Letters from Zedelghem, Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, and The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish -- all well-written and as intriguing as I had hoped: great stuff. Then I got to the section An Orison of Sonmi-451 -- an interview with a genetically engineered fabricant. And the interview seemed to go on and on and... and I became bored and set the book down. Never to pick it up again. In fact, just the other day I realized the title was still listed as being read on my Goodreads shelf, about two years later! (P.S. I haven't seen the movie yet either; I'll wait now for it to be available on cable.)

But, I'm not giving up on David Mitchell, and, in fact, courtesy of, I now have an Advance Reader's Edition of The Bone Clocks to read at my leisure.

Here's an excerpt from the publisher's PR sheet that was inside the book:
Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as "the radio people," Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena, and she has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly's life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born. A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence; a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq; a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world.
Mitchell's writing has that underlying element of the "fantastic" -- science fiction in Cloud Atlas, and evidently the supernatural in The Bone Clocks -- and yet, his fiction is considered "mainstream," as is the fiction of W. P. Kinsella, whom I wrote about here, and Kazuo Ishiguro, whom I wrote about here, to name only two others. And gawd help us if we should ever refer to these individuals as science fiction writers.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Children of Old Leech Anthology: Excerpts

The Children of Old LeechPress Release: The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA–Word Horde is proud to announce the release of The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron. Editors Ross E. Lockhart (The Book of Cthulhu, Tales of Jack the Ripper) and Justin Steele (The Arkham Digest) have gathered together many of the brightest lights in dark fiction to pay homage to one of horror's masters.

Over the past decade, Laird Barron has become one of the most lauded and influential names in horror fiction. His short stories, two novels, and three collections have garnered numerous nominations and awards, including three Shirley Jackson Awards and a Bram Stoker Award. Recognizing Barron's meteoric rise, Lockhart and Steele sought to assemble an original tribute anthology unlike any other, focusing on atmosphere and affect, rather than simple pastiche.

"Barron's fiction has long been an inspiration to his peers," says co-editor Justin Steele. "The interwoven stories and novels create a rich tapestry of noir-infused cosmic horror. This mythology makes for an excellent backdrop for the weird tales within." Offered this unique opportunity to play in what Publishers Weekly calls Barron's "worm-riddled literary playground," these children of Old Leech—Barron's fans, peers, friends—conjured an anthology "with a coherent feeling of dread, without feeling derivative of the source."

The Children of Old Leech is distributed by Ingram, and will be available in Hardcover and eBook formats through most online retailers and better independent bookstores everywhere in July 2014. For more information about Word Horde or to request an electronic review copy, please email publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com.

* * * *

On April 24 I wrote about copy editing The Children of Old Leech for Word Horde; and then on July 5 I posted details on the deluxe edition of TCoOL, of which only 100 numbered copies were made available for sale.

In celebration of the release of TCoOL on July 15, excerpts from each of the stories were published on the Word Horde blog over a span of weeks. All of the excerpts have now been posted.

Here is the contents list for The Children of Old Leech:
Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers — Justin Steele
The Harrow — Gemma Files
Pale Apostle — J. T. Glover & Jesse Bullington
Walpurgisnacht — Orrin Grey
Learn to Kill — Michael Cisco
Good Lord, Show Me the Way — Molly Tanzer
Snake Wine — Jeffrey Thomas
Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox — T.E. Grau
The Old Pageant — Richard Gavin
Notes for "The Barn in the Wild" — Paul Tremblay
Firedancing — Michael Griffin
The Golden Stars at Night — Allyson Bird
The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of
  Yesterdays — Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Woman in the Wood — Daniel Mills
Brushdogs — Stephen Graham Jones
Ymir — John Langan
Of a Thousand Cuts — Cody Goodfellow
Tenebrionidae — Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay
Afterword — Ross E. Lockhart

The first story excerpt is "The Harrow" by Gemma Files; at the bottom of this excerpt you will find a link to the next story, and so on, through the entire contents list. I would normally say something to the effect of "Enjoy the read!" -- but "enjoy" isn't quite the word one would use when it comes to Laird Barron's work, or the work of those writing in Barron's world. In my earlier blog post on copy editing this anthology I used the phrase "a feeling of dread, of impending doom..." So read at your own risk....

If you are a fan of Laird Barron's writing, then you will definitely want to read these stories. If you are a reader of dark fantasy -- very dark fantasy! -- and you are new to the world of Laird Barron, then you should be reading these stories.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Editing in Process...The Very Best of W. P. Kinsella

Very Best of W. P. Kinsella
Cover art by Thomas Canty
If you read this blog fairly regularly, you'll recall my post earlier in the month when I wrote about purchasing the Xcanex Professional Book and Document Scanner by piQx imaging. In that post I mentioned a huge scanning project I had begun working on at the time, which is why I was in a bit of a kerfuffle over scanners -- and the fact that my go-to scanner for nearly 10 years no longer worked with OmniPage Pro and Windows 7.

That scanning project is short story collection The Very Best of W. P. Kinsella, forthcoming in 2015 from Tachyon Publications.

And the project is indeed huge: approximately 138,000 words of fiction, all of which has to be scanned, then cleaned up and formatted, and finally copy edited.

If you've seen the movie Field of Dreams (1989), starring Kevin Costner, then you've experienced a wee taste of W. P. Kinsella, who wrote the novel Shoeless Joe (1982), upon which the movie is based. And Kinsella's novel is an expansion of his 1979 short story, "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa" -- which is included in this Very Best of collection. In the story, a corn farmer in Iowa hears a voice:
Two years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin's-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, as I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in eastern Iowa, a voice very clearly said to me, "If you build it, he will come."

The voice was that of a ballpark announcer. As he spoke, I instantly envisioned the finished product I knew I was being asked to conceive. I could see the dark, squarish speakers, like ancient sailors' hats, attached to aluminum-painted light standards that glowed down into a baseball field, my present position being directly behind home plate.
The "he" in "he will come" is Joseph Jefferson Jackson, the "Shoeless Joe Jackson" in the title, one of the greatest baseball outfielders of all time -- who had passed away in 1951, years (and years) before our Iowa corn farmer heard that voice. But if our farmer builds that ballfield, he will come. [Note: Shoeless Joe had been mired in the Black Sox Scandal after the Chicago White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series; Joe and seven other teammates were banned for life from baseball the following year.]

There are a few other baseball stories in this collection, but you don't need to know anything about baseball to enjoy these tales: baseball merely serves as a backdrop to these stories, which are about life and the human condition, often with a bit of the "fantastic" thrown in. My favorite story in the collection is "K Mart" -- but don't let the title fool you: it's the story of lost childhood love, nostalgia, and survival, all amidst the backdrop of a neighborhood dirt-lot baseball game, a game that seemed endless (to the children playing it), but only lasted throughout the summer months.

W. P. Kinsella is also well-known for his "First Nation" stories about the indigenous Cree on the Hobbema Reserve near Edmonton, Canada. These stories reflect the Cree's destitute and disadvantaged culture, yet add an element of humor by exploring the convoluted situations (and shenanigans) they get into trying to survive in a world dominated by white people. But even with the element of humor, there is a sadness to all of these stories. What is especially delightful about these stories is that Kinsella's characters -- Silas (the narrator), Frank Fencepost, Mad Etta, Bedelia Coyote, Sadie One-wound, and Rufus Firstrider, to name just a few -- appear in all the stories. By the time you finish reading this collection, you'll certainly consider them acquaintances, if not friends. In "Beef," Bedelia Coyote determines that a treaty the Cree signed with the Canadian government in the 1800s is still valid, and she files the necessary paperwork so that the reserve receives financial compensation. But Frank Fencepost has a better scheme in mind: he hijacks the paperwork and requests the government honor the compensation put forth in the original treaty: cattle -- figuring he can make more from the cattle than the money the government was offering. The title of the story, "Beef," says it all.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Austin Musician Suzanna Choffel

So I was channel surfacing last night at about 8:30pm, looking for something to watch for a half hour, and I saw a listing in the paper for "Austin Musicians" on San Mateo's PBS station, KCSM. So I hit the remote for cable channel 17. The show was an hour-long broadcast of the 2013 All ATX concert at the Moody Theater in Austin, a benefit to support the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM).

Fortunately, I turned on the TV just in time to catch musician Suzanna Choffel's two-song performance, the latter of which, entitled "Raincloud," absolutely knocked my figurative socks off. I spent some time this morning searching for more info on Ms. Choffel, and learned that she was a performer on NBC's The Voice a few years back, losing in the "knockout" round to a singer who I thought (having watched both performances on YouTube) was (aside from being occasionally off-key) derivative of nearly every other female singer one hears on contemporary pop radio. Anyhow, Ms. Choffel said about her loss: "I was definitely the wild card of the show, doing folk, pop, and reggae, and that may have hurt me in the end, but it's who I am."

I also found on YouTube what appears to be an audience recording of "Raincloud" from the All ATX concert, but the quality is quite poor; so, searching for the song itself, I found a superb version performed "live" at Austin's The Sessions production company. Enjoy!

I checked out Suzanna Choffel's albums -- her latest, Archer, includes "Raincloud" -- but I was disappointed: the sultry, raw quality of her vocals and fretwork are lost, sadly, in the music's overproduction. If she were to release a live album, I'd snatch it up in a digital minute!

Other performers at the All ATX concert included Marcia Ball, Christopher Cross, Eric Johnson, the Sexton brothers, and Jimmy Vaughan, to name but a few. The Austin Chronicle had a fairly decent review of the concert the following day.

Note: Ms. Choffel currently resides in NYC.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Xcanex Professional Book & Document Scanner

Xcanex-boxThe first flatbed scanner I purchased was a Microtek brand, I'm guessing about a dozen years ago. I was running Windows ME (Millennium, remember that short-lived OS?) at the time and the Microtek scanner worked like a charm. Of course, as is the way of all things technical, I decided to upgrade to Windows XP in 2005.

I purchased the XP system discs and, with the help of my friend Randy (the same person who helped me design my first desktop years earlier, which I wrote about here), I wiped the hard drive and installed Windows XP. I then spent the next two days installing all my software and hardware. Around the end of day two the OS started behaving badly and I couldn't figure out what the problem was. I'll admit I was in a hurry to get the new system up and running, and I didn't keep track of what I installed when, I didn't create restore points, and I didn't test the system after each install. Silly me.... So, back to square one: I wiped the hard drive myself and reinstalled XP, and began the arduous task of installing hardware and software correctly. I created a restore point before each install, I rebooted and tested the system after each install, and I kept a running list of what I installed at each point. Instead of two days, this "best practice" process took me about four days -- at which point everything started behaving flaky again. After some investigation, reverting to restore points, reinstalling some things yet again, I determined that the Microtek driver for the scanner was crashing XP.

I clicked on over to the Microtek website only to discover that they did not support Windows XP on this particular scanner; I guess their developers were too bloody lazy to update the Windows ME driver -- but I bet they sure would like to sell me a new scanner that works under Windows XP! What we call built-in obsolescence! Well, if I'm going to have to dump a perfectly good, working scanner to buy a new one that works with Windows XP, I certainly will not give any more money to Microtek. You would think these corp. idiots would learn....

Xcanex open box
So after some research I purchased a Canon CanoScan 4200F flatbed scanner -- which is even better than the Microtek and has served me far longer. The beauty of this CanoScan is the hinged lid that allows you to place an open book face down on the glass and still be able to place the lid on the book. I used this scanner with Nuance's OmniPage Professional -- first OmniPage Pro 12, then I upgraded to 14, then 16, then 17, and finally 18. (Note: Version 18 has a lot of glitches at startup which Nuance has simply refused to address (or even respond to on their own community forum) since they've now moved on to an even bigger and better version -- and because of this, my days of upgrading have ceased with version 18. These tech companies can really be a pain in the behind.) I've been using one version or another of OmniPage Pro and the CanoScan scanner for nearly ten years. The scanner has performed flawlessly.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Received... Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely FineBack in February, I wrote about working on Daryl Gregory's "sharp-edged" novella We Are All Completely Fine -- and even included a very brief excerpt from the story in order to make my point.

As I said, that was earlier (you can read that blog post here) -- and this is now: We Are All Completely Fine is available ahead of schedule direct from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, or your preferred retail bookseller.

In fact, I can think of no other active independent publisher that is consistently on schedule -- actually, ahead of schedule -- for every single book that they publish. That's Tachyon Publications. (And, Gawd bless them, they pay on time, too -- every single time! And have done so, since 2002, when I worked on that very first book for them. Writers, keep that in mind when you are considering your next novella, novel, or collection submission, and are looking for a quality publisher.)

If you are not familiar with Daryl Gregory's work, then We Are All Completely Fine is a good place to start; if you are a fan of his work, then I don't need to say anything further: you've most likely had this book on order since you first learned about it. In fact, I believe we'll be seeing this novella on many awards lists beginning in early 2015. Yes, he's that good.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tommy Ramone, January 29, 1949–July 11, 2014

Thomas Erdelyi -- better known by his stage name Tommy Ramone -- was a co-founder of the seminal punk band The Ramones and the last surviving member of the original group. The New York Times obituary.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Received...The Children of Old Leech Anthology

The Children of Old LeechWhen I first wrote about my involvement (here) in The Children of Old Leech anthology -- the newest title from publisher Word Horde -- I also recommended at the time that readers opt for the Deluxe Pack available direct from the publisher's web site. As only 100 numbered Deluxe Packs were made, they sold out fairly quickly. I'll post some of the items below, but keep this in mind in the future: When Word Horde offers a deluxe package for one of their books -- snag it!

The Children of Old Leech (TCoOL) isn't just another themed anthology. The book's subtitle is the reveal: "A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron." That previous blog post I mentioned above has some of my thoughts on Laird Barron and TCoOL as well as a list of the book's 17 stories. But a list of stories is just that: a list.

The truth, of course, is in the content: courtesy of publisher Ross E. Lockhart and the 19 TCoOL authors, the Word Horde web site will present a brief excerpt from each of the 17 stories, beginning with "The Harrow" by Gemma Files (on July 2) and continuing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over the next few weeks. So if you are still fence-sitting and haven't purchased a copy of TCoOL as yet, please do check out these mini excerpts from all 17 stories. But, lest we forget, it's the mind -- and writing -- of Laird Barron that provided the inspiration for these stories.

Back to the TCoOL goodies: if you had ordered the Deluxe Pack, you would have received a numbered "chapbook" by Paul Tremblay entitled "Notes for 'The Barn in the Wild.'" The story is a "found notebook" story -- and the chapbook is comprised of the notebook pages themselves.

My copy is not numbered but is rather a "PC" copy -- a Presentation Copy that I received as one of the book's contributors. Now here's a behind-the-scenes peek at the publisher hand-assembling the chapbook:

The Deluxe Pack also came with a Word Horde bookplate signed by both TCoOL editors, Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele:

The hand holding the book is courtesy
of Ross E. Lockhart. Thanks, Ross!

Other goodies included bookmarks, stickers, and postcards....And, to top it off, the Deluxe Pack also included an ebook edition of the anthology, in the reader's format of choice.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Charles Stross's The Rhesus Chart: "Pounce!"

The Rhesus ChartToday -- July 1 -- is the publication date for The Rhesus Chart, the fifth in the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross.

How the first two Laundry Files books came to be published by Golden Gryphon Press I have written about at length in my blog post of December 10, 2009. But suffice to say that when Charlie and I first met, albeit briefly, at the ConJosé WorldCon in 2002, I asked for an original novella, and Charlie offered me a novel that crossed so many genres that his agent, he said, didn't know what to do with it. Fortunately, I did, and the rest, as they say, is Laundry Files history. The Atrocity Archives turned out to be an ideal book for a small press publisher. The first print run of 3,000 hardcovers sold out in about three months, so the book had a second hardcover printing. Not too shabby for a small press that was then publishing six hardcovers per year.

I've been fortunate to have worked on all five Laundry Files novels, even when book 3, The Fuller Memorandum, was acquired and published by Ace Books. I've written about all three Ace Laundry Files novels within this blog, but you may find of special interest (especially if you are a writer) my blog post of exactly two years ago, on The Apocalypse Codex, entitled "Doing Charles Stross's Laundry with Style."

But back to The Rhesus Chart... How can you go wrong with a novel that opens with the following line:
"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo, "everybody knows vampires don't exist."

The Rhesus Chart was recently graced with a starred Kirkus review. Let me repeat that: a starred Kirkus review. A review by Kirkus is difficult enough to come by, but a starred review? Now that's a treat. The review was posted online on June 5 and appeared in the June 15 issue of Kirkus Reivews. Here's a taste:
Fast-tracked into management after recent successes, Bob grows suspicious when a whiz-kid team of investment bankers which calls itself the Scrum discovers an algorithm that promises to make its members billions in profits but whose unfortunate side to turn them into vampires. (The supreme irony of this will be lost on few readers.) An added complication for Bob is that the Scrum's ringleader, Mhari Murphy, is an ex-girlfriend. More peculiar yet, why is everybody in the Laundry convinced that vampires don't exist? Bob's superiors take prompt action—and form a committee. Laundry regulars by now will be familiar with Stross' trademark sardonic, provocative, disturbing, allusion-filled narrative. And, here, with a structure strongly reminiscent of Len Deighton's early spy novels, the tone grows markedly grimmer, with several significant casualties and tragedies, perhaps in preparation for Angleton's [Bob's superior] feared CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

Stross at the top of his game—which is to say, few do it better. Pounce!

Courtesy of the author Charles Stross and Ace Books, the entire first chapter of The Rhesus Chart has been posted online for your reading pleasure. If you are unfamiliar with the Laundry Files tales, The Rhesus Chart is actually a good place to start.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Received...The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2

Very Best of F&SF V2The second project I worked on this year was The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume Two, edited by Gordon Van Gelder -- and the first project for this year for Tachyon Publications.

Reading this volume of The Very Best of F&SF is like peering into a time capsule of the history (well, at least as far back as the '50s) of fantasy and science fiction short stories, from "The Third Level" by Jack Finney, published in 1952, to the most recent story, "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu, published in 2011.

My blog post of January 24 lists the full table of contents, along with some personal thoughts on the stories themselves.

And if this "very best of" Volume Two intrigues you, then please check out the previous volume, The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which I worked on in early 2009. I didn't post the table of contents at that time, but the stories range from "Of Time and Third Avenue" by Alfred Bester (1951) to "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (2007). This first volume also includes the original Hugo Award-winning novella "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes, who passed away on June 15.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lenovo ThinkCentre M73 Mini Tower

In the fall of 2011, my old Compaq laptop finally gave up the ghost. I won't touch any Dell hardware (in fact, Dell couldn't give me a laptop for free -- I wouldn't accept it; I used a Dell laptop when I worked at LSI Logic and it always seemed to have one hardware problem after another); and as for HP, well, not only do their laptops run exceedingly hot, one never knows from day to day whether HP will still be in the PC business. So, I had heard good things about Lenovo (a Chinese-based company that had bought the IBM ThinkPad name and division), did some research -- and I ended up purchasing a Lenovo IdeaPad Z575, which I unboxed in this blog post on November 5, 2011.

The Z575 is a beautiful piece of hardware, with its 15.6-inch backlit HD display, and has performed superbly these past two-and-a-half years (knock on wood!). So, when it came time to replace my XP box (now that Microsoft is no longer supporting XP), I looked to Lenovo for that replacement.

Of course, I'm not one to purchase an off-the-shelf box. I had to put this one together, option by option, from the Lenovo website. I checked out the K-series towers, but eventually decided on the M-series. I had initially settled on the M93p tower, and had it completely configured, when I figuratively slapped my hand, realizing that I didn't need that much power. So I settled for the ThinkCentre M73 mini tower instead. But, within that tower, I selected some special goodies.

I placed the order on March 27 with the understanding that delivery could be a minimum of 5 weeks; that's correct: 5 weeks. On April 8 I received a follow-up email that my order has been delayed and will be delivered within 30 days. Unfortunately, I had an open window in my schedule at the end of the 5 weeks, but not within that 30-day-delay window. Finally, on May 2, I received a shipment confirmation email. The box arrived on Friday, May 9, and has been sitting in a back room, still sealed, ever since.

Like I said, I didn't have an open window in my schedule at the end of those additional 30 days. See my recent blog posts on BayCon 2014 (which included the Writers Workshop and meeting with Matt Maxwell, upon my completing work on his novel Blue Highway) and the Kate Elliott "best of" collection (actually the "very best of"!).

But you're probably thinking, Just unpack the box, take out the bloody tower, and hook it up....

Unfortunately, the tower only came with Microsoft Office 2013 and Adobe Acrobat XI. If those were the only applications I needed to do my work, well, then, I could indeed have hooked everything up within a day. But then there were the Windows 7 drivers I had to track down for my Canoscan 4200F scanner. I had to install more than forty additional applications, some from discs (Acronis True Image Premium 2014 [and then create a bootable recovery disc], Epson WorkForce WF-3540 drivers and apps, FileMaker Pro 11, OmniPage Pro 18, and Webroot Personal Security, just to name a few), but most from online sources, too many to list fully, but here are a few: Google Chrome, Google Keep, Mozilla Firefox, 7Zip, Belarc Advisor, Evernote, FileZilla FTP, Greenshot, Homebase 3, Secunia PSI, TeamViewer 9, and five different cloud services. And, as I said, these are just a few.

Not to mention the fact that I've been using Microsoft Office 2003 for more than ten years; Microsoft Office 2010 only occasionally, when I use my ASUS Zenbook (see this blog post), which is typically when I'm traveling. But this new Lenovo box comes with Microsoft Office 2013, and I'm still trying to find the "x" to close just the document in MS Word without having to close the entire app. So, if I'm going to use this new tower for my day-to-day work, then I'm going to need a few days to familiarize myself with all the new apps (Greenshot, for one; since the previous screen capture utility I used doesn't work on Win7) and capabilities.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Editing in Process...The Very Best of Kate Elliott

The Very Best of Kate Elliott
Cover Art by Julie Dillion
The beauty of any "best of" collection is that it allows the reader to experience the full expanse of the author's writing and story telling. And, if the collection is indeed worth its (literal) weight, then the book will hopefully have some small treasure, a story unfamiliar to the reader, even if the reader is one of the author's biggest fans. That was true of The Very Best of Tad Williams (see my November 13, 2013 blog post); and it holds true on my most recent project, The Very Best of Kate Elliott, both from Tachyon Publications.

My commitment for the Kate Elliott project was to have the entire 113,000-word collection reviewed and copy edited by "early June." At issue, though, was that two-thirds of the overall word count -- approximately 75,000 words -- needed to be scanned in, and then the scanned files cleaned up (formatting problems, scanning errors, etc.). I completed all the scanning, and emailed the completed files to Tachyon on May 15. I then used the following week to prepare for BayCon 2014, held on the Memorial Day weekend, which I blogged about at length here. After recovering from the con, I then proceeded to work on the Kate Elliott manuscript files, all of which were completed -- on schedule -- the first week of June. (A bit of work had to be done during the intervening weekend as well to ensure that I completed the project by "early June.")

Given the sources of their original publication, the majority of these Kate Elliott (the pseudonym of Alis A. Rasmussen) stories were new to me. Six of the twelve stories, for example, were originally published in anthologies from DAW Books, only one of which, the DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction Anthology, edited by Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila E. Gilbert (2003), was known to me. Of the other six stories, one previously appeared online only on, and another -- "On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New" -- is original to this collection.

Regardless of the source of these stories, they are all as varied, and finely crafted, as the anthologies in which they originally appeared. My favorite story would have to be "A Simple Act of Kindness," which originally appeared in The Shimmering Door, edited by Katharine Kerr (HarperPrism, 1996). The story of Daniella, a young girl who, in some ways, feels safer out in a storm at night -- even a night and a storm such as this -- searching for lost sheep, than at home with her family (not the least of which is "her cousin Robert, who had been pestering her for months now, ever since her first bleeding came on her"). To set the scene:
Clouds massed, black and brooding, over the hills and the great length of forest that bordered the village of Sant Laon. They sat, almost as if they were waiting, and the wind died down and tendrils of mist and spatterings of rain were all that came of them through the day. At evening mass, at a twilight brought early by the lowering clouds, Deacon Joceran spoke solemnly of storms called up by unnatural means, and she warned all the villagers to bar their doors and shutters that night and to hang an iron knife or pot above the door and a sprig of rosemary above the window.
Unknown creatures, dark shapes, darker than the night, pass Daniella as she searches for the lost ewe. The thing the creatures seek takes refuge with its horse in the church, and Daniella follows it inside. the light of seven candles lit round the altar and protected by glass jars, Daniella saw it was no Thing at all but a young woman, dark-haired and dark eyed, her skin dusky colored like bread baked too long in the oven.... The horse was a fine beast, big-boned but not enormous, with an intelligent head—a nobleman's mount. Tied on beside the saddlebags were a tasselled bowcase of leather embossed with griffins and a quiver full of arrows. A small shield painted black hung from the saddle. The woman wore a sword at her belt.
Since this is a spoiler-free post, I'll only say that Daniella's selfless act that night brings her to the attention of these dark creatures, and you'll need to read the story (if you haven't done so previously) to learn the ripple effect this has on Daniella, her family, and the village of Sant Laon. It's certainly not a "happily ever after" story, at least for Daniella.

Here are the twelve stories:
The Gates of Joriun
Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine
The Queen's Garden
On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New
The Memory of Peace
With God to Guard Her
Riding the Shore of the River of Death
My Voice Is in My Sword
A Simple Act of Kindness
To Be a Man
Making the World Live Again
In addition to these stories, the author has also included four essays, all in print for the first time: two originally appeared on, a third appeared on SF Signal, and the fourth essay on Here are the four essays:
The Omniscient Breasts: The Male Gaze through Female Eyes
The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain
And Pharaoh's Heart Hardened
The Status Quo Does Not Need World Building
These essays are an added bonus, and provide the reader with some insight into Kate Elliott the person as well as a foundation for much of her story-telling.

Lastly, I hope you are as knocked out by Julie Dillon's cover art as I am. In a one-pager entitled "About the Cover Art" in the book, Kate Elliott states that Dillon's art illustrates a passage from Cold Steel (Book 3 in the author's Spiritwalker Trilogy).

[Update, about two hours later]
I realized that I neglected to mention the introduction that Ms. Elliott wrote specifically for this collection. Subtitled "The Landscape That Surrounds Us," this new intro clocks in at nearly 3100 words and ten manuscript pages -- and sets the tone for the entire volume. The author writes at length about her childhood, growing up in rural Oregon, and how the life she led influenced her writing.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Received...James Morrow

The Madonna and the StarshipLast fall I had the pleasure of working on yet another James Morrow novella from Tachyon Publications: The Madonna and the Starship. You can read about my work on this book in my blog post dated November 24, 2013.

But all you really need to know about James Morrow -- and all of his stories -- are these six words I used to describe him in that blog post: James Morrow is an absolute master of the sardonic.

But don't take my word for it, read this novella for yourself. The Madonna and the Starship is now available from you favorite store, physical or virtual -- and I have the proof, since my contributor's copy arrived this week.

Here's an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly starred review:
Jonathan Swift meets Buck Rogers in this hilarious send-up of the golden ages of television and pulp sci-fi.... [L]obster-like extraterrestrials get wind of "Sitting Shivah for Jesus," an upcoming episode of a Sunday-morning religious program written by Kurt's love interest, Connie Osborne. The crustacean "logical positivists" propose to use their death ray to annihilate the show's two million devout, "irrational" viewers. Can Kurt and Connie refashion her script into a satirical, sacrilegious screed, forestalling mass slaughter? This delightful romp from Morrow provides the breathless answer in short order; no need to wait for next week to tune in and find out.

Friday, June 6, 2014

News of the Day:

BayCon 2014 Recap

This was the first year that I volunteered to participate in the BayCon Writers Workshop. My group was scheduled for Saturday, May 24, from 2:00-5:00pm. I had three stories to critique, so I set aside the weekdays prior to BayCon to read -- and reread -- mark up, and then critique the three stories.

The other "Pros" in my workshop group were Jennifer Carson and Candy Lowe; the three "Writer Participants" were Dana Ardis ("Whetstone"), Susan Mittmann ("Perceiving Gabi"), and Francesco Radicati ("A Fistful of Brifgars").

I understand that the BayCon Writers Workshop follows the Clarion format, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with said format. Each of the three writers was critiqued by the five other workshop participants. We had three minutes apiece, I believe, to provide feedback to the respective writer. That means each writer had to listen to input for fifteen minutes (and from five different people) before responding. Fifteen minutes yields a lot of input. If the writer jots down notes, then the note-taking process interferes with the ongoing critique: one cannot write down what has just been said, or a question in response to what has just been said, and listen to new input at the same time. Fifteen minutes of input is simply overwhelming. Regardless, that is the process, and a writer who participates in the BayCon Writers Workshop must work with it.

The story "A Fistful of Brifgars" by Francesco Radicati was a takeoff, an homage, of the movie A Fistful of Dollars. A delightful story with a surprise ending. Our review of the story yielded a couple of specific improvements that would have given it a rock-solid plot, at which point we felt the story could be submitted for publication. Unfortunately, Francesco had already sent out the story to every print and online magazine we suggested, and the story had been rejected by all of them. (Remember, this was prior to our suggested improvements.) Francesco will now have to dig a bit deeper into second- and even third-tier venues in his effort to have this story published. The lesson learned here? If you are going to have a story critiqued -- workshopped -- do it before you submit the story for publication, not after. Of course, the caveat is that you may not realize the story needs work before you send it out. In that case, once the story has been rejected by two, or even three venues, consider that it might need some rework before sending it out to every venue you can think of.

The fifteen-minute critiquing format aside, the workshop was both an enjoyable experience as well as a learning experience for me and I would be willing to participate again next year, if they'll have me.

Before going any further, I need to give a shout out to the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara Hotel. When I reserve a hotel room, I specifically request a quiet room as well as a feather-free room. I can handle a feather comforter, but I have to avoid feather pillows, otherwise I will experience breathing difficulties throughout the night. So, when I first enter a hotel room, the first thing I do is check the pillows to make sure they are foam, and not feather. Unfortunately, this time around, I neglected to perform that critical check. We (my wife Diane and I) checked in around 11:00am on Saturday, and once in the room immediately unpacked and then prepared to meet someone for lunch (more on this in a bit). We were just about ready to leave the room when the phone rang: the front desk had called. Evidently the staff person realized I had checked in early and the room still had feather pillows and blanket. I requested that just the pillows need to be swapped out and before we had left the room for lunch, housekeeping had shown up to remove the feather pillows. Had the front desk not caught my negligence, I probably wouldn't have discovered the feather pillows until late that night when we were readying for bed, and I would have had to deal with getting foam pillow replacements from the hotel's night shift. So, thank you Hyatt Regency for being aware of your guests' special requests.

My other shout out goes to the staff of the TusCA Restaurant, located within the hotel. I will admit it, I am a chocolate freak. When I travel, I typically take some chocolate with me; but this time I forgot. By Sunday afternoon Diane and I were both craving chocolate, and there was none to be found. So we planned to have some chocolate dessert after dinner. Unfortunately, the dessert menu only had a couple items with a chocolate sauce; we wanted chocolate! When the waiter (my apologies but I do not recall his name) (I seem to be forgetting a lot lately...hmm....) returned to our table for our dessert order, I explained the problem -- chocolate sauce, but no actual chocolate dessert. He said that he just may be able to get us a slice of chocolate cake: Would that do? YES! And, of course, he returned a short while later with a huge, and wonderful, slice of chocolate cake, which Diane and I shared. (Actually, I think she took a couple bites and said enough, and I ate all the rest; remember, I'm the chocolate freak.) Now the waiter could have said something like, I'm sorry that we don't have the dessert you want; I'll bring you your check. But he made the extra effort, which was the icing -- literally and figuratively -- on an excellent meal.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Received...Barbara J. Webb

City of Burning ShadowsAs I have previously mentioned, I work directly with writers on their unpublished manuscripts. Some of these writers plan to self-publish their work; others want an edited manuscript to submit to an agent/publisher.

Toward the end of last year, I worked with author Barbara J. Webb on her soon-to-be-self-published novel City of Burning Shadows: the first volume in her new series, Apocrypha: The Dying World.

My "Editing in Process" blog entry was posted on January 12, and included a very brief excerpt (just a few paragraphs) from the novel. City of Burning Shadows was published shortly thereafter in March, in both Kindle and trade paperback editions.

About a week ago I received my comp copy of the trade paperback from Barbara. As to that gap in time from March, when the book was published, until now, well, Barbara shared a few life-happenings with me and, with her permission, I'll share them with you as well. But just a quick recap:

Barbara was invited to participate in the Rio Hondo Writers Workshop, hosted by Walter Jon Williams and held in northern New Mexico in the Taos Ski Valley. I don't have a complete roster, but I've seen a few photos posted on Facebook and recognized Nina Kiriki Hoffman, James Patrick Kelly, David D. Levine, and Rick Wilber in attendance. Now, you would expect a writer to attend a writing workshop, but Barbara is also a professional violinist, and a member of the Columbia Civic Orchestra. And the demand for orchestras -- and violinists -- is at its highest during the April/May Easter season and the Christmas holiday season. So, while Barbara played her violin, and then wrote fiction at a ski lodge (and ate fancy food, and hung out in the hot tub with other writers), I waited patiently for my copy of City of Burning Shadows.

But you won't have to wait: City of Burning Shadows is available now for your reading pleasure.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Received...The Very Best of Tad Williams

The Very Best of Tad Williams
Short story collection The Very Best of Tad Williams has recently been published by Tachyon Publications and should now be available in bookstores, real and virtual, at this time.

This post is to acknowledge receipt of my comp copy of the book, as I copy edited the 135,000-word manuscript last fall. In fact, should you so desire, you can read my "Editing in Process" blog post from November 13, 2013 -- assuming you haven't done so already.

Here's a brief excerpt from the Publishers Weekly starred review:
This marvelous short fiction retrospective testifies to the breadth of Williams's creativity...."A Stark and Wormy Knight," a linguistic tour de force, shows without one misplaced word just how clever dragons can be. Williams's sensitivity to atmosphere and trademark attention to telling detail shine through most of the selections in this varied collection of little gems.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Editing in Process...The Children of Old Leech

Cover design by Matthew Revert
When a publisher self-destructs, all that remains are the books that were published -- and I'll be the first to admit that the original Night Shade Books published some amazing, even awe-inspiring, books.1

Three such books were written by Laird Barron. But, now that I think about it, maybe "amazing, even awe-inspiring" aren't the appropriate words to use to describe a Laird Barron book. I had read a few of his stories in various anthologies, and then in April 2007 I had the opportunity to copy edit his collection: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories. I was excited to work on this, the author's first collection, but that excitement was tempered with trepidation. You'll know what I mean if you've ever read a Laird Barron story. His writing is difficult to describe; his stories are categorized as "horror" and "dark fantasy," but neither of those terms aptly describes what the reader experiences. A Laird Barron story isn't scary, nor is it shocking; the best word that immediately comes to mind is "dread": a feeling of impending doom that permeates throughout the entirety of a Laird Barron story. And even though no doom may befall the protagonist, the feeling persists nonetheless -- even after the story has been read, the book closed and put away.

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories was followed by Occultation and Other Stories, a second collection that I worked on in January 2010. All of which paved the way for Laird's first novel, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, one of the last books that I worked on (December 2012) before opting out of Night Shade Books (before they kicked me out).

Laird Barron typically writes novella-length stories: they are long, like 25,000-35,000 words long, but while reading one, I can still see the light at the end of the tunnel; I know that if I hang in there for another 20 or so pages, I'll get to the end, be able to finally take a breath without that feeling of dread directly pressing down upon me. But a novel? A book-length story? Would I be able to hold my breath, as it were, through an entire novel? Obviously, but certainly not unscathed....

Which brings me to Laird Barron (sort of) and Word Horde, a relatively new publisher, headed by Ross E. Lockhart. As some of you may know, Ross wore many hats during his five years with Night Shade Books. He was the "go to" guy for books, hardcopies, files, questions, whatever. Ross did the majority of book layouts and then worked with the authors directly once I completed my edits.2 He even edited quite a few titles himself as well. After departing NSB, Ross formed Word Horde and published his first book in August 2013: Tales of Jack the Ripper, an anthology which Ross himself edited. Ross and I signed an agreement on May 13, 2013, and shortly thereafter I began copy editing Tales of Jack the Ripper, which I wrote about last year in a blog post on June 5.

Now Ross and Word Horde is gearing up to publish his second anthology, this one co-edited with Justin Steele, entitled The Children of Old Leech -- pictured above. But it is the subtitle that's the clincher: "A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron." Imagine, 17 stories (by 19 authors) and more than 100,000 words of fiction, written using characters, situations, and locales created by Laird Barron. It gave me the willies just thinking about it... And that was even before I worked on the book!

Here's the table of contents for The Children of Old Leech, an anthology of original fiction:
Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers — Justin Steele
The Harrow — Gemma Files
Pale Apostle — J. T. Glover & Jesse Bullington
Walpurgisnacht — Orrin Grey
Learn to Kill — Michael Cisco
Good Lord, Show Me the Way — Molly Tanzer
Snake Wine — Jeffrey Thomas
Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox — T.E. Grau
The Old Pageant — Richard Gavin
Notes for "The Barn in the Wild" — Paul Tremblay
Firedancing — Michael Griffin
The Golden Stars at Night — Allyson Bird
The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays — Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Woman in the Wood — Daniel Mills
Brushdogs — Stephen Graham Jones
Ymir — John Langan
Of a Thousand Cuts — Cody Goodfellow
Tenebrionidae — Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay
Afterword — Ross E. Lockhart

Friday, April 18, 2014

One more from Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

"If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Memory of Gabriel García Márquez, 6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014

"When I finished one book, I wouldn't write for a while," he said in 1966. "Then I had to learn how to do it all over again. The arm goes cold; there's a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing."
- Gabriel García Márquez

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Journey Through the Past: MS Dos 6.22, Windows 3.11, 1GB HDD

I'm getting ready to retire my Windows XP box (more on this in a future blog post), now that Microsoft is no longer supporting XP. While preparing for this event -- and process: more than 50 software applications to install on the new system when it arrives! -- I was sorting through some boxes of old files and software....

In 1995 I was finally ready to purchase my first Microsoft Windows computer (up to this point I was all Apple). But I didn't want an off-the-shelf box -- in fact, in 1995, I'm not even sure you could buy an OTS PC. So I arranged a lunch meeting in Sunnyvale (California) with my best friend Randy Davis, who worked for Lockheed at the time, and one of his best friends, Kelly Floyd, who, I believe, worked for Hewlett-Packard. And, during lunch, the three of us built -- on paper -- a top-of-the-line Windows PC. Don't forget, this was 1995.

So while I was sorting through those boxes I mentioned above, I came across the original invoice for the purchase of that first PC -- almost 19 years to the day -- on April 15, 1995.

Since this JPG of the invoice is a bit difficult to read, here's a link to the PDF version -- much brighter and easier to read, though I can only post the link to the document.

But for those who aren't into JPGs or links to PDFs, here is the parts list direct from the invoice:

INTEL PENTIUM-9O CPU L502376050179
8M SIMM (72 PINS) Bl09
CPU HEAT SINK & FAN FOR P5-75/90/100

Mind-boggling, isn't it: DOS! Windows 3.11. Western Digital, one of the best hard drives at the time, with a whopping 1GB of storage (I now have a 32GB thumbdrive that I use with my Nexus 7 tablet!), along with a tape backup! Thank gawd I never had to actually use that tape backup to recover files or data.... The Spider Tarantula video card and Sound Blaster sound card were state-of-the-art. And 8 Megs of RAM!

The total price, including sales tax (7.75% in 1995 -- which is quite surprising considering that the current sales tax is only one percent more): $3,325.74. That was not a cheap PC.

Of course, HKG Computers in Sunnyvale is no longer with us; probably hasn't been located in that store front for more than a decade. A lot has changed since then.

Special thanks to Neil Young for the loan of the title Journey Through the Past.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 3 of 3)

What You Are About To See
by Jack Skillingstead

[Continued from Part 2]

Probabilities shuffled...

* * * *

I woke up next to my wife. In the ticking darkness of our bedroom I breathed a name: "Andy."

Connie shifted position, cuddling into me. Her familiar body. I put my arm around her and stared into the dark, hunting elusive memories. Without them I wasn't who I thought I was. After a while Connie asked:

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I think I was having a dream about Andy McCaslin. It woke me up."


"Guy I knew from the Rangers, long time ago. I told you about him. We were friends."

Connie suppressed a yawn. "He died, didn't he? You never said how."

"Covert op in Central America. He found himself in the custody some rebels."


"They kept him alive for weeks while they interrogated him."

"God. Are you—"

"That was decades ago, Con. Dreams are strange, sometimes."

I slipped out of the bed.

"Where are you going?"

"Have some tea and think for a while. My night's shot anyway."

"Want company?"

"Maybe I'll sit by myself. Go back to sleep. You've got an early one."

"Sure? I could make some eggs or something."

"No, I'm good."

But I wasn't. In my basement office, consoling tea near at hand, I contemplated my dead friend and concluded he wasn't supposed to be that way. My old dreams of pain surged up out of the place at the bottom of my mind, the place that enclosed Andy and what I knew had happened to him, the place of batteries and alligator clips, hemp ropes, sharpened bamboo slivers, the vault of horrors far worse than any I'd endured as a child and from which I fled to the serenity of an office cubicle and regular hours.

But that wasn't supposed to have happened, not to Andy. I rubbed my temple, eyes closed in the dim basement office, and suddenly a word spoke itself on my lips:


* * * *

My name is Brian Kinney, and today I am not an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic who could not restrain his demons. During my childhood those demons frequently emerged to torment me and my mother. Dad's goodness, which was true and present, was not enough to balance the equation between pain and love. I had been skewing toward my own demon-haunted landscape when Andy McCaslin took my gun from my hand and balanced out the equation for me.

My new world order.

* * * *

I'm driving through the moonless Arizona desert at two o'clock in the morning, looking for a turn-off that doesn't exist. After an hour or so a peculiar, hovering pink light appears in the distance, far off the road. I slow, angle onto the berm, ease the Outback down to the desert floor, and go bucketing overland toward the light.

* * * *

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 2 of 3)

"What You Are About To See"
by Jack Skillingstead

[Continued from Part 1]

The moon was a white poker chip. The desert slipped past us, cold blue with black ink shadows. We rode in Andy's private vehicle, a late model Jeep Cherokee. He had already been driving all day, having departed from the L.A. office that morning, dropping everything to pursue "something like a dream" that had beckoned to him.

"Care to reveal our destination?" I asked.

"I don't want to tell you anything beforehand. It might influence you, give you some preconception. Your mind has to be clear or this won't work."

"Okay, I'll think only happy thoughts."

"Good. Hang on, by the way."

He slowed then suddenly pulled off the two-lane road. We jolted over desert hardpan. Scrub brush clawed at the Cherokee's undercarriage.

"Ah, the road's back thataway," I said.

He nodded and kept going. A bumpy twenty minutes or so passed. Then we stopped, for no obvious reason, and he killed the engine. I looked around. We were exactly in the middle of nowhere. It looked a lot like my personal mental landscape.

"I know this isn't a joke," I said, "because you are not a funny guy."

"Come on."

We got out. Andy was tall, Scotch-Irish, big through the shoulders and gut. He was wearing a sheepskin jacket, jeans and cowboy boots. A real shit-kickin' son of a bitch. Yee haw. He had a few other sheepskins somewhere, but his walls were wearing those. I followed him away from the Jeep.

"Tell me what you see," he said.

I looked around.

"Not much."

"Be specific."

I cleared my throat. "Okay. Empty desert, scrub brush, cactus. Lots of sand. There is no doubt a large population of venomous snakes slithering underfoot looking for something to bite, though I don't exactly see them. There's also a pretty moon in the sky. So?"

I rubbed my hands together, shifted my feet. I'd worn a Sun Devils sweatshirt, which was insufficient. Besides that I could have used a drink. But of course these days I could always use a drink. After a lifetime of grimly determined sobriety I'd discovered that booze was an effective demon-suppressor and required exactly the opposite of willpower, which is what I'd been relying on up till Connie's death. I have no idea what my father's demons might have been. He checked out by a self-inflicted route before we got around to discussing that. I almost did the same a couple of years later, while in the thick of Ranger training, where I'd fled in desperate quest of discipline and structure and a sense of belonging to something. Andy talked me out of shooting myself and afterwards kept the incident private. I sometimes wondered whether he regretted that. Offing myself may have been part of a balancing equation designed to subtract a measure of suffering from the world.

Now, in the desert, he withdrew a pack of Camels from his coat pocket and lit up. I remembered my dad buying his packs at the 7-Eleven, when I was a little kid.

"Hey, you don't smoke," I said to Andy.

"I don't? What do you call this?" He waved the cigarette at me. "Look, Brian, what would you say if I told you we were standing outside a large military instillation?"

"I'd say okay, but it must be invisible."

"It is."

I laughed. Andy didn't.

"Come on," I said.

"All right, it's not invisible. But it's not exactly here, either."

"That I can see. Can't see?"

"Close your eyes."

"Then I won't be able to see anything, including the invisible military instillation."

"Do it anyway," he said. "Trust me. I've done this before. So have you, probably."

I hesitated. Andy was a good guy—my friend, or the closest thing to one that I'd ever allowed. But it now crossed my mind that my informal status vis-à-vis the Agency was about to become terminally informal. Certainly there was precedent. We who work on the fringes where the rules don't constrain our actions are also subject to the anything-goes approach on the part of our handlers. Was I on the verge of being...severed? By Andy McCaslin? He stood before me with his damn cigarette, smoke drifting from his lips, his eyes black as oil in the moonlight.

"Trust me, Brian."

Maybe it was the lingering wine buzz. But I decided I did trust him, or needed to, because he was the only one I ever had trusted. I closed my eyes. The breeze carried his smoke into my face. My dad had been redolent of that stink. Not a good sense-memory. But when I was little I loved the look of the cigarette cartons and packages, the way my dad would say, Pack a Camels non-filter, and the clerk would turn to the rack behind him and pick out the right one, like a game show.

"Now relax your mind," Andy said.

"Consider it relaxed, Swami."

"Try to be serious."

"I'll try."

"Remember the empty mind trick they taught us, in case we ever got ourselves captured by unfriendlies?"


"Do that. Empty your mind."

It was easy, and I didn't learn it from the Army. I learned it at my father's knee, you might say. Survival technique number one: Empty your mind. Don't be there. Don't hear the screaming, even your own.

Andy said, "I'm going to say a word. When I do, let your mind fill with whatever the word evokes."

I nodded, waited, smelling the Camel smoke, my head not empty in the way Andy wanted it to be. I was too preoccupied by a memory of smoke.

"Arrowhead," Andy said.

I felt...something.

Andy said, "Shit. And then, "What you are about to see is real. Okay, open your eyes."

We were now standing outside a 7-Eleven store. The desert ran right up to the walls. A tumbleweed bumped against the double glass doors. The interior was brightly lit. In the back I could make out a pair of Slurpee machines slow-swirling icy drinks in primary colors. After a while I closed my mouth and turned to Andy.

"Where the hell did this come from?"

"Instant Unconsciously Directed Association. You like that? I made it up. Only I don't know why this should be your Eyeooda for Arrowhead. I was hoping you'd bring up the real place. Anyway, let's go inside while it lasts."

He started forward but I grabbed his arm.

"Wait a minute. Are we still operating under the disengagement of preconceived notions policy, or whatever?"

He thought about it for a moment then said, "I guess not, now that we're sharing a consensus reality. Brian, this 7-Eleven is actually the Arrowhead Installation."

The coal of an extinguished memory glowed dimly. I knew Arrowhead, or thought I did. A top secret base located more or less in that part of the Arizona desert in which we now found ourselves. Or was/did it? The memory was so enfeebled that if I didn't hold it just so it would blow away like dandelion fluff. Still, this wasn't a military base; it was a convenience store.

"Bullshit?" I said.

Do you remember Arrowhead?" Andy asked.

"Sort of. What is this, what's going on?"

"Listen to me, Brian. We finally got one. We finally got an honest to God extraterrestrial—and it's in there."

"In the 7-Eleven."

"No. In the Arrowhead facility that looks like a 7-Eleven in our present consensus reality. The alien is hiding itself and the installation in some kind of stealth transdimensional mirror trick, or something. I've been here before. So have you. Our dreams can still remember. I've come out to the desert—I don't know, dozens of times? I've talked to it, the alien. It shuffles reality. I keep waking up, then going back to sleep. Here's the thing. It can cloak its prison, reinterpret its appearance, but it can't escape."

I regarded him skeptically, did some mental shuffling of my own, discarded various justifiable but unproductive responses, and said: "What's it want?"

"It wants you to let it go."

"Why me?"

"Ask it yourself. But watch out. That little fucker is messing with our heads."

* * * *