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.