Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia: Sidewise Award Finalist

Pirate UtopiaFrom the Awards' website: "The Sidewise Awards have been presented annually since 1995 to recognize excellence in alternate historical fiction." This year, Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia is among the six finalists in the Best Short-Form Alternate History category.[1] The award winners will be announced on August 20, 2017.

Fortunately, Pirate Utopia is still available in hardcover, which is a must-see format for the period-specific (and quite marvelous) illustrations by John Coulthart. I've posted some of these illos in my blog posts of June 14, 2016, and July 14, 2016. Keep in mind these few illustrations are only a sampling, but hopefully enough to give you a taste of what's included in the book. (And let's not forget that the book also includes an enlightening 1,000-plus-word essay entitled "Reconstructing the Future: A Note on Design" from the illustrator himself.)

But getting back to the story itself, imagine that Harry Houdini, Howard Lovecraft, and Robert “Bob” Ervin Howard are members of a United States Secret Service delegation to the Republic of Carno in September 1920. Remember, this is an alternate history story! You can read more about Pirate Utopia's "Cast of Characters" in my June 10, 2016, blog post, in which I wrote about my initial work on this novella.

And in addition to the *starred* Publishers Weekly review I posted on October 6, 2016, here's the *starred* Kirkus review:

by Bruce Sterling; illustrated by John Coulthart
Noted sci-fi maven and futurologist Sterling (Love Is Strange, 2012, etc.) takes a side turn in the slipstream in this offbeat, sometimes-puzzling work of dieselpunk-y alternative history.

Resident in Turin, hometown of Calvino, for a dozen years, Sterling has long been experimenting with what the Italians call fantascienza, a mashup of history and speculation that's not quite science fiction but is kin to it. Take, for example, the fact that Harry Houdini once worked for the Secret Service, add to it the fact that H. P. Lovecraft once worked for Houdini, and ecco: why not posit Lovecraft as a particularly American kind of spook, "not that old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger, European style of spy," who trundles out to Fiume to see what's what in the birthplace of Italian futurism-turned-fascism? Lovecraft is just one of the historical figures who flits across Sterling's pages, which bear suitably futuristic artwork, quite wonderful, by British illustrator John Coulthart. Among the others are Woodrow Wilson and Adolf Hitler, to say nothing of Gabriele D'Annunzio and Benito Mussolini. "Seen from upstream, most previous times seem mad," notes graphic novelist Warren Ellis in a brief introduction, but the Futurist project seems particularly nutty from this distance; personified by Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of World War I who leads the outlaw coalition called the Strike of the Hand Committee in the "pirate utopia" of the soi disant Republic of Carnaro, its first task is to build some torpedoes and then turn them into "radio-controlled, airborne Futurist torpedoes," not the easiest thing considering the technological limitations of the time. A leader of the "Desperates," who "came from anywhere where life was hard, but honor was still bright," Secondari and The Prophet—D'Annunzio, that is—recognize no such limitations and discard anything that doesn't push toward the future. So why not a flying pontoon boat with which to sail off to Chicago, and why not a partnership with Houdini to combat world communism?

A kind of Ragtime for our time: provocative, exotic, and very entertaining.

Pirate Utopia is available direct from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, as well as, or your bookseller of choice.


[1] The Sidewise Awards website has a complete list of the 2017 award finalists.

Abraham Lincoln Quote

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lavie Tidhar's Central Station Wins the John W. Campbell Award

New Central StationIn a May 3 blog post, I announced that Lavie Tidhar's novel Central Station was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (the winner to be announced in the U.K. on July 27).

And today I'm pleased to announce that Central Station has won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year.[1]  The award was presented during the Campbell Conference, on June 16-18, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The Campbell Conference is an annual weekend event focusing on "discussions about the writing, illustration, publishing, teaching, and criticism of science fiction."

I worked on Central Station back in 2015, and wrote about it in my November 30 blog post. And in my book received post on May 6, 2016, I included some thoughts from the author himself when he announced the sale of Central Station to Tachyon Publications. Between these three blog posts of mine, you can read commentary from the author Lavie Tidhar, excerpts from the book itself, and starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

Central Station is currently available direct from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, as well as, or your bookseller of choice.


[1] The John W. Campbell Memorial Award website has a complete list of the 2017 award finalists.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Demon Spawn: The Painters From Hell

On May 16, I posted a couple pics of our dining room "under construction," as it were. The painting was to have taken a week to ten days; unfortunately, the project took a full two weeks -- maybe because the painters had to redo so much of their work, which is surprising since they were only working in two rooms, a very small entrance way, and a hallway. Of course, some things got five coats of paint! Why five coats, you may ask? Because after the bookcases were primered (one coat), they painted them two coats the wrong color, and had to repaint them an additional two coats the correct color once my wife and I discovered the error.

I was going to do an entire blog post -- with photos -- as a way of flushing all this crap out of my system, but the wife said let it go, it's not worth it. (She, who told the company she never wants one of their painters to ever set foot in our house again -- so all the repair and touch up work we had -- and still have -- to do is on us, along with the help of our handyman, at a cost, of course.)

The dust generated from spray painting the ceiling was so intense that it set off our smoke alarms. We had dust and white spray paint everywhere! Even in rooms in which the painters never set foot! After these yahoos left, we had to scrape every window in the living room, dining room, kitchen, and entrance way with razor blades to remove the spray. My wife, bless her heart, spent three hours scrubbing the white spray off the fireplace bricks with a bloody toothbrush to get in amongst all the nooks and crannies in the brick. And let's not forget the three hours cleaning the two sets of full-window blinds from the dining room, slat by bloody slat, because the brainless painters left them lying on the floor to inherit all the dust they generated during the spray painting. I could go on, and on (and on), but the wife said, "Let it go." But, oh, it's so hard....

Here's a typical photo of the quality of the work: this is one of the pieces of hardware for the living room curtain rods. Note the care with which they masked the hardware; the care with which they removed the surrounding wallpaper; the care with which they "prepped" the wall for the paint. This, by the way, is the finished work. My wife and I had to take a box cutter and cut around the hardware, scrape away all the wallpaper and crap they didn't remove, prep the wall correctly, and then paint it. The hardware in the dining room was so completely covered with paint that we simply purchased new hardware and replaced it all.

This is one of the painted doors left in their wake: when they removed the blue tape, the tape took off much of the paint, clear down to the old color. But, hey, it's on the inside, nobody will see it -- until they open the bloody door! We fixed it as part of the cleanup and repair. Oh, and note the color of the floor in the background: this is (or was) bare concrete because the carpeting had been removed prior to the the arrival of the painters. I guess since nothing was on the floor, and it would eventually get covered with new carpeting, who cared that the concrete was now splashed with white paint!

Ah, but life is short, and tomorrow, hopefully, we'll finish up the last of the painting fixes and touch ups.