War Stories: The Book!

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So, UPS stopped by with five boxes loaded down with copies of War Stories. It’s a real book! I can flip the pages, my name is on the cover, and holy crap, guys, it’s a real book! Now begins the process of shipping them out to Kickstarter backers – I see many envelopes in my future.

Here’s the final cover and description:

War is everywhere. Not only among the firefights, in the sweat dripping from heavy armor and the clenching grip on your weapon, but also wedging itself deep into families, infiltrating our love letters, hovering in the air above our heads. It’s in our dreams and our text messages. At times it roars with adrenaline, while at others it slips in silently so it can sit beside you until you forget it’s there.

Join Joe Haldeman, Linda Nagata, Karin Lowachee, Ken Liu, Jay Posey, and more as they take you on a tour of the battlefields, from those hurtling through space in spaceships and winding along trails deep in the jungle with bullets whizzing overhead, to the ones hiding behind calm smiles, waiting patiently to reveal itself in those quiet moments when we feel safest. War Storiesbrings us 23 stories of the impacts of war, showcasing the systems, combat, armor, and aftermath without condemnation or glorification.

Instead, War Stories reveals the truth.

War is what we are.

 

I’m biased, but there are some fantastic stories in here. Early indications from readers are really good, and I’m looking forward to seeing this out and about the reading public.

If you missed out on the Kickstarter and want a copy, you can now preorder the anthology and get the ebook for free! Our expected publication date is October.

You also have a day and a bit left (ends August 1st) to register to win one of two copies from GoodReads.

Defining SF

It must be remembered that we live in an entirely new world. Two hundred years ago, stories of this kind were not possible. Science, through its various branches of mechanics, electricity, astronomy, etc., enters so intimately into all our lives today, and we are so much immersed in this science, that we have become rather prone to take new inventions and discoveries for granted. Our entire mode of living has changed with the present progress, and it is little wonder, therefore, that many fantastic situations – impossible 100 years ago- are brought about today. It is in these situations that the new romancers find their greatest inspiration.

- Hugo Gernsback, Amazing Stories Magazine No. 1, April 1926. (Read the entire issue here.)

 

That’s… a very astute definition of science fiction, I think. Gernsback was a bit over the top at points, but I think that hits the nail on the head for the type of stories that defined the genre. Must file this away for later.

Launch Pad 2014

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Where to start?

Last year, I was accepted to the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, after seeing a number of friends and mentors attend over the years. At the same time, Bram was born, and it became clear that my taking off for a week while he was several months old would have never worked. So, I deferred to 2014. I’m glad that I did: it would have been crushing to miss Bram grow in those early months, and I can’t imagine meeting a better group of people than the ones who attended this year.

I flew out to Launch Pad from ReaderCon. A 5:00am flight took me to Philadelphia and then on to Denver. I’ve been out to the American west a couple of times (New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Arizona), but never Colorado. A fantastic landscape opened up as we descended, and soon, I was grouped with several Launchies waiting for a ride to the University of Wyoming. Eugene Myers was on my flight (he was the only other classmate that I’d met before), and we chatted with a couple of newcomers, including Ann Leckie, Bill Ledbetter and Gabrielle Harbowy. Launchpad attendees trickled in over the course of the afternoon, and soon, the first and second vans were away.

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The Wyoming’s landscape is fantastic. The drive north showed off some fantastic rock formations and terrain, and we stopped for pictures at least once on the ride to Laramie. Along the way, we chatted, newcomers tentatively feeling out each other’s personalities and interests on the two hour drive. It was then dinner, check in and sleep after a long day of travel.

Monday started us off bright an early with introductions. We met our instructors: Christian Ready, who used to work on the Hubble Space Telescope, Andria Schwortz, who’s currently going for her PhD, and Mike Brotherton, science fiction author, faculty at UoW and founder of the program, all of whom were fantastic throughout the week. We then launched into a discussion of the sheer size of the universe, getting it firmly ground into us just how small we are in the cosmos.

We spent the rest of the day going over the solar system, phases, lunar cycles, and a bit more throughout the day. Tuesday was looking at the electromagnetic spectrum, with some practical laboratory experiments as we tried to identify various gases based on their spectrum. The afternoon was spent looking over theories of gravity and the various theorists who helped create our current understanding of how everything moves around in space. That night, we tried to use our telescopes, but it was overcast. Wednesday was spent looking at exoplanets, and we were introduced to practical, everyday tools that help crowd source the hunt for planets, based on the data collected by Kepler.

 

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Thursday was busy – the entire day was spent outdoors, first on a hike at at Vedauwoo, which was fun – 3 miles around a pile of granite. We returned to talk about supernovae, black holes, neutron stars, and some science fiction applications to everything we’d been discussing before setting off to see the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO). A narrow road leads up to the top of Jelm Mountain, where the observatory is perched. I’d never visited one before, and it was impressive: a 2.3 meter mirror observatory, with a small workshop and apartment set up along with some radio towers. The mere sight of it turns a group of adults into excited children, especially when it moves into place. They let us sight in a couple of stars, taking their temperature and distance. After we were finished inside, we went out, and was treated with a fantastic view of the heavens: the milky way splashed overhead, along with Mars and Saturn. It wasn’t an unfamiliar view for me: Vermont is lucky in that we don’t have a whole lot of light pollution, but several of my classmates hadn’t seen the sky like that before. Even to someone who’s seen it before, it’s still an incredible view against the wide open Wyoming Sky.

Friday and Saturday consisted of more classroom activities and lectures, before we began to pack up. I was the first to leave: my flight left at midnight on Sunday morning. 18 or so hours later (with a car ride, two planes, two subway routes, a train and another car ride), I was home.

What’s astonishing to me is the close bond one forms with a group working in intensive situations. I’m usually nervous meeting new people, and while I knew or was acquainted with just a couple of people there, I found an entirely new group of friends that were all interested in the same things as I was. We were a broad cross-section of the genre world: TV writers, game designers, novelists, short story writers, non-fiction writers, all interested in astronomy. They were: Amy Casil, Geetanjali Dighe, Doug Farren, Susan Forest, Marc Halsey, Gabrielle Harbowy, Meg Howrey, Ann Leckie, William Ledbetter, Malinda Lo, Sarah McCarry, Eugene Myers, Jenn Reese, Anne Toole, James Sutter, Todd Vandemark and Lisa Yee. We spent a lot of time in the same classroom, and many hours after talking about all things astronomy, science fiction and everything in between. We bonded as a group, and in various smaller groups. They are each fantastic individuals and talented individuals, and I can’t wait to see each and every one of them again at some point in the near future.

I have to say, I’m proud to be an alumnus of the program, and of what I’ve learned in the course of eight days. It was like drinking out of a fire hose, but I feel that I understand the universe a little more. If you’re involved in the science fiction field to any professional degree, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you like reading about science fiction with a fairly realistic depiction of SF, I recommend donating to the program – it’s educational, hands on experiences like this that really make for major improvements in anything we do, whether it’s astronomy, history, business or any field in which we work.

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Returning home was welcome: I was hard to be away from Megan, Bram and the menagerie of animals for over a week, and after a long day of travel, coming home was perfect. But, I miss Wyoming and my classmates quite a bit, and if the chatter online is any indication, we’ll be in touch for a long time, sharing bits of science news, the books and stories we’ve written, and things of that nature. I know that when I go out and look at the night sky, one of them will likely be doing the same thing.

 

Frank Herbert’s Epic Dune Series

One of the first major SF novels that I picked up was Dune. Something about the copy at the library was striking: a figure against a desert. I tore into it and to this day, I can still visualize various parts of the book. It got me thinking about science fiction in ways that I hadn’t before, and I still count it as one of my favorite books. I’ve never read the sequels: I never wanted to be disappointed or let down by the other novels (much like I’ve never read the 2nd and 3rd installments of the Ringworld and Foundation trilogies).

I read Dreamer of Dune a number of years ago, and reading through it again to source this article, I was surprised at how much of an unlikable person Herbert was – he seemed to have a number of character flaws that made him cranky, angry and generally in trouble with the IRS. At the same time, it’s interesting to see just how big of a hill he had to climb to reach the heights he achieved over the course of a career. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t live long enough to really enjoy it or continue his series by himself.

Go read Frank Herbert’s Epic Dune Series over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert. I read this a number of years ago, and reading it again, this is a really painful book to read. It’s disorganized, not terribly well written, and not critical in any sense of the imagination. However, it did provide a number of details into when and how Herbert went about writing.
  • Frank Herbert, Timothy O’Reilly. This is an early biography of Herbert published in 1981, and it provides some outstanding detail to Herbert and his work.
  • The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts. Roberts’ text, as always, is a helpful book for figuring out the context for Dune in the grand scheme of things, and provides some excellent information on the literary side.
  • Frank Herbret, William F. Touponce. This text mainly analysis the literary elements of Herbert’s books (most of them), and it’s a useful resource here.

Online sources:

 

It’s also worth mentioning that Jodorosky’s Dune is a phenomenal documentary that you should see if you have any interest in Dune.

Octavia E. Butler: Expanding Science Fiction’s Horizons

For years, I’ve had friends tell me that I should be reading Octavia Butler’s works, especially Kindred. I actually own a copy, and it’s been sitting on my shelves for years, waiting for me to pick it up. When it came to the point where I’d start writing about the 1970s, it was pretty clear that Butler would be one of the authors that I’d be covering, and I picked up the book as part of my research. She’s a powerful author, and I’m a little sad that I didn’t read the book earlier. Researching Butler’s life is fascinating, and it’s becoming clear to me that some of the genre’s most important works emerge from outside of it’s walls.

Go read Octavia E. Butler: Expanding Science Fiction’s Horizons over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

Book Sources to come – I don’t have them on hand at the moment.

Pasadena College
Carl Brandon Society
McCarthur Foundation
SFWA Interview
LA Review of Books: One / Two

Many thanks as well to Steven Barnes, Ann Leckie and Gerry Canavan for their input for this.

Last Day to Read: Fragmented

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Today is the last day of June, which means that my story’s time on Galaxy’s Edge is now coming to a close (I think). Fragmented appeared in the May/June issue, and with a new issue on the horizon, your time to read it is coming to a close. While it won’t be online, you can still purchase a back issue from the magazine’s website, in either print or electronic form.

Read Fragmented here. Edit: now offline. Buy the May 2014 issue here: Digital, Paperback.

Thanks to everyone who’s read the story and e-mailed me, talked to me or otherwise let me know that they enjoyed the story. This was my first pro-publication – ever – and it’s cool to see my words in print. Onwards!

Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Known Space Stories

Ringworld is a novel that’s always stuck with me. I picked it up alongside authors such as Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, and other authors from that point in time. Foundation and Dune are two books that are among my favorites, but Ringworld has long been the best of the lot. It’s vivid, funny, exciting and so forth. Reading it again recently in preparation for this column, I was astounded at how well it’s held up (as opposed to Foundation) in the years since it’s publication, and I can’t wait to read it again. Plus, that cover is just beautiful.

Go read Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Known Space Stories over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree: History of Science Fiction, by Brian Aldiss. Aldiss’s book has some good context for Niven’s rise, as well as the impact of his books.
  • Gateway to Forever: The story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, by Mike Ashley. Ashley recounts some of Niven’s early works in the Known Space, along with the state of magazine fiction during that time.
  • Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, by Mike Ashley. Niven’s stories taper off in the 1970s, but Ashley looks over his works during that point in that time.
  • Science Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition, Richard Bleiler. Bleiler has a biographical essay on Niven and his life in this book.
  • Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow, edited by Reginald Bretnor. There’s some good background information on Niven’s works here.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. There’s some good political context for SF in the 1960s/70s here, and some solid information on Niven’s works.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol 4. Frank Magill. Excellent review of Ringworld in this volume.
  • Science Fiction Dialogues, edited by Gary Wolfe. There’s a great essay here talking about the connections between Ringworld and the Oz books.

Internet Sources:

Finally, many thanks to Larry Niven himself for answering my questions. I’ll post up the interview at some point in the near future.

Andre Norton’s YA Novels

When I worked at a bookstore (the now defunct Walden Books), I had a co-worker that loved Andre Norton. I’d never read any of her books throughout High School, although I was certainly familiar with her name. I wish now that I did.

Norton wrote largely for what we now call the YA audience: teenagers, with fantastical adventures throughout numerous worlds and times. She was also largely ignored or dismissed for writing ‘children’s literature’, which is a shame, because it’s likely that she had as great an influence on the shape of the modern genre as Robert Heinlein, who’s Juvenile novels attracted millions of fans to new worlds. Norton was the same, and influenced countless readers and writers for decades. It’s fitting that the major SF award for YA fiction is titled The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Go read Andre Norton’s YA novels over on Kirkus Reviews.
Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss contends here that Norton was part of a growing movement in science fiction in the 1950s, along with a small core of other authors.
  • Who Wrote That? Andre Norton By John Bankston. This book designed for YA readers seems to be the only Norton biography on the market right now. I used the chronology to help structure this post.
  • Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow, edited by Reginald Bretnor. Anne McCaffrey has an essay in this book that mentions Andre Norton briefly.
  • The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction, Paul Allen Carter. Carter talks about Norton very briefly here in a larger context within the genre.
  • Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, by James Gunn. Norton has a couple of mentions here, talking about her work in the 1950s.
  • Science Fiction after 1900, Brooks Landon. Landon’s book is a great look, and he talks about Norton a couple of times in this book regarding her influence in the genre.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. This book also mentions Norton sparingly, but does so within the context of SF, Women and the 1950s.
  • The Faces of Science Fiction: Intimate Portraits of the Men and Women who Shape the way we look at the future, Patti Perret. Norton has a portrait in here, where she talks about science fiction as an entertainment medium.

Web:

  • Andre Norton correspondence, literary and dollhouse, Cleveland Public Library. There’s some interesting letters here that talk quite a bit about Norton’s character and personality.
  • Obituaries: Los Angles Times and The Guardian. Both were helpful, as they provided some good (although at times, inaccurate) details about her life.

L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Land of Oz

As I’ve been writing this column, I’ve realized that there’s points where I have to move ahead and skip authors, or, after some reflection, research and writing, that I missed someone critical. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been realizing that not covering L. Frank Baum has been a drastic oversight, and that at the next available opportunity, I need to cover him and his wonderful world of Oz.

I defy you to find someone who doesn’t know the story of The Wizard of Oz. It’s an enormously popular story, so ingrained into our popular culture world that statements such as ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ need no reference. Oz is on par with stories from Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley – we know what happens without even reading the works. As such, it’s good to go back and take a look at their place in SF’s canon, because they are very influential, and it’s easy to see why: they’re fantastic, eminently readable stories that hold up with their sense of wonder.

Recently, I attended ICFA down in Orlando Florida, where I had dinner with a couple of authors, notably Ted Chaing. We had gotten on the topic of robotics, and he mentioned that Tik Tok from Ozma of Oz could be considered one of the first robots in SF. It’s certainly an early appearance of a robot, and with that in mind, it’s interesting to see how much of Oz prefigured some of the modern SF genre.

Go read L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Land of Oz over on Kirkus Reviews.

The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin, Brian Attebery. There’s an entire chapter on Oz here, and it’s got some excellent background on the nature of Oz and how it relates to the fantasy canon.
The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum. It’s always good to go to the original source – this was helpful in picking out details about the story. Baum remains extremely readable.
Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum. Available on Gutenberg, this was helpful for the quotes about Tik Tok.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum. I have a reprinted edition of the original, from Barnes and Noble (which I can’t wait to read to my son), which has the original forward.
Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum, by Michael O. Riley. This book is an in depth, exaustive look at Baum’s Oz novels and his other works, presented in clear, chronological order with a good amount of detail.
Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture 1875-1945, Jon Savage. Savage devotes several pages to Baum and Oz, which provides some excellent context to the impact that Oz had on readers.
When Dreams Came True, Jack Zipes. This book also has an entire chapter devoted to Oz, with story details and biographical information.

Online:

Baum, L. Frank: As usual, the SF Encyclopedia has a good entry on my subject and looks at the wider genre-context.
NY Times Review: The original review of Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Bram: Year 1

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A year ago today, I held my son in my arms for the first time. Bram’s birth was one of those moments that struck me hard: I remember gasping and crying in joy when I first saw him: after months of a conceptual baby, there he was, in the flesh. It’s easy, looking back at just how pivotal that moment is: one moment, I’m just this guy. The next, I’m a father. With that moment, everything changes.

Becoming a father has been an extraordinary experience. Megan has mentioned, more than once, that we’ve lucked out and had a good baby. Bram is an astonishing little boy. The degree to which he’s unpacked and unfolded his mind from his fragile, 7.3 lbs body to the, durable, walking 25lb child that he’s become never ceases to blow my mind a little each time I think about it. He went from staring to smiling to squeaking to shrieking to cooing to babbling to talking. The twisting turned into rolling over, then to pulling himself across the floor, to the army crawl, to proper crawling and pulling himself up to stand. That turned from tentative first steps to full out waddle-running across the room.

Throughout it all, there’s a burning curiosity and the beginnings of a fierce independence. He looks and examines things, imitates our actions and slowly, is learning how the world around him works. It’s impossible to remember a time when I learned so much so quickly, and I’m surprised at just how fast it happens: often just days from seeing or trying something before he masters it. Doors hold a particular fascinationfor him, as does Merlin, although he learned that cats have claws and don’t like to be cornered. The cat has also learned that the male human is fiercely protective of the tiny human.

I find myself thinking about things in ways that I’d never have considered before. I look into the future to try and think about what type of world Bram will inherit, sometimes terrified at what I see, sometimes optimistic.

The last year has brought so many changes. It’s exhausting, trying to keep up with Bram, or to wake up early in the morning or late at night. My heart absolutely breaks when he’s sad or in pain, while it soars when he laughs without restraint. He’s a strange child, and it’s interesting to see how he’s developing his own ways of doing things.

He’s barely 12 months old and I can’t wait to see what he does next.