Time for Some Fine (Silly!) Reading

Temporary Monsters by Craig Shaw GardnerFor something a little lighter, by which I mean utterly silly, try The Temporary Magic Series, by Craig Shaw Gardner. This tale concerns one Lenny Hodge, a young man of peculiar talents—who goes to work for an even more peculiar temp agency, Terrifitemps, which quietly controls the world. Pitted against the evil Fu, Lenny must join forces with the likes of a swami, a vampire, a werevole, and Bob the charming but annoying magic horse. If you liked Craig’s hilarious Ebenezum series about a wizard who’s allergic to magic, you’re sure to like this. Silliness for all ages.

Craig is another of my writer friends who did great with traditional publishing… until everything changed, and suddenly he found himself without support from the big city. Like many of us, he’s been working on bringing out his backlist in various formats, including ebook, audiobook, etc. Rather than going indie, he opted to go small press, and Crossroads Press has been doing a fine job releasing his old work and his new. In fact, this book came out for about one week from a mainstream publisher, who didn’t seem to know what to do with it; and now it’s back, from Crossroads.

It occurs to me that I’ve probably told you about these books before. But that was a while ago, and a good recommendation never gets old!

Time for Still More Fine Reading

Speaking of young adult science fiction, here’s a series you really should read, whether or not YA is your thing, or for that matter, science fiction. It’s a parallel worlds story that treads the boundary between young adult and adult fiction (the way Harry Potter did), which means I can heartily recommend it for both audiences. The Portal Series by Richard Bowker begins with Portal, published a few years ago, about two young men (boys, really) who find themselves in an alternate Earth, and entangled in an American civil war. That’s followed by the more recently published Terra, which takes one of the boys, Larry, to another alternate Earth resembling ancient Rome. Richard is currently writing a third in the series, Barbarica, and it’s even better. Also, I don’t think we’re in YA-land anymore.

Richard Bowker is not as well known to current audiences as he should be. He had a bunch of novels published by New York publishers, to good reviews. But somewhere along the way, traditional publishing failed him and he quit writing for a while. Then he returned, writing better than ever, this time indie publishing. And his new stuff is great! You owe it to yourself to give his books a try! Here are the two current Portal books:

 

Ursula LeGuin Gives Moving National Book Awards Speech

“Truth is a matter of the imagination.” That’s a quote from the Left Hand of Darkness, a classic of science fiction, that I’ve had up on my website for years.

In receiving a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the recent National Book Awards ceremony (Neil Gaiman presented the award to her), science fiction and literary titan Ursula K. LeGuin gave a moving and heartfelt speech that began by celebrating SF and fantasy and all of its writers, and went on to criticize the trend among publishers and mega-sellers of treating books as commodity, instead of art with an intrinsic value to society that goes beyond dollars. She lit pretty well into Amazon for their recent battle with Hachette, with authors caught in the middle. (For the record, I don’t altogether agree with her assessment of that situation, in which I think the publisher was at least as much at fault. But then, who am I to argue with Ursula LeGuin?)

I certainly appreciated, and was touched by, her saying that she shares this award with all writers of speculative fiction. Ms. LeGuin, by the way, is a founding member of Book View Café.

Link via Blastr
 

The Haldemans Retire from MIT

Science fiction writer Joe Haldeman and his wonderful wife Gay have retired from part-time teaching at MIT, after thirty years of teaching students the craft of fiction writing (Joe) and the art of writing clear, comprehensible English prose (Gay). Florida residents most of the year—unless you call them Earth residents, because I’ve never known a more well-traveled couple—they’ve been coming to Cambridge every Fall for the last thirty years, and we’ve managed to snag a dinner with them many of those years.

Joe was one of the first professionals I met when I was a new writer entering the science fiction field. At the time, he was all the buzz in the industry because he’d snared a record-setting advance for his novel Mindbridge. He introduced me to Jim Frenkel, who soon became my editor and friend.  Years later, when Joe became seriously ill in the Fall of 2009, I had the privilege of stepping in for him, teaching his SF writing class at MIT for a semester.

Joe and Gay (Jim Kelly referred to them as “Joe-and-Gay, like space-time”) got to watch my kids grow up in time-lapse fashion. My younger daughter Julia once wondered aloud, as a teenager, why her own contemporaries weren’t as much fun as Joe and Gay.

Here are a couple of pix taken at their retirement dinner at MIT, on a balcony overlooking Boston’s beautiful Charles River basin.

Gay and Joe Haldeman, September 2014

Me, Joe, and Jim Kelly
We’re going to miss our annual dinners. But if anyone has earned a happy retirement, it’s Joe and Gay.

The Next Big Thing — Work in Progress

Today I’m diving into an author meme that’s circulating around the net this month. It’s called a Blog Hop. The idea is to post some tantalizing information about your work in progress, to get folks (that’s you) psyched about what’s coming down the pike—and then to link to some of your writer friends and colleagues, and encourage the same folk (you, again) to go check out what they’re doing.

Here goes. First question, please:

1) What is the title of your next work?

The Reefs of Time.

It’s Volume Five of The Chaos Chronicles. Or, to put it another way, it’s the long-awaited sequel to Sunborn. It’s also still very much a work in progress, and I don’t have a publication date for you, unfortunately. Some of you have been waiting a long time for this book, and I very much appreciate your patience.

2) Where did the idea come from?

It continues a story inspired by chaos theory, which began years ago with Neptune Crossing, the opening volume of The Chaos Chronicles. The series chronicles the adventures of one John Bandicut from Earth, a survey pilot out on Triton (moon of Neptune), whose journey starts with a search for relics of life from outside the solar system. He finds it, in the form of a quarx—a noncorporeal alien who takes up residence in his head—and the translator, a powerful machine or being of equally alien origin. A lot happens after that—four books’ worth, in fact. Worlds in danger, starting with Earth. Reluctant heroes. New friendships and loves where least expected.

In The Reefs of Time, we are hundreds of years further into the future, out at the edge of our galaxy. There’s a calamity in the making, of truly galactic proportions. Li-Jared’s homeworld is involved. The starstream is involved (see From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars). The Mindaru are involved (see Sunborn). The inspiration for this volume came not just from chaos theory, but time theory, as well. The human element was inspired by… well, I’m not really sure, to be honest. My own feelings of awe in the face of a seemingly chaotic universe, perhaps.

Each of the books is a story complete, while building a much larger story arc.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Sounds sort of like science fiction, doesn’t it?

4) What actors should play your characters in the movie?

I’d never thought about that until now. Well, okay, this sounds nutty, but actually Tom Cruise, toned down, might not be bad as John Bandicut. Chris Pike could be good, too. Or Jeremy Renner, or Mark Ruffalo. He has to be smart and capable, but also a little crazy. He’s got actual, alien voices in his head, and he’s loyal to those he loves, and when pushed, he’s willing to take some enormous risks.

Most of the characters in this book are aliens, and that’s a tough casting challenge. Willem Dafoe was great as Tar Tarkas, and he might be a pretty good Ik (an alien). Lynn Collins (Deja Thoris in John Carter) could be the beautiful, four-breasted humanoid, Antares. Or Lena Heady. For Julie Stone, human… not sure. Someone smart, competent, cute, reminiscent of Allison Mack (Chloe in Smallville); but I’m not sure she’s quite right. Someone similar, though. Summer Glau? Too exotic. Piper Perabo? Too adorable. I think this part is still open. Li-Jared and the robots, I really have no idea.

5) Give us a one-sentence synopsis. (Go ahead, try!)

When a time distortion opens a channel from the center of the galaxy in the deep past, to the outer galaxy of now, it also opens a path for a malevolent group of cyber-entities to come forward in time, threatening thousands of civilized worlds. It falls to John Bandicut and his alien companions to find a way to close the timestream. And if Bandicut survives, he might just learn that Julie Stone has made it to Shipworld, out at the edge of the galaxy, and that she has played a part in the mission.

Okay, I made it in three sentences. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that, really.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is slated to be published by Tor Books, who have been waiting patiently for the long-overdue manuscript.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Ouch. Five years or more in, I’m nearly finished with the massive first draft. I expect the rewrite to go a lot faster, though it will be a huge job, involving a lot of weaving and a lot of cutting and tightening. 

8) What other books would you compare this story to?

That’s a hard one. It has some of the epic proportions of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and A Deepness in the Sky. Maybe some kinship with Gregory Benford’s galactic core books. Or Jack McDevitt’s The Engines of God. Or Samuel R. Delany’s Nova. Or Niven’s Ringworld. A bit of Heinlein, a bit of Clarke. It’s character driven, but probably comes in somewhere between hard science fiction and galactic space opera.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

James Gleick’s book, Chaos. An article in The Planetary Report about chaos in the solar system. An image of a man, a pilot, driven a little mad by the loss of his cybernetic implants, as the first human to encounter an alien.

10) What else might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a great, sprawling adventure with characters I find very interesting (humans, aliens, robots), a complex plot spanning half the galaxy, and—oh yes—time travel! I can’t wait to read it. And I really can’t wait to finish writing it. The Reefs of Time. When it’s done, the readers of this blog will be the first to know.

All six books that connect to it, by the way, are readily available as ebooks. (That includes four books of The Chaos Chronicles, plus the two Starstream novels mentioned above. Paper books are also available, though you might have to go to the used market for some of them.)

If there are no more questions, why don’t you check out what some of my fellow authors have to say about their works in progress? (Some might be posting over the course of the day, so if you don’t see anything, check back.)

Richard Bowker http://richardbowker.com/
Ann Tonsor Zeddies http://pointoforigin.livejournal.com/
Lois Gresh http://loisgresh.blogspot.com

The next bunch of writers are all colleagues of mine at Book View Café:

Patricia Burroughs http://planetpooks.com/the-blog/
Katharine Eliska “Cat” Kimbriel http://alfreda89.livejournal.com/
Pati Nagle http://patinagle.livejournal.com/
Steven Harper Piziks http://spiziks.livejournal.com
Deborah J. Ross http://www.deborahjross.blogspot.com/

Others will be posting on December 19. I’ll try to get some more links for you then.

If you’re a writer and have posted your own “Next Big Thing” (or want to do so right now), please go ahead and post your link under Comments!

My Book View Café Launch!

Book View Café (BVC) is an authors collective of established writers who have joined forces to help each other publish their own backlists as ebooks. Names you might recognize include Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Katherine Kerr, Linda Nagata—and many more. As of June 19, I’m part of that list, and honored to be so. Here’s my page at BVC.

To celebrate my launch on BVC, I’m releasing my first-ever short story collection, Reality and Other Fictions. It’s on sale as I type this! For the rest of June, it’s going to be a BVC exclusive. Why? Because BVC is a great store filled with great authors, and it deserves enthusiastic support. If you buy a book from a favorite author at BVC, the author gets the highest percent of the money of any bookstore that’s not actually on an author’s website. Because people help each other so much in the whole process—everyone pitches in with their own particular skills—the production values are high. And the books are, of course, DRM-free, meaning no annoying copy protection to keep you from moving it from one device to another, regardless of type. If you want to convert your book to a different format, do so with our blessing.

Can you use these books on a Kindle or a Nook or a Kobo Reader or a Sony Reader?  Absolutely. (Just make sure you download the right format for your reader.)

By the way, BVC is not the same thing as Backlist eBooks, about which I’ve written in the past. The two groups have similar goals, and somewhat overlapping memberships. But Backlist eBooks primarily gathers writers together under one site for mutual help with marketing and promotion. Book View Café is more like a cooperative ebook small press, with its own store. It’s even beginning to distribute to libraries!

My next post, which I am going to start writing as soon as I’m done with this one, will tell you all about Reality and Other Fictions.

The Industrious Richard Bowker

My friend Richard Bowker certainly is a busy fellow. He’s released two more of his novels, a thriller called Replica and a murder mystery called Senator, in the Kindle and Nook stores. I’ve read them both, and recommend them unreservedly. In fact, both went through the rigorous vetting and improvement process imposed by our writing group. Both are previously published. You can read some sample passages on Rich’s blog.

Replica 
(originally published by Bantam)

Senator 
(originally published by William Morrow)

While you’re looking, you might want to pick up his original-to-ebook novel Pontiff, currently on sale for $.99. I give this the same thumbs-up. Don’t be put off by its lack of a print edition. That was simply a dumb oversight on the part of the publishing industry. It’s good.

Pontiff $.99
Ebook original

Ray Bradbury, SF Master (1920 – 2012)


Ray Bradbury, the last of the Big Four in science fiction, died today. Over the years we’ve lost Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and now Ray Bradbury. We’ve lost many other great writers, of course, but few would argue with placing those four at the top in their influence on the literature, and influence on young writers. It’s like the passing of a Great Age in Middle Earth.

Bradbury was a master of the short form, and probably the first acknowledged science fiction writer to gain the respect of the mainstream literary world. (Probably because he was at heart really a fantasist more than an SF writer. He was also a remarkable stylist.) Did your high school literature book have any science fiction In it at all? If it did, it was probably by Ray Bradbury. “The Pedestrian,” maybe. Or “The Veldt.”

He wrote for the screen, as well. I’d been a fan of his fiction for many years before I discovered that he’d written the screenplay for the 1956 John Huston-directed adaptation of Moby Dick, with Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart.

I was one of probably thousands of young writers who found both encouragement and frustration in reading his work. (My favorites: The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes.) The encouragement is from the delight in reading his visions. The frustration is from the illusion he cast that it was all so easy. He really made storytelling look simple. And that is a mark of a master. I never knew him personally, though I saw him a few times at Nebula Awards events. The last time, I think, was when I saw him accept his SFWA Grandmaster Award in… you know, I don’t remember the year or the city, but I can see him inching his way up to the stage, with the assistance of his son, as though it were yesterday. Edit: I also remember that he had a sense of humor about his infirmity. When he finally got to the microphone, his words were, “Do you ever have the feeling that everyone’s watching you?”

There’s a fine remembrance at the Washington Post, and all kinds of interesting details on his Wikipedia page

Godspeed, Ray Bradbury!