The City of the Future

CityoftheFuture_KindleFinalHey, will you look at this. SciFutures, an award-winning science fiction prototyping company–go look at their site, they explain it more easily than I could– have released their first anthology of sci-fi stories, The City of the Future. Even better, It features a tale by none other than yours truly! “L.A. Loves You” is my contribution to this terrific little collection of near-future speculative shorts. Once again, I’ll let SciFutures themselves set the scene:

Change is coming and it’s going to affect humans right where we live. By 2050, city living is going to look very different from what we know today. Across the globe, cities are going green and getting smarter. Artificial intelligence is playing a bigger role in our lives every day and the nomad generation is redefining what ‘home’ is.

This was a fun project and I’m proud to be a part of it. Check it out and let me know what you think. And be sure to check the Unreliable Narrators site within the next few days for an interview with the editor, Trina Marie Phillips, about the anthology and also her role with the company.

It’s out now on just about every device and in every conceivable format, as evinced below:

 

We are Unreliable

Hey, it’s been over two months since I checked in! How the hell did that happen? It’s not like nothing has happened since then. Paradise ICON was a success, as always, getting to hang out with writer pals as well as class acts like Joe and Gay Haldeman and Ann Leckie. Then there was NaNoWriMo, during which I knocked out a decent amount of words on my next book but will likely throw out 90% of them. And there’s also been the usual submit-and-query game that goes with writing fiction.

Then there’s the not trivial work of bootstrapping a new podcast and website with several writer friends. We’re up and running as the Unreliable Narrators! The first few episodes are available, and we are only gathering steam. It’s been a lot of fun, and it allows me to combine several favorite pastimes. Just need to make sure it doesn’t pull me too far away from finishing the next manuscript.

Happy holidays!

Random Access

Just finished one last edit on my latest novel and my writing self feels a bit scattered.So, in the interest of keeping dust from settling on this site again… Here, have a few random thoughts. No relevance intended by order.

–  I tried something a bit different with my editing process this time and I believe it reaped some pretty sweet rewards. I want to prepare a post on that, but am still tossing around post mortem thoughts in my head.  Hopefully I can get that posted before leaving for Philly later this week.

– Just saw X-Men: Days of Future Past. Not bad, not bad at all. It’s slightly marred by the persistent trend– in Hollywood as well as at Marvel– of centering Every. Single. X-Men story around Wolverine. Hey, I get that he’s popular. But you know what? This wasn’t his story, and his agency ended about 20-30 minutes into the film. Bitching aside, it was pretty enjoyable. The story was interesting and somewhat thoughtful, possessed less wonk than the standard superhero flick. At least Fox seemed interested in more than just keeping the characters from reverting to Marvel. Unlike with some *other* franchise I could mention. But don’t need to. Ahem.

– The Nebula Awards were handed out last week. All major writing awards went to women for the first time in eight years. Given the back-and-forth rancor over all the recent SFWA kerfuffles, this was a welcome outcome that helps restore some faith in an org that often struggles to earn the “professional” adjective. I haven’t read everything on the roster, but I do know that Ann Leckie, Nalo Hopkinson and Alette deBodard kicked some literary posterior last year.

– Just received my PIN for the Hugo Awards site, with final ballots approaching. At least I’ll get to read some books and cast some votes despite the fact that I am likely bailing on London for Taos this summer. Looking forward to it.

That’s all for now. Killswitch on.

Series in Parallel

‘Tis that time of year, when everyone and his/her grandmother trots out ordered lists, codifying the content of the previous year.   I’ll fulfill my quota not with a Top 10/20/40/100 list, but by identifying a major trend for me this year in books: discovery of series.  It’s always fun as a reader to discover a new series either wrapped up or already well underway, and devour it whole. It’s the Netflix model! Here are four book series I discovered this past year that, to varying degrees, kept me coming back until I emptied the queue.

The First Law, Joe Abercrombie – Forget the inevitable “grimdark” label. These books are a surprising amount of fun, especially for a broad cast of unlikeable blokes and harlots. Or maybe I’m just twisted that way. Sand Dan Glokta may not be much fun at parties, but he gets the girl! Even as he sucks on his empty gums. Nary a tree-dwelling elf nor mine-dwelling dwarf in sight.

The Expanse, James S.A. Corey – Space opera done right. Franck and Abraham give us more bang for the credits with high stakes and interpersonal drama.  Here’s hoping the TV show lands on cable, because a *bleep*ed Avasarala would seriously bum me out. Looking forward to a return to the Rocinante with Cibola Burn.

Miriam Black, Chuck Wendig – Fun, fast, Tourette’s-fueled adventures. Like a Red Bull with a PBR.

Wool Omnibus (Wool 1-5), Hugh Howey – The Amazon poster child does not disappoint, spinning a short story into an ongoing saga with no end in sight. Sheltered dystopia, evil IT professionals, insubordination and revolution. What’s not to love? I’m on board for more adventures in the silos.

I’m finally updating my profile at Goodreads. (So much social! Me can’t stands it.) Looking forward to more good reads in ’14.

Kindle Paperwhite

So I pulled the trigger on a new e-reader. The prompt for this was a cramped return flight that didn’t allow carry-on bags to actually be carried on.  (Don’t get me started!) I wound up on the plane without my tablet, and read about 90% of an e-book on my Android phone by the time we arrived.  Surprisingly workable, but not ideal. I’d been hearing good things about the latest Paperwhite update and decided to give it a shot.

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I am not a proponent of convergence, the whole “One Device to Rule Them All” mentality.  Every few years someone opens a fresh refrain of how specialization is dead and we must all use a single device to do everything.  Don’t know about you, but my phone barely lasts an entire day without a charge as is– and on vacation, I’m often falling back on those portable battery chargers to make it to an outlet.  The idea of a small, flat device that supports my favorite hobby and lasts for weeks on a single charge has a lot of appeal. E-ink still trumps the highest res screen, and the backlighting on the Paperwhite is subtle after staring into a tablet screen for hours on end. This device does the best job I’ve seen of emulating actual book pages, with just enough illumination to keep it viable in less than ideal conditions. So far so good.

(That first screen is from my own work-in-progress, bee-tee-dubs. I highly recommend converting your own drafts and uploading them for review. Helps divorce your brain from your own work.)

One new feature I find interesting is the X-Ray, which provides useful context around characters, setting and historical details (as shown in second shot above, from Stephen King’s 11/22/63). The downside is that it’s not available on all books; presumably someone must aggregate all that metadata in the background. It’s something to keep in mind for my own releases, especially alternate histories!  Ahem.

Another surprise is the readability of graphic novels on the Paperwhite. Well, some graphic novels. Kindle Panel View makes this the perfect device for reading an old-school, black-and-white, panel-by-panel joint like Alan Moore’s From Hell (below).  Seems obvious that more modern comics with elaborate color palettes and unconventional layouts will suffer, but I have yet to experiment. We’ll see.

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It’s been years since my first-generation Kindle became… uh, kindling. Since then I’ve muddled through with Kindle apps for PC and Android, as well as free readers for EPUB format. They get the job done, but are less than ideal.  Paperwhite isn’t perfect by any stretch; you’re still stuck within Amazon’s ecosystem and the occasional DRM annoyances. But, for me at least, it manages to restore the feel of reading vs. browsing files on a computer. Given my reading habits, that justifies its existence.

ICON Wrap-up

Finally home after almost a week of traveling, reading, writing, critiquing and palling around with fellow writers at ICON and Paradise Icon. Met new people, reunited with old ones, ate too much, drove all over the corn belt, dodged some tornadoes. Now I have time to sit back and reflect on the experience.

SPOILER ALERT: It was damned groovy.

Hats off to the inimitable Cath Schaff-Stump, who organized one heck of a workshop. She managed to attract a posse of neo-pro writers from coast to coast and the submissions and feedback were top notch. Critique sessions were a highlight of the trip, as was the group Rapid Fire Reading on Saturday evening. Our work and styles were diverse but complementary.   A speaker snub dented our progress not one bit, as we sat around and discussed our upcoming projects instead. I look forward to seeing more of every one of my ‘shopmates, and that’s no lie.

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ICON is a small but quite spirited convention. Cedar Rapids has an impressive SF/F community, moreso than some more populous regions. The book signing event was well attended, and we survived the late night filking next door. Even the weather proved cooperative. Normally I bring the snow with me,  but not this time! I’m definitely looking at a return trip next year.

On the return flight I read Michel Faber’s Under the Skin, as recommended by guest speaker Greg Frost. A quick and entertaining, albeit freaky, read and not for the squeamish. A thinly veiled– but clever– vegan manifesto, but I dug it. No hamburgers for me for a day or two.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Reading a friend’s draft. Finishing my own second draft. Mush.

Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms

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I was recently introduced to the wonders of a series of books published in the late 19th century: Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms, a self-proclaimed “guide to correct writing with approved methods in speaking and acting in the various relations of life.” Aside from their role as the Holy Grail of research for Victorian-era America, these books offer up a wealth of invaluable advice on the craft of writing: how to hold a pen, how to sit at a desk, how to punctuate, how and when to use profanity. These volumes are also chock full of amazing illustrations like the ones included here.

I’m afraid the advice on penmanship is lost on me. (When was the last time I wrote in longhand?) Likewise, the “proper” writing positions are of dubious ergonomic value. Mechanics aside, the advice on the craft of writing itself is as prescient as ever:

It is not sufficient, however, that the student merely study the theory of writing. To be proficient there must be actual practice. To conduct this exercise to advantage it is necessary to have the facilities for writing well.

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Preach it. Likewise, the arguments for learning to write well are quite charming:

The consciousness to the lady or gentleman of being able to write a letter that shall win the admiration and praise of the friend to whom it is written is a source of unspeakable pleasure to the writer, and to possess this ability throughout our lifetime is to be proficient in an accomplishment which adds to our happiness, as does excellence in oratory, painting or music. Good writing is a fine art, and is to the eye what good language is to the ear.

The books themselves are gorgeous, and well worth picking up for one’s own library. I’m thinking of reproducing a series of the amazing illustrations for use as wall art.

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In not entirely related news, I’m off to a writing retreat in Colorado! There are worse ways to spend a week than at a hot springs resort with a talented bunch of neo-pros. Updates as I can manage them. Until then, work on that writing posture!

The Private Eye

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Here’s something interesting, Brian K. Vaughan (Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man) and Marcos Martin (Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil) have just released the first issue of their new comic series, The Private Eye. It’s available now and online only through Panel Syndicate.

Everything about this release is awesome. First, there’s the promise of a fun ongoing story about a PI in a future L.A. that no longer uses the internet. More importantly, it’s a creator-owned release, independently distributed in a variety of formats (PDF. CBR, CBZ) and you can name your own price!  Even better, it really feels like it was made specifically for online distribution: the wonderful artwork is laid out in landscape format that is more conducive to a 16×9 screen. And reading with a good CBR browser (like CDisplay) means no clumsy interface and navigation between you and the artwork.

This is exactly the sort of product I would love to see more of, especially from such top-drawer contributors. Online comic reader stores and platforms are useful for the occasional fix, but usually charge full retail price for crippling DRM and silly restricted usage on their own servers. Check it out and support independent distribution, so we receive more of this goodness!

 

Lend me your ears

I’ve never been all that much of an Audiobook type person, but a recent blowout sale convinced me to pick up several classics just for fun.  It’s interesting how a spoken performance can cast a whole new light on a familiar work. The most extreme example thus far has been the audiobook of Brave New World. Michael York utilizes hammy, over-the-top British stereotypes to voice all the actors: stuffy aristocrats for  Conditioning Centre academics, working-class brogues for the Savage and other worker drones. The result transforms the work from a chilling dystopia to a virtual Monty Python skit.  Judging by user reviews reactions are mixed, but it works for me as a reinforcement of the satire in ways I hadn’t considered. Interesting.

On a side note: does any business have a pricing model as goofy and byzantine as Audible? Honestly don’t get it at all. I’m not sure what’s more strange: that everything costs exactly 1 “credit” per month, or that you switch between credits and cash payments as you buy more. (A one-hour chapter of John Scalzi’s Human Division? 99 cents OR 1 credit. The 49-hour extravaganza that is George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons? 49 dollars OR 1 credit.) Are they trying to discourage users from purchasing more than one book a month?  Buh?

The horror!

A brief but most excellent update:  Cruentus Libri Press has picked up my flash piece “White Collar Necropolis” as part of their upcoming anthology, Another 100 Horrors.  It’s a sequel to 100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of An Eye and, like its predecessor, will be available in both paperback and e-book formats.

It’s a fun project and it’s due mid-April-ish. I will of course post more details as they are made available.