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People willing to admit to being my friends. Brave souls, one and all. rdansky

spacecrime August 23 2014, 06:37

2014 Reading #81

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

I'm pretty sure I just read next year's Hugo Award winner for Best Novel.

Astronaut Mark Watney is, in his own words, fucked. Due to a sandstorm and a freak accident, he has been left behind when the rest of his mission team evacuated Mars. He's got plenty of power, air, and water, even a year's worth of food -- but nobody knows he's still alive, he has no radio, and the next mission won't arrive until three years after he starves to death.

Oh, and the only music he has to listen to is disco. So when you add it all up, "fucked" is kind of an understatement.

Despite the ridiculous odds against him, though, Mark is a mechanic, a botanist, and quite possibly the most stubborn explorer in human history. He refuses to give up, and his struggle for survival is an old-school hard SF man-vs.-Arean-nature story that never lets up on pacing and characterization. A fantastic book, and one that kept me up late because I couldn't bear to put it down before I got to the end.
incandescens August 23 2014, 01:38

at least it's not raining yet

Not quite sure why I was so tired on getting home from work, but I was. Maybe it's the weather.

Is there a word for wishing you could get fictional characters' opinions of other works of fiction? I was daydreaming about sharing the Girl Genius comic with various characters from Doctor Who (3rd Doctor, the Brigadier, Jo Grant, the Master) and them all identifying with different characters from the storyline. Or is that getting just a bit too meta?

And speaking of Doctor Who, new season starts tomorrow. Excellent.
spacecrime August 22 2014, 13:53

2014 Reading #79 and 80

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned BetterRobert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better by William H. Patterson Jr.

I've seen some comments to the effect that this is not a literary biography, which is puzzling -- how can a writer's biography not be literary?

What the reviewers mean, of course, is that there is no extended discussion of Heinlein's works in the book. Patterson sticks to the events, people and things in Heinlein's life, and that's quite all right. Heinlein incorporated all those elements into his writing, and you can see the steady ripple of experiences into his work a year or two later. That kind of chronicle is invaluable to anyone who wants a sense of what was on Heinlein's mind as we wrote. It's also leaves more room for charming anecdotes and personality sketches, of which the more the better.

That said, this book should be approached with caution. Patterson is an honest biographer who carefully sources most of his text, but he is also a fan portraying his subject in the best light possible. From his viewpoint, Heinlein wins all the arguments, and the sometimes imperious personality described by his contemporaries is glossed over or dismissed.

There are many insights into what Heinlein's thought process here, but as Heinlein himself would have said -- usually sincerely, and far better than I can -- read with care. Pay attention to who's selling what idea, and why.

(By the way, it's oddly reassuring to see that the science fiction community of the sixties was just as riven with ego and umbrage as it was in the eighties, nineties, and today. The genre may be about the change, but the human element is a constant.)

2014 Guide to Self-Publishing2014 Guide to Self-Publishing by Robert Lee Brewer

A grab-bag of articles and listings of services for writers looking to publish their own work and actually make money from it. Notable mostly because self-publishing is a much more viable commercial strategy than it used to be, so the focus is on practical advice instead of handwaving about the old vanity press model. This put a few things on my checklist that -- should certain work pan out -- I can go back to later and check off.
grrm August 22 2014, 12:54

Where Am I Now?

And now the latest installment of, "If this isTuesday, that must be Whitechapel."

Jet lags rules, but I think I am in Los Angeles.  Beverly Hills, actually.  A different city, a different world.  But they treat me very well here.

Scotland was grey, wet, rainy, but the Fringe was in full roar.  Music everywhere, and some great shows that we did not have time to see.  (I was especially chuffed at having to miss the James plays, a triptych of quasi-historical dramas about the reigns of the Stuart kings James I, James II, and James III, all of whom came to bad ends.  You'd think the Scotts might have taken the hint and started naming their kings Graham, Rory, Duncan, Alister, Andrew.... anything but bloody James.  But no, the Scots are a stubborn folk.
When something isna working, by damn, they stick with it.

 But I digress. I missed the plays, and most of the Fringe, but I did get rained on, appeared in several hundred selfies with fans, strangers, and the occasional drunk who did not know who the hell I was but wanted a selfie anyway.
I also did two major interviews at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  You can find those on line.  I will post links when I get home.  Signed many books afterwards. I also saw many other terrific authors coming and going, but did not, alas, have time to talk.

In Edinburgh I heard about Robin Williams, which made me very sad.  Never met him, but I loved his work.  We will never see his like again.    We plan to offer free showings of some of his best films at the Cocteau in weeks to come.  DEAD POET'S SOCIETY is my own favorite.  Oh, captain, my captain...

Next was London.  Or rather the Docklands, which are to London as Jersey City and Port Newark are to NYC.  But who cares, it was worldcon... and not only that, but the BIGGEST worldcon in thirty years, finally breaking the attendance record set by the 1984 world com in LA.  (Well, Anaheim).  Worldcon cracks 10,000 at last... it comes twenty years too late, but better late than never.

Would that I could say the growth will continue, but next year's con in Spokane will be lucky to get 3,000.  And the Hugo Losers Party, traditionally hosted by next year's worldcon, was a dismal affair, the worst I've seen since I threw the first of those in 1976 at Big Mac in KC,  Does not bode well for next year.  In the old days a Hugo winner who dared show up at the Hugo Losers party, Hugo in hand, would have been thrown into the hotel pool, or at least had whipped cream sprayed in his hair.  Now all the winners get is... congratulations.

I was one one of them.  "The Rains of Castamere" won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.  David Benioff and Dan Weiss scripted that episode and came down from Belfast to represent, the first time they were able to get to a worldcon.  ORPHAN BLACK -- a terrific show -- also had an episode nominated, and a writer/ producer on hand to accept.  But we were both vast underdogs, since the other four nominees were all episodes of DOCTOR WHO, the 600-point gorilla that has ruled this category since its inception.  "Blackwater" did break the Doctor'es string last year, but that was at San Antonio.  No sane person thought that we had the slightest chance against the Doctor on his home ground, and on his 50th niversary to boot.  Even the BBC must have been dead certain they were going to win, since they sent David Tennant to accept... but when the envelope was opened, it was David and Dan who sprang from their seats and rushed to the stage to grab the rockets.  I don't think anything could have thrilled them more... well, aside from winning the Emmy on Monday, but the odds against that are long.

What they did afterward was even cooler.  D&D did eventually make their way to that dreary Hugo Losers' Party for a belated bow, but they did NOT hang around the empty auditorium for that endless round of group shots of winners and presenters that has somehow become de rigeur after the Hugos of later.  Instead they headed right down to the Fan Village where all the party tents were, and bought a round for all  the fans in the house, to share the joy and celebration.  Now there's a tradition I can get behind.

Anyway, that was cool.  GAME OF THRONES collected its third Hugo in a row, in a stunning upset over DOCTOR WHO.

And now I am LA, wondering if we can do it again in the Emmys, and somehow shock the world by coming up ahead of BREAKING BAD and TRUE DETECTIVE.  They are the overwhelming consensus choices... but so was DOCTOR WHO.

Tune in Monday night, and find out.
jmswallow August 22 2014, 08:20

Interview Round-Up: Horus Heresy Audio Dramas & 24: Deadline

I've been talking to folks about all kinds of stuff this week, and here's a gathering of some of the interviews I've been doing...

geeknative Connected Digital World au

First up, the Geek Native and Connected Digital World blogs have put up some short Q&A's with me talking about my work writing the first of the new 24 tie-in novel series Deadline.

Check out the Geek Native interview Here and the CDW interview Here.

And a world away from the modern-day action and adventures of Jack Bauer, Greg Dann over at the Garagehammer site has interview me for the After Ullanor podcast, a series of regular shows that go into great depth and analysis of the Horus Heresy fiction. In this latest show, I talk to Greg about Black Library's audio drama series featuring Nathaniel Garro. Check it out Here.

incandescens August 22 2014, 00:38

plus new Doctor Who on Saturday

Made it in, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed caffeinated, for a 9.15am meeting.

Mutter mutter morning meetings.

Yay for upcoming bank holiday and 3-day weekend. (Mistyped that for a moment as 30-day weekend, which is not going to happen, but which would be even more yay.)
r_ness August 21 2014, 21:22

"Two hundred years ago today..."

I've noticed these last couple of years that coverage of the War of 1812 has been almost nonexistent south of the US-Canada border. Ontario in particular and Canada in general have paid a lot more attention to the anniversary, which makes lots of sense given how important the war was for Canada.

Until today, I only noticed two commemorations in the States: one in Maryland, which is celebrating the bicentennial of the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the composition of the national anthem; and the other in Alexandria, which is celebrating the landing and withdrawal of British troops.

However, this afternoon NPR came through. They did a segment on the burning of Washington, complete with a reporter embedded with the British forces, and analysis by E. J. Dionne and David Brooks. Still nothing like what the CBC's done to commemorate the war, but cute.

ETA: For some reason the CBC content isn't available outside Canada, but using the Hola proxy might work.
nick_kaufmann August 21 2014, 15:19

Doctor Who: The New Doctor Will See You Now

Doctor Who returns to the small screen this weekend with Peter Capaldi taking over the role of the ever-regenerating Time Lord. The introduction of a new Doctor is always an exciting time, fraught with possibility. Routinely, fans are excited but also a little nervous. We can’t wait to see this Doctor, and yet we also bite our nails and wonder if we will like him. Advance word is that Capaldi is great in the role. I’m eager to see for myself, but I’ll be in Boston this weekend and will miss the season 8 premiere Saturday night. Which means I’m going to have to pretty much avoid all social media until I get a chance to see it unsullied by spoilers and other people’s opinions.

In honor of the 12th Doctor’s imminent arrival, I’ve decided to rank all the “new Doctor” episodes of the show, from both the classic and the modern eras. I won’t be counting “The Day of the Doctor” among them, by the way. Though it is technically a new Doctor episode with the introduction of the War Doctor, it’s neither treated nor structured as a new Doctor episode, and so, in my opinion, cannot be judged in the same way. Got it? Okay, now on to the list, from best to…um, worst seems like an understatement — the new Doctor episodes!

1. The Ninth Doctor — “Rose” Not just an excellent episode in its own right, but a spectacular introduction to the Doctor himself. With Christopher Eccleston’s masterfully delivered line, “I’m the Doctor. Run for your life,” we knew we were in for something special, and you didn’t have to be a lifelong Whovian to feel it. The first season of the modern Who does a great job of taking its time doling out information about who and what the Doctor is, but that first episode is breathlessly paced. It’s not perfect — there’s no such thing as perfect — but even Mickey’s ridiculous, cartoonish battle with the Auton trash bin can’t ruin it. Remarkably, this isn’t the first new Doctor episode to feature the Autons, either, as you’ll see.

2. The Eleventh Doctor — “The Eleventh Hour” You might be surprised to see me putting this one in second place, since longtime readers know I was not a fan of the Eleventh Doctor era. I felt the program really went downhill during those three seasons, but I also happen to think “The Eleventh Hour” is a great episode. It’s a very good introduction to the show for new viewers while still retaining the feel of the previous seasons despite the lack of any recurring characters. Matt Smith hasn’t started spinning in circles and flapping his arms yet, or mooning over his companion’s short skirts. There’s a lot of proto-Moffat stupidity to be seen in hindsight — the whole stupid, sexist Kissogram thing; characters who are set up as important but never appear again (that other young man in Amy’s life, for example); the whole “Silence will fall” plot line that still doesn’t make any sense even though we’ve now seen it through to its conclusion — but for roughly an hour, the episode kept me glued to the screen. That scene at the climax where the Doctor reprimands the Atraxi and tells them this planet is protected (“Hello, I’m the Doctor. Basically…run.”) is one of the best Doctor Who scenes of all time. This episode is filled with so much potential, none of which, in my opinion, came to fruition.

3. The Fourth Doctor — “Robot” The first Doctor Who serial I ever saw, and I was hooked from the start. The plot is okay. It’s basically a leftover Third Doctor and U.N.I.T. story about a killer robot and a secret society bent on world domination. The robot itself is pretty stupid, especially when it talks, reciting incredibly hammy lines in an inappropriately Shakespearean-trained-actor voice. But as the new Doctor, Tom Baker owns the screen from minute one. From the moment he tells Harry Sullivan, U.N.I.T. physician and soon-to-be companion, “Well, of course I’m being childish! There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes,” I never looked back.

4. The Third Doctor — “Spearhead from Space” A crackling adventure with tons of action, humor, and alien-invasion goodness, featuring the very first appearance of both the Autons and Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. Nearly flawless. I would rank it higher up if it weren’t for some downright terrible dialogue between U.N.I.T. scientist Liz Shaw and the Brigadier, scratchy film quality, and the awful electronic farting music that would plague most of the serials during the Third Doctor era. But the story is a lot of fun, the Autons are a great new enemy, and Jon Pertwee is no less than a revelation in the role — the Doctor remade as a man of action. Venusian aikido, indeed!

5. The Eighth Doctor — The TV Movie In 1996, the world met the Eighth Doctor, played marvelously by Paul McGann, in a TV movie that ran on the Fox network. It also has the distinction of being the only Doctor Who episode to feature the regeneration of the previous Doctor and the complete introductory adventure of the next one. The plot is a little silly, and the reason for the Doctor’s regeneration — he gets shot by gang members right as he steps out of the TARDIS, then “dies” on the operating table because his internal organs are different from a human’s — really needed to be more science-fictional and less disturbingly realistic. There are also some newly introduced plot developments that left fans scratching their heads: The Eye of Harmony is inside the TARDIS instead of on Gallifrey, where we last saw it in 1976′s “The Deadly Assassin”? The Doctor is half-human on his mother’s side, like Spock?  What the…? But it’s a romp from start to finish, and is our first introduction to the idea of a romantic Doctor. When he kisses Grace at the end, fandom went insane. Most of the reaction was negative — the Doctor had never done anything like that before, and some felt it reduced Grace from equal companion to love interest — but the kissing never stopped after that. In fact, incidents only increased!

6. The First Doctor — “An Unearthly Child” The very first episode of Doctor Who, and for fans one of the most important twenty-five minutes in television history. So you might wonder why I didn’t rank it higher. Well, to be honest, I find it rather dull. As the Doctor, William Hartnell only appears in the last ten minutes of the episode, and all the Doctor does is mock and dismiss school teachers Ian and Barbara, who have come to a junkyard looking for their unusual student Susan, who happens to be the Doctor’s granddaughter. The Doctor is a straight-up asshole to them, and when they force their way into the TARDIS, he essentially kidnaps them against their will. The episode is hard to watch — literally at times, as the camera operator often doesn’t seem to know where to point it – but it’s hardly the worst of the bunch.

7. The Fifth Doctor — “Castrovalva” Before the new Who began, Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor was my second favorite after Tom Baker’s Fourth. However, he wasn’t off to a great start. “Castrovalva” isn’t a bad episode per se, but it’s hamstrung by its reliance on the audience having seen the last two serials of the previous season: “The Keeper of Traken” and “Logopolis.” First-time viewers choosing to start with this new Doctor would likely have no idea what is happening for the majority of “Castrovalva’s” first episode. Add on top of that a ludicrously complicated plot by the Master, and companion Tegan Jovanka acting especially shrewish, and you have a story that’s not all that enjoyable. The best part is when the Doctor, still confused from his regeneration, gets lost in the corridors of the TARDIS and cycles through the personalities of all the Doctors who came before him. He also symbolically unravels the Fourth Doctor’s famous scarf along the corridors the way Theseus used a string so he wouldn’t get lost in the labyrinth, which is both sad and perfect.

8. The Tenth Doctor — “The Christmas Invasion” David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor is my new second favorite after Tom Baker, but the problem with his first full episode is that he’s barely in it. He only shows up at the very end, and while his scenes are great — like Tom Baker, he owned the role instantly — there isn’t nearly enough screen time involved. Instead, we have to suffer through forty minutes of Rose and Mickey dodging ridiculous robot Santas while the Doctor lies comatose in bed. The whole thing about being able to regrow his severed hand because he’s still technically regenerating is pretty out there, too. An inauspicious debut for one of the best Doctors ever.

9. The Second Doctor — “The Power of the Daleks” The very first “new Doctor” serial ever, and thus one of the most important moments in the program’s history. Unfortunately, very few people have seen it because it no longer exists. In the 1960s and ’70s, the BBC destroyed a bunch of their old tapes to make room for new ones in their limited storage facilities, and among those destroyed tapes were many, many episodes of Doctor Who from the First and Second Doctor era. So I’ve never seen “The Power of the Daleks.” I have seen some of the animated reconstructions online, though, which use the surviving audio from the episodes, but from what I saw it’s not actually very good. Companions Ben and Polly are uninteresting, the Doctor refers to his old self in the third person (“The Doctor was a great collector, wasn’t he?”), he decides to read his diary to get himself up to speed (I can think of nothing more narratively boring than that), and spends most of the time wearing an even stupider hat than the Eleventh Doctor’s fez. No thanks.

10. The Sixth Doctor — “The Twin Dilemma” Utterly unwatchable. Not only is the script terrible, it turns Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor into a paranoid schizophrenic who tries to strangle his companion Peri to death. His personality stabilizes as the story goes on, but I don’t recall him ever actually apologizing to Peri for trying to kill her (and there’s no way I’m watching this garbage again to refresh my memory). Now, it would be one thing if there were repercussions for what the Doctor did that played out over the following stories, but there aren’t any. The whole thing is dropped immediately at the end of “The Twin Dilemma.” The story isn’t just nonsense, it’s unintentionally horrifying. A terrible first impression that the Sixth Doctor never fully recovered from in fans’ eyes.

11. The Seventh Doctor — “Time and the Rani” Even worse than “The Twin Dilemma,” if you can believe it. The script is beyond terrible, the villain’s plan makes no sense (steal the brains of geniuses from throughout space and time and turn them all into one giant brain!), and Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor doesn’t see a piece of scenery he doesn’t try to eat. Let’s not even talk about his companion Mel, who is nothing but a screechy parody of a 1980s exercise bunny. McCoy recovered from his terrible debut in a way that Colin Baker never really did, and indeed the Seventh Doctor went on to have some excellent stories, especially in his final two seasons. But as an introduction, “Time and the Rani” is a disaster.

And there you have it, my ranking of the “new Doctor” episodes! What do you think? Would you rank them differently? Did I malign one of your favorite episodes, or rank one higher than you think it deserves? Sound off in the comments and let me know!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

princeofcairo August 21 2014, 06:09

Dragon The Line

This may start being a thing. It was a thing last year and a thing this year and may wind up being a thing for years to come. But for right now, let's just keep things focused on my schedule at this year's DragonCon, in scenic and sweaty Atlanta, Georgia on August 29-September 1.

And once more and as always, I know of no plans to record/transcribe/podcast/livestream/triffid-clack these panels. I'm "talent," not production -- I just make funny mouth-noise when nice man says.


1:00 pm-2:00 pm
Games People Play: Written a game you want published/produced? These pros have all the right answers to make the journey easier. Location: Embassy D-F - Hyatt (Tentative Panelists: Seraphina E Brennan, Monte James Cook, Elonka Dunin, Eloy Lasanta, Starr Long, Kenneth Hite)

4:00 pm-5:00 pm
Horror in Gaming: Find out about scaring your players, scaring ourselves and the art of horror stories at the table top. Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Clint Black)

7:00 pm-8:00 pm
Cthulhu Mythos: The Innsmouth Cycle: A discussion about the Innsmouth cycle created by H.P. Lovecraft and continued by his followers. Location: Peachtree 1-2 - Westin (Tentative Panelists: James A. Moore, Lois H Gresh, Cherie Priest, Kenneth Hite)


1:00 pm-2:00 pm
Historical Gaming: How history influences gaming in all aspects from board games to role-playing games to online games. Topics from WWII to the Ancient World discussed. Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Darwin Bromley, Clint Black)


11:30 am-12:30 pm
Cthulhu in Gaming: Two of the Cthulhu's key designers join us to discuss the history of the Great Old Ones in gaming, and how to incorporate it into your games. Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Monte James Cook)

5:30 pm-6:30 pm
Cults, Conspiracies, and Other Weirdness: Experts talk about conspiracies, cults, and all of the weird that pops up in gaming. Why are we attracted to it? How can we use the weird? Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Monte James Cook, Kenneth Hite)
kenjari August 21 2014, 01:58

Book Review

Music in the Renaissance
by Richard Freedman

This is the second in the Western Music in context series, and it was just as good as the previous volume on medieval music. One of the things I've come to like about this series is that each volume is just enough. You get a good, interesting view of that particular period without too much detail. Yet there is enough depth that I always feel I am learning something new and getting a useful perspective on the music and composers.
In this book, Freeman takes a close look at the relationship between music and the courtly culture of the nobility, which was of particular interest for its look at the role of amateur music making in this culture. I also liked the discussion of the ways in which the rise of printing changed things for both composers and performers. Freeman's treatment of the musical encounters between Europeans and the various native peoples they met in the course of exploration and colonization was especially fascinating, and something I would definitely like to read more about.
incandescens August 21 2014, 00:19

wrapping up warm

First day back at work, and as expected, my mailbox was stuffed full.

Early meeting tomorrow, so should probably not stay up too late tonight. Must show up awake and interested, or at least awake-looking and interested-looking.

Weather is not actively raining at the moment, but has turned gloomy and cool enough that I am currently wearing slippers and a shawl. (As well as, you know, other clothing.) I know that I was complaining about the heat earlier, but hey, weather deities, moderation in all things.
nihilistic_kid August 20 2014, 21:13

Up All Night

Twitter remains fascinating for conversational speed, from the events in Missouri to a local campaign against an Israeli boat docking at the Port of Oakland to some guy's meltdown over his cheating girlfriend and what it supposedly means for "journalistic integrity" among video game websites (hint: nothing, it means nothing). I've been on Twitter for a few years now, but it never really attracted my attention as completely as it has before. I suppose I finally found the right mix of people to follow for the sort of breaking news and breaking gossip in which I am interested.

Not too much else to report: Letters to Lovecraft is up for pre-order. It's yet another anthology of Lovecraftian fiction, and the gimmick this time is that the authors all flipped through Supernatural Horror in Literature and found something in it to respond to in a work of fiction. My story "The Semi-Finished Basement" is a reaction to the line "...a diluted product can never achieve the intensity of a concentrated essence." The book also includes work by:

Brian Evenson
Nadia Bulkin
Paul Tremblay
Livia Llewellyn
Stephen Graham Jones
Tim Lebbon
Cameron Pierce
Asamatsu Ken
Jeffrey Ford
Angela Slatter
Gemma Files
Chesya Burke
Orrin Grey
David Yale Ardanuy
Kirsten Alene
Robin D. Laws
Molly Tanzer

(I presume this is the order of the ToC.) Anyway, of interest is that the publisher sells print/ebook bundles: you can get both from Stone Skin Press for $13.99 and cut out all vampiric middlemen.

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