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Alive in 2015

Reading through some of my previous year-end posts, I was struck how optimistic last year's post was. I don't remember 2014 with much fondness and yet things then were arguably better than this year. 
I think 2015 is the year when a lot people decided to give up hope in slow, steady progress. I don't have any other explanation for what transpired. The Ebola panic of 2014 has become the immigration panic, ISIS panic, and the Trump panic, and half a dozen other emergencies that have to be DEALT WITH RIGHT NOW! Then, something that does represent an actual challenge for this country, indeed the world, Global Warming brings together the entire world in an agreement that while rudimentary, lays some ground work for the future (as we know it) on this planet. That is a huge achievement that this country helped bring into being.
And yet - we're told this is a country that has lost its greatness. That this country has been humbled and defeated. 
I simply can't believe it. 

What I Watched in 2015

This last five best list is the hardest one. All of the movies listed below are terrific. The next two movies I didn’t include on this list are also pretty great. Yet, I think there is a virtue in ordering experiences and with that in mind, Mad Max beats out competitors. I’m not sure if this is a better movie than Spotlight or Ex Machina, but it certainly occupied more of my attention this year.  
Mad Max: Fury Road. To be clear, this is an action film. A well-made, sincerely wrought exercise in mayhem to be sure, but ultimately this is a long car-chase. But there is something about Fury Road that, for me, goes beyond a good movie and enters the realm of myth-making. This movie didn’t work on all of my friends and I’ve seen very detailed break-downs on how Imperator Furiosa is not a new-wave feminist icon, or how the plot has major holes, or this and that. But in the end, this film stands unmarked by carping. It found a way to make action movies cool again, sketching in 120 minutes a w…

What I Read in 2015

This is the second in my year-end series addressing works of music, literature, and film that seemed important to me. Today, I’m focusing on literature.
I read a bunch this year, mostly works from 2014 but a few from this year. Any long-time reader of this blog might be able to guess at my favorites from this year but I discovered plenty of exciting new artists along the way.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson: Hands-down my favorite novel this year and probably one of my favorites from KSR outside of the Mars Trilogy. Borrowing themes and motifs from previous works (even Shaman!), Kim Stanley Robinson here crafts a generation ship tale unlike any I’ve read. This novel will endure for me well past 2015 because its target is not just the implausibility of interstellar travel, but the pernicious danger of human ideas when confronting the hard truths. Put simply, people are bad at accepting facts they cannot see or choose to ignore. Sound familiar? Even so, this novel is not doom and gloom, bu…

What I Heard in 2015

Every year, I like to take a few moments to list works of music, literature, and film that seemed important to me. This is the first post in that series for 2015, the music I enjoyed.
The top two places on this list were obvious to me in June, but the others required many re-listens. Left off is the amazing return album from Sleater-Kinney, Kendrick Lamar’s exceptional “To Pimp a Butterly,” and works by Courtney Barnett, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Grimes. As always, this list is simply a record of the sounds that signified for me the experiences of a year.

James McMurty: Complicated Game. Right off the bat I knew this would be one of my favorite albums from 2015. Giving it listen half a year later, I’m struck by how powerful this album is, how bleak and perfect for this year. There was an easy confidence to these songs, a hard-bitten world view of people’s lives ground up and buried. I imagine some of these songs would sound samey to someone but to me each one is a poetic encapsul…

My spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Force Awakened

Star Wars: The Force Awakened makes me care about Star Wars again. In a year filled with great science fiction and fantasy films, this movie finds its own special place.

The thing about thinking about an experience after you've had it, is that it is already an admixture - part of what you are feeling now will always affect what you thought you felt then. As best I can resurrect, what I felt watching Star Wars two nights ago was sheer joy. From the opening crawl to the final credits, I spent long, long moments completely immersed in this movie, completely enthralled. I liked a number of movies this year, but this might be the only one that grabbed my attention and never let go. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, which was an accomplished space opera, couldn't really match this movie's most effortless achievement - creating a whole bunch of characters I understood and cared about in a personal way.



I think the first and most apparent level of this movie is that personal engagemen…

Quick Note on What I Read in November

Alas, life intrudes again. I was able to read a number of excellent stories this month but I haven't been able to read nearly enough to justify a full short story review page for this month. So I'll name a few that I liked and try to wrap in a few more for my end of the year list.


So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer. (Clarkesworld) Clarkesword can be such a deadly serious journal most months, it's great to encounter a story like Kritzer able to have a little fun with the end of the world. This was one of my favorites because it suggested that a possibly apocalyptic event, a global superflu epidemic dealt with in the same way all of life's travails are: lots of cooking. Like Contagion but filled with people you actually care about.If on a Winter's Night A Traveler by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu for Clarkesworld). My favorite story so far this month. I struggle to call this science fiction or fantasy but it certainly has an otherworldly Borgesian aspect to it. A libra…

My Panels for Arisia

The panel announcements are up for Arisia 2016 and I'm pleased to report I'll be on some awesome ones this January.

First off, I'm going to be on the "Genre Fiction in Translation" panel Friday at 7:00 pm with a whole host of talented writers. Crystal Huff will moderate and I'll be sharing the table with Ken Liu, Sarah Weintraub, and John Chu. Ken Liu has been mentioned a few times here at Ancient Logic, both for his excellent short stories (including one of my favorites from last year "The Clockwork Soldier," and his work bringing Chinese language science fiction into English, including work from Liu Cixin. John Chu is one of his collaborators so I'm very excited to take part in this conversation. 

That same night (Friday 8:30 pm) I'll be taking part in The Future of Mars panel with another incredible line-up of writers and thinkers. The Guest of Honor, John Scalzi will be joining the discussion, as well as Ken Scheneyer (moderator) and Jeff …

Promo for Woburn Reading

I will be reading some of my work at the Woburn Public library this December 10th at 7pm. This event is shaping up to be an open mike with myself and Nick Mancuso (who runs the Woburn Writing Workshop) starting the festivities. I hope to see you there.

Here is the press release for the event. Thank you to Andrea Bunker, the assistant librarian at Woburn for organizing this event.

"On Thursday, December 10, at 7PM, read it, speak it, and own it at Woburn Public Library's first Open Mic Night for Writers! Come with a short piece or poem to share with a general audience, or simply join us to listen to works that may be meeting others' ears for the first time. Light refreshments will be served, and handicapped access can be arranged by calling (781) 933-0148. Connecting readers and writers since 1856, the Woburn Public Library is located at 45 Pleasant Street in Woburn, MA."



Impressions of Fallout 4

Despite some obvious flaws, Fallout 3 remains my favorite video game of all time. Never before or since have I spent nearly so much time in one world, drawn to exploring every nook and cranny of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. Never before did every random side-quest, minor skirmish, and unopened door feel so integral to the story I was involved with.



So to say that I’ve been eagerly anticipating Fallout 4 is to put my mood the past sixth months in the mildest possible terms.

Having played about 12 hours (which seems like the barest scratch of the surface of this game), I can say that Fallout 4 has met my expectations. It has not exceeded them quite yet, but I am certainly playing the game that I thought I would be playing.

To start off, the basic set-up of Fallout 4 is similar to most (though not all) of the previous post-apocalyptic sci fi epics. You start out exploring the wastelands after escaping from a Vaultec survival shelter. The twist here is that your protagonist is someone fl…

Author Copy Received

As mentioned previously in Ancient Logic, my space opera story "Distractions," found a home in the Game Fiction Volume 1 anthology published by Gold Shader. I received my author copy today and I have to say I think the whole production impressed me. There's just something reassuring about holding a copy of your story in print especially when it sits along side such other excellent stories.


A print copy of the book is available through the following link. "Distractions" is also available for free online at the Gold Shader homepage.


New Story announcement

My new short story, "The Correspondent" is now available on Issue #6 of The New Accelerator, an e-zine available through Apple Newsstand and Google Play. This is one of my favorite stories I've written so far and I'm pleased to have this tale of child soldiers fighting in an endless war finally in print. 

Those wishing to read the story should follow either of these links (Apple, Google) on their mobile device to subscribe to the newsletter. Issue #6 only costs a dollar and you get plenty of great stories besides mine.

Description of The New Accelerator.

The New Accelerator is a fresh and dynamic anthology of Science Fiction stories. We have collected the most astonishing, perplexing, innovative, and satisfying short stories for you, our readers. We want to share with you the delights and shocks, the thrills and awe that these stories provide.Download the app and enjoy our preview issue for free.Issues are published monthly, and subscription is approximately $1 per mont…

What I Read in October

I fell a little behind in my reading this month. Mostly this was for good reasons as I hope to reveal either next month or January. Even so, there were a few stories that caught my eye that I’ll talk up below. 
For Salvation by Michael B Tager. (Gamine Fiction volume 1) This was my favorite story from the Gold Shader “Game Fiction Volume 1” anthology my story “Distractions appeared in last month. This is a bit of a slow burn but the story gives clear sense of dread and purpose.Ice by Rich Larson (Clarkesworld) This slice of life story set on a frozen world called New Greenland revolves around the efforts to human civilization to adapt to environments clearly not meant for human civilization. Curious story in that it's about the tension between all sorts of post-human elaboration and the always  perilous crust of brother relations. As someone with a brother, this story really registered.Cats’ Game by Michelle Muenzler. (DSF) A little bit of the Lottery mixed with a character study o…

Third Trailer

Because I've said something about the other Star Wars trailers, I think I'll put down a few quick impressions of the most recent one.


In short, I'm still really impressed. The mood here is what really strikes me. The cinematography is straightforward and yet different somehow from other science fiction epics. I think part of this has to do with the avoidance of simple orange/blue color palettes (although I could be mistaken on that). There's a bit more going on in the X-Wing and Tie-Fighter battle than what we saw in the previous trailers but this is still not the gobs of unnecessary FX of the prequels. As many observers noted, there also seems to be a real focus on emotional impact. In particular, the confrontation between Kylo Ren (he of the radioactive cross guard lightsaber) and Finn registers as very dangerous. The short scene gives us Ren dominating the frame, Finn backed into one corner of the shot. If that is the direction J.J. Abrams goes with the lightsaber f…

Tips for Describing Extraterrestrials

We are long past the point in speculative fiction where seeing a bipedal cat works convincingly as an alien. Knowing how strange and multitudinous life is on our own planet gives speculative writers a special responsibility to envision alien life as least as weird and unpredictable as that we find around us.


Way back in the 60s, during the New Age of science fiction authors were already beginning to chafe at the existing models of aliens - the bug-eyed octopuses and sentient cows. A reprint of Mutation Planet by Barrington J. Bayley shows  how potent previous generations of writers were at conjuring the truly alien. Aside from the baroque biological oddities described in this story, Barrington focuses on one of the most important aspects of xenogensis, quickly illustrating how different biologies fuel different imperatives. While the story bears some defects of its time, sexism and clunky dialogue, it nevertheless captured my imagination with its ruthless and grim depiction of the univ…

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel "Aurora," overwhelmed me - mostly in a good way. Through a clever use of an artificial intelligence as a narrator, Robinson was able to tell one of his farthest ranging story on a canvas both vast and intimate. The multi-generational Ship of the story experiences the complexities of human hopes and conflicts while sweeping up the observations of centuries of travel and peril in interstellar space. While relatively compact for a Robinson novel, plenty here, taken separately, would serve as an entire novel in lesser hands. 




Okay, so what is this book about? Devi, Badim, and young Freya are a family living on the Ship. Devi is a prickly, brilliant, and frequently outraged ecosystem engineer aboard the ship. Devi is a person cursed with that particular mentality able to perceive inconvenient truths about a situation, and knows how tenuous their survival is. Their home, the Ship, is flying through space on a 170 year journey towards Tau Ceti…

The Martian

I was late to The Martian party, having only read it earlier this year. I enjoyed it then and had a good feeling about the movie directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon. Something about the trailers suggested the film-makers got the essential point of Andy Weir's novel and wouldn't go out of their way to ruin it.




There is a distinct pleasure in having favorable first impressions backed up by the actual product.

I very much enjoyed The Martian which marks the third hard sci-fi space thriller in as many years that I thought really worked. With $55 million taken in over the weekend, it also looks like the kind of financial success that could bring in another round of such projects. As a big fan of space exploration I tend to think that as a very good thing.

So where does this movie lie in the big scheme of things?

The challenge is that while The Martian fulfills the promise of the book and certainly ranks high in science fiction movies, it's not a great movie. Not in my hum…

What I Read in September

September was a busy month for me. Back to school. Two collections including my stories. A great number of stories to pore through in under thirty days.




I am including my favorite stories out of the Bundoran Anthology, Second Contacts, that includes my story “This Beautiful Creature.” I’ll probably do something similar next month with the Game Fiction Volume 1. I think both collections contained some killer stories and it’s my pleasure to talk up them and their authors.

Okay, on to the picks for September 2015:
The Oiran’s Song by Isabel Yap (Uncanny Magazine) A beautiful and terrible meditation on war and the thirst for violence and death. An oni daughter infiltrates an Imperial Japanese army unit and begins to feed upon them. Her tent mate is a boy neutered by his anguish and loss, slowly sliding into being an accomplice.The Peace of Worlds by Jaime Babb (Second contacts) So everyone knows what happened when the Martians invaded before. For all of their overwhelming fire-power and tech…

Teaser video for my story in the "Second Contacts" anthology

Apparently Michael Rimar and Hayden Treholm put together a series of short teaser videos for the stories in Bundoran's "Second Contacts" anthology. Here's the one for mine, "This Beautiful Creature:"

The more I look at this picture the closer it looks to what I was aiming for in describing the Ghost Monkeys of the story.

What I Read in August

Neil Clarke’s post on Clarkesworld explaining why his magazine doesn’t have a short fiction review column struck me. Not having access to his web traffic logs I can’t argue with the facts he brings to bear, namely that short fiction reviews don’t drive readers to the site. I would say on a pure anecdotal level, however, that I have read many short stories on the basis of review columns and, more importantly, also discovered markets where such stories appear. These “What I Read” posts also tend to attract the most traffic on my site.




That said, I agree with him on one level - this blog, which really is just a list of the stories I like - is probably not going to be moving anyone to read a particular story. I do hope that in assembling these lists every month a casual short story reader might come across a title that does seem worth interesting or a magazine that they had not heard of. Really, if the year so far has taught me anything, it’s that there is an incredible wealth of quality f…

Goldshader is Live!

It looks like Goldshader's website, which features one of my stories "Distractions," is now up and running. I could not be more pleased with the awesome presentation for my story, including the evocative animation for a scene in the story.

"Distractions," as befitting its inclusion in the First Volume of the Game Fiction anthology, concerns augmented reality games played between young explorers on the fringe of the known universe. My story is available in full on the website, but it is also available for purchase in print and e-copy formats.

I'm extremely happy with how this website came out and I hope you have a chance to check out the other stories featured on the site!

Suggestions for the Post-Apocalypse

After watching the majesty of Mad Max: Fury Road, I decided to revisit some classics of the post-apocalypse over the last couple of months. I’m not sure what I was looking for, precisely but my rough outline was - the work (movie, television show, book, whatever) had to involve the end of the world as we know it and spend a significant portion of its narrative examining what sort of society would exist after such an event.

Obviously, there is no shortage of the post-apocalypse. To go out on a limb, the collapse is even in a bit of a growth cycle. Before even watching Mad Max, I read five novels all published last year that addressed TEOTWAWKI in some respect. Whether following spore zombies in post-collapse London (The Girl With All of the Gifts) or the slow crumbling of social order in The Book of Strange New Things, I was already in this catastrophic state of mind.

As far as books go, the post-apocalypse has a long history. Mary Shelley wrote “The Last Man” way back in 1826 but I’d ma…

Vast Crater

This is the hole left behind by the Tianjin explosion. More than a few people have mentioned it reminds them of the Crater in Akira. It does speak to the scale of urban development taking place in China right now.

Tiajin Crater Location

True Detective Post-Mortem

Well...That was disappointing.

I actually watched the finale of True Detective's finale Monday but it took me awhile to want to sit down and discuss what went wrong with this series.

All the pieces were there if you wanted to see them. The fragments, blueprints, and characters for a truly great LA Noir story. It's like someone showed up in an abandoned lot with all of the finest timber, most exactly carved moldings, beautiful stained windows, all of the best furniture and appliances and then just dumped them in the dirt and walked away.

Nic Pizzolatto had all he needed for a great house and then he forgot to put it together.

I had some hopes for the finale. After all it was expanded to 90 minutes which I thought might allow for some truly epic storytelling. I wanted something like the 'sprawl' of the first season with maybe a bit more into the whole weird costumed cult angle.

What we got was 90 minutes of the same series we've been watching. Action, death, angst, a…

What I Read in July

The stories that spoke to me last month involved regret and longing, exploring that uneasy intersection between having too little and wanting too much. In particular, Lavie Tidhar’s piece had this really cool aspect of looking at realistic moment in the future with an eye towards fantasy, wishing for something that has already outlived its time.
Andromache and the Dragon by Brittany Pladek (Ideomancer) An unusual dragon composed of all of the inanimate and living flotsam around it terrorizes a seaside town. The dragon can feed on things like desires and in so slaking its hunger removes the wants and wishes of a town. Andromache of the title witnesses all of this, a strangely objective and patient morsel.Backpack by Stefan A. Slater. (Betwixt) A short story about disposing of fears and doubts in your own way. Dryly philosophical.The cork won't stay by Nate Southard. (Nightmare) A bleak take on mind control about the ways grief makes monsters of us, the pointlessness of existence as …

Post-Debate

Leaving aside any notion of the Republican debate being a serious examination of policies and prescriptions for the future of this country, let's appreciate it, for the moment, on the level it deserved - Reality Television Entertainment. Twitter noticed the strange production quality of the debate early: the large stage in front of a large (and fairly energized) crowd, three moderators with different versions of skepticism on each of the faces. Each of the moderators/judges provided a different challenge for the contestants/candidates: for some it was a blunt 'why are you here, exactly?' and for others it was a list of specific character flaws for them to explain. I'll will give credit where credit is due - the moderators knew their material and they kept the debate flowing smoothly (once beyond that weird train wreck of an opening). One could imagine any number of scenes falling into a loser edit when they eventually drop out.
This cross-cutting resulted in some real …

After Leftovers

My initial impression after finishing the first season of HBOs The Leftovers is basically positive, which in itself is an old takeaway from a show so relentlessly and essentially bleak. I didn't like the finale all that much and the moments of catharsis accompanied by Philip Glass arpeggios have passed the point of finishing returns to enter the realm of self-parody. Honestly how can this town even function if its citizens are breaking down every fifty minutes for a good ugly cry?
But this show works on so many levels I can't simply laugh it away. At least three of stories in season one were instant classics: "Two Boats and a Helicopter," "Gladys," and "Guest." The overall ideas of the series - the cult of depression and the crisis of a psychological apocalypse really worked for me. 
I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to the next season of The Leftovers but I'm willing to watch it be what it is.

America according to Boston

I'd love to see an updated version of this map, although this one still seems pretty accurate.