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Alive in 2016

Part of me wants to sum up this year in one or two words - it sucked! - and be done with it. I've spilled a lot of virtual ink in service of pessimism lately so maybe it's time to put paid to 2016 and be done with it.

Instead, I'd like to take a moment to remember some of the good things about this year.

This was a year of friends. I met a bunch of amazing people this year, had time to hang out with old friends, and had some of the best conversations about politics, speculative fiction, movies, and life. If you spent time with me, helped me understand this world a little bit better, filled it with life and laughter and hope, well, the least I can do is thank you. Thank you for reading my stories, putting up with my mistakes, and giving me your support. Thank you Lauren for being the best friend a person could ever hope for and congratulations for finishing your masters.

This was a year of video games. Maybe not the most consequential aspect of life but, you know what, if I…

What I Read in 2016

This was a great year for speculative fiction, both novels and short stories and I had a little trouble narrowing down my favorites to just five. Which is part of the reason this post is running right up to the end of the year. Every story I'm listing below is one that is still sitting with me all these months later. 
For the record, I have one more of these year-end posts left - a sort of wrap-up of everything else.

In comparison to last year, which was nearly all science fiction (and one very Sfnal fantasy novel) I've got a slightly more eclectic list going here.
The Fisherman by John Langan: This is the last novel I read in 2016 and the best. Langan's tale of two widowers bonding over fishing the streams and rivers of Upstate New York combines intensely personal tragedy, with scenes of compelling weirdness and terror. The story raises interesting questions about the nature of language and the responsibilities of those in grief. Infomocracy by Malka Older. A political thr…

What I Watched in 2016

For my second year-end post, I'd like to talk about movies. There are five movies that stuck with me this year, perhaps not the five best movies, but certainly good ones that meant something to me. From my limited perspective as a routine movie-goer the gap between blockbuster movies and "quality films" continues to grow each year. Are these even in the same genre anymore? While certainly the basic technology employed by movies and films is the same (except when it isn't) the point of films seems to be diverging. The point of a movie like Marvel's Captain America: Civil War is to serve as the vehicle for cathartic spectacle while the point of my favorite movie is something closer to communication - the passing on of knowledge to the audience. In principle, I enjoy both modes but I wish they would cross-pollinate a bit more. It is the rare movie, (The Lord of Rings Trilogy, Star Wars, and Interstellar come to mind) that seems to want to do both: to create a grand…

What I Listened to in 2016

Each year, I like to gather together the albums, movies, and stories that meant something to me. I wouldn't call this a "Best of" list, exactly, although I do think that all of these works are worth your time to track down. My intention is simply to record those things that felt important or helped me understand the world in someway. In a confusing, disappointing, and increasingly terrifying year like this one, maybe art doesn't really matter all that much. If that's your response, I say more power to you. For better or worse art keeps me alive and these lists are meant to record what kept me writing, creating, and working.
Alright, so THIS list is about music and as far as the year goes, while I liked a number albums very much I wasn't blown away by any particular album. While I think this list contains very strong albums, it may not match up with many BOY posts you see elsewhere. These are simply the albums I listened to the most though this year.

Swans, &quo…

Review of Star Wars: Rogue One (no spoilers)

I have to admit it took a little while to get into the new Star Wars movie. The beginning felt weird to me: both in terms of the scattered, start/stop nature of the set-up and also, being honest, the lack of the title crawl. I know it's a small thing but details matter. Without the crawl, some part of the task of determining what is going on and how it fits in with everything else falls to the viewer. Perhaps that's the point here. Without the frame of mythology and a redemption arc, how does the conflict of Star Wars look to the people who actually fought it? 



Gareth Edwards, the director of the new movie, makes some wise decisions early on, despite the muddle: Jyn's story of lost parents and abandonment is classic storytelling in the epic mode - certainly something Star Wars fans have come to expect from the franchise.

Overall, though, none of that really mattered. The ending for this movie is tremendous, perfectly setting up Episode 4, giving a sense of the sacrifice emb…

What I Read in November 2016

November was a great month fiction and miserable month for just about everything else. First off, I'll mention I'm in process of getting together a "Best of 2016" list together in preparation for the "Short Sharp Shocks," panel I'll be on for next year's Arisia. I'm on the panel with some incredible writers and reviewers of short fiction but one awesome thing is that one of the panelists shares an appreciation for one of my current favorite short fiction writers, Gwendolyn Kiste (highlighted below). This promises to be a great conversation.

I'm also going to make a shameless plug because: why not? "Gazer," by Karen Osborne appears in the same "Electric Spec Magazine," issue as my story "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY." Read her excellent story first and then give my a try in if you're in the mood for a coming-of-age story set in a world beset by virtual creatures come to life. Although not described here, the o…

"The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY" is now available!

My new story, "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," is now available in the current issue of the Electric Spec magazine. I'm very proud that this story is getting published at Electic Spec for the simple reason I've been reading the magazine for years, dreaming of the day I might get a story published there. Well, it's finally happened.

The story of "Yuru-chara" is pretty simple: a young girl wakes up to discover that her old virtual friend, a seven-foot-tall yellow monster named Tama Bell, has come to life. While navigating through waves of other virtual creatures released through a world-wide hack, the young heroine tries to come to grips with her responsibility to her forgotten friend and the losses inherent to growing up.

I hope that you enjoy my story and that you give the other stories a try. They're awesome!

Thank you for your continued support.

Panel announcement for Arisia 2017

Arisia 2017 is approaching and I'm happy to report that I've gotten my preliminary panels!

I'm going to describe them briefly and share a final schedule with you as we get closer to the convention.

The first panel is "The Alien in the Alien," which I'm interpreting as a look at the use of 'very alien' aliens in SF literature - entities with thought processes very different from human beings. I'm also on the "Preacher" Gone to Texas (and TV)" panel which is going to look at some of the issues surrounding the recent television adaption of the beloved comic book series. As mentioned, this comic book was a big influence on me, and I'm curious what sorts of reactions people have had to the show versus the comic book.

I have two literature themed panels on the last day of the convention: one looking at the power of SFFnal literature to shock and discomfort readers. As readers of this blog know, this has been topic of interest to me this …

New Chapter

I have another chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman," my serialized web fiction about weird espionage during the Cold War. My goal was to finish this project in November which is not going to happen but I am on track to finish this either shortly before or after the New Year. Thank you as always for your readership and support. It is greatly appreciated.
I don't know where to start. An article today in Politico stated that Obama gave his staff a week and a half to feel down and dispirited after Nov. 8th but then he needed them to fight by Thanksgiving. I myself feel that it is time to pull myself out of the useless rage and churlish depression I sunk into after Trump became president.
I was wrong. Lots of people were wrong. In moments of honesty (whenever those happen) I'm sure Trump was surprised he won. Whatever. He's here and already doing exactly what people figured he'd do - break any promise that doesn't directly help him, his family, and fat cats …

New Story Acceptance!

As mentioned last week, I do have a bit of happy news to share. I am excited to announce that my story, "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," will appear in the next issue of the Electric Spec Magazine at the end of the month. I am tremendously excited about this for a few reasons:
Electric Spec is simply awesome. I've been reading this magazine for awhile and never been disappointed by a single story. To have one of my stories selected is beyond humbling. I can only give an earnest thank you to Lesley L. Smith for choosing the story.I love this story dearly. It has one of my favorite protagonists and shows in the clearest way I've managed where I'd like to go with my fiction. Electric Spec also gave me the chance to reflect on this story and its meaning in a guest blog which I am sharing below. Without being spoilery, this blog expresses some of what resonates about "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," with me. Guest Blog at Electric SpecAt the moment, I think the…

Arrival

Every moment is an arrival; its passing a departure.

I wonder how this movie will be viewed in years to come. Prescient or the last gasp of a dying order? The movie, Arrival, released this weekend to overwhelming positive reviews paints a simple but nuanced perspective of the universe. Do we still live in a universe capable of nuance?

Based on a beautiful short story by Ted Chiang, (The Story of Your Life), Arrival is essentially a first-contact story. And parts of it reminded me of "Contact," although I like this movie considerably more. This is a cerebral movie, unafraid to let powerful images and solid acting deliver its message rather than spectacle (although there is certainly a little of that, too). It's also an excellent movie, probably my favorite depiction of First Contact in movies, owing the simple fact that the movie is unafraid to depict truly alien aliens and their profound impact on truly human humans.

Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist brought into the …

You Want It Darker

That Leonard Cohen passed away yesterday is a terrible shame. He was a singular talent and a true artist. I also can't think of a single voice more appropriate for the times we've entered. Still, it would be worth your time to give his last album (released only a couple of weeks ago) a listen. Bleak, soulful stuff.

At the moment I'm still of the mind there is no hope beyond hope itself. In my last post I suggested resisting everything. That's, more or less, where I still am. I think we need time to think of an appropriate and humane and elegant approach to the challenge of Trump's America. I think we need to grapple with this loss and investigate its causes and repercussions. The last thing I think we should be doing is simply fold up and let Trump, Ryan, Gingrich, and the rest of the deplorables have their way with this country.

So, do what you can.

If your way of refusing is signing a petition, do it. It can't hurt.

If your way of helping is joining on the co…

How About Some Honesty

I've seen a lot of different reactions to the election so far, everything from the mass protests in major cities, suggestions for ensuring privacy for activists hoping to fight against Trump, apathy, anger at the DNC, anger at people who voted for third parties, and words offered of sincere encouragement and empathy.

To be honest all of this leave me feeling more angry than not.

I don't know anything about what's going on. I don't understand my country anymore or really the people who live in it. I thought I did, which is why I voted for Hillary. I thought she was just the sort of president we needed. We all lost something when Trump won; I've lost my faith in people who claim to know what's going to happen. Including myself.

Yeah, I probably should have come to this realization a lot sooner. After all, I am the most armchair of all armchair campaign managers. I don't go to rallies. I barely donate to causes. I don't really believe in causes to begin wi…

Afterwards

Yesterday afternoon, coming back home from walking Finn, I paused in front of my house. Maybe you remember the sky yesterday, how clear it was, like a big blue pane of glass leaning against the edge of the world. The sun was low, shining on some parts of the world, casting others into deep pools of shadow. My house was dark, but its corona of oaks and box elders glowed in trembling coppers, bronzes, and golds.

I remember thinking to myself I should treasure that moment. No one knew how things would turn out. I might think back on that instant as precious. A moment when I didn't know Trump was going to be president.

I've gone through a lot of emotions today. No matter who you voted for, I think the same is probably true for you. Most people in this country don't particularly like Trump or think he should be president or in fact voted for him.

I'll let that sink in for a moment.

And yet, here we are. Told to respect a man who spent nearly two years tearing down this coun…

New Chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman"

The 40th chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman" is now available. This is a bit of back story chapter although it does advance Spaceman's narrative a teensy bit. In any case, thank you for your continued readership and support.

***
In my last post I mentioned some happy news I might be able to announce soon. And that happy news...has been joined by still more happy news!!! Unfortunately I can't really announce either right now. I'm still waiting for confirmation on the first and a reply on the second. But rest assured, I am super-excited about both and will post updates here as soon as I have them available. November is shaping up to be a very encouraging month on a personal level. I hope the good news continues tomorrow.

What I Read in October

It's tough to believe that it's already November! I will be grateful to see the other side of Tuesday as my mood right now is cautiously optimistic. The polls have stabilized and the early voting patterns encourage. If you haven't already - remember to vote!

Besides a few anthologies worth of short stories, I got to review about the expected number of current short fiction. I'm selecting a few that really stuck with me this month.
A Diet of Worms by Valerie Valdes. The best Twilight Zone episodes, the scariest ones, revolved around worlds just slightly out of step with our own. They were like traps or snares. Take the wrong door or stop at the wrong town and there you'd be, stuck forever. That's what this story is like. The narrator keeps going to see a movie called "The Queen in Red" which somehow sucks the life out of the narrator. The terror here is of that dread that once time has gone it can't come back. The Key to St Medusa's by Kat Howard…

Solemn Treasures

In Gilead, the transcendent novel by Marilynn Robinson, a 76 year old man confronts his impending mortality and the sense he cannot provide for his young son after he is gone. He had not expected to meet his son's mother in the twilight of his life, not expected to have a son. If he had, he tells his son in a lengthy letter forming the substance of Robinson's novel, he might have set something by for him. Some sort of savings or investment. It pains him to think that when he is gone, all that he can leave are a few words.

What words.

As mentioned in a previous post, I set myself on the task (is that really the right word here? maybe endeavor would be better) to read as many of the 'great novels' of this young century as I could. After reading Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall-" which was also fantastic by the way - I made my way to Gilead. One of the many quietly strange things about this novel is that it's actually the second novel from Robinson. Her first…

Web Fiction Updated

The next chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman" is now available. This web novel is updated twice weekly and follows the misadventures of two anarchist spies fighting cryptozoological threats and weaponized nihilism during the Cold War. Thank you for reading!

A new chapter for web serial

A new chapter is available for my web serial "Agent Shield and Spaceman." I appreciate your continued reading and support of my work. Enjoy!
In other news, I'm feeling myself relishing a relatively quiet and unhurried Saturday. Fall is typically a very busy time for me, and this year appears no different. 
I think my basic thought right now is: cautious optimism tinged with impatience to get the election over with already. I am well and truly sick of talking about this election. No one is surprised about how this election is shaping up. If anything, this is exactly the race the polls and debates last year predicted. Clinton versus Trump: one campaign showing a dogged, cautious approach to rounding up the votes necessary to become president and the other throwing M-80s in piles of gasoline soaked rags. Clinton up between four and six points overall, more in precisely the states she needs to win. Trump behind and blaming everyone but himself.
Anyway, only 17 days left, don…

What I Read in September

Slightly better situation this month for reading short stories. I still didn't quite to as many as I'd like to but I can recommend a few stories without hesitation.  Scent by Maria Haskins (Flash Fiction Online) Another tale of the horrific perfumes. Here, a daughter administers to a frightful mother, a kind of demon who steals away the fragrances (and presumably souls) of unlucky mortals. There is something memorable about the intertwining of imagery and odor, and also the slow, twisting tension between a mother and a daughter; the mask of pleasant perfumes over something dark and predatory.All the Mermaid Wives by Gwendolyn Kiste. (87 Bedford) a couple of Kiste's favorite motifs intertwine here. Fairy tale creatures updated for a fraught present, sisterhood, and questions of empowerment. This story broadens her work in some respects. While still retaining a directness and unpretentious grace, more and more of her line…

Updates

Ah, October.

Surprise!

This week has not been kind to me in terms of time to catch up with my web fiction. There's the news, my day job, various extracurriculars, and then more news! But I do have chapter 35 available to read today and I hope to make some progress with some upcoming chapters tomorrow. I still think, for the most part, the novel will be updated twice weekly but I have to admit, more weeks like this past one are going to happen between now and the end of November which was my projected completion date.

So, I appreciate your patience and continue to press forward to the final third of the novel. Thank you for reading!

New Chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman"

For your reading enjoyment a new chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman" is now available. In this chapter, Spaceman confronts the double agent Melissa LeHaze after stewing in his cell for hours. He begins to sense that the Master is not quite done with him.

Thank you for reading!

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

For the most part I'm comfortable with a choice I've made for this blog. As some commenters have already noted, I'm more of a praiser than a critic. I like what I like and I tend to write posts about things I think are stupendous, amazing, and life-affirming. 


Then I read a novel like Junot Diaz' "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," and I feel like I've run out of credible accolades.
I've been casting about this year for main-stream, contemporary fiction books to read. Partly I felt it was time to branch out a little bit after three (five? 10?) years of hard-core speculative reading habits. Partly I thought it was my responsibility after taking the reins as facilitator for my local library writing workshop. Some of the participants write speculative fiction but most don't. Broadening the references I could use to critique stories seemed wise.
So, I did what I usually do in these situations, google the top 10 best novels of the past decade. …

New Chapter for "Agent Shield and Spaceman"

After a little bit of delay this week, I have updated my serial web fiction "Agent Shield and Spaceman," with a new chapter, the thirtieth. 

Two quick notes on this chapter.

First off, this is one of my favorites. When I was going through the old manuscript, trying to decide if this project was really worth my time and effort, this was the one that sealed the deal for me. Paradoxically, I'm still not sure if the tale of Igor Splendov really belongs in this novel. This comes very soon after the Interlude chapter which was sort of like this one in form and function. But, I think it's impact would be lost later on in the story. That said, there's something about this episode that I find compelling. Perhaps that's the advantage of this web serial style of fiction. If you'd rather not read this back-story about the Delta Omega base, you can skip ahead.

Well, not now, exactly, but when the whole thing is done, I suppose.

Okay, second note. I recommend listening to …

What I Read in August

One down side to trying to keep up on my schedule for Agent Shield and Spaceman is I've seen my available time for reading awesome short stories dwindle somewhat. I still read a few stories I think are worth your time, but I didn't get to sift through as many magazines as I normally like to. So be it.


In no particular order, here are some stories I can recommend:
The Hunt for the Leather Apron by G. Neri. (Nightmare) I liked this story. The challenge imposed by reading a text crafted with purposeful spelling mistakes, the illusion of an authentic document, mostly pays off. It helps that despite the typographical distortions, this is a very immediate and affecting tale. It's interesting that even after many years, Jack the Ripper contains yet enough juice to power genuine terror. In this case, it's the horror of how a violent act corrupts and ruins even the bystanders. The Dirty American by Lara Elena Donnelly. Reprint in Nightmare which is something I typically avoid for…

The Circle Completed

I finished "The Circle" (by Dave Eggers) yesterday, and boy was I impressed. It's a simple story, and for the most part it's told with style but minimal flourish. Although billed as a technothriller by some, it struck me as a coming-of-age story. Maybe Harry Potter and the Search Engine?

I'm going to have a tough time describing what really clicked for me about this story without delving into spoilers but I think I can describe quickly two things that any writer might be interested in.

First off, the use of comedy to sell the horrific is extremely well-done here. Eggers had any number of set-pieces relying on a slow, almost imperceptible drift towards absurdity. The bit with the ever expanding number of screens May (the novel's protagonist) uses was understated but hysterically funny. The novel straddles present and near-future, but the jokes help humanize the situation and ground the story in something approachable and relatable. Although many of the develop…

New Chapter for Agent Shield and Spaceman

Short post today, mostly to announce that the next chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman" is available. Today is not listed as a Chapter whatever but rather as an interlude. There are only a couple of these interludes in the novel, sections meant to broaden the scope of the work beyond the Agents of Sections Starfire. This one concerns the origin of a character increasingly important to the second part of the novel.

As always, I hope you enjoy and comments/questions are always welcome!

DnD Character Classes, Livecasts, and REM

Last night I caught the live cast of Penny Arcade's Dungeons and Dragons at Pax West with one of my friends Milo. It was hilarious and if you get a chance to see the show or just catch up with the blogs you will not be disappointed. Assuming you like stuff like Dungeons and Dragons, which I obviously do.


I also like REM which is a fact I'm not sure I've mentioned yet on this blog. Which is weird.

Maybe I don't, on a whole, say enough about my love for REM because during the course of my dinner, Milo asked me on a scale of one to 10 what my fandom for REM is. He was trying to gauge my interest in a MOTH Radio story he had listened to, the one about Peter Buck and Ambien. Anyway, I was taken aback. It made me reflect on my own fandom in an intense and powerful way.

How big of a fan am I, anyway?

I thought of last week when I went out on my porch to read and listened to Murmur. I thought of the intense awe I feel of those songs, how I sang out the choruses, hunched over w…

A Cosmic Horror Reading Guide

I don't really like what I say I do.

When I say I am a fan of Lovecraftian mythos, weird fiction, cosmic horror, cosmic dread, or Dark SF, that doesn't mean I enjoy (for the most part) work derived directly from the Mythos. I think it's safe to say Lovecraft has inspired a great many notable weird fiction writers, and some of them have even included the odd tentacle beastie, or cameo from one of HP's unpronounceable Elder Gods. It's just not what I read this type of fiction for.


What interested me about Lovecraft is the same thing that gets me revved up about Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgens, Arthur Machen, T.E.D. Klein, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, and Peter Watts - the depiction of an inexplicable universe at odds, fundamentally, with human survival. I'm not sure why this body of work appeals to me, but it does. So, this summer I did a self-directed survey course of literature in this vein, to try and figure out what exactly I like about these works a…

New Chapter for Agent Shield and Spaceman

A new chapter is available for "Agent Shield and Spaceman." In this chapter, Agent Shield decides that he would rather not watch Frankie Two-eyes die in a pit-fight and follows an employee of Thulewaite pharmaceuticals to discover the source of the Burmese Tiger Snake venom.

I hope you enjoy the new chapter and feel free to comment or ask a question through this blog.


Various Updates

First off, I have the next chapter available for "Agent Shield and Spaceman." In this chapter, Frankie wakes up in Waco, Texas oddly refreshed until he remembers that this is the day he must enter a pit-fight with a bunch of deadly snakes. Other than a few glimpses, this is the first time our heroes get a good look at the serpents and the impression, perhaps needless to say, is not favorable.

Summer is over.

I had a really great one. My wife and I renovated the upstairs, went camping, saw plenty of friends and family. I did my writing thing, drafting four new stories and revising a few others. When are they going to be appearing, you ask? Not sure. The simple fact is that none of my stories has been accepted this year. I've made my peace with the fact 2016 might slip past without one of my stories appearing outside of Ancient Logic. I can't remember which writer said it but some years you flap and some years you soar. I think this is a year where I'm doing a lot …