Nice start to a New Year

I woke up this morning to find that the January 2012 issue of 10Flash Quarterly has gone live. It contains my zombie flash piece “Base Instinct,” which was fun to write.

Super-short-form writing doesn’t come easily to verbose me, but it was satisfying to pare a story down to its essence–and there are lots of markets for flash. I plan to submit a few more 1000-word (or shorter) stories this year. My main writing goal, though, is to finish the draft of the novel I’m writing, and that right speedily. We shall see.

2011 was neither a bad nor a good year for me. Meh, I would have to say. I would look forward to 2012 with less trepidation if it did not include the specter of a presidential election. Still, I hope it turns out to be a terrific year for all of us, and that the Mayans will have the last laugh and the world will not end.

One world, under logo

This lovely copy of the August 1974 Analog came into my hands courtesy of my friend Casey Seyb, and I just read Ben Bova’s editorial, in which he asks, “Where are the citizens of the world?”

2015“In story after story,” Bova points out, “science-fiction writers tacitly assume that this entire planet will eventually be united into a single world government”–if not by the end of the 20th century, then soon. He lists the reasons why people and nations will resist that unification, then argues that it will come about someday if for no other reason than resource control.

“Could it be,” he writes, “that the nasty oil companies, and nasty ITT, and other multinational corporations are taking the first painful steps toward a world community? For reasons that are no more exalted than simple greed?”

There you go. SF predicting the future again.

Rereading an early sf favorite

The late, great S.J. Perelman wrote a series of marvelous essays under the rubric “Cloudland Revisited,” in which he reread books or rescreened movies he’d loved as a child or young man. His reactions to revisiting these cherished icons often surprised him. You can do no better than to look up a few of these pieces–I’m especially fond of “It Takes Two to Tango, But Only One to Squirm,” which recounts the experience of watching The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse after many years.

Just last week, courtesy of Interlibrary Loan, I revisited a puffy little cloud of my own.

After discovering sf in the 5th grade I tore through every science-fiction book in my school library. One was The Star Seekers, by Milton Lesser (the sf pen name of Stephen Marlowe, who wrote mysteries). I may have read it twice, because a few scenes remained vivid. It was my first exposure to the gen-ship premise: the story of a young man who sets out to explore his world, only to learn that his world is not what he thinks it is.

star-seekers-title

So I picked up the book at my branch library, poured myself a foaming flagon of Diet Mountain Dew, and set out to tread once more the path followed by young Mikal, the hero. Turns out I had remembered the Hero’s Journey pretty accurately but forgotten a lot of tedious stuff, such as the author’s frequent scorn-heaping on candy, soda, and TV. (He didn’t say anything about Diet Dew.) Nor had I realized as a kid that the “science” part of this particular science fiction novel is pretty shaky.

The Star Seekers didn’t hold up as well as other early favorites that I still love, including Jack Vance’s Vandals of the Void and Dan Wickenden’s The Amazing Vacation. Still, it was fun to read it again, and thanks to Interlibrary Loan I didn’t have to pony up $75 to buy it online.

Lunch with Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Specfic writer and publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia has traded rainy British Columbia for somewhat- less-rainy Portland–for a few days. She shared a couple of her vacation hours with me at lunch today.

Moreno-Garcia is, among other things, the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. If you like horror and dark speculative fiction, you probably already know the site. It’s an online magazine packed with reviews, interviews, articles, and–thrice annually–fiction. (Horn-tooting: Moreno-Garcia and editor-in-chief Paula R. Stiles bought a story of mine, “The Second Sphinx,” for an upcoming fiction issue.)

Innsmouth Free Press serves up cosmic dread and Lovecraftian horror. As its recent anthology Historical Lovecraft shows, IFP’s vision of Lovecraftian horror is much broader than tales of appalling Elder Gods and forbidden tomes, wonderful as those are. In our conversation today Moreno-Garcia shared her enthusiasm for weird and dark fiction that reaches beyond the derivative to explore new territory, not just in subject matter but in approach to storytelling.

One weird tentacle has probed its way into Portland’s restaurant scene, and I’m not talking about calamari. Lunch took place at the Lovecraft Bar, a dark venue decorated with a cabalistic ceiling painting, Lovecraft posters and images, and many, many skulls. Animal, not human. In this spectral setting Moreno-Garcia and I talked about Clark Ashton Smith, the challenges and the importance of writing about the Other (cultures, races, eras), and trends in publishing. Ebooks are accounting for a much greater portion of total Historical Lovecraft sales than expected, Moreno-Garcia told me–a fact that fits in with a lot of what I’ve been reading lately about ebook sales.

Here’s hoping the Lovecraft Film Festival resumes here in Portland next year. It might lure Silvia Moreno-Garcia back for another visit.

Jack Vance: Big Books

The first Jack Vance I read was his juvenile novel Vandals of the Void, published in 1953 by Winston. I encountered it–some years later–in the library of a school in rural Indiana. I was in the fifth grade, I’d just discovered science fiction, and I was plowing through everything the library had.

Authors’  identities did not yet mean anything to me, so I didn’t associate the name “Jack Vance” with the story I reread several times and remembered long afterward for certain vivid scenes and images: a perilous descent into a lunar crevasse, a mysterious glowing-eyed villain.

I don’t recall just when I realized that the Jack Vance whose work I’d come to seek out, the author of The Dying Earth and “The Last Castle” and “The Dragon Masters,” was also the author of that long-ago story. I do remember that once, not long out of grad school, I wanted to buy a copy of Vandals of the Void and discovered that they were hard to get and too expensive for me. (Just now I saw that the first edition is selling for $200+ online.) So I ordered it from the long-suffering, ever-helpful Interlibrary Loan Department of the Philadelphia Free Library (thanks, Ben Franklin!) and illegally photocopied it. I reread those pages every so often over the years; I have them in a file folder in my office now.

Also in my office are all the various editions of Vance’s works I’ve accumulated over the years. They have survived even the most drastic of the bookshelf purges. Among them are eight battered, fragile issues of F&SF from the early 1970s, when the magazine serialized several Vance novels.

And now two additions to the shelves.

This week I received one-third of the Complete Jack Vance, now being published in six hardcover volumes by Afton House Books. This is a compact version of the famous VIE edition of a few years ago, about which I unaccountably failed to hear at the time. My newly acquired books are too large and heavy to read in bed, lest a broken nose result from an inadvertent dropping-off, but they are sturdy and handsome and meant to last a while. What glee I feel as I contemplate all those pages of wit, style, color, and elegant ferocity.

The VIE editors tried to restore Vance’s texts to something close to the author’s originals or intentions. Big Planet, for example, now contains some passages deleted as too racy by the editor/publisher. It will be a pleasure to read these much-loved works in texts that are, in many small ways, new. And it will be a treat to read those of Vance’s mysteries that I haven’t yet read.

Of course I won’t be getting rid of any of the old Vance editions. I’ll just have to annex more shelf space.