Sleep-less in Sea-Tac

So next week I’ll be at Norwescon 33, which takes place in Sea-Tac. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t know Sea-Tac was its own town. I thought it was just the name of the airport. My apologies, Sea-Tackians. Sea-Tackites. Hyphenates.

Whatever the people there call themselves, they live amazingly close to Seattle, one of my favorite cities, and home to Cap’n Jack Skillingstead (see my review of his review a few posts ago), who will be my host. The Devil’s Alphabet is up for a Philip K Dick Award (the award that when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away), but I’ll also be appearing on a bunch of panels, a lot of them with Jack. If you’re in the area (like, say, waiting to change planes) stop on by and we’ll try to put on a good show.

The schedule:

Thursday, 9:00 p.m., Cascade 8
The Living Dead

Forty years after George Romero gave us Night of the Living Dead, his zombies still walk among us in remakes, new films from Romero himself, andastonishing recent movies ranging from Shaun of the Dead to 28 Weeks Later. Zombies are cropping up in popular literature as well. Why is this SF/horror subgenre so enduring? What are its classic books and films and which are merely the walking dead?
Mark Henry (M), Daryl Gregory, Randy Henderson, Jack Skillingstead, Anthony van Winkle

Friday, 11:00 a.m., Evergreen 2
What is Consciousness?

How does the brain, with its diversely distributed functions, come to arriveat a unified sense of identity? As neuroscientists marvel at the patternscascading from their high-resolution brain scanners, they are nagged by amischievous question: who’s running the show? Can we speak of a person’s brain without, ultimately, speaking of the person? What is human consciousness? If the Singularity does happen, what will machine consciousness look like?
Janet Freeman (M), Daryl Gregory, Jason Henninger, Christian t. L. Mecham, Jack Skillingstead

Friday, 1:00 p.m., Cascade 5
Working On Your Craft: Writing as an Evolving Process

As with any other art, writing requires practice; and a writer’s skill can improve over time. Writers discuss techniques they have learned as they have evolved and ways in which they gained new levels of expertise. How can you tell when you’re improving? How can you judge your own progress as a writer?
Cat Rambo (M), Daryl Gregory, Eileen Gunn, Randy Henderson, Jack Skillingstead

Friday, 2:30 – 3:00 p.m., Cascade 3
Reading: Daryl Gregory “Becoming Digital,” Author’s note: the title doesn’t mean what you think it means., Rated: PG Daryl Gregory

Friday, 4:00 p.m., Cascade 4
Writing: The Long and the Short of It

Why are some people good at writing novels but not short stories or vice versa? What does it take for an idea to be `novel length?’ Are short stories just like novels only you finish sooner? Mary Rosenblum (M), Daryl Gregory, Eileen Gunn, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jack Skillingstead

Friday, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m., Grand 2
PK Dick Awards
William Sadorus (M), Carlos Cortes, Dr. John G. Cramer, Cory Doctorow, Daryl Gregory, David Hartwell, Ian McDonald, John Jude Palencar, Vernor Vinge

Saturday, 5:00 p.m., Cascade 8
Narrative Structure

Most readers read for story; but a story has to hang from a structure, and if the structure fails the story will collapse. The story’s structure dictates where the story starts, where it ends, where each of the plot elements fits, and charts the space in which your characters’ change and developments take place. Structure more than anything else will keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page to find out what happens next. Writers share how they approach narrative structure and plot.
Leslie Howle (M), Daryl Gregory, Ian McDonald, Cat Rambo, G.Robin Smith

Robots for your ears

Mail call!

A CD arrived in the mail the other day — actually, a box containing four CDs. If you’re in the mood to be read to — say, you have a long commute, or you’re having eye surgery — here’s a nice solution: “We, Robots,” an audio anthology edited by Allan Kaster. 270 minutes of excellent fiction about, well, robots, including my story, “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm.” Mine’s mostly about politics and superheroes,  but it’s in there because the main character works in a supervillain’s robot factory. (Hey, we all gotta pay the bills.)

Buy it here!

As the box says, you get “seven contemporary robot tales written by some of today’s most acclaimed science fiction authors” read, unabridged.

  • A sentient war machine combs a beach for trinkets to create memorials for its fallen comrades in the Hugo Award winning story, “Tideline,” by Elizabeth Bear.
  • In “Balancing Accounts,” by James Cambias, a small-time independent robotic space tug is hired by a mysterious client for a voyage between two of Saturn’s moons.
  • “The Seventh Expression of the Robot General,” by Jeffrey Ford, involves a robot general coming to grips with his position in a world that no longer requires, or even understands, his role.
  • A city awakens its ancient guardian as it is about to be invaded by a mining company in “Shining Armour” by Dominic Green.
  • In “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm,” by Daryl Gregory, a country ruled by a super villain comes under attack by American super heroes.
  • In “Sanjeev and Robotwallah,” by Ian McDonald, a young boy becomes enamored with the armed robots that do the fighting in a Civil War and the celebrity boy-soldiers who pilot them.
  • A robot acting as a scarecrow could be a desperate young boy’s one chance of staying alive in “The Scarecrow’s Boy” by Michael Swanwick.

Psychopaths Strike Back!

Look, I know I’m blowing your mind. Three blog updates in three days? What the hell is happening over there in Villa Del Daryl?

Year's Best SF and F by Rich HortonWell, the mail is happening, that’s what. A couple things — physical things, that required physical humans to carry them to my physical home — arrived in the past week, each embodying one of my stories in a new  form. But because I’m on this amazing, unprecedented roll in blog posting, I’m only going to talk about them one day at a time.

First of them was a book, The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2009, edited by Rich Horton. “Glass,” my story of psychopaths and mirror neurons and experimental drugs, is in there, alongside stories by some great writers — just look at those names on the cover. Hardly any of them are psychopaths.

To Explain or Not To Explain

I’m not sure how things got so out of hand, but yesterday I actually talked about a writer who wasn’t me.

Well, that won’t happen again.

Back to me, and my reviews. Black Gate Magazine has Mark Tiedemann’s review of The Devil’s Alphabet, called The ABCs of DNA and Other Thorny Themes. Full disclosure: Mark’s a friend of mine going back to when we were classmates together in ’88. We talk about once every two years (it’s  a guy thing), but in this review he seems to have peeked inside my head and grokked everything I wanted Devil’s Alphabet to do, and more importantly, not do.  For example, this part of his review:

Gregory lays out a rather interesting theory of why this may have happened, based on quantum tunneling and a facet of the many-worlds model of the metaverse. It may not be what has happened, he doesn’t go there, it’s just a theory, one among several developed by people who don’t know and who still need an explanation. It’s the human urgency for something rational, no matter how far-fetched, that is important, not the one of several Sfnal conceits that he may favor. Why and how this happened is less important than the fact that it has happened, and these people must deal with it.

Something I struggled with in the book — that I struggle with in every book — is the question of How much to explain? Explain too little and the reader feels ripped off. Explain too much and the whole story feels too pat, too tidy–too unrealistic. This is a balancing act that probably varies by reader.

Paul Witcover addresses this in his review of the book, which came out in the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy Magazine. Magazine staffer Doug Cohen handed me the issue when I was in New York a few weeks ago.

The Devil’s Alphabet again showcases Gregory’s talent for drawing inspiration from rock songs and comic books and employing it in new and inventive ways, and similarly, using these fantastic milieus to explore deeper questions about family and community. While there are a few loose ends still left hanging by the end of the story, the journey is entertaining enough along the way that most readers should be willing to overlook them.

And that’s the trick — will readers overlook them? As they say on teh internets, YMMV.

Oh, and while I’m here I should mention a couple more things about Me and My Book. TDA made the British Fantasy Award Long-List (and it is a long list). Thanks, British readers!

And the book also made SF Site Top 5 for 2009. (They usually do a top 10, but evidently the editors only overlapped on a small selection of books this year.)  And TDA squeaked in at #5. The Other 4:

4.  Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

3. Destroyer of Worlds: Kingdom of the Serpent, Book 3 by Mark Chadbourn

2. The City and the City by China Miéville

and 1. Dust of Dreams: Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 9 by Steven Erikson

Thanks, SFS people!

Do You Know Jack?

So the other day my friend Jack Skillingstead got a fantastic review of his first novel, Harbinger, that appeared in the latest issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. It’s one of those reviews that you want to put under glass and hang in front of your computer for those times when the sentences aren’t coming and you feel like drinking Robitussin from a five gallon drum. Or maybe that’s just me.

This is Jack

This is Jack

One thing I really liked about the review (besides the fact that it demonstrated how great the novel is, an opinion I agree with), was that the reviewer, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, had read Jack’s short stories and found common themes and techniques, down to the sentence level. Comments like that give writers hope, because so often nobody mentions the sentences, even though they’re what stories are made of, and writers like Jack spend enormous amounts of time crafting those suckers.

Then–and this is the sweet part– Zinos-Amaro starts drawing comparisons between Jack’s prose and a certain iconic writer of the 20th century:

It’s only slightly slightly hyperbolic to claim that what Hemingway did for bull-fighting, Skillingstead is doing for sf tropes. He makes them truer than they have been by showing that they were false. … Skillingstead’s protagonists… seem to spend most of their lives in the tercio de muerte of a corrida, entering the ring of their experiences alone save for a muleta of disarming, almost lunatic charm and a sword of honesty that cuts inwards as often as it swings out.

The last sentence of the review is “Skillingstead is the matador of our field.” If I were Jack, I’d print that on a T-shirt and wear it under my clothes at all times. Or maybe just get it tattooed over my heart.

So take NYRSF’s word for it, and order the book.

More Daryl Talking to People

Forgot to mention a couple of interviews — because I must always be flogging the Daryl brand.

Recently I went on Tim O’Shea’s blog, Talking with Tim, and well, talked with Tim.  I love his blog. Tim talks to everybody — artists, singers, comic book people. He’s wide spectrum, baby. For my interview, we covered, among other things, my weird, almost-junior name, why it took so long for me to write a novel, and why I try but fail to get much humor into my stories.

And a few weeks ago, Moses Siregar asked me 7 questions, about the writing process, the hidden meanings in The Devil’s Alphabet, and threesomes. I responded with more or less 7 answers. I’m symmetrical that way. And Moses is just a cool guy who’s a new writer– you can tell he’s serious about this writing thing.

And now we cease our Brand Broadcasting day.

Home is where the habits are

About to start reading

At the KGB -- picture by Ellen Datlow

It’s good to be home. After 10 days away, I realized that even when I’m enjoying myself — for example, living the high life in New York City, sipping sidecars at the Algonquin, drinking Belgian beers, going to a Broadway show, hanging out with my editor, lunching and brunching with various literary types — there’s a part of me that not only misses my usual rut, but wants to return to it as soon as possible. I want to lay down in it, and let the melting snow course down the back of my collar.

For one thing, my rut is where a lot of my favorite people hang out. Such as my kids. For another thing, it’s where I get all my work done. It’s this steady, boring pace — wake up, go to work, then come home and go out to write — that enables me to get words down on paper. Don’t knock boring.

Peter and Kathy at the KGB

Peter and Kathy at the KGB -- pic by Ellen Datlow

And don’t knock New York. Reading at the KGB Bar was fabulous, and I got to realize one of my rock and roll dreams by yelling “Hello New York!” into a microphone before a hip Manhattan crowd. Peter Straub packed ‘em in. Ellen Datlow and Matt Kressel were great hosts. People bought books, I got to see friends that I usually only see at cons, including Gary K. Wolfe, who was in from Chicago–just to see me, I’m sure). If you want to hear more about how I prepped for the reading, and how it went, see my post over at the Clockwork Storybook blog. Oh, and more pictures from the reading are on Ellen Datlow’s Flickr site.

And afterward, Ellen and Matt treated Kathy and I to the best Chinese food we’ve ever eaten in our lives. Seriously.

But the whole weekend was like that. We ate at Babbo’s (getting a table in the dining room even though we hadn’t been able to score a reservation), had lunch with the Asimov’s folks, Sheila Williams and Brian Bieniowski, visited MOMA, and had a killer lamb & pita sandwich from a street vendor. On the way out of town we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and had brunch with Sam Butler and Susan.

Best New York moment, though? Passing a restaurant that advertised Pizza   Falafel   Ice Cream. Where else but New York?

When we got home on Saturday, I had one day to repack before heading south to Tennessee to see my folks. In a bid to trump anything I’ve done science fictionally, my father insisted on being operated on robotically. He came home without a minor organ, and only five little puncture wounds to show for it. He looks like he’s been worked over by Doc Ock, but now he’s doing fine.

But now I’m home. The rut is deep and comfortable, and won’t stay this way long, considering the eldest child is heading off to college this fall.

KGB -- with Brooklynite Sam Butler. (Yes, pic by Ellen Datlow)