Pandemonium, the television show

UPDATE (8/4/2011): I’ve been contacted by NAME OF COMPANY of FAMOUS DIRECTOR to please not mention his name.  This, despite the fact that the news has been reported in Publisher’s Marketplace, which is read by the press, and the has been spread  all over teh internets.

So, please accept this redacted post:


Maybe. Perhaps. Probably not.

Publishers Marketplace just announced it, and Tim Pratt outed me on twitter, so I suppose I should acknowledge it here — FAMOUS DIRECTOR  (you know, that FAMOUS MOVIE TITLE guy? Who is brilliant?) and his company, NAME OF COMPANY, picked up the option for Pandemonium, with an eye toward making it into a TV show. This is just an option, the first step in a staircase of a million steps, and options that make it all the way to the small or large screen are the exception rather than the rule. The rare exception, I’ve been told.  So don’t get too excited, Mom.

And I know what you’re thinking — why can’t you just enjoy it when something positive happens? It’s in my nature to immediately pop any balloon of good news, but today I will merely deflate it a little, by inhaling its rich, helium like gasses, and then talk in a funny voice for the rest of the day.

–d

The Daryl News Network

Hi, it’s been nearly 4 hours. Would you like some more news about me, Daryl? Put on your best James Earl Jones voice and say it along with me: This is… DNN.

I’m trying to figure out what part of The Devil’s Alphabet to read at the Barnes & Noble signing this Friday. I don’t think it should be the scene where the main character helps three thugs drain pus out of his father. I’m just saying. If you’re curious to hear how this turns out, and you’re anywhere in central PA, please stop by — 6:30 Friday night.

Meanwhile, some reviews of TDA have been coming out. About a week ago Locus featured an interview with my friend Charlie Finlay, also known as Charles Coleman Finlay (to readers of his short stories), C.C. Finlay (to readers of his secret history of the Revolutionary War, with witches, known as the Traitor to the Crown trilogy), and Cuddles Finlay (to me, when I was feeling cold and alone one night at his Blue Heaven workshop). I really liked hearing why he chose a secret history over an alternate history for his books, and how Tim Powers influenced him. I can see it now, but I completely missed it when I read the books!.

Anyway, also in that issue of Locus is a review of my book, by Faren Miller. I found it interesting that she highlighted how much of a regional book this was. I liked this bit at the end:

Graduate thesis writers could probably find rich material for investigations of its allegorical nature, since the clades can be seen as exaggerations of various southern types: long, lean hillbillies; religious sects whose obedient women devote themselves to childbearing; and gluttons unacquainted with the concept of healthy food.

But Gregory doesn’t limit himself to parody, and major characters among the Changed can seem very real in both their memories of lost humanity and adaptation to their new conditions… Events in Switchcreek may also have wider implications for human evolution and the fate of the Earth itself, making this as much an innovative work of science fiction as it is an extraordinary exercise in regional literature, tinged with medical horrors.

And that pretty much says it.

Pretty much. Thanks to Google Alerts, I’ve been able to hear of a bunch of other reviews as they’ve come out:

Kel Munger of the Sacramento News and Review picked The Devil’s Alphabet as one of his top five fiction books (all genres) for 2009.

BW Fenlon, over at the Missions Unknown blog (staffed by various Texans of San Antonio, one of whom is a friend of mine, John Picacio) wrote a review of TDA.  He works at a San Antonio bookstore, and says, “It was the cover of The Devil’s Alphabet that initially drew my attention with its gloriously creepy upside-down eyes staring back at me every time I walked by.”  I definitely get a binary response on that cover. Some people, especially editors and booksellers, think it works. And some people really, really hate it. Even Mr. Fenlon, who liked the contents of the book, by the end of the review sounds a bit ambivalent about the cover: “One question I do know the answer to: I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more stories from Daryl Gregory, upside-down eyes or not.”

Ryan on the Battle Hymns blog recently wrote a nice (in both senses) review of Pandemonium.

The Barnes & Noble Online F&SF Book Club featured a two-person discussion on The Devil’s Alphabet. Okay, only two people, but I was happy to hear Paul and Ryan’s thoughts on the book. Thanks, guys.

Several nice reviews have showed up on Amazon.com from Moses Siregar (Moses stops by here a lot– hi Moses, thanks for posting that), Amanda Mitchell of SacramentoBookReview.com, and Amy Gwiazdowski of BookReporter.com (who really disliked the main character, but liked the book).

And on the GoodReads site, GoogleAlerts scooped up this review by someone named “Ellen”– who turned out to be the editor Ellen Datlow! She gave it 4/5 stars and said, “My only complaint is that I thought it was going to be darker than it is and so I don’t feel comfortable including it in Best Horror. (sniff)” My next assignment: Write something really dark for Ellen. Maybe I can finish it before I see her at the KGB Reading Series in NYC next month.

(You see how I slid that in there, mentioning again how I’m going to be reading at KGB? That, my friends, is the equivalent of a text crawl at the bottom of the screen. Next up: DNN Headline News.)

Good reviews aren’t necessarily positive

Update 12/14/09: Gary K. Wolfe’s review is now online.

Today I read two reviews of The Devil’s Alphabet, one by Karen Burnham at SF Signal, and the other by Gary K. Wolfe at Locus (printed on actual paper). Both were pretty positive — Wolfe starts the review calling me “amongst the most interesting of the newer writers to emerge in the past decade, and rapidly becoming one of the most unpredictable,” which is nice, and Burnham gives me 4/5 stars — so I’m not complaining. But what I most appreciated was the thoughtfulness of the reviews.

Gary Wolfe is pretty much the dean of SF critics, the reviewer I’ve been reading the longest, and the person I most wanted to be reviewed by when I started writing novels. When I get my copy of  Locus, I read his column first, every issue. He’s such a good writer that I find it difficult to disagree with him, even when I don’t agree with him. So it was with some sense of trepidation that I read his review — if he said I sucked, what was I supposed to do with that massive cognitive dissonance?

Karen Burnham has been reviewing for a couple years, and when I met her at a convention a couple years ago, I was immediately struck by her excellent taste — because she immediately told me she liked my short stories. She hasn’t been reviewing enough lately — she’s works for frickin’ NASA, for crying out loud, so her day job’s a bit busy — but her review of Pandemonium last year pointed out something I hadn’t been conscious of, that you could read the story as one family’s struggle to take care of someone with mental illness. It’s the mark of a good review that afterward you think, damn, maybe that IS what I meant.

So, two reviews in one day. Wolfe (I’m going to call him Wolfe, because in his review he uses my last name, like reviewers do) pointed out that while Pandemonium was a mash-up of content, Devil’s Alphabet was a mashup “of form and genre.” Then he goes down the line sighting echos and references that seemed to have informed the book, all of which made me think, damn, he must be right.

On the one hand, the novel hovers around a sort of evolutionary hard SF of novels like Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio… on the other, it returns to an earlier kind of evolutionary SF that we’d seen in novels from van Vogt’s Slan to Sturgeon’s More Than Human, in which the focus is more on the pariah status of the victims than on the biological puzzle, and on the inability of the larger society to cope meaningfully with the implications of the event. But then again, it’s also a homecoming tale about a young man (unaffected by “the Changes”) who has escaped his rural origins for a life in Chicago. Finally–and this is what drives the novel’s main plot–it’s a small-town southern Gothic murder mystery. No one can accuse Gregory of being a one-note author.

Wolfe then goes on to describe the overstuffed plot, and says, “While Gregory does an impressive job of keeping all these plates spinning without losing his narrative’s coherence, there is still a sense that a bit much is going on all at once, and that some of those plates are starting to wobble.”

This is definitely something I struggled with while writing the novel. How to pay off all those plot lines? How to keep them in balance? I think it’s something I’ll continue to struggle with. I was happy, though, to have him end the review with this:

The larger question, of what eventually might become of these evolutionary exiles as they move into second and third generations, seems to move us back into Theodore Sturgeon territory, and it’s fortunately a territory that Gregory has mastered well. The novel’s quiet ending, in a snowbound South Dakota winter, is haunting.

In Burnham’s (not Karen’s) review, which I won’t quote from as much, ’cause you can read it yourself, she points out something that is kind of my modus operandi — I try to wed a mainstream, character-driven story to sfnal weirdness. In fact, it’s pretty much all I’m trying to do, every outing.

But Burnham takes a couple paragraphs to do something that the best critics do — consider the work in context of a career. One, she doesn’t think Pandemonium or Devil’s Alphabet measure up to my short stories, and she’s particularly sad that neither book has a female character as the main protagonist, as some of my stories (her favorites of mine) do.

This is an interesting problem for me, in a couple ways: one, I don’t want to be writing the same characters over and over, and having the main protagonist always be young, white, and male is boring and a bit odd. (Besides, I want to stay as unpredictable as Wolfe thinks I am.)

And it’s not like I don’t like to write about women. Burnham mentioned some of the short stories, and in  the novels some of the strongest and smartest characters are female. In Devil’s Alphabet, as a reviewer on SFF World pointed out last week, most of the power structure of Switchcreek is female, led by Aunt Rhonda, the mayor of the town, who shares some of the POV duties in the book. But none of these women are the main character, as Burnham points out. So what’s up with that?

Now, I realize that this is a sample size of 2 novels, and hopefully I’ll have more opportunities to write more books. But the problem for me is that I don’t have much choice in these matters. When I wrote “Second Person, Present Tense,” the main character walked on stage, and she was a teenage girl. There was never any question that she’d be a boy. In “The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy,” I likewise knew that this was the story of two boys who were best friends. In “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm,” the welder and minion of the supervillain was always going to be a woman– and so on, for every story.

With secondary characters, I have a bit more leeway. They’re more vaguely defined in my subconscious, so when they walk on stage I can ask myself if they’d be more interesting, and better for the story, as female or male, gay or straight, of color or not. But with main characters, they pretty much arrive as-is, with no refunds, packed alongside the idea that carried them into my brain. Maybe it’s different for other writers.

So, will I ever have a female protagonist in a novel? I can’t believe I won’t at some point. If the short stories are any indication, some woman’s going to walk on stage with a novel-sized idea under her arm and demand to have her story told. I have to admit, though, that in the book I’m writing now, the main character is another guy. Maybe Book 4, then.

Can you say “Mythopoeic”? I thought you could

Just found out Pandemonium is a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and the book’s in some amazing company:

  • Carol Berg, Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone (Roc)
  • Daryl Gregory, Pandemonium (Del Rey)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia (Harcourt)
  • Patricia A. McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head (Ace)
  • Gene Wolfe, An Evil Guest (Tor)

The award is given out by the Mythopoeic Society, a group of scholars, writers, and readers who like strange words and are especially interested in the work of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and the rest of their literary circle, known as “The Inklings.” (Note to self: stop calling it “hanging out with my friends” — it’s a “literary circle.” Much cooler.) The society gives out the award in July at their annual conference, MythCon, which is at UCLA this year. I wish I could attend, but the budget, alas, is tapped out.

The Crawford Award

So I’m sitting there at Starbucks this afternoon, trying to punch out a few more sentences on the laptop, when my cell phone rings, and it’s critic and Locus columnist Gary K. Wolfe calling to BLOW MY MIND.

Here’s the gist of what he had to say, as expressed in this press release which just went out:

The winner of the 2009 Crawford Award, for an outstanding new fantasy writer whose first book was published in 2008, is Daryl Gregory, for Pandemonium (Del Rey).  The other authors on this year’s shortlist were Doug Dorst, Alive in Necropolis (Riverhead); David Schwartz,  Superpowers (Three Rivers); Felix Gilman, Thunderer (Bantam Spectra); and J.M. McDermott, Last Dragon (Wizards of the Coast).  Although technically published in late December 2007, the Gilman novel was deemed eligible for consideration because it appeared too late for consideration in 2008.

Sponsored by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and administered by Gary K. Wolfe, the Crawford Award is now in its 25th year.  Past winners include Charles de Lint (1985), Greer Gilman (1992), Susan Palwick (1993), Jonathan Lethem (1995), Candas Jane Dorsey (1997), Kij Johnson (2001), Alexander Irvine (2003), Joe Hill (2006), M. Rickert (2007), and Christopher Barzak (2008).  This year’s panel of nominators included Graham Sleight, Paul Witcover, Farah Mendlesohn, Niall Harrison, Cheryl Morgan, and Kelly Link.  The award will be presented at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, March 18-22, in Orlando, Florida.  Details of the conference are at www.iafa.org.

I’m incredibly honored to be among this year’s nominees. And to be in the same list as the  previous winners? Well, I don’t even know how to process that information yet. I’ll have to get back to you.

One thing’s for sure: I can’t wait to go to Florida in a few months. It’s FREEZING here.

B&N Book Club Pick for February

Things that I didn’t know existed but glad they do: The Barnes & Noble science fiction and fantasy book club.  The club picks 3 books a month, then discusses them in the forums online.

I only discovered the club because they picked Pandemonium as one of their books for February (God bless Google Alerts, the #1 ego surfing tool). I’m planning on hovering around the forum that month, ready to answer questions, in the same way that I nervously hover around someone reading my stories in front of me — are they laughing? At the right parts? Why are they frowning?

Anyway, they’re reading great books, so you might want to join the conversation. I’ve heard especially good things about Alchemy of Stone, and Ken Scholes’ book Lamentation.  Here’s the list for the next three months:

JANUARY ’09 FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION
Feature #1: Bones of the Dragon by Weis and Hickman (9780765319739, $24.95)
Feature #2: Watermind by M.M. Buckner (9780765320247, $24.95)
Feature #3: The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (9780809572847, $12.95)

FEBRUARY ’09 FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION
Feature #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl (9780345470218, $27.00) 11/11
Feature #2: The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard (9780312381103, $23.95) – debut
Feature #3: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory (9780345501165, $13.00) – debut fantasy

MARCH ’09 FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION
Feature #1: Lamentation by Ken Scholes (9780765321275, $25.95) – Ken is visiting all month!
Feature #2: Black Blood by John Meaney (9780553806717, $24.00)
Feature #3: Bone Song by John Meaney (9780553590951, $6.99)

Meet me in Hackensack

Welcome to 2009, people—especially my peeps in the Jersey and the NYC metropolitan area (that’s right, I’m talking to both of you).  I’ll be at a group signing and Q&A on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 2:00pm at the  Barnes & Noble in The Shops at Riverside in lovely Hackensack, NJ. (Click the link to see a Google map to the place.)

I’ll be there with S. C. (aka Sam)  Butler, Patricia Bray, Barbara Campbell, and Joshua Palmatier, all fantasy writers with multiple books under their belt. Sam promises writerly banter and possibly fisticuffs — hey, it’s Joisey.

San Francisco Loves Thelma. But do you?

The San Francisco Chronicle just named Pandemonium as one of its 10 SF Holiday Books for 2008. This is positive news for Do it for Thelma Day, but frankly it’s not enough. The population of the earth is about 6.72 billion. And the Thelma Day supporting Facebook group is only up to 75 as of November 24.

Now sure, you may say that Thelma Day is about buying the book on December 15, and most of the globe isn’t even on Facebook. True, true. But as an indicator of planetary participation, it’s worrisome. And I don’t like to make Mom worry.

But we can turn this around for her. By the end of Thanksgiving weekend, if the Facebook group adds only, say, 20% of the world’s population – 1,344,000,000 people, give or take — can you imagine how proud Thelma will be?

I’ll be seeing Mom next Thursday for the big day. Nobody wants to see a grown woman cry.  So sign up your friends, pets, and ancestors for Facebook and the group, and let’s give Thelma something to be thankful for.

Phone call from 1952

At least, that’s what it sounds like. My phone-in interview on Fictional Frontiers with Sohaib, the Philly radio show on WNJC-1360 AM, is now available in podcast form. You can listen to the full show, or download just my 15 minutes of radio fame (12mb MP3).

Sohaib, speaking from the studio, sounds great. Me, I sound like I’m barking through a time vortex using nothing but a Bakelite handset, rusty magnets, and a hand crank.

But I actually had a lot of fun talking to Sohaib. As I mentioned in a previous post, he was scarily enthusiastic about Pandemonium, and we talked about genre-bending, Philip K Dick, and how much I look like Christian Bale. (Actually, only I brought that up.)

But listen to the whole show, where he talks to some comic writers, including the legendary Jim Shooter.