the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for February 2014

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This post is part of the Book of Apex Vol 4 blog tour!  We’ve got about 20 authors involved, traveling the blogosphere doing interviews and guest posts here and there. Today it’s my pleasure to have Ian Nichols, author of “In The Dark”, visit and answer a few questions.  Ian doesn’t mention it below, but you can read his short story “Mortal Coil” at Daily Science Fiction.

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LRR: In “In The Dark”, Morgan doesn’t recognize the language the gypsy is singing in. What do the words of his song mean? What language is the gypsy boy singing in?

I.N.: The gypsy is singing Portugese fada, sad songs abut the harshness of life and love. I heard these for the first time when I visited Portugal in 1996, and they are the blues of Portugal. The words mean “I was dancing in my boat besides the Cruel Sea, and the sea was roaring that I was stealing, and I wonder if the sea will have reason to see my heart dancing.” That’s a very loose translation of a sad song.

LRR: What inspired this story?

I.N.: I was born in Wales, but came to Australia when I was three. I didn’t go back to Wales until I was forty-six. Down in those valley towns, it’s not like “How Green Was My Valley,” or even like Dylan Thomas. The mines have always been dark, dangerous places, and when Maggie Thatcher closed them down in the eighties, the mining towns fell to ruin. Unemployment was running at well over 50% in Blainah, where I was born on the kitchen table at No. 12 Part St, alcoholism was rife and so was dependence on social services. There were holes in the hillsides where the old mine working had collapsed for lack of maintenance, and every now and then part of the hill would slide down into the valley from this and bury a house or two. If you were lucky, no-one was killed. The older people still talked about what it was like down the pits, and I took this mood, this feeling, as the basis of my story about how the mines can have a darkness that is theirs alone, a darkness of the soul.

LRR: Where else can we find your fiction? What work of yours are you most proud of?

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Last month I met author Matt Thyer.  He’s @feetforbrains on twitter, and he’s very nice.  When he e-mailed me and suggested an interview, my first thought was “sure, I’ll interview Matt Thyer, that will be neat!”.  And then he sent me back questions!  He was going to interview me!  How very flattering! Anyway, here’s a link to the very thoughtful interview. He asked very insightful questions. That last question he asked? I’ve never told anyone about that before. Also, there are some really cool articles on his blog, I really liked the one on solar panel cars.

I’ll be posting a review of Matt Thyer’s The Big Red Buckle in the next few days, along with his answers to my questions.  stay tuned!

at least until next year.  Here’s my write up on the panels I attended.  Good thing I wrote up notes while I was there, and typed up a draft of this a few days after returning. It’s been a few weeks now, and my memory is starting to get fuzzy!  If you’ve seen my previous Confusion posts or the after action report I did over at SFSignal, some of this might be a repeat.

tldr: Panels at Confusion were full of awesome. Lots of surprisingly deep conversations happening.

With a heavy emphasis on genre fiction and literary tracks, panel topics included everything from trends in urban fantasy to worldbuilding, to using (or avoiding) bad language, finding an agent, polishing your manuscript, characterization, researching vs making-it-up, and about a gazillion author reading readings.     There was also a large science track of programming,  gaming, anime, weaponry demos and lots of Doctor Who.  Guests and Attendees included many from our community – Cherie Priest, Mike Carey, Saladin Ahmed, Tobias Buckell, Ian Tregillis, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu, Jacqueline Carey, Peter V. Brett, Bradley Beaulieu, Seleste deLacey, Sarah Zettel, Brian McClellan, Lucy Snyder, Sam Sykes, Laura Resnick, Justin Landon (of Staffer’s Book Review), Peter (of Odd Engine) Steve Drew(of reddit/r/fantasy) and more.  Cons are where friends meet up, and where new friends are met. I got chatting with new author Matthew Thyer, and went home with a signed copy of his novella, The Big Red Buckle (it takes place on Mars and is very cool, btw).


During the daytime, confusion is a family affair, and there was full programming for the 10 and under crowd, and the 10-15 crowd as well. This year had a few special events. Saturday morning was Author D&D which took place in the atrium. So long as you weren’t distracting the D&Ders, anyone could observe.  Watching the authors roll their characters in the bar the evening before was pretty surreal as well. I am in a bar. Surrounded by famous people. Who are also drinking, but they are rolling dice and filling out character sheets. Absolutely surreal.  Another special event was the live reddit AMA. we were lucky enough to have elquesogrande, aka Steve Drew, who runs the Reddit Fantasy subreddit.  For a few hours on Saturday afternoon, about a dozen authors were furiously typing away on their laptops, answering your AMA questions.  Convention attendees were welcome to stop in and ask questions, say hi and take photos. there was also Scotch in that room.  it smelled magnificent.  although they are out of date now, you can read all the AMA’s here.

Authors at the Reddit AMA see those gauntlets at the front of the table? no, not the bottles of Scotch, the gauntlets.

Authors at the Reddit AMA

I’m one of those geeks who loves going to the panels at conventions. Hearing experts discuss something interesting for an hour? um YES.  Here’s a few words on the panels I attended (and by “a few words”, I mean more than you ever wanted to know).

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I’m a terrible blog tour host. I didn’t even *read* the entire book before the tour started. But there’s a silver lining here! It means as the month goes by I’ll be posting additional reviews of different stories in the book! My terrible reading habits is a win for you! I might even be a completist about the whole thing. Yes, yes I shall. my goal for 2014 is to be a completist.

Today’s reviews include short stories by Ian Nichols, Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Dalton, A.C. Wise, Alethea Kontis, Katharine Duckett, Cat Rambo, Tim Susman, Mari Ness, Brit Mandelo, and David J. Schwartz.  Think that’s a great combination of authors? it is, but it barely covers one third of the awesomesauce that is this volume of fiction from Apex Magazine.

interested in reading these stories for yourself? of course you are! Head over to Dab of Darkness and enter to win a copy!

In the Dark, by Ian Nichols – In the mining town, the men sing on their way home from the mines. Songs about the sunlight, about beautiful women, about farming, songs about nothing at all. You don’t ever sing about the darkness of the mines, and you don’t ever sing alone. These are easy rules to live by, rules that keep everyone alive. Until the gypsy boy came. He flashed his dark eyelashes and caught the eyes of the officially unbetrothed. His nimble fingers graze the strings of his guitar and his voice is a caress on the air. But he sings alone, and he sings of the sad and the tragic and the lonesome and the dark. He hasn’t grown up around the dream-stealing darkness of mines, he has no way of knowing the danger he’s in. Morgan should really warn the boy about the dangers of singing about the dark, so near to the Dark. So he takes the gypsy boy over the mines, to show him, to warn him, to get him to shut the hell up already. This is a story that sneaks up on you, like a growing evening shadow that leaves a chill on your shoulders.

Always the Same. Till it is Not, by Cecil Castellucci – I am not a fan of zombie stories. This is a zombie story, and I loved the shit out of it. My enjoyment came from how the story was presented, from the style of the prose. I’m not being told “a story”, but watching a metamorphosis take place. Our nameless narrator is some type of zombie. Words are useless, vocabulary unecessary. Days consist of sleeping, night consists of feeding. The sky is yelled at, flesh is consumed, the horde moves on, often consuming its fallen members. They find themselves in a cemetery, and eat the flesh of the bodies that are presumably in shallow graves. Our narrator seems to realize this is a different place, a special place. When the horde moves on, he hides and stays. As is his lifestyle,he continues to consume the flesh found within the cemetery. And begins changing. As the protagonist’s mentality changes, the prose changes. Sentences that were fragments a few pages ago now have nuance and structure, thoughts that once consisted of “eat. sleep.” now involve complexity and forethought. He comes to understand that eating the flesh of those buried in the cemetery is what allowed him to change. If everyone in the horde ate of that flesh, perhaps this shambling shuffling disease could come to an end. When the horde returns, he knows what he has to do.

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RE-CREATE! RE-CREATE!

RE-CREATE! RE-CREATE!

I’ve been teasing everyone for about three weeks now that I learned how to build a Dalek.  Welllll, I didn’t so much learn how to build one as I sat and listened to two guys talk about how they had built one.  It was a panel at Legendary Confusion, a fan run scifi and fantasy convention held in the Detroit area. This con typically has a lot of Doctor Who themed programming, and let me tell you, there’s just something surreal watching a 5th Doctor climb inside a Dalek and drive it around, being chased by a posse of giggling children, most of whom are dressed as Doctor Who characters.

 

let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Saturday evening was a panel called Dalek!!!, by Alex Drummer and Kevin McCloud. it was basically their adventures in Dalek Building 101.  Here’s what they had to say:

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In the 1970s, the BBC provided plans for building a Dalek, which were intended for high school shop classes. The details plans are now online  (I didn’t write down the exact website, but a quick google search found this, this, and this), along with a huge community of dedicated builders with tips on everything from eyestalks to electronics.  As part of their presentation, they showed slides of the Dalek in different stages of being built.

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This Dalek, which has been to multiple local conventions in the great lakes area, was built as part of a grant.   Inside the base is a wheelchair base, so you can literally ride around inside the Dalek.  It comes apart in three pieces: the skirt, the shoulders and the collar.

The shoulders and the head

The shoulders and the collar.  Yes, that is an antique paint roller and a plunger. the black material that goes around the bottom of the shoulders is a dark mesh, so the driver can see out.

 

 

The arm and gun are mounted on foam balls so they can easily be rotated and manipulated from inside. All in all, it cost about $800, and other than the wheelchair base the majority of the bits and pieces came from JoAnn fabrics and Home Depot.

It's hard to see, but this is the inside of the collar. the "J" shaped handles are how you move the arm and the gun.

The  inside of the collar. the “J” shaped handles are how you move the arm and the gun.

 

During the panel he took the Dalek apart and then at the end everyone was allowed to go up and see the pieces up close.  In fact, it had to be taken apart, because the base is 2″ wider than a normal door frame. Then we carried the pieces out into the hall, put it back together, he climbed inside and drove it around followed by a giggling, shrieking posse of children, many of whom had come right from Masquerade and were still dressed in their Doctor Who themed costumes.

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fuzzy picture is fuzzy. you’ll just have to trust me that this was beyond adorkable.

Yes, yes, I know you’re all desperate to read 3500 words about all the panels I attended,  who stole the show at Opening Ceremonies, how I introduced myself to Sam Sykes, and what Cherie Priest was really doing in the bar on a friday night (rolling for an assassin).

but more than that, you want to read about how to  build a Dalek.

but even more than that, you want to see photos! Okay, here ya go! (Dalek building post is coming soon. Sooner than the post about panels)

2014-01-17 15.49.39 smallthe foldable keep-in-your-pocket panel program, or at least part of it.  they tease!  making it look like it’s possible to get everything done that I want to get done!

He greeted you in the lobby

He greeted you in the lobby

Authors at the Reddit AMA. see those gauntlets at the front of the table? no, not the bottles of Scotch, the gauntlets.

Authors at the Reddit AMA. see those gauntlets at the front of the table? no, not the bottles of Scotch, the gauntlets.

Yeah, those gauntlets!

Yeah, those gauntlets! Tobias Buckell shows us how he really feels about them  being fully articulated.

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WDSF kickstarter

Rumored to have been born from a twitter conversation, the special Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine is coming this spring.  This issue features not only all female authors, but an all female editing staff, all female audio fiction staff, even only ladies get to do the slush reading.  Funded through Kickstarter, WDSF was fully funded in less than 24 hours, and is crashing through stretch goals.  Editor Christie Yant already has guest editors signed up for Women Destroy Horror and Women Destroy Fantasy.

The Kickstarter runs through Feb 15th, and submissions are open until Feb 14th. Click here for the submissions page, but the quick answer is Lightspeed is accepting fiction up to 7500 words, and flash fiction up to 1500 words for WDSF.

You can imagine I jumped at the chance to have Flash Fiction editor Robyn Lupo write a guest post on science fiction, destroying it, and her flash fiction agenda!

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Destroying Science Fiction, by Robyn Lupo

robyn lupoRobyn Lupo has been known to frequent southwestern Ontario with her graduate student husband and elderly dog. She writes, reads, and plays video games. She is personal assistant to three cats.

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I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but science fiction isn’t going to be the same after this.

We’ve been using the word ‘Destroy’ a lot (along with ‘flense’ and ‘defenestrate’) but I’d like to shift over a little bit, and look at the generative force that destruction brings. After this, the science fiction world must look at women writers as peers, contenders, and Grand Maestras of the genre.

We’ve got Mur Lafferty, for Crom’s sake.

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00012]This post is part of the Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine blog tour, and it’s my pleasure to welcome Michael Pevzner, author of the short story Faithful City, to the blog.  Michael was kind enough to answer my questions about his Apex story, role playing games, and more!  so let’s get to the interview, shall we?

LRR: What inspired The Faithful City?

M.P.: It was originally written (in Hebrew, back then) for a contest whose theme was “city of the future”, and that was what I came up with. The image of the city speaking to the protagonist was vaguely inspired by the image of SHODAN from the computer game System Shock.

SHODAN from System Shock

SHODAN from System Shock

LRR: The Faithful City was your first published short story. Where else can we find your work?

M.P.: Sadly, nowhere. I manage to find very little time to write, and so Faithful City remains my only published story to date.

I did dabble in translation from Russian to English. Here you can find a few short stories by the Russian authors Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky, which I translated together with my mother. Specifically, “The End Justifies the Means” and “The Eighth Circle of Subway”.

LRR: What types of fiction do you most enjoy writing?

M.P.: It’s mostly dark science fiction and fantasy, sometimes bordering on surrealism.

LRR: Who are some of your favorite authors? Do you they inspire you to write your own fiction?

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00012]Ok blog tour participants and anyone else who has a  copy of The Book of Apex Vol 4, raise your hand if you have a print copy.  it looks wet, doesn’t it? I left the book on the kitchen table a few times, and even my husband wondered why I’d let water get on a book. The magical cover of this book, my friends, is the work of the unbelievably talented Julie Dillon.

(in fact, all of the artwork you see in this post is by Julie Dillon)

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That names rings a bell, doesn’t it? Oh yeah, she also did the cover art of the very first Subterranean Press special edition I bought for myself, Silently And Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente.

silenty and fast

So it goes without saying that I was over the moon when Julie agreed to do an interview for this blog tour.  When you’re just browsing through the bookstore, not looking for anything in particular, what do you gravitate towards? Interesting cover art, of course. Julie Dillon makes that cover art. She’s the reason you touch a book.  She’s the reason I expected my finger to come away wet every time I picked up The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine.

So let’s get to the interview!

LRR: You’ve won the Chelsea award twice, been nominated for the World Fantasy award and you were nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist in 2013. What was it like to learn you had made the Hugo ballot? And speaking of, we’re right in the middle of nomination season. Are you eligible again this year?

J.D.: It was very validating to make the Hugo ballot. I didn’t think I’d be ready for that kind of recognition for another 5 years or so, and I was blown away that I was nominated. I was very honored and flattered that people saw anything of value in what I do. That said, I try not to let awards or nominations affect me too much, and I try to keep learning and working hard regardless of whether or not I am recognized. The recognition definitely helps, though, and goes a long way for helping me to reaffirm my decision to purse art fulltime. Getting awards and nominations encourages me to keep trying even harder.

I do have several pieces that are eligible for the Hugos this year. Andrea Höst was kind enough to put together a tumblr of various artists’ eligible work. My posts are available here and here.

Cover for Long Hidden Anthology

Cover for Long Hidden Anthology

LRR: Did you always want to be an artist? Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a professional artist?

J.D.: That’s a tricky question. I was always interested in drawing and creating, but it never really occurred to me that I could pursue art as my profession until my mid twenties. From all I had heard from other people, art was just something you do as a hobby in between your real work and real jobs. I spent much of my college life prepping for other careers, but I was always drawing and painting whenever I had free time. Eventually, thanks to the internet, I started noticing that there were such things as art schools, and professional artists, and people making a living doing a variety of types of art. I started wondering if maybe that was something I could do, too, and slowly I began taking actual art classes and investigating local art schools, and eventually started seeking out more freelance jobs. It took many long years before I got my portfolio up to a level where I was able to have fulltime freelance work, and I probably would have progressed faster if I had believed in myself more earlier on, but all things considered I think I’m doing an okay job of it.

"Breaking Through"

“Breaking Through”

LRR:  What are your thoughts on traditional media (oil, acrylic, etc) vs digital?

J.D.: I think traditional media is vitally important, I think there are a lot of benefits to working in traditional media, and I enjoy doing working with real paint when I get the chance. But I think digital media is a valid tool, one that has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. So often I see people dismissing digital art as somehow cheating or not as valid or important as traditional art, but the computer is just another tool. It doesn’t do the work for you, you still need to have foundational drawing and painting skills to make a good digital piece. I personally prefer working digitally because it allows me to work quickly and cleanly. I don’t have to buy paint or brushes or canvases, I don’t have to wait for paintings to dry before sending them to clients, I don’t have to photograph or scan my final work, and I can make edits immediately and easily. But, I also do not have a physical original painting that I can hang up or sell, and I do miss out on the fun and satisfaction of working with real paint.

"Launch Point"

“Launch Point”

LRR: How long, on average, does it take you to complete a piece of art?

J.D.: It’s hard to tell, since I’m usually working on multiple illustrations that I rotate through, but I’ll usually spend at lease several days or weeks working on something. The actual time spent on any given piece are probably something like 8-20 hours, depending on the complexity.

LRR:  Do you do commissioned pieces as well? How does that creative process differ from when you are creating a piece out of your mind?

J.D.: Most of my work is commissioned, although I don’t post all of it online. The main difference between commissioned work and work I do for myself is that if I’m doing for myself, I don’t have to worry about sticking to an art description or working for a specific audience or project. On the one hand, with commissioned work it’s sometimes nice having an art director to bounce ideas off of, because sometimes it’s difficult narrowing down concepts or compositions. But it’s also nice to be answerable only to myself and to work on projects where I have full control over how the piece progresses.

"Ancient Discovery"

“Ancient Discovery”

LRR: I really enjoyed the Digital Illustration Tutorial you have on your website, it really opened my eyes to all of the behind the scenes work that goes into art creation. do you think you’d do more tutorials like this?

J.D.: Thank you! I’m glad it made at least a little sense; I worry if I’m being coherent or helpful at all when I make those things. I might do more tutorials in the future, although I’m not sure what my focus would be. For the most part, my actual method of painting has remained the same. Any improvements I’ve been making have been because I’ve been going back and trying to work on my art foundation skills more with figure drawing and anatomy studies.

"Nautili"

“Nautili”

Want more of Julie’s artwork? Of course you do! Check out her website, and her deviant art site.

Scattered throughout the month, I’ll be posting reviews of selected stories of The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine.  If something you read here or on any of the other blogs participating in the blog tour gets your attention, I encourage you seek the story out on the Apex website. And if you like what you see? Consider purchasing a subscription to the magazine, or one of their anthologies.  Consider leaving a comment on their website, or on twitter, or on the blog post. You’ve got an opinion and thoughts? I’d like to hear ‘em.

What I love about the fiction published by Apex is that it’s not straight up scifi, or straight up fantasy, or straight up anything, really. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It’s true fantastika. Stories that can’t possibly happen in real life, but as you are reading, you so very much *want* it to be happening.  The ultimate in suspension of disbelief. Many of your favorite authors have been published in Apex magazine, along with new authors who are soon to become favorites.  And that’s what Apex does – they take the cream of the crop of the strangest of the strange, scratching that itch you hadn’t known you had until it was relieved.

This is the stuff you can’t get anywhere else, it’s that flavor that’s part bloody sunset, part crystal constellation, part fever dream. It’s like walking into that weird little bar on the corner (you know, the one with no windows? that one.), and playing it cool. You ask the bartender what they recommend, and they bring you a pint of something dark.  You think you know what it is, but that first sip tells you this is something very different. It starts out gentle, even a little sweet, but then ends with an unexpected bite, so sharp you wonder if you’ve bit your lip because you swear you taste blood in your mouth. This is that unlabeled, brewed in the back, only available for people who ask for it by name type of drink.

The 24 Hour Brother, by Christopher Barzak – The first thing you need to know about this story is that you’re not going to get through it without crying. Lewis is excited to finally be an older brother. After the complications of Lewis’s birth, no one expected his mother to be able to carry another child to term. But a miracle happened, and little Joe was born.  but Joe didn’t stay little for long. He cut his first tooth shortly after being born. Within the hour they were chasing him around the hospital.  He’d nearly grown out of his baby clothes by the time his father caught him for the taxi ride home. Within 12 hours he was fully grown, and leaving his 15 year old older brother behind when he went out drinking.  You can see where this is going, can’t you? Joe’s mother knew, the first time she saw him, that she was going to lose him.  There’s something especially tragic about stories where you know from the opening paragraph that it’s going to end badly.  Like I said, you’re not going to get through this one without crying.

The Leavings of the Wolf, by Elizabeth Bear – Dagmar runs to get away from her divorce. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.  She runs to lose weight.  If she loses enough weight, she’ll be able to pry that wedding band off her finger, that gleaming golden reminder of everything that went horribly wrong in her life.  And interspersed with her running is a floating story line, a dialog between her and an ex. But the thing is, this extra story line? You don’t know when exactly it’s happening. Was it years ago? a few weeks ago? yesterday?   The weight of these few extra lines here and there are like the mark a wedding band leaves on your finger after years of wear: you don’t know anymore who you are without the mark.  Anyways,  on her morning run, Dagmar often sees the same murder of crows, it’s that group she’s been studying, anklebanding, and researching for the University. The crows know her, she knows the them, and she even makes the occasional Thought and Memory joke.  One day she meets someone who might be a God, it’s not a joke anymore. And he tells her why she’s still running.  We’re all running from something, and sometimes it’s only the fear of losing a mark that tells us who we thought we were supposed to be.  I’ve run hot and cold with Bear’s fiction in the past, and this one hit me hard.  In a good way.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.