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An Editor’s Dirty Little Secret

October 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Written by Claire Eddy, Senior Editor

I have a dirty little secret.

I like to think of myself as an individual who is concerned only with high minded pursuits. When trying to unwind in the evening I choose to listen to the radio. Do I turn to classical music? NPR perhaps? Well, sometimes. But often I get drawn into the chatter of the latest conspiracy maven or political pundit and sit mesmerized. I want to go to another station but I keep thinking “wow, did he really say that?” I grimace, annoyed with myself for getting sucked into something so banal, so clearly constructed to pander to the lowest common denominator. But I still listen. What is the appeal of these bombastic hosts? Is it the confrontation that hooks us, or the need to feel superior?

This whole thing was brought home to me recently when Ramsey Campbell delivered his latest book. I am very lucky to be able to work with Ramsey — I know that when I sit down to read a new Campbell story I am not only going to get a good read I probably am going to get the pants scared off me. He had mentioned that he was interested in the growth of antagonistic journalism and I was intrigued to see what his take on this would be.

What I didn’t anticipate was the level of awesome that is Ghosts Know. Campbell has written a horror novel with a twist that had me riveted from the get go. We’ve got a bombastic radio host, Graham Wilde, who thrives on controversy; he loves it when he is hated. Wilde sees it as his job to get the audience riled up and he loves to provoke heated exchanges. His juices really flow when he manages to take down a nationally famous psychic using the man’s own tricks and a bit of inside knowledge.

Things go to hell shortly after however when a young girl is found murdered and the psychic manages to implicate Wilde. What follows is a psychological circus as the circumstantial evidence against him begins to mount, alienating his lover, his listeners, and eventually, the reader. We follow Wilde through a series of odd circumstances and twists of public opinion and watch as he slowly loses his grip on reality and begins a descent into madness.

The ending left me shaken and saddened, yet completely satisfied at the same time. Campbell uncovers the nasty twists in the human psyche that none of us like to think about and has crafted a haunting novel of self-deception and self-loathing that will leave you wondering just what is real and what delusions truly rule our perceptions.

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From the Tor/Forge October 7th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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On a Bus to New York

October 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Written by Fred Chao

I’m on a Greyhound bus right now, headed up to New York City. You can’t know how excited I am.

I flew into Washington DC to participate in the Small Press Expo and the National Book Festival. I took a quick tour of the Library of Congress where I saw some of E.C. Segar’s original Popeye comics. I went to a writer’s event and listened to some remarkably inspirational speeches about literature. Yet, none of that will compare this brief jaunt up to NYC.

I’ll be there for five days. Obviously, I’m most excited about catching up with friends, finally over beers rather than just through a phone call or text message. But so much of what I’ve been missing is the atmosphere of the city itself, the chaos and wonder that can be interpreted from the tall buildings and crowded streets depending on a person’s mood. When I first moved to NYC, it was daunting, overwhelming. There was a good while where a lot of my experience was vibrant, amazing, and cool. By the end of my seven years, I was exhausted.

Heh. Of course I’m nostalgic for it all now. Typical.

I recently finished working on the second Johnny Hiro book. It’s out of my hands and in the production process. I’m excited to see the book when it’s finally released, flipping through the pages trying not to be overly critical, looking for my mistakes. Just being happy it’s done.

When the first Johnny Hiro book came out, quite a few people asked me how much of it was based on my personal life. I always deflected with a comment like: “Oh yeah, that time I was chased through the streets by a giant lizard.”

In this second book, there’s a giant gorilla. And no, a giant gorilla never kidnapped one of my exes. But really, the giant gorillas and lizards, the chefs smacking each other around with fish, as much as I do think of them as characters, they are also the feel of the city itself, the nuttiness my friends and I were constantly surrounded by.

One of my first jobs in New York was as a cater waiter — not exactly the most encouraging job, but it did pay the bills. I catered Gracie Mansion parties quite often. Bloomberg once complimented me on my dishwashing skills as he walked by. It’s funny, this guy who’s mostly associated with the political, somehow hits as a more personal character in my life. Whether or not I agree with his politics, well, it’s a bit sad knowing that he won’t be hosting Gracie Mansion parties, complimenting the dishwashers.

Brooklyn is changing. Barclays Center is now there. Patrick Stewart lives in Park Slope. Rents have risen like crazy in the Prospect Heights area, there’s no way I can afford it now. I imagine something similar happening to downtown in the ’80s.

I’m also changing. I’m getting older and wanting different things for my life in the long run. As ambitious as I can be, I know I can’t keep up with New York. So I’m deciding on a new direction, still figuring out what that is. But without what the city has put me through, well, I have a hard time believing that my journey so far would have been as affecting, heartbreaking, and fulfilling.

Still, it will be amazing to be back, to see fire escapes, crown molding, stoops, a night sky so drowned out by city lights that there’s barely a star. Just those visuals will activate so much. Those images are associated so tightly with my most growing years.

I wasn’t born in NYC. I will never refer to myself as a New Yorker. But I will always consider the city Home. (Though really, it’d be nice to see a couple more stars. C’mon.)

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From the Tor/Forge October 21st newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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Sister, Healer, Soldier, Spy

October 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Written by Beth Bernobich

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the presence and roles of women in epic fantasy stories. Tansy Roberts wrote a sharp-edged take-down of the notion that women never did anything important in history in her article Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy: Let’s Unpack That. Kameron Hurley followed up a couple months later with ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative.

Read both articles and follow the links for the whole discussion, but the short form is: women have played all kinds of roles and followed all kinds of careers throughout history, and to leave them out of epic fantasy is not historically accurate. You can choose to leave out women, but don’t use history as your excuse.

Much of this debate took place while I was writing Allegiance, the third book in my River of Souls trilogy. The books are epic fantasy, set in a world where souls are reborn from life to life. They’re about a young woman, Ilse Zhalina, and her journey toward independence and agency. And because these novels are epic fantasy, they have lots of characters, and a lot of them are women.

Ilse has changed a great deal since her story began in Passion Play. She’s older, stronger, and more capable. But she’s not the only woman in the book, and certainly not the only strong woman. I wanted to portray a world where the women lived lives as varied as the men did, and where those women are in the foreground of the story. Where they are villains or heroes, queens or merchants, poets or cooks. Sisters, soldiers, healers, or spies.

SISTER

Ilse’s beloved, Raul Kosenmark, has three sisters: “Three barbed and dangerous creatures,” as Raul describes them. Ilse meets all three of them for the first time in Allegiance:

“At last, our foolish brother chose someone with sense. And,” she added, “a very nice sword. My name is Heloïse.”

The rest gave their names rapidly. Marte, tall and slim and with eyebrows arcing over a strong face drawn in uncompromising angles. Olivia, a smaller, rounder version of the same. Terrible creatures, all of them, Ilse thought, with their laughter and smiles edged with sharp wit. She no longer wondered why Raul had absented himself from his home in Valentain. He and they were much alike, shielding their hearts beneath masks. It would be too painful, living with reflections of himself.

And yet, they are more than reflections of their brother. They act together, taking charge when they need to (and sometimes when they don’t). They have their own histories, their own strengths and flaws, their own loves, and their own futures.

HEALER

Not everyone in the story is a noble. Maryshka Rudny lives in the remote village of Ryz, in the far southwest of Károví. She and her mother, Ana, are healers for the village, which gives them a significant measure of authority. When Ilse arrives with a badly wounded companion, Maryshka takes control of the situation:

The young woman thrust back her hair and laid a hand on Bela’s forehead. Her mouth thinned. She touched two fingers to Bela’s throat and her lips moved rapidly. Not an invocation to the gods and magic, Ilse thought, not here in Duszranjo.

Maryshka glanced over her shoulder at the still-arguing men. “Jannik, she’s dying. Louka, if you insist, I can make the pledge myself to Lir, Toc, and your blessed honor, that she won’t hurt anyone or anything.”

“What about the other one?” Louka said.

The young woman’s gaze swung around to meet Ilse’s. “What do you say? Shall I pledge myself for you as well? Speak quickly.”

Maryshka appears only for a short segment of Allegiance, but it’s her skills that save Bela’s life and enable Ilse to continue her journey.

SOLDIER

The injured companion mentioned above is Bela Sovic, a captain in Duke Miro Karasek’s personal guard, skilled in magic as well as warfare. Shortly after they meet, she tells Ilse how she came to serve the Duke:

“It was his father who bought me from the prison. I had tried to fight the pirates on my own after they killed my sister and brother. I—I was less able to distinguish between the enemy and someone merely ignorant, or greedy, and I killed the wrong person. Several wrong persons. The king wished to punish me. I cannot say I disagree, but the old duke believed in mercy. He paid the blood price and took me from the prison. For what he—and his son—have done for me, I would do anything in return.”

And she does—facing exile, injury, and death with courage.

SPY

When Ilse first meets Nadine in Passion Play, Nadine is one of the courtesans in Lord Kosenmark’s pleasure house. Nadine has a complicated past, which she only hints at to Ilse. She also has a deeply ingrained sense of self-preservation because of that past:

Nadine had not shared any of the secrets she had uncovered for herself over the past six years. A little judicious spying. The practice of carelessly glancing over the envelopes the senior runner carried to Kosenmark or his secretary of the moment. All habits learned in previous houses, previous lives. And most effective, when she had discovered certain key listening devices scattered around the pleasure house. Nadine knew about Kosenmark’s political games. He might claim a higher cause for his actions, but in truth, they both wished to survive in a chance-riddled world.

In Allegiance, Nadine turns from courtesan to spy, using her skills in the much wider—and much more dangerous—world of the royal palace. In the end, it’s because of Nadine and her spying that events turn out as they do.

Six women, from different kingdoms and different classes, each of them strong in different ways.

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From the Tor/Forge October 21st newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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The Week in Review

October 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Welcome to the week in review! Every Friday, we comb through the links and images we found and shared this week, and pull the very best for this post. Consider it concentrated genre goodness from all around the web.

 

  • This must have taken a massive amount of time, and it looks like it was entirely worth it. Helm’s Deep, in Lego. Awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

The Tor/Forge newsletter went out this week! Check out these fascinating articles from our authors:

And, just to make Friday that much sweeter, here’s a list of sweepstakes and sales we have going on!

Everyone’s Invited to the Steampunk Party

October 7, 2013 10 comments

Written by K. W. Jeter

By the time you read this, or shortly thereafter, there’s good chance I’ll be preparing to head to Brighton, along with a lot of other folks attending the World Fantasy Convention. I’ve looked forward to this for quite a while, as it’ll be the first time in – ouch – a couple of decades for my wife and I to see our old friends in England. I fear I’ve reached the age where time doesn’t just fly, it rockets past on jet boosters.

The downside is that in making my travel plans this year, I had to choose between WFC and WorldCon in San Antonio. I have a lot of friends in Texas as well, whom I would’ve dearly loved to see again, if for no other reason than the Texans have a well-deserved reputation for knowing how to throw a party. Which certainly seems to have been the case once again, from the reports I’ve gotten from other folks who managed to get to WorldCon this year. As was expected, everybody I heard from had a good time.

And yet . . .

There was another, smaller but significant stream of post-con commentary. Which was to the effect of how old so much of everything seemed at WorldCon. (To paraphrase one on-line commentator, “If I’d wanted to hang out with a bunch of people in their seventies, bitching about how the whole world changed without their permission, I’d have gone to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving.”) The age thing was to be expected, I suppose; a lot of the science fiction community, both writers and readers, is getting greyer. But they’re still hanging in there and turning out for events, which is undoubtedly a good thing, even if the clack of chrome walkers on convention hall floors threatens to drown out some of the conversations.

But here’s the deal. I also hear reports from folks returning from steampunk events – and nobody complains about how old everything and everyone is at those. I’ve guested at a couple, and that’s been my impression as well: at least for the time being, the grey factor in the steampunk community is a lot less than in science fiction.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of considerably younger people – writers, readers, fans, whatever – involved in science fiction, or that there’s even a hard, sharp division between the sf and steampunk communities; the overlap is pretty wide. And of course, there’s plenty of great and interesting and exciting stories and books coming out from both camps, from the old vets and those just starting out. No reason for everybody not to get along.

Once in a while, though, I catch a whiff of just a little animosity, coming from those closer than not to – ahem – my age bracket. A couple of years ago, at the World Fantasy Con in San Diego, I bumped into one of the science fiction field’s grandmasters, an undoubted Name Everybody Knows. He spotted a badge on my lapel: “What’s that?” When I answered that it was from SteamCon, the big steampunk event in Seattle, he snarled with evident disgust, “Isn’t it about time for that stuff to be over?”

That took me aback. I made some inconsequential reply, but it wasn’t until later – as it always is – that I figured what I should’ve said was, “Look, grandpa, just because you weren’t invited to the party, that’s no reason to get all sclerotic about it.” If I’ve got a new steampunk book coming out and you don’t, whose fault is that? These are invitations you issue to yourself, with no-one’s official imprimatur required.

And of course, a lot of steampunk is propelled by goggles-’n’-corsets High Silliness, but then a big part of science fiction gets moved along by the big media franchises equivalent – which frankly is starting to see some a little past its sell-by date. If some old fogey peering through his smudged bifocals can’t discern the cool and important stuff going on, such as the tsunami of anarchic multiculturalists using the steampunk scalpel to dissect the past and reassemble it like a two-dollar watch, that’s his loss; the readers are picking up on it. If the steampunk party is livelier and the music’s better than over at what used to be the completely happening genre hang-out, they’re still pretty much on the same block downtown, with nothing stopping people from going back and forth from one bar to the other, wherever the action might be.

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From the Tor/Forge October 7th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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On The Cusanus Game

October 7, 2013 3 comments

Written by Ross Benjamin, Translator

In The Cusanus Game, German author Wolfgang Jeschke tells a story at once exciting and philosophically far-reaching. In the mid-twenty-first century, a nuclear disaster near the French-German border has devastated a broad swath of Europe. In Rome – a city increasingly beset by the disastrous consequences of climate change and overrun by neo-fascist gangs preying on foreign refugees who have fled from the intolerable environmental conditions to the south – Domenica Ligrina has just completed her studies in botany. She and other scientists are recruited by the Vatican to take part in a secret time travel project: to journey to fifteenth-century Germany and collect plants and seeds with which the ravaged nature of the present can be revived. In Cologne of 1451, however, Domenica is accused of witchcraft and condemned to burn at the stake. She places her hope in Cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus, to whom she writes letters from prison.

Domenica has long been fascinated with the remarkably prescient ideas of this theologian-philosopher, who was a confidant of the Pope. As Jeschke shows, Cusanus’s cosmological thinking anticipates the theories of the multiverse in contemporary theoretical physics that are central to the plot and structure of The Cusanus Game. The game of the title was invented by Cusanus (and discussed in his work De Ludo Globi) to teach its players important principles of life and the world: The object is to throw a ball with a slight dent in it onto a board with concentric circles such that it spirals toward and comes to rest in the center; however, the dent ensures that the ball will never reach the center. A character in the novel explains the point of the game as training its players “to sustain defeats lightheartedly and good-humoredly” and yet to keep striving closer to the goal of perfection despite the obstacles that the fundamental unpredictability of events will always put in our path.

Domenica’s journey turns out not only to embody these themes, but also to mimic the “erratic path” of the ball in Cusanus’s game. As she lives out different possible timelines in alternate universes and repeatedly faces the dark abysses of human violence, destruction, and suffering, she seeks to set our world on a more sustainable course. She learns that every choice creates another parallel universe, but that not all universes can survive: like a living organism, the multiverse is constantly evolving, and Domenica eventually encounters extraordinary beings that play a role in its self-correcting process of development.

The Cusanus Game is a powerful novel of ideas seamlessly woven into a time travel adventure story. Its elaborately labyrinthine plot mirrors the spiraling game board as previously narrated events repeatedly follow new trajectories, while at the same time the protagonist’s experiences lead her to ever greater understanding and sense of purpose. The interplay between these different levels – personal and cosmological stakes, scientific and theological perspectives, environmental and metaphysical missions – makes the novel a profound and thrilling read.

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From the Tor/Forge October 7th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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More from the October 7th Tor/Forge newsletter:

The Week in Review

October 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Welcome to the week in review! Every Friday, we comb through the links and images we found and shared this week, and pull the very best for this post. Consider it concentrated genre goodness from all around the web.

  • Do you like science? How about cooking? If the answer is yes to both, then check out a free class from Harvard on the science of cooking.
  • Check out this amazing Wonder Woman short. It makes me want a full length film immediately!
  • Daniel Kalla, the author of Rising Sun, Falling Shadow, will be on LitChat today at 4 PM. Check it out!

And, just to make Friday that much sweeter, here’s a list of sweepstakes and sales we have going on!