Archive for November, 2010


We went to the home of friends for T’giving this year, so we didn’t have any leftovers. But with everyone talking about turkey sandwiches and all in the last day or so, we both had a hankering. So Kate went to the store yesterday, bought a turkey breast, and poached it. Today she made bread, and cranberry sauce. So tonight’s dinner was leftover turkey sandwiches… every bit of which was prepared fresh.

Grr argh hmm

One nice thing about being retired is that I don’t have to commute in the snow, which Portland drivers absolutely cannot cope with. However, today I got my comeuppance. Although we had only a sprinkling of snow, the temperatures were below freezing, about 25° F, and when we went out to the car this morning to go to the gym, it wouldn’t start. The lights and radio came on, but when I turned the key… nothing. Not an “rr-rr-rr”, not even a click. Weirdly, the headlights didn’t dim, so it wasn’t the usual cold-weather problem of a weak battery.

Oh, bother. But that’s okay, we have another car.

Kate’s car wouldn’t start either, with the exact same symptoms.


After trying a few more times to get both cars to start, I gave up and called my friendly local mechanic, Hawthorne Auto Clinic, which is literally two blocks away. A little while later one of their technicians came by (on foot) with a “jump box” — basically a battery in a case with attached jumper cables.

It wouldn’t start either car.

He also tried banging on the starter with a pry bar, in case it was frozen. No change.

Okay, he said, I’m going to go back to the shop and come back with some more diagnostic tools. But a little while later I got a call: they weren’t going to keep sending him out on foot in this weather. I would have to have the car towed in.

I called AAA and they sent out a tow truck about 40 minutes later. With amazing alacrity he picked up the car, towed it to the auto clinic, and zipped it into their parking lot neat as you please, all covered by my AAA membership. The auto shop said they’d get to it as soon as they could. But there were a lot of other cars there that had been disabled by the cold.

By this point our trip to the gym was shot, but I had a 1:00 appointment downtown and we were meeting a friend to see Harry Potter at 4:30 and I still hoped to make both of those. I checked online and found there was a bus that would take me right to my 1:00 appointment, but I’d have to eat lunch real quick to make it.

I was also really concerned about what was going to happen with the rest of today and tomorrow. We could maybe get our friend to pick us up on his way to the theatre, but if the car didn’t get fixed before we left for that we probably wouldn’t get it back until after Thanksgiving. And if that happened, how would we get to Thanksgiving dinner? Worry worry worry.

As I was scarfing down lunch, the auto clinic called. When they got to my car it had started right up, immediately and repeatably. Their best guess was that it had been a frozen starter or solenoid (the weather was not only below freezing, it had been duck-drowningly wet for the past several days) and that the jostling the car had received from being towed had broken whatever was frozen loose.

So I got the car back from the shop (no charge! I love Hawthorne Auto Clinic) and drove downtown where I got something from Lucius Shepard for Ellen Datlow. We had a nice little chat about Monsters and other movies.

So all’s well that ends well. Though Kate’s car still isn’t starting, I hope that it will recover when the weather gets back above freezing.

I have to say that I’m really noticing my privilege right now. I have a lot of friends who, when they have car troubles (and they have them frequently, because the best cars they can afford are crap) it turns into an appalling cascade of can’t-make-it-to-work and can’t-afford-to-fix-it. Whereas I, with money, have a well-maintained car that rarely breaks down, have a AAA membership (a form of insurance) to tow it when it does, and live in a neighborhood with a fine auto mechanic right down the street who will cut me some slack because I’ve been a good customer. So I really feel like I’ve gotten away with something here by getting out of this car crisis with no major problems and no money spent.

Happy Release Day to Wild Cards I!

How often do you get to celebrate the release of the first volume in a series that you know, absolutely know, will not only spawn at least twenty more volumes but be a beloved, worldwide smash?

Wild Cards hit the stands for the first time in 1987 (the same year as Watchmen — it was a good year for superheroes). As an SF and comics fan, I snatched it up immediately. It was a “mosaic novel” — a shared-world anthology edited into a single, fairly coherent whole — that combined all the thrills of superhero comics with the depth of worldbuilding and character development possible only in novel-length prose. And with writers like Roger Zelazny, Howard Waldrop, and George R. R. Martin at the controls, how could it go wrong?

The universe of Wild Cards is an alternate history in which an alien virus is released into the world in 1946, a virus that transforms some of those it affects into “Aces” with superhuman powers and many of the rest into deformed “Jokers.” That first volume introduced the world and the characters through a series of stories giving an abbreviated history of this transformed world, beginning with the release of the virus and ending with the present day (1987). Subsequent volumes picked up from there, carrying the alternate history forward along in parallel with our real history. It was vivid, contemporary, groundbreaking. It was different.

I was a fan.

Flash forward to 2007. In the intervening years I became a writer, sold some stories, won some awards. Then I read in Locus that the Wild Cards series, which had been dormant for years, was about to be revived. With a freshly-awarded Hugo in my hands, I managed to find the temerity to query George about the possibility of playing in the Wild Cards sandbox. He very kindly explained that the first trilogy of revived books was already in progress but he’d keep me in mind for the future. “Be warned, though,” he said, “Wild Cards is not an easy gig.”

Two years passed. Then I met George at a Worldcon party and he gestured me out into the hall. We’re just starting up a new Wild Cards trilogy, he said; if you’re still interested, the thing to do is to pitch a character.

If I’m still interested. Ha.

I came up with several character sketches and sent them in. George smacked them down with brilliant, cogent observations about how they’re too obvious, too limited, too powerful, too similar to existing characters (he has every detail about the entire series in his head, I swear). Under George’s tutelage I combined two of them, rewrote, revised, expanded. Finally I came up with a character he liked: Tion James, aka The Recycler. Tion was accepted into the Wild Cards universe, and I officially became the 32nd member of the Wild Cards consortium. There was a fat contract describing the responsibilities and rewards of membership which I had to sign in blood.

But that’s only the beginning. Once you’re in the consortium, if you want to be published you have to earn it, by successfully pitching a story idea for the next book. And the first book to come down the pike after I joined was actualy two books: a reissue of Wild Cards Volume One with three new stories filling in missing bits of the alternate history, and a Jokertown police procedural called Fort Freak. As it happened, Tion didn’t really fit into either of them. So he remains on the shelf for now; perhaps he will appear in the next volume after that.

I wrote several pitches for both, but it was clear to both George and me that I was much more excited about Volume One. How could I not be? It was like an opportunity to write a new script for Star Trek: The Original Series… and to see it produced, with the young Shatner and Nimoy, and released on DVD right along with the original episodes. An amazing, overwhelming opportunity. Frightening, even.

Eventually my pitch for a story called “Powers,” featuring an entirely new character named Frank Majewski, was accepted with some modifications. I did a whale of a lot of research, into both our history and the Wild Cards universe. I wrote the story — actually a novelette. We went through a couple rounds of revisions.

Working on Wild Cards is probably the closest I’ll ever get to working in television: collaborative, high-pressure, hurry-up-and-wait, with an inexorable requirement to conform with the published history of the universe and characters. George is an amazing editor, with an almost frightening ability to find the one tiny point to push on that causes a whole structure to collapse into a new, more interesting shape. Working with him has been a revelation.

At last “Powers” was done, handed in, accepted. Meanwhile, work on Fort Freak was continuing. Even though I didn’t have a story in that volume, I participated by contributing some minor characters. One of the characters I’d originally pitched for Volume One was updated to the twenty-first century and incorporated into the Fort Freak cast, though he didn’t wind up appearing on stage in this volume. Again, a lot like working in television.

Which brings us to the present day. The revised Wild Cards I releases today, with a phenomenal cover by Michael Komarck. If you loved the series before, here’s your chance to get the Blu-Ray DVD of the first movie with never-before-seen footage by “eminent new writers like Hugo-winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.” And if you haven’t read it before, this is your chance to get in at the beginning.

I recommend you buy it from Powell’s or your local independent bookseller.

It makes a great holiday gift.


Read “Teaching the Pig to Sing” for free

I have a terrible habit of burying the lede, so here’s some signal boost for an item from the last post:

Locus reviewer Rich Horton’s year-end summary for Analog calls out my “Teaching the Pig to Sing” for special praise. Because this story has been catching some critical attention, I’ve put it online for you to read for free. Tell all your friends!

I brought Realms of Fantasy back from the dead

You may recall that I killed Realms of Fantasy last month, a phrase which here means “had a story accepted right before the magazine folded.” Well, rumors of Realms‘s death were somewhat exaggerated, and in the first buying round of the new regime they announced that they’d be buying that story: “Tides of the Heart,” AKA the Magic Lesbian Plumber Story.

(I’m not actually claiming to have had anything to do with Realms‘s revivial other than being a beneficiary of it. But as there isn’t an existing phrase in writer-slang for selling a story to a revived market that had been accepted before it died, I’m declaring that “bringing the market back from the dead” is it. Not that I expect to have another chance to use it any time soon.)

Now, there have been some concerns about Realms‘s new owners. But as effectively all of the original staff are returning, I’m prepared to give it a shot. It’ll be an interesting ride, if nothing else.

In other news, Locus reviewer Rich Horton’s year-end summary for Analog calls out my “Teaching the Pig to Sing” for special praise. Because this story has been catching some critical attention, I’ve put it online for you to read for free. Tell all your friends!

Sale! Sale! ARC! Workshop! Article!

I’ve had a number of items of news lately which didn’t seem to quite justify a post on their own, but have now collectively built up to well past that point:

  • My story “Letter to the Editor” was accepted by John Joseph Adams for his anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination.
  • My story “Trust” was accepted by Daily Science Fiction.
  • I have received an ARC of Wild Cards I, the revised edition including my story “Powers,” which I will be showing off at OryCon. On the back cover Michael Cassutt, Carrie Vaughn, and I are referred to as “eminent new writers!” The actual book will be available on November 23.
  • The website for Cascade Writers, a writing workshop on the Washington Coast next July 21-24, is now open for registration. Instructors are me, Jay Lake, and Beth Meacham.
  • I’m quoted briefly in an Oregonian article about climate change in SF, which also has a nice mention of OryCon (it’s always a nice surprise to have something about a science fiction convention in the local paper that’s better than “Trekkies Beam Down”). Though I don’t have much of a presence in the article itself, I believe it was I who told the reporter about Kim Stanley Robinson and Mary Rosenblum.

OryCon starts tomorrow! See some of you there.

Flash — aa-ah!

First, let me say that I despise Adobe Flash. Animated ads using Flash are ugly, distracting, and consume great quantities of CPU and battery power. Websites that use Flash for major portions of their UI (and why, oh why, do so many restaurants do this?) are incompatible with many devices (not just iPhones), often have nonstandard user interface elements that make them difficult to use, and can interfere badly with printing and accessibility. I use the ClickToFlash extension in my web browser so that Flash appears only when I really want it to, and that’s not often.

However, comma. I have to agree with Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch when he says that Flash has been given a bum rap: “When you’re displaying content, any technology will use more power to display, versus not displaying content. If you used HTML5, for example, to display advertisements, that would use as much or more processing power than what Flash uses.” This is absolutely true. I have found that sites (and I’m looking at you, Apple) that use HTML5 to display videos have all the downsides of Flash but are, as yet, not quite so reliable… and because HTML5 support is integrated into the browser, there is as yet no equivalent of ClickToFlash to suppress those CPU-hogging, annoying, battery-gobbling videos.

As website makers increasingly switch from Flash to HTML5 to provide animated ads and other annoyances that I’m happy don’t appear on my iPhone, I’m afraid it will make my web experience worse. It would be nice if there were some way to turn this stuff off, but I’m not getting my hopes up.