You can now hear my story “Citizen-Astronaut” in episode 277 of the StarShipSofa podcast.
Today marks the release of John Joseph Adams’s anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination! This kick-ass anthology, which has already received a starred review from Library Journal, a Top Pick review from Romantic Times, and an Editor’s Pick from Amazon.com, features 22 stories by evil geniuses including Daniel H. Wilson, Seanan McGuire, Diana Gabaldon, and me! It’s available now, in hardcover, softcover, ebook, and audiobook formats, wherever fine books are sold.
I received my author copies last week. They were accompanied by the best letter-accompanying-author-copies EVER. “I have shared your video with a number of people. I never imagined that you had such great dramatic talents. I love the hand; the static; the… bitterness.” (If you haven’t yet seen the video, now would be an excellent time to do so. The URL is http://youtu.be/NkOuPyILWx0. Tell your friends.)
In honor of today’s release, it’s Mad Scientist Week over at the Book View Café blog, with articles and stories about mad science all week. As part of this series, I’ll be posting an original mad science short-short story there on February 21.
On March 5, there will be a Mad Scientist’s Guide reading and signing with me, Daniel H. Wilson, and John Joseph Adams at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, Oregon. See the editor’s blog post for information on readings in other areas.
I’m extremely excited about this book. Some of John Joseph Adams’s other anthologies have become bestsellers and I think this one has a strong chance of doing the same. See http://www.johnjosephadams.com/mad-scientists-guide for more information on the anthology.
More reviews of Portland International Film Festival films we’ve seen this year:
In Shun Li and the Poet, a Chinese immigrant to Italy is sent to work in a cafe in a small fishing village near Venice, where she strikes up a friendship with a Yugoslavian immigrant fisherman. Although the relationship is entirely platonic, this pleases neither of their communities and tensions run high. I had a lot of sympathy for Shun Li’s language difficulties (although I enjoyed the fact that I could almost follow the Italian when she was speaking) but the fisherman should really have known better and it’s really a sad situation all around, and at the conclusion the situation is resolved through mechanisms not entirely unclear. A pretty film, but somewhat slow-moving and dreary (the weather is nearly always rainy or overcast). Four stars out of five.
The single word I would choose to describe Alois Nebel is “leaden.” Computer-driven rotoscoped animation in black, white, and six shades of gray yields a film that looks like a graphic novel brought to life: the movement and backgrounds are extremely realistic, while the characters themselves appear hand-drawn. The film has a unique visual style — light and shadow are particularly well-handled — but the plot, involving a small-scale atrocity from 1945 whose repercussions are finally resolved during the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, moves extremely slowly. Two major characters barely speak at all, making the action somewhat hard to follow, and one of them spends a chunk of the film in a mental hospital, which is a downer. Visually interesting but not much fun; three stars out of five.
80 Million plays out like a caper film, but much more serious. It’s based on a true story: in Poland in 1981, members of the Solidarity trade union smuggled 80 million zlotys of their own money out of a banking system that was rigged against them. In a country where even the secret police can’t trust each other, the tension is almost overwhelming, though the film is not without humor. I was really not sure which of the main characters would make it out alive, and knowing that they were all based on real people made the situation still more chilling. One of the best films I saw at this PIFF; five stars out of five.
In English Vinglish, a smart but naive Indian woman, a wife and mother of two, is embarrassed by her poor English skills. Even though Hindi is the official language of India, English is the one common language and her lack of proficiency embarrasses her and mortifies her children. When she is suddenly called away to New York to assist her sister with a wedding, she seizes the opportunity to take intensive English classes, which leads to moments of great humor and emotional turmoil. Though it’s not a musical, strictly speaking, there’s quite a bit of music and dance, and the film is laugh-out-loud funny and heart-rending by turns (though the stakes may be low in absolute terms, the emotional impact of some scenes, such as her first attempt to order lunch in a New York coffee shop, is devastating). My favorite film of this PIFF; five stars out of five.
Men at Lunch is a documentary about the famous photo of eleven steelworkers having a casual lunch on a girder eighty stories above New York in 1932. The film goes into the archives, interviews photographers and historians, and visits with descendants of two of the men in Ireland. But even at only 80 minutes it’s a bit long for its subject matter. How many different ways can you say “we don’t really know for sure who took the photo or who these men were”? Also, the photo was frequently shown in various forms of re-creation (actors on a beam and/or a computer-created three-dimensional moving version of the original image) which made it difficult to really appreciate it as a photograph. It is an interesting photo, but not that interesting. Three stars out of five.
Also, special bonus film Stop Making Sense. Not part of PIFF, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the greatest concert films of all time and when you have a chance to see it on the big screen, you go. David Byrne is a strange, strange man, but his energy, along with the rest of the band, is boundless. And as every song began I found myself thinking “oh yeah, this is my favorite!” I guess they are all my favorite songs. Five stars out of five. Maybe six.
- io9: “This Hugo-winning author is also the most dangerous villain on the planet”
- SF Signal: “Not only do you get free fiction… you get a wonderful performance as well”
- Bookgasm: “Prolific anthologist John Joseph Adams’ latest collection doesn’t come out until Feb. 19, but you can experience one of its stories right now”
- “My Favorite Bit” at Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog, in which I discuss my favorite bit of the Dr. Talon video
- I am interviewed about Space Magic in “Discovering the Science Fiction Anthology” at ScifiBookReview.com
- Here’s another interview with me, this one about the “Letter to the Editor” video, at the Writers of the Future Herald
- Another interview: “What’s it like publishing a short story collection?”
- Happy Catholic Bookshelf reviews Space Magic
- Space Magic reviewed at Functional Nerds
- More great Space Magic reviews at LibraryThing
February is the month of the Portland International Film Festival, now in its 36th year. Kate and I always hit as many PIFF films as we can, and this year we’ve got tickets to the following:
- The End of Time (Feb. 9, 3:15 PM, World Trade Center)
- The Painting (Feb. 9, 8:45 PM, CineMagic)
- Shun Li and the Poet (Feb. 10, 5:00 PM, World Trade Center)
- Alois Nebel (Feb. 12, 8:30 PM, CineMagic)
- 80 Million (Feb. 16, 3:00 PM, Lloyd Center)
- English Vinglish (Feb. 17, 7:00 PM, Lloyd Center)
- Men at Lunch (Feb. 18, 12:00 PM, Cinema 21)
Here are my reviews of the ones we’ve already seen:
The End of Time is a beautiful, languid meditation on the nature of time that spans the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, lava flows in Hawaii, crumbling buildings in Detroit, and a Buddhist funeral in India among others. The images are gorgeous, often motionless or nearly so; the music is ambient and contemplative. The film will make you think about time, but it doesn’t provide any answers and the connection between the theme and the words and images on the screen is sometimes tenuous. It reminded me a lot of 2001, with its lingering, painterly shots and willingness to focus on the banal details of life while the big picture can only be seen by stepping back. But, pretty though it is, it goes on a bit long; I might have fallen asleep if it hadn’t been a matinee. I give it three stars out of five.
The Painting is an animated film that mixes computer-generated, hand-drawn, and live images in a delightful, painterly fable about characters who live in a painting. The conflict between the “all dones,” the “unfinished,” and the “roughs” provokes a Romeo and Juliet plot, but the real adventure is very meta as the characters (who know from the beginning that they are paintings and that they were created by an artist) wander out into other paintings and the real world. Will the Artist ever return to complete his creation? I enjoyed this one a lot, but I was annoyed by its almost complete lack of dramatic tension; whenever there is any danger to the characters it is resolved very quickly, and something about the painterly motion of the animation made everything seem very friendly and unthreatening. This lack of tension makes the film suitable for small children, but I think its complex ideas would be baffling to them. Four stars out of five.
Just finished mainlining Season One of HBO’s Game of Thrones, thanks to the DVD set Kate got me for the holidays, and I’m as hooked as most everyone else who’s seen it.
The thing that’s really interesting to me about this series (I have not read the books) is that the major characters are all fascinatingly contradictory. The Lannisters may be the people you love to hate, yet all of them — even the father, who’s the least fully-drawn and most purely evil of them — have their positive, even admirable qualities. (Okay, maybe not Jeoffrey.) And the Starks, our heroes, can be blinded by their own good intentions, even to the point of acting stupidly from time to time, yet stupidly in a very real and understandable way.
This is television characterization, of course. These characters, as much as I enjoy them, are really fairly melodramatic and simplistic. The cast is so large that, even in what is in effect a ten-hour miniseries, most of them get only some tens of minutes of screen time, so they are unavoidably shallow by comparison with the depth of characterization possible in a novel. But they feel much deeper than they are.
I’m also rather in awe of the show’s ability to inflict massive infodumps on the viewer by having the characters deliver their information during a fairly explicit (and often completely unrelated to the info being dumped) sex scene. I mean, it feels like a cheat, but I am in awe of the chutzpah.
All the other aspects of the production are stellar. Cast, costumes, sets, music, cinematography. I am, as I said, hooked.
Fortunately, the Season Two DVD set will be out next week.
Had a lovely evening with Shannon Page and Mark Ferrari at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, Portland’s hidden gem. We sat at the table that rotates slowly, enjoyed delicious coffees and desserts, investigated the intriguing bathroom, and discussed bizarre occurrences in our lives (Mark: first experience of fireflies, while visiting a haunted house; Kate and David: cremated radioactive baboons).
Just as we were leaving, a dramatic fanfare from the classical background music caught my ear. I knew that tune but could not place it. Spent the whole drive home trying to remember what symphony it was.
We both poked around at a variety of websites that claimed to identify tunes by humming or tapping them, but got nowhere. Googling on “da, da da DA da da, da da da-da da” didn’t help. Finally we nailed it through a combination of me remembering the tune, Kate picking it out on a virtual piano keyboard, finding a site that identified classical tunes by typing the notes as letters — but only in the key of C — and Kate remembering how to transpose it. Turns out it was Dvorak’s Symphony #5 in E Minor, 4th movement.
Sometimes the future works.
Tonight’s Portland SFWA reading, with James Patrick Kelly, Felicity Shoulders, and Grá Linnaea, went very well! It was nicely attended and Jim brought a great energy to the proceedings, especially the Q&A. Thanks to everyone who attended.
The next readings are Tuesday April 23 (Seattle area) and Wednesday April 24 (Portland) with Mary Robinette Kowal, Tina Connolly, and Nisi Shawl.
This is just a quick reminder that SFWA’s Pacific Northwest Reading Series is having its next events this week!
Today (Tuesday, January 29), in the Seattle area, local favorite Cat Rambo will be accompanied by Portland writers Felicity Shoulders and Grá Linnaea. The University Bookstore will be on hand again selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.
When: Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Wilde Rover Irish Pub and Restaurant, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033
Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 30), in Portland, we’ll have multiple award winner James Patrick Kelly (all the way from Maine!), also accompanied by Felicity Shoulders and Grá Linnaea. Wrigley-Cross Books will be selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.
When: Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211
Both events are free and open to the public.
I hope you can join us! It should be a lot of fun.
See http://www.sfwa.org/for-readers/sfwa-northwest-reading-series/ for more information and to RSVP (not required, but encouraged).