If there’s anything we can count on in today’s world, it is that if you dare to put any sort of opinion forward on the Internet, a million people will attack you for it. Amazon apparently feels it is big enough to stand the hit, and it is publishing various lists of 100 Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime, categorized by genre. Today it’s science fiction and fantasy’s turn. Well, to take my inspiration from the Bard (who better?), I come not to praise Amazon nor to bury them. I just want to nit-pick a little bit.

First, in a flurry of self-congratulation, I have to admit that I’ve read–or tried to read–a good number of the recommended books already. (Okay, 37.) Although “tried to read” is a more accurate description in several cases, I count them. Intent is important, and in almost none of those cases did I simply give up for lack of time. No, it was nearly uniformly for lack of interest. And therein lies the nit-pick.

Now, I am not going to say that every one of those books I failed to finish was bad and doesn’t belong on the list. Most of the time, they simply weren’t my cup of tea. And a couple were just too damned long. There are only so many hours in a day. I mean, I read A Song of Ice and Fire, but I gave up in the third book because the story’s just too complicated and I haven’t the time–nor can I remember each book for five years until the next comes out. But a few of these titles…yes, one or two I simply cannot hold with. And while I realize they have their defenders (I’ve had the arguments), and they certainly have the sales, I would not have put them on this list.

Three books stand out for me: Pawn of Prophecy, Perdido Street Station, and Guilty Pleasures.

I didn’t hate The Belgariad. I read the first five Eddings books straight through. They were entertaining. They just weren’t award-worthy. I thought they were derivative, stereotyped, and thoroughly run-of-the-mill. It’s on this list because it sells, and Amazon is a book-seller.

Perdido Street Station is hailed everywhere I look as a transcendent work of art, a masterpiece. Me? I finished the book, looked at the cover, and asked: “What was the point of that?” It might belong on this list, but I wouldn’t put it there.

I loved Guilty Pleasures. I bought it when it first came out, and read the next half-dozen or so like clockwork. I got some signed. Then I stopped. The story veered way off in the wrong direction, and the last I heard, it was a parody of its former self. More to the point, though, there’s nothing ground-breaking or life-changing about that first book. Again, it’s there because it sells.

Bonus title: Why The Curse of Chalon? Why not one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels? Not a quibble, just a question.

What would I have picked? Why, I thought you’d never ask. Off the top of my head…

Telempath, by Spider Robinson. Blew my mind. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s been in print for over a century for a reason. And for heaven’s sake, any of a dozen novels by Tanith Lee. They’re like Pringles, except that you can’t read more than one without a break, because they are so rich.

So, there. Only three or four disagreements out of a hundred. Who says you can’t be reasonable on the Internet? Now, if you wanted to rate all the Godzilla movies…


I am proud (and somewhat surprised) to announce that I have sold “Rose by Any Other Name” to Cirsova magazine. “Rose” is special for various reasons, one being that it is probably the oldest story I have ever sold. (Out of respect, i will not disclose how old it is.) Another reason: this story was the prototype for my novel, The Invisible City. (The sequel for which is currently under construction…)

I don’t have a date for publication yet, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know.


It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally getting to the point where I’m not embarrassed to call myself “a writer” in the right circumstances. Trust me, it’s taken years. It’s one of those unsung hard parts about being a writer, taking yourself seriously. Another is finding time to write. It’s not the hardest part, but it’s tough. Talk to any writer and he/she will tell you it’s never easy. There are a lot of reasons for this…

For example, I’ve just crossed the 50,000-word mark on my work-in-progress (WIP), a novel I’ve been working on a over 18 months. Now, even for me, this is slow. (And it’s gruesome death when you’re self-publishing. But that’s another topic.) In my own defense, however, I had some personal issues last year that sucked my will (and time) to write for many months. And after that, I faced the Demon of Writer’s Block. (Some writers don’t believe in writer’s block. They probably don’t believe in Santa Claus, either.)

I’ve gotten past the DWB recently, and started working with a new energy. (Then I got side-tracked by another project, but at least it was a writing project. And it might actually bring in money in the foreseeable future, as opposed to a book which isn’t even finished and based on its history, may not be during the current Administration.) But while renewed energy is great, maybe crucial, there’s still that problem of finding time to write.

Now, the conventional wisdom is to set up a standard time and sit down to write every day at that time. Terrific idea. In theory. In practice, Life gets in the way. I don’t have kids, and I have trouble simply attending to household duties and spending time with my wife. How writers with children manage to finish anything at all has always been a mystery to me, and I hold them in high esteem.

Yes, conventional wisdom says, but you have to treat writing like a job: Do it every day even when you don’t want to. And there, I believe, is the problem.

You see, a lot of people don’t like their jobs. They spend much of their working time devising schemes on how not to work, or how to minimize work. If you tell them writing is another job, it’s liable to suffer from the same maladies. I know that I like to set a minimum daily word count, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t meet it, because if I work just to get to that limit, then I stop when I get there. Because it’s work, and I’d rather be reading or surfing the net.

There’s also the fact that if this is work, you want to get paid a lot more for it. So in order not to quit as soon as possible, and not to worry about pay rates, some writers tell themselves it’s only a hobby. Hobbies are extra activities you take on in your spare time. Hobbies are fun. Wouldn’t you like writing to be fun? Well, yeah, but hobbies are also things you do when you have time. And if you wait to write until you have time, then you spend 18 months writing 50,000 words.

So what is writing, work or hobby? Seems to me it should be something in between. Something you spend a regular, meaningful amount of time on, but not drudgery, not something you scheme to escape as soon as possible, even if it’s only for a long lunch. Writing isn’t one thing or the other; it’s kind of the “brunch” of careers.

I guess you could call writing a “wobby,” but I don’t think it’s going to catch on. We need someone who’s good with words to work on that.


I am pleased to announce that “Dead Guy Walking,” an exploration of life after what may or may not be death, is going to be the subject of a live reading courtesy of The Pulp Stage in Portland, Oregon. The story will be translated to a script, which will then be read to a live audience in a club or restaurant setting. Unfortunately, the performance will not take place until at least 2016; on the other hand, it gives me a chance to save enough money to go to Portland to see it! (If you can’t wait until then, you can listen to it here.)

Once the details have been revealed to me (hey, I’m just the author), I will publish them on this page. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by!


They Won’t Bite

There’s a blog post on the SFWA blog that I just read that gives writers advice on how to ask for book blurbs. Being as interested in having a high-powered author ruin his career consent to give me a boost as the next guy, I read it. It was interesting, informative–and mostly consisted of common-sense advice about how not to be a jerk to someone when asking him (or her) for a favor.

Now, this is valuable intel, because I don’t know of a thornier question in all of writerdom than how to approach someone you don’t know, or may know only slightly (or even someone you know well, who has probably been dreading this moment for years) to ask him or her not only to read your book, not only to say something nice about your book, but to do it in public and put his name on it. In short, to tell his fans that they should read your book. But at the same time, there wasn’t anything that you shouldn’t know on your own: ask politely, don’t be a pest, do take no for an answer, that kind of thing.

That could be a handy intro to a rant on the decline of manners, but that’s too easy, and besides, no one who reads my blog needs that kind of lecture. So what’s our takeaway here?

It’s that writers are people. Treat them right and they’ll return the favor (if they can). Maybe a blurb is a lot to ask for, but most people aren’t looking for one. You’re a lot more likely to ask for an autograph. Unlike actors, most authors will sign autographs for anyone who asks, and they don’t charge for the privilege. Just be polite in asking. If it’s a formal signing, just a smile will do. If you meet an author at a con, don’t intrude on her conversation, wait for her to be free, and she’ll gladly sign your book.

That’s not to say that every author is Santa Claus, or has been waiting all his life for you to ask him to sign your book (although if he’s new enough, he really has), or even that he’ll be nice to you. On the other hand, if you exercise a little judgment, and don’t sit down next to him while he’s having breakfast, you’ll probably find that your favorite author is just like you. You work in an office, he works at home.

The difference is that, hour for hour, you probably get paid better.

I recently wandered by one of those photo booths at the mall, and I wondered out loud why anyone still used them when selfies were so prevalent. A friend told me that people still liked to pile into them and take picture. I opined that people were becoming real narcissists, and my friend asked: “What, you just noticed?”

(Allow me to take the high ground here and say that I do not take selfies. Allow me to be honest and say the reason is that I don’t have a phone that can take selfies. But since the ends justify the means, I’m  still the guy who doesn’t take selfies.)

It reminded me, in a very roundabout way, of the Hugo controversy. According to the complaints of the Sad Puppies, the Hugos have become an award more concerned with the form of the story, rather than the story. Or worse, they believe that the artist has taken precedence over the art, that it’s more about who (or what) you are than what you’ve done.

Let’s look at it another way. It seems the thing now (besides selfies) is tattoos. (Yeah, I’m too old for tattoos. Get over it.) You choose it, you commission it, it says something. But here’s my question. Because  you chose the thing that represents you, your message, and had it put on your body, does that make you an artist? Or does it make you art?

Are other people looking at the Michael Jackson tat on your shoulder and thinking, “Gee, that hot girl is really into Michael Jackson,” or are they thinking, “Gee, that’s a great drawing of Michael Jackson”? Are you the message or the medium?

Selfies. Facebook tags. Is it better for people see you, or to hear you? Do you get a tattoo to make a statement, or to be one? Do you want to write a great story, or be called a great writer? Which is better? Is there a right answer?

I don’t know. You don’t know. I’m not sure there is a right answer. You might as well ask, “What is Art?” You’d likely create less controversy.

Let’s get back to SF. The Sad Puppies would say that SF needs to keep pushing outward, breaking through the new barriers out there that keep us from realizing our species’ full potential. They say the story is all and it doesn’t matter who writes them. Others would say that SF needs to push inward, to break through the old barriers inside us that keep us from realizing our full human potential. They say that new, different voices are necessary because they bring new viewpoints. And yet others would claim that neither one matters, because self-promotion is the greatest goal and how you achieve it is irrelevant. In this world, if you don’t make a name for yourself, nobody’s going to do it for you.

I guess as long as you keep pushing yourself, that’s progress. How you define “progress” is up to you.

There has been a lot (yes, way too much) time and energy spent the last several months on the Hugo awards, and what’s supposedly wrong with them, and the ancillary (pun intended) issues that have arisen since, like the latest nonsense about suing the Worldcon over a supposedly invalid ballot. As has been reiterated many times, and specifically (if incidentally) pointed by the latest “legal” kerfuffle, these things are really a tempest in a very small teapot. Honestly, as much as we’d all love to have one, who wins the Hugos matters to very few people. (Mostly, the people who win one, or don’t.) The same goes for whether the ballot was fairly drawn, or voted on, or if the system can be reformed.

Now, ironically, all the hoopla and hollering has not failed to engage and entertain a lot of people. Or maybe “enrage and entertain” would be a better description. (And I will be the first to admit I am among that number. Of course, my interest has been wholly academic, particularly in the latest skirmish, since I am a legal professional.) But why?

Why is it, that we, the SF community, self-charged to be the farseers, the chosen few who at least try to predict the future (however poorly), are so caught up with present-day minutiae? Come to think of it, why is the world so caught up in present-day minutiae? Obsession with movie stars, for example, is nothing new; when my great-grandmother’s closets were cleaned out years ago, we found stacks movie tabloids dating back to the 1950s. (And yes, I wish I had been allowed to save them.) But now, we have television channels devoted to this kind of thing, and we make stars out of people who’ve never been in movies. (And then we put them in movies, with predictable results.)

Sure, this is all for fun, and everybody’s entitled, but there are issues out there that we should be paying attention to: climate change, record refugee migrations, wealth distribution, a presidential election season being run by reality stars. (Somebody has probably actually predicted this somewhere along the line.) Why should we care if No Award got the Hugo for Best Short Story when right outside the auditorium record forest fires, fueled by unprecedented drought, made the air seem less like Spokane than Beijing?

And why isn’t anyone blogging about that?

I have a simple theory: It’s too big. We can’t handle this stuff. This is the sort of thing we elected those guys in Washington to solve for us. See how well that’s worked out.

But you know what? We’re Science Fiction. We think about the big issues, the future. Up until now, instead of the guys in Washington, we’ve let the guys in SFWA do the heavy lifting, so we can concentrate on nominating patterns and voting blocs. Except now the guys in SFWA are right down there with us. We’re letting a thousand ant-like problems distract us from the elephants in the room. Because it’s easier.

I’m not going to sit here at my computer and claim I have the way out. I’m not to claim that I’m any better than anyone else, that I’ve been fighting the good fight while everyone else sat at their bivouac. I don’t, and I haven’t. I’ve fed the monster of small concerns like a lot of others.

But it’s time to stop. It’s time for us in science fiction to stop squabbling about petty matters and get back to bigger things. The kind of looming apocalypses that we can imagine, because we’re not afraid to. The kind of doomsday scenarios that used to be science fiction.


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