A Hundred Years Hence

I’ve heard that SFWA Grandmaster James Gunn will give a keynote speech for the Cushing Library’s Exhibit above. I wish I could be there. After all, for the last 35 years I’ve witnessed some of that “SF & Fantasy” at TAMU. I remember the first time I ever met Jim Gunn–he came down for something and Dr. Kroiter brought him to the SF as Literature class to talk to us. I hadn’t read much of his work at that time but I was a big fan of the TV series The Immortal.

Since then I’ve learned usual lesson. The source material is almost always better.

Brad Denton was a graduate student under him, writing some of his early short fiction in the program. Read his post about meeting Dr. Gunn back in college, “First Contact with a Grand Master.”

Iron Chef Pear or What I Did On My Birthday

I’m in Chattanooga, Tennessee (the ‘nooga as us hep kids call it) at a combination writer’s retreat and birthday celebration (not mine, but our host’s, Mary Robinette Kowal.) It just so happens that her BD is one day (and fourteen years) after mine.

I was supposed to be the offeeeeeecial photgrapher for the following event but one of the Team Mary’s sous chefs came down sick and I was roped in.

Nobody really lost, especially all of us who got to eat it.

Fun With (Electoral) Math; or, How Omaha Can Save the World

College Dean

Several different “Interactive Electoral Maps” for the 2008 Smackdown are available online . . . but my favorite is at http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008/pick-your-president/.  This one allows you to screw with the Electoral College in all sorts of ways, much as you probably did with your Actual College.

The best thing about this map, to me, is that it includes options for splitting up the Electoral Votes of Maine and Nebraska.  You see, unlike every other state in the Union, Maine and Nebraska do not have a winner-take-all policy regarding their Electoral Votes for President.  Instead, they use the “Congressional District Method,” in which the popular-vote winner of each Congressional District is awarded one Electoral Vote (just as each district has one Congressperson), and the state’s overall popular-vote winner is awarded the remaining two Electoral Votes (just as each state has two Senators).

So far, in actual practice, this has never resulted in a split Electoral Vote for either Maine or Nebraska.  But I want to believe that 2008 could be different, particularly in Nebraska.  For one thing, Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District is home to the University of Nebraska, where support for Senator Obama is reported to be strong . . . and the 2nd District is basically the city of Omaha, which (among other blue-leaning factors) is the home of billionaire, philanthropist, and Obama-supporter Warren Buffett.  (You can forget about the 3rd District, though.  They’re red ’til they’re dead.)

I’ve had a lot of fun playing Electoral God with the map as a whole, making swing-states like Ohio and Pennsylvania swing first one way and then the other.  But somehow I can never manage to convince myself, even for a make-believe moment, that Florida will ever wind up in the blue column.  (Comedienne Sarah Silverman thinks there’s a way it could happen, however.)

My favorite tweak of the map — and note that “favorite” doesn’t mean that I think it’s either likely or desirable, but wackily possible — gives WA, OR, CA, WI, MI, IL, IN, OH, PA, NY, VT, ME, RI, CT, DE, MD, NJ, HI,  and DC to Senator Obama.  Everything else goes to Senator McCain.

This results in a 269 to 269 tie, which throws the election into the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unless . . .

You click that tiny little box that represents Nebraska’s 2nd District, turning it blue.

And then, with its one Electoral Vote, OMAHA SAVES THE WORLD!!!

Well, I mean, jeez.

SOMEbody has to.

Down a Silent Alleyway

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins studio

I once wrote a book called The Stone War, about New York City, which is (as you know, Bob) my hometown, and about which I am a little crazy. Not the least of the fun I had writing the book was doing the research. If you tell people you’re writing a book they’ll tell you all sorts of things. They’ll let you in places you’d otherwise have no chance of entering (even if you don’t speak the language! I charmed myself into Malmaison outside Paris on a day when the museum wasn’t open because I said, in my execrable French, that I was a novelist doing research). Research is like wandering in a city you don’t know, finding yourself in alleys and back streets, wondering how the hell you get back to the main square, and yet unwilling to turn around because there might be something cool around the next corner.

And this, my friends, is how I came upon Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. Waterhouse was a British sculptor and naturalist who became a popularizer of dinosaurs in Victorian England and then the US. His dinosaurs–complete with period-appropriate frills and decorative ogees and such, are wonderful. I was immediately fascinated. The problem was that I saw Hawkins’s name and the information that interested me about him in an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History–but it was a traveling exhibit, and after it left, and I wanted to get confirmation of my memory and some more information, if could find nothing. It was as if I’d imagined the whole thing. Now, why, without prompting, would I imagine pieces of smashed up dinosaur under Central Park?

Following his success with the Crystal Palace Exhibition, Hawkins came to New York City with the intent of recreating on one side of the Atlantic what had been so successful on the other. In the years following the Civil War, he set up a studio on what is now the site of the American Museum of Natural History on the upper West Side of Manhattan, and began to assemble a new menagerie of sculptured dinosaurs. The plan was to set them up in a “Paleozoic Museum” in Central Park, which was then being landscaped under the direction of Frederick Law Olmstead, an ex-engineer officer in the Union army.

However, in 1871, before either the park or the dinosaurs were finished, New York City politics intervened. The corrupt Tammany Hall-Boss Tweed machine took control of city politics, and Hawkins and his dinosaurs were out. Those models that had been made were broken up and buried in the south end of the park, and Hawkins left New York a greatly embittered man. Although Central Park has been modified in the years since its inception, including the construction of the 8th Ave subway line which runs up the west side of the park, the remains of Hawkins’ dinosaurs have never been found. They still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields.

In the far off days when I was doing all this research, the internet was not the very cool and sometimes useful tool it now is; much of what you found, doing web-based research, was stuff put up by, um, enthusiasts with more enthusiasm than strict regard for the truth (for further elaboration on this point, find a copy of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s excellent “What Woo-Woo Means to Me” in Making Book) . I combed through all the books I could find, went to the Museum of the City of New-York (always include the hyphen; they get finicky about it) and the AMNH itself. Nothin’. I really began to think I’d hallucinated it.And then one day at the St. Agnes branch of the NYPL, while Sarcasm Girl was looking at books, I found a kids’ picture book which had the whole damned story in it. And while that might seem like a slender reed on which to place my faith, at least it proved that I hadn’t dreamed it all up.

Two of the dinosaurs were all but finished; the other four which had been comissioned were in various stages of construction. All of them were broken up, and the pieces sewn into the ground somewhere around 60th Street, on the east side. I used Mr. Hawkins’s dinosaurs–they have a good-sized role in the denouement of The Stone War. And on those occasions when I’m in the city and wandering through Central Park, I like to walk around at 60th and 5th Avenue near the Plaza Hotel and imagine Eloise leaving the building one day to be confronted by a life-size granite Iguanadon. It’s the sentimentalist in me.


Happy Birthday, Jack

Jack Williamson died a year-and-a-half ago (November 10th, 2006 at the age of 98) but if he’d made it to today, he would be a century old.

May I propose a toast.

His niece, Betty says, “Jack would probably either have a gin and tonic or a tall buttermilk….”

Here’s some of the previous posts we did here about Jack.

And These Are Just the Novels

A Sky Thick With Stars

Laura J. Mixon on the Jack Williamson Memorial Service


The House That Jack Built

An Undeserved Honor

<Raises glass> To Jack.

Bulfinch’s Guide to Writing

I talked to 2000 Texas school kids yesterday using remote teleconferencing from a high-tech facility in Huntsville Texas. It was pretty cool. They would un-mute their microphones and their local camera would use that action to zoom in on the individual talking. Robot cameras rule!

I talked to these kids in four different sessions (3 different talks, one repeat.)

One of them was Myths about writing…

Continue reading

An Undeserved Honor

By the time Jack Williamson was my age he had published over 29 novels and over 73 short stories. He then went on, before he died, to publish almost as much again, be awarded the second ever SFWA Grand Master award and then, in this decade, won the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell awards.

So, it is with a great deal of humility (and a severe case of imposture syndrome) that I let you know I will be Special Guest of Honor at the 32nd Williamson Lectureship at Eastern New Mexico University.


Also speaking at the lunch will be special guests Christopher Stasheff and Connie Willis. In the morning before the luncheon there will be a presentation on the physics of both the novel and movie versions of Jumper by Alberto Rojo, recent Jack Williamson Endowed Chair and associate professor of physics at Oakland University. In the afternoon there will be panels at the University Library

2:00 Tribute to Fred Saberhagen
3:00 New Directions: SF and Fantasy
PG for Violence, Action and Scary Creatures: SF and Film

At 4:00 pm on Thursday the 10th, Connie Willis, Walter Jon Williams, and I are also doing a “Young Readers and Writers” event at the Portales Public Library.

Click the pic for the official Lectureship site.

Breaking News: Song of Fire & Ice Finished

From Locus:

Panic, hysteria, depression, and mass suicide struck the offices of Bantam Books today when New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin turned in a manuscript for the final book of his A Song of Fire and Ice series that came in at a concise 87 pages.

“As I sat down to write the book, I suddenly realized that I could tie everything up in a satisfying climax at novella length,” said Martin in a prepared statement. “Brevity being the soul of wit, I decided to do just that. I think all the fans of he series will be very pleased with the way it turned out.”

“The world is a black, hellish nightmare of unceasing despair and endless sorrow!” cried Martin’s editor Anne Groell, rending her garments as her editorial assistants stood wailing around her. “A stygian darkness descends, blotting out all life and hope! O Tempora! O Mores! My life work reduced to ashes before my eyes, leaving not but a voice and bitter weeping! Oh cruel fate! I die!” she declared, just before committing seppuku with a letter opener.

Read the entire story.

Blood, Bones, Metal, and Magic at the OK Corral: A Review of Territory by Emma Bull

Territory by Emma Bull. Wow. Just, wow.I’d said I wasn’t going to blog this week, but I came across a true delight last night, and I must share it.

As a reader, I lean more toward science fiction, but a well-written fantasy novel is a delight, and Emma Bull‘s Territory kept me up half the night. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years.

Territory is the legend of the OK Corral, with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and Ike Clanton, naturally, and it holds all the dust and fire and bullets, all the frontier law-making and -breaking, the cattle rustling and gun slingers, of a good western. Only it mixes in a heady brew of sorcery, with a daub of American and Chinese mysticism, like spices that bring out the flavor of the brew and transform it into something new.

Bull sneaks up on you. I am a long-time reader and there aren’t a lot of books that sink their hooks in and grab hold without my being aware of what’s happening. But she pulled me in. There’s not a single false note in this book. The magic is handled deftly, the characters achingly real and believable. The magic sneaks up on you, too. It’s not merely tacked-on pyrotechnics. Rather, it manifests itself gradually, as a raw and elemental force woven so naturally through the story that ultimately it seems unthinkable to view the original legend without the magic mixed in.

Territory is told primarily from the viewpoints of three characters. Jesse Fox is a drifter summoned to Tombstone by an old friend, Chow Lung, a Chinese sorcerer and physician who seeks to protect the town against the powerful evil forces gathering there. Throughout much of the book, Jesse struggles to keep at bay his own supernatural abilities. He had a ringside seat at the inexorable destruction of his beloved sister, due to her own power and sensitivity to the supernatural.

Mildred Benjamin, a widow whose husband has recently died, is a copyeditor-cum-reporter at a local newspaper and secretly, a fiction writer for a deliciously trashy fiction tabloid. One of the delights of this book is that the “ordinary” people are no less extraordinary than the conjurers and magicians. Mildred is levelheaded and practical. She is no sorceress, to be swallowed by earth, flame, and water, as Jesse is. But in Bull’s hands, her arc is equally gripping. Bull portrays her with a clear and unyielding vision of the difficulties women faced in the American west. Mildred comes into her own for the first time in a difficult, lawless time. She is no fainting damsel. Mildred is thrown into town life at large by her husband’s death, and later flung into dangerous and eldritch happenings by hidden sorcerers’ machinations. And she finds herself equal to the task.

The other viewpoint character is Doc Holliday. Earp and Holliday, as the two antagonists, are also compelling characters. Doc Holliday is a consumptive, slowly dying, and kept alive only by Wyatt’s own version of magic — or is Wyatt only using him, and slowly killing him? Yet they are close friends whose ties reach back over the years, and you sense that Earp’s hold on Holliday is in one sense also Holliday’s hold on Earp. Holliday is acerbic, amoral, and self-destructive, but you can’t help but like him anyway, and even Earp a little, when you see him through Doc’s eyes.

Then there are the secondary characters, all delightful and skillfully drawn. My favorite is Lung. He is powerful, irascible, and very funny, a Chinese immigrant to the barbaric west, who is baffled by Jesse’s struggle over science versus magic. To him, medicine and magic are part of the same system. And the women of Mildred’s acquaintance: Kate Holliday, who is herself a force of nature, and the Earp wives, downtrodden, kept isolated by their husbands and shunned by Tombstone’s social circle. They are powerless and victimized and it would be easy for Bull to treat them as ciphers. But they come to life in Bull’s hands as Mildred befriends them, and thus we not only experience a more thoughtful view of power in domestic and family relations; we also learn much more about the Earps and the evil they are capable of — and why.

As a writer, I am in awe of Bull’s craft. She reaches deep and grabs hold of something raw, real, and fabulous. As a reader, I am besotted with the world and the characters. She is a master of her craft. I’m so ready for the sequel I can’t stand it! Why isn’t it finished right now?? Auuuggh!

Grade: A+. With Territory, Bull crafts a dangerous, rich portrait of the old west, transformed by elemental magic, exotic and familiar at once. Highly recommended.

Update: I belatedly note from some of the Amazon reader reviews that one or two readers are mildly let down when they discover that the the famous shootout doesn’t happen in this book. Be forewarned–Territory is clearly the first of two, and the shootout will undoubtedly occur in the second.

Six Words

Not Quite What I Was Planning
Not Quite What I Was Planning is a collection of autobiographies in six words. The premise comes from the anecdote that Hemingway (perhaps to settle a bar bet?) wrote a short story in six words.

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Several sf writers have written Sfnal versions of this for Wired.

It cost too much, staying human.
– Bruce Sterling

We kissed. She melted. Mop please!
– James Patrick Kelly

Then comes this book. Autobiography in six words. Online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs and culled the best. Of course, now I lay in bed attempting to compose mine.

An observer; husband, son brought reality.

But in ten minutes I’ll decide that’s wrong.

Emma Bull and Los Blues Guys – Soulful Dress

Emma Bull’s personality, singing, and high-energy stage presence always blew me away. She’s also, um, well, a bit of a hottie. Which never hurts when you’re a rock chick. I haven’t seen her for way too many years, but some things don’t change, and I’m absolutely certain that Emma is still the magical creature I knew.

She’s also the author of, among other works, ‘War for the Oaks’, which is considered a classic seminal urban fantasy.

She was in the most excellent Minneapolis band Cats Laughing.

On October 11, 1991, along with other celebrity guests, she took the stage with Los Blues Guys. She’s all over the tape I have of the event, but here’s her taking lead vocals and rockin’ hard.


Soulful Dress


Bradley Denton on drums, I think, though I know that Steven Brust sat in with us on at least one occasion. I’m not sure whether it was Patrick Nielsen Hayden, or Tom Maddox, or somebody else, who played guitar on this song, and would appreciate help with that. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me, though. Whoever it was, they did good. Real good.

If you’d like some more Emma in your life, you can find more of her writing and music by reading and following the links offered on her web site and in her Wikipedia entry.