SDCC 2016 ‘Colt the Outlander’ and the Aradio Brothers: Never just a Bounty Hunter

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to an alternative post-apocalyptic future, the struggle of daily living on the mining wastelands of Neb-6, where the only thing you can be certain of is that there is absolutely nothing certain in these brave new worlds.

Colt the Outlander, the fast-paced adventure series of rogue bounty hunter Colt and his deadly lady companions Jenna and Brem, as seen in the pages of the world’s premiere illustrated sci-fi-fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, comes to us in written-story format from a leading sci-fi author, Kevin J. Anderson!

Colt the Outlander has been around in some form or fashion, both story and art, since around 1995, first featured in Heavy Metal in the 2001 fall issue and many times since then, crossing over with other well-known properties like Rifts, Colt has an ever-growing and very loyal fan-base.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the creators of Colt at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the Aradio brothers, Dominic and RC, and Dante Pacella at their booth. Excerpts from the new Colt story series by Kevin J. Anderson were being touted at the booth, and even as I stood there and watched, fans of Colt from Heavy Metal came and went, eagerly anticipating their favorite gritty Colt in a brand new series.

Dominic was kind enough to explain the series to me more in depth, talking about planetary fallout and ancient technologies brought back for new and unique uses, with far-spanning deserts and wastelands, bounty hunters and assassins, Colt and his badass female companions have their daily struggle to just survive cut out for them. Dominic laughingly confided that his sources of inspiration come from everywhere, from the long-running writings of horror laureate Stephen King, to the binge-watching of the show Supernatural with his kids. The boisterous Aradio brother delightedly explained that Kevin J. Anderson himself had expressed interest in writing the novella adaptations of the Colt series, and that Aradio himself was a huge fan of Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns series and, of course, his Dune adaptations. “There are very few similarities between Dune and Colt, so it was kind of a challenge, but Kevin Anderson can write the hell out of nearly anything sci-fi.”

The comfort that understanding, in any medium, can bring, is often astounding in its effectiveness. More than once, I saw fans who were military members approach the booth and thank the Aradio Brothers and Pacella for their realistic, accurate, and totally empathetic portrayal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in those who serve in the military, or have served previously, inside the ongoing Colt the Outlander  storyline. Dominic proudly informed me that, “A whole bunch of our Colt fans are servicemen and women,” and the women especially love their strong portrayal of lady bounty hunters Jenna and Brem, who accompany Colt on his scavenging and hunting rounds.

Now, the story of Colt and his pals and their heartaches and adventures, are brought to printed life by the same author who dared to take on a partnership to make more Dune stories, Kevin J. Anderson. Aradio Brothers Studios has ambitions to make Colt a multimedia platform featuring visual entertainment, video games (I see shades of Borderlands, that would be cool), comics and of course, books. To keep up with Colt the Outlander updates and maybe even find a copy of the new novella to purchase, go to the Colt Facebook page here.

 

‘Childhood’s End’: The Kids Really Did Do It

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Due to time constraints and far too many new and hopefully great Syfy shows being previewed before their actual beginning run in January 2016, Pandora is reviewing the Childhood’s End middle and finale episode together. Embrace the madness!

‘Childhood’s End, The Deceivers’: Do what, now?

It’s completely possible to tell that this is the middle episode, and indeed, it feels very much like the show-makers were flummoxed here in the center. I’m guessing the Arthur C. Clarke story the show is based on (I haven’t read it) has a middle act that is ill-defined or hard to explain in visual terms without giving the final act completely away.

We know this middle episode is supposed to be the setup for whatever happens to the children in the final act, but the setup seems to almost entirely hinge on the Greggson family and the wife’s current pregnancy. We came all the way to South Africa on the flimsiest of pretenses, no-one seemed to have any concern over the idea that a pregnant woman will be flying in a Guilty Spark-like alien pod to get there, and it wasn’t odd at all that the whole family, including small boy, were invited. There’s that crazy room with the alien version of a pearled Ouija board, and while it’s fine to see (Christian) in that familiar power-impotence role of his, most of the scene seems … contrived? The possibly-pregnant-with-alien-baby woman is made to use the alien Ouija board to send a glowy message to … someone, while Karellen himself powerlessly pleads with … someone, to accept their destiny. We almost feel sorry for him.

Then, there’s the fact that it’s been almost two decades since the Overlords arrived, and Ricky hasn’t heard from Karellen in quite a while, until an out-of-the-blue midnight visit in Ricky’s barn. What’s Karellen doing here after all these years? Well, Ricky is sick. Karellen wants to apologize for that, he thinks it’s entirely possible all those previous visits to the Overlord spaceships did Ricky long-lasting harm. But more than that, Karellen drops the devastating bomb that Ricky can’t have children. Notice how it all spirals back to the children?

It takes a lot of heffle and feffle to get there, but eventually we all learn that the exposure to the spaceship isn’t what caused Ricky’s infertility, Karellen chose to do that himself. Why on earth would he sterilize one of the few humans he can actually call friend? Because the inevitable BigBad is coming, it involves the children, and like the tidal wave, cannot be reasoned with or stopped. It seems this lush amazement we now call our planet and the peaceful (if not completely cow-eyed) existence humanity now leads comes at the heftiest price imaginable: our children. And Karellen wanted to spare his friend Ricky from that kind of pain, which is an interesting, if a bit twisted, compliment.

These two main plot points are the only real meat of this middle episode, with mini, flitting stories wandering near these two major events like lost fireflies. It would have been entirely possible to pare down the middle episode to an hour, to make room for more commercials for new Syfy shows.

 

‘Childhood’s End, The Children’: Damned kids, get off my lawn!

ChildhoodsEnd_hero_Karellen

And so, here we are at the finale and Milo is once again narrating in his admiring and yet totally paranoid fashion, how the earth has changed since the arrival of the Overlords nearly twenty-five years ago. The Greggsons had their alien-touched daughter, Jennifer, approximately four years ago, and she has a noticeable effect on, well, all the children. Ricky’s officially dying by much more than increments now, and Karellen wants nothing more than to save his human friend by sticking him in The Hotel Room forever and ever.

Far too much attention is paid to Ricky and his plight. Don’t get me wrong, the prophet of the Overlords was used pretty harshly and Mike Vogel’s latest role after the cancellation of Under the Dome is fairly well done. It’s just that Ricky’s inability to reconcile the death of ‘the love of his life’ and the woman who chose childlessness in real life just to be with him, while heart-wrenching, has no real bearing on what’s happening to the earth or humanitys children. It just happens to be a sad parallel story that minorly showcases Karellen’s reluctance to see Ricky, his one and only true human friend, finally die. Oh, let’s not forget, a poison that Ricky voluntarily took on when he became the ambassador between the Overlords and humans.

Jake Greggson decided he had had enough when the children start acting really strange around Jennifer, so it’s off to the last free city of mankind, called New Athens. Here, the man who passes for mayor welcomes the Greggsons more or less warmly, touting the freedoms of the city and humanity in a place where supposedly the Overlords won’t interfere, a place alive with old human passions like art and music. This seems to impress the already-nervous Greggsons, and they gamely make a go of settling in and just living, despite still being followed by children who seems to view Jennifer like the newest messiah. The manner in which the mayor unapologetically tries to explain his artistic passions, especially after the loss of his daughter, rather reminds me of the interesting and all-reaching storyline of God-Emperor of Dune: without conflict of some kind, without passion, humanity stagnates. But that’s just a philosophical thought that’s nothing in the face of the Overmind’s all-reaching plan.

What about the Overmind, you say? Stay with me here, this gets a little complicated and a good deal of it was glossed over on the small screen. Like, once again, the translation of the thought Arthur C. Clarke tried to express in his story was impossible to translate into understandable visual terms. The children have all flown away, the mayor is crying over a freaking nuclear bomb and a bottle of wine, and Milo has determined he’s going to go with a shipment of zoo animals to the Overlord homeworld and figure out once and for all wth’s going on. Maybe even stop it if he’s stupid-lucky. Bu,t Milo can only guess at how long the trip to the Overlord homeworld and back will take, so he could be gone from his love-lady for 100 days or 80 years, give or take. But determined he is, so he stows away with a squid in stasis and manages to indeed make it to the Overlord homeworld, to witness for himself the awesome presence of the Overmind, the  collective consciousness of this universe, the thing/it/whatever that commanded the Overlords to oversee the changes to the earth.

The scene between Milo and the Overmind is … strange. Trying to visually explain such deep concepts is very hard for a movie with a giant film budget, never mind a miniseries on tv. But, to bring us back full circle to the intro of the first episode, where Milo was talking to a mini-bot about being the last man on earth, Milo insists on being brought back to an Earth he wouldn’t recognize, 85 freaking years after he left it. His love Rachel is quite dead and while turning her into a popsicle might have been Karellen’s idea of a gift, it doesn’t go over well with Milo. He insists on going back to Earth’s surface, dead with nuclear fallout and a severe lack of humanity, as Jennifer-the-chosen-one winds up the last bit of food energy the earth has for her final melding with the Overmind!

Knowing the end really is nigh and there isn’t a thing in heaven or earth that he can do about it, Milo begs Karellen to save one thing, just one thing of human culture, don’t let us go quietly into that good night forever. I thought it was lovely that music, in particular a well-played classical violin, was the Overlords choice, and they promised to leave it playing in the space Earth used to occupy, for whomever came by. And that’s it folks: the earth is gone, the Overmind won, the legacy of humanity lives on forever in our music, and this time, the kids really did do it.

XXX

 

Book Review: ‘Lincoln’s Wizard’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

To most people, gray is just a color. To people who have read Lincoln’s Wizard by Tracy Hickman and Dan Willis, gray is something to be feared. The book brings the color gray to life, by mixing life and death, white and black, until the result is something eerily in between. The book takes place during the American Civil War, and the Confederacy has found a way to reanimate their fallen. The undead soldiers are known as Grays because of the color of their skin, and they seem to be a new twist on an old theme; zombies. The Grays have no feelings, and they are doomed to repeat the maneuvers they used battle that they died in. This makes them predictable, but their ability to take a bullet without wavering is what makes them a true asset. They have no compulsion to eat flesh, but they must be given a special serum every four days or they will fall apart.

The North is hit hard by this new weapon. They aren’t able to replicate this process, or even understand how it works. They are at a major disadvantage, and there is only one way to level the playing field. The North has to find a way to understand these monsters, and they have a spy in the South who knows where the Grays are being made. Just one small problem: The spy is in the most secure prison that the Rebels have to offer. Lincoln may have a mind for military tactics, but Alan Pinkerton is the brains behind the covert operations.

Braxton Wright is an engineer in the Northern army, and a very good one, at that. He was one of the brains behind the Monitor, a gun similar to a tank, but instead of wheels, the Monitor has legs of metal that it uses to lift itself above the enemy. The catch? The South has been given a few dragons by the French. The dragons are able to expel great gouts of fire, and they are a menace in the sky.

Lincoln’s Wizard is able to subtly integrate Steampunk, and it’s a great book for someone who favors wading into a genre over jumping in headfirst. The machinery is fully explained, and the Steampunk elements are not overbearing. The story is not centered around steam, nor does it strive to use it as proof that the story is unique. The fact that Hickman and Willis have found a way to put a new spin on the undead is proof enough that the book is unique. The airships are steam colossuses, and they plow through the sky with the grace of a hot air balloon. They are major forces to be reckoned with, and they are able to provide the aerial support that an infantry needs when they’re attacked by dragons. The only danger that the Northern airships face is the Hellfire that the dragons spew. When Hellfire and helium mix, the result is explosive, to say the least.

Wright is sent on a born-to-lose mission into the South. He has to deal with many obstacles, but his analytical mind and knack for machines serve him well as he moves from one danger to another. He has to deal with a trainload of Grays, a lost dragon rider, and a broken mechanical soldier whose construction is more sophisticated than anything he has ever seen before.

Lincoln’s Wizard deals with a question that few books do; what if the South had something that would swing the tide of the war in their favor? The North had the supplies, the manpower, and the upper hand. The South had strategists, and the home field advantage. In Lincoln’s Wizard, the South may have the Greys, but the North has superior engineers.

The standard set-up of the Civil War is North versus South, and Good versus Evil. This story shows us a glimpse into the life of Marcus Burnsides, a dragon rider who attacks the Northern air fleet. Our initial reaction is that Burnsides is a monster, someone who is against freedom and equality. As the story continues, we see that he is not a monster, but simply a human being. He lost his woman to another man, and dealt with the pain as people have for centuries. It’s a thought-provoking example of how most people were just the same as the people they are fighting, but simply on the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Lincoln’s Wizard is an amazing book that perfectly encapsulates the struggle of the North and the South. Some are fiercely loyal to their respective sides, and others have seen too many things to care. Those are the people who just want the war to end. They have seen the carnage and brutality that real war brings, and they are the ones who have been on the front lines. This is demonstrated by attitudes of the prisoners in the Rebel prison, as well as some of the soldiers who have been in battle. If you love alternative history, steampunk, and dragons, this one’s for you!

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Book Review: Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s ‘The Worker Prince’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s novel, The Worker Prince, has recently been re-released by WordFire Press. It’s a fantastic example of what can be done when the muses of creation and imagination converge. The story is gripping and descriptive, taking the reader on a virtual tour of a flawed society and its unstable hierarchy. The characters are relatable, and the setting is able to tread the fine line between futuristic and unrealistic.

One of the biggest pitfalls of science fiction that many writers fall into is making their cities too far-fetched, but Schmidt is able to side step this as it presents itself. He keeps a human’s base instincts and tendencies the same, such as greed and the will to flight, and only upgrades the scenery. The upgrades are not to far-fetched, and everything seems to move in a natural progression. The scientific advancements are not completely off-the-wall crazy. The characters are ones that you can easily conjure, and their conflicts endear themselves to you (or the opposite) and you have to make sure that you are not sitting precariously, because this book will make you fall out of your chair with anticipation if you aren’t careful.

The book may carry you through its story line with ease, but one of the many of the things that will stick in your mind long after you’ve put it down is the rationalization of slavery. Schmidt shows us exactly how terrible things can happen, and people can be conditioned to ignore them. We have made terrible mistakes in the past, and this book shows us how history can repeat itself. It also shows what people are capable of when they are pushed past the point of no return, and how we as a race will always try to make everything right. This will compel readers to pick the book back up, even if they just set it down.

The inner workings of the inhabitants’ vehicles, such as starcraft and skitters, are all thoroughly explained, and as you read, you feel like you should duck, because the machines are about to roar off the page. The skitters are laid bare and explained in such a way that you are able to understand how they operate, even though you’ve never seen them.

The flora and fauna are understandable, and your mouth will start to water with the tantalizing descriptions of exotic fruits such as gixi and jax. The descriptions of the foods made with these fruits may even tempt some people into their kitchen in an attempt to recreate the other-worldly delicacies that are mentioned.

No city is complete without a place for the vendors to gather though, and the marketplace in Vertullis is always stuffed with sellers hawking their wares, and you can practically feel the soft fur of the amassed qiwi. They are from the icy planet Plutonis, and will bring to mind images of cute animals with long horns and hard hooves that are meant for pawing through crusts of ice to reach the frozen food below.

The story is about the internal conflict of a young man, Prince Davi, whose inner voice of right and wrong will affect the outcome of an entire civilization. The people that he has been groomed to become the prince of, the Borallians, discover that he is the long-missed son of a worker family. The workers, as they are so aptly named, are little more than slaves, and they are forced to cater to every whim of the Borallians. The workers are responsible for the growing and reaping of crops, and they are the backbone of the Borallian army. The workers are not the ones who are fighting, but they are responsible for keeping all the mechanics running smoothly nonetheless.

The discovery about the true heritage of Prince Davi brings about civil unrest, and all of the pieces start to fall into place. The Vertullians, the people who are forced to work for the Borallians, are tired of being trodden upon and enslaved. The discovery of the prince’s ancestry is the catalyst, and each side tries its best to swing the pendulum of fate in their favor. The struggle of the Vertullians and the Borallians is not unlike America’s shameful history of enslaving African people. Both peoples subjugated another race, and encouraged the ill treatment and degradation of the the enslaved race. Both the Americans and the Borellians also tried to eliminate their slaves’ religion and imprint their own, but faith is a strong bond that has the power to tie people together and forge a knot stronger than steel.

Davi has many challenges, but he takes them all in stride. His mother gave him an all-encompassing education, and he puts it to full use. Davi does not take what is set before him, but instead chooses to question it. He could have been an artist, because he is always drawing his own conclusions. His constant questions lead him to the realization that the Vertullians are being treated unfairly, and not according to the standards that were set out eons ago.

He is a direct contradiction to his uncle, Xaliver, who currently holds the position of High Lord Council of the Borali Alliance. He is a traditionalist, and firmly believes that the Vertullians are a weak and inferior race who deserve the fate that the Borallians have set out for them. Xaliver is a man whose power comes from his ability to manipulate those around him into doing what he wants. He does not shrink from unpleasant duties, but does what he feels is best for his people. His people do not include the Vertullians, unfortunately, and they are dealt with harshly and mercilessly.

The action in The Worker Prince is not so fast paced that you are swept off your feet, but neither is it so sluggish that it pools around you in a tepid puddle. It is dispensed in doses that you can wade into and be pleasantly immersed in. The characters are relatable, and each of them has their own set of difficulties to overcome. There is something unique that each reader can take away from The Worker Prince, and it is the type of book that will leave people thinking.

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Dragon Con 2015: Larry Elmore on SFF and Imagination

by Agent Amanda Grefski (a.k.a. Madame Helleveeg)

Larry Elmore is a quiet, unassuming southern gentleman, with a welcoming tone and an inviting smile. We met up with Elmore at Dragon Con 2015, and speaking with him could be likened to chatting with an old friend — if that old friend were responsible for the look of Dungeons and Dragons as we know it, and the artist behind the iconic Dragonlance series, plus countless sci-fi covers and art including SnarfQuestReflections of Myth, and a dozen or so of Magic: The Gathering cards. I don’t mean to gush … okay, maybe I do, but many closeted (or more accurately, “basemented”) nerds and geeks have Larry Elmore to thank for their sci-fi fix, their sense of solidarity, and ultimately, their sanity. Geek savior? He might protest, but anyone who endured being “that different kid” and quite literally lived for those cherished D&D marathon weekends would surely disagree.

In a climate where being nerdy and geeky is finally coming to the fore, Elmore reminisces about the days when SFF was truly a subversive thing. “All of that stuff about Dungeons and Dragons being demonic is nonsense! It’s the exact opposite, really. Kids have to do reading and math to play it — it’s very good for the mind. It is the exact opposite of what everyone thought. I’m glad society is coming around, but it wasn’t that way in my time. If you didn’t fit the mold, there was something wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a kid who likes to cheerlead or play football, but what about the kid who was different? I liked to draw, which made me different, but I was lucky. I had my mom and grandmother.”

This unassuming giant of the SFF world started small, in rural Kentucky with no running water or electricity. Encouraged by his grandmother, Elmore’s talent flourished in a time where having an imagination was frowned upon. He goes on to explain, “My grandmother was special, she didn’t care what everyone said, she thought that whatever talent you had, God gave it to you and you should nurture it. You have to understand, she was born at the turn of the century, this was not a popular mindset, but she and my mother were special; they didn’t quite care what others thought. So she and my mother nurtured my art.

“My father got TB during World War II, so he was in and out of hospitals for months, and sometimes, a year at a time. So, my mom and I lived in a little tiny house out in Kentucky, under a hill, with a coal stove for heat in the winter and a wood stove for mom to cook on and no electricity or running water. It was nothing to feel sorry for, because half the people in this country lived the same way. We got money from the Veterans Administration, and it was just enough to survive on, but not enough for paper for me to draw. My family would bring us groceries and my mother used to cut the brown sacks the groceries came in, so they’d lay flat and I, with my one pencil, would draw all over it … sometimes by the light of a kerosene lamp. My mom, she was young — only 19 or 20 back then — but she was tough and resourceful. She had to be, because of the circumstances, but she never deterred me from drawing. I had a very rich childhood, full of drawing, storytelling … we even made figures out of muddy clay and sun-dried them. We played with those until they crumbled in my little hands. We were poor as anybody, but it was a rich life.”

Elmore attended Western Kentucky University, joined the army and began writing Fort Knox training aids. Elmore adds, “the training aids were essentially comics about soldiers, vehicles, and weapons, because this generation was younger and less well-read than the first, they needed visuals to back up the instructions, and I provided the visuals. The good part is that [they were] things I liked to draw anyway: All in all it was a great gig.”

After working as both a service man and civilian on the Fort Knox training aids, Elmore turned to freelancing, publishing his art in such magazines as National Lampoon and Heavy Metal. It was during this time that Elmore engaged in his most influential commission; the one that would define him as one of the premier SFF artists of our time. It was 1979 and one of his fellow government artists approached him about this new game called Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons (affectionately called D&D by fans) had come out in 1974, with rudimentary artwork, but a fantastic premise. By ’79, publishers TSR knew D&D needed an artistic overhaul, and both Elmore and his former colleague submitted work, but ultimately, Elmore’s work was chosen for its realism. He joined the staff of TSR and provided D&D with its first professional artwork, essentially shaping the image of this nerd pastime as we know it. In a modest admission, Elmore adds, “It was really just because Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were looking for realism — the other people I worked with, [their works] weren’t as real looking — and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what they were looking for was realism, and that’s what I do.”

Because of his work with D&D, and the subsequent success of SnarfQuest, originally published in Dragon magazine, Elmore was approached by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; they were in search of artwork for their Sovereign Stone trilogy, and later, for their Dragonlance series. Elmore recalls, specifically of the Dragonlance series, “I didn’t know the rules, because I’d never done this before, so I drew the characters looking straight at you. I had no idea you weren’t supposed do that. That was not the formula — characters are supposed to be staring off to the side, with something in the background: A mountain, clouds, an opponent.” But, this style was, in essence, what made these covers so special. There is one cover in particular, the original cover of the Dragonlance book, The Time of the Twins, where Raistlin, the misunderstood, introverted teen-turned-dark-mage, is embracing the cleric Crysania, but stares directly at the reader. The character’s stare is sinister and full of knowing, but eerily compelling at the same time. Those knowing glances that make eye contact with the reader, inviting the reader into the story were, in a lot of ways, what sold this series. It also revolutionized SFF cover art, because after this era, there were many who tried to imitate Elmore’s style and compelling stare in their covers. They still do, in fact.

Elmore is also not a person who denies himself pleasure in life; he is a fan of fast, classic cars, and good food and spirits. When his longtime friend and colleague, Keith Parkinson, passed away, though, Elmore had a wake-up call. “We were opposites, but such great friends. Keith was so careful about his health, he ate right, he exercised. I didn’t do any of that and he was the one who died before his time. He was so young and he had such a career behind him and ahead of him. He was so talented and a great person …” Elmore pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath, and composes himself. “It really gave me a sense that I had a purpose, that I had to keep moving. I’ve had heart attacks and a stroke, and I’m still here. I can’t retire; I can’t stop going — I’ve slowed down a lot, but I have to keep active.” But we must understand that Elmore’s idea of slowing down is vastly different from the usual person’s. He’s cut down from 10 to 12 conventions a year to between five and eight cons, on top of his vigorous painting and appearance schedule.

And even more, when he is at a con, he truly interacts with his fans. There’s no handler or pedestal for this icon: Just his good friend, Todd, who sets up and breaks down his booth, and his unending stream of fans, whom he speaks with on a personal level and makes each and every one of them forget that there’s a mile-long line behind them. And he makes each person in that mile-long line feel like the wait was worth every minute.

That love was reciprocated when Elmore posted a Kickstarter project for The Complete Elmore Artbook in hard copy. Elmore’s first Kickstarter project funded fully, and then some. His most recent Kickstarter project, The Complete Elmore, Volume II, Black And White posted a goal of $18,500, and was funded at over $132,000. “I was so surprised,” he recounted. “You work in a studio, you go to cons and meet people, but you don’t realize how much your fans appreciate your work.”

Another example of the humility of an individual who shaped the climate of sci-fi art as we know it, and in many ways, made it that much more ‘okay’ for people to be nerds, in a time when playing D&D and reading SFF series had to be kept under wraps. But it endured, and Elmore has a theory on this, “In my grandparents’ day, people explored uncharted territory: South America, Africa. Everyone was in search of adventure. By the time my generation came along, and most definitely [Generation X], there was nothing left to explore, no more uncharted territories: Everything was discovered. So, no one was writing books imagining what these places were like, because now, we already knew. We’ve seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for real, we’ve been to space. People want adventure, but where was the adventure for us? Well, we had to make our own adventures. We had to imagine them, and when you imagine your adventure, there are no limits to where you can go, what you can do, who you can meet or what you can discover. We created an unlimited adventure that had no boundaries, because the adventures of the generation past did [have boundaries] — and that limited them. Us, we have no limitations. We can continue adventuring. We can fight dragons with magic, we can discover new creatures and lands, we can make allies with elves, we can fly, we can do all of it as long as we can imagine it. So, don’t ever let your imagination go. Never.”

As long as there are artists and SFF advocates like Elmore, our imagination and adventure will undoubtedly live on. Elmore’s modest, yet outspoken voice advocating for this genre and, thus, all of the lives it affected, is a priceless gift. To D&D nerds around the world, it was no less than life-changing, and yet, this indomitably happy artist, who was obviously exhausted from a day of meeting and greeting fans, sits across from me like we’ve known each other for years, and we’re just catching up. This is what makes Larry Elmore so truly unique and it is one of many reasons why we should all be compelled to share the limitless adventure.

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Dragon Con 2015: Jody Lynn Nye, the (Wo)man Behind the Myth

by Agent Amanda Grefski (a.k.a. Madame Helleveeg)

Jody Lynn Nye’s life has been steeped in myth for many moons, and she can hone into a story’s core like a missile … or, should I say, “Myth-le.” Nye has been telling stories for most of her sentient life, and certainly since before she could write them down. She is truly a natural born story teller, from imagining and telling stories to her siblings and family to the wildly successful, and hilariously funny MythAdventures series she authored with her late writing partner, Robert Aspirin. Nye has also worked with such greats as Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, and Todd Johnson, and also created worlds and adventures that are entirely her own. We caught up with the dynamic Nye this past weekend, just before another installment of her two-day workshop at Dragon Con in Atlanta.

Before MythAdventures, Nye wrote companion books for Dragonriders of Pern and the Magic of Xanth series, as well as several choose-your-own-adventure, or CYOA, books for the Crossroads adventure series. Several of her series are “in limbo,” as she puts it, since the Meisha Merlin Publishing company ceased operations in 2007. MythAdventures has endured, however, because of its sheer moxie (and there is plentiful moxie in these stories), engaging storylines, and delightfully flawed, but ultimately lovable, characters.

The unfortunate part of this success story is that the late Robert Aspirin wasn’t able to see the enduring success of this wonderful series and world he created in 1978. Aspirin died of a heart attack on May 22, 2008, with a Terry Pratchett book by his side and an upcoming convention in a future that was cut tragically short. Nye recalls, “I still miss him very much; this was my loss, but also a huge loss for the writing community. I lost one of my best friends that day … we could not have been more different, but ultimately, we shared this wonderful sense of humor, a deep love of these characters, and a deep love for writing.” Nye began working on MythAdventures with Aspirin before his death, and decided that she would carry on both his legacy and the Myth-verse. So, in continuing the development of these delightful characters, and thus keeping them alive, Nye has carried on the important task of keeping the spirit of her friend and integral sci-fi author alive as well. This is a task Nye takes on with grace, love, and great pride.

If you’re new to MythAdventures, you may be asking what is the Myth-verse? Well, it all starts with who and what inspired MythAdventures and the Myth-Verse. “This may not be familiar to our younger readers, but these books were based on a fantasy version of [Bing] Crosby and [Bob] Hope’s Road to… series [of films], and the original title was a nod to Oliver Hardy’s [of Laurel and Hardy] ‘Another Fine Mess.’” Indeed, these books have all of the satire and spunk of these classic movies. They are also loaded with a mix of sophisticated and slap-stick humor; one equally as hilarious as the other. Is that a hint for young nerds to check them out? Could be, could be.

But what makes MythAdventures so special is not its fantastical setting, also known as the Myth-verse, but it’s the characters, with their believable dilemmas emotions and struggles. These are characters you will grow to love: You’ll laugh with their mix-ups, cry with their heartbreaks, and cheer with their triumphs. And the puns … the fabulous puns.

“The main character of this story is Skeeve,” Nye explains. “Skeeve is apprenticing magician, and he is also estranged from his family. Through some interesting circumstances involving an inter-dimensional prank, he meets up with Aahz, a magician who lost his powers and is trapped in this dimension. And part of the humor is that you have a powerless magician trying to teach a less-than-perfect, budding magican.” And true to Nye’s word, this dynamic between Aahz and Skeeve creates the original tension that drives the story forward. Despite their awkward beginning, “Skeeve won’t admit it, but he develops a real affection for Aahz. These two form a bond, and over time, the characters develop a kind of surrogate family.”

They’re not the only inhabitants of the Myth-verse. Some examples are Don Bruce, the fairy godfather, and his niece Bunny. Nye adds, “Bunny, though she hates to admit it, was a gift to Skeeve from Don Bruce; essentially Skeeve’s assigned moll. She resents being owned by Skeeve, though he doesn’t treat the situation that way. And in a way, she appreciates not being under the thumb of Don Bruce; because it’s allowed her to shine as her own person — because she’s a talented bookkeeper and accountant in her own right, and she never would have discovered that unless she was with Skeeve and Aahz. That’s really the thread that connects all of these characters and stories together; each character is given the chance to develop into the best and most whole being they can be. They may not be perfect, but they find the perfect place for themselves [in this universe]. They become the best selves they can be when they are together.” This is the underlying message that weaves these stories together: You don’t have to be perfect to be in the perfect place for you, and it’s all about finding that space where you’re your best self. And, like these utterly lovable characters, we’re all on our journey to get to that place.

Continuing the legacy of Robert Aspirin and creating her own unique, sci-fi worlds is not the only contribution Jody Lynn Nye makes to the journey of fellow readers and writers; she also gives back to the SFF community in many ways. She has taught at workshops, such as the Fantasy Writing Workshop at Columbia College Chicago. She teaches the Writer’s Two-Day Intensive Workshop, an annual two-day science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshop here at Dragon Con. Nye puts her heart and soul into, as she puts it, “giving something back to the writing community by helping beginning writers.” Teaching isn’t the only way Nye gives back.

Nye has become a writer in the Purple Unicorn Anthology: An anthology written to help young and emerging writers afford to attend the Writing Professionalism Workshop, both of which are sponsored by Kevin J. Anderson. Nye relates, “Kevin [J. Anderson] mentioned that he wanted to do an anthology for charity, and someone bet him that he couldn’t write a short story about an purple unicorn.” But Anderson did one better: He created an entire anthology based on purple unicorns, with contributions from the premier writer of unicorns, Peter S. Beagle. Anderson was also challenged with the task of selling sci-fi anthologies, which are notoriously slow-sellers. He met that challenge, too, by donating all of the profits to the Writing Professionalism Workshop. Since then, it’s one of the few anthologies they can’t keep on bookstore and virtual shelves.

When Nye discovered this project she replied, facetiously raising her hand like an eager middle-schooler, “Ohhh, pick me! I want to write about purple unicorns!” Her signature spark of humor peeks through her otherwise poised, professional exterior, forever solidifying her place in this wonderful anthology for a wonderful cause. Other Purple Unicorn contributors include Quincy Allen, Vivian Trask, and Keith Olexa.  The anthology’s title, One Horn to Rule Them All, is a play on the description of Tolkien’s one ring. This anthology is rich in talent, and in its overall purpose to help beginning writers on their journey. Nye’s pride and affection for the project was nearly palpable — not only in the work that she submitted and the exquisite talent she had worked with, but also in all of the good the anthology does and continues to do.

Her perpetuation of the beloved Myth-verse and its colorful, lovable characters, her unique, vibrant voice and humor, as well as her constant involvement in the enrichment of new writers makes Jody Lynn Nye a tour de force in the writing world. Nye has had quite a journey, but her dedication, talent, and love for the craft leave no myth-tery to this natural-born storyteller’s success.

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Worldcon 2015: Mike Resnick, Paying it Forward

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Most people don’t understand how hard it is to get a leg up in the field of writing. The advent of self-publishing has allowed a record number of authors to enter the marketplace, and yet, the number of writers actually making a living at writing has not grown proportionally. What is supposed to set your book apart from anyone else who wants to write in your genre of choice? For a select group of writers, the answer lies with a well-respected veteran of science fiction, who enjoys sitting in front of the editor’s desk just as much as he does sitting behind it. “I can’t pay back,” says Mike Resnick. “Everybody who helped me is either dead or rich, or both.”

Resnick has a small group of hand-picked “writer kids” to whom he lends a helping hand. “When I find a young author who has what I think is sufficient talent, I will collaborate with him or her to get them into print, because it’s a lot easier for me to sell than [it is for] them, at this point in their career. As an anthology editor, and now a magazine editor, I will solicit stories from them and buy from them. Whenever I run into them at a convention — it always happens at Worldcon — I will take them around at night, or even during the day, (I say at night because most of the pros go to the parties) and introduce them to editors and agents that they may have expressed interest in meeting. There are so many beginning writers here, if you just walk up to an editor who doesn’t know you are, it’s not going to make much of an impression. If Rob Sawyer or me or Kevin Anderson drags you along and says, ‘Hi, Mr. Editor, this is so-and-so, and boy, you should read his stuff. I vouch for him, I’ve already collaborated with him, blah blah blah,’ Suddenly, you can do him some good.”

Resnick is the current editor of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Each issue of the bi-monthly magazine is comprised of about 50 percent re-prints from well-known and beloved authors, and 50 percent brand new content, including works from up-and-coming authors.

Resnick’s list of current writer kids includes writers like Laurie Tom, Tina Gower, Kary English, and Sharon Joss. “My wife had not met what Maureen McHugh calls my writer children, and I invited five of the young ladies to come to dinner with the two of us. In every case, I have at least bought from them. In two cases, I’ve already collaborated with them: One of them, on a book. I’ve gotten one an agent, and I’ve introduced one to a couple of editors who have already bought from her. So, that’s what you do. It makes me feel good to help, and I don’t help anybody I don’t think can do it on their own, once they’re launched.

“Over the years, I think I’ve had 27 [writer kids]. Some of them have done very well; Toby Buckell made the New York Times Bestseller list. Nick Dichario has been nominated for a couple of Hugos … Some just didn’t have — not the talent, they had the talent — the stick-t0-it-tiveness. Even I can still get rejected, they’ll get rejected a little more, and if that depresses them enough, they’ll go look for a different way to make a living.”

One of the main problems that can face a new science fiction writer is the problem of not knowing how to base their writing in the real world, yet avoid making it so fantastical that it is completely unbelievable and unrelatable. “I tend to write about — and in science fiction this is difficult — things I know. For example, I have taken five or six trips to Africa, and I have, somehow or other, managed to get 12 novels and about 20 stories out of Africa.

“My wife and I used to breed show collies. We had 23 champions before we got out of it. They were all named after science fiction stories of course, but I seem to have written a few award-winning science fiction dog stories. So, mostly it’s a matter of what interests me … I always write with music on … I had a Frank Sinatra CD, and he was singing ‘When or Where.’ I didn’t think the song was that good, but I thought a couple of the lines were evocative, and I got a Hugo-nominated novelette out of that … It’s just different things pique my interest, the way they do anybody else’s. Mine are a little different because I’m a little different.”

Resnick has learned, as any good author must, to adapt his writing style to suit whatever type of piece he is currently working on. “For example,” he explains, “I have a fantasy bookie in New York: Fantasy New York. He’s a bookmaker, by which I mean he takes bets. It has nothing to do with books … I write that in the very same style that Damon Runyon would have written it. Damon Runyon wrote Guys and Dolls and a whole bunch of other stuff … and his characters had a certain way of expressing themselves that I borrowed for this, because it’s the same type of story he told, except it’s a fantasy.

“I have another character who has been in five books so far, Lucifer Jones. These are parodies of every bad movie — and B-movies especially — and pulp story set in exotic lands. He goes to Africa in the first one. At the end of the book he’s kicked off that continent, never to return. After the second one he’s kicked off Asia; the third, Europe; the fourth, South America. The fifth book, now, he’s making his way across the Pacific, and is going to be kicked off every island … He’s not a moral man … I had to put these stories back in the 1920s and ’30s, because some of the stuff he does is just impossible today … I tried to give him a falsely poetic language, something that he thinks sounds really impressive, but actually shows him to be rather stupid, unable to construct proper language … For that, I borrowed the language of the ‘Pogo Possum’ comic strips … When it was around in the ’50s and ’60s, it was the most politically astute comic strip you’d ever want to read. It was very, very funny, and occasionally, very, very mean. These were swamp animals who could speak, and they spoke in an incredibly awkward way that I borrowed for all five of these books. So, it depends on what the story needs.” Although this may be a tricky art to master (or at least become competent in), it definitely pays off in the long run. Learning how to do this frees you from the confines of one style, and opens you up to all sorts of different stories.

Just as Resnick has learned to change his writing style to suit his different stories, so has the science fiction genre as a whole changed to become something far different from what it was 60 years ago. “Well, for one thing, it’s changed in that, when I broke into it, it was a short story field. There were a few novels here and there, but I think the first year I was selling novels, which would be 1967, there were less than a hundred [science fiction novels] published, and there were about 20 magazines in the field. Today, there are three digest magazines in the field, and two or three semi-pro … according to Locus, over the last three years … there have been 1,600 books published. That makes it a book field.”

Every writer has that one type of story that he most loves to write, and Resnick shares his: “I write both [long and short stories]. Basically, I write novels that pay my bills. I have … 37 Hugo nominations, and none of them for novels. Clearly, I am probably a little better at short stories, but if I tried to live on my short story income, we’d have gone broke a long time ago, because my creditors have expensive tastes. So, I write novels for money … I also enjoy them. I think I enjoy the short stories more just because I can do more. I am 73 years old, and in the last two years, I had out 11 books … People are saying, ‘Why don’t you slow down? You can pay your bills.’ The answer is, I’m 73 years old! I am closer to the end than the beginning, and I still have hundreds of stories I want to tell, so I’m working harder than I ever did.”

Resnick is true to his word when it comes to sharing his tales with the world. He tells about what he likes the best when it comes to short stories: “I write [short stories] because it lets me write more of them … A typical book, a collection of short stories, might have 15 stories in it, but it might only have one novel. If I have 15 things I want to write about this year, then it’s going to be a short story year … My novels haven’t been failures. I’ve had five New York Times Bestsellers … and I’m proud of all of them. I just enjoy writing short stories more, because you get them done quicker and you get to the next one. I’m as enthused about starting a new story today as I was 50 years ago.”

Writing is not a path for the faint of heart. It can be full of pitfalls and sand traps that suck you in and bog you down with useless plot lines that add nothing to whatever it is that you are working on. Anyone who learns how to circumvent this series of traps and snares and go on to be successful and prosperous will probably think back to the first time they faced this daunting obstacle course, and wonder how they ever made it through.

Mike Resnick knows exactly how he got through though. “I sold my … first article, when I was 15, my first poem when I was 26, my first short story when I was 17. In fact, I can tell you why I quit college … I was freelancing my way through college; paying my way with stories I had sold. One day, I didn’t have time to write a story for [my professor’s] assignment. So, I gave him a story that I had sold for $500 to Stag Magazine, which was a hairy-chested, muscular-man magazine, and he gave me a C- on it. The $500 I was paid for that story in 1960 would be worth about $3,500 today. At the same time, at night, I was editing a men’s magazine called Rascal. He [the professor] didn’t know I was the editor, and he sent me a story … I gave him a form rejection on it. I thought about that for 10 seconds, I quit college, and I’ve never been back.”

Do not be daunted by what may seem like an old and venerable field. One of the best things about science fiction is that it never stays still long enough to be become stagnant. Things are always moving and shifting, with new ideas and people getting thrown into the mix all the time. Resnick commented, “I love this field. I love the fact that we continually get new blood in it. I love the fact that, for the last 20 years we’ve been getting young blood of both sexes in almost equal quantities. This was almost entirely a male field when I got into it … I also like the fact that this is now a worldwide field, by which I mean, my average short story sells to 12 to 15 countries. My average novel sells to seven to eight countries, some go more, some go less. It’s a way of … finding money. I say, proudly, four out of every five of my novels makes more in the rest of the world put together — not in any single country — but more in the rest of the world put together, than I can make in America … That is not a situation that existed when I joined the field.”

Resnick is a veteran in his field — he laughingly calls himself and his contemporaries ‘Elder Gods of Sci-Fi,’ after a young volunteer at a convention called a group of them that — skilled in both the forms of long and short stories, and also able to look over a piece of writing with the keen eye of an editor. He has already given many gifts to the world of writing: His special way of paying it forward to the aspiring young writers in the field of science fiction. “I’ll do anything I can for them, and it just seems like a natural thing to do. The field has been so good to me. This is how I thank them.”

Mike Resnick has, with his stories, inspired and enlivened people across the globe. He’ll continue to be a pillar in the Acropolis of science fiction, as he lends his talent and mentorship to help newer members of the science fiction community grow into a vibrant new generation of sci-fi greats.

XXX

Worldcon 2015: Kevin J. Anderson Goes the Extra Mile for Fans

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Kevin J. Anderson is one of the most prolific science fiction novelists of our day, with more than 50 bestsellers to his credit, an average of five to six full-length novels a year, and the ability to write 756 pages in just six short weeks. Part of what allows Anderson to produce such an amazing volume of premium work is his method of writing, which does not, in fact, include any typing at all on his part.

Anderson explained in an exclusive SVN interview at Worldcon, “I write by hiking and dictating. I have trained myself to be an oral story teller, so I am telling the story, but I outline my stories very, very carefully. It’s like I want to do a blueprint before I build a house … The Dark Between the Stars is 128 chapters long, or something like that, with 34 different viewpoint characters. So, I outlined it in very great detail, chapter by chapter by chapter, and organized it.

“I will take the notes for a couple of chapters, chapters five through nine or something like that, and then I will go out [on a hike]. We live in Colorado, so there’s lots of national forests and national parks, and I will just go out hiking, and I will know what happens in Chapter Five, and I will dictate it … In my mind, it’s several steps shorter than doing all of the process [of typing the manuscript out]. Then, I have someone transcribe it, and then I edit it online to polish it up … The novel I just finished was 750 pages, and 132 chapters, and I wrote the whole thing in about six weeks. I go out hiking every single day, write three or four chapters, then hand it off to the typist who then lets her fingers get worn down because I am dictating faster than she can even transcribe.”

Anderson said of his unorthodox method of writing, “I get inspired by the mountains and waterfalls and canyons … beautiful scenery, and I get to go out and hike all day long, and I get to write, so it’s not choosing one or the other. I get away from the distractions … sometimes I go up where there’s no cell service … I don’t get the doorbell ringing, or the phone ringing, or anything else. I just get to walk and concentrate on my story and get immersed in it.”

Whether he’s working on a Dune novel, one of The Saga of Shadows or Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, or one of his many other projects, Anderson is obviously very passionate about his writing, and is lucky to have found a way to combine his two loves. “When I was writing, and I would come up with a difficulty in my story, whether I didn’t feel I knew the characters well enough, or I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I liked to go out for walks. Like, some people get inspired in the shower, I just like to go out walking and letting my mind wander. Sure enough, I would be a mile away from home and come up with these brilliant, complicated solutions, and by then I would run home to start writing it all down, I would have forgotten most of the details. So, I started taking a digital recorder, actually it was a micro-cassette recorder at the time … just so I could dictate notes. It became so useful. If I’m creating a character, I’ll just walk for a mile and talk about who his parents are, what his interests are, what his hobby is, and what the name of his favorite pet when he was a kid was, just sort of free-associate, and I would gather all those things onto the recorder. I got more and more detailed as I practiced it, and I realized I was sort of writing first drafts. Then, I really did write firsts drafts, but now, I am so well trained in it that what comes off of my recorder is really fairly clean … If you play my original recording it’s like I’m doing a reading of the story. It’s a lot of practice.”

Although this skill may require a lot of practice to master, Anderson has had plenty of time to do so. He has been writing since he was eight, and wrote his first story, “Injection.” He has moved on to bigger and better things since then, publishing more than 125 books. He’s also hiked all 500 miles of the Colorado Trail, and climbed all 54 of Colorado’s mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet in elevation! Some of his success may be due, not only to his personal style of writing, but to his ability to finish a book without letting other ideas distract him. “I’m a very focused and goal-oriented person. Especially if you have a deadline for your novel coming up, you don’t get distracted, you just finish it.”

Anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing Anderson’s work played out on the big screen should know that they are not alone. “I would love to have it happen.” Anderson has one small stipulation however, “I would love to see it happen, but it has to be the right studio. I’ve had lots of my stuff optioned, or treatments [done], but there are so many complicated steps to go through to get a movie made, and there’s so much money involved, hundreds of millions of dollars of budget, that they don’t just make [movies] lightly. They spend a lot of time with them. I’m hoping, maybe one of these days.”

Having a book adapted into a movie is a lot harder than many people realize: “The author is the low person on the totem-pole. All we ever do is write the story that they make the movie of. Once the studio takes it, then they’ve got their own director, their own script writer, their own casting people, and if, say, John Travolta wants to play a character in one of my books, then they write the whole thing around John Travolta, even if that wasn’t the main character in the book, because he would be the big star in it. I’m okay with that, because the more people that see the movie will turn around and buy the book, and that’s the one that I can by proud of.”

Anderson’s books are set — in fine sci-fi tradition — in altered dimensions. They may kind of resemble our own universe, but never enough to make any definite bridges between them. When asked if he would like to live in the reality that he has created for any of his characters, he responded, “Definitely not. I do terrible things to my characters. You don’t write a story that says, ‘and they lived in a wonderful world and everybody was happy and content. The end.’ That doesn’t happen in a story. Things go wrong in stories. They had a perfect world, but something went wrong, or Godzilla showed up, or the asteroid hit the earth, or the survivors of the zombie apocalypse had to make their way across the world. Characters in books don’t always have peaceful, uneventful lives. I think I would rather live in my own universe, and just commute to some of my other universes that I’ve created.”

Although he may feel sorry for a character that he likes, that won’t earn the character any favor from Anderson. “I’m a huge, complicated plotter, and there are things you [do to] set all the wheels in motion, and this is what happens. There are a lot of tragedies that happen, a lot of romances go wrong, or lots of miscommunications. It all tells a good story, but I feel, when I’m crafting a story, all of the plot lines, characters and settings and everything, when it all comes together, just perfectly, it’s like all of the Tetris pieces falling into place. That’s a real rush for me. Its like, ‘Ah! That’s exactly where that was supposed to go, and that’s exactly who was supposed to do this, and that’s the perfect twist for the ending!’ Sometimes it feels like this accidental winning of the lottery, when everything comes together right. I’ve been working hard for decades writing books, so now I kind of see the Tetris pieces and know how they can all come together right, and that’s what I really enjoy. It’s never like I’m making it up and hoping that it works out at the end. I’m very good at the plotting and the world building, so that it all comes together right, and that’s what I enjoy.”

He may be a master plot builder and weaver, but even a master needs a little grounding sometimes. “[The outline] is my blueprint of the house, and I need to have the blueprint to refer to where the wall goes, and where the electrical outlets go. When you’re writing a 700-page novel, there’s a lot of little tiny details. It’s not just this sequence of events: There are tons of little connecting tissues, and background details, and everything in chapter 110 has to be consistent with chapter seven … It’s like an orchestra conductor, trying to make sure that those instruments play together at the right time. It’s not just a street performer with a flute.”

When he is not busy plotting the demise of your favorite character, hiking and dictating at the same time, or enjoying the sheer bliss that comes from successfully twisting all the different plot threads into a beautiful ball of yarn, Anderson is busy meeting face-to-face with his many fans. “We do a lot of Emerald City Comicon, Denver Comic Con, Dallas Comic Con, these huge fifty- to seventy-thousand-people conventions, and they come up to our table, and they see my Star Wars books, or my X-Files books, or the Dune books … there is something for everybody, and the fans will come up, and I just love seeing their expressions … I’ve had many people say that they’ve learned to read reading my books, or they first got interested from reading the Star Wars Young Adult books, or that the first book that they ever bought was one of my X-Files books, and it’s kind of neat to see that influence that you have on a whole group of fans, and they still remember it. It’s very gratifying.”

Life with fans isn’t all peaches and cream though. People who used to idolize an author can turn against him for doing harm to a character that they liked. Sometimes, the fans get out of hand and do something that is not appreciated, or sometimes they just love the work to much and want to see more of it.

Anderson reports his progress on the newest installment in the hit series, Dan Shamble: Zombie P.I., “Well, I’ve got a lot of fans who are after it. I’ve got the outline written, and the title will be Tastes Like Chicken. I just published a collection of all the Dan Shamble short stories, but then I’ve written two more stories since then. I had to write a Dan Shamble Christmas story, and then Jim Butcher asked me to write one for an urban fantasy anthology that he’s doing. I’ve got the outlines on it, I just have to find the time for it because these are books that I do for myself. I mean, I don’t have a big contract for them that I have to turn it in, so I have to fit it in between my other books. We are looking at maybe Kickstarting the next one to see how that works. I’ve never done that before, but I know I’ve got a hug fanbase for this character, so, we’ll see. I like writing books where I can just sort of be goofy and funny instead of gigantic, serious, end of the universe type of books.”

Any writing at all seems to suit Anderson just fine, and he keeps plugging away at the growing list of demands his fans pile on. Sometimes it is fun just to write for the sake of writing, however, and it is a nice change to see his humor shine through in full force, when his funny bone elbows its way to the surface. Whatever the story though, Kevin J. Anderson is always on top of his game and ready to throw us off of ours with a surprise plot twist. We can’t wait to see what this mastermind will have in store for us next!

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Worldcon 2015: Phil and Kaja Foglio Interview

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Some people find it hard to work well with others, and others find it nearly impossible. That is what is so unique about Phil and Kaja Foglio; they have written the entire Girl Genius series — both in comics and in books — together. Phil Foglio says, “The comics came first, and then, you know, we worked from the comics and wrote the novels, which is different from how it usually goes.” Both their books and comics about the exploits of young Ms. Heterodyne have a fandom that is quite large, but they are lucky to have fans that are content and just happy to get new material.

Although they may not have screaming fans who devote entire YouTube channels to following their cars (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), they still run into fans who have the ingenuity to recreate some of their character’s designs. Phil remarks, “Oh, that’s wonderful! It’s nice to see people in costumes [from our books] … I feel pretty confident in my costumes, because I took four years of fashion illustration in art school, so I have a lot of costumers who come up and go, ‘I can actually make your stuff! This is awesome!’ Well that’s because I had teachers who pretty much drummed it into me that … you have to design stuff that people can actually wear.”

Their fans aren’t the only ones who get to fantasize about sumptuous garments. Phil explained what garment he would bring back into fashion from the Victorian era, “If there was something I could bring back? I don’t think men wear enough hats … A gentleman looks good in a hat … It’s an extra little flip of style.” He may not have enough physical hats, but metaphorically he is a man of many.

The series that he has written with wife Kaja, Girl Genius, is published in hard-copy book format and as a free online web-comic. When asked about the unique challenges of writing both, Phil was able to give a unique answer, “Writing is more difficult because there is that old adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ … I think that is pretty much why I was more of an illustrator for so long, because I’m a really lazy guy, so I would just draw a lot … but as we started working on the Girl Genius novels, and I’ve done other novels in the past … There are things that you can do with language that you can’t, at least I can’t, do with art alone … Art is easier, but good writing is more evocative.”

Phil and Kaja have a very synergistic approach when it comes to the clothing that their characters wear. Kaja Foglio remarks, “We do a lot of scribbling back and forth,” with regard to their joint ideas for outfits. While Phil studied fashion illustration, Kaja was involved in the costuming of many theatrical productions. She says, “It [fashion illustration] teaches you a lot about how clothing hangs and where the folds go, and so when you’re drawing a garment, you actually have an idea of its construction. I, in college, took a lot of costuming and I did some theater work … and so I have more of an idea of how it goes together, and he has more of an idea of how to draw it. Sometimes when he draws it, it makes me crazy because I’m like, ‘You have no idea how that’s actually supposed to be constructed, do you?’ But, we found that even in the theater, the theater illustrators would draw something, and then they’d hand it to us and they’d be like, ‘Make that,’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah … okay, sure. We’ll do a thing like that … They would draw a beautiful piece of art, and it may or may not have actually worked.”

Although there may be a difference between fanciful and functional in the clothing, there is little difference when it comes to actually sitting down and creating both the Girl Genius books and comics: they are markedly similar. Phil explains, “They are both writing creative things. One is a little more visually oriented, but … I think being visually oriented, as both Ki [Kaja] and I are, makes our writing as visual as it is.”

When asked who he would love to collaborate with, living or dead, Phil let out a big sigh as he pondered this question, “Living or dead? I’d say Terry Pratchett of course, geez. The man was awesome! We learned an awful lot just by reading his stuff.”

Kaja has a slightly more realistic dream, “So, I would have said Tom Kidd, who does beautiful airships and has done beautiful airship drawings … and magical cities for a long time, but … actually, on the novels here, he’s the artist that our publisher got for us for the cover art. So, that was very nice. It was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even have to ask, and he’s the person I would have suggested … Gosh, there are definitely a lot of people out there that I would love to have [work with].

“I have sort of a fantasy project that I would love to do, where I would hire a number of different fantasy artists to do their own take on the Girl Genius universe. For instance, do me a picture of the character, a cover, or something like that … then put it together in a big art book. I’ve seen this done for various manga series and anime series that I like. I have this fantastic book from Japan where they collected all this different art from Hatsune Miku and the other characters [Vocaloid characters] and some of it is manga, and some of it’s album covers, and it’s just all these different styles, all these different works, based around those characters. It’s amazing, so I keep this as one of my little treasures up near my desk, like, ‘I want this, but for Girl Genius.’ I would love to do this. To go to all of the artists that I admire and say, ‘I want to hire you to do a picture for us, for this book.’… It’s kind of a fantasy project that I would love to do.” Given a few years, Kaja’s dream may very well become a reality, and that would be a feat to be seen.

Working with another person on something as personal as art can cause tension and dissension, but Phil says that he and his wife have a great solution. “We talk it out. It’s just kind of like, ‘Okay … explain yourself, why do you think this?’ … it’s kind of like a D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] game … you have to say, ‘This would happen.’

“‘Ah, no, but this person would do this.’

“‘I guess they would.’

“‘Alright, then this would happen.’

“‘Uh, no, I don’t thing that would happen because this guy died two pages ago.’

“‘Yes he did!’

“Like I said, we just talk it out.”

They may not have much difficulty when it comes to problem solving, but they have found an unexpected challenge when they write the voice for one special character. The Hetrodyne Castle. “The castle is one person … but because it’s generally a computerized person, we’re able to have separate entities that … well, if you hooked it back up, it would all flow together, and then the castle would know everything that both of them knew, but they’re separate. Like the train … is like a peeled-off bit of the castle that was sent out and was experiencing things, and maybe eventually come back and add that data or that knowledge … It would come back and add that data to the greater mind, but at the moment it’s still its own little thing, and at the moment it’s still kind of got its own little way of speaking and it’s very angry, and very …’Well, you’re all idiots! Argh!’

“So writing those different voices, they’re … all the same person but they all have different experiences and have slightly different knowledge bases. The little bit of it that they [the main characters] have just met in Paris, that’s part of the castle, but it’s not currently part of the main castle, but it still thinks of itself as part of the castle, and if they hooked it back up, it would be like, ‘Hey I suddenly know all of the maps of Paris, and I know all the stuff that happened in Mechanicsburg, and the one in Mechanicsburg doesn’t currently have the knowledge of Paris that the other one has. If you put it all together, it’s like pouring water into a glass, and then it’s like, ‘Ha, now you’re all here,’ and that’s a weird … way of thinking that really kind of runs counter to our own human individualist idea of me and you as separate entities and individuals.” This certainly would be quite a task to write, and try and get all the little nuances across without making it too blatant.

Every good writer (and yes, even the great ones too), has to start by reading up on whatever it is that grabs his or her interest. In the case of Phil Foglio, it was comics. Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, by Gilbert Shelton turned out to be his favorite. He added, “Underground comic … from the seventies. About a bunch of … reprobates. They are certainly well-known.” The strip was first printed in an underground newspaper in Austin, Texas, around 1968. It starred three guys, although not brothers, who sported quite a bit of hair. The first was Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, whose red hair flowed behind him as he moved from hi-jink to escapade. Next was Phineas Phreek, who has the biggest and most unruliest bush of black hair. Lastly came the most obese of the trio, the aptly named Fat Freddy Freekowtski, whose blond mop cascaded perfectly from his head.

The Foglios like to hide some Easter eggs into their comic. They will probably not be understood by anyone outside of the Foglio family, however. Kaja shares one such joke, “Occasionally we’ll use the name of a friend, or throw a joke in there that came from some place … private. Like, at one point, when Tarvek is babbling, he says, ‘Imagine everything is made of pigs!’ Which is nonsense, but it’s actually an old joke between Phil and me because he once, long ago, woke up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a story. It was just an amazing idea, and he was so excited about it, so he wrote it down and went back to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, the paper said, ‘Imagine everything is made of pigs.’ and he was like, ‘Okay then.’ That was apparently a really weird dream, and we’ve laughed about that ever since … I guess the idea was to imagine that all of the electrons in an atom were little pigs, and they get all excited, and they run around a lot, or something. So, that’s just a thing that makes us laugh, and we throw it in there and it makes us laugh even more … Or, the occasional science joke that Phil will throw in there from something he heard from his friends at Fermilab years ago, or some weird historical thing that I’ve read about somewhere. I’ll throw things like that in. A lot of times, there is usually someone who gets it, in that case, and then they have the fun of explaining it to their friends.”

The Foglios incorporate witty banter, inside jokes, hat-tips to friends, and just plain old science jokes, to give their stories that little bit of umph makes them so entrancing and keeps the readers coming back in droves. They make personable and believable characters with fantastical, yet satisfyingly functional, designs and they take off to explore a world of their own creation with each posting of web-comic and chapter of their books. They have taken the steampunk genre by storm, and they are still going full speed ahead.

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Worldcon 2015: Rolf Nelson on ‘The Stars Came Back’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Well groomed and impeccably dressed, Rolf Nelson is every inch the impressive writer. Because of his book, The Stars Came Back, Nelson was nominated for the John W. Campbell for Best New Science Fiction Writer this year. This was not his first nomination for an award however, he was nominated for the Prometheus Award this year as well and ran against such people as Sean Gabb, M.D. Waters, and the eventual winner, Daniel Suarez.

Nelson’s book was written in a controversial manner, incorporating the writing style of a screenplay, but having none of the visual presentation. This has evoked a strong response from the reading community. Some seem to love it, and applaud its unique writing style. Others dislike it, saying that the screenplay style is too foreign and that they can’t adapt. He doesn’t seem to mind the negative reviews, “If they don’t like the style, that’s okay.” He has a rating of 4.2 out of five stars on Amazon, so his supporters obviously outweigh his haters, and this is helpful when it comes to keeping an open mind to new types of literature.

Not only is Nelson a writer, but he also teaches sixth grade math and science. “Writing kind of came as an accident.” He remarked.

Nelson noticed that there was little contemporary science fiction that was appropriate for his 12-year-old daughter’s age group to read. He set out to write a story for her that she was old enough to read. What he ended up with was a 165,000-word story that is still just a little to mature for her. His work deals with questions of morality, the necessity of violence in certain situations, and the fact that power itself isn’t good or bad, it’s the people who wield it.

He thinks that the themes contained within are too complex for his daughter right now, but that it would make a good piece to be dissected by a high school class. There are timeless ideas such as honor, loyalty, and truth, but also more complex thoughts layered one on top of the other, and it may just be one sentence in the story that hints at what lies beneath.

Nelson has a unique writing style; he likes to write while he walks. So far he has logged almost 6,000 miles while creating his works. His fans will be glad to know that Nelson has already written a prequel, a sequel, and a novella, all set in the same universe, along with a “normal prose” version of The Stars Came Back, all forthcoming! Nelson has obviously put a lot of thought and planning into his books, and it shows in the way he intertwines his plots, and a plan — not only for the future of his characters — but for their past.

He is very ambitious, and perhaps we shall see him up on the stage getting his own Hugo in the future, or maybe even as a line of text giving him credit in the middle of the lists of names that play at the end of a movie based on his books.

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