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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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.

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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.

XXX

Worldcon 2015: Saturday Photo Gallery

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

The last full day of Sasquan had the highest attendance of all, and there were a plethora of amazing costumes and beautiful cosplays (sorry, no pinatas). The panels were filled with wit and humor, and the food was as expensive as always — in short, an amazing day. The day was started with a welcome to the first attendees, and then got better from there. Sargent First Class Clay Cooper instructed people in the fine art of room-clearing. Overlapping this was the Regency Dance held in the Hall of Doges at the prestigious Davenport Hotel. This was followed by a brief period of refreshment (which was beyond delicious) and then the dancers were off to their next item of interest. There was a four-hour gap until the next big event, the Hugo Awards, but it was back to celebrating in the Marie Antoinette Ballroom with the Time Travelers’ Ball.

Those who went got the chance to literally dance the night away — the dance didn’t conclude until two o’clock in the morning! There was dancing and snacking, even an impromptu round of human limbo! There were many laughs and new friends made that day, and it was enjoyed by everyone who took part in it.

We’ve got lots more exclusive photos on our website from the Terry Pratchett memorial and Nanny Ogg danceMasquerade, the ‘Girl Genius’ Ball,the Hugo Award ceremony, and Saturday’s other events, and more

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Worldcon 2015: Geekdom Overtakes Spokane

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

Sasquan is in full swing now, and the city of Smokane – um, Spokane – is buzzing with geekdom! Friday brought a significant increase in cosplayers and costumes at Worldcon. Walking down the hallway to get to a new panel, it was a rare event that you did not see at least one person who was publicly displaying their fandom pride. They wear all sorts of things, from simple fandom t-shirts to full-blown cosplay. Check out the Super Villain Network’s Instagram to see some of the pictures of these people that were at WorldCon today.

Fans of George R.R. Martin and Robert Silverberg were delighted when these two went head to head in an amiable discussion about anything and everything. Many verbal blows were exchanged (well-padded with good humor and jests) and laughter was heard throughout the entire discussion.

Later on in the afternoon there was a mass signing of autographs by the guests of honor. One can only imagine the length of those lines, as all their fans wanted their paraphernalia signed. I wonder if anyone asked David Gerrold to sign their tribble? Even more, I wonder if David Gerrold would have tried to.

People who were feeling especially daring were invited to participate in Neon Hair Spray Day. For those who are mad that they have missed out on all of the fun on Friday will be glad to learn that there is a segment called “Crazy Hair, Wild Braids, Neon Streaks and More” going on Saturday at about ten. If that doesn’t sound promising, I don’t know what does. People with a bit of a wild side will not want to miss this!

The real show started at eight when people started to take their seats in the INB’s massive theater. There were pieces of paper on the doors warning about the danger of breathing in all the smoke that is floating around, and I saw people running around with kerchiefs, surgical masks, and shirts pulled up over there their noses. The first thing to do is stop off at the ticket office and get a free ticket before going to the actual INB.

These people all gathered at the INB Performing Arts Center to watch the masquerade, The stage was filled with flashes of color and snatches of humor as each of the contestants, be they young or old, all cycled through and received a hearty round of applause.

When the masquerade had run out of people to display, they turned the reins over to Tom Smith. He started up a musical storm of various filks and explanatory stories, heavily punctuated with laughter of course. The master filker was in fine form, and even managed to dredge a filk about the abysmal smoke from the some recess of talent. This was well received by all of the locals, and it received as much applause, if not more, as the rest of the filks. He played well into the night, and was only halted by the announcing of the winners of the masquerade.

Saturday has lots more action in store, including, of course, the Hugo Award ceremony! Stay tuned for more exclusive photos and interviews from the Super Villain Network.

XXX

Check out our exclusive photo gallery from Friday’s festivities!

 

 

 

Worldcon 2015: ‘Girl Genius’ Ball Brings Steampunk Splendor

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

Thursday night, Worldcon guests took over Spokane’s Davenport Hotel for a big dance called the Girl Genius Ball. Plenty of people payed homage to the wonderful series that inspired the dance by dressing up in their own versions of Steampunk and looking like they had just stepped out of one of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s beautifully illustrated Girl Genius comics.

We’ve got lots more exclusive photos on our website from the Terry Pratchett memorial and Nanny Ogg danceMasquerade, the Hugo Award ceremony, and Saturday’s other events, and more!

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Worldcon 2015: A High-Spirited Start

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

Spirits ran high and so did the prices at the opening day of WorldCon in our rural town of Spokane. The smoke from eastern Washington’s rash of wildfires made travel a challenge for some, and breathing a challenge for nearly everyone. Wednesday morning was a traffic jam of people trying to get their badges, and the people lucky enough to already had their badges trying to get to all the panels that they have been dreaming of for months. In the adjacent room, the dealers room was much quieter, but that is just because of the fact that they were all hurriedly trying to get ready for the influx of people that would surge toward them when the volunteer guarding the entrance got word that it was time to let the crowds in.

The day was filled with new foods and ideas, and location-bidding (for the venue of the next WorldCon) was a very prominent part of it all. Supporters wore custom shirts to showcase their choices, and they had tables with more than enough information for even the most inquisitive of people. They’ve come from Japan, Ireland, Finland, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and many more places, to make the case from bringing Worldcon to their venues.

It was a fun day containing music, ethnic diversity, learning and general entertainment, The people that attend these events are the friendliest bunch you will ever meet in one place, and they are happy to strike up a conversation at the drop of a hat — sometimes literally!

We’ve got lots more exclusive photos on our website from the Terry Pratchett memorial and Nanny Ogg danceMasquerade, the ‘Girl Genius’ Ball,the Hugo Award ceremony, and Saturday’s other events!

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Worldcon 2015: Thrilling Thursday

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

The dark banks of smoke that covered the sky Thursday did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of all the devoted fans who have flocked to Spokane for Worldcon. We are a resilient lot, and it takes more than that to bring us down.

The events really hit their stride at ten in the morning, when all of the panels and events started to get under way. The teenage delegations from all the fandoms were able to meet up in a room at the Double Tree Hotel and shared cookies, lemonade, and a bunch of games.

There was much to see, but one of the highlights was the all the dancing. People in fanciful costumes from all over the world came together and paired off for different traditional dances. Not necessarily traditional to our world, however. At two o’clock there was a ‘Nanny Ogg Knees Up!’ dance, based on the mythical realm of Discworld, a creation of the late Terry Pratchett.

Preceding the dance was a memorial held in honor of the great writer, and people he had met and influenced were invited to share their experiences. A young woman in a well-made cosplay had to have the microphone held for her because she needed both hands free to wipe her eyes as she spoke. Terry Pratchett touched many lives, and even now, the ingenuity of his fans is indoctrinating new people and opening their eyes to the wonderful, flat world that was his true art.

The location bidders (lobbying to win the honor of hosting the next Worldcon) from Washington, D.C. hosted a free barbecue lunch in the park, and they had a high turnout. Not only did they serve the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs, they also had vegetarian options, chips, and drinks. The burgers were smoky and the drinks were cold, so there was much merriment and lightheartedness.

After lunch, people separated from their new-found friends and went back to attending panels. Some people chose to learn about ambushes, while others thought that a conversation about Doctor Who was what they wanted to do. One or two of them may have even been fortunate enough to come across an owl puppet in a vendor’s booth that has the fourth Doctor’s scarf wrapped around his neck. If you ask the vendor, the owl is Doctor Whooo.

Though there was not as much hustle and bustle as there was on First Night, people still managed to have plenty of fun and laughs. At the Davenport Hotel, there was a big dance called the Girl Genius Ball. Plenty of people payed homage to the wonderful series that inspired the dance by dressing up in their own versions of Steampunk and looking like they had just stepped out of one of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s beautifully illustrated Girl Genius comics.

Throughout the day, there was much carousing and eating of delicious cookies (although no castles were stormed, much to relief of the hotel staff). There were tears shed for those that have been lost, and laughter shared with those who are just arriving. The festivities are still going on, and anime fans are delighted by the fact that there will be late night-and early morning-screenings of all their classics.

XXX

Check out our exclusive photo gallery from thrilling Thursday at Worldcon!