Tell Your Governor to Welcome Syrian Refugees

November 18th, 2015 § Comments Off on Tell Your Governor to Welcome Syrian Refugees § permalink

I don’t talk straightforward politics on this blog often—in moments of enormity, I (like many people, I think) feel overwhelmed.  What can be done?  What can be said?

But yesterday I was reading Kay Ryan, and came across this poem:

Silence, by Kay Ryan

Silence is not snow,
It cannot grow
deeper. A thousand years
of it are thinner
than paper. So
we must have it
all wrong
when we feel trapped
like mastodons.


It’s been a bad week for humanity.  Tragedies have struck Beirut and Paris.  As of Tuesday afternoon, half of the governors of American states—including Governor Baker of Massachusetts, my commonwealth—have responded to these horrors by attempting to close their states to Syrian refugees.  They have voiced this intention with their actual mouths.  They have written it with their actual hands.

This reaction sickens me.  It doesn’t help that these statements don’t actually mean anything, because refugee policy is federal.  I see at least two possibilities: Baker and the others don’t know the law, in which case they’re dumb and dickish, or they do know the law, and are taking the opportunity to grandstand as “tough on terror” at the expense of a vulnerable population which has been massively underserved by the USA, in which case they’re smart and dickish.  Dicks either way.

When I called Governor Baker about his remarks, the aide on the other end of the line responded with “but he just wants to keep you safe!!11one,” which, well.  Let’s set aside the fact that that this same argument was used to turn away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.  Let’s set aside indications that in the US immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the general population.  Let’s set aside the enormous piles of rhetoric in which our US of A indulges on the reg about hungry masses yearning to breathe free, and disregard our tendency to speechify about cities and hills.  Even if we set aside all these things, and we shouldn’t, the refugee resettlement process is already stringent and rigorous (to the point of absurdity, to my mind).

I’m grateful to my friend Chelsea Purvis, who works at a humanitarian agency, for this summary:

It’s worth being clear about what resettlement is and is not. Resettlement is not when someone crosses a border into the US and seeks asylum. Resettlement is when a person flees one country (say, Syria) to a second (say, Turkey) and then proves to a UN expert that she is a refugee. Then, through a highly regulated process, she applies for a home in the US. She proves again to multiple US agencies that she is a refugee, and she undergoes extraordinarily rigorous security and background checks. She can’t change her email address or phone number or have a baby without going through additional security checks. Months or years later, she may be allowed to be resettled in the US.

Not a single refugee resettled in America has ever committed, or even been arrested for, domestic terrorism. In fact, there is arguably no immigrant group more tightly screened than resettled refugees. Refugees come here, get jobs (they have to), pay back the debt of their travel fees (they have to), and often do really amazing things for their new home communities (check out some of these people:

There has been no proven link between any of the terrorists in Paris to migrant/refugee flows into southern Europe. But even if there were: In Europe, hundreds of thousands of people are pouring into countries that don’t have the capacity or political will to manage these huge migration flows. On top of that, there is still no Europe-wide mechanism for responding. The US simply does not have this problem. We have incredibly tight borders, managed by a strong federal government, and a huge, well-funded system to screen and manage arrivals, backed with political will from every state and both parties. … The security argument is absolutely baseless.

We should be accepting more refugees because we’re in a better position to do so than Europe is.  We should be accepting more refugees because Fifth Generation Warfare.  We should be accepting more refugees because people are suffering, we can help, and it’s the right thing to do.

If you live in one of the states listed below, take five minutes to protest your Governor’s position via phone or email.  Tell them we should welcome refugees, not slam the doors on them.  (The International Refugee Assistance Project has more good advice about who to call and what to say.)   If your state is not on this list, maybe seek out your Governor & thank them for not being abjectly horrible.

Governor’s Name Governor’s Phone Governor’s Email
Alabama Robert J Bentley 334.242.7100
Arizona Doug Ducey 602.542.4331
Arkansas Asa Hutchinson (501) 682-2345
Florida Rick Scott (850) 488-7146
Georgia Nathan Deal 404-656-1776
Idaho Butch Otter (208) 334-2100
Illinois Bruce Rauner 217-782-0244
Indiana Mike Pence 317-232-4567
Iowa Terry Branstad 515-281-5211
Kansas Sam Brownback 785-296-3232
Louisiana Bobby Jindal
Maine Paul LePage 207-287-3531
Massachusetts Charlie Baker 617.725.4005
Michigan Rick Snyder 517-373-3400,4668,7-277-57827-267869–,00.html
Mississippi Phil Bryant 601.359.3150
Nebraska Pete Ricketts 402-471-2244
Nevada Brian Sandoval (775) 684-5670
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan (603)271-2121
New Jersey Chris Christie 609-292-6000
New Mexico Susana Martinez 505-476-2200
North Carolina Pat McCrory (919) 814-2000
Ohio John Kasich (614) 466-3555
Oklahoma Mary Fallin (405) 521-2342
South Carolina Nikki Haley 803.734.2100
Tennessee Bill Haslam (615) 741-2001
Texas Greg Abbott (512) 463-5739
Wisconsin Scott Walker (608) 266-1212

You can donate to the French Red Cross here, and to the Lebanese Red Cross here.

Comments are off, because it’s my website.  Your regularly scheduled essays about Star Wars and Bees will resume next week.

Superman, Krishna, and Sermon on the Rocks

November 11th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Life is good.

World Fantasy was World Fantasy: some few hundred of my closest friends in the SFF community all walked out of the mist and smoke into Saratoga Springs for five days.  Longer cons like this feel more like the creation of a village.  I remember being fifteen on the campus greens of Sewanee, TN, in a golden fall, running into whoever I ran into, forming partiers by simple logic of accretion and the shouting of names across fields of blown dry leaves.  Then, when the planets move out of alignment, the village parts like clouds.  It’s a fantastic experience.  (Which informs my conviction, by the way, that the structure of the con should allow all attendees the same level of safety and comfort I feel—free and easy wandering requires personal assurance.)

Attending conventions made a certain sort of hidden-world fantasy make a lot more sense to me.  Neverwhere describes a con culture of a sort; so does The Last Hot Time (possibly the entire Bordertown universe?), and A Night in the Lonesome October, and of course Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret.  Folks step out of daily life into something different.  And then they get back to the Work.

I’m listening to Josh Ritter’s new album, The Sermon on the Rocks, a lot, and a weird theory’s percolated in my brain.  Basically, I think this is the album Superman would make if he decided it was time to head back to Smallville (or maybe if he never left Smallville in the first place).  Hear me out.

Ritter calls the album “messianic oracular honky-tonk,” which places it on a genre continuum with high-period A3’s “sweet pretty country acid house music;” the perspective roots not in country (the genre) but in the country, in small towns and fields and water and the intimate personal geography that comes with growing around stuff that grows.  City dwellers orient on streets, buildings, landmarks; grow up in the country, in the USA at least, and you orient on things without proper names: oaks, maples, rivers, rocks.  (I’m told that in Wales all these have their own names, too.)

Top 40 radio country uses ubiquitous cultural signifiers (pickup trucks, the barbecue stain on my white t-shirt, etc.) to evoke nostalgia for country culture, but for me at least this tends to feel a bit fake, like the false evocation of community (“we’re all guys here, right?”) that precedes and attempts to excuse gross generalizations.  The speaker’s hiding his or her own opinions and experiences by evoking things that of course everybody knows.  “Yah, you grew up in the country, right?  How about pickup trucks?  Those are a thing you have, eh?  Youv’e seen them?  Huh? Buy my record!”  As opposed to: this is my place.  Let me show it to you.  (That said, not all top 40 country feels this way. I think “I Want to Check You for Ticks” is particularly well-observed, for example.)

By contrast, in “A Big Enough Sky,” off Sermon:

What happened to the riverbed?
What happened to the prairie fire?
Can you tell me where the lightning went
Every time you met my eye?

The riverbed, the prairie fire, are metaphors, but they’re not common; Ritter has a specific riverbed in mind, I think, and a specific fire.  And that calls to mind river beds and fires I have known—not some vague imprecise “oh yeah, we all know” style riverbed, but the riverbed my scout troop built a bridge over on the trail behind the high school baseball diamond, that connects down through Shakerag Hollow.

But Ritter knits these images to something bigger:

Nights are getting colder now
And the air is getting crisp
I first tasted the universe
On a night like this
A box of wine, an alibi
And the hunger in her eyes
In the place where the tree of good and evil
Still resides

The intimate personal geography (long roads, old cars, backroads and the boneyards in “Where the Night Goes”) naturally blooms to cosmic language (I first tasted the universe / on a night like this or in the place where the tree of good and evil / still resides).  The album’s second song, “Young Moses,” completes with this amazing over-the-top semimystical boast in which country landscape and figures bloom oracular and transcendant.  “I’m the king of the milkmaids, honey,” to me reads not just as an evocation of “milk and honey,” but as a specific reference to Krishna, who incarnated as a cowherd and, in one of my favorite stories, split himself into 100 Krishnas to carouse simultaneously and in equal full spirit with 100 milkmaids.

That’s what I meant by my evocation of Superman, above.  Some of the songs on this album are oracular and personal, some (like “Henrietta, Indiana”) are stories, but they’re all sung by a person with dirt under the nails—someone whose personal geography is built from trees and rocks no one knows unless they’ve been introduced—and at the same time has this ecstatic cosmic vision of the potential and grandeur and wonderful horror of the universe.  Cowpoke Krishna—whose closest avatar in the US pop media canon, really, is Superman returned to the farm.

Anyway, I think it’s a great album.  Give it a listen.

New Bookburners this week!  Shore Leave features bellinis, belligerence, and problematic clockwork.

World Fantasy Convention This Weekend!

November 4th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Friends, I had a whole bit to write you today, about metrics and the tyranny thereof, about the importance of casual conversation and soup dumplings, but I can’t write it in the time I have before my ride gets here to sweep me off to World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs.  Suffice it to say:

  • Writing is big and complicated and it’s easy to cling to metrics (wordcount!! Book sales per convention as sole indicator of con’s value! etc.).
  • But writing (and publishing!) are network effects: words look linear but they web to other words (and memories, works of literature, etc.); people connect to other people, conversations to other conversations.
  • There are metrics in writing (sunt lacrimae rerum), but whatever metric you choose is just a finger pointing at the moon.
  • If you don’t know what I mean about fingers and moons, let Bruce Lee help.
  • When you’re trying to maximize for a metric (wordcount, bench press max weight, whatevs.), it’s easy to forget the actual goal, which is: good work?  Fitness?  (You’ll have to figure out your own goals.)
  • I’ve spent whole years stuck on plateaus in my fencing because I focused on one metric—points scored per bout. You might think the number of points scored in a bout is really important, but in training points per bout turns out to be a trailing indicator of quality of form, depth of strategy, psychology, etc.
  • That said, ain’t no shame in targeting certain metrics, so long as you understand that’s what you’re doing.
    • Obviously, there are moments when you really should be trying to maximize points per bout—e.g. in a tournament or a duel to the death.
    • Not that I do that sort of thing.
  • Sometimes the most important thing you can do for your writing, or for your life, is step away from the keyboard and go meet a friend for soup dumplings.

That said!  Here’s my schedule for the next few days.  If you’re NOT going to World Fantasy, the big takeaway for you is that next Tuesday, Nov 10, I’ll be in Cambridge, at Pandemonium Books, signing with Adam Christopher!  And there will be booze!:

Wednesday, 7pm, Northshire Books

Tor World Fantasy Kickoff!

Tor’s hosting the most star-studded bash you can imagine—just look at that guest list on the link above!  I’ll be trying to keep it cool—my reflex in this situation would be to run around asking for autographs.  Whee!

Thursday, 2 pm, City Center 2B

Magic is the essential ingredient of Epic Fantasy… except when it isn’t.
Can a story be Epic Fantasy if there isn’t a spell hurling mage? Do all quests need a wizard? The panel will discuss how magic is used in Epic Fantasy and some of the texts that do things a little differently.
Paul Di Filippo (mod.), Max Gladstone, Kate Laity, Amal El-Mohtar, Karl Schroeder

(I expect this panel to answer the first two questions ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the first five minutes, then move on to larger considerations of how magic functions in epic fantasy, what ‘epic’ means as a genre term anyway, and what, if anything, takes magic’s place when magic’s absent.  Should be fun!)

Friday, 6:30 pm, Broadway 1

Reading: Me!

I’ll be reading!  I don’t know whether I’ll be reading from Four Roads Cross, or from something even further in the future.  If you come, you can contribute to the decision!

Tuesday, 7:00 pm, Pandemonium Books and Games, Cambridge MA

Reading and Signing with Adam Christopher!

Adam Christopher, he of the SHIELD comic, has a new book out, a robot detective novel called Made to Kill that looks fantastic.  Come hang out with us!  There will be booze!  And blood too—at least, presumably those attending will contain blood, but it probably won’t be shed.  We hope.

That’s all for this week, though.  See y’all at the con!

Halloween Stories and Games!

October 28th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Happy Halloween, friends!  I have a number of spooky and excellent tales for you to enjoy—kicking off with my most recent release, Deathless: The City’s Thirst, a new interactive adventure set in the Craft Sequence world.



You won the war against the gods; now you need to take their place. Build alliances with powerful necromancers. Fight—or make peace with—sentient scorpions. Stand up for the little guy—or stick it to him. Overcome the trauma you suffered in the God Wars. Solve murders, or commit them. Or both! Fight gods. Solve mysteries. Find love. Die. Come back.

The first game, Choice of the Deathless, operated on the edge of the Sequence; this game’s set in Dresediel Lex, features characters from the stories, and is a lot more scheme-y and skullduggery-focused.  If you’ve ever wanted to be in the world of the books, this is a good opportunity.  I’ve written about the design process on, and on Chuck Wendig’s blog, so you know it must be awesome.  Get the game on iOS, Android, Kindle, and Steam, and if you like it, tell your friends.

If you’re looking for a more traditional Halloween-ish experience, though, may I suggest A Kiss With Teeth, my story about vampires, marriage, and parenthood?



Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone.

White, almost, as the sharp teeth he keeps concealed.

Also this week: a new episode of Bookburners!  Under My Skin, by Mur Lafferty, takes Team Three to Vegas, baby.  Vegas.  Horrible things happen.  Because, Vegas.  It’s great.

And, in other Serial Box news—the new serial Tremontaine, set in Ellen Kushner’s Riverside universe, debuts today!  I’m really excited for this one.  Kushner herself’s at the helm of an intrepid and awesome writer’s room including Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and Paul Witcover.  What.  How.  Flail.  Go ye and read.

That’s all for this week.


Galactic History, or Galactic Folk Tale?

October 21st, 2015 § 16 comments § permalink


FROM: Doctor Flox Beelthrak, Education Department, Corellia University

Djane Lel, Secretary of Historiography, Coruscant Teacher’s College



Your Harvest issue’s cover feature (“Heroes of the Galactic Revolution: A Twenty-Year Retrospective”), however well-intentioned in its commemoration of the anniversary of our galaxy’s liberation from the Palpatine Regime, indulged in and perpetuated many damaging and historically inaccurate popular fantasies.

However widespread the folk narrative of the Skywalker and Solo families has become in the decades since liberation, we expect more from a journal of your self-professed dedication to intellectual rigor.

The Great Sophont Theory of History has been deservedly discredited for decades; our galaxy’s very size—millions of sentient species spread across billions of worlds—should be enough to discredit any notion its history might be shaped by the decisions of a few individuals.  What steersman could seize the wheel of such a vessel?

The sad fact is, no matter how appealing tales of galactic heroism may be—and we’re fans ourselves!—history is made by movements and groups, not individuals.  To demonstrate this we need look no further than Palpatine himself.  The recent, brilliant, monograph IMPERIAL MINDS by Dr. Del Rivane of Dothek Polytechnique rather conclusively demonstrates that the Banking Clan and Corporate Sector’s drive for unified tax policy, new market access, and spacelane security, combined with the ambition of a rising human military officer class in the Late Republican period, were the main drivers of “Palpatine’s” coup and the subsequent (apparent) stability of the so-called “Imperial” government.

Palpatine was a consummate politician, this no one denies, but his political savvy can be most clearly seen in the deftness with which he walked the slack line of Late Republican politics.  The “Evil Emperor” truly has no clothes: documentary evidence reveals a brilliant and cynical man, yes, but a man nonetheless, whose high office emerged naturally from conflicts between the increasingly powerful and inherently ademocratic Republican bureaucracy on the one hand, and an overwhelmingly human military on the other.

But far more dangerous than the Palpatine-as-Evil-Genius vision, to our minds, is the popular tendency to attribute the Rebellion’s success to the, for the most part undocumented, personal heroism of a small elite group.  The Rebellion was an interstellar effort of millions.  No one doubts the importance of the Organa family’s leadership in the early Rebellion, or of Leia Organa’s personal role as an organizer of the Alderaanian diaspora after the Tarkin Incident.  But legends—folk tales, really, with no textual attribution—about Leia Organa’s personal achievements during the Rebellion at best distract from, and at worse erase, the contributions of the Alderaanian diaspora community to the war effort post-Tarkin.

And Organa is the most clearly documented of the folk heroes your Harvest issue seeks to lionize!  General Skywalker’s contributions as a pilot are legendary, of course—the Skywalker Doctrine of Snub Combat remains required reading in the Academy—but Skywalker’s military career was cut short by his increasing religious fanaticism and withdrawal from public life.  The man, a moisture farmer turned hero, is fantastic enough from a historian’s perspective; while folk tales of his association with “lost masters” of the Jedi Order, and of his personal miracles, make for pleasant campfire evenings, they drip with mythic patterning—and his purported genetic link with the Organa dynasty borders on the propagandist.  And the less said about parentage assertions with genocidal maniacs, the better.

Generals Solo and Calrissian were valuable bridge-builders between the nascent Rebellion and a community of small business owners chafing under the Planetary Governor regime, but many oral histories of the Rebellion ignore this role entirely, preferring to focus on poorly documented or entirely mythical personal achievements.  Tales of the Huttese Palace Incursion, which you, shockingly, included in your profile, are standout examples of the form.  Such an adventure would have been strategically incoherent—sending Organa in disguise to rescue Solo, Skywalker allowing himself to be captured–and the prurient asides focusing on Senator Organa’s captivity by “Jabba the Hutt,” the broadest and most speciesist caricature of a Huttese shaa%kzeh of which we are aware, are obviously intended to discredit and shame Organa.  Much of the male human galaxy, alas, remains uncomfortable with the fact that human political leadership of the Rebellion was predominantly female.  (As of course it would have been—human male elites did quite well under the Empire.)  Palace Incursion folk tales privilege the people the story isn’t actually about.

Folk tale and myth are, of course, valid and vital components of sophont cognition.  As the galaxy grows increasingly galactic, myths help limited sophonts perform practical ‘fast clumping and processing’ (Kaaffa the Hutt, Rational Typing in Mythic Decision Making, Nar Shaddaa Press, 1129aad.88q.pear).  But the proper study of history unpacks myths.  In Calrissian and Solo, we see a disenfranchised entrepreneurial element rising to resist a bureaucratic regime.  In Organa, we see survivors of genocide fighting back.  In Skywalker, galactic cultural institutions, the “old country religion” as it were, stands against a secularist order.  In Ackbar, we read the Mon Calamari decision to break with Late Republican / Imperial rule and become, in Ackbar’s noted phrase, “the arsenal of freedom.”  Myths help us act; history helps us understand.

In our roles as educators, we’ve come to expect that provincially educated frosh will arrive steeped in folk narrative.  It’s our job to teach them better.  They learn slowly, but they do learn.


We did not expect to have to undergo the same process with your newspaper.


Dr. F. Beelthrak

Dr. Djane Lel


Yes, I did write a fixfic based on the “Wait—all the stories are true?” line from the new Star Wars trailer.

I’m not sorry.

ALSO.  I have a new Bookburners episode out today!  “Now and Then” is about Grace, Shanghai, and layers of historical monstrosity.  I think it’s really good.  Enjoy!

Sprint Sprint Sprint

September 30th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I have an actual according-to-Hoyle vacation on deck, with no work on the docket.  Absurd luxury?  Yes!  Meanwhile, I’m sprinting around like a decapitated chicken trying to finish everything as needs finishing.  A preview!

  • Structural revisions for The Highway Kind.  For what feels like the first time, I’m experimenting with substantially additive revision.  Generally, no matter how much text I add to a book, wordcount for the n+1 draft will be the wordcount for draft n minus at least 10%, often closer to 20 or 30.  This time I’ve added 15k, and feel deliciously transgressive.  A lot of this book feels transgressive, actually—new rhetoric, new tools, new arguments.  Of course, I’m feeling all the hesitation one generally feels using new tools, but there’s a lot of freedom here, too.
  • (Unrelated: I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a tabletop game system that reflected growing *used* to a tool.  Learning a new blade takes me most of a night on the strip—and they make those to Olympic spec.  Someone who swaps out their old 10gp beater for a +3 sword might spend a whole adventure figuring out how to use it.  Granted, this is a bit simulationist for my current game preferences, but, hm.)
  • Reviewing copy edits for The City’s Thirst, which—I don’t know that I’ve actually mentioned this on the blog.  Have I?  The City’s Thirst is my second piece of Craft Sequence interactive fiction for Choice of Games.  You are a troubleshooter working for Red King Consolidated in the first decade or so after the God Wars.  Where’s the water coming from?  Forget it, Jake, it’s fantasyland.  It’s fun; weirder, too, darker, and probably a bit sexier, than CotD.  I hope you like it!
  • Finalizing my next Bookburners episode—speaking of which, Episode 4, by Mur Lafferty, goes live today!  It’s all about How to Serve Man, sort of.  And the perils of surgical equipment.  Give it a look—or a listen.
  • Undisclosed Labor for Seekret Projekt I’m working on with Cassie Clarke, Lindsay Smith, and Ian Tregellis, muahahahaha.
  •  Ancillary video stuff for Uncanny Magazine.

Speaking of videos, if you’re a board gamer and haven’t already seen Shut Up & Sit Down’s “Tips for the 5 Problem Players,” go do so.  The title aside, the video’s actually more about the ethics of gaming, and how to run a fun, inclusive night.  (I’ve made most of the mistakes they mention in the video myself.)  How to chill out and welcome people into a gaming space!  I admire SUSD’s vision of board gaming—what it is, what it can be.  Their team loves quality games, obviously, but they also care about the metanarrative of gaming, and I think that vision’s what makes them stand out.

On a not-entirely-related note, Amal El-Mohtar and Arkady Martine have great, deep thoughts about THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT.  Worth a read!

And in the “Max is excited to read this” line: Ilana Myer’s Last Song Before Night hit stands yesterday.  Definitely taking this one on the vacation. Poet magicians!

Okay, back to work for me.  Rock on, friends.

Covers are Love

September 23rd, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink



Um, sorry.  But—well.  Tor Books has a pleasant surprise to share with you over on their site.  I’ll post it here later this afternoon, but you should go over to their site for the surprise, along with a good deal of context for the surprise, and a video you should probably see.  Yes, it’s a video of me.  Yes, I am full clothed.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

And go check it out!

Also, this week, on the internet: my editor, Marco, posted an excellent and kind essay about the trouble he experienced getting a printable blurb for The Traitor Baru Cormorant out of me.  It’s a fantastic book—I’m scratching my head to think of an epic fantasy so well written.  As a result, I had a very hard time presenting my enthusiasm in, um, marketing-friendly terminology.

And, since it’s Wednesday—there’s a new Bookburners episode live on Serial Box!  Margaret Dunlap spins a tale of rare book sales, yacht management, the importance of proper archiving, mudslides, and the tour guide business.  Subscribe today!

Bookburners Episode 2 LIVES!

September 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

The second episode of BOOKBURNERS is live right now on the Serial Box website!  Brian Francis Slatterly’s written a skin-crawling tale of film management, household maintenance, and onboarding. Episode Two, Anywhere but Here, cemented Brian among our little group as the go-to guy for the deep weird.

And since we’re all weirdoes, that’s saying a great deal.

I didn’t mention last time, since I’m not much of an audiobook listener myself, that the Bookburners episodes are all available as audio.  Groove to the story on your headphones!  Probably the easiest way to subscribe to Bookburners is through our website, but there’s also an iOS app—Android version coming soon.  You can buy episode-by-episode, or subscribe to the entire season for a discount.  (Of course, you can also acquire the ebooks through the retailer of your choice.)

And if you haven’t read, or listened to, the first episode, it’s free!

You’ll see the Bookburners writer team—Mur Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Slatterly, et moi—all around the internet promoting the series in the next couple weeks.  I kicked it off with a Big Idea post on John Scalzi’s blog, talking about how the Bookburners concept makes me pretty deeply uncomfortable, and that’s not a bad thing.

Also: join me in congratulating Margaret Dunlap, who locked in her second Emmy last night!

Games People (Mostly My Friends and I) Play

September 9th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

Today I’m running around preparing for the Bookburners launch—the series run starts next Wednesday, so get ready to see me running around with my underwear on my head talking about how cool this thing we’ve all put together is!  Basically with Margaret, Mur, and Brian I feel like I’m on some kind of Magnificent Seven style team designed to inject Good Stuff into your readin’ nerves.  The pilot‘s just the beginning.

In the meantime, here are some games I’ve been playing on heavy rotation recently!


Vlaada Chvatil’s CODENAMES is the party game you should own.

The concept’s simple: there are two teams of spies, red and blue, and two spymasters, also red and blue.  All players see a grid of words on the table—the codenames of secret agents in the wild.  The spymasters know which codenames are red agents and which are blue, thanks to a handy key.  They have to communicate this information to their team, using only a clue, and the number of codenames that correspond to the clue.  First team to contact all its agents, wins!

The red spymaster looks at the table and sees that “STAR” and “MOONLIGHT” are both red codenames; the red spymaster says, “Space: Two,” indicating that two clues on the board correspond to the clue “Space.”  The red team looks at the board, hems and haws, and chooses the correct codenames.  This is how it is supposed to work!

How it often works instead: the red team looks at the board, hems and haws, decides “STAR” is certainly one of the clues in question, almost goes for moonlight, but then one of the team sees “STATION” over in the corner.  It has to be STATION, he says.  “Space station, right?  I mean, it’s so obvious.”

Meanwhile, red team spymaster is sitting there, doing her best to keep a poker face, thinking, goddammit, how did I not see Station?

So, the red team chooses STATION.  Maybe Codename STATION actually attaches to an innocent bystander, or an irrelevant asset!  Maybe Codename STATION is one of the opposing team‘s agents—by identifying them, you’ve just handed your opponents an advantage.  Or, just maybe, Codename STATION belongs to the dreaded Assassin—and you’ve just lost the game.

CODENAMES is great fun, takes fifteen minutes to play, explains in thirty seconds, and works for groups between two and $max_capacity_of_room.  I’ve seen it take parties from dissolute to total good-natured competitive focus in a single exchange of play.  It’s the kind of game that will make friends invite you over so you can bring it and play with them.

Give it a shot, is what I’m saying.

Also, it has my favorite mechanic ever: the jerk timer!  If anyone’s taking too long to move, just upend this little sand timer, and they have to move by the time it runs out.  I wish every game had one of these.

Forbidden Stars

If Codenames is minimalist competitive party fun, Forbidden Stars is the opposite: maximalist hyperaggro spacewar simulator!  Set in the Grim Darkness of the Warhammer 40,000 Future Where There is Only War etc, Forbidden Stars is a surprisingly elegant platform for you and up to three of your friends to spend a large number of hours bashing each others’ faces in with spaceships and giant robots.

Forbidden Stars pits Vicious Space Orcs (WAAAUGH!), Chaos Space Marines (BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!), Space Elves (*creepy silence*), and Myke Cole I mean the glorious upstanding and noble Space Ultramarines in a struggle for control of the galaxy.  So far, so 4x.  But!  There are some neat differences.

Most 4xen (that being a genre of game that relies on the four x’s of conquest: exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination) end up being about territorial control.  All your space people want to become the largest space empire.  Games divide neatly into an early expansionist stage, a later defensive stage in which you ponder your and your enemies’ fortifications in prep for the final assault, and then a final SUPERNOVA DOOM EXPLOSION.

In Forbidden Stars, you win not by holding territory, or building the strongest economy, but by acquiring all your faction’s objective tokens (which your opponents have seeded around the galaxy in hard-to-reach-for-you places) first.  Strategic strikes are the name of the game: figure out how to bash in, seize your objective, and leave.  It’s an enormous game of capture the flag, only with spaceships and killer robots, which obviates what I’ve heard Django Wexler, who’s better at this stuff than I am, call the SHOGUN problem: in 4x games, often the player with the strongest military loses, because people gang up on her.

Forbidden Stars also offers the most elegant order-issuing system I’ve ever seen: players take turns placing order tokens facedown to various star systems.  You’ve issued an order to the Golbez Expanse, or whatever—is that an order to invade?  Do you plan to build a factory there?  Are you just engaged in some sort of internal reorganization?  Your opponents don’t know—all they see is, you’re preparing to do something.  But that information might be intended to bait them into a trap: they think you’re trying to occupy a system, so they try to occupy it first by placing an “advance” order on top of what they think is your “advance” order.  Only for you to place an actual “advance” order on top of that.  Since orders are resolved Last-in-first-out, you’ve just pre-empted their invasion with your own.  SCHEMING!

Also combat is a joy, but this post is already too long for me to explain why.

That said and speaking of length—OH MY GOD THIS IS A LONG GAME.  Especially—especially—if your friends are the sort of people who spend a lot of time thinking through their moves.  There are lots of micro-choices, which means a lot of time waiting for a, shall we say, contemplative player to drop their order.  If everyone knows what they’re doing, I can see it moving at a clip—there are fewer fiddly bits than in most 4x games.  But my last game was a four-player run with two first-timers, and we called it after eight hours, with a turn left on the turn counter.  I was hoping this would be more lightweight than Eclipse, which tends to run about an hour per player for our group, counting rules explanation; no such luck.

That said—while we were all guttering by the end of that run, we had fun the whole time, moving our space armies around the map and cackling about Blood for the Blood God, so and were able to call it with good feelings and laughter all around.  This one’s been good for three or four days of fun space warfare so far, which more than justifies its expense in my opinion.

Books You Should Read in September if You Care what I Think

September 2nd, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

As R.E.M. would remind you, September is coming soon—so soon, in fact, that it’s already here.  And, in a sort of head-spinning coincidence, a lot of books are hitting shelves that I had the privilege of reading early.  Many of these come out with a quote of mine somewhere on the cover, but since blurbs are an imperfect critical mechanism, I’ll tell you why you might find this particular month hard on your wallet.

But first, an order of business!  If you want signed copies of any of my books, the fine folks at Porter Square Books, my local bookshop, can hook you up.  They just set up a clickthrough signed copy order system—you order through them, I drop by and sign your book, and it’s shipped out to you with all due haste.

You can visit my author page on their site, which seems to think I wrote The Dante Club for some reason but I’m sure we’ll get that cleared up presently—for direct links, though, check out Three Parts Dead in Hardcover and Paperback, Two Serpents Rise in Hardcover and Paperback, Full Fathom Five in Hardcover and Paperback, and Last First Snow in Hardcover!

And with that out of the way: BOOKS.

Out this week

Updraft, by Fran Wilde – A story about a young woman coming of age in a society where people live in bone towers growing out of a bank of impenetrable clouds far, far below.  Folk use artificial wings to fly from tower to tower!  The wings would actually work!  (There’s a lot of wonderful observation here about wind-reading and -riding; if you’re an SF reader and the high concept sounds too much like fantasy to you, don’t make the mistake of giving this one a miss.  You’ll regret it.)  Eyeball kicks, they are here, in the Mieville-esque bone towers and societal weirdnesses and the giant invisible sky squid. (Did I mention the giant invisible sky squid?  No?  Sorry.  Sky squid, we have them.)  I love how Wilde plays with the initiation story tropes—and how she addresses their often-underlooked underbellies, like how initiation ceremonies reinforce complicity in society’s Faustian bargains.  (Every initiation has an Omelas in it somewhere.)  Also people have knife fights in midair.  And there’s a bright bloom of language over the whole work—definitely read it.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson – My blurb for this namechecked Gene Wolfe, Samuel R Delany, and Fritz Leiber, and I think I was entirely justified.  That will be enough for some of you.  To expand: in shockingly few pages Wilson constructs a dense layered science fantasy combining the allusive hidden pipe blink-and-you’ll-miss-it worldbuilding I love in Wolfe’s work with Delany’s personal and social and erotic vision & verbal pyrotechnics.  The Leiber—well, it’s a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, sort of, a kind of sword-and-sorcery (or sword-and-planet? I have my theories…) tale about hard folk traveling through a hard cosmopolitan world that takes many cultural cues from a range of African societies.  Wilson’s prose keeps sharp rhythm, twists, goes for the hamstrings and throat.  There aren’t many women in this book—it’s a book about men traveling together, and it seemed to me that women were intentionally present in their absence, if that makes any sense, which sets it apart from, say, The Lord of the Rings, where no characters ever seem to notice how few women are around, and few think about women much at all.  The absence feels more like a decision and less like an oversight, is what I’m saying.  Still, you may disagree with me on this score, or you might not care, depending on your goals.  Regardless, I think this is an important book, and a great book, and you should get it now so you can say you read it before it was cool.

Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho – I have not read this book yet!  But Cho’s novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo was the best surprise of 2013 for me, and I’ve been waiting for her to publish a novel ever since, and this is that novel.  Cho has a fantastic vision and a crisp, joyful prose style, funny and sharp, like a good Riesling.  She cares.  Advance praise for this book has been swelling.  I have no doubt it’s deserved.  Check it out.

Out September 15

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson – The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a sharp-edged brilliant revenge drama in which the injustice to be avenged is the murder of a way of life.  We see the murder take place—our hero Baru is a young girl when she watches her island home colonized the modernist way, through trade agreements, education, and managed disasters rather than raw force of arms.  (Though of course force of arms is deployed, when needed, to “protect trade.”  Sound familiar?)  Baru, a genius, decides to destroy the colonizing empire from the inside—to join their system, climb its ranks, and break it from the heart.  I’m scratching my head to remember a book I’ve read in genre that more aptly displays the vicious process and logic of modern hegemonic colonialism.  (Should-be-obvious disclaimer: I have not read all books in genre.)  This is a well-written, passionate, fast-paced, burning book.  It says in pages stuff I feel like I’ve taken books to try to say.  It points fingers.  Most of the fingers it points are pointed at us.  (I mean here technocratic hegemonic high modernist kyriarchy, AKA The Song of My People.)

TBC also engages, obliquely and sneakily, with the often-ignored central challenge of “destroy the system from within” books (I’m thinking especially of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising here)—often the secret revolutionary ends up replicating the system’s practices and values in their attempt to destroy it.  (In RR Darrow fights the Golds, rulers of his far-future Neitzsche-esque caste system, by becoming better than the Golds at being a Gold, which means that according to Red Risingthe Golds’ value structure is correct.  To beat the Masquerade in TBC, Baru must become better than them at Masquerading, literally, which means… eek!).  Audre Lorde’s on point—the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.  (A point on which Lorde and Tolkien agree—huh, there’s a Lorde of the Rings essay to be written somewhere in here.  For future work.  Unless someone’s done it already?  Please tell me someone’s done it already.)  But—the master’s most vicious trick is to convince you those tools can.  Baru’s out-Masquerading the Masquerade, but out-Masquerading the Masquerade may only replicate the Masquerade, and many of her moves actively further Masquerade goals.  The ending is the conceit, and the ending is viciously ambivalent.  But I think that’s Dickinson’s entire project, and I’m eager to see where he takes it in the promised sequel.

That said, this is a book about the full court press of modern kyriarchy—the Masquerade are viciously exploitative, racist, sexist, and homophobic to the foundations of their thought; doublethink and desire suppression and false consciousness and bordering infinities are tools in their arsenal.  People who do what they want pay horrible prices here, if what they want doesn’t align precisely with the Masquerade’s exploitative, racist, sexist, homophobic worldview, and to succeed at her quest, Baru must appear to conform to those standards.  (Which often means actually conforming, outwardly—see previous graf.)  It made me feel the costs and sorrow of living under such pressure, in such a system, in my gut, but then, while I was joking a few grafs ago when I said technocratic hegemonic high modernist kyriarchy was The Song of My People, I wasn’t wrong.  As someone who’s about as privileged as I can be without being me and also rich (as I’ve mentioned before), such oppression isn’t my day-to-day lived experience—I can be struck and harrowed by Invisible Man, for example, it can (and does) inform my life and politics and art, but I don’t live Invisible Man, which, hard to deny that changes my experience of the text, is all I’m saying.   Someone on the day-to-day receiving end of the kinds of oppression this book depicts and damns might have a different experience of it than mine.  This is vicious and complicated stuff.

(I’m reminded here of a great scene in early Family Guy: Peter’s in prison, and a huge inmate has threatened to shiv him at midnight.  Peter’s freed a few minutes before the hour.  The inmate arrives at the promised time, with his knife, and finds the cell empty.  Sits on the bed.  Stares at his knife.  Gets a sort of wondering expression on his face.  “Hmmm….”  Stabs himself, shallowly, in the gut.  “OW!”  Stares in horror at the blood, the knife.  “Is that what I’ve been doing to people all this time?  I belong here.”)

Dickinson and I had a great conversation on a while back about all these questions, which you should go read if you haven’t already!  My blurb compares his book to DUNE; there’s not much higher praise you’re gonna get from me.

Out September 29

Last Song Before Night, by Ilana C Myer – I’ve not read this book either!  Myer and I share an editor, and I keep hinting, but I still haven’t read this book! *Glares at editor with great glares.*  But she and I have talked about her project—a fantasy about art and music and creation and growth—and I’m so looking forward to taking a nice long late September evening with this novel and a very large cup of tea.  Join me.  Join me in tea and late September and Last Song Before Night.