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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Bear’

This July: the Tor Books Big Summer Road Trip!

Hello, friends!  Excited for Last First Snow?  I know I am!  And so’s the LA Times, which is pretty cool.  The big news today is that I’m gearing up for a tour—and not just any tour, but Tor Books’ Big Summer Road Trip!

This July, Elizabeth Bear, Brian StaveleyJames Cambias, and I will gang together on a tour of joint signings and events throughout the American Northeast, something like the Muppet Movie meets Fury Road only with more books and d20s.  (The internet has not yet supplied a recut of Fury Road to Movin’ Right Along.  BEHOLD MY DISAPPOINTMENT.)  We’ll be traveling for two weeks between ReaderCon and GenCon.  We have epic fantasy! Steampunk! Near future space piracy technothrillers! Necrothrillers!  What more could you want?

Nothing, I say.  Nothing at all.  Details below!

(Oh, and if you can’t wait, we have a few giveaways of Last First Snow on deck—Tor’s running one, and the Goodreads drawing is still open!)

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015 @ 7:00pm

Harvard Book Store – Cambridge, MA

Thursday, July 16, 2015 @ 7:00pm

Pandemonium – Cambridge, MA
Author Pathfinder Game sponsored by Paizo!

Friday, July 17, 2015 @ 6: 00pm

Odyssey Bookshop – South Hadley, MA

Saturday July 18, 2015 @ 1:00pm – 3:00pm

Friends of the Simsbury Library – Simsbury, CT

Sunday, July 19, 2015 @ 1:00pm

Bank Square Books – Mystic, CT

Monday, July 20, 2015 @ 7:00pm

Ferguson Library – Stamford, CT

Wednesday, July 22, 2015 @ 7:00pm

Towne Book Center – Collegeville, PA

Moderated by Chris Urie from Geekadelphia

Friday, July 24, 2015 @ 6:00pm

Northshire Books – Saratoga Springs, NY

Saturday, July 25, 2015 @ 6:00pm

Everyone’s Books – Brattleboro, VT

Sunday, July 26, 2015 @ 2:00pm

Phoenix Books – Burlington, VT
Hosted by Geek Mountain State

I hope to see you there!

Choice of the Deathless: a XYZZY Award finalist! And Fan Art! And things!

I’m in the middle of a, um, let’s call it moderately insane work cycle—writing one book at the same time as editing another, which should be possible in theory but involves a lot of gear-grinding and clutchless shifting in practice.  Both the next two books will be really good if I can bring the writing in line with my vision, though.  Y’all are in for a treat.

Interesting corollary: I seem to have become a better writer since mid-March, which was the last time I edited the next Craft book.  Or I’ve become a more exacting editor, one or the other.  What this means line by line is, I spend hours pacing and grumbling about a thorny issue of rhythm or rhyme; not the most pleasant experience, but the only way to get work done to spec and to standard.  Fortunately I have rewards in store once I hand in this manuscript: Felix Gilman’s The Revolutions, Hannu Rajaniemi’s Causal Angel (which comes out around my birthday!), and Jo Walton’s new book.  I’d include Elizabeth Bear’s The Steles of the Sky on that list but I’ve already read it, HA HA HA—which is no excuse for you, if you haven’t.  GO FORTH AND READ.

Anyway! All of that was a lead-up to saying that I lack brainspace for deep criticism this week.  Roll Cool Stuff Reel instead!

Choice of the Deathless Nominated for XYZZY Awards!

The annual XYZZY Interactive Fiction Awards were held at the beginning of the month, and Choice of the Deathless, my Craft Sequence choose-your-own-undead-legal-career-and-try-not-to-get-murdered game, was nominated for best setting and best NPCs!  It was an honor to be nominated, especially as someone coming from pretty far outside the modern IF community.  I didn’t win—I know it’s sort of funny to be announcing my nomination after the awards are in, but unlike the Hugo Awards, it doesn’t cost anything to vote in the XYZZYs which means vote mongering is a huge risk and I wanted to avoid any appearance of that—but I had an excellent time, and damn is there good writing in the IF scene.  It’s wild to discover work like Tom McHenry’s Dick-esque Horse Master, Porpentine’s game of abuse-survival-and-angel-fighting Their angelical understanding, and her equally insane subversive gut-punch ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III (If you’re going to play UBTIII, by the way, and you should, there’s one puzzle for which you’ll need this file).  I haven’t had enough time to play all this year’s XYZZY finalists, but I will, and you can bet I’ll have a close eye on the nomination list next year.  The full list is here.

Fan Art!

Deviantart user Piarelle hooked me up with some more fan art based on Choice of the Deathless—here’s a picture of R’ok, looking awfully polite for a demon mantis, and here we have a mild (but super cute) spoiler for a couple romantic endings of the series.

After all, just because you’re a skeleton doesn’t mean romance is out of the question.

And no, I’m not going to link to the relevant Oglaf comic. 🙂

Board Game Updates!

I played my first game with the Eclipse expansion packs (Rise of the Ancients and Ship Pack One) this Sunday; the Alien Homeworlds make sub-six player games much more interesting, and the new player races are warped in cool ways.  Right now the Syndicate seem powerful—but some of that may have just been chance.  Also, if you’re interested in spaceship fighting but can’t afford a three hour playtime, permit me to suggest Quantum, a sorta-4X that’s massively customizable, replayable, and portable, and evokes the spirit of a Vorkosigan Saga-esque space opera story better than anything I’ve ever seen.

What do I mean by that?  Quantum is a game of moving dice-ships (a very cool mechanic—d6s stand in for spaceships, with higher-number dice moving further while lower numbers pack more of a punch in combat) around the map, trying to muster the right combination of ships to orbit and conquer planets before your friends do.  Each of the six types of ship has its own special ability—and critically you don’t get to control what ships you deploy.  Each time you build a ship, you roll a die and decide where to place the resulting “spaceship” on the map!  On your turn, you’ll find yourself surveying a tiny and dispersed fleet composed of ships you never would have chosen, desperate to stop your fellow players from winning—or to conquer a new planet of your own somehow.  Whatever solution you find, it’s likely to be some insane combination of special abilities, luck, and lateral thinking, the kind of mad edge-case victory I love in the Vorkosigan books but rarely see captured in 4X gameplay.  Somehow Quantum gets you there 90% of the time, in explosive and kinetic fashion.  And all this in 45 minutes a game!  (Though they’re like french fries—you can’t have just one…)  If this sounds like your kind of thing, I strongly suggest you check it out.

And that’s all I have for you this week!  Be well, and if you’re in Mass. dress warm these next couple days.  April’s taking that whole “cruelest month” reputation to heart.

Sacred Kingship in Fantasy (and the Wolf of Wall Street)

As a fantasy writer, I have a chip on my shoulder about monarchies.

There are good reasons for this!  It’s pretty weird for fantasy lit to embrace a form of government that, when it survives at all in the modern day, tends to fall somewhere between a charming affectation and a confusing throwback.  So many books about rightful kings and the return of a grand  sovereign who will Fix Everything.  So many destined heroes and heroines.  Blood royal by the gallon.  And to make matters worse, some fantasy novels consume hundreds of pages taking nuanced and risky political positions like “serfdom is bad” or “maybe some people who are not aristocrats would be good at governing,” which seems to me the political equivalent of singing the Welsh longbow’s praises to the 1st Infantry Division.

Now, the genre’s been veering away from this rock.  The Lies of Locke Lamorra and The Name of the Wind, both wildly successful in the field, have hardly any kings at all.  China Mieville’s fantasies engage with 19th-century through postmodern modes of oppression and government.  The Shattered Pillars is in some ways a restoration-of-the-King fantasy, but one of the central noble characters has explicitly rejected any path to the throne or to aristocratic power generally, and the other spends a lot more of the first book wanting to save his commoner girlfriend than he does thinking about Ascending to the Throne.  Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo isn’t concerned with medieval kingship.  Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death isn’t either, though it’s a postapocalyptic fantasy and doesn’t belong in the same category as the others I’ve listed here.  I have my necromancer-lawyers in a fantasy analogue of late-millennial capitalism.  But still, the issue of kings arises.

I’ve wrestled with this question on and off for years, and this year I ended up on a panel called Why Root for Monarchies?, moderated by Vanessa Layne.  I went in raring for revolution—and then Ms. Layne mentioned that she approached the topic from her background in Jungian analysis.

At which point a lightbulb clicked on in my brain.

Because stories are dreams, in a way.  And we are everyone in our dreams—father, mother, kitten, needle-toothed-monstrosity.  (At least, this is an interpretive framework I’ve found useful.)  When we’re writing about kings, we’re writing about ourselves as kings of ourselves.

Because we are all kings, aren’t we?  Or queens.  Reigning monarchs, whatever our gender.

By which I mean: we stand in the center of our own minds—of our awareness that fills the universe we know (by definition).  The decisions we make every day shape that universe.  When the monarch of our mind is diseased, warped, evil, then the land—the mental land, the soulscape—twists and decays.  When the monarch of our mind is just, upright, generous, and kind, the land calms, and flourishes.  Possibilities grow.  New life enters the world.  Nothing can live in the land of the evil king because the evil king allows nothing to live there—nothing surprising, nothing beautiful, nothing that can flourish or transform or challenge.  The good king welcomes, and so allows growth, transformation, and the full richness of the world.

So a certain kind of spiritual kingship story can be profoundly democratic.  Most of our talk about the Campbellian monomyth and mystic kingship misses this critical point: if the monomyth is an initiation ritual, it’s a ritual which all members of society must undergo.  It’s not something special, a secret marker for kings or tribal leaders; all adults of the tribe walk this path.  To reach adulthood is to be Luke Skywalker, or Arthur, or Aerin-sol.

And when I say all members of society I do mean all.  Monomyth discussion can get weird and gender-essentialist for historically contingent reasons—but I don’t see anything gendered about the need to achieve generative agency in our own minds and lives.

This same kind of logic shows up in Vajrayana Buddhism, too—tantric meditation refigures the adept as an enlightened divine being in the center of a mandala-palace.  Every single adept.  Initiations are large ceremonies: thousands of people are all being told at once, “Envision yourself as a divine being at the center of the universe.”

So, am I giving monarch-apologist fiction a free pass?  No.  The spiritual self-rule I’m talking about (which by the way also plays nice with Christian theology; if you think what I’m describing sounds awfully prideful I humbly submit to you Augustine’s discussion about standing upright in The City of God, not to mention Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor scene from Bros. K) is the absolute reality; secular kingship is the shadow that reality casts on the cave wall.  To play in this territory, stories need to guide the reader away from the shadow, to the reality.  To make Arthur a secular Christ, storytellers gave him a mystic birth, a wizard advisor, draconic signifiers, a magical sword, tragedy and destiny and the Holy Grail and Green Men and all the like precisely because these things were weird.  These are symbols that Arthur exists in the realm of the sublime, of the archetype—White’s “Island of Gramarye” where you and I shall fare.

The funny thing is, because of their success, these same symbols have become so common as to be seen to define a world in which they make sense.  Rather than pointing us away from the cave wall, they posit another cave wall with a slightly different topology and physics.  When the reaction to the phrase “this is a magic sword” is not a feeling of wonder and awe—of being invited into the sublime by an object’s presence— but instead the question “is it more, or less, magic than that guy’s magic sword?” then I think it’s safe to say we’re back from the clouds and rooted once more in the mundane world, no matter how many wizards are whizzing about.

I don’t mean that rules-based high fantasy cannot evoke the sublime; it just has to evoke the sublime in such a way as to signify that something outlandish is taking place even by the standards of an outlandish world.  The Lord of the Rings does this well.  So does Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry.  So do Ursula K LeGuin’s Earthsea books—Earthsea’s magic is systematized, but by pressing around its edges LeGuin turns us again and again to the sublime.

And, of course, it’s possible to deal with these questions without any literal monarchs whatsoever!  Which brings me to The Wolf of Wall Street.

Wolf presents two opposed versions of adult manhood: Jordan Belfort, introduced riding a white Porche getting a blow job from his supermodel wife, and Patrick Denham, the FBI agent investigating Belfort for fraud.  Belfort’s character is presented as a secular monarch of US culture.  He has the castle, the millions, the everything.  Denham wears a decent suit, and rides the subway to work.  His scenes are tinged a slight gray, with washed-out colors.

Wolf of Wall Street, I think, is a brilliant depiction of the Wasteland of the Evil King.  In Belfort’s world, no one is old.  In Belfort’s world, no one is wise.  In Belfort’s world, there are no black people except for his female housekeeper.  In Belfort’s world, women exist entirely for sex and money laundering—and (this is my favorite bit) he’s not even any good at the sex!  Sexuality defines his physical life and the few times we see him get busy, he’s horrible at it.  Like, fourteen-year-old-boy-in-back-of-Dad’s-Camero, “um-shit-where-does-this-bit-go” horrible.  And at the apex of Belfort’s anti-initiation, the moment of grail-finding in a spiritual kingship narrative?  He finds his Grail, the ur-Quaalude, consumes it and transforms into an infant, unable to speak or walk or even crawl, in one of the best sequences of physical comedy I’ve ever seen in a movie.  For all the lushness of his surroundings, he inhabits a blasted land.  (Come to think, he’s just as bad at drugs as he is at sex!)

The few scenes which we don’t see through Belfort’s eyes we see (with one brief exception) through Denham’s—and these are the only scenes where the movie shows us women who aren’t airbrushed supermodels.  Near the end, we join Denham on the subway; a silent, unsensational minute or two of film in which he reads the paper, sets it down, and sits alongside the usual inhabitants of a New York subway car, old and young, of a range of body types and skin colors and styles of dress and affect.  No one talks, but they are there, being themselves.  No one needs to serve anyone.  The scene transcends in just how uncanny it feels, how different: how much it shows Belfort’s fantasyland for the husk it is.  Denham is the sacred king.  Belfort is doomed to himself.  And the film’s last shot indicts us for how hungry we are for secular kingship, and how little we understand the sacred variety.

In sum: the Monarchies panel reminded me of a symbolic role kingship plays in stories that I’d forgotten.  The role is complicated, though, and it’s not about kingship so much as initiation, ascendancy, and adulthood—about becoming.  Shiny hats might help get the point across, but shiny hat and throne are only trappings of a deeper reality.  The reality deserves our striving.  The trappings don’t deserve much at all, really.


(All that said—I had an awesome time at Arisia.  Great panels, great questions, great thought.  Still recovering, but that’s to be expected.  Thanks to the whole con team, and especially to Shira Lipkin, who organized the Literary track!)


Going Home, Plus Giveaways, Plus Elizabeth Bear Likes My Book!

Four days, four signings, four cities, and now I’m going home!  It’s been loads of fun to travel up and down the west coast, meeting people and signing books.  Some great questions, including one from SF about the ways theology could enlighten, or deepen, understanding of markets & capitalism that I’ve been mulling over nonstop for the last couple days.  In some ways those are my favorite types of question because they open up huge new vistas of inquiry, but I always feel I don’t do them justice on the spot, & end up flailing around.  This is the point in the academic version of the book signing where I’d be able to smile and say, “that’s a very interesting question, and would be grounds for further inquiry,” and wink meaningfully in the direction of whatever grant-granting authority happened to be nearby.

I need to go play Security Tango (literally, I opt-out in TSA lines), but here are a few links Which May Amuse You:

First, I’m giving away a few copies of Three Parts Dead on reddit’s r/Fantasy community!  The giveaway doubles as a contest for identifying awesome fantasy writing; for rules and to enter, go to the contest page.  Even if you don’t win, it’s turning to a ‘best lines of all time in genre fiction’ list, which is awesome because genre fiction has some of the best lines.

Also! On the most recent issue of SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear (!!!) talks about how much she liked Three Parts Dead.  Which is totally awesome, and makes me feel all kinds of warm and bubbly inside.

Okay, time to go act in the No drama of TSA.  Catch you all on the flip side!