Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Memory of Gabriel García Márquez, 6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014

"When I finished one book, I wouldn't write for a while," he said in 1966. "Then I had to learn how to do it all over again. The arm goes cold; there's a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing."
- Gabriel García Márquez

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Journey Through the Past: MS Dos 6.22, Windows 3.11, 1GB HDD

I'm getting ready to retire my Windows XP box (more on this in a future blog post), now that Microsoft is no longer supporting XP. While preparing for this event -- and process: more than 50 software applications to install on the new system when it arrives! -- I was sorting through some boxes of old files and software....

In 1995 I was finally ready to purchase my first Microsoft Windows computer (up to this point I was all Apple). But I didn't want an off-the-shelf box -- in fact, in 1995, I'm not even sure you could buy an OTS PC. So I arranged a lunch meeting in Sunnyvale (California) with my best friend Randy Davis, who worked for Lockheed at the time, and one of his best friends, Kelly Floyd, who, I believe, worked for Hewlett-Packard. And, during lunch, the three of us built -- on paper -- a top-of-the-line Windows PC. Don't forget, this was 1995.

So while I was sorting through those boxes I mentioned above, I came across the original invoice for the purchase of that first PC -- almost 19 years to the day -- on April 15, 1995.


































Since this JPG of the invoice is a bit difficult to read, here's a link to the PDF version -- much brighter and easier to read, though I can only post the link to the document.

But for those who aren't into JPGs or links to PDFs, here is the parts list direct from the invoice:

INTEL P5 PCI MOTHERBOARD 90 W/IDE U00726593
INTEL PENTIUM-9O CPU L502376050179
MID TOWER CASE
8M SIMM (72 PINS) Bl09
MITSUMI l.44M FLOPPY DRIVE 2839806
WESTERN DIGITAL 1GB IDE HARD DRIVE WT2720648236
SPIDER TARANTULA PCI SVGA 2M VIDEO VRAM 16217
MITSUMI 101-KEYS KEYBOARD
MICROSOFT MOUSE (OEM)
MICROSOFT WINDOWS 3.11
MICROSOFT DOS 6.22
SOUND BLASTER 16 SCSI OEM 073320
75W SPEAKERS
PLEXTOR CD ROM 4X SCSI 43CSO35795
850 MB TAPE BACK CONNOR DC013PV
CPU HEAT SINK & FAN FOR P5-75/90/100

Mind-boggling, isn't it: DOS! Windows 3.11. Western Digital, one of the best hard drives at the time, with a whopping 1GB of storage (I now have a 32GB thumbdrive that I use with my Nexus 7 tablet!), along with a tape backup! Thank gawd I never had to actually use that tape backup to recover files or data.... The Spider Tarantula video card and Sound Blaster sound card were state-of-the-art. And 8 Megs of RAM!

The total price, including sales tax (7.75% in 1995 -- which is quite surprising considering that the current sales tax is only one percent more): $3,325.74. That was not a cheap PC.

Of course, HKG Computers in Sunnyvale is no longer with us; probably hasn't been located in that store front for more than a decade. A lot has changed since then.

---------------
Special thanks to Neil Young for the loan of the title Journey Through the Past.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 3 of 3)

What You Are About To See
by Jack Skillingstead


[Continued from Part 2]


Probabilities shuffled...

* * * *

I woke up next to my wife. In the ticking darkness of our bedroom I breathed a name: "Andy."

Connie shifted position, cuddling into me. Her familiar body. I put my arm around her and stared into the dark, hunting elusive memories. Without them I wasn't who I thought I was. After a while Connie asked:

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I think I was having a dream about Andy McCaslin. It woke me up."

"Who?"

"Guy I knew from the Rangers, long time ago. I told you about him. We were friends."

Connie suppressed a yawn. "He died, didn't he? You never said how."

"Covert op in Central America. He found himself in the custody some rebels."

"Oh."

"They kept him alive for weeks while they interrogated him."

"God. Are you—"

"That was decades ago, Con. Dreams are strange, sometimes."

I slipped out of the bed.

"Where are you going?"

"Have some tea and think for a while. My night's shot anyway."

"Want company?"

"Maybe I'll sit by myself. Go back to sleep. You've got an early one."

"Sure? I could make some eggs or something."

"No, I'm good."

But I wasn't. In my basement office, consoling tea near at hand, I contemplated my dead friend and concluded he wasn't supposed to be that way. My old dreams of pain surged up out of the place at the bottom of my mind, the place that enclosed Andy and what I knew had happened to him, the place of batteries and alligator clips, hemp ropes, sharpened bamboo slivers, the vault of horrors far worse than any I'd endured as a child and from which I fled to the serenity of an office cubicle and regular hours.

But that wasn't supposed to have happened, not to Andy. I rubbed my temple, eyes closed in the dim basement office, and suddenly a word spoke itself on my lips:

Squidward.

* * * *

My name is Brian Kinney, and today I am not an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic who could not restrain his demons. During my childhood those demons frequently emerged to torment me and my mother. Dad's goodness, which was true and present, was not enough to balance the equation between pain and love. I had been skewing toward my own demon-haunted landscape when Andy McCaslin took my gun from my hand and balanced out the equation for me.

My new world order.

* * * *

I'm driving through the moonless Arizona desert at two o'clock in the morning, looking for a turn-off that doesn't exist. After an hour or so a peculiar, hovering pink light appears in the distance, far off the road. I slow, angle onto the berm, ease the Outback down to the desert floor, and go bucketing overland toward the light.

* * * *

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 2 of 3)

"What You Are About To See"
by Jack Skillingstead

[Continued from Part 1]


The moon was a white poker chip. The desert slipped past us, cold blue with black ink shadows. We rode in Andy's private vehicle, a late model Jeep Cherokee. He had already been driving all day, having departed from the L.A. office that morning, dropping everything to pursue "something like a dream" that had beckoned to him.

"Care to reveal our destination?" I asked.

"I don't want to tell you anything beforehand. It might influence you, give you some preconception. Your mind has to be clear or this won't work."

"Okay, I'll think only happy thoughts."

"Good. Hang on, by the way."

He slowed then suddenly pulled off the two-lane road. We jolted over desert hardpan. Scrub brush clawed at the Cherokee's undercarriage.

"Ah, the road's back thataway," I said.

He nodded and kept going. A bumpy twenty minutes or so passed. Then we stopped, for no obvious reason, and he killed the engine. I looked around. We were exactly in the middle of nowhere. It looked a lot like my personal mental landscape.

"I know this isn't a joke," I said, "because you are not a funny guy."

"Come on."

We got out. Andy was tall, Scotch-Irish, big through the shoulders and gut. He was wearing a sheepskin jacket, jeans and cowboy boots. A real shit-kickin' son of a bitch. Yee haw. He had a few other sheepskins somewhere, but his walls were wearing those. I followed him away from the Jeep.

"Tell me what you see," he said.

I looked around.

"Not much."

"Be specific."

I cleared my throat. "Okay. Empty desert, scrub brush, cactus. Lots of sand. There is no doubt a large population of venomous snakes slithering underfoot looking for something to bite, though I don't exactly see them. There's also a pretty moon in the sky. So?"

I rubbed my hands together, shifted my feet. I'd worn a Sun Devils sweatshirt, which was insufficient. Besides that I could have used a drink. But of course these days I could always use a drink. After a lifetime of grimly determined sobriety I'd discovered that booze was an effective demon-suppressor and required exactly the opposite of willpower, which is what I'd been relying on up till Connie's death. I have no idea what my father's demons might have been. He checked out by a self-inflicted route before we got around to discussing that. I almost did the same a couple of years later, while in the thick of Ranger training, where I'd fled in desperate quest of discipline and structure and a sense of belonging to something. Andy talked me out of shooting myself and afterwards kept the incident private. I sometimes wondered whether he regretted that. Offing myself may have been part of a balancing equation designed to subtract a measure of suffering from the world.

Now, in the desert, he withdrew a pack of Camels from his coat pocket and lit up. I remembered my dad buying his packs at the 7-Eleven, when I was a little kid.

"Hey, you don't smoke," I said to Andy.

"I don't? What do you call this?" He waved the cigarette at me. "Look, Brian, what would you say if I told you we were standing outside a large military instillation?"

"I'd say okay, but it must be invisible."

"It is."

I laughed. Andy didn't.

"Come on," I said.

"All right, it's not invisible. But it's not exactly here, either."

"That I can see. Can't see?"

"Close your eyes."

"Then I won't be able to see anything, including the invisible military instillation."

"Do it anyway," he said. "Trust me. I've done this before. So have you, probably."

I hesitated. Andy was a good guy—my friend, or the closest thing to one that I'd ever allowed. But it now crossed my mind that my informal status vis-à-vis the Agency was about to become terminally informal. Certainly there was precedent. We who work on the fringes where the rules don't constrain our actions are also subject to the anything-goes approach on the part of our handlers. Was I on the verge of being...severed? By Andy McCaslin? He stood before me with his damn cigarette, smoke drifting from his lips, his eyes black as oil in the moonlight.

"Trust me, Brian."

Maybe it was the lingering wine buzz. But I decided I did trust him, or needed to, because he was the only one I ever had trusted. I closed my eyes. The breeze carried his smoke into my face. My dad had been redolent of that stink. Not a good sense-memory. But when I was little I loved the look of the cigarette cartons and packages, the way my dad would say, Pack a Camels non-filter, and the clerk would turn to the rack behind him and pick out the right one, like a game show.

"Now relax your mind," Andy said.

"Consider it relaxed, Swami."

"Try to be serious."

"I'll try."

"Remember the empty mind trick they taught us, in case we ever got ourselves captured by unfriendlies?"

"Sure."

"Do that. Empty your mind."

It was easy, and I didn't learn it from the Army. I learned it at my father's knee, you might say. Survival technique number one: Empty your mind. Don't be there. Don't hear the screaming, even your own.

Andy said, "I'm going to say a word. When I do, let your mind fill with whatever the word evokes."

I nodded, waited, smelling the Camel smoke, my head not empty in the way Andy wanted it to be. I was too preoccupied by a memory of smoke.

"Arrowhead," Andy said.

I felt...something.

Andy said, "Shit. And then, "What you are about to see is real. Okay, open your eyes."

We were now standing outside a 7-Eleven store. The desert ran right up to the walls. A tumbleweed bumped against the double glass doors. The interior was brightly lit. In the back I could make out a pair of Slurpee machines slow-swirling icy drinks in primary colors. After a while I closed my mouth and turned to Andy.

"Where the hell did this come from?"

"Instant Unconsciously Directed Association. You like that? I made it up. Only I don't know why this should be your Eyeooda for Arrowhead. I was hoping you'd bring up the real place. Anyway, let's go inside while it lasts."

He started forward but I grabbed his arm.

"Wait a minute. Are we still operating under the disengagement of preconceived notions policy, or whatever?"

He thought about it for a moment then said, "I guess not, now that we're sharing a consensus reality. Brian, this 7-Eleven is actually the Arrowhead Installation."

The coal of an extinguished memory glowed dimly. I knew Arrowhead, or thought I did. A top secret base located more or less in that part of the Arizona desert in which we now found ourselves. Or was/did it? The memory was so enfeebled that if I didn't hold it just so it would blow away like dandelion fluff. Still, this wasn't a military base; it was a convenience store.

"Bullshit?" I said.

Do you remember Arrowhead?" Andy asked.

"Sort of. What is this, what's going on?"

"Listen to me, Brian. We finally got one. We finally got an honest to God extraterrestrial—and it's in there."

"In the 7-Eleven."

"No. In the Arrowhead facility that looks like a 7-Eleven in our present consensus reality. The alien is hiding itself and the installation in some kind of stealth transdimensional mirror trick, or something. I've been here before. So have you. Our dreams can still remember. I've come out to the desert—I don't know, dozens of times? I've talked to it, the alien. It shuffles reality. I keep waking up, then going back to sleep. Here's the thing. It can cloak its prison, reinterpret its appearance, but it can't escape."

I regarded him skeptically, did some mental shuffling of my own, discarded various justifiable but unproductive responses, and said: "What's it want?"

"It wants you to let it go."

"Why me?"

"Ask it yourself. But watch out. That little fucker is messing with our heads."

* * * *

Monday, April 7, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 1 of 3)

Alien ContactIn 2011, prior to the release of my Alien Contact anthology (from Night Shade Books), I decided to take a different approach to introducing the anthology to readers: Instead of simply listing the table of contents -- a boring list of story titles and authors' names -- I blogged about each story, one story per week for 26 weeks. Of course, about four or five weeks into the project I realized the magnitude of the task I had set for myself: 26 weeks, one-half of a year! I won't go into the details here, you can check out my "Alien Contact" page where you'll find a listing of all the related blog posts.

As part of this project I obtained permission from a number of authors to post the complete text of their stories. Most of the stories were posted here, on More Red Ink. One story, however, Jack Skillingstead's "What You Are About To See," was posted on the Night Shade Books website and also on the NSB Facebook page. So it was to my surprise -- and dismay -- to discover a few weeks ago that the story had been wiped from both the NSB website and Facebook page.

After conferring with Jack Skillingstead, we agreed that the story should remain available online (and free) for future readers -- and so I am posting the story here (below) in three parts. I encourage you to first read my original blog post on the story, which provides the genesis and history of the story as well as how I selected it for the anthology.

And now, enjoy....



"What You Are About To See"
by Jack Skillingstead
(©2008 by Jack Skillingstead.
Reprinted with permission of the author.)


It sat in a cold room.

Outside that room a Marine handed me an insulated suit. I slipped it on over my street clothes. The Marine punched a code into a numeric keypad attached to the wall. The lock snapped open on the heavy door, the Marine nodded, I entered.

Andy McCaslin, who looked like an overdressed turnip in his insulated suit, greeted me and shook my hand. I'd known Andy for twenty-five years, since our days in Special Forces. Now we both worked for the NSA, though you could say my acronym was lowercase. I operated on the margins of the Agency, a contract player, an accomplished extractor of information from reluctant sources. My line of work required a special temperament, which I possessed and which Andy most assuredly did not. He was a true believer in the rightness of the cause, procedure, good guys and bad. I was like Andy's shadow twin. He stood in the light, casting something dark and faceless, which was me.

It remained seated—if you could call that sitting. Its legs, all six of them, coiled and braided like a nest of lavender snakes on top of which the alien's frail torso rested. That torso resembled the upper body of a starving child, laddered ribs under parchment skin and a big stretched belly full of nothing. It watched us with eyes like two thumbnail chips of anthracite.

"Welcome to the new world order," Andy said, his breath condensing in little gray puffs.

"Thanks. Anything out of Squidward yet?"

"Told us it was in our own best interests to let him go, then when we wouldn't it shut up. Only 'shut up' isn't quite accurate, since it doesn't vocalize. You hear the words in your head, or sometimes there's just a picture. It was the picture it put in the Secretary's head that's got everybody's panties in a knot."

"What picture?"

"Genocidal carnage on a planet-wide scale."

"Sounds friendly enough."

"There's a backroom theory that Squidward was just showing the Secretary his own secret wet dream. Anyway, accepting its assertions of friendliness at face value is not up to me. Off the record, though, my intuition tells me its intentions are benign."

"You look tired, Andy."

"I feel a little off," he said.

"Does Squidward always stare like that."

"Always."

"You're certain it still has the ability to communicate? Maybe the environment's making it sick."

"Not according to the medical people. Of course, nothing's certain, except that Squidward is a non-terrestrial creature possessed of an advanced technology. Those facts are deductible. By the way, the advanced technology in question is currently bundled in a hanger not far from here. What's left looks like a weather balloon fed through a shredder. Ironic?"

"Very." I hunched my shoulders. "Cold in here."

"You noticed."

"Squidward likes it that way, I bet."

"Loves it."

"Have you considered warming things up?"

Andy gave me a sideways look. "You thinking of changing the interrogation protocols?"

"If I am it wouldn't be in that direction."

"No CIA gulag in Romania, eh."

"Never heard of such a thing."

"I'd like to think you hadn't."

Actually I was well familiar with the place, only it was in Guatemala, not Romania. At its mention a variety of horrors arose in my mind. Some of them had faces attached. I regarded them dispassionately, as I had when I saw them in actuality all those years ago, and then I replaced them in the vault from which their muffled screams trouble me from time to time.

Andy's face went slack and pale.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. All of a sudden I feel like I'm not really standing here."

He smiled thinly, and I thought he was going to faint. But as I reached out to him I suddenly felt dizzy myself, afloat, contingent. I swayed, like balancing on the edge of a tall building. Squidward sat in its coil of snakes, staring...

* * * *

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Received: Lovecraft's Monsters

Lovecraft's MonstersBack in July 2013 I published a blog post entitled "Do You Fear Lovecraft's Monsters?" -- referring to the anthology Lovecraft's Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow, which I had just finished copy editing at the time of the blog post.

The anthology has now been officially released by Tachyon Publications, and should be available from booksellers, real and virtual, everywhere.

And this post is just to acknowledge receipt of my comp copy, courtesy of Tachyon Pubs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Editing in Process...Nancy Kress

Yesterday's Kin
Cover art by Thomas Canty
About two years ago, I worked on a Nancy Kress novella for Tachyon Publications. That novella, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall -- which I blogged about here -- won the Nebula Award last year, as well as the Locus Award, and was also a finalist for both the Hugo Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

So when I was called upon to copy edit the new, forthcoming novella, Yesterday's Kin, I knew that I would be working on another potential award-winning story. The author is, after all, Nancy Kress!

The difficulty I'm having in sharing details of this story is due to the fact that nearly anything I say about Yesterday's Kin will be a spoiler. It's that kind of story: right up in your face from the very first section. And trust me, that's a good thing.

So what I'm going to do is share with you first the advertising copy that Tachyon Publications is using for this novella. That's not to say there aren't spoilers here, but at least it's what the publisher and author are willing to release about the story line:

Aliens have landed in New York.

A deadly cloud of spores has already infected and killed the inhabitants of two worlds. Now that plague is heading for Earth, and threatens humans and aliens alike. Can either species be trusted to find the cure?

Geneticist Marianne Jenner is immersed in the desperate race to save humanity, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Siblings Elizabeth and Ryan are strident isolationists who agree only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Marianne's youngest, Noah, is a loner addicted to a drug that constantly changes his identity. But between the four Jenners, the course of human history will be forever altered.

Earth's most elite scientists have ten months to prevent human extinction—and not everyone is willing to wait.

The story is told from two alternating points-of-view, that of geneticist Marianne Jenner, and her youngest son Noah. Marianne is living in the lab, night and day, working with a team of scientists to try to find a cure for, or at least a vaccine against, the deadly spores. Noah, on the other hand, is less -- and more -- than what he initially appears to be. While Marianne seeks a cure, Noah seeks out the aliens. And what of these aliens? Many believe the "Denebs" have arrived on Earth merely to use humans as guinea pigs; Marianne and her fellow scientists trust the aliens, but there is a limit to that trust because the Denebs are not very forthcoming with their own research on the spores.

Here's a very brief excerpt from the story:

A spore cloud doesn't look like anything at all.

A darker patch in dark space, or the slightest of veils barely dimming starlight shining behind it. Earth's astronomers could not accurately say how large it was, or how deep. They relied on Deneb measurements, except for the one fact that mattered most, which human satellites in deep space and human ingenuity at a hundred observatories was able to verify: The cloud was coming. The path of its closest edge would intersect Earth's path through space at the time the Denebs had said: early September.

Marianne knew that almost immediately following the UN announcement, madness and stupidity raged across the planet. Shelters were dug or sold or built, none of which would be effective. If air could get in, so could spores. In Kentucky, some company began equipping deep caves with air circulation, food for a year, and high-priced sleeping berths: reverting to Paleolithic caveman. She paid no more attention to this entrepreneurial survivalism than to the televised protests, destructive mobs, peaceful marches, or lurid artist depictions of the cloud and its presumed effects. She had a job to do.

Yesterday's Kin will be published by Tachyon Publications in September; the book is available now for preorder.

Friday, March 14, 2014

City of Burning Shadows Revealed

City of Burning Shadows
Cover art by Jordan Grimmer

Joshua "Ash" Drake is a man in hiding.

Hiding from the past, from the horror of his life as a priest after the gods disappeared.

Hiding from his emotions, denying the nightmares that haunt his sleep and the anger that fuels his days.

Most of all, hiding from the truth―

that no matter how much he keeps his head down, no matter how he clings to the echoes of everyday life, his city—his world—is dying.

When a new technology offers salvation to his desperate city, Ash must reach out to people he left behind and step back into the world that almost killed him. But coming out of hiding now could be the worst mistake Ash has ever made.

Because there are monsters in the darkness, feeding the chaos, watching the city burn. And once those monsters know his name, Ash will never be able to hide again.


City of Burning Shadows is the first volume in Apocrypha: The Dying World, a new series from author Barbara J. Webb.

Back in mid-January, I posted about my work on Barbara's novel, which she planned to self-publish. At the time of my blog post, however, the cover art had not yet been finalized.

As you can see, not only is the cover art complete, but City of Burning Shadows is now available as a Kindle ebook as well as in a trade paperback print edition.

In that previous blog post I recommended that you make a note -- in whatever note-taking manner you utilize -- to add City of Burning Shadows to your forthcoming books list. Well, now is your opportunity to snag a copy of the book itself, show your support for an independent, self-publishing author, and enjoy a quality read as well.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Ebook Tango with Judith Moffett - Denouement

Tiny TangoFinally, Tiny Tango by Judith Moffett was published as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. I had the idea for an ebook (Step 1), we obtained a cover design based on an original Janet Aulisio black and white illustration (Step 2), and after much cursing at the Machine (Step 3) we had a published ebook.

So why "Tiny Tango"?

"Tiny Tango" the novella was a finalist for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; and as I mentioned in the first part of this series, had the James Tiptree Jr. Award been presented in 1990 (the first award was presented in 1991 so "TT" missed it by one year) I am certain that "Tiny Tango" would have made the short list, and quite possibly won the award for that year.

I first read "TT" in the February 1989 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. It was one of those stories that, when you came upon a certain scene, you could be heard saying out loud -- to yourself, to no one in particular -- "You gotta be kidding me!" I don't mean that in the sarcastic sense, or the "ha ha" sense, I mean it in the sense of scratching your head, realizing no one had written of this, and in this way, before. As I also previously mentioned, Matthew Cheney, in a Mumpsimus blog post in 2009, included "Tiny Tango" in his list of twenty-one "Mindblowing!" stories; Matthew went on to say:
"Tiny Tango" is a story I read when it first appeared in Asimov's, and it completely blew me away and broke my heart. I was young and just learning what science fiction could do, and it was one of the key stories in showing me the breadth of emotional and conceptual possibilities.
And here's what Judy wrote about the story, which appears on the next to the last page in the published ebook:
"Tiny Tango" forms Chapter 3 of The Ragged World, the first volume in Judith Moffett's Holy Ground Trilogy; the other two volumes are Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream, and The Bird Shaman. The trilogy deals with the arrival on earth of two symbiotic alien races, the Hefn and the Gafr, whose technology enables them to take control of the planet in an effort to save it from environmental disaster. The alien takeover is important at this story's end, but the tale of Nancy Sandford and her struggle to survive HIV stands by itself, enriched but not enabled by the larger context formed by the trilogy. Writing in 1987, Moffett's educated guesses about the course of the AIDS epidemic, its treatments and social consequences, fall wide of the mark. But it hardly matters. What we have here is not a predictive study of medical and technical know-how, but the timeless tale of a particular individual's refusal to accept defeat, the means she finds and invents to cope with a desperate plight. "Tiny Tango" was a finalist in the novella category for the Nebula Award in 1989, and for the Hugo Award in 1990. Volumes I and II of the Holy Ground Trilogy were named New York Times Notable Books for 1991 and 1992, respectively. "Tiny Tango" is also included in Ian Sales's list: "100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women."

How can you not want to read this story?


Note to book reviewers: If you have a book review blog and/or you review regularly on Goodreads and/or you review for the Kindle community, and you would like to review Tiny Tango, please send an email to: marty.halpern@gmail.com.

Include in the email a link to your book review blog, community, and/or your Goodreads book review page, and I'll be in touch. Keep in mind that you will be reviewing a Kindle mobi ebook.

Note to potential readers of The Holy Ground Trilogy: For those who may consider purchasing this trilogy, please be aware that signed (and inscribed, if you wish) copies of The Bird Shaman may be purchased directly from author Judith Moffett. Here's the link: you'll find the order form in the right frame of the web page.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Ebook Tango with Judith Moffett - Step 3

Tiny TangoWhen last we saw (virtually speaking, that is) the intrepid ebook adventurers:

In Step 1 I came up with the idea to publish Judith Moffett's award-nominated story Tiny Tango as a Kindle ebook; and by the end of Step 2, we had the final design for the ebook's cover.

But even before we had begun work on the book cover, Judy and I had already copy edited the story itself, multiple times in fact. Judy provided me with a Word file of the "Tiny Tango" story, we each did a copy edit, comparing notes and edits until we were both satisfied.

Not having created an ebook from scratch prior to this, I relied on the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) "Simplified Formatting Guide" on the KDP website.

After reviewing KDP's suggestions for what to include in the book, I then asked Judy to draft a dedication page as part of the front matter, and, for the back of the book, an author bio page as well as a page that would introduce readers to "Tiny Tango," its genesis and how it is part of a larger trilogy of novels. I in turn wrote the copyright page. And, as we are wont to do, all pages went through a series of tweaks and copy edits.

When I entered this additional content into the "Tiny Tango" Word doc, I took advantage of the hyperlink capability of a digital ebook: I entered links to Jenn Reese's Tiger Bright Studios and my More Red Ink blog on the copyright page; I entered links to Amazon for all three volumes of the Holy Ground Trilogy, of which "Tiny Tango" is just a small part, in addition to a few other appropriate links; and on Judy's bio page I linked to her website.

I know there are a variety of tools available for creating and formatting files for ebooks -- I have one author friend who uses Scrivener exclusively. But I'm an MS Word guy all the way. Here are a few noteworthy points for aspiring ebook publishers who use Word:
  • Use margin indents, rather than tabs or spaces, to set off each new paragraph.
  • Use page breaks to separate parts of the book (e.g. title page, copyright page, dedication page, preface, etc.) as well as to separate chapters within the story itself.
  • Use bold formatting and/or italics formatting when needed, as the conversion process will pick up these formats.
  • Insert images into the document using the Insert → Picture option from the menu; do not use cut&paste to insert images.

Since "Tiny Tango" was just a single story, I didn't need an "active" (i.e. hyperlinked) contents page, nor did I need to set up "Go To" functionality (Kindle users will understand this).

The one question that I had, though (at least as far as I knew at that point!), concerned the relationship between the book cover and the ebook: Did I need to insert the book cover into the MS Word file manually? Or, did the KDP conversion process do this for me? The KDP site has a number of instructional resources and FAQs, but I wasn't able to find my answer. So, based on what information I did have at the time, I assumed that I had to manually insert the cover image into the MS Word file. This, of course, turned out to be an incorrect assumption, which I figured out later, after the fact.

So, I inserted the "Tiny Tango" cover image as page one of the MS Word file; and then I inserted the full black and white illustration by Janet Aulisio on page 3, the page after the title page.

Speaking of image files, a couple other pointers: Amazon charges for digital transfer services, so you need to have your ebook file as small as possible. This means using the best image format, which is JPG, ensuring that the image size is no larger than absolutely necessary, and using image file compression as well. KDP also has dimension requirements for the ebook cover, but I wasn't worried because I knew Jenn Reese had our backs. She provided a cover image of 2250 x 3000 pixels, along with a smaller (600 x 800 pixels), thumbnail-size graphic.

At this point I was ready to save my completed MS Word file in the format that Amazon required: a "Web Page, Filtered" htm file. So far so good.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A few words from Steve Wozniak

If you love what you do and are willing to do what it takes, it's within your reach. And it'll be worth every minute you spend alone at night, thinking and thinking about what it is you want to design or build. It'll be worth it, I promise.
~ Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer


March 5, 1975: The Homebrew Computer Club had its first meeting 39 years ago today. Steve Wozniak was a founding member of this group of Silicon Valley computer hobbyists and he says that it inspired the design and development of the Apple I. (quote courtesy of Goodreads)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Ebook Tango with Judith Moffett - Step 2

Tiny TangoTo recap Step 1: Last fall I suggested to my friend, the author Judith Moffett, that she publish her Hugo and Nebula award-nominated story Tiny Tango as a Kindle ebook.

Of course, I knew up front that by making this suggestion I would be doing most of the technical heavy lifting on this project. And, for the most part, I thrive on this type of tech stuff, as Judy well knows. Except, that is, on those rare occasions when the hardware and/or software seems to be getting the better of me. Then it comes down to Man (me!) vs. Machine -- and I'm not going to lose to a machine! [And it would probably be best to not be within hearing range of me when such occasions arise.]

At this point in the process we had a full-size (2164 x 1755 pixels) JPG file of the "Tiny Tango" artwork by Janet Aulisio that graced the story's opening pages in the February 1989 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Our task was to somehow fit this two-page illo onto an ebook-sized cover -- with the appropriate typography -- and make it intriguing enough that readers just might want to purchase the ebook itself. So, I needed to find a quality graphic designer.

The first person I thought to contact was author Bradley P. Beaulieu. I worked for Brad on his self-published short fiction collection, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories (which I blogged about here). Brad recommended Jenn Reese, of Tiger Bright Studios: "She has a great eye for covers, charges a reasonable fee, and would have all the answers your friend needs in terms of direction for the cover." I couldn't ask for a better recommendation than that. Plus, when I checked out the Tiger Bright Studios website, I discovered a number of book titles by authors whom I knew personally, so that influenced my decision as well.

I made the initial contact with Jenn Reese, explained our need, and provided her with the b&w JPG file. Shortly thereafter, Judy took over the discussion, since she was the one to agree to terms and make all the final cover decisions.

Jenn first provided us with three options for how we might tackle the cover, keeping in mind that the graphic was much wider than a standard ebook cover. So to fit the entire illo on the cover, the graphic would have to be reduced in size considerably. Here are the three initial mockups that Jenn sent us:


Mockup #1

Mockup #2

Mockup #3

Though we wanted the full illustration on the cover, we certainly couldn't have all the white space that would entail; plus, all the fine detail that Janet Aulisio crafted into the illustration would be lost at this smaller scale. So, Judy opted for mockup #1, but with a change: the cover would feature just the reaper, but needed to include the reaper's scythe in full. And I then suggested that we include the full illustration within the ebook itself, after the title page.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Ebook Tango with Judith Moffett - Step 1

Tiny TangoOccasionally, I'll come up with a fairly cool idea. Not one that I've necessarily thought through completely, of course, but a cool idea nonetheless. The most recent instance of such a cool idea occurred this past fall when I contacted author Judith Moffett and suggested she publish her Hugo and Nebula award-nominated story "Tiny Tango" as an ebook.

[Additional award note: And I have no doubt that, had the James Tiptree, Jr. Award been presented in 1990 (for works published in 1989), "Tiny Tango" would also have made that award's short list, if not won the award outright.]

I blogged about Judith Moffett and her novels and stories back in 2010 (here). At the time I referenced -- and quoted from -- Matthew Cheney's Mumpsimus blog post in which he wrote about "Mindblowing" stories that affected him as both a reader and writer. One such story was "Tiny Tango."

Then, most recently, writer/critic/reviewer Ian Sales posted his list of "100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women," which also included "Tiny Tango." And that list was what pushed me over the edge, so to speak, and into said cool idea.

If you click on the Tiny Tango cover graphic pictured above, or the text link in this sentence, you will be swept away to Amazon's World of Kindle and to the Tiny Tango ebook listing: we were, in fact, successful in our efforts to publish the story as an ebook. But the path to get there, well, that's the story I'm about to tell you....


When "Tiny Tango" originally appeared in the February 1989 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, a black-and-white illustration by Janet Aulisio accompanied the opening pages of the story. Judith informed me that she owns the original illustration, which is currently mounted on the wall above her desk. She purchased it from the artist shortly after the story was published -- and assuming she can obtain permission to do so, she wants to use the illo for the cover of the Tiny Tango ebook.

So began our task of tracking down Janet Aulisio in order to obtain her permission. Following a lengthy online search on both our parts, we discovered that Ms. Aulisio has no online presence whatsoever: no website, no blog, no Facebook page, no storefront. Judith then contacted ASFA -- the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists -- only to learn that they were unable to help either: Janet Aulisio was not a member and they had no record of her contact information. A further web search yielded a 2012 interview with Ms. Aulisio, conducted by Scott Taylor for Black Gate magazine. So I emailed John O'Neill, the BG publisher, who put me in touch with Scott Taylor, who in turn passed on my contact info to Janet Aulisio. After Janet contacted me, I forwarded her email to Judith, and she obtained the artist's permission to use the illustration for the cover of the Tiny Tango ebook.

Judith then had the original b&w illustration scanned into a PDF, and I used a conversion tool to covert the PDF to a JPG file. So far so good.

copyright ©1989 by Janet Aulisio

Then one day, maybe a couple months or so after that cool idea first hit me, the light bulb finally lit: I have a black-and-white illustration to use for the book cover, an illustration that encompassed two facing pages when it appeared in Asimov's. But an ebook only has a front cover; there is no wrap-around cover art on an ebook, no landscape layout. How was I going to fit this illustration on the cover? And even if I could figure that out somehow, I didn't have the appropriate tools (e.g PaintShop or its equivalent), nor do I know how to use such tools, to create such a cover, and with the necessary typography, too. I will be the first to admit: I am not a graphic designer.

Though I didn't know how to do this myself, I did know people who could help me, or at least who could point me in the right direction.


To be continued:
The Ebook Tango with Judith Moffett - Step 2

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Editing in Process...Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely FineTachyon Publications has been making a name for itself over the past few years with the publication of award-nominated -- and award-winning -- novellas. Most recently, Nancy Kress's After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall (which I blogged about here) -- winner of the 2013 Nebula Award and a finalist for the Hugo Award; and Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul (which I blogged about here) -- winner of the 2013 Hugo Award. And forthcoming in June, The Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow, the master of the sardonic (here).

And, I suspect, my latest project for Tachyon Pubs -- novella We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory -- will be no exception, and we'll be seeing this sharp-edged story on many awards lists beginning in early 2015.

Gregory's troubling tale centers around a therapy group, all of whom have experienced EXTREME -- in bold and in caps extreme! -- trauma. Five "patients": three men and two women, plus their therapist, Dr. Jan Sayer (who is far more than she seems).

There's Harrison, the former Boy Hero of Dunnsmouth, the Monster Detective, who has survived the Scrimshander, and the Abysmal, and many another freak show, most of whom are barely even hinted at. Wheelchair-bound Stan -- no arms, no legs -- who barely survived the Weaver family (aka the Arkansas Cannibals, aka the Spiderfolk) and lives to constantly tell everyone about it. And Martin, who wouldn't be caught dead without his "frames": virtual-reality glasses, because they enable him to see the Dwellers (or so he believes), and if he can't see the Dwellers, well, he will, in fact, be caught dead. Barbara is the middle-aged, pantsuit-attired, married one -- and mother of two boys; the calm one, the rational one, the one whose body holds the secret of the Scrimshander's message. And last is the striking young blonde Greta, the quiet one, who Harrison believes just might be the craziest one of them all. Her body was a document, a calling card, as it were, to a Hidden One, from the other side.

We were a team of professional insomniacs. Once you know there are monsters under the bed, closing your eyes becomes a foolhardy act. So, we paced. We stared into the dark. We listened for the creak of the opening door.

...

Harrison had been right; this was no hero's journey they were on. [Joseph] Campbell didn't understand the other stories in the world. The group knew the truth:

A monster crosses over into the everyday world. The mortals struggle and show great courage, but it's no use. The monster kills first the guilty, then the innocent, until finally only one remains. The Last Boy, the Last Girl. There is a final battle. The Last One suffers great wounds, but in the final moment vanquishes the monster. Only later does he or she recognize that this is the monster's final trick; the scars run deep, and the awareness of the truth grows like an infection. The Last One knows that the monster isn't dead, only sent to the other side. There it waits until it can slip into the mundane world again. Perhaps next time it will be a knife-wielding madman, or a fanged beast, or nameless tentacled thing. It is the monster with a thousand faces. The details matter only to the next victims.

We Are All Completely Fine will be published in August, and is now available for preorder.

And don't be afraid to look under the bed...or open the closet door....


[If you've made it this far, a brief note: My apologies for the lack of content on this blog during the past month. A workout mishap ended up placing me at the sharp end of a surgeon's blade. I'm now in week two of recovery, and hope to be at full speed just in time to complete my taxes before the April 15 deadline.]

Monday, February 3, 2014

The 2014 Campbellian Anthology

I typically don't promote and/or feature a book with which I am not involved. I have many reasons for this, the main one being my professional responsibility: Unless I'm involved with a book, I can't speak honestly to the quality of that book, and I would prefer to not recommend a book that wasn't up to my professional editorial standards. But, this book warrants breaking that rule.

If you are a regular voter, or even an occasional voter, for the Hugo Awards, then you are most likely familiar with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. However, if you are not familiar with this award, then please check out the entry in Wikipedia. You may recognize a few of the past winners of this award: C. J. Cherryh, Stephen R. Donaldson, Lucius Shepard, Karen Joy Fowler, Judith Moffett, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Ted Chiang, Cory Doctorow, Jay Lake, John Scalzi, Seanan McGuire, and Lev Grossman, just to name a few. Talk about name dropping!

Well, the folks at Stupefying Stories have put together the second annual collection of representative stories from authors who are eligible this year for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Now, SS wasn't able to get permission from all of the eligible writers, but they managed to acquire rights to stories from most of the eligible writers.

Are you ready for this? How does 860,000-plus words of fiction -- that's right, more than 860K words! -- from 111 different authors sound? And even better, this volume is available for free in epub and mobi ebook formats. Don't have an ereader? You can install Kindle for PC or Mac to read the mobi format, or Adobe Digital Editions for the epub format. If you prefer PDF, then check out Calibre ebook management software because you can use that tool to convert either of these DRM-free formats to PDF.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction by M. David Blake, curator of Stupefying Stories:

A little over a year ago, a small group of us had a crazy idea. "What if," we said, "there was a way everyone eligible for the Campbell could publicize their work at the same time, so that readers might have some idea of who we are?"

...

There will be some stories in this volume that you dislike, perhaps even strongly, and that’s okay. Every writer whose work is represented herein still accomplished something remarkable in attaining a specific level of publication, and by doing so earned a place within these pages. I encourage you to investigate each and every one, but I make no promise about how you'll feel about the stories that landed them here, or the works they elected to share.

Here's a secret: You don't have to read this entire anthology for it to serve a purpose and be valuable to you. You're allowed to skip around.

...

Here's another secret: If you do read every word in this anthology, and investigate all the links for those currently known to be eligible, you'll probably discover a new favorite. At least one. And if you do—if you, as a reader, connect with even a single new writer—then I will feel very, very good about this year's installment of the Annual Campbellian Anthology.

You can read the full introduction on the Stupefying Stories website, which is where you will also find the download links for the ebooks.

As M. David Blake says at the end of his intro: "Now, go make a friend. Your writers are waiting."


Friday, January 24, 2014

Editing in Process...The Very Best of F&SF, Volume Two

Very Best of F&SF V2After completing my copy edit of the Kameron Hurley novelette, I resumed work on my current project for Tachyon Publications -- volume two of anthology The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by Gordon Van Gelder.

Back in 2009, in celebration of sixty years of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tachyon Publications released the anthology The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which contained 23 stories from some of the best names in the genre: Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen King, Karen Joy Fowler, Ted Chiang, and Roger Zelazny, to name just a few. I copy edited this initial F&SF anthology in March 2009 -- and now, nearly four years later, I had the opportunity to work on volume two.

Here's the Volume Two table of contents:
Introduction by Michael Dirda
"The Third Level" by Jack Finney (1952)
"The Cosmic Charge Account" by C. M. Kornbluth (1956)
"The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight (1956)
"The Anything Box" by Zenna Henderson (1956)
"The Prize of Peril" by Robert Sheckley (1958)
"'—All You Zombies—'" by Robert A. Heinlein (1959)
"A Kind of Artistry" by Brian Aldiss (1962)
"Green Magic" by Jack Vance (1963)
"Narrow Valley" by R. A. Lafferty (1966)
"Sundance" by Robert Silverberg (1969)
"The Attack of the Giant Baby" by Kit Reed (1976)
"The Hundredth Dove" by Jane Yolen (1977)
"Jeffty Is Five" by Harlan Ellison® (1977)
"Salvador" by Lucius Shepard (1984)
"The Aliens Who Knew, I mean, Everything"
      by George Alec Effinger (1984)
"Rat" by James P. Kelly (1986)
"The Friendship Light" by Gene Wolfe (1989)
"The Bone Woman" by Charles de Lint (1993)
"The Lincoln Train" by Maureen F. McHugh (1995)
"Maneki Neko" by Bruce Sterling (1998)
"Winemaster" by Robert Reed (1999)
"Suicide Coast" by M. John Harrison (1999)
"Have Not Have" by Geoff Ryman (2001)
"The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi (2004)
"Echo" by Elizabeth Hand (2005)
"The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates"
      by Stephen King (2008)
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2011)

Each of these 26 stories is a classic in its own right.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know I have a penchant for the humorous, sardonic story -- and R. A. Lafferty's "Narrow Valley" fits this requirement perfectly.

In 1893 the remaining 821 Pawnee Indians were given land allotments of exactly 160 acres; they were to live on the land and pay taxes, "the same as the White-Eyes did." But Clarence Big-Saddle had other ideas, and performed a Pawnee chant over his land: he had no plans to ever pay any taxes.

"Clarence Big-Saddle lived on his land for many years, and he paid no taxes. Intruders were unable to come down to his place. The land was sold for taxes three times, but nobody ever came down to claim it. Finally, it was carried as open land on the books. Homesteaders filed on it several times, but none of them fulfilled the qualification of living on the land."

Then one day, many decades later, the Rampart family arrived in town and filed paperwork on this one tract of land that still remained open. After filing the paperwork at the courthouse, they climbed back into their camper and headed to the property, all 160 acres of it.

The easiest route to the property was through the short pasture belonging to cattle and wheat farmer Charley Dublin. So the Ramparts stopped at Dublin's house, and he escorted them to their property:

"Well, Rampart, this is the fence and the end of my land. Yours is just beyond."

"Is that ditch on my land?" Rampart asked.

"That ditch is your land."

And that's just the beginning of this 5,300-word treasure.

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume Two will be published in July, but why wait: preorder your copy now.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Editing in Process...Kameron Hurley

The Body ProjectSometimes, everything -- well, almost everything -- just seems to work out, or so I like to believe hope. For example: I worked for Night Shade Books for nine years (which I blogged about here, including a list of the 125 books I worked on during that time period), and then dealt with the demise -- and resale -- of the company. By the summer of 2013, with no new incoming projects from Night Shade, my workload had decreased dramatically, a huge concern for me as a full-time freelancer. But then Bradley P. Beaulieu, a former Night Shade author with whom I had never worked before, contacted me about a book project. He wanted me to line edit and copy edit his collection, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories -- financed through a Kickstarter campaign -- which he planned to self-publish. My blog post on Brad's collection is here. Brad later referred me to Barbara Webb, who contracted with me to copy edit her novel City of Burning Shadows (here) -- a novel worthy of your "watchlist" -- which Barbara also plans to self-publish. Those were two of my one-on-one author projects in 2013 that came about from my work with Night Shade Books.

Enter 2014: Most recently, I had the opportunity to work with another former Night Shade author, Kameron Hurley. Her new novelette is "The Body Project": a story in her Bel Dame Apocrypha series, which includes the novels God's War (a 2012 Nebula Award nominee for best novel), Infidel, and Rapture. I was fortunate to have worked with Kameron on this trilogy during my stint at Night Shade.

So I was thrilled when I received Kameron's email regarding this new project: we freelancers are always thrilled when a new income opportunity presents itself, but -- and more importantly -- I was especially thrilled because I would have an opportunity, albeit briefly, to work with Kameron once again (a true pro) and to visit once more, as it were, the world of Nyx, Rhys, Anneke, and the bel dames.

Kameron informed me that the story takes place during the seven-year gap between chapters 4 and 5 of God's War; the novelette is meant to be a sort of introduction for those who haven't yet read the trilogy. And for those of us who have read the books, the story provides further insight in to what drives the protagonist, Nyxnissa so Dasheem.

Here are the two opening paragraphs to "The Body Project":
The man's rugged visage—hanging from the upper window of the tenement building—was captivating. The rest of him was less so, as it was a mangled wreck of shattered limbs and shredded torso strewn all over the street at Nyx's feet.

Nyx toed at the burst flesh of his admittedly once-fine form, now split and oozing a sour blend of offal that brought to mind the pungent stink of rotten bodies at the front. That memory, paired with the profile of the man's head, sparked a sudden familiarity. She had a powerful feeling that she knew him.

This brief excerpt is typical of the gritty, hard-edged writing of the entire trilogy. For me, upon first reading God's War, it was like a breath of fresh air had come in across from the desert.... Different, but not unlike when I read William Gibson's Neuromancer, shortly after the book was first published.

"The Body Project" has been posted online for your reading pleasure courtesy of publisher Del Rey UK, to help promote the UK publication of the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. In addition, the novelette has been published as an ebook on both the Amazon US and Amazon UK sites. If you're going to buy the ebook, don't hesitate: the current promotional price of 99¢ will increase on February 1.

After I had completed the copy edits -- and Kameron had had sufficient time to review them -- she sent out the following two Twitter posts, on January 10 and 14, respectively...




...Which obviously provide me the opportunity to toot (tweet?) my own horn.

And don't forget: the ebook is only 99¢ (£0.77 in the UK) until February 1.