Friday, November 20, 2015

Tachyon Publications Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

My very first invoice for work done for Tachyon Publications is dated February 19, 2002. In another three months -- and hopefully the publisher will still be sending work to me at that time -- I will have worked for Tachyon Publications for fourteen years. That's a lot of time with one publisher. How many editors out there can say they have done freelance work for the same employer for fourteen (or more) years? How many freelance editors have even had a publisher survive fourteen (or more) years?

My last invoice was number 75, and hopefully I'll be blogging about that project (Lavie Tidhar's Central Station) next. Not all of these 75 invoices were for books, though most were. A few were just for front or back matter that showed up a few weeks after I had completed work on the actual book. One of these days, I'll have to consider a blog post in which I list all the Tachyon projects that I have worked on. There are quite a few award winners among those!

So Tachyon Publications is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. And they did so marvelously with a party this past Sunday, November 15, at the Park Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend (granddaughter babysitting responsibilities), so I wanted to express my congratulations in this manner -- since I was unable to do so in person -- with a blog post.

And what's an anniversary party without a cake! Believe it or not, pictured above is the 20th Anniversary cake: the Tachyon Publications logo -- the rhino at the typewriter. This cake was courtesy of Effie Seiberg, who tweeted and posted to Google+ each step of the baking process. Just for the record, this was a confetti cake, frosted with orange-tinted almond-flavored buttercream, covered in fondant. And, to quote Ms. Seiberg: "Parts of it are painted with a combo of edible luster dust + vodka. The vodka is to dissolve the luster dust to make it a liquid paint (and thus a stronger color than when it's a powder) and because it evaporates faster than water, which would make everything sticky."

I asked Effie if she saved me a piece of cake, but, sadly, it doesn't appear likely. I hope you made it to the Tachyon party and were able to snag a piece of this scrumptious-looking guilty pleasure.

And in addition to the cake, everyone who attended the party received a complimentary chapbook: Charlie Jane Anders's Six Months, Three Days, a Hugo Award-winning novelette. (And Ms. Anders was in attendance at the party as well!)

If you haven't purchased at least one of Tachyon's publications recently -- print or ebook -- well, what are you waiting for? Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella just about two weeks ago.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Old man, look at my life" - Happy Birthday, Neil Young!

My main man, Neil Young
70th birthday, November 12, 2015

Keep on rockin' in the free world!

Now Reading: The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

I'm currently reading The Nightmare Stacks, book #7 in the continuing Laundry Files series by Charles Stross. This in preparation for my working on the novel when the actual physical manuscript arrives within the week from Ace Books. 

I'm reading a MOBI edition using the Kindle for Android app on my Nexus 7 tablet (which just got updated to Android Marshmallow 6.0, for those who care). The author sent me the manuscript as a DOCX file, I then saved it as an RTF file; using Calibre Ebook Management software, I then converted the RTF file to a MOBI file -- and then saved the file in the Kindle folder on my tablet. Works for me!

You can read about my work on the previous Laundry Files novel, The Annihilation Score, in my March 26, 2015, blog post. But as to The Nightmare Stacks, you'll probably have to wait until after the New Year, as the project is due back to Ace Books the beginning of January. (Yes, another set of holidays I must work through, sigh....)

The Nightmare Stacks is due to be published by Ace Books, and Orbit Books in the U.K., in early summer, 2016.

But, ahem, I get to read the novel now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Editing in Process: The Labyrinth of Flame by Courtney Schafer

Cover art by David Palumbo
The largest project I had worked on in the past year or two was the short story collection Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong, clocking in at around 148,000 words.[1]

That is, until I worked on The Labyrinth of Flame, book III in Courtney Schafer's The Shattered Sigil Trilogy -- a massive 756 manuscript pages, totaling 219,000 words of wondrous fiction.[2]

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that back in April (April 29, 2015, blog post) I was in the middle of reading the first two volumes of The Shattered Sigil Trilogy -- The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City -- in order to get up to speed on the world and characters of Ms. Schafer's trilogy.

Since I read ebook editions of these two volumes I can't speak to their actual length. However, using Calibre Ebook Management software (which I highly recommend), I converted the two MOBI files to RTF files, opened them in MS Word, and have the approximate word counts: 135,000 words for The Whitefire Crossing, and 173,000 words for The Tainted City. That's more than 300,000 words of reading just to prepare myself for this current project.

These first two titles in the trilogy were published by Night Shade Books (prior to its acquisition by Skyhorse Publishing and Start Media[3]), after which Ms. Schafer made the decision to self-publish the final title in the trilogy via a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter was more than fully funded (284% to be exact), unlocking three stretch goals.

Unlike far too many other authors, Courtney Schafer is self-publishing The Labyrinth of Flame properly -- which will be evident to her readers when they receive the finished book: She hired artist David Palumbo for the cover art, the same artist who did the covers for volumes I and II, so that the trilogy's covers would match even though the three books were not from the same publisher. She also hired a developmental editor to review the novel's plot, characterization, setting, etc. I was then hired for a detailed line edit and copy edit. After the author made the content changes I recommended, she then hired another copy editor for a final proof of the novel.

Nothing is more frustrating, at least for me, when I attempt to read -- and inevitably give up on reading -- a self-pubbed novel that has blatant typos and awkward (and often ridiculous) sentence structures. Readers won't find these issues in The Labyrinth of Flame: Courtney Schafer has written and published this novel as the professional that she is, and this volume is the worthy conclusion to The Shattered Sigil Trilogy -- and the harrowing adventures of Kiran, Dev, and Cara.

Those who contributed to the Kickstarter have already received their maps and ebook editions of The Labyrinth of Flame and, according to the author, the print editions are currently in process. In fact, Ms. Schafer shared the book's interior illustrations with readers in her October 29 blog post.

If you didn't get in on the Kickstarter but are interested in the ebook, The Labyrinth of Flame Kindle edition is now available for preorder. Print copies will be available for order on December 1, but Amazon doesn't allow preorders for self-published print editions.

You can read more of The Shattered Sigil Trilogy on the Courtney Schafer website, including sample chapters from all three volumes.


[1] You can read about my work on Kelly Armstrong's Led Astray, from Tachyon Publications, beginning in my August 26, 2015, blog post.

[2] I actually completed work on this project about two and a half months ago, but new, incoming projects have kept me busy.... I'm using the "Editing in Process" tag in order that this blog post will track with my other editing projects.

[3] "For Immediate Release: Skyhorse Publishing and Start Media Acquire Night Shade Books"

Monday, November 9, 2015

World Fantasy Award Winner: Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely FineIn my February 27, 2014, blog post -- yes, 21 months ago! -- I wrote a bit about my work on Daryl Gregory's novella We Are All Completely Fine. And in that blog post I wrote, and I quote: "...we'll be seeing this sharp-edged story on many awards lists beginning in early 2015."

So, I was extremely pleased, but certainly not surprised, when I learned yesterday that Daryl Gregory had won the 2015 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella for We Are All Completely Fine, from Tachyon Publications.

The complete list of 2015 World Fantasy Award nominees and winners has been posted on the Word Fantasy Convention site.

And let's not forget the other award nominations, and a win, that We Are All Completely Fine has achieved:
Nebula Award nomination
Shirley Jackson Award winner
Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist
Locus Award nominee

Congrats once again to Daryl Gregory, and all the other World Fantasy Award winners and nominees.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Chicon 2000 Card #5 - George Alec Effinger

Card #5
Photo by Ross Pavlac
Back in the day, when I was acquiring and editing for Golden Gryphon Press, I put together three collections of fiction by author George Alec Effinger. Initially, I worked with GAE on the contents of the first book, Budayeen Nights, but he passed away in April 2002, more than a year before this first collection finally saw publication in September 2003. Two more collections followed: George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth (2005) and A Thousand Deaths (2007).

In 2009, I wrote a series of three lengthy blog posts, detailing how these three books came about. Then, in honor of what would have been George's 66th birthday, on January 10, 2013, I republished the series of three blog posts. I am always hopeful that new readers will discover the work of George Alec Effinger.

But what is behind this current blog post is the "card" pictured above: Card #5 in the series of collectible cards produced by the Chicago in 2000 Committee, that is, the Chicon 2000 WorldCon.

Card #5, back
While I was working on the three GAE books for Golden Gryphon Press, I pretty much lived online for days on end trying to find everything and anything pertaining to George Alec Effinger. During my research I learned that he was a die-hard fan of the Cleveland Indians baseball team -- and I also found the card photo above pictured on the Chicon 2000 website.

Knowing what a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians GAE was, I wanted to use the base photo (without the overlaid text) for the dust jacket photo for Live! From Planet Earth. On the Chicon 2000 website, the photographer's name, Ross Pavlac, was linked at the bottom of the page. Sadly, when I clicked on the link, I learned that Ross had passed away in 1997. The obit and appreciations on the page mentioned Ross's wife, Maria Pavlac. Keep in mind this was at least ten years ago, and searching online then wasn't as easy as it is today. Facebook didn't launch until 2004, and Twitter two years later. I don't seem to have any emails on file, but if my memory serves, I did find an email addy for a "Maria Pavlac," whom I contacted, seeking permission to use the GAE photo. Unfortunately, I never received any response, so I may not have had the correct "Maria Pavlac." Regardless, all three Effinger books were published, but no dust jacket included this particular photo.

Now, here it is more than ten years later, and I posted a comment to a Facebook post, and mentioned how I had been searching for the GAE Chicon 2000 card back in the early 2000s, and Steven Silver responds to my comment, telling me to provide him with my mailing address and he'll send me the GAE card. Which I did, and then he did. Not one, but four of the GAE cards!

Though the photo didn't make it onto one of the three GAE collections, I now have -- thanks to the kindness of Steven Silver -- card #5 to add to my George Alec Effinger collection.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Received: Slow Bullets Limited Edition by Alastair Reynolds

WSFA Press limited edition
The weekend of October 9-11 marked the annual Capclave convention in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). Each year, in support of Capclave's Author Guest of Honor, WSFA Press typically publishes a limited edition hardcover of the author's work. This year's Author GOH was none other than Alastair Reynolds -- and WSFA Press published a signed and numbered hardcover edition of the author's novella Slow Bullets, limited to 1,000 copies.

Slow Bullets
Tachyon Pubs trade paperback
Slow Bullets was originally published by Tachyon Publications as an original trade paperback, and as you may recall from an earlier blog post on February 9, 2015, I had a wee bit of a hand in the acquisition and editing of that book.

You can purchase the limited edition of Slow Bullets direct from the WSFA Press Bookstore for the price of $40.00; the original trade paperback of Slow Bullets (List price: $14.95) -- now in its second printing -- can be had from all major booksellers, physical or online.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the author, Alastair Reynolds, for graciously sending me a copy of the Slow Bullets limited edition while he was attending Capclave.

Here are a few excerpts from the lengthy Slow Bullets review by Tom Atherton on Strange Horizons:
...part of what makes Reynolds's new novel Slow Bullets so successful is this sense of escalation. What begins as run-of-the-mill space opera soon develops into a complex social thought experiment; an examination of the tyrannies of ambiguous language and the societal implications of textual preservation. It's impressive that Reynolds manages all of this big-picture stuff within the scope of an uncharacteristically short novel (just shy of two hundred pages), and does so while simultaneously retaining a sense of intimacy through a well-realised narrator whose own struggles with memory act as a microcosm of the book's wider sociological concerns. The novel is also interested in atavism (both technological and social), and so it's fitting that Reynolds has appropriated the imagery and themes of an older literary tradition, gothic horror, to tell this story; only in place of a dilapidated monastery inhabited by reclusive monks, Slow Bullets gives us soldiers-turned-scribes entombed inside a vast and decaying spaceship. Architecture is important here, as is the intersection of technology with biology. There really is a lot going on; a fact belied by the book's meagre page count. With so much to unpick, then, it’s probably best that we start at the very beginning and work forward from there.


It's all very pacy, with much of the actual process behind these fledgling democracies glossed over in a matter of sentences. It's a revelation-on-every-page sort of book. Fans of Alastair Reynolds looking for his characteristic descriptive depth and attention to technological detail might find themselves disappointed, but for what it's worth I enjoyed this change of tempo, which, if anything, demonstrates Reynolds's versatility as a stylist.

In fact, Slow Bullets has a lot of very nice stylistic touches. It's peppered with expressive little descriptions, such as this one about a book whose pages "detached too easily, the way wings come off an insect" (p. 13). I was also struck by the way that biological imagery is used to describe technology: slow bullets move by "contracting and extending like a mechanical maggot" (p. 16), hibernation capsules enclose "like an egg" (p. 21), and an automated surgeon-machine reminds Scur of "the hinged mouthparts of a flytrap" (p. 74). All of which sinister language reflects the relationship the crew have with the failing tech that surrounds them: dependency mixed with danger. The only complaint I have about style is that there are a few too many infodumps, which have the potential to interrupt the otherwise swift flow of Reynolds's prose.


The overarching tone of Slow Bullets, then, is one of tragic irony. The Caprice-ians' assertion that they are making indelible, accurate records ("we can’t tolerate mistakes" [p. 112]) is contradicted by how the novel itself treats texts. One character even comments on the inability of language to explain their situation; "She’s trying to describe something language isn't made to describe" (p. 118). All of the texts the survivors produce are, ultimately, unstable. Not only, as we've seen, are they up for interpretation and forgery, but they're also physically transient: the walls can be polished blank, the slow bullets over-written; the survivors' text-scarred bodies will die. Perhaps, deep down, they all know this. Maybe creating texts is just another way in which the survivors are performing society.

This would all be so much bathos, of course, if the novel presented itself matter-of-factly as an unequivocal, representational record. Reynolds's masterstroke, however, is to reflect this thematic concern for unstable texts by filtering the story through an unreliable narrator, making Slow Bullets itself something ambiguous and difficult to pin down. Scur, narrating from some future point, begins her story by telling us about her favourite poem, which is "about death and remembrance" (p. 10). This microcosmically echoes the themes of the novel, certainly, but remembrance, it turns out, isn't as straightforward a thing as Scur would have us believe. Her narration is frequently inconsistent and contradictory. She hubristically announces that she can "be perfectly sure of [her]self" (p. 100), yet phrases of an "I don’t remember" variety become refrain-like throughout the novel. "I should remember, but I do not" (p. 189). At one point her very identity is questioned: "So Scur is what she calls herself now?" (p. 141). We're also never given any explanation as to why, despite her protestations of innocence, she's counted among the war criminals onboard the ship. This is Scur's memory, but memories are biased, unreliable and prone to fanciful invention. With Scur as our only point of entry into this world, we can’t trust anything we read.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Lucius Shepard

Beautiful Blood
Cover Art by J. K. Potter
A few months after Lucius Shepard passed away, in March of 2014, my copy of Beautiful Blood arrived in the mail from Subterranean Press. This last novel, along with his book The Dragon Griaule, a collection of six stories (also from Sub Press), completes the tale of the 750-foot-high, mile-long dragon that has been in perpetual sleep for thousands of years -- but whose dark spirit gravely influences the inhabitants of the villages built around and on the dragon itself.

Typically, I would have written a "Books Received" blog post on More Red Ink to capture these two newly acquired titles. And it is more than a year and a half later, and I'm still struggling to write a Lucius Shepard blog post. I have a couple pages of hand-written notes on my desk, Notepad files saved to disk... Yet I'll snag any piece of an excuse to do anything else but write this blog post. For whatever reason that I have yet to pinpoint, this is just one of those posts that has become difficult for me.

The Dragon Griaule
Cover Art by J. K. Potter
In an obituary posted on March 20, 2014, on BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow described Shepard's work: "its originality, its dazzling language, its hardbitten and hard-won verisimilitude." Beautifully written, stylistic, provocative, hard-edged -- read any review of Shepard's work and you'll find words such as these used to describe his writing.

Lucius Shepard is one of the very few writers whose work requires that I always keep a dictionary to hand, because of the inevitable word here and there that I must look up.

If his work is not being used in literature and writing classes at the university level, then academia is truly short-sighted (or maybe just too caught up in the distant past, rather than the present).

During my eight-year stint (1999–2007) as an editor with indie publisher Golden Gryphon Press, I worked on three Lucius Shepard books, plus another of his stories that was included in a fourth book, an anthology. I still have most, if not all, of our email communications going as far back as 2001. Reading through these emails recently was definitely a trip down memory lane...and made accepting that Lucius is no longer with us even more difficult.

In 2002 I had been working on a new line of limited edition chapbooks[1]: Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds had been completed but not yet published, and Howard Waldrop had also committed to providing chapbook story A Better World's in Birth! -- so I hit up Lucius Shepard for a chapbook story as well. On September 23, 2002, he sent me the story "Maceo" for consideration. When I told him the maximum that I was able to pay for the story, he responded the very next day: "Unfortunately, [this amount] doesn't help me. I'm trying to raise a lot for my charity in Honduras and I've already been offered fifteen hundred for this and turned it down. So, sorry. But thanks for reading it...."

I didn't know anything about Lucius's charity at this point in time and I didn't feel it was appropriate to inquire via email, so I waited until we had a chance to chat in person. I don't recall if it was at the World Fantasy Con, or OryCon, or another con, but when we did meet (in a hotel bar, naturally), I asked. Lucius told me how the poor locals deep dive for pearls and over time they suffer the bends sufficiently enough that it permanently affects their health. The money he makes from writing goes to pay off customs officers, dock workers, and the like so that when his donations arrive (wheelchairs, for example), they get to their intended destinations. He spoke of the organization required to pull all this off and that he pretty much handled all the wheeling and dealing in Honduras himself.

I just shook my head in awe; it was hard for me to imagine Lucius working so hard in this fashion to help others in the form of a charity -- not that he wasn't capable of doing so, but given how he publicly defined himself, I was simply caught off guard. I was already working with Lucius on another project, and this is an excerpt from the mini bio that he provided me:
He has taught Spanish at a diplomatic school, owned a T-shirt company, worked as a janitor in a nuclear facility, and as a bouncer at a brothel in Málaga, and “beat his brains out” as a rock musician.
Somehow, that description just didn't fit the role of a charity worker....

[Update 10/21/2015: Who's looking after Lucius's charity now?]

Anyhow, this request for a chapbook story from Lucius led to a discussion about his two hobo stories -- "Over Yonder" and the unpublished "Jailbait" -- along with his Spin magazine article on the Freight Train Riders of America. All of which eventually led to the publication of Shepard's collection Two Trains Running, from Golden Gryphon Press in 2004. But that's for another blog post.


[1] You can read a bit more about my work on the limited edition chapbooks -- and how my query to Charles Stross for a story set me on the path of Stross's Laundry Files series -- by checking out this link on More Red Ink.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The. Best. Butter Cookies. Ever.

Yesterday was a munchie day, but we had no munchies in the house -- so I decided to make my grandmother's butter cookie recipe. Of course, in addition to ending up with some excellent cookies, a lot of memories came flooding back as well.

The photo above, courtesy of Google maps, is for 209 Atlantic Avenue in McKeesport, Pennsylvania -- that's the dirt lot directly in front along the little alleyway, just in case you didn't recognize the address. That's where I spent the first five years of my life. Not in the dirt lot, mind you, but in the two-story house (with the scary basement) that used to occupy that lot. The neighborhood used to be called Tenth Ward, back in the day.

And the white two-story house just behind and to the left of the lot is where my grandparents lived, on Rebecca Street. My mother grew up in that house along with her two sisters and brother.

The wooden fence that you now see at the end of the lot, used to be a short wire fence (with wooden supports), such that my grandparents' backyard and our backyard butted up against each other. Along the alleyway, we had a gate in the fence, as did my grandparents -- so I could exit our gate, walk a dozen or so steps along the alleyway and then enter my grandparents' backyard through their gate. Thus I didn't have to walk around the block from the front of our house on Atlantic to the front of their house on Rebecca. I remember coming home from kindergarten before noon, checking to see what my mother had planned for my lunch, and if I didn't like it, I just walked out our gate and through their gate, and my grandmother would pretty much make me anything I wanted. That's what grandparents are for, right? To spoil their grandchildren....

My grandmother was an amazing cook. She had this huge wooden cutting board that covered the entire kitchen table top. I can still picture her making egg noodles: rolling the dough (with a glass, water-filled rolling pin) nearly paper thin, and then using this very long knife -- one hand on the handle, the other hand along the top of the blade -- which she would bring down almost in a blur of precision, cut after cut, making the most perfect noodles you could imagine. Then into the simmering chicken soup, or vegetable soup, the noodles would go.

Of course, as a young child, desserts were always the favorite, and my grandmother's butter cookies were one of her best desserts (only second to her special apple pie). But to simply call these "cookies" is to deny them their due, their power: yes, they were cookies, but they were the size of biscuits! Give a little kid a couple of these, and he had himself a meal!

We moved from Tenth Ward to White Oak, where I went to school from first through seventh grade. And then in June, after seventh grade, when I was twelve, my family packed up what few possessions we had left after the first ever White Oak garage sale, and moved to Southern California.

It didn't take long for us to miss my grandmother's superb cooking. But the thing about the butter cookies was that she never used a recipe, she would grab a few fingers of baking power, some scoops of sugar, butter, sour cream, and then start kneading in flour until the dough was just right. So, we telephoned my aunt, my mother's youngest sister, and told her to write down the ingredients and measurements (as best she could) the next time my grandmother made butter cookies. My aunt told us later that during the cookie-making process, when my grandmother would grab a few fingers of, say, baking powder, my aunt would make her drop the contents from her fingers into a small bowl and then my aunt would do her best to measure how much was in the bowl.

Here is the butter cookie recipe, my grandmother's best, as measured by my aunt:

8 cups flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
1 pound butter
6 tablespoons shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 pint sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 egg yolks (save some of the whites for brushing the top of the cookies)

Mix egg yolks with butter, shortening; add sugar and blend. Blend in half the flour and baking powder. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Blend in the remaining flour. Roll dough on a board using as little flour as necessary -- dough will be sticky; cut into shape with a round cookie cutter. Press the top of the cookies with a fork, then brush with egg white. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Egg yolks, butter, shortening... These cookies are a heart attack waiting to happen. My wife and I, being ever health conscious, make only half the recipe at a time, and we still manage to get about 34 biscuit-sized cookies from the half recipe. And though we do use one stick (1/4 pound) of unsalted butter, we also use one stick (1/4 pound) of Country Crock fake butter. Also, instead of 3 egg yolks, we use one egg yolk and one whole egg -- and we save the one egg white for the brush. [Update 10/17/2015: I also neglected to mention that we use "Light" sour cream as well.]

My grandmother passed away at the age of 100 in 1998. But she still lives on in memories like these.

Obviously, our butter cookies don't taste as good as my grandmother's original recipe -- but it's the memories that make our cookies taste so good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

[Ended] Alien Contact Ebook $1.99

Alien ContactThe ebook edition of my Alien Contact anthology is currently on sale for $1.99. I've verified the price on Amazon, and I understand that iBooks also has the price currently set at $1.99. (I'm not an Apple kind of guy so I can't verify.) I'm also hoping that if you purchase your ebooks from other than these two sources, the price will be the same as well.

How long this price will last, I have no idea. I'm just the book's editor. In fact, I didn't even know the price had dropped to $1.99 until I received a web mention on my name, via email, earlier today.

So, if you read ebooks and you've been on the fence about this anthology, now is the time to buy, as this is probably the cheapest ebook price you'll find (that's not a pirated copy!) for these 26 stories and 170,000 words of hand-picked fiction. [1]

Here's the complete table of contents:
Marty Halpern -- "Introduction: Beginnings..."
Paul McAuley -- "The Thought War"
Neil Gaiman -- "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"
Karen Joy Fowler -- "Face Value"
Harry Turtledove -- "The Road Not Taken"
George Alec Effinger -- "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything"
Stephen King -- "I Am the Doorway" [1]
Pat Murphy -- "Recycling Strategies for the Inner City"
Mike Resnick -- "The 43 Antarean Dynasties"
Orson Scott Card -- "The Gold Bug"
Bruce McAllister -- "Kin"
Ernest Hogan -- "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song"
Pat Cadigan -- "Angel"
Ursula K. Le Guin -- "The First Contact with the Gorgonids"
Adam-Troy Castro -- "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s"
Michael Swanwick -- "A Midwinter’s Tale"
Mark W. Tiedemann -- "Texture of Other Ways"
Cory Doctorow -- "To Go Boldly"
Elizabeth Moon -- "If Nudity Offends You"
Nancy Kress -- "Laws of Survival"
Jack Skillingstead -- "What You Are About to See"
Robert Silverberg -- "Amanda and the Alien"
Jeffrey Ford -- "Exo-Skeleton Town"
Molly Gloss -- "Lambing Season"
Bruce Sterling -- "Swarm"
Charles Stross -- "MAXO Signals"
Stephen Baxter -- "Last Contact"

As I said, the anthology contains 26 stories -- and 26 weeks before the book was published, back in April 2011, I began a blogging project that entailed writing about each of the stories, at the rate of one story per week, for 26 weeks. I made my target, too, except for the week my mother passed away -- but I caught up the very next week. During those weekly blog posts, I talked about the original publication of the story, my relationship (if any) with the author, how I came to choose the story, and I typically included some excerpts from the story itself. Except, for those stories that I published in their entirety.

Now, more than four years later, you can still follow -- and read -- those weekly blog posts on Alien Contact by beginning at the "Beginnings..."

Or, you could simply click on any of the links above in the table of contents.

[1] After posting this, I remembered that in my endeavor to secure rights for the Stephen King story I had to wave ebook rights. So, the print copy includes 26 stories and 170,000 words of fiction, whereas the ebook edition does not include the Stephen King story, which clocks in at approximately 4,900 words. So aside from the fact that it is a Stephen King story, you're losing less than 5,000 words from the overall total. Sorry for any issue/confusion this may have caused.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Received: Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley ArmstrongOne of the best aspects of my job is receiving the finished product -- the published book -- after having worked so hard on the project, either as the editor, copy editor, proofreader, or all of the above.

This is how I began my June 30, 2015, blog post when I first wrote about my work on this collection:

* * *
So, what does 148,000 words of short fiction physically look like? A stack of manuscript pages 2¼ inches high; or 530 pages, to be exact!

That's the size of the manuscript for "the best of" short story collection Led Astray by Kelley Armstrong, forthcoming in September from Tachyon Publications.
* * *
Well, September is now -- Tachyon Publications, unlike the majority of independent presses, always ships ahead of schedule -- my comp copies of Led Astray arrived this past week. And those original 2¼ inches of manuscript pages? They became 535 layout pages in the published trade paperback edition.

For those not acquainted with Ms. Armstrong's work, her novels have made her a #1 New York Times bestselling author -- and the stories in Led Astray are a great starting point for new readers, since you get a taste of her many worlds. And as for seasoned readers, these stories will add depth to those worlds you are already familiar with.

Here's an excerpt from one review, courtesy of Net Galley:
...This is how fairy tales used to be ― grim and harsh. In this collection of over 20 short stories, Ms. Armstrong demonstrates over and over again how she is a master of her craft... Many of the stories have no happily ever afters or even a happily for now. Instead, it seems the warning is clear ― be careful of what you wish for. For those who have never read a Ms. Armstrong book, this collection can be read as a standalone. A few of the stories do tie in to her different series. The tie-ins enhance the world-building for those hooked on the various series. For those new to Ms. Armstrong, it will cause the new reader to salivate and rush to read all her series. This first-rate [collection] could be devoured in one sitting. It's best to savour each story by itself. The deferred gratification by slowly consuming each story...makes this painfully pleasurable book last longer... It's tightly focused with nary a wasted word. The constant haunting gloomy feel keeps a reader on edge. The expressive descriptions of the places set the somber mood. The intriguing situations lure a reader into a bit of complacency before the trap is sprung. The endings to several of the pieces are gruesome and I reveled in it. Many times, it seems the villain wins the day. This is very different than most books and for this refreshing take, I applaud Ms. Armstrong. I particularly enjoyed the twists and turns in the stories... It makes the stories unpredictable...being off balance is exhilarating. There is a certain horror aspect to several of these stories... This book is highly recommended to those who enjoy darkness and things that go bump in the night.
~ La Crimson F

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong can now be ordered from Amazon, or from your favorite bookseller.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Annie Proulx on Writing and Reading

You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.

(via Goodreads)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Received: The King's Justice: Two Novellas by Stephen R. Donaldson

The King's JusticeMy presence online has been quiet of late as I have been working on a 219,000-word novel -- Courtney Schafer's The Labyrinth of Flame, book three in her Shattered Sigil trilogy. This is the largest book I've worked on in a few years, and it's been quite the major project. I'll be talking about my work on this novel shortly.

When I wasn't working on Labyrinth, I was catching up on TV shows (Mr. Robot, Humans, Halt and Catch Fire, Defiance, Proof, and probably a few others. And, I've also been creating a database listing of all my vinyl albums using I haven't played an actual LP in probably ten-plus years and, unfortunately, my turntable (a classic Concept 2QD) remained idle during all that time as well. The tone arm was frozen and thus the turntable had to be serviced: so, a huge shout-out to SerTech Electronics in San Jose, one of only three such service and repair centers in all the Bay Area. Their work queue is at least three weeks long, but by the end of the fourth week they had completed work on my turntable. Now all is right with the world.

Recently I received Stephen R. Donaldson's The King's Justice: Two Novellas. I actually won this book in a giveaway courtesy of and the publisher, G. P. Putnam's Sons. If you are reading this blog, then I assume you are also a reader of science fiction, fantasy, and other genres, which also means you are probably familiar with SFSignal. (If not, then get ye mouse to that site immediately!) JP Frantz and John DeNardo have been running SFSignal since as far back as I can remember. The site is one of the best for news and reviews, cover reveals, interviews, mind melds, TOC listings, and more. And they do a lot of print and ebook giveaways as well.

I had quite the time reading the first six volumes in Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, which I wrote about in my October 27, 2013, blog post. In that post I had received The Last Dark hardcover, the fourth and final volume in Donaldson's The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I still haven't read those final four books yet (I'm currently reading the equivalent of HBO's season 5 of George R. R. Martin's The Game of Thrones), but as you can see I'm a fan of Stephen R. Donaldson's work.

So go support SFSignal with your page views and Likes; and go read some Stephen R. Donaldson, too.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Received: Nalo Hopkinson's Falling in Love with Hominids

Falling in Love with Hominids Whenever a package arrives on my doorstep -- most often by the US mail delivery person, but occasionally after one hears the sounds of the UPS truck pull to a stop or, rarely, another delivery truck (FedEx, typically) -- there's a little hint of the feelings of childhood, the memories of Christmas -- and presents. Yes, even if I paid for it, a package arriving on the doorstep, for whatever reason, always feels like a gift!

The other day a USPS package arrived bearing my comp copies of Nalo Hopkinson's Falling in Love with Hominids, recently published by Tachyon Publications. And, indeed, it was a gift -- and in so many ways.

Here's an excerpt from Abigail Ortlieb's review for RT Book Reviews:
There is something especially exhilarating about Hopkinson's short stories. Her voice is fluid and always adds to the type of story she is telling, bringing to mind writers like Ray Bradbury ("The Easthound") or Toni Morrison ("A Young Candy Daughter"). Her Caribbean heritage is reflected beautifully in the prose, and each story is entirely distinctive. She prefaces each one with a dedication or tidbit about how or why that story was written, adding extra depth. If you haven't read any of her other works, you will be scrambling to after you read Falling in Love with Hominids. It’s a treasure trove of short gems by an immensely popular and talented writer.
~RT Book Reviews
You can also read my April 14 blog post in which I write about my work on Hopkinson's Falling in Love with Hominids; the post includes a list of the 18 stories (one original to the collection) included in the book.

Here's one final excerpt from the Publishers Weekly review:
The stories all share a common thread of magic, which is often woven, whether subtly or blatantly, into the fabric of everyday reality, allowing characters to react to the strange or the impossible as it crosses into their world. Hopkinson also draws frequently on her Caribbean upbringing and heritage, and her characters' voices are distinct and authentic, both in their speech patterns and in their ways of looking at their surroundings. Hopkinson's fans will be delighted by these examples of her wide-ranging imagination.
~Publishers Weekly

Falling in Love with Hominids can now be ordered from Amazon, or from your favorite bookseller.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Some readers may find themselves thrown off balance by the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness—"

Slow BulletsAs a follow-up to the Green Man Review of Slow Bullets that I posted on June 8....

Let me repeat a brief paragraph that I wrote at the beginning of that June 8 blog post: If you are unfamiliar with the various works of author Alastair Reynolds, then Slow Bullets would be the perfect starting point. If you read Alastair Reynolds already, preferring his longer novels and series work -- still, don't deny yourself the pleasure of reading this story, as Slow Bullets has more ideas than some novels that are twice its length.

And if you doubt, or question, my words, here's a few excerpts from the very lengthy review of Slow Bullets from the Los Angeles Review of Books. The review, by Stan Hunter Kranc, is entitled "The Persistence (and Failure) of Memory":

Alastair Reynolds's Slow Bullets opens with poetry and a war crime.

The poet is Giresun, the fictional poet laureate for the Central Worlds, one side in a bloody sectarian conflict. Although the novel's narrator, a former soldier called Scur, fought instead for the Peripheral Systems (where reading the enemy's "propaganda" was illegal), the poet was especially meaningful to her family and to the soldier herself as a link to long-lost loved ones.

The war crime is perpetrated at the conflict's end: Scur grimly reports her own capture and subsequent torture by a group of renegade soldiers, led by the infamous war criminal Orvin. Though the details evoke a rape, the instrument of Scur's torment is technological: the slow bullets that give the novella its name.

Readers unfamiliar with the larger body of the Reynolds's work — a dozen novels and an impressive number of short stories, novellas, and collections — may be startled by the prose, which is disarmingly clinical, punctuated by instances of visceral phrasing. Some readers may find themselves thrown off balance by the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness — or by the abrupt shift in circumstances that immediately follows: Scur awakens on an apparently derelict ship, surrounded by feuding soldiers from both sides of the conflict, and with no memory of how she came to be there. Readers familiar with Reynolds's work, however, will know that these two threads must be intertwined. Reynolds is practiced in tying together apparently unrelated elements, and by the end of the story, the text irrevocably links bullet and poet.


Slow Bullets, however, marks a development in Reynolds's writing. As a storyteller, we see him experimenting with both the form and manner of narrative. We come to understand that the text's "flaws" (that it is often repetitive and sometimes obtuse) are deliberate artifacts of its narration, a glimpse into the inner workings of Scur's mind and motivations. As a writer, we see a more overtly thoughtful work examining the philosophical, technological, and social issues of memory. Most immediately, Scur is haunted by memories of lost family, Giresun's verse, and Orvin's torment. The war criminal is hiding somewhere aboard the ship, and Scur's quest for vengeance quickly draws in others. However, Orvin is not the only such criminal. With the exception of the hopelessly outnumbered ship's crew and civilian population, all aboard are dressed identically, and although it is known some are honest veterans and some are prisoners, the ability to distinguish friend from foe and good from wicked is a separate problem of memory.


Like so much of Reynolds's other writing, the message of Slow Bullets is ultimately ambivalent. Although Reynolds excels at weaving different threads together, his knots are convoluted, difficult things. Again, were this an "old" space opera, Scur's exploits in unifying the crew and forging a tentative peace would be heroic. Instead, a twist or two at the end reminds the reader that Reynolds is too pragmatic to write anything so unequivocal. Slow Bullets is a story of revenge and redemption, high-tech problems and low-tech solutions, and the preservation of memory through surrendering the past — the failure to forgive but the possibility to forget.

Please read the full review at the Los Angeles Review of Books online. And, you can also read of my work on Slow Bullets in my "Editing in Process" blog post.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Excerpt Link: The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The Annihilation ScoreThe Annihilation Score is the sixth book in Charles Stross's Laundry Files series, which will be released this coming week. In my "Editing in Process" blog post of March 26, I detailed some of my work on The Annihilation Score as well as the previous five books in the series.

The Laundry is a supersecret British intelligence agency that protects and defends Her Majesty's Government, and the people of England, from occult incursions from beyond space-time. In the books, we follow two agents: Bob Howard and Dr. Dominique "Mo" O'Brien. Up to this point, the Laundry Files stories have all been from Bob's point of view, but The Annihilation Score turns the storytelling on its head, and we now get to experience Mo's pov; her story begins at the end of the events in The Rhesus Chart. Here's a bit of an introduction, courtesy of the author and
Dominique O'Brien—her friends call her Mo—lives a curious double life with her husband, Bob Howard. To the average civilian, they're boring middle-aged civil servants. But within the labyrinthian secret circles of Her Majesty's government, they're operatives working for the nation's occult security service known as the Laundry, charged with defending Britain against dark supernatural forces threatening humanity.

Mo's latest assignment is assisting the police in containing an unusual outbreak: ordinary citizens suddenly imbued with extraordinary abilities of the super-powered kind. Unfortunately these people prefer playing super-pranks instead of super-heroics. The Mayor of London being levitated by a dumpy man in Trafalgar Square would normally be a source of shared amusement for Mo and Bob, but they're currently separated because something's come between them—something evil.

An antique violin, an Erich [Zahn] original, made of human white bone, was designed to produce music capable of slaughtering demons. Mo is the custodian of this unholy instrument. It invades her dreams and yearns for the blood of her colleagues—and her husband. And despite Mo's proficiency as a world class violinist, it cannot be controlled...
In anticipation of the release of The Annihilation Score on July 7, Charles Stross and have posted the first two chapters of the novel for your advanced reading pleasure. Chapter One is entitled "Prologue: the Incorrigibles" and Chapter Two is "Morning After." Read the excerpt from The Annihilation Score on

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Editing in Process... Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong
Cover art by Liliana Sanches
So, what does 148,000 words of short fiction physically look like? A stack of manuscript pages 2¼ inches high; or 530 pages, to be exact!

That's the size of the manuscript for "the best of" short story collection Led Astray by Kelley Armstrong, forthcoming in September from Tachyon Publications.

Now, I haven't read a lot of Kelley Armstrong's fiction. Just a few stories, no novels. I'm not an "urban fantasy, werewolves-vampires-zombies" kind of guy. During my years working with Night Shade Books[1], I worked on a couple Kelley Armstrong stories: "Twilight" in By Blood We Live (2009) and "Last Stand" (also included in Led Astray) in The Living Dead 2 (2010), both anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams. And one other story, "A Haunted House of Her Own" in The Urban Fantasy Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale, from Tachyon Publications (2011)[2].

To say I was surprised when I began working on the stories in Led Astray would be an understatement. I'm still not an "urban fantasy, werewolves-vampires-zombies" kind of guy, but I will definitely be reading more Kelley Armstrong stories in the future. What I discovered is that a number of the stories are written within Ms. Armstrong's existing series' universes -- actually only ten of the collection's twenty-three stories are "standalone"; all the rest fall within her existing series. So I would read a very cool story like "Learning Curve," and then six stories later I would encounter some of the same characters in "The List." The characters are so deftly written that when I came upon them again in another story it was like meeting up with old friends already.

One of my favorites, albeit a standalone story, is "Last Stand" -- unexpectedly, at least for me, a zombie story! It's a typical zombie story, in one sense: following a virus outbreak, soldiers in a fort must fight for their survival against the "Others." The well-drawn, strong female protagonist, Monica Roth, was a chemistry teacher before the outbreak, and now serves as commander, doing her best to keep the "last band of resistance fighters" alive. Here are a couple excerpts:
Before [Gareth] could say a word, she lifted her hand.
"Objection noted, Lieutenant."
"I didn't say a word, Commander," he said.
"You don't need to. You heard we're bringing in a fresh lot, and you're going to tell me—again—that we can't handle more prisoners. The stockade is overcrowded. We're wasting manpower guarding them. We're wasting doctors caring for them. We should take them out into the field, kill them and leave the corpses on spikes for the Others to see."
"I don't believe I've suggested that last part. Brilliant idea, though. I'll send a troop to find the wood for the poles—"
She shot him a look. He only grinned.

[. . .]

The H5N3 virus had started in Indonesia, with sporadic outbreaks downplayed by authorities until they could announce a vaccine.
Their salvation turned into their damnation. Some said the vaccine had been deliberately tampered with. Others blamed improper testing. They knew only that it didn't work.
No, that wasn't true. If the goal was to ensure that people survived the flu, then it worked perfectly. People were vaccinated, they caught the virus, they died, and they rose again.
Even before they rose, though, they'd carried a virus of their own, unknowingly spreading it through lovers, drug use, and blood donations. By the time officials realized the problem, a quarter of the population was infected. After the vaccinations stopped, another quarter died from the influenza itself. Both viruses continued to spread.
That was the Great Divide. The human race sliced in two, one side fighting for supremacy, the other for survival.
How "Last Stand" differs from the typical zombie story is...well, let's just say if I tell you, then I will completely spoil the experience of reading this story. You're just going to have to trust me on this one: go order Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong from Amazon or wherever you prefer to purchase books, and read this story -- and the twenty-two others in the collection -- and be amazed. Of course, if you are already a fan of Ms. Armstrong's work then I'm not telling you anything you don't already know!

This is the table of contents as it appears in the manuscript, with the respective universes noted where applicable. Of the twenty-three included stories, two are original to this collection.

Rakshashi (standalone)
Kat (Darkest Powers universe)
A Haunted House of Her Own (standalone)
Learning Curve (Otherworld universe)
The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville universe)
The Kitsune's Nine Tales (Age of Legends universe)
Last Stand (standalone)
Bamboozled (Otherworld universe)
Branded (Otherworld universe)
The List (Otherworld universe)
Young Bloods (Otherworld universe)
The Door (standalone, original to this collection)
Dead Flowers by a Roadside (standalone)
Suffer the Children (standalone)
The Collector (standalone)
Gabriel's Gargoyles (Cainsville universe)
Harbinger (standalone)
V Plates (Otherworld universe)
Life Sentence (Otherworld universe)
Plan B (standalone)
The Hunt (Cainsville universe)
Dead to Me (standalone)
Devil May Care (Cainsville universe, original to this collection)
Seventeen of these stories have been reprinted from anthologies, so I suspect even avid readers of Kelly Armstrong's fiction will not have seen most, if not all, of these stories. So no need to purchase seventeen other can read the best of Kelley Armstrong in Led Astray.


[1] You can read my diatribe "Doin' Hard Time at Night Shade Books," which includes a complete list of the more than 100 books I worked on during my time with the press.

[2] I just realized that I have now worked for Tachyon Publications for more years than I did Night Shade Books -- I believe my first project was in 2002; and considering it has all been contract work through the years, I have no complaints. The working relationship has been one of the best, and I hope it continues for many years to come. Led Astray is my most recent copy editing project; Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds was my most recent editorial project, which you can read about in detail here.