December 10, 2012
So, Eartha Kitt. She was amazing, wasn’t she? And not just for playing Catwoman on the old Batman TV series. (And Yzma in the Emperor’s New Groove. Oh, my goodness! Please tell me that someone somewhere has film of Kitt and Patrick Warburton recording those scenes. Well, close enough.)
She has a couple of really famous songs, one of which gets a huge amount of airplay this time of year. This song, in fact:
And I suddenly have to wonder: does “Santa, Baby” actually go with “I Want to be Evil?”
You put them together, these two songs tell the story of a woman who had very high hopes for the holidays and did her best to live up to those hopes. But she was disappointed. Terribly disappointed. So disappointed, she only had one recourse: become a supervillain.
My goodness, do I love Christmas
October 5, 2012
I think I’ve mentioned it previously, but I’ll mention it again now, in greater detail, that I’m attending Steamcon IV — and I’m on programming! I’ll be reading part of a new Harry and Marlowe story, signing books, and appearing on several panels: Frankenstein, Paranormal Steampunk, Werewolves of London (natch), and The Spiritualist Movement of the 19th Century (which I know more about than the average monkey, but am far from an expert on, so I think I’ll be doing some brushing up on the topic). So interesting! I get to put on my Victorian lit scholar hat for a weekend!
I have a confession: I’ve been feeling like a bit of a dilettante, jumping on the steampunk bandwagon and foisting myself upon programming when I really only have one published steampunk short story to my name right now (soon to be two, honest!). But several people have e-mailed me to say they’re happy I’m coming, which gave me a boost, and I’ve realized I just need to dive on in and be a fan about the whole thing. I’m not just a steampunk author, I’m a costumer and a reader and a literature scholar, and no one’s going to be checking my steampunk ID at the door. I’m going to Steamcon to have a great time, and I can’t wait.
Which leaves only one remaining concern: What on earth am I going to wear? Because it’s become entirely clear to me that after just a few years of steampunk costuming, on top of twelve years of SCA costuming, not to mention years of general Halloween and theme party costuming, I have one hell of an excellent collection of clothing. I have more outfits than I can ever possibly wear in a weekend. Just look:
Corsets. Oh yes. Corsets. Nothing says, “You are not from this time and place” like a well-fitted stripey or leather corset or bodice. (I made the two blue ones. The leather and red one were purchased.)
Also, hats. Why oh why did hats ever go out of style? I’m telling you, half the fun of steampunk costuming is the marvelous HATS.
Not to mention the various skirts, shirts, trousers, and jackets I have, none of which are specifically steampunk, but you put them together with a choice corset and a hat and the right leather belt and pouches and such, and ta-da! There you go.
Herein lies the true trick of steampunk costuming: everyone has a steampunk outfit hiding in their closet. Do you have khaki pants? A white dress shirt? A vest or jacket from a suit? A silk scarf to tie jauntily around your neck? A pair of slick boots or dress shoes? Leather gloves? Then you have the basic steampunk costume, which you can wear to a steampunk convention like Steamcon IV.
And then you know what I made for myself this summer? A frockcoat. I am definitely bringing the frockcoat to Steamcon for its first public outing.
Alas, I believe I may have revealed my secret. As much as I like talking about Victorian literature (I really hope we can talk about the novel’s frame story on the Frankenstein panel!), how much more fun is it when I can do so while wearing a frockcoat!
So, how many of you will I be seeing in Seattle at the end of the month?
October 1, 2012
Some incidents this weekend prompted the observation that about three quarters of appearing smart is just a matter of paying attention. Making observations. Being able to draw appropriate conclusions from those observations. Remembering observations that you’ve made before and being able to apply those conclusions to new situations.
I came home last night after a fairly rowdy evening and sat down with a glass of wine in front of the TV to decompress for a few minutes before heading to bed. I landed on a show on Discovery, which looked like one of these typical documentary things featuring interviews with scientists and fairly crappy CGI “dramatic re-enactments.” The topic: mermaids, and do they exist? The show was adamant that it had the physical evidence and eyewitness accounts to prove the answer was yes.
Within five minutes I had a web browser open and searched for the title of this thing. The second article to come up on it: Snopes, and my instincts were correct. This thing is pure fantasy, front to back. The physical evidence — skull fragments, cave paintings — was completely made up.
I felt inexplicably furious at this. Because the show had no disclaimers, no title cards, nothing indicating that this was anything but an in-good-faith documentary on an admittedly fringe topic (see info on aquatic apes). They’ve run documentaries on Bigfoot that are exactly this earnest. So what pinged me? Those so-called NOAA scientists interviewed on the show — they didn’t act like scientists, they acted like actors. Watch a show with real scientists on it — like The Universe or even Monster Quest. When they talk, they use their hands, they get excited, and they really do look kind of nerdy, like they might be used to lecturing but certainly not in front of a TV camera. The ones on the mermaid show — too polished, and too angst ridden. Too rigged. Not to mention the supposed mermaid home videos that used the same CGI mermaid cut and pasted in each one… You know, you really can’t call it a “dramatic re-enactment” if it didn’t happen in the first place. (Not to mention the conspiracy plot they put forward was very Hollywood.)
So why did I get so enraged about a fake documentary? Because of how many people out there now believe that the government really is covering up physical evidence of mermaids. Probably some of the same people who believe that stories in The Onion are real. At this point, it’s not opinion, it’s willful ignorance.
I’ll admit that I’m rigged for skepticism when it comes to things like “documentaries” on mermaids and Bigfoot. But it’s skepticism that comes from paying attention to that little niggling voice in the back of my head saying, “This doesn’t sound right. This doesn’t look right.” I’ve been watching documentaries with scientist interviews my whole freaking life — I know what an interview with a scientist generally looks like. And this didn’t look right.
It’s so important to simply pay attention.
September 28, 2012
August 24, 2012
I wrote recently about my discovery of my new favorite comic, Planetary, and how it makes allusions to about a million other comics, books, movies, and so on. One of the things it references is a primarily Silver Age comic called Challengers of the Unknown, about four heroic American dudes rendered largely invincible by a freak airplane accident. They use their freak invincibility to basically go around, you know, challenging the unknown and stuff. Axel Brass’s group in Planetary is kind of a cross between the Challengers and the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The Planetary group itself is partly inspired by the Challengers. That comic’s fingerprints are all over Planetary.
So I wanted to get my hands on some Challengers of the Unknown, which I knew about but had never read. I can always count on my comics friend Max to come through for me — he’s got the DC Archive Edition, and I got to work reading it, and it’s about what you’d expect in a comic featuring four true-blooded heroes battling the weird. It’s, you know, weird. As usual, though, I got hung up on something completely different, right on the first page, and it hasn’t let me go.
As the story opens, the four men who are to become the Challengers — Ace, Red, Rocky, and the Professor (yes, I know) — are on their way to a radio station to be interviewed about their amazing achievements so far. This is what’s happening in the radio station before they get there:
And that’s the only time we ever hear about these four women. BUT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY DID!! Who are they? Where did they come from? What happens to them next? What secret lives do they lead when they aren’t being interviewed on radio shows? WHO ARE THEY?!!!!!!!
They are the Challengerettes of the Unknown. And I want to write a book about them.
August 13, 2012
As usual during the Olympics, I’ve gotten nothing done for the last two weeks, flailing about like a mad thing getting emotional over other people’s victories, so today is the day when I go back to my to-do list and start getting things done. I had a great time watching, as usual, but it’s a good thing this only happens every couple of years. An observation: people have pointed out that this is the first Olympics where women athletes outnumbered the men, where every team included women athletes, and where American women won more gold medals than the men. I think this is great. We’re two generations past Title IX, and this is the result: the current generation of women Olympians didn’t just have wide-open access to participation in sports, they grew up watching women play sports as a matter of course. Women in sports is now entirely, beautifully normal, and that attitude seems to be spreading to the rest of the world. Huzzah!
Something I meant to blog about last week and didn’t: Last Sunday I had the great good fortune to attend the Steamfitters Ball at the splendid Gothic Theater, featuring Abney Park’s first ever Denver concert. I got all dressed up and everything, though not in the outfit I intended. I’ve finally acquired a fancy hourglass corset (rather than all the flat-panel Elizabethan ones I already had), but realized I should probably not have my first outing in said corset driving myself over an hour to a show where I’d be on my feet for another six hours. But the new corset will have its outing soon, oh yes.
And I always forget, until I’m at my next show, just how much I love live music. Live music is magic. It can be a song I’ve heard a million times recorded, but hearing it live makes it new again, and hearing an iconic voice like Captain Robert’s, and realizing it belongs to a real live person who’s made all this music. . . And then being there, in the middle of it, I’m suddenly a part of it. Yeah, I had a good time.
And on that note, I’ve signed up for Steamcon. Perhaps I’ll see you there.
August 8, 2012
So there I was poking around the web while writing that post I did on Choose Your Own Adventure books, when I made an amazing discovery: the existence of Find Your Fate: G.I. Joe. A Choose Your Own Adventure-style series about G.I. Joe. Or, as it will henceforth be known: Crack for Carrie.
Of course, I had to acquire them, which was a little tougher than I was expecting. Apparently, there’s been a run on this kind of thing in all the used bookstores. In other words, people who read them as kids are now old enough and have enough money to be collectors and are eating stuff like this up. (People like, oh, me?) But with the help of a friend and eBay, I got a set of six.
How did I not know about these back in the 80′s? Well, the copyright dates say that by the time these came out, I’d discovered Robin McKinley, Wild Cards, and a slew of other books and authors, and I never looked back. But it’s never too late. First impression: these read a little like my teenager G.I. Joe fanfiction. Which, you know, cool. Second impression: HOLY CRAP! These things are super traumatic. Because it turns out everyone in them are way better shots than their counterparts in the cartoons.
So like, you know how in Choose Your Own Adventure books there are quite a few negative outcomes. Like, “You fail, something terrible happens, you die. THE END.” Well, in the GI Joe ones, it’s even worse, because the negative outcomes go something like this: “You fail, something terrible happens, you die, YOUR ENTIRE SQUAD OF BELOVED GI JOE CHARACTERS DIE, THE ENTIRE G.I. JOE TEAM IS DESTROYED, AND COBRA TAKES OVER THE WORLD!!! THE END.” Or, “You fail, and maybe Cobra takes over the world, but you’ll never know because you’re dead and the GI Joe team has to clean up your mess, loser. Maybe they’ll succeed, or not. THE END.”
Oh my God. I can’t handle it. I have to go take a walk or something.
Okay, I’m back. Just long enough to show you this:
So yeah, a little wobbly on some of the details. I cannot tell you just how wrong it is, reading those words.
July 27, 2012
Last December I did about the uber-geekiest thing I’ve ever done: I bought a Bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPod touch. That’s right, I was sitting there with my four inch screen, typing away on a full size keyboard. The thing is, it worked. I was traveling, and writing, more than just notes in my journal or revisions on existing manuscripts. I have a laptop, but I avoid traveling with it because it’s a pain in the ass — it’s heavy, it’s a full-size carry-on all by itself, it’s a hassle taking it out of the bag at security, putting it back in, etc., and I pretty much always need to be near an outlet with it. After last summer’s traveling shenanigans during which I didn’t write nearly as much as I wanted to, I needed to find an efficient way to write on the road. The Bluetooth keyboard was it. I don’t have to take it out of my bag, it and the iPod fit in my small backpack, it’s light, it’s awesome. (I have the Docs to Go app, which I can use to synch files between the device and my desktop.)
Then I immediately upgraded to an iPad so I could read e-comic books more easily. (I’m not making this up.)
About the size of a magazine, the iPad also fits, along with the keyboard, into my small backpack. It isn’t heavy. I don’t have to take it out at airport security. And I’m writing on the road now. Brilliant.
But what’s really gotten to me is what the tablet replaces. Functionally, it’s my laptop now. But it’s also my music library, my current comic book collection, my cookbook, a bunch of books, a bunch of movies, my birdwatching guide, and a deck of cards. All in a device the size and space of a magazine.
Who needs a jetpack?
(A selection of things that I can now bring with me everywhere I go. Now all I need is that tent from Harry Potter.)
July 18, 2012
When people ask about my literary influences, I have my pat answers: Ray Bradbury and Robin McKinley were early inspirations and teachers, through their work. The classics I studied for my degrees have influenced me, I learned about writing series from reading Lois McMaster Bujold, Iain M. Banks’ Use of Weapons gave me the idea for part of the structure of Discord’s Apple, and so on.
I’ve long been coming to the realization that while my craft may have come from respectable literary influences, my aesthetics were heavily, embarrassingly molded by the cheesiest pop culture the 80′s had to offer. Given how much I talk about GI Joe and Captain Power, this should come as no surprise to anyone. But what does the literary side of that look like? My friends, it looks like this:
Photon. It is my understanding that the author, David Peters, is a pseudonym for the great and prolific Peter David. This makes perfect sense to me, and explains why I was so much in thrall to these things. I read them many, many times. I understand there was a TV show of Photon. I probably would have watched it, if I’d been able to (even thought the production values look about on par with those of the MST3K intros). The story has that familiar pattern I latched onto so firmly as a kid: a close-knit cadre of freedom fighters in a wacked-out universe. The storylines were pat — the only one I remember clearly is the one where Bhodi wakes up in the hospital and is told that he’s been in a coma for months and all his Photon-related adventures were a dream. In fact, he’s been kidnapped by the bad guys who are brainwashing him into becoming one of them. This is also essentially the storyline of the great GI Joe episode “There’s No Place Like Springfield,” in which Shipwreck wakes up from a coma to be told that years have passed, Cobra was defeated, and the whole GI Joe team is now retired and wearing polo shirts and playing golf. Everyone uses this story, I think because it allows so much rich psychological torture of the main characters, and that’s always fun, right?
I ate this stuff up like chocolate ice cream during my pre-teen years. And I’m not even sure why, except that I loved the idea of being part of a group of awesome people who were made of pure awesome, having really traumatic adventures. Trauma, action, betrayal, redemption, larger than life chaos that put the whole world on the line — these things had all the best, pure, essential stories.
Micro Adventure: Same damn thing. You (and like Choose Your Own Adventure these were written in second person, so it’s all about you) are part of an elite group of superspies traveling the world and doing awesome things. (The front page tells me that I am a member of the Adventure Connection Team, fighting against the Bureau of Random Unlawful Terror and Evil. That’s right, it’s ACT against BRUTE, y’all.) In fact, you’re the team’s computer expert, and the text would periodically break so that you could solve some kind of computer programming riddle by actually programming your own computer. Like this:
I should probably explain that in the early days of home computing, this was mind blowing. You, the eleven year old kid who picked up this book by chance at a Scholastic Book Fair, can be a super hacker (sort of)! Wooooo! In fact, I knew some BASIC, back in the day, and the programs were simple enough that I never bothered actually programming them, I just read them over, figured out what they did, and moved on with the story, which was way more interesting. And that right there probably explains why I became a writer and not a computer programmer like so many of my peers. (Though I am, right this minute, having to physically restrain myself from seeing if I can get a DOS prompt on this machine to try these programs out now.) All I really remember of the stories now was that there was an actual ongoing through-line — you caught malaria in one book, you had malaria for the rest of the series. And the really clever bit where the bad guys travel back in time to the American Revolution, the heroes go after them, and track them down by looking for the people with the best dental hygiene. (Isn’t that clever? I thought so, when I was eleven.)
And then there’s Choose Your Own Adventure. Full of enough WTF to make even the oddest child (me) happy. As it happens, I no longer seem to have what was my very favorite CYOA: Inside UFO 54-40. I don’t know if I tucked it away somewhere, if my brother has it, or what. But there’s a scene in this book emblazoned into my memory in a spot that will never, ever be erased: in one of the more horrifying endings, you end up in a room where your physical development starts going backwards, until you end up as a sentient fetus in a glass jar, waiting for oblivion. HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE! This is good stuff! These books are entirely chock full of existential terror, which I think is exactly what I needed as a military brat growing up during some of the most tense years of the Cold War.
If my writing, at least some of it, can be characterized by fast-past adventure, teamwork and camaraderie among characters, and odd bits of uncomfortable horror, I think I have to attribute some of that to my early reading. And I’m actually not embarrassed about it, because what I’m also coming to realize is that so many of the things I adored when I was growing up have helped make me the writer I am today, and contribute to my own unique and special writerly voice. I’m the writer I am, the writer I’m happy being, because I grew up with GI Joe and Captain Power, and reading Photon and Choose Your Own Adventure, not in spite of those things, and I wouldn’t change it.
July 13, 2012
I’m totally late to the party on this one, but I usually am where comics are concerned. I always have this moment of fury, when I discover something that’s been out for 10-12 years already, and I think about how much I wish I’d been there at the start, and I could have gotten excited about it and geeked out over it with everyone else who was just discovering it. Instead of saying, you know, “Hey, isn’t this great?” and having everyone go, “Um, yeah, we know…”
On the other hand, I’m really glad I got to read all thirty issues of the thing practically in one sitting rather than having to wait for years for them all to come out. Trade paperbacks: the comics version of waiting for a TV show to come out on DVD. So, it’s cool.
What did I read that’s got me all excited? Planetary, by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday. (And no, I haven’t read very much else of Ellis, so what’s even better is I have a ton of potentially great stuff to go track down now, starting probably with Global Frequency and FreakAngels.)
Planetary is kind of sort of not really a superhero comic, but it’s also kind of a spy story, but what it really is is a celebration of all things pulp spanning the last century and a half. I have to give the iPad app Comixology mad props here for giving away the first issue for free. I was highly intrigued, and when I saw the covers for all the subsequent issues, every single one of them a pastiche of something else, like monster movies or 1950′s SF or Doc Savage or cyberpunk and so on, I had to get my hands on the whole thing.
So yeah, the story’s a beautiful pastiche of about nine million other pulp fictional references, but what I really ended up adoring are the characters. Because they end up being really good people trying to do good.
I’ve realized over the last few years how much I love stories about good people trying to do good in a messed up a world. When I read them, I realize how much fiction is about people being terrible to each other, and how many stories and conflicts are derived from people being terrible to each other. Which might be dramatic but isn’t actually very much fun. Good people trying to do good must seem terribly old fashioned, I guess. But it still makes for excellent stories. It’s the same reason I fell absolutely in love with Steven Erikson’s Malazan series — because while vicious, terrible, horrific things happen, it really is at its core about good people trying to do good. (The scene where Mappo and Icarium go back to give the healing potion to the fatally injured dog is what hooked me. THEY SAVED THE DOG!)
So yeah. I get tired of reading and watching people being horrible to each other. I’d like more about characters saving the world with their friends at their sides, and more saving the dog for no other reason than it’s a good thing to do. It makes me happy.
(I have heard an argument that goes something like this: it’s not realistic writing about good people doing good, because the world isn’t like that and people aren’t like that. Well, I disagree. Because I live in a world where firefighters leave notes to homeowners letting them know what happened to their chickens. Stuff like that, you know?)