end/start of the month

September 1, 2017

August is finished. August, the month that would not end. So much happened, and just kept happening. Europe trip, total eclipse, Depeche Mode concert (and do check out their opening band, Warpaint, who were excellent), career strategizing, Wild Cards story finished and turned in, Too Much News…

August felt like six months long. And now it’s Labor Day weekend.

Time to hit the reset button and get ready for a good autumn.

 

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art in the age of chaos

August 30, 2017

I’ve been feeling guilty. Many, many writers and artists on social media have been talking about how the current political situation, the fear and uncertainty, has made it difficult to work. Editors and agents are talking about how, across the board, the artists they know are missing deadlines and freezing up. It’s hard to make art when your brain is locked in panic mode.

This hasn’t happened to me. Rather, art has been my refuge. I flee to my work.  It’s the only thing I really have control over right now. I’m fortunate and grateful to have work and deadlines. My work has been a comfort, these last several months. So now I feel lucky twice over, that my art hasn’t left me.

Working on the sequel to Bannerless has been strange in some regards. First, I had more time to work on that than just about any book I’ve written over the last decade. (A whole year between deadlines, what?!) But while writing it, I watched it become more relevant in real time. Bannerless is a more subversive, relevant novel than it was when I wrote it a year ago. In it, I posit a cascading failure for civilization. As more and more infrastructure and support gets knocked out, disasters like storms and epidemics become more difficult to recover from, until recovery is impossible. (For example, imagine Hurricane Harvey happening in conjunction with an epidemic on par with the Spanish flu of 1918. If you’re able to help with storm recovery, please do: here are some links to get you started.) And now we have an administration that has proposed cutting, if not eliminating, so many of the support structures that are specifically designed to help our society survive and recover from disasters.

Bannerless depicts a society where economic strength is measured by whether or not everyone is healthy and taken care of, not by how much profit is accumulated. I’m writing this while facing an administration that is giving the Ferengi a run for their money in terms of sheer, amoral acquisitiveness.

I was aware of Bannerless #2’s relevancy in a way I wasn’t with the first book. And this gave me incentive. Art is relevant. Art is important. Like so many others, I feel so helpless in the face of forces that seem determined to destroy things that are important to me. But I can still write.

 

more Iceland

August 28, 2017

For half my Iceland trip, I rented a car and got out into the country a bit. So the thing about Iceland that becomes pretty clear after just a few hours of driving around:  It’s entirely volcanic.  In fact, and weirdly, the geology of Iceland is a lot like the geology of Hawaii. It’s just that one is tropical and one is sub-arctic, and it’s so cool seeing how those differences in climate play out. Instead of being covered with lush jungle, the lava fields in Iceland are covered in scrubby moss and birch. (Well, the windward side of the Big Island is scrubby new lava fields, much like Iceland.)  But there are still waterfalls everywhere you look, and basalt cliffs falling into the ocean, and entire mountain ranges that could go off at any moment.

It’s very cool.

At one point I said the immortal words, “Hey, I’m not in a hurry, let’s take the back way!”  I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I’m really glad I did.

Coming around a curve, I looked out the window and saw this:

I think I actually said out loud, “Oh my God a shield volcano.”  Like, an actual classic shield volcano just sitting out there. I pulled over to the side of the road to get a picture, I was so excited. I checked later and learned this is Mt Skjaldbreiður, and it produced the lava fields that make up Þingvellir National Park.

Mt. Snaefells, of Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth fame, is also a shield volcano.

mt snaefells

So. Much. Geology, y’all.

 

This is another set of reviews of movies I watched on airplanes, with bad sound and too many little bottles of wine.

Kong: Skull Island

This may be a perfect movie for bad sound and too many little bottles of wine because this doesn’t have a single original thing in it — but it knows it. Is there a reason this needs to exactly replicate the aesthetics of a 1980’s Vietnam War movie? Did Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” really get played on U.S. bases in Vietnam as much as it does in these movies? Why the hell did they bring a record player to Skull Island? I probably wasn’t supposed to laugh when that one guy handed over the pile of dog tags to Samuel L. Jackson but I totally did. “Sir, here are the tags of our fallen comrades, some of whom were swallowed whole by a giant gorilla. Please don’t ask.”

But really, this film is an object lesson in how very good actors can sell something ridiculous by sheer force of will.

The Accountant

This was really good. I mean, it wasn’t art, it was super trope-y, and had just about everything you expect from a one-man-army revenge thriller story. (We have twenty years of CSI to thank for those endless scenes of agents sitting in front of computer screens while whatever suspenseful information scrolls up ever so conveniently. Macguffin screens, lets call them.) But what sold me on this were the characters. Like five characters, all played by really solid actors, who all had interesting arcs that intersected in plausible ways and I liked them and liked that things ended well for most of them. Good work, movie!  And this is all before I even get to the part where it’s superheroes and accounting, which is kind of my thing. I’m telling you, it’s a great untapped genre.  I told my CPA mom to watch this one.

 

eclipse

August 23, 2017

No words.

I mean, millions of words have been expended online about the eclipse, the science, the lead-up, the traffic. I could rehash all that because I was one of an estimated million people who went to Wyoming for the event. (Normal population of Wyoming: 480,000.)

You see the pictures and read the commentaries, and this is one of those things that entirely exceeds any expectation. The reason people in the know urge everyone to go see totality if you can:  because it’s indescribable.  Until you’ve seen it, you can’t know.

There’s a hole in the sky, with the purest white light emanating from it. There are stars in a darkened sky. There’s the pinkish orange haze of a sunset all the way around, a 360 degree dome of twilight.  And then the stab of searing light at the top edge of the sun and the real world returns.

At our location, totality was set to last something like 2 minutes 30 seconds, give or take. I set the timer on my phone for 2 minutes and started it when totality started, so we’d have some warning when sunlight was about to come back, and so no one would have to check the time.  I didn’t hear the timer go off. Someone else heard it. I couldn’t believe it. Fastest two minutes of my whole life.

I’ve always known about eclipse chasers:  people who travel the world, seeking out the next location of totality, planning their lives around that next chance to experience a minute or two of cosmic wonder.  I imagine after Monday there are thousands of new eclipse chasers. Next one in the continental U.S. is 2024.  Start planning now.

 

eclipse day news blast!

August 21, 2017

If all has gone according to plan, I’m currently ensconced in the path of totality watching the start of the solar eclipse. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Meanwhile, some things got posted while I was out:

URBAN ENEMIES, a new anthology edited by Joseph Nassise, includes my story “Bellum Romanum.”  One guess what it’s about. You know how I like doing origin stories for various side characters? This is an origin story for Roman.

Over at Speculative Chic I wrote an essay about My Favorite Things. Specifically my favorite things right now. None of them will be a surprise to anyone who reads the blog.

Also due out real soon:  INFINITY WARS, edited by Jonathan Strahan. I’m pleased to be in this since it’s not my usual wheelhouse. My story, “The Evening of Their Span of Days,” is about logistics.

I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting, I’m sure of it, argh….

But hey, books! Aren’t they pretty?!

sitrep: the return!

August 18, 2017

Turns out last weekend was a pretty good time to be out of the country.

So, I’m back. I spent a day riding an Icelandic horse, I bought a lot of Icelandic yarn, I experienced a Finnish sauna, I ate a bunch of cod in one country and then a bunch of salmon in another, added maybe a dozen birds to my life list including the Atlantic puffin.  I took the fast ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia — so that’s three new countries checked off on one trip! I learned what Finland did during World War II, which it turns out is very complicated. I caught up with a lot of friends, went to the Hugo Losers Party at Steam Helsinki, a steampunk bar. And yes, I lost a Hugo, and had a great time.

Modern communication being what it is and wifi being everywhere, I kept up with the news pretty well, though I might have wished to be a little more cut off.  Strange days indeed, so while I’m still plowing through emails and doing laundry and sorting out the gifts I brought back for people and planning an eclipse viewing roadtrip (yes, I’m gonna do it!), I leave you with this:

Ten Ways To Fight Hate, from the Southern Poverty Law Center.