Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cthulhu Watch 2013 Continues!

Seems someone in Oklahoma has claimed a restaurant for the Dark God Azathoth.

Five Reasons To Stick a Fork in Your Worldbuilding and Get to Writing

And now, a word to my fellow writers of speculative fiction.

Go onto any writer forum dealing with F/SF, and half the questions are about worldbuilding: How do I make maps? What kind of grammar reflects a warrior culture? Can anyone tell me about reasonable weather patterns? How do you create gods - all I know are the Greek and Norse ones?

And when I see them, I want to squeeze out a few tears, because that used to be me. Not recently. A  long time ago. A LONG, LOOONG, LOOOOOONG time ago. Not anymore, though. Here's why.

1. You know what you could be doing while asking these questions? You could be writing.

2. You know who asks these questions? Not writers. Dungeon masters. Are you a WRITER?

3. You know the difference between Anna Karenina and Fodor's Guide to Moscow? It's CHARACTERS. Worldbuilding isn't about characters.

4. You know what's exciting? Things that are uncertain. Is an anthropology class uncertain? No. When was the last time in college you woke up and said "Wow! Anthro 310 is today, and I'm totally stoked!"

5. You know what's hot? Naked worshippers of the local sex deity are hot. You know what's not? Sociology notes on the mating rituals of a made-up pseudo-Phoenician priesthood.

So stick in some swords. Some blood. Some sex. Some romance. Maybe some interstellar travel-writing details ("In the bazaars of F'knik, it is customary to offer a drop of blood to seal the bargain, but it does not have to be your blood...") Cut down on the politics, the interstellar trade law, the economic treatises of far-off kingdoms...unless you actually KNOW what you're talking about enough to make a story out of political backstabbing or currency-rate fluctuations. (And you probably don't.)

Have some fun, f'r Mithras' sake. Unless you don't know anything about fun, either. Of course, if you're sitting by yourself in a room drawing maps...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Little "Game of Thrones" Fan Service Speculation

My current favorite character - even more than Tyrion Lannister - is Margaery Tyrell. Now there's a cunning wench. You know, put her with Tyrion, and you might have a functional royal family.

Won't happen, of course. That would be too sensible. Plus that whole marriage-for-life thing. Divorce, what a lifesaver! Literally...

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction Resource

One of the things that I've tried to do with this blog (admittedly, somewhat sporadically) is to provide some resources for fellow writer/reader/fans of the genre. One of those resources is one that I created myself, and first premiered on It's called "The List" or "The Basics" - a list of many of the genre's "Big Ideas" and the stories that gave those ideas their first (or best, or most famous) expositions. Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Fred Pohl, CM Kornbluth, Jack Williamson, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, JRR Tolkien, they're all there, and many others, one way or another.

Check it out. It's there, in the righthand column under "Pages."

Another Quick Thought About the Next Great Speculative-Fiction TV Show

Any steampunk TV series could also, very easily, be an Alternate History series. F'rinstance, if a certain Archduke was never assassinated in Sarajevo, World War I might not have happened - or it might have happened later, and differently. Imagine a world without a World War II, where the sun has still never set on the British Empire, and the vast technological leaps encouraged by things like the Manhattan Project never happened.

It might be a very analogue, non-digital, slide-rule over calculator, Nikolas Tesla kind of world...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Next Great Speculative Fiction TV Series

Last week I asked "What is the next serious fantasy or science fiction sub genre for television?" Why don't we take a look at the groundbreakers so far:

Horror (The Walking Dead; American Horror Story)
Paranormal Romance (True Blood; Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Space Opera (Battlestar Galactica)
Epic Fantasy (Game of Thrones)
Superheroes (Heroes)

That leaves some strong contenders, like-

Alternate History: Maybe we lost the Revolutionary War. Maybe the Roman Empire never fell. Maybe...
Contemporary Fantasy: It's our ordinary world, but there's magic.
Cyberpunk: The world sucks, and cyberstuff is everywhere.
First Contact: We meet the alien Other.
Slipstream/Magic Realism (Bryan Fuller has done some great work here)
Steampunk: Queen Victoria is on the throne, and computers have cogs and gears.
Time Travel: So many, many, many so-so series...
Urban Fantasy: Contemporary fantasy with a hard, noir edge, like The Dresden Files (which they did make into a series...a bad, bad series.)

Now, to be clear, there have been TV series that have explored all of these possibilities, but none of them have been as groundbreaking as shows like BSG and GoT. (And when I say "groundbreaking," I mean gaining widespread cultural acceptance outside of the F/SF community, from people who would otherwise ignore or dismiss speculative fiction.) Instead, there have been shows ranging in quality from Time Tunnel and Charmed to Firefly and Babylon 5 - but none of them "breakouts."

Personally, I think this is the time for a steampunk series. They kind of tried with Wild, Wild West some twenty years before KW Jeter coined the term. These days, steampunk is as much (or more) an aesthetic than a sub genre; but if someone could find an appropriate message/attitude/theme for the series (the difference between civilization and barbarism, perhaps? Imperialism, maybe?) it could play...

Friday, August 23, 2013

An Article on SF Publishing for My Fellow Writers

Over at (yes, another referral to them) there's a listicle of common misconceptions about science fiction publishing. Most of them are on the money (the last is less misconceived than they think). Anyway, here it is. Pretty interesting.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

That "Starks Are Dead" Thing? GRRM Has the Answer

If you're writing a franchise in which any character, minor or major, can be killed at any time, then eventually you're going to run out of characters to kill. Now, if you've been thinking tactically, not strategically, that's the end of the story.

If you're like George R.R. Martin, however, you understand that to keep things going when you're merrily bumping off big characters left and right, you can't just work with the Majors. You have to have the farm leagues as well. That's why, although we start off with the Starks in Game of Thrones, we eventually encounter characters like Brienne of Tarth, Bronn son of no one in particular, Ser Davos, et al. Any one of these secondary characters can then become a major character...who can, of course, be killed off in turn. You just have to prepare by planting them far enough in advance, so you have a nice, deep bench of pre-corpses.

The corollary to this: Any character with a unique characteristic that clearly has a bearing on the world at large - oh, an ability to command dragons, for instance - is probably safe. That is, unless or until some other character acquires that characteristic.

So if somebody else in Westeros suddenly develops the ability to speak in Old Valyrian and withstand stone-melting fire, look out. Daenerys' days may be numbered.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Charlie Jane Anders and Flowing Sentences

Over at, Charlie Jane Anders has a really good writing-tips piece on narrative flow. Check it out here.

Witches - Some People Put Them in Novels; Others Think That They're Real

As you've probably figured out by now, I write fantasy. Magic swords, mythical creatures, spells and omens, it's all good. But when I write fantasy, I KNOW it's fantasy...that is, something that is not real. But there are places in this world, places with indoor plumbing, F-16 fighter jets, smartphones and air-conditioned shopping malls, where they honestly do not understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Because in Saudi Arabia, they have religious police, and the police have instituted special divisions DEVOTED TO HUNTING WITCHES.

There are no checks on the power of the judges in these witch trials. They have become a good way for abusive employers to get rid of servants who complain of ill-treatment. And the penalty for witchcraft is death. This reminds me once again how special and irreplaceable was the Enlightenment. It makes me want to kiss Voltaire and John Locke and David Hume, all of 'em, right on the lips.

Separation of Church and State. The Scientific Method. Free Speech.

Never forget.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Wonder What We Will Do When All the Starks Are Dead?

NO-SPOILER ALERT - I don't know that all the Starks on *that show* will die. I don't know who will live or die on Game of Thrones. (Whoops, I said the name. Ah, well.) But let's face it - the Starks do kind of seem to be an entire Woobie family.

But my real question is what will happen when the series ends. So far, TV has given us two truly, radically successful F/SF series: Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. Obviously, there are dozens of other F/SF series that I've liked, from Firefly to DS9 to- yes, even Farscape.

But here's the thing: All of those other series were genre series - "Genre" in the sense that the creators relied to some extent on the viewers having an affection for the genre, a tolerance for its conventions and tropes, and an enhanced willingness to suspend disbelief. These shows were, in some sense, comfort food. Outcomes were, to some extent, predictable.

That was never true of Battlestar and Game of Thrones. No one was/is safe. Anything can happen. (Granted, Battlestar lost that edge as the series continued - but in that first season, anyone could die. Anyone could be a Cylon.) And that feeling of uncertainty, that anything can happen, is what separates radical F/SF from the comfort-food, Doctor Who variety.

So far we've had a hard-core, military space opera and a traditional alternate-world fantasy. There will be more radical series (I hope). I just wonder what they will be.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Medieval Recipe Day: Let's Make a Posset!

What is a posset, you ask? Well, these days it's a syllabub. (Wait, what's a syllabub? Shut up, you.)

But BACK IN THE DAY (which, for the purposes of this blog, is any time after the year 900 CE but before the invention of playing cards with feelthy peectures on 'em) a posset was your basic cold and flu remedy, the medieval British version of chicken soup, except a little more disgusting - they are hot milk drinks, curdled with beer, ale or wine (especially sweet wines). Other ingredients would include toast, sugar, nutmeg, and "spice." Lady Macbeth poisoned people's possets; but typically, peasant parents prepped possets for little peons at play. By the Elizabethan era, there were even specially made posset pots. So, want to get your posset on? Here are a couple of recipes yanked at random from the aether:

To make a Posset
Take a Quart of White-wine and a quart of Water, boil whole Spice in them, then take twelve Eggs and put away half the Whites, beat them very well, and take the Wine from the fire, then put in your Eggs and stir them very well, then set it on a slow fire, and stir it till it be thick, sweeten it with Sugar, and strew beaten Spice thereon, then serve it in
You may put in Ambergreece if you like it, or one perfumed Lozenge

To make a Sack Posset
Take two quarts of Cream and boil it with Whole Spice, then take twelve Eggs well beaten and drained, take the Cream from the fire, and stir in the Eggs, and as much Sugar as will sweeten it, then put in so much Sack as will make it taste well, and set it on the fire again, and let it stand a while, then take a Ladle and raise it up gently from the bottom of the Skillet you make it in, and break it as little as you can, and so do till you see it be thick enough; then put it into a Bason with the Ladle gently; if you do it too much it will whey, and that is not good

Old-Fashioned Posset
4 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
4 slices toast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups of beer (preferably ale)

Heat the milk, sugar, and toast in a saucepan, but don't let it boil. Stir the cinnamon and beer together in a punch bowl.

Discard the toast. Pour the hot milk over the ale and stir. Drink from mugs while warm. Serves 8-10.

©"Beer and Good Food," by Myra Waldo, 1958.

The astute reader will notice the option of including ambergris in the recipe, and gag a little bit. Also, if anyone knows the difference between a "posset" and a "sack posset," let me know.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's Schrodinger's Birthday Today! Or Is It? Yes, Yes It Is!

The Schrodinger Wave Function has collapsed, and yes - it IS Erwin's birthday. And in honor of the man who bought us the superpositioned cat and equations like i \hbar \frac{\partial}{\partial t}\Psi = \hat H \Psi, I will now share with you the ONLY short story that truly embodies Schrodinger's Paradox. It's not even science fiction, and it was written in 1882, decades before quantum mechanics was a gleam in Max Planck's eye. Here it is.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Dumb Joke Metric

If you go on a date, and you tell the following joke, and she laughs...she likes you.

A grasshopper walks into a bar and orders a beer.
The bartender says "You know, we've got a drink named after you."
The grasshopper says "There's a drink named Irving?"

Seriously, if you're not sure how the date is going, this is the way to find out.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Habemus Medicum - We Have a New Doctor

The new Doctor - the Twelfth Doctor - for Doctor Who will be Peter Capaldi, a Scottish Oscar-winner who's most famous for playing Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. I haven't seen Thick, but that character seems to be a famous asshole.

So here are my thoughts:

1. Thank God they've cast a Doctor who's old enough to shave. No disrespect to Matt Smith...

2. This is an actor whose physiognomy looks better suited to the Master than the Doctor. Interesting!

3. Is it just me, or does he look like he could be David Tennant's dad? Maybe it's a pale Scottish thing?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sad News

Michael Ansara, who played the Klingon commander Kang on Star Trek and Star Trek: DS9, has passed away. He was 91 years old. Like DeForrest Kelly (Dr. McCoy), he was an old-school character actor with a list of credits as long as your arm: TV westerns, cop and mystery shows, even I Dream of Jeanie (he was married to Barbara Eden for a while). If you're over the age of thirty, you probably saw him on TV at some point. If you heard his voice, you recognized him instantly. Farewell.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Another Visit to Castle's New York

Remember my post about TV New York vs. real New York? A couple more examples-

1. Someone driving a Ferrari to a downtown dance Manhattan...and talking about what an amazing ride it was. Because there are all those wide-open, empty streets in Manhattan that just beckon to an overpowered sports car with a manual transmission.

2. A native New Yorker bemoaning the current touristy state of Times Square and the vanished, "gritty" Times Square of yore. Sorry, anyone who lived in New York in the '70s or '80s is perfectly happy to never see that "grit" again.