“The Colossal Death Ray” hits Galaxy’s Edge.

Very happy to note that my story “The Colossal Death Ray” is the lead story in this issue of Galaxy’s Edge.

This story is actually a bit of a favorite of mine because it came to me in what was essentially a single sitting (with another pass or two rub out some raw edges here and there). This kind of thing doesn’t happen too often with me, so I need to enjoy them when they arrive.

That said, this issue is also a favorite of mine, merely because of all the other really cool writers you’ll find inside its pages. It’s also pretty cool because you can read it for free and all that. So, uh, yeah … go forth and get to it!

Leadership, and the need to “prove yourself”

As we often do while we walk together, Lisa and I were recently talking about the framework that work happens in under in the corporate environment. At some point we talked about the fact that there is this need to prove oneself upon entry into a new environment before a person is accepted, and along the way I said something about what a terrible shame that is—that managers who set this kind of environment are making a mistake. She argued my point, though, saying it’s completely understandable that a new person needs to prove themselves before being fully included in a group.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit since then, and she’s right … except that I’m also right.

A team will never fully accept someone who doesn’t do the job, that’s true. This is the root of things like “probation periods,” or initiation rites, or other such things (dare I suggest this idea is the root of hazings?). That is the way it is, and most of us humans “get” it because it’s quite logical. “Sink or swim, buddy,” this concept says. “I don’t care what you did anywhere else, you gotta prove it here!”

But, seriously, a good leader does NOT think this way. A good leader sets expectation, of course, and a good leader delivers results. But a good leader assumes their selection process has found a valuable person, and then does everything they can to make sure the team member is safe and in an emotional place where they can do their best work. That’s it. It’s 100% of the real job description of leadership. When I was managing people, I cannot think of a time when I ever expected a person to prove themselves, unless we were already having performance problems (which is, of course, a different case).

The need to prove yourself is a stressful thing, you see? Stressful in a negative fashion. And a manager/leader’s role is to reduce negative stress (and increase positive stress).

In this light, this afternoon I watched a couple TED talks. One I thought was quite good, and the other I wish I had actually written, because it is almost word-for-word the way I think about things. (At one point, a boss of mine asked me to write a paper on what it would take to create a “job for life” kind of company. I don’t remember what I wrote about, but this is it). This has become one f my favorite TED talks…if you are a leader, I strongly recommend you watch it. As you watch it, think about how this concept pretty much refutes the whole “prove yourself” concept.

The first talk (which I felt was good, and also touched on the whole “prove yourself” concept) is here:

A day in the Northern Guard

Advance Notice
This is a very long post about my day with the Northern Guard—a supporter group associated with the Detroit City Football Club. Given the general tone of my blog and the readers I generally attract, I feel the need to tell you that, while it is certainly possible to write a post about the Northern Guard without the use of profanity, it strikes me (for reasons that may become more obvious as I go) as wholly inappropriate to do so. You may take this as a warning if you so desire.


The experience of a DCFC match has been described in other places as “electric.” And it truly is. If you live in Detroit, you should go see one.


As you may have been able to tell from my twitter feed, Lisa and I were in Detroit this past weekend for a football match. Or, more specifically, we were there to live a day as … uh … honorary members (if there is such a thing) of the Northern Guard Supporters, a collection of semi-hooligans (more on that word hooligans later) who cheer for their beloved Detroit City Football Club. The opposition on this day was provided by the Madison 56ers, who may as well have been wearing Washington Generals uniforms for all the chance they had.

We came across the Northern Guard because my son-in-law, Nick (who you might say is a football enthusiast in the same way that the cast of the Big Bang Theory are into comics), is deeply involved with the Northern Guard in pretty much all ways possible. He and Brigid have a great time at all the games … er … matches. [Please note: To be a proper fan is to use the proper language. The event that happens on the pitch (not field) is a match (not a game). We shall be clear on this, got it? And, yeah, for the record, it is truly “football,” and the Northern Guard are not “fans.” They are “supporters.” It’s important. Trust me on this, my American friends.]

What’s important for this post, however, is that you understand that the Northern Guard is a supporter base unlike pretty much anything else that exists in the US.

Oh, I’m sure there are parallels in other places—local groups that feel such ownership of their team that they attempt to bend the club to its own will a bit, groups who set and enforce expectation as if they are actual coaches or owners, folks who do the background work, collectives that serve to metaphorically ground the team itself into a specific place on the Earth, and make sure that folks realize that this is not just a team or a sport we’re talking about, it’s a goddamned, motherfucking way of life and unless you want a horn blared right in the old kisser you won’t pretend any different. Got that? The general family friendly section for casual supporters is fantastic and everybody loves it, but don’t come over to the Northern Guard’s side unless you’re willing to deal with 90 minutes of singing, cheering, chanting, drumming, smoke bombing, jeering, taunting, swearing, dancing, celebrating, and the general making of much noise. And that’s just during the match.

The experience of a DCFC match has been described in other places as “electric.” And it truly is. If you live in Detroit, you should go see one. The event, the actions in the stands as it is tied to the action on the pitch, is this weird, frenzied, spectral dance between players and fans. The Northern Guard is a lifestyle, however, that extends beyond the stands. It doesn’t start when the first pass is made and does not end when the final whistle blows. After hearing Brigid and Nick discuss the group for the past couple years, I was looking forward to finally experiencing the whole thing.

What I discovered was such an interesting, amazing, at times intimidating, and dedicated collection of people that I’ve felt the need to write a bit about them. So today I’m trying to capture something more than what it’s like to attend a game. Today I’m trying to capture the essence of what this community is about. What makes the Northern Guard work, how its tie to the city itself (above and beyond the team) makes it so, so unique. If you’re already aware of this group, this may be old hat, but the intended audience of this post are those folks on the fringe who might be interested, might be wondering just what all the fuss is about, or might be willing to put a toe in the water if they can get a handle on it. We’ll see whether I can do this justice, but I’m going to try my best.

So, what follows is a long and wandering discussion of what it’s like to be an “outsider” who enters into this world for a day. It’s going to go everywhere because I’m just going to let it sprawl, which seems like the only way to really do this right. For some it’ll be TLDR (or already has been). But for others—folks who want to get a feel for what it’s really like to step into something weird and wonderful and big and bold and maybe even a little obnoxious and threatening—this will give you an idea of how I saw the pageantry of what goes on both behind the scenes and out in the open over the course of the day. The NGS, you see, is a very complex beast, and what you see is not always exactly what you get—unless, that is, you truly see.

Since I suspect this post will be seen by a few folks who are not usual Typosphere readers, and since I’m not 100% sure exactly where this day-long diary will take me, let me start by noting that I am a 54 year-old Skiffy writer who spent a lot of time in corporate America, but also has lived most of my life with one foot squarely in the geek culture of software coding, comic books, science fiction, and other such silliness. I am an extroverted introvert by nature (take that MBTI). This means I’m a little stodgy, but also love things that are often seen as being off-kilter by friends and other folks who hail from the more mainstream lanes of life. It’s fair to say some of my acquaintances don’t totally get me, but that’s okay. I am an engineer, an IT guy, and a HR wonk, but one who understands the real purpose of old-school DnD. I get paid to write sword & sorcery. I get paid to write hard SF. I attend SF conventions and love watching my geeky fan-mates do their LARPing and their masquerades, and all their cosplay-like things. I like “the other,” even though sometimes I don’t totally get it. The fact that “the other” exists will generally make me happy.

Anyway…enough about me: Let’s get to the real stuff.

After driving up to Detroit the night before, the day started by donning my first official DCFC t-shirt, provided kindly for me by Nick.

It is important to note a few key things about this shirt. First, the colors. It is vital to understand that this shirt is NOT maroon and gold, nor is it burgundy and yellow. These colors are ROUGE and GOLD. The team is sometimes known as Le Rouge, not Le Red nor Le Maroon. Rouge and Gold.

It should also be noted that I still need work on the scurvy scowl. Brigid said I fit in fine, but clearly I’m a rookie in this department. Regardless, here were some of my poor efforts at pre-game prep:

Yeah, I know. Weak-asssed. Shrug.

So, the kiddoes pick us up in the morning and we head to the event. While the match won’t start until 7:30, the festivities begin much, much earlier. Nick, being a NGS big-wig, wants to be there to help set-up, and we’re worried about traffic due to road closings, so we go pre-lunch early. Along the way we talk about football in Detroit, and the various front office shenanigans that are working in the background. DCFC plays in the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League), but the US football terrain is changing rapidly as the sport takes real hold here. As is usual, the inner core of the Northern Guard has some pretty staunch views on how the team should pursue expansion. There are warring factions in these waters, and the Guard’s leadership intends to work their tail off to make sure the squad retains its flavor. It appears, however, to be a tenuous period with money (naturally) being a key question everywhere.

It’s clear, though, that the Guard’s presence makes a real difference in the business dealings of the team and the city. DCFC and the Guard have a well-correlated track record of consistent growth over three season—and, in fact, today’s attendance, which will register in at over 3,500 people and consist of the chock-full NGS section and a considerably full family section, is a new record. I note that the attendance number was barely buoyed at all by the scant few Madison players’ parents that they brought… hehehehe … inside joke there, which I can tell, since I AM an insider for a day.

Anyway, as Nick drives us to their place I get in my first dig at the opposition, a sly “Madison Sucks” slipped into an otherwise innocuous tweet. I almost feel like one of the crew.

After only a bit of a drive, we arrive:

Harry’s is hot territory because it’s close to where the Tigers play, and near the convention center (I guess). Regardless, one of the reasons we get there early is to reduce competition for parking. It works! It’s a great place, complete with a big ground-level room, pretty good food, and a cool open-air upstairs.

We get lunch while other, less-rabid supporters dawdle. I have to admit I wonder about the dedication. I mean, not a single over-night camper? Tsk, tsk, tsk. On the other hand, when I think back on the gathering of folks and the raw Detroitness of the supporter base, I actually wonder if perhaps many of these people don’t actually exist in real life., but instead slip out of the multi-dimensional quantum muck of time and space at the appointed time. Could the average NGS supporter be like a soldier in one of those old WWII comics I used to steal from my uncle, like ghost brigades that appear out of the mist of Detroit’s streets to slide fully formed into their personal bar seats at Harry’s with a pint of Le Rouge already poured before them. This would explain why no one actually seems to arrive at Harry’s so much as that the gathering just begins, then over the next couple hours ramps up to a solid buzz. All I can say for sure is that it’s not too long before the place is crammed full of people clad in Rouge and Gold, beer is flowing, food is rolling out of the kitchens, and the poor wait staff is hustling like mad. (Well, I can also say that the idea of the skull-clad NGS as lingering remnants who appear out of the bowels of the city in time for a few beers before the match could make for an interesting series of comics, but that’s not the point today).

So, to sum it up: First lunch

Then beer:

Along the way, one of my twitter posts get a pitch-perfect welcome from the gang:

A moment here to talk about that twitter tag (#DCTID). It stands for Detroit City Till I Die, and is the Guard’s motto. Truthfully, this motto says everything you need to know about this group. I mean, to give an honest opinion here, after spending time with them I would say the Guard is not really a football supporter group.

Yeah, I know how asinine that might sound. Sure, the NGS’s culture is completely built around a football team. But when I watch what’s happening here, I see the Guard is about Detroit first, this specific organization second, and football as a whole third. Perhaps I’m speaking out of school, but I also think it’s fair to say that the “football as a whole” part of this includes pretty much all of international football except other teams in Detroit. To the Guard, Le Rouge is Detroit football, but the NGS is Detroit. And I may be wrong here also, but I get the idea that some percentage of the Northern Guard shows up primarily because they love being with the Northern Guard, meaning that for this sliver of the crew, the existence of a football club who happens to play in the area is secondary to the feeling of being City Till I Die.

If you want to understand the Guard, this is important.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, perhaps because I see such similarities between the overall culture of the NGS and that of my science fiction fans. In order to truly “get” an SF convention, for example, one has to understand that Fandom embraces those who embrace Fandom, and can be quite pointed to those who do not. A writer is not always so embraced, for example, but a writer who can embrace fandom will always be included. Not to open another can of worms, but today’s whole Puppy/Hugo fiasco is deeply influenced by this behavior and the fact that assholery is a trait that is spread evenly across all denominations.

Anyway, as I was saying, though the Northern Guard is its own community with its own flavor that is different from my beloved Science Fiction Fandom, they are similar in that the Guard embraces those who embrace the Guard and will be quite content to ignore, ridicule, or completely shit on anything that rejects it. As they say, “You don’t like us. We don’t care.” Science Fiction fandom would generally not be as outwardly direct as that, but the basic concept probably matches.

So, I figure that in reality, while the NGS is crazy-passionate for their team, the Guard cares for its own before it cares about this football organization. I’m guessing that if push came to shove, and lines absolutely had to be drawn, the rank order would be (1) Detroit, (2) The Northern Guard, (3) DCFC (4) All of football (except, of course, other teams in Detroit).

Wow. I just did 450 words on a simple run-off from the #DCTID tag. You guys must be bored to tears. Sorry about that.

But the whole “#DCTID thing is, perhaps, the key to understanding this culture. For those who don’t actually pay attention or don’t completely absorb the essence of this motto, my guess is that the Northern Guard is a deeply confusing thing. The Guard (as you’ll see) is very loud. Its a rambunctious group. It is, by design, intimidating. There are big folks in this group. They are young and energetic. Like my Skiffy brotherhood, it’s tattooed and it has people with piercings and creative hair colors. People dress extravagantly. They flash colors. They bang on drums and get loud. They wear skulls.

As I was walking along in the march to the pitch (which I’ll get to later), I asked one of the founders if he got requests to help build a culture like theirs in other football communities around the league. He said, yes, but they never really worked well. This makes sense to me. The Northern Guard, you see, did not come about because of anything the DCFC organization did. It came about in the same fashion as SF Fandom did—it was built by this core of people who run it, and so it has their loves and their personality. That may change as it grows beyond their ability to “control,” but today, the Northern Guard is a strong, tight-knit group of folks who have a deeply personal flare.

In that same march, a few talked about their view of themselves. One of the guys addressed the issue of hooliganism and (I’ll paraphrase, here) basically said the Guard drew the line at physical confrontation. “We’re not hooligans like people think of when they imagine unruly supporters. No one here is going to hurt anyone.”

This completely fits them, but to stop there would be a disservice.

The Guard, in addition to being an imposing force that wills their team to victory (and helps destroy the opposition), is deeply about the community. They raise money for charities, sponsor inclusion, support the military, support schools, and champion LGBT issues. Before the match they will lead the crowd in a bellowed a Capella rendition of the National Anthem. This is a group of people who are committed to helping people—as long as you don’t wear an opponent’s kit (or, presumably, as long as you don’t get in the way of them doing whatever they want to legally do). So, yeah, I’m sure the ambiguity is hard for some to understand. But me, I’m a skiffy guy. I get nerdy, extroverted introvert, inclusionary groups of good-hearted, loud people who also defend their turf to the death.

Holy crap … I just did another 450 words on #DCTID. Seriously, Ron, it’s time to move on.

Deep breath …

So, somewhere in the afternoon, another cool thing happened. Some of the DCFC players stopped by the bar to be with the Northern Guard. This does not happen everywhere, you know?

“We’re expecting a goal from you today,” one of the Northern Guard told one of the players. The player gave a light-hearted response, and the supporter made sure he knew there was no joke there. “We expect six before the day’s out. Madison’s terrible.” Nick (I think) said the team should get ten goals today. “Yeah,” the other Northern Guard member said. “Ten or we riot.”

The supporter then talked about the individual chants they had for each player, and one of the players looked over his shoulder and said “I don’t know where you get all these chants, but I fucking love mine.”

Yes, my friends. The Northern Guard loves the team, and the team, in return, loves the Northern Guard. This kind of interaction is pretty damned cool. It’s the kind of thing a sports organization would die to create, but is always at a loss as to how it happens—mostly because they don’t understand that they can’t actually do anything to create it beyond just supporting the fan base and letting them do essentially whatever they want (which is, admittedly a bit dangerous in today’s modern, litigious society … still, that’s the magic IMHO, FWIW).

As I said earlier, though, Nick and the NGS leadership work hard to truly support the team. Key word there: work. This goes way, way, way beyond showing up at the match with a couple pints in them and screaming loud obscenities. It begins … well … it begins before it begins. About three hours before match time, I went to Cass Tech (the team’s home pitch) with the crew, where we proceeded to string up various banners and whatnot.

These are invisible things, you know? When the casual fan enters the stadium and sees the banners and signs across the fences and other barriers, they don’t think about how they got there. People don’t see the thought it takes to design the experience, or the work it takes to put it in place. Rituals like this don’t just happen because someone wakes up in the morning and drops a tweet to everyone saying “let’s do something cool today.” Through the walk to the stadium and throughout the set-up, the gang talks about the event, and other activity around the league. It’s like they are in the early stages of ramping up, too. For them, this part of the process is as important as any other. Setting up the stands engages a new gear for the day.

I should note here that the field itself belongs to a high school program. Its stands, it turns out are barely big enough to hold the entire crew that will show up today. One of the items on the agenda for both the owner and the Northern Guard is working on an upgrade. Regardless of all the other business gunk going on around football, the league, and the teams in Detroit, it’s clear that DCFC will soon outgrow its confines.

Bottom line on set-up: it was a great day and I managed to help get stuff put up without embarrassing Nick too much (that’s my side of the story, anyway). Much fun.

We then made our way back to Harry’s and …

Holy crap was it crowded.

Let me point out the dude with the scarf in the picture above.

Scarves are a big deal here. Never mind that it’s June and semi-warm, everybody wears them. If you look closely, you’ll see a few more. In addition to being quite fashion-forward and spiffy, the scarf is used as this weird combination of flag, uniform, and pom pom. They come in lots of Rouge and Gold configurations, with several phrases stitched into them (including, natch, things like “City Till I Die”).

They are also, it turns out, the primary defense against smoke bombs. I happen to be borrowing a gas-mask from Nick for this event, but as the day progresses, I will come to realize that the phrase “scarfs up!” really means “light the goddamned smoke bombs!”

The March

Okay, I’m nine pages into this thing, and I’m just now getting to the actual lead-up to the actual match. At this point, it’s clear to me that what we have here in the Northern Guard are your garden variety kind of crazy people. I mean, who in the heck does this kind of stuff for what is essentially an amateur football team? Seriously? What are these folks whacked-out on?

Of course, I’m the one who drove five hours to get here, so you should probably take my opinion for what it’s worth.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the match starts at 7:30, so the entire pre-show is leading up to the pinnacle of the process—the march to the pitch—which starts thirty minutes ahead of time. It begins in the street outside Harry’s, and comes together when the ringleader stands up on a car, and begins to wail into a bullhorn.

The bullhorn guy is named Sarge, BTW. He asks the downtrodden supporters to think back moments this work week when their bosses got on their cases unfairly, or when they got screwed over by a friend, or whatever, and he suggests that all that anger and fury get built up and unleashed on poor Madison. It’s all done tongue in cheek, btw, and there is much laughter and many smiles. But the crowd is wound up, and quite honestly, at this point Madison players are already metaphorically facing a two goal deficit.

Here is a Marcher, with smoke:

The march then proceeds.

Let me explain what the March feels like.

Take a drum, pounding, and place it inside your head. Take a couple hundred voices screaming in unison and put them in a ten-wide column. Put them all in a false valley made of concrete buildings on either side of the column, and then walk it through your neighborhood. When this kind of thing happens in a full stadium, people think it’s pretty cool. When it happens in the streets, it’s like nothing else. The only comparison I can make would be how I would imagine a jazz funeral march in New Orleans, but different.

As you might figure, the whole march is loud as Fuck.

For a small clue of what this sounds like, here are a couple crappy recordings I made (along with direct links for those whose browsers don’t support the shortcode player):

Here’s one we sang while we marched:
(Marching)
And another when we arrived: (content/language warning)
(On Arrival)

And there’s smoke. OF COURSE there’s smoke. The Northern Guard apparently will not take a squat unless smoke is involved.

You can tell this is a spectacle in itself because there are people lined up just to watch it unfold, and when the column makes it to the stadium, people line the top of the bleachers to look down and take it all in. This is apparently not unusual. The Northern Guard is a draw unto itself. By that I mean that there exist people who come to the match in order to watch the supporters as much as they do to watch the match. Interesting how that works out, eh?

Thinking about it a little, I suppose one could call this thing a funeral march, though, because after the ten minute march and a bit more dancing and stomping, the Northern Guard makes its entrance, drums drumming and voices screaming, and all there is to be making noise making noise. Madison’s team is on the pitch, warming up as this occurs. And as I look out over them, it seems to me they are wilting on the spot. This is, after all, Madison’s first time at CassTech. These players are young, college aged at best. It’s clear they are a bit shaken as the mass of Rouge and Gold settles in.

This is when the full truth dawns on them (and me, for that matter) as to what this event is going to be like.

It starts with number 2. At the beginning, he actually thinks he can just kind of joke around with the folks here. By the program, one can find that #2’s first name is Callum. This is the only name that he will NOT be known by for the rest of the night. Someone calls him Calcium. Then (I think) Crissy or Clarisse. And it spirals down (or up, depending on your view) from there. There are funny moments, but it’s clear to me that, were she here, poor Callum’s mother would be pretty peeved the rest of the night. It also becomes clear to poor Callum that when you wear an opponent’s kit, there really is no way to joke around with the Northern Guard.

Seriously, just don’t go there.

Just suck it up, take it on the chin, and get out of earshot. That is the only way to “win” against the Northern Guard. Of course, there is no place on the pitch out of earshot of either the guards’ voices or the piercing horns they will blow into opponents’ ears all night long. I suspect broken eardrums are the norm in the Madison clubhouse. But I am getting ahead of myself. The game has yet to start, and at this point the Northern Guard is kind of just warming up.

A very brief moment later, the players are announced. Keeping with the theme, when Madison’s players are being introduced, the Guard turns their back, and provides them with a special double-fisted salute of, uh, welcome. This is about as kind as they will be to the opposition, who probably don’t realize they should consider this a respite from the storm.

We are, of course, quite vocal when our own lads are brought forward, resplendent in their new black kits.

At this point the Northern Guard sings the national anthem (with complete and appropriate reverence). This is actually a pretty moving moment if you step back and really look at it. Here are the young people of Detroit, scarfed up and ready to pounce on Madison, without accompaniment, all signing loud and proud, and on-key and off-key in whatever way they can. They don’t miss a beat. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Hopeful in its own way. For me, the mere fact of the existence of this moment is somehow artistic in itself. It means something.

Give me this over some American Idol winner any day.

Then the match begins, and from this point forward there is noise.

The noise comes in the form of drums, and horns, and screams, and chants. The Northern Guard has an established playbook of chants that they title “Hell’s Hymnal.” Everyone on my side of the pitch knows them (except me, of course … I’m not that quick of a study).

For the record (and if it’s not already obvious), let me be clear that sitting with the Northern Guard is not going to be for everyone. It’s not for the delicate, nor for the faint of heart. It is not for the kinds of folks who are expecting to experience any kind of gentlemanly sportsmanship. If you’re looking for calm, rational rah-rah that exhorts your upstanding players to their well-deserved victory over a hardy and capable foe, this is not your place. Please feel free to go enjoy the family friendly side. If, however, you’re ready for a party that consists of glorifying your side over the other in every fashion, and that takes great glee in two hours of heckling, drubbing, and otherwise mocking the dastardly scum-buckets who dared to even show up at your home pitch, then this is the place to be. When the match begins, civility ends.

There are chants about the incestuous habits of the opposition (sung to the tune of the Addams Family), and there are chants about burning the opponents up in a bonfire. Chants about the city (which when placed in proper context are truly love ballads in their own right, eh?). Chants for the boys on the pitch. There are call and respond chants, chants that include the family-friendly side (but that take a few rounds to get going).

The man on the bullhorn (or woman on the bullhorn, as the device is passed around during the match) is the conductor, and in the micro-seconds between chants he’s exhorting his compatriots on the air horns and sirens to keep the fever pitch up. When Madison boys get too close, they get an earful of horn, and if they can still hear at that point all they’ll be able to make out are screams about his parentage, comparisons between himself and certain female sexual organs, and a hundred other such things you might imagine.

It is of interest, however, to note that while invectives thrown are quite personal and quite graphic, there is a wall around certain areas. I can remember no racial commentary, for example. No homophobic slurs, no group based ism generalizations that I can recall (unless you count Madisonism as such, in which case, all guns were blasting at all times).

Despite this mayhem, on the pitch itself today the first ten minutes pass fairly “gently.” No scores. The DFCF players are a bit tentative, and Madison actually controls the play a bit. But this breaks down quickly. The fans are singing:

Come on City score a goal, it’s really very simple
Put the ball into the net
And we’ll go fucking mental!

Indeed, the score comes. Indeed the crowd goes mental. There is smoke. There is celebration on the field. The players run to the NGS side, and receive their admiration.

Aside: I have an understanding that at one point a couple years back, a DCFC player scored a goal and did not come to the NGS to celebrate. After the game, the NGS leaders went to the team and told them this would not do, that when the team scores a goal, the players will come to the NGS to celebrate. I note that with each goal the team will score (and there will be many), the players come immediately to the stands. Since I am on the fence at the edge of the pitch, I will get personal high-fives from three goal scorers on this day, and high fives from several other players at the end of the game. Do not mistake my earlier comment on priorities as exclusionary. While the NGS is about Detroit first, the gap between its love for Detroit and its love of the DCFC football team is razor thin.

With each score comes smoke.

Something Special Comes

By the halftime break, DCFC is up 2-nil. The whistle blows, and the stands take a step back. The noise level recedes. People go to get refreshments or use the facilities or whatever. The stands are probably only 50-60% full as kids from the local Detroit football kids’ league take to the pitch to play an exhibition. The kids are maybe 9 or 10. One team wears yellow, the other red.

The NGS folks who remain actually watch the kids.

They cheer for them. I mean, seriously cheer. They root for goals, and they applaud good passes. Nick tells me that the Northern Guard is considering trying to sponsor a youth team in the near future (assuming they can manage it). This is all pretty cool.

Then a kid scores a goal. It’s a beautiful little play he pulls off to do it, too, and the NGS goes … uh .. mental. The cheering is robust, and includes smoke and everything else that such an event would include. Again, pretty danged cool.

Second verse, same as the first

Then halftime is over, and the utter mayhem starts again. It is as if the Norther Guard merely picks up directly where they left off. Madison keeps a stiff upper lip early, and actually gets a couple good runs on the DCFC goal, but they come up short.

The primary target for the second half NGS vitriol is a bleach-blond striker who is immediately tagged as Miley Cyrus (among, naturally, other things). The play gets a little ragged, and it turns out that the referees are not immune from the Guard’s calm and gentle methods of questioning. The drum beats, the chants rain down. The team will pick up three more goals, and then in the last five minutes of the match the Northern Guard will dump a cloud of rouge and gold smoke that will probably make outside observers wonder if the terrorists have struck CassTech.

The match ends with a 5-nil victory, and with the DCFC players parading by the stands to get their proper admiration from the Guard.

The end

The stands begin to empty as the Man of the Match is announced. Various pictures are taken. I help Nick and the rest of the Guard clean-up. “We always leave the place cleaner than it was when we got here,” Nick said earlier, and now he’s sweeping debris, and others are taking down banners. I wander around and pick up larger bits of trash. The night grows colder now that the sun’s been down for a while and I’m not surrounded by the body heat generated by the Northern Guard. Lisa and Brigid come over, and we hear how the match looked to them—Brigid in particular had an interesting perspective, seeing as she’s usually where I was. It was the first time she watched the Guard from the outside.

I look around and realize the reverse process of arrival has happened for departure—that, while I haven’t really seen anyone leave, the place is now growing empty. Again, like they are those ghost soldiers of my uncle’s old comics, the denizens of Detroit have slipped away back into the multi-dimensional rifts of darkness they came from. The whole thing gets a Twilight Zone sheen. It’s like the match is not really ended so much as if it has been a wave that passed up the beach and receded, and now the Northern Guard is already beginning to design the next wave. There are kits to be bought, situations to be discussed, adjustments to be made.

We walk to the car, and drive home. I can feel my throat tightening as it always does when I go to Louisville basketball or football games and scream too much and too loud. I didn’t sing the songs today because I really didn’t know them, but I cheered my DCFC guys on the pitch as well as the next NGS guy, and I screamed for the goals and I directed the play as I saw fit. That’s my right, you know? As an honorary member of the NGS, I get to tell the DCFC guys what they ought to be doing (though they listened to me about as well as the Louisville guys do when I direct them … shrug).

And that was it. The kids drove us home, and my day in the Northern Guard was done.

The next day, as I was talking to Lisa, I said that there is every chance that the Northern Guard is actually at their golden moment, their apex. By this I meant that they are still small enough to be really tight knit, and really able to define their brand of controlled chaos, which is the lightning in the bottle that makes this experience so “electric.”

As the world around them gets bigger, this will be harder to manage. And who can tell if the team will even exist in a few years? The football world is churning big-time right now as business models rise and fall. But regardless of all that, today is today. And today, the Northern Guard’s leadership does this remarkable job of setting expectation and defining a line of behavior that is so extremely hard to define. The flavor of the Guard is bold, aggressive, and firm. To some it’s probably too aggressive or abrasive in places. But at its root the NGS are about Detroit and about belonging. They are about fun, inclusion, and letting people be who they are (unless you wear an opponent’s colors and it’s match time, in which case it’s beyond fine to be loud, taunting, and obnoxious—in fact, that’s kinda the point of the match when it gets down to it). There are lines that should not be crossed, however—lines that are about respect of people type that are not always obvious in the heat of the moment. At the end of the day, the NGS gets this right.

As I sit here now, reflecting, I wonder about my comments to Lisa. I’m probably wrong. I suspect that the Golden Age for the Northern Guard is in the future, perhaps a few years away. But, then again, you never know. So I want to leave this piece with a little commentary and maybe even a bit of advice to the entirety of the Northern Guard Supporters—its leadership and its followers and its fringe.

I want you to realize you’ve got something unique. Something you love.

Work hard, of course. Keep charging ahead. You already know that nothing good happens if you don’t do it yourself, so you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. But while you’re working, look at what you’re doing. Pay real attention. Revel in it. As often as you can, take a step back from the day-to-day stuff, and feel the pulse of what you’re creating. Because, while there’s every likelihood you’re growing toward something bigger, it’s important to remember at these times that life is short. There is a very real chance that what you are part of may never again happen in your life.

Golden moment or not, you’re making something remarkable. So this is your time.

Enjoy every minute.


Photo by @TheDukeNGS

Clarke’s Data, Part II

A few days ago, Neil Clarke released demographic information from a survey he took (which I then used to create this little discussion, along with a few comments). He’s now released the first wave of results. It’s interesting to see what he’s doing–I’m especially intrigued by the break-out of authors’ influences. You should look at it.

But I want to pull out one piece of information that shows up in his charts, but that he hasn’t addressed yet. It’s about gender and age, and I think it speaks to some of the conversations that are inherent in the cultural conversations rolling through the SF community today. It doesn’t cover everything, of course. But I think it’s interesting, and if real, relevant.

Here’s the chart in question. In particular, focus on the Published Writer “Gender by Age” break-out

While the overall split of male/female population (as we learned last week) is 54/44, this chart says this skew is very different in the world of published writers depending on what side of Age 40 you look at. If you look at writers over 40 years old, it’s man’s world. But if you look at the “next gen” you see females are the predominant gender. Again, this is published writers we’re talking about. (though the data is self-reported).

What does this mean?

I dunno.

One could say several things about it—including the idea that this is just one piece of data, and may not mean squat (though, again, 944 responders is pretty solid). But two things go through my mind:

First, the overall male skew in this data set happens because of the overpowering numbers of 40+ year-old writers. Did the 40+ skew roll through the ages, or did 40+ males just start their writing careers late? Like most of this, all I’ve got as an answer here is one big shrug. It would be interesting to see how this changes over time, though.

And second, I think it’s a truism that often (certainly not always) ground-breaking work (danger, danger, Will Robinson!) happens in the earlier years of life. If true (even more danger here, Will Robinson!), one could then take another tenuous step and suggest that Award Quality Work (and even more danger here, Will Robinson!) might skew a little younger. And if that’s the case, then it would be expected that award rosters should skew female.

As a rule, though, they don’t. Especially in the Hugo numbers this year.

Of course, you get to pick your own reason as to why that happens. The main thing I get through thinking about this is that I would love to see more break-downs like this. Data rules, doncha you know?

Epic Fantasy Bundle – Power to the Readers

So, the Epic Fantasy Bundle that Glamour of the God-Touched has been included in has been active for a couple days. It’s the first time that I’ve been involved in this kind of bundle, and I think the process is interesting as all get-out and a total blast to be a part of. Since I know I have blog readers who aren’t that close to the concept, I thought I would take a moment to talk about three things in particular, and in each of these cases I’m intrigued by the overall value and control this thing brings to readers.

1) The company

First, I have to reiterate what a total blast to be a part of a project that has such a powerful collection of names. There are a lot of award winners in this group, and the material shows it. The folks here have sold a LOT of books. Just clicking through the link and looking at the books you get in this bundle is enough to figure that out for just about anyone.

EpicFantasy

Being in this kind of company is always fun, but from a reader’s point of view it’s a great way to get material from a wide array of folks (personally, the first thing I read was the Anderson/Peart short story “Clockwork Lives,” mostly because I was fan-boying over reading SF by Rush’s drummer [grin]). My guess is that there’s someone you haven’t read in this package, so this bundle concept is a great way to pick up ne writers on the cheap.

2) The price

In reality, the most interesting thing of all about these bundles is how much of the cash flow is in the control of the reader. Yes, the baseline price is $15 (you have to pay this much to get the entire package), but a reader can scale down to as low as $5 for the primary collection of six novels. That’s pretty cool.
If you’re a fantasy fan on a budget, $5 gets you six great reads. If you’re a reader who is, let’s say, a bit better healed and who appreciates the bundle as a whole, you can pay more—like a Kickstarter funder who pays more for a great kick. It’s an interesting concept across the board, especially when you realize that the reader can influence the split between authors and publishers, and even because …

3) The social consciousness

The reader can decide to give 10% of the price two one of three charities (in this case, Mighty Writers, Girl’s Write Now, or Challenger Center). Of course, in the case of this bundle, you’re already contributing to a charity because the proceeds of One Horn to Rule Them, which is a part of the bundle, is going to help financially strapped writers attend the Superstars Writing seminar.

It’s a great idea to give readers a sense of value that’s outside the basic capitalistic thing all us writers are tip-toeing around when we ask you to “Buy my book.” It feels good to know readers people can read great stuff at the same time as they help save the world (or at least help make a little portion of it better, anyway).

4) And now something for you …

Since this is a post focused on readers, I’m interested in your thoughts. To entice you, I’ll make these two special reader-based offers.

A: The first to respond to this post will get a code for a free download of the Epic Fantasy Bundle.

B: Everyone who responds and also signs up for my newsletter will get a free book of my own work.

Epic Fantasy bundle!

I’m pleased to note that Glamour of the God-Touched, the first novella of the Saga of the God-Touched series is now available in an Epic Story Bundle with twelve other works. This is a really cool approach, and is available for only a limited time (22 days at this writing!).

Check it out.

The bundle lets you pay whatever you think the work should be worth, and even allows you to adjust how much the authors and publisher’s take should be (as well as donate to a few very worthy charities).

Thirteen books for essentially whatever you want to pay. What could be better as we move into summer reading season?

Neil Clarke’s SF/F writer demographics

I am one of the 944 writers who voluntarily participated in a survey Neil Clarke (editor of Clarkesworld) is in the process of taking. He won’t release the full information for another week or so (which I can’t wait to see), but a few days back he gave some demographic numbers.

These are spare bits, but interesting nonetheless.

Interesting because it’s answering questions like: How many people write SF/F? Like: what is their gender? And like: how old are these folks?

Here’s the simple raw data.

And here’s my overview …

How many?

First, the fact that the survey included 944 writers–a boggling number, perhaps. And that 81% of those 944 writers responded that they were traditionally published. That means there were something in the range of 750 writers in this pool who self-report having been published in a traditional market someplace. If we take this at face value, and also assume this 944 total writers is (1) not the complete set of SF/F writers, and (2) these 944 writers are a representative sample of the whole of SF/F writers … well … it seems like this is a very productive era as far as creating folks who write speculative kinds of stuff.

What gender are these folks?

Bottom line: 53.8% male, 43.5% female, and 2.6% who identify as other.

First things first, the question still remains about whether this is a representative sample. My raw guess is that given the total number of respondents, it probably is. But one never really knows–especially given my little perch on the world. But a few things strike me when I see these numbers.

(1) The gap has probably closed considerably since the day I started seriously writing. I would have purely guessed it was more like 60/40, but the purely biological break-down is more in the area of 55/45. If I’m right, this represents what I consider positive progress. (I would put the numbers 25 years back to be more like 70/30).
(2) In a homogeneous world, the biological numbers “should” be more like 48/52. But the world is not homogeneous. I’m wondering if the discrepancy in STEM fields is bleeding over into these numbers a bit, and if the factors that combine to create that imbalance are working to do the same thing here. If that is the case, then these numbers could well mean that the environment that the SF/F world is built around is actually doing even better than the numbers might show.
(3) If these numbers are truly representative of the actual population of writers out there, then the various Puppy slates that created a ballot with so few female writers has come about with some form of very clear intervention that makes the distribution non-random. This is a question I started thinking about because of a post I read on Jim Hines’ Facebook page.
(4) Clearly, there is more progress to make, regardless.

All, right, how old are these writers?

The answer (64% are 30-50 years old, with the majority over 40) is unsurprising to me, but could perhaps be a shock to outsiders who consider SF/F to be the free range of the ultra-young. I often run into “adults” who consider the genre to be for the immature. Sigh. Anyway, I find the tails to be interesting, too, since they swing to the elder side, with 23% being over 50, and only about half that number having lived less than 30 years.

My personal thoughts here are:

(1) Yes, my daughter Brigid (who sold stories at barely 25) is pretty far ahead of the curve.
(2) Yes, being now 54, I’m getting perilously close to the 85th percentile. Crap.
(3) I’m struck here how ageism is the more silent “ism” of them all. It was rarely discussed in the corporate world I was involved in, and it’s not heavily discussed in the circles I’ve been around as far as SF/F writers are concerned. This data curve, however, is very different from those I saw in the corporate world–which skewed quite a bit younger. I think I like that (though maybe it’s because I’m moving more and more rapidly each day along the axis [grin]).

Release Day!

I’m very pleased to report that the collection of the Saga of the God-Touched Mage novellas has now passed its final gate! That’s right–the omnibus collection of all eight novellas is available (complete with Rachel Carpenter’s latest cover work!). If you’ve been waiting these many months for this moment: now is the time!

The entire saga is available in print and e-forms at:

Amazon: US | UK | DE | CA | AU
Kobo | Barnes and Noble (in-process)
CreateSpace (Print only)

The launch of this series has been a total blast, and represents six and a half months of work. I’m quite proud of the work, and greatly enjoy the reaction it’s received. Thank you very, very much.

Rongo Award #3 goes to Kat Howard…

I’m dreadfully tardy in pushing my Rongo Award agenda. Sorry about that. To remind folks, the Rongo’s are my own personal attempt to deal with the weirdness that’s been caused by the various forms of puppies and their push on the Hugos (which are kind of like the People’s Choice Awards, only limited to those who go to the World Science Fiction Convention).

You can read this if you want a little more background on the incredibly important award.

Today I’ll reveal another winner–this time in the short story category. But first, let me remind you of our current “slate” of winners.


Novella:
Unlocked: John Scalzi Tor.com

Short Story:
The Regions of Jennifer: Tony Ballantyne Analog

The observant of you may note that there is already one short story winner, so why add a second? I mean, how can you have two “best” in a single category? Very good question.

The Rongo is not really hung up on categorization so much as it is on enjoyment. The Rongo goes to stories that are “among the best,” because the Rongo knows that quality is subjective and that it is impossible to truly measure “the best.” Beyond that, I guess, the Rongo heart wants what the Rongo heart wants.

And with that, let’s get to the big reveal

#

The third-ever Rongo Award goes to …

#

Rongo Category: Short Story
Story: “A Meaningful Exchange” (Published by Lightspeed)
Author: Kat Howard

Here are things I found admirable about “A Meaningful Exchange.”

First, it’s slippery. The story follows two characters, one is pretty much as he appears and the other is (in many ways) just the same. They circle each other, both wanting something from the other that isn’t quite obvious. Second, it’s very tight. Very simple. Kat Howard is a writer of short stories that I’m growing to really admire. She can take her time, describe things wonderfully, and still get to the point and keep the narrative growing. This story does that. Third, it is quite short (1800 words or so), and yet in those 1800 words, she plays with some very deep concepts of who we are as people. The story is about lies and love, and maybe even some element of the truth. It is quite evil in that way.

Finally, it’s a story with a punch, and a punch that’s strong enough that I can still get a sense of the piece today–many months after having read it. I figure that with the number of stories I read, when one stays with me like that, it’s clearly worth a Rongo.

So, for these reasons, I am more than pleased to present “A Meaningful Exchange” with the third-ever Rongo Award for being among the best short stories of 2014.

#

I should add here that I have become more than a bit of a Kat Howard fan over the last couple years. I recently read her collaborative novella “The End of the Sentence” (written with Maria Dahvana Headley). Have I mentioned I love novellas?

It was very nearly a Rongo Award winner, itself … which, of course, is saying something!

If you enjoy darker, contemporary/urban fantasy that plays with mythology and legend it would be well-worth the $2.99. [grin]

Learning something: Raymond Carver

As I’ve mentioned before, I spend lunchtime learning. I listen to podcasts or watch videos or do something that’s related to getting better as a writer by learning from others. I suggest it to anyone, and in any field. (When I worked in corporate America, I often listened to business history and behavioral sciences things during my lunches. They very much helped.)

Today, I want to point out that if you want to know why Raymond Carver was remarkable you could do worse than to pull up the video I’ve linked below, and listen to his prose as it’s being read from 16:35-18:20.

The whole video is interesting–to me, anyway–but if you’re a writer you really should listen to this little two-minute slice, this mini-story cut from the whole of Carver’s short story “The Bridle.” Let it flow over you. Think about its pacing, its tone, and the way its information rolls out in an absolutely perfect way to build itself up to its iconic and devastatingly sharp message. Look how it has (even enclosed within itself) a character/setting/problem, and try/fail cycles, and a resolution and validation. Listen to how it uses language and phrasing, how it uses “know what I mean,” and “you know” in such an invisible way.

I think I’ve listened to it fifty times over the last week.

It’s an achingly beautiful piece of prose.

Is this cool, or what?

So, this morning I have a lot of things to do. Yes, it’s busy being a self-employed writer, though it’s hard to explain how this is all the time. Among the things on my “To Do” list was to go through the galley proof copies of a future issue of Galaxy’s Edge, which will include my story “The Colossal Death Ray.” So, dutifully, I opened the file and went through it. I jotted down a couple things I found, and passed them back.

Very well. I’ve done this often, now. Processing galleys is … well … kid of oldish hat. Almost just work, you know?

Then, for whatever reason, before I shut the file down I took a scan of the table of contents.

Robert Silverberg is there. Right, I thought. My name is right there before Robert freaking Silverberg. And Jack McDevitt. Lawrence Person. Robert J. Sawyer, David Gerrold. Yes, him. And Jody Lyn Nye and Bill Fawcett. Gregory Benford, and Barry Malzberg are in there, too. And science fiction from Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin. Talk about names.

As I looked at this today it suddenly strikes me that, yes, I’m in a publication with these kinds of names.

Is this cool, or what?

And that’s before we get to a talent like Elizabeth Bear, who has a story in this magazine, too.

And flashy “new writers” (Ha! I laugh at the meaning of “new” here, but you get the point) like Dantzel Cherry, J.R. Vogt, and Alex Shvartsman, or recent Writers of the Future vet Leena Likatalo.

I’ve been doing this writing thing for … well … a few years. But I can honestly say that it never, ever, gets less thrilling to see my name on a table of contents–and especially one as remarkable as this.

Kobo discount on SGTM (Vol 1-4)

In my apparently never-ending endeavor to bury the blog in self-promotional fiddle-faddle, I should note that, if you’ve been waiting breathlessly for a deal on the Saga of the God-Touched Mage bundles, now’s your time. For only through Monday (5/18), you can get a special 35% discount on volumes 1-4.

Kobo Link Here
Promo Code: MAY35

That code will also work on several other books during this limited period. So, this might be a good time to fill that e-reader of yours, eh?.

It’s been quite fun watching the package claw its way up the charts on a service that isn’t Amazon. [grin]

All in One!!! (SGTM to be released in one package)

I promise to get back to regular posting soon…but there’s a lot of publishing news going on right now, and it only seems proper to focus on it for just a bit longer. Please be advised, however, that I realize there are other things in life that are probably just as important as my publishing news (snork!). Anyway …

After its very fun and successful run as individual novellas, I’m happy to announce that Saga of the God-Touched Mage is going to be available in a single collection. That’s right: all eight stories, one book. Yay! Even better, this omnibus edition will be available in both electronic and (finally) trade paperback formats. (Yes, it’s a goshdarn big honking block of print … much fun to hold onto and probably capable of stopping an onrushing train. Pictures to come.)

It is available for preorder now at the usual places (linkage provided below), and will launch officially on May 26th.

Electronic Version:
AMAZON USUKDECAAU
Barnes & Noble (Search me later today)
Kobo

Print Version:
@ Amazon and CreateSpace on May 26.

Of course, this means it’s time for another cover reveal!

Once again Rachel has whipped up a very nice piece of work, gathering up images we’ve used in previous installments and setting them against a backdrop that scans quite beautifully and has a very nice wrap-around effect in the full print version.

The green flag drops on 5 Days in May

The Greatest Spectacle in Science Fiction is back with a vengeance, just in time for the Indy 500!

As promised, John C. Bodin and I have managed to get this machine out to the starting grid, so now it’s time to start the engine and put the right foot down. 5 Days in May, a collection of fun and furious short stories is available in both electronic and print versions today (what a great way to celebrate my birthday!)

You can pick up a copy here:


AMAZON: USUKDECA ($2.99 eBook/$6.99 in Print)
BARNES & NOBLE (Search me later today!)
KOBO
SMASHWORDS
CREATESPACE ($6.99 in print)

As I noted above, this also happens to be my birthday! (Yay me for living so long,eh?). As a special present to Typosphere readers, here’s a deal!

Bump Day $1.99 Special
at Smashwords
(33% off – Good Thru 5/17)
Use Coupon Code AN99P

As always, thank you so much for your support. Early sales are very important to the success of a new book, as is good word of mouth. If you pick this up and find our high-octane, pulpy SF take on racing is fun, please do let others know. Every little bit helps.

“But,” you say, “I already have Four Days in May!”

Since you’re a previous reader, this is an “update” from last year’s release wherein you get one more story (dare we call it a pit stop to take on more fuel and a new set of tires?). So let us help you out. Email me at ron@typosphere.com and get a free e-version upgrade to 5 Days. (Be sure to note your preferred format!)

I think I can speak for John when I say that this is one of those pure fun, “for the love of the game,” kind of projects. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoy writing them. To give you a little flavor of how we think about it, I’ve pasted our Introduction below:

Introduction

Pod racing in Star Wars aside, you don’t find much science fiction focused on racing. That is a shame, of course. Racing, you see, is about all the things that make for good science fiction.

It’s about technology, of course—ask any race team in the world what they are working on and you’ll get one of two answers, either an immediate flow of excited discussion about wind tunnels or horsepower optimization, or whatnot, or you’ll get a steely eyed stare that more than suggests you’re an idiot if you think he or she is going to spill the beans on anything that might give the other guy a leg up.

Racing is about time, and time is something that science fiction people have always found fascinating. Time is the ultimate gas, gas, gas, after all. It’s compressible, extendable, twistable, and moldable. Our memories change as we move through it. Science fiction plays with time as no other literature can, while racing measures time in ways that no other sport does. Time in the pits. Time behind. Time until the next race.

Despite all the advances in safety over the past fifty years, racing is still, of course, about danger. And fire. And screeching rubber and banging side-by-side runs. Racing is about playing on the edge of capability, the edge of what is known. This is what science fiction at its best has done since the days of Jules Vern.

And, finally, racing is about people who rise above themselves, and about teams of people, the lot of which—though totally reliant on those individuals—are stronger than any one of those individuals. Racing is about that perfect moment when all the work and tears shed in preparation come together to result in victory. And racing is about finding the message inherent in the human condition for when all that work and those tears do not result in victory. In this way, racing is life. And so is science fiction. In fact, science fiction is, perhaps, the most human of literatures. It is in science fiction that one can lift a person out of the mundane existence of the real world and explore the depths of who they are.

So we say to the world that there really ought be science fiction focused on racing, and since if it is to be, it’s up to me, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to create this little nook of the world. We hope you like it. When we began this three years ago, our intention was to add a lap to this race every season—and it seems we’ve managed to keep the wheels on and the car on the road well enough that now we’ve got five good ones under our belt. And we expect to go the distance—whatever that means for us. These Indy stories are great fun for us, and we still intend to write one new one story each season, a story set sometime in the past or the future or the whenever.

Will you like it?

We hope you will.

Or will the idea crash into the wall at 200 MPH?

Who knows?

All we can say for sure is that it’s going to be straight-out, pedal-to-the-metal fun. And that, too, can be said about racing as well as science fiction.

John & Ron
Updated May 2015

The Grand Dangoolie will soon be riding!

I’m just the teensiest bit delinquent in reminding folks that sometime shortly (meaning sometime in May), my short story “The Grand Dangoolie” will be appearing in the anthology, Alchemy and Steam–which is part of the very cool Fiction River series. This is a subscription-based family of anthologies edited by a variety of people (hence, it comes with a diversity of tastes and in a wide array of genres). It’s delivered every other month. Subscribers get some pretty cool stories by names they know and by some “fresh faces” who can really write.

And then there’s stuff by me. [grin]

And stuff by someone else I kinda like. [grin]

I’ve read the stories in Alchemy and Steam and think they’re quite yummy in that very Steampunky Kinda way that the title suggests it will be. My own offering was a total blast to write, and is informed by the idea of how one might think about power–magical or not–and the lengths people will go to to discover, steal, or even protect it. Not that this kind of thing matters today. No. Not a chance, right?

You can find a lot more about Fiction River, as well as subscribe to it, right here. In the meantime, here’s a cover-shot of Alchemy and Steam, which is edited by Kerrie L. Hughes.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming (a wandering mess about Kent State, protest, and simple artistic respect)

I was going to post this a couple days ago when it would have been slightly more appropriate, but to be honest I didn’t want to put a bummer on everyone’s Star Warsy celebration of the May the Forth Be With You. Then comes Cinco de Mayo, and who wants to tread on the celebration of a neighboring country’s big victory, eh?

But May the fourth was an important milestone of a different type here in the US, that being the anniversary of the Kent State shootings—and, perhaps more relevant to what I’m going to talk about here, the event that created a remarkable piece of protest art that followed.

I’ve finished writing this thing, and I realize that it’s long, and that it meanders. Perhaps it’s so long and meanders so far afield that you’ll not finish it. But I hope you will. It goes somewhere in the end. I promise. Maybe. [grin]

But I’m going to start here: at a convention I once attended where a writer was talking about history and how most events don’t really change its course much. I asked him if he thought the Kent State killings had made a difference or not, and after only a very brief moment he said it was a non-event. This startled me. Kent State. A non-event. I couldn’t believe that four college kids murdered by the National Guard while they were protesting the Vietnam War could ever be considered a non-event. That it didn’t make a difference in the path of history.

Sigh.

Protest changes things. It does. In fact, it’s probably the only thing that actually makes real social change. Here’s an interesting post by Mary Robinette Kowal, who says essentially the same thing but in a different vein.

And protest can come in a lot of ways. It can come in the streets, and it can come in letters and in phone calls. It can come in the form of boycotts and strikes, or paintings. It can come in books. It can come on walls. It can come in poems.

In the case of Neil Young, protest about Kent State came in the form of one of the most biting pieces of art ever created. I’m talking, of course, about “Ohio.”

I worry about it, though. We seem to hear it now as (at best) this marker of the past—as a piece of historical pop culture, or maybe even a quaint nod to a past where people actually thought they were making or could make a difference. I’m fairly certain most people who hear it don’t even really stop to take into account the facts of the situation, and the meaning of a government-sponsored action that took four lives. I’m definitely sure that most people don’t think about the fact that a majority of the country actually thought these killings were justified—that the kids shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

It’s just a piece of music on the radio most of the time.

But at the time … man … at the time … and given the value of the piece, it’s one of those things that can still change you if you’ll just let it.

Anyway…I was thinking about this as I pinged my way through a couple bits on Kent State a couple days ago. I was thinking about what I wrote a few days ago about short stories and collections and songs and albums and noise on the radio, and I watched a couple videos of the song, thinking about it. And then I came to this piece. Neil Young, on his own, in front of an audience.

This is what art is, to me.

It’s nothing you’ll ever see on The Voice or any of the numerous Idols or the This Place’s Got Talent things. This is one man, in front of people, doing his thing. It’s a person making a statement. And it’s about a real as you can get.

Neil Young is saying something here.

He’s making you listen.

This is what I want to be doing as I sit down to write every day. It’s what I want to be thinking about. Say something. Make it real. Make it important, if to nobody else make it important to me. I’m not, of course, saying I (or anyone else, for that matter) expect to pen an ever-lasting classic every time I sit down. No one does that—not even the people who are remembered through the years. And, let’s face it, I am no William Faulkner or no Neil Young. But, what I carry away from a piece of art like “Ohio,” is that it’s important to me to have a basic respect for what I’m doing. It’s about being a part of what I create.

I want to be changed by what I write. And, ideally, I figure if that happens, then occasionally I might be able to change the occasional someone else.

I mean, I dare you to actually spend three minutes thinking about the idea of what four dead in Ohio might mean as you watch Neil Young sing “Ohio” here. To really and seriously ponder “what if you knew her and found her dead on the ground,” to think about why these four college kids were killed, and how it came about, and not come away from it with a head full of something that just might change the way you think about the day ahead of you.



The Pretenders, U2, and the Boss meet Garbage (or why the short story collection rules)

I’m thinking about short stories today, specifically individual stories, collections, and magazines. And I’m thinking about their relationships to music—or at least to the way music is absorbed today vs. how it was absorbed when I was a kid. I’m thinking about this because for the past few weeks I’ve really gotten into listening to albums while I work.

Not music.

Albums.

Today, for example, I queued up Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders debut The Pretenders, and U2s debut Boy, and then Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

This actually started back a little while ago when I tweeted that:

I got a little flack from Lisa about this because Garbage is on the routine playlist at Radio Paradise, which is a service we listen to a lot. But when I said I had found Garbage, I didn’t mean they were new ideas to me. I knew who garbage was, and I was quite familiar with Shirley Manson before she had her terminator gig, thank you very much.

What I meant, however, was that I was actually paying a lot of attention to them now—and what that means to me was that I was listening to their full albums, that I was digging on their sound and starting to understand the thing that they really are. Whatever that is.

The album, it turns out, is a forum of music that is important to me. As I think about it in truth I don’t think I really consume music on the basis of individual songs. Not really. I mean, of course I listen to stuff on the radio, and I can dig a good one-time groove as well as the next guy. But I don’t know if I really register a piece of music until I hear in context of everything else the musicians do.

The radio is basically noise you put on in the background.

Albums are music. Albums are the way a band speaks to their audience. Song placement, riff structure, the way pieces sound as they come together. The feeling of an album can be visceral. There are pieces today, individual songs, that don’t sound right when they aren’t followed by the right companion (as I write this, RP is playing the Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues,” and I’ll feel weird when it’s not followed up by “Factory Girl” … but that’s no hangin’ matter, I guess).

…but I digress.

Maybe this says that the group matters to me, or to be more specific, the artist. Maybe I mean the artist cannot be separate from the art.

Or maybe I’ve just come to this weirdness because when I was a kid the primary form I wanted to hear music in was an album side. You get it, right? The album side? The Stones Love You Live, side three. Lou Reed’s Rock & Roll Animal, side one. The Who Who’s Next … you get the idea. You put an album side on and you let it play. Eighteen minutes or so later, you flipped it—or, if you had a cool auto-play function on your kick-ass set, another side of another album could fall without you touching it.

Heaven.

An album meant something. It had a place, a time, and a story. The best ones, the ones that mattered the most, had a purpose. A statement. A reason for being here, and a reason for being made together. Sometimes they were meta-statements on the band itself (Fleetwood Mac, anyone?). Sometimes they were commentary on a piece of politics (CSNY?), or a place and time (Surrealistic Pillow?).

I was thinking about that today when I was listening to the Pretenders—a band that took me awhile to warm to because at first all I heard was “Brass in Pocket,” which was okay, but a bit eh. I forgot, however, how remarkable that whole debut album was when it just played. It’s a glorious work made by people with an interesting take on the world. It’s got a few singles on it, a few pieces that are good on their own, and that a lot of people will nod and say “hey, the Pretenders,” when they come on. But they are not the Pretenders to me. The Pretenders come alive when you hear the whole thing.

But, as I said above, what I want to talk about today is short fiction, collections, and magazines.

It’s like this. I love short fiction. I do. In my perfect world, there would be almost no long fiction. It’s hard for me to put in the hours and hours it takes to read novels, and to be honest, I personally just love the art form of the short story. A well-done short story is like a hit of wonder drug to me. It makes me think. A remarkable short story—just like a remarkable song—can make me step back and change how I feel inside.

And, I like magazines. I do.

But to be truthful, they feel like mix-tapes.

I pick ‘em up and I read them, and then I’m done. I never pick up a magazine and read it again. Oh, sure, on rare occasions I’ll be looking for a specific story from the past, and go hunting for a magazine, and then I’ll read that specific story. But I can’t ever remember picking up a magazine and re-reading it. Doesn’t happen … and that’s why I think their comparison in music is the mix-tape, only in this case, the mix-tape is curated by an editor. Maybe that makes it a playlist in today’s world. You’re reading an editor’s playlist.

Don’t get me wrong. I like reading these playlists, just like I liked making mix-tapes.

But, while I’ve made a bunch of mix-tapes in my life, I don’t know that I listened to them very many times. So, Magazines are mix-tapes. And maybe that means that review magazines and whatnot are the closest thing to “radio,” the short fiction world has. Radio being one of the ways you heard of something you might want to look at more closely.

So, yeah. Magazine = mix-tape.

Collections, though, are albums.

I made that connection today. Collections, when done well, have a purpose, they have an essence as a whole that is built off the interaction of the individuals. And, sure, I know a lot of people don’t read collections straight through (I don’t sometimes). But even then, they still speak together of the artist.

Unlike magazines, there are collections that I’ll pick up and read over and over again. Often.

I mean, works like Karen Joy Fowler’s Black Glass, Harlan Ellison’s Death Bird Stories, and Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things to identify three you’ve maybe heard of. Amy Casil’s Without Absolution, and Lisa Silverthorne’s The Sound of Angels to name a couple you may not be as familiar with.

A collection tells you something about the writer that a story doesn’t. A story can be misleading, after all. It can be fickle. A story can lie about the author, because a story is filled with characters who work on their own agendas, and a story has a message of its own that is certainly coming from inside the writer but that one can’t tell exactly how invested the writer might be in that thing he or she has created. Stories are strange.

But a collection has a tone. If it’s well created, it has a flavor. A collection helps the reader see what parts of one story or another come from places inside the author, and which parts might be the characters speaking through that authorial veil. A collection is that writer speaking directly to his or her audience.

In a just world, the short story collection would be something people would hold up for inspection. In a just world, there would be a Hugo for such a thing (and it would not be bastardized or attacked or whatever is going on with the others today). In a just world, the collection would sell well.

Of course, in a just world, musicians and bands would still be primarily known for the album.

At least in my just world, anyway. [grin]



First Annual Rongo Award #2 goes to …

I have on occasion been known to say that science fiction is the most human of literatures. On nearly as many occasions, this comment is received with weird expressions and an “oh, really” kind of response. But it is. Science fiction is about what it means to be human. That’s really it, at its core.

I can hear you now, though. Ron, you say. What does all this flock-flack have to do with the Rongos?

Yes, yes, the First Annual Rongo Awards. Nearly lost track there.

For the uninitiated, in response to the whole Hugo Award fiasco, I recently kicked off a new award process. You can read about it (and its first recipient) here.

And, yes, today I will announce another such recipient (I can feel you stretching to the edge of your seats now).

I admit I love gizmos and whiz-bang and techy science as much as the next guy, but for me the roots of science fiction are its characters and what they have to say about people as a whole. I like stories, you know? Setting is great, and prose is beautiful. But give me story and I’m a happy camper.

This view of story that I have is why I started as I did. It is important, because the piece I want to talk about now has bucketloads of this—or should I say it wallows in it like a fly in garbage … okay, perhaps that’s a bit too far, even given the story I’ll now name:

* * *

The second ever Rongo Award goes to …

* * *

Rongo Category: Short Story
Story: “The Region of Jennifer” (Analog June 2014)
Author: Tony Ballantyne

You can grab this story in audio version at Starship Sofa.

“The Regions of Jennifer” is an out-there, far future piece of science fiction that finds us humans—or at least what we have made of ourselves—having entered into a relationship with an alien culture known as Slavemakers (this may give you an idea of how this pact may eventually wind up…but we’ve not gotten to that point by the time of this telling, so perhaps there is time, eh?). It’s full of re-built people and strange, genetically altered humanity. It’s got real-life alchemy, or at least it has Jennifer, for whom so much of what she touches turns to gold.

In other words, it’s full-force SF at its deepest.

For those unaware of who Tony Ballantyne is (a problem you should quickly go rectify), let me say that he’s a British writer, and that this story is set in a world he developed in three earlier novels. It feels like it. The setting is deep and the people are well developed for a story this size. And make no mistake, it’s the people who carry the story here—not the technology, not the science of the moment, not even the mechanics of its plot. Instead it’s the heart of Randy, the leading male as he commits himself to success of the human spirit (even if the human race itself is lost somewhere in the mix of modern-day DNA hacking), and it’s calculating and comfort-loving nature of Jennifer who weighs her options.

The relationship of these two people come to its head here, and by the end of their time together we understand exactly what they are fighting for and perhaps even how that fight may end—though my guess is that what you think will happen and how you think of that message may well rely wholly on who you are rather than how the author expressly designed anything.

“Regions of Jennifer” is a sharp, biting tale with a kick. For that reason, I’m excited to award it a highly coveted “Rongo” as one of the best short stories of 2014.


***

RONGO AWARD OVERVIEW

Rongo Category: Novella
Story: “Unlocked”
Author: John Scalzi

Rongo Category: Short Story
Story:“The Region of Jennifer”
Author: Tony Ballantyne

A day in the life of a writer

When I left my day job, people I knew kept asking me “what does a writer do all day?” I wasn’t sure what to say, but I know I mumbled through it. I would report no that I’m still trying to figure that out.

Here’s how today went, though:

  • Breakfast
  • Drive Lisa into work
  • 40 pages of rewriting on a novel
  • Fiddled with a fun but senseless Facebook chat
  • Made a blog post
  • Lunch and Finish watching a BBC documentary about Kurt Vonnegut (started yesterday).
  • Boil eggs, fold laundry, and watch a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson (with a very cool cameo with someone I’m pretty sure is a very young Bill Murray). Fascinating, of course. (See below)
  • 45 minute walk-run
  • Adjust pricing of Vols 5-8 for 3-day special
  • Write a review of Noise by Darren Hawkins
  • Take a shower (I know, TMI)
  • 20 pages of rewriting a novel
  • Make salads for dinner (while listening to Night Vale Ep #33 … yes, I’m still way behind)
  • Drive to get Lisa from work (fill up her gas tank on the way)
  • 30 minute walk with my sweetie
  • Reviewed print proofs of “5 Days in May”!!!!
  • Grill shrimp and zucchini for dinner
  • Post this.



Purpose (a Venn diagram)

I saw a Venn diagram on another writer’s feed a few weeks back. It struck me as interesting, but I stuck it into my “think about this later” pile because, while it made an impact for me, it didn’t feel quite right. Not quite full enough. Here it is:



This morning, for whatever reason, I pulled it out again. Once I started stewing over it, I realized why it didn’t work for me. It needs, I decided, a touch more complexity. In order to be useful, it needs zones for three-levels of interaction rather than just place markers for the intersections of two and four.

So I created one.

It looks like this:



I like this one quite a bit better, not for the least because it shows a bigger sweet spot for “Purpose,” and hence makes such a thing seem perhaps a bit easier to achieve. A purpose, after all, should not be a needle in a haystack for most of us.

I also like it because it becomes a better barometer for how to view oneself at the moment, and hence maybe a tool for how to view movement between jobs (or other such stuff) in one’s future. I like the additions of the classification of jobs. I like how it differentiates between a good job, a great job, and a calling. I’ve heard people say they would do something for free that they were getting paid for, and this helps me get my mind around that idea better than the original.

I’m not sure why I pulled this out today. Perhaps it’s because yesterday I went back to my old place of work to attend the retirement party of an ex-co-worker. Along the way I spoke to a few folks about their current career situations and listened to how they were viewing their jobs. I liked hearing them. I’ve always liked helping people think about what they wanted to accomplish, after all. That said, I have no idea if that was why I fiddled with this diagram today. All I know is that I did.

And I know that after I was done with my doodling, I looked at it and felt pretty good.

Perhaps you might find it valuable in your own way.

Orphan Black’s Felix on acting (and Ron’s take on writing fast)

I went to lunch with a “new” writer last week. She’s very good but, being new, she’s still feeling her way around (which makes her just like everyone else, but we won’t tell her that now, will we? We’ll just let her figure out we’re all pretty much clueless on her own. Believe me, it’s just better this way).

We talked about her work at some detail. Along the way we eventually got to the topic of writing speed and quality—which I admit is a topic I almost hate to get into with any writer, better yet a new one. That said, my pet theory is that most people who think “fast writing must be bad writing” are confusing prose and storytelling. They’re pre-judging the quality of one’s prose. That also said, I also propose that there are writers who, when they write fast, require quite a bit of editing, and others who do not. None of that matters, though. Not to me.

The main reason that I am a proponent of writing quickly is that I find I am at my most creative when I’m “blazing along.” My stories move differently. They breathe in ways they don’t when I’m plodding.

In other words, when I think of writing quickly, I think more about “art” than about prose. These are two different things. Really, they are.

Let me try it this way:

Almost every story I’ve written that I’m deeply proud of has been fundamentally written in fast bursts. Some have needed considerable editing later, others have needed considerable re-drafting (which is different). Others have been pretty much fine as is, given basic copy-editing, of course. But the reason they are “good” to me is that they have the most of me in them. Not “me” as in my personal framework, but “me” as in I have felt like I was in the moment as I wrote them. I know the characters, and in fact, the characters are (to me) very real. Sometimes maybe too real.

I’m thinking about this because I recently read an interview of Jordan Gavaris. This is the guy who plays Felix on Orphan Black. I am a very big fan of the show and think that, while Tatiana Maslany deserves every accolade she’s getting, Gavaris has an equally interesting challenge playing such an overtly gay character and playing off multiple clones. I think he does a remarkable job. But that’s not why I’m talking about this interview.

I’ve taken at times to saying that good writing probably has at its root a lot in common with good acting. Both, I think, have to get into a headspace that matches the moment. Both, I think, require being able to let someone who is not you take over your inner self—but both also require your inner self then to rise up and make a statement in some way. It’s strange. But Jordan Gervais has a couple moments in this interview in which I went: um … yeah, that’s it.

Here’s the first:

But that scene in Cal’s cabin changed everything. “That scene was the beginning. That was the ‘Oh fuck,’” Gavaris said. “That was the door. That was the entrance. That’s when I knew it wasn’t about performing, it wasn’t about mechanics; it was about having an experience and the cameras just happening to catch it. The prospect of those experiences is why we [act]. The prospect of the moments where we go, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know I was going to do that.’ When the scene really works, you’re swept away. The scene plays you. You’re not there. You’re not in control. Half of what you’re doing doesn’t make sense. You’re telling a story with your instincts, your experiences, your impulses, your unbridled and uninhibited impulses; you’re telling a story with all those different things, and that’s what you hope for. That’s what I hope for with this show: more and more experiences that reveal something about me, to me, that I didn’t know.”

Here’s the second:

“For me, acting is not about lying. Yes, you’re playing pretend, we’re very aware that none of it is real, but it’s a series of psychology tricks to get your brain and body to believe that what’s happening is real. And when you believe it, you share a great deal of yourself in the process, because you’re sharing your own experiences, you’re sharing your own feelings, you’re sharing ugly truths about yourself — you know truths that are not always pleasant to reveal, you know something about selfishness, ego, narcissism, psychosis, anger, rage, and on the other end of the spectrum, you know something about love and joy and passion, and you get to reveal all of those things too.”

For me, this is the value of writing quickly. Writing quickly unclutters the brain of a bunch of stuff, and when I’m just plowing along, I often find myself in this weird headspace that matches the quotes above.

Which makes me quite happy.

I mean, who can’t like Felix, eh?

Found: happiness in a grocery store

In this post I will reveal to you a key to considerable happiness. It is, admittedly a strange key. It costs very little, and in the end never even allows you to know if it’s successful or not. Yet I find it makes me happy in its own serendipitous fashion, so it seems only fair to share it.

Setting the scene: Now that Lisa is the corporate breadwinner in the family and I’m the slovenly stay-at-home writer, keeping the house semi-operational is my chore. Specifically for today’s purpose, this means going to the grocery store—a task I’ve just completed (though, technically this is one of those tedious chores like cutting the grass that can never really be completed, the food goes away after all—another trip to the grocery seems pretty much fated). Generally, I admit this task is not all the glory it’s cracked up to be.

I have, however, I’ve found ways to make it a happier experience.

I’ve written before about using this time to catch up on my consumption of podcasts. Among today’s fare was Paul Hecht reading Max Steel’s “The Hat of My Mother,” a remarkably engaging story of an older woman, her relationship with hats, and the foibles that relationship gets her into. I shall not spoil it further for you other than to say that if you have 30 minutes free to do some mindless listening (like if you’re going to the grocery store soon) you should listen to it It starts at about 20:00.

This is not, however, the secret I intend to share with you.

This secret I intend to share has to do with coupons. Yes, those things you snip out of papers or whatever. Lisa snipped coupons when she was in charge of the groceries, and I snip them now. It takes only a few minutes here and there, and it saves us maybe $5 a week—which is about $250 a year (or about what I can make selling a short story—how’s that for a kick in the pants, eh? A short story is coupon cash…but I digress). I am not, however, here to tell you about how your life can be made happier by saving $5.00 a week.

Instead I want to say this: If you don’t clip coupons for yourself, consider doing it for someone else.

That is the secret. I have recently taken, as I clip my coupons, to noticing the occasional coupon for something I don’t need, and cutting it anyway. Coupons for cereal I don’t like, or for shampoo, or whatever. And then I take them to the grocery. Today, for example, I had about $10.00 in coupons separated out as I walked into the store. These were coupons I had no use for—they covered products I don’t use, or others that I do but were nearing expiration. And today, like I’ve done each time I’ve gone to the grocery the past two months or so, I walked around the aisles with an empty cart, placing coupons in places where my fellow shoppers might stumble upon them. As I placed each, I imagined them picking that coupon up and smiling as they realized they were now getting $1.00 off something they needed–or just liked.

It made me happy, strolling around quietly and unobtrusively spreading my grocery cheer.

When I was done, and only when I was done, I turned my cart around and headed to the produce section to begin my own shopping, smiling and listening to the voice of Paul Hecht as he read a story about an older woman, her family, and her hat.

The First Annual Rongo Awards

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been tempted at several moments to weigh in on the big brouhaha over this year’s Hugo Awards—an award which is of only vague import for the majority of the world, but is like life-blood to several people who are, perhaps, if such a thing is possible, the teensiest bit too deeply entrenched in the world of science fiction.

In the guise of preserving your sanity, I shall not link to any of it here. If, however, you have not heard of the issue, and you are interested in spending several hours of your time witnessing a community self-immolate, just go to Our Friend Google, and search on “Puppies” and “Hugo Awards.” From there on I figure you can create your own adventure.

I suggest, however, that the casual fan just stay out of the water.

Seriously.

There be sharks.

I, however, am not a casual fan. I am a writer working in the field, and have been for over twenty years. And on top of that, I tend to be a person who (as long as I can manage to avoid taking them too seriously) enjoys the whole concept of awards. As such, I admit that the Hugo Award does mean something to me.

So I have looked at the trench warfare going on within these waters (if I can be allowed to mix some metaphors) from a perch fairly close by, and have finally decided that while I am probably less intelligent than I look, I am not—and I repeat, not—a total sadist. Beyond that, I completely understand my place in this world. I understand I have no real mouthpiece or plank from which to give deep commentary that would have any chance of making a difference. (I am, however, also giving myself a self-serving pat on the back for thinking myself smart enough to assume there’s not a single person in this struggle who seems capable of providing any great commentary that has a chance to actually change anything. My opinion of human nature is that once a person digs a trench, it generally remains dug.) This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. Believe me. I’ve got plenty of ‘em. I just don’t see how me pounding the table can help in much of any way.

Still, I want to do something, and I would like that something to be pointed toward the positive.

And after considerable thought on the matter, I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is to spend some time highlighting pieces published in 2014 that I’ve read and enjoyed, and that were clearly “overlooked” by the slate-based approach the Puppy tandem either (depending on your point of view) rightly or wrongly employed.

So that’s what I’ll do.

My intention is, about once a week, to use my little platform here to point out a work I thought award-worthy. I plan to do this until the Hugos are actually announced, though perhaps I’ll go on longer. We shall see. I may touch on stories that are actually on the ballot, but probably will not. I assume folks who care are already exploring those works. My intention is to use my little place in the world of Science Fiction to talk about work I would not have been surprised to see on the Hugo ballot, but were not. They will be stories that should be on ballots somewhere (and maybe even be on ballots for awards not named “the Hugos”). Because I tend to be a weird reader, my selections will likely be all over the spectrum. Regardless, I hope folks will enjoy them.

This is the best way I can think of to address this ongoing strife, and to help these stories and the authors thereof—to talk about the work, to highlight it, and to hold it up for people to see and think about.

Focus on the positive.

Focus on what I think is quality.

Given this, I shall be awarding this collective of stories I highlight the High Honor of “the Ron’s Good Reading Award,” or “the Rongo,” for short. It is an award of high acclaim indeed, and sure to grow to extreme import–certain to change the very essence of the lives of those to whom my fickle finger of fate shall at point.

Perhaps I’ll even go so far as to create a logo for them in my copious spare time. Or not. Why cheapen such a thing with a brand, eh? Anyway … I digress.

With only a little further hesitation, I shall now proceed to use this post to identify the first story on the list, to bestow the first-ever “Rongo Award,” as it were. Before I go further, however, I must reiterate that this is a list of stories I think are fantastic. I am not including anything here for any purpose beyond that. I admit to feeling the need of prefacing my first selection here because I am distinctly aware of how the very first story I anoint with the title “Rongo Award Winner” will be perceived in context of the Great Battle Being Waged. I understand that John Scalzi is essentially the Anti-Beale to one side of this global battle that has become the Hugos.

That’s fine.

These are the Rongos.

In making these selections, I don’t care about the details that are being fought over one way or the other. This should, I expect, become more obvious as the weeks go by and the Rongos get passed around, but since this is #1, it has no context. Hence the disclaimer.

All righty, then…

With that out of the way, I am excited to point potential readers to my initial Rongo selection.

* * *

The First-ever Rongo Award goes to …

* * *

Rongo Category: Novella
Story: “Unlocked”
Author: John Scalzi

This is why I love novellas. Just flat-out love ‘em.

Here is a piece of Science Fiction that is everything science fiction should be. It is a story, written in an oral history narrative, that brings to bear science, technology, politics, community, and fundamental human nature in ways that let us look into the near future and view who we are. Given that its basic core is built around a health crisis, I suppose it’s fitting that as I read it, my wife, my father, my mother, and my daughter were all hacking and wheezing with a flu variant that apparently wasn’t in the vaccine this year.

Shrug.

“Unlocked” is a prequel to Scalzi’s novel Lock in, but it clearly stands on its own. It’s deeply technological, but does not bear gizmodic burden. It’s deeply political, but represents its politics in open and straightforward fashion, and often delves into our past to support its viewpoints. With an investment of an hour or so, I walked away from reading it feeling like I had looked at the very complex issue of a country’s reaction to an immediate health crisis with a visceral sense of being there, and from a shifting series of perspectives that left me both upbeat and chilled about human nature.

In Scazi’s world, human beings are not one-note creatures. In this world, there is no one “humanity.” There is only each of us, and each of our views on how we would like to be or how we would like to live. It’s a world that matches our own—a strange collective of individuals that gather together to make a culture.

Given its structure, the story unfolds in layers and waves, its real purpose hidden underneath the surface of the report until rising up and taking you by the shoulders to shake you first this way and then that. Life is complex, it says. And choices, therefore, are no less. This is a deft piece of work, well done.

I’m really pleased to tag “Unlocked” as the first-ever Rongo Award Winner for being among the best novellas of 2014.

Five Days in May – New Cover Reveal!

It’s getting close to May, which if you live in Indiana means that it’s getting on to Indy 500 time. This is special to me and John Bodin because it’s also time to release the latest edition of our anthology full of racing-related science fiction. These stories are great fun, full of pure skiffy stuff like bug-eyed aliens, time travel, neural nets, and other weirdness.

The original story we’re including this year is titled “Ghost of a Chance,” and is a powerful commentary on humanity and the value of racing. The piece sprang primarily from John’s mind–but with more than a bit of tweaking on my end. In other words, it (and the whole collection) is a great example of collaboration done right in that neither I, nor John, would have written these stories the same way all by ourselves.

The collection is in the final stages of preparation, but I’m expecting a release date in early-to-mid May.

Stay tuned.

Today, however, I’m excited to reveal the spiffy new cover we’ll be releasing it with. So, without further self-celebration, here it is …

RELEASE THE BUNDLES!

You ask, I respond. That’s how this works!

I’m really pleased to report that electronic versions of Saga of the God-Touched Mage are now available in bundles of four volumes each.

Saga of the God-Touched Mage
(Volumes 1-4)



Glamour of the God-Touched
Trail of the Torean
Target of the Orders
Gathering of the God-Touched

AVAILABLE AT THESE ONLINE RETAILERS!
Amazon: USUKDECAAU
Barnes & Noble (Available Soon!)
Kobo
Saga of the God-Touched Mage
(Volumes 5-8)



Pawn of the Planewalker
Changing of the Guard
Lord of the Freeborn
Lords of Existence

AVAILABLE AT THESE ONLINE RETAILERS!
Amazon: USUKDECAAU
Barnes & Noble (Available Soon!)
Kobo

Three friends, three books

As I’m getting my act together for the hundredth time, I think I should take a moment and note that three writer friends of mine local to the Columbus area have recently put out books that some of my readers might be interested in. Only one, Gregg Macklin’s, fits somewhere into the SF milieu, but I figure that it’s best to assume folks have as diverse of a reading interest as I do. Besides, I think it’s also good to realize there’s such a thing a gift-giving. [grin]

Anyway, here’s a little capsule on the three of them:

Albert Sisson: A Shadow of Death in the Woods

Albert is a guy I met in one of my roles as a corporate engineer. He was a better engineer than I, and was possessed of a sense of humor as dry as a 1950s martini–though I guess I should say he’s still possessed of that sense of humor! Regardless, he’s taken his love of motor cycles and road trips, and he’s taken his particular slant on the world, and he’s crafted an intriguing little story about murder, friends, family, and survival. Nice effort for a first novel. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Note the nifty cover. It’s another done by the one and only Rachel J. Carpenter (who, of course, has done plenty of mine).

Gregg Macklin: White Hot Skies

This is Gregg’s second book, and shows a very nice progression from his first. It’s a post-nuclear apocalypse kind of story set in the middle of Indiana. The story itself is as much commentary on personal freedom and the politics of plenty vs. scarcity as anything else, and is full of characters defined and shaped by the area. For that reason alone, folks from around southern Indiana may enjoy reading over the setting. Overall, though, I suspect the book will probably be best loved by those whose views lean a little to the right. [grin]

Having now known Gregg for a couple years, I’m really excited for him as I think he’s just now coming into his art. I love it when that happens.

Debi Stanton: The White Sofa

Full disclosure here, I haven’t read this book–I haven’t had time to grab it, and Debi didn’t send it around before publishing it. Debi coordinates our Bartholomew County Writer’s Group (meets the second Thursday of each month, ping me if you’re local and interested), is the publisher of the independent Pen It! magazine, and has been writing for some time. I understand the book is a romance/mystery/thriller (or, as Debi describes it, “has a little bit of everything in there!”). So if that sounds like your cuppa, I say go for it. [grin]

Kazuo Ishiguro

Often, while I go about the routine portion of my days at home, I like to listen to podcasts. I have quite eclectic tastes in this area, but in general I focus on stories and people–stories in the vein of documentaries or personal narratives, stories the likes of historical studies or discussions of scientific breakthroughs or maths or whatever, and people in the form of … well … in the form of people I think are interesting.

I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into listening to podcasts, I find the pretty much everyone is interesting if I just sit back and let them be. People have viewpoints, you see? And they have backgrounds that you couldn’t begin to expect. Given those backgrounds, they put together pieces of information and pieces of society in ways that I don’t. Interesting ways. Informative ways.

Take, for instance, this podcast of Elenor Wachtel’s interview of Kazuo Ishiguro on CBC Radio’s Writers & Company. Ishiguro is a well-respected writer, of course. But I didn’t really know anything about him at all. I knew he was Japanese. I knew he writes things others would consider “literary.” This gave me a stereotyped viewpoint of who he might be. I’m interested in art and literature, though, and even though I knew nothing much else about Kazuo Ishiguro I figured I would spend an hour with him.

I suggest you do so, also. I suggest you listen to his talk and let his existence change you.

If you do you’ll hear different takes on what love means.

You’ll hear what it’s like to grow up “other” without really realizing it (which is perhaps stranger than that sounds–Ishiguro is Japanese, but grew up British, and speaks with a full British accent, for example). You’ll hear interesting takes about Japanese history, and what it means to be from Nagasaki (a place that cannot possibly escape being deeply informed by its history with the atomic bomb). You’ll hear about how songs and lyrics relate to short stories and literature–and in between the cracks you can pick out small slices of what it means to be an artist.

And who knows what else you’ll learn, or merely think about differently. You are a different person than I am. So if you do listen to Ishiguro speak, I’m sure you’ll carry away something I’ll miss.

So, yes, I admit I like listening to podcasts. I like them because to absorb them you have to give them time. You have to concentrate. I like them because you have to listen, to actually engage with their content. And I like them because when you do that, you can find really interesting people who can teach you really interesting things.

Strange dreams

A week ago or so, I had a long-running dream about a boy who drowned. Actually, no one really knew if he drowned or not because in actuality he had just disappeared. But everyone assumed he had drowned because he was last seen going into the waters. It was a weird, Twin Peaks-like thing that splayed out over a couple of dream rocks. You know how they go. I woke up feeling odd about it, but that went away pretty quickly. I had pretty much forgotten about it.

Days passed.

Then last night I dreamed of the search and recovery. I was a diver.

It was equally as strange.

Shrug. Perhaps this will sometime wind up in a story.