Food, San Diego, Clarion

There are seventeen other people in the world who know the slightly sick feeling I experienced when I read these words in the search terms used to find my blog just a few minutes ago:

Clarion San Diego Food

As I type eighteen new Clarionites are preparing to embark on the potentialy life changing experience that will be Clarion 2009. I know who you are, I’ve had a full list of your names and send you all good wishes. Continue reading Food, San Diego, Clarion


Hollywood must read the Turkey City Lexicon


I’m about to give away the ending of Knowing, the new Nicholas Cage vehicle from director Alex Proyas (who over a decade ago brought us the much superior Dark City). So, if you don’t want to know the entirely predictable end of a film that could have been so much more, look away now. Continue reading Hollywood must read the Turkey City Lexicon

What makes a Hugo nominee tick?

I’ve been lucky enough to interview both Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow in the last year. To celebrate their nominations for both the Hugo and Prometheus awards, here are the two interviews again for anyone who missed them. I learned a lot from doing both interviews. Charlie has an insight into what science fiction is capable of that I had never considered before, and Cory understands the new paradigm between readers and writers better than any other writer working at the moment I believe. Continue reading What makes a Hugo nominee tick?

To self publish or to not

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about self publishing recently. I’ve been considering two projects that might be described as self publishing. And I’ve been looking at how self publishing fits into my professional life as a literature development worker. And I’ve just been following a thread incited by a Facebook status update from Mary Robinette Kowal on the brutal existence of self published authors at conventions. Basically, I think its time I put some of this into words.

Continue reading To self publish or to not

Hugo Nomination for Weird Tales!

The Hugo nominations are out and my two of my favourite magazines, Interzone and Weird Tales, have been nominated! Both receive a nod in the semi-pro zine category. Good luck to Andy Cox and Ann Vandermeer both.

Electric Velocipede also scoops a nomination for best fanzine, so good luck to John Klima.

The John W Campbell award for best new writer is interesting as well. No idea who will win, but that is a list of writers I must look into.

Brokeback Tales

It being late Sunday evening, I want to throw a question out into the void and see what comes back.

Geoff Ryman often rolled out the term ‘broken backed’ when he was teaching at Clarion. Geoff meant it not as a general term for a bad story, but as a specific term for a good story with something very wrong with it. Thats an interesting line to draw. A bad story is a bad story. But a good story, even with major flaws, is a thing of interest. So what to do about the broken backed story?

In my thinking a broken backed story is one where the writers imagination outstrips their skill. You are hit with inspiration for a truly original / inspiring story but your skill with the pen isn’t enough to express it in words. But that doesn’t quite work. Anyone who has sat down to write their Tolkienesque epic fantasy and failed is discovering how easy it is to imagine more than you can realise.

Another thought we all took away from Clarion, thanks to first Kelly Link then Mary Anne Mohanraj, was that there are many good stories in the world, but only a handful of great ones. Anyone can learn to produce a good story, but the thing every writer struggles with is stepping up into greatness. Stories are both complex and illogical, they are mechanisms with many moving parts, driven at their heart by a kind of magic none of us really understand. You can think you have all the parts mastered, only to find the magic is not there. Even the greatest writers only get the alchemy write some of the time.

Broken backed stories are the ones where writers are striving to get all the parts running smoothly and the magic blazing as well. They are like insane science experiments mixed with wild sorcery, Frankenstein’s monsters colliding with dancing mops to the music of Fantasia. They do not work. They are off kilter, out of joint, fucked up beyond all reason. Monsters that we keep looked in our trunks or exhiled to unused areas of hard drive.

Which leads me to my question. What should we do with them? Keep them locked away? Put them out of their misery? We might say ‘rewrite them and make them whole’. But what if we can’t? What if they can never be fixed? And what if fixing them means losing the mysterious spark that might have made them great?  Isn’t a great story always a little broken backed? I think most of my favourite stories are in one way or another.

Maybe we need some kind of home for the broken backed that will never be whole.  A Freakshow of Brokeback Tales. Hmmmm…I think I smell an anthology brewing!


John Klima sticks his neck out and nominates his top 10 most influential SF / F anthologies over at It’s a list that makes me want to read more, as do the the comments. But I was surprised to see my most influential anthology went entirely unmentioned…

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology was the book that woke me up to what science fiction could be. I would guess that like many readers I found it in the wake of reading Neuromancer. As unique and startling as that novel was, without seeing the diversity of writing in the Bruce sterling edited anthology I might not have grasped what SF short fiction was really capable of.

Red Star, Winter Orbit still rates for me as one of Gibson’s strongest stories (alongside Hinterlands). But Tom Maddox Snake-Eyes sticks in my memory as the epitomy of cyberpunk, and a major influence over my story They Leave Him No Voice (workshopped at Clarion and awaiting re-write). Contributions from Greg Bear and Pat Cadigan also rocked my adolescent world, but it was James Patrick Kelly’s Solstice that really blew my mind. I remember that story pretty much scene for scene, despite not having read it for at least a decade. Meeting Jim at Clarion was totally awe inspiring as a consequence.

I can see my old battered copy of Mirrorshades on the shelf from where I am writing this. Its been a while, I think its time to go and read it again.


Far Eastern tales of whimsy and malice

I’ve been avidly reading (and listening) to Eugie Foster’s perfectly formed fairy tales in short story form since I started reviewing for The Fix (which Eugie edits). They have appeared in some of my favourite venues including the Drabblecast and Realms of Fantasy (sadly no longer with us). Now they have been collected together in Returning My Sister’s Face: and other far eastern tales of whimsy and malice. Should anyone feel like buying me a present, this comes high on the list. If you don’t like me enough to do that, then go and buy yourself a copy as quick as you can. I know one of my fellow Clarion grads in particular who will appreciate Eugie Foster’s writing (you know who you are).

Watchmen rocks!

So…I’ve seen it. My considered conclusion…f@$king brilliant!!

My favourite film reviewer, the good Dr himself, Mark Kermode, absolutely panned it in his review on Friday. I think he must be getting a bit long in the tooth because he completely missed the point. Yes its stupid and flippant when it shouldn’t be. Yes the acting is quite appalling in places. But fundamentally this is a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore’s writing and Dave Gibbon’s vision and the outcome is as totally nasty, insane, grusome, violent, inspiring, shocking and hilarious as the comic.

I was a cynical as anyone going in, given that Zack Snyder’s attempt at making a film out of 300 had been gut wrenchingly awful. But then so was the orginal graphic novel (Frank Miller…single most overated comic writer / artsit of all time) and with Watchmen, Snyder demonstrates he is a fanboy director who is only as capable as his source material.

I think its a shame Alan Moore took his name off the film. Whilst it lacks much of the complexity and subtlety of the film, it does honour to it. I hope he changes his mind and watches Watchmen!

Best line:

“But…I thought you liked life now?”

“Yes. I think I will make some.”

Hooray!! I’ve waited years to hear Dr Manhattan speak, and tonight he finally did.

Clarion applicants…batten down the hatches!

Clarion classmate E J Fischer recounts his last minute application to the worlds greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy writing workshop @ UC San Diego. If its any encouragement to those of you who barely scrapped the deadline, it seemed that almost everyone in the class of 2008 applied at the last minute (and now of course I’m discouraging those of you who applied in good time…)

Continue reading Clarion applicants…batten down the hatches!