Monday, June 19, 2006


Been a while since I've been here at my blog, so it's time that I put in an announcement, since I'm one of the Wild Cards writers and this is no longer under wraps but ready to publicize. This from George R.R. Martin:

June 5, 2006
We can't die yet. We haven't seen The Jolson Story.
The WILD CARDS series is back in business. We've just signed a contract with Tor Books for a new triad of WILD CARDS mosaic novels, to be titled Inside Straight, Busted Flush, and Suicide Kings. Work on the books has already commenced. Tor hopes to release the first volume in hardcover in 2007, with the subsequent volumes following a year apart.
The three new books will be volumes eighteen, nineteen, and twenty in the overall chronology, but they will also represent a new beginning for the series. A few of our older characters will make appearances in the new books, but the spotlight this time around will be on the next generation of aces and jokers, coming of age in a world transformed by xenovirus Takis-A. "It's 2007. Do you know where your children are?"
Here's a first peek at ten of our new cast members, courtesy of Mike S. Miller. From L to R, let me present (back row) Jonathan Hive, Double Helix, Drummer Boy, and Lohengrin, and (front row) Hoodoo Mama, Little Fat Boy, John Fortune, Curveball, Dragon Girl, and The Genetrix.
Many of the writers who helped make the original WILD CARDS series so popular will be contributing to the new books as well, including Walter Jon Williams, John Jos. Miller, Michael Cassutt, Walton (Bud) Simons, Stephen Leigh, Kevin Andrew Murphy, and others. They will be joined by Daniel Abraham, who made his WILD CARDS debut in volume sixteen, and newcomers Christopher Rowe, Caroline Spector, Ian Tregillis, and Carrie Vaughn. As with previous volumes, George R.R. Martin will edit the books, with the able assistance of Melinda M. Snodgrass.
The WILD CARDS series made its debut in 1987, during the heydey of the shared world anthology, when a dozen different series from as many publishers were competing for rack space. Twelve volumes were published by Bantam from 1987 through 1993, and three by Baen Books from 1993 to 1995. After a seven-year hiatus, iBooks revived the series in 2002, reprinting six of the old Bantam titles and adding two new volumes, the anthology Deuces Down and a solo novel by John J. Miller, Death Draws Five, before going into bankrutcy. The series has also spawned a comic mini-series from Marvel/ Epic, a role-playing game from Steve Jackson Games, and several film options. WILD CARDS has outlasted all the other shared world anthologies of the 80s to become the longest-running series in the history of our genre... and with a little help from our readers, we hope to run for another twenty years at least.

I've got a couple new characters set to join the new triad as well, but we're not revealing our full hand just yet. I'll keep everyone posted.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jane Johnson's "The Secret Country: The Eidolon Chronicles"

Judging by the state of the web at the moment, it appears I'm going to be the first person to do a review of Jane Johnson's The Secret Country: The Eidolon Chronicles.

First off, full revelation: I've never actually met Jane. However, I'm good friends with Katharine Kerr, one of her authors, so I've been hearing about her off and on for years. When I went to CascadiaCon, this last fall's NASFIC, I grabbed the free swag from the Simon & Schuster table, including an advance copy of Jane's new novel, but it wasn't until I packed it as extra reading material for a rainy visit to Truckee that I realized that Jane was the one Kit had been mentioning for years.

Anyway, here's the review/rant/whatever. First the glowing stuff, which I almost forgot because I go into a novel with the expectation of being entertained: The Secret Country is a fun romp, especially when we encounter the particularly British archetypes of "the awful relatives," namely Awful Uncle Aleister and Cousin Cynthia. They are vastly entertaining, and Cousin Cynthia's pet cat, the hairless Sphynx, is almost worth the price of admission himself. The comic relief with the goblins is also great, and Johnson has a rare touch with writing dialogue for what would be called "the clowns of the wayang of the left" in Balinese shadow-puppet theatre. Less abstrusely, she writes really funny lines for her villains' bumbling henchlings. I look forward to seeing more of the goblins in later books.

Regardless, on to a bit more of the plot. The Secret Country starts with a familiar premise: a boy named Ben Arnold (short for "Benjamin Arnold," not "Benedict Arnold," but still unfortunate for American readers) goes into a marvelous magical pet emporium which is actually in fact magical because he walks out with a talking cat. Same premise as Jennifer Murdley's Toad, but with a small twist in that, while the cat is indeed from Eidolon, the magical Secret Country, it turns out that half the magic is already in Ben, who hasn't so much purchased a talking cat as suddenly come into his inheritance of being able to talk to animals, including pixies, selkies and dragons This is because his mother is actually from Eidolon as well, not that she ever mentioned it, and it's with Ben's mom that the problems with the book begin.

Isadora Arnold has encouraged her son to save up for the Mongolian Fighting Fish he so covets, because it's good for children to care for things, and this is all fine and dandy except that by the time he's saved up enough money, she's gone from merely feeling poorly to sighing like Camille, sitting in a wheelchair and having her husband carry her up the stairs. And while I do not expect that British children have all read "The Gift of the Magi," it's a pretty big ding against character sympathy that Ben goes into the shop hellbent on buying the stupid fish anyway, rather than get something for his poor sick and obviously dying mother. There is some small redemption in the fact that Ben instead spends the money to purchase the freedom of Iggy, the talking cat, who also mentions that Mr. Dodd, the pet store owner, is cruel and evil and means to kill him. But even without this philanthropic incentive, for heaven's sake, it's a talking cat. What kid would be willing to pass that up?

The plot goes on, with magical creatures being stolen out of Eidolon via the Wild Road near the old stone in Aldstane Park, and while the plot and character sympathy decidedly pick up after the initial chapters, the diction and naming conceits also start to grate.

Foremost among these is what I'll call Creeping Harry-Potterism, or Sorcerer's Stone Syndrome, where American children are considered too stupid to understand various words from British English and so they're translated into American English, despite the fact that the story is otherwise unapologetically British, where Ben's mom is his "Mum," but there's mention of soccer players (as opposed to football) and he has a "chips packet."

What the hell is a chips packet? A British child would have a crisps packet, whereas an American child would have a bag of chips. Chips packet? A web search turned up one use of the term, on a website from Zaire. So a South African idiom for a British story intended for American kids?

However, I will not blame Jane Johnson for this. I will blame the copyeditor. I know the havoc those can wreak. I will likewise blame the copyeditor for the three instances of "was" in place of "were" in what should have been perfectly ordinary and proper uses of the subjunctive mood. (Dropping the subjunctive mood is a pet peeve of mine.) There's a note in the front of my copy which reads,
Please check publication information and any quotations against a bound copy of the book. We urge this for sake of editorial accuracy as well as for your legal protection and ours.
Hopefully some of these issues may be addressed before the "bound copy" appears.

Still, Johnson has a trouble with having her character names range from "Ignatius Sorvo Coromandel," aka "The Wanderer," aka Iggy, the talking cat, to "Lady Hawley-Fawley of Crawley," who sounds like she should be from a Wallace and Grommet movie. Admittedly, I was greatly amused by the name of the selkie, "She Who Swims the Silver Path of the Moon, Daughter of He Who Hangs Around on the Great South Rock to Attract Females," but that sort of farce undercuts the drama when The Horned One/Herne the Hunter/Cernunnos shows up later in the book.

Similarly, Ben is savvy enough to know that "Aldstane" is "Old Stone" in Old English, but doesn't mention that his house address, "Gray Havens, 27 Underhill Road" is a Tolkien reference, despite having a copy of The Hobbit in the house. Then there's the name-dropping/product-placement of Gaiman's "The Sandman" in one chapter, while Ben's sister Ellie is listening to the (nonexistent, so far as I could find with a web search) band, The Blue Flamingos. I can understand using fake band names if you don't want the book to get dated, or if you plan to have the band show up on stage in later books, but the juxtaposition with an actual real-world comic published in the late 80s? Wouldn't Ben at least be reading Coraline? Plus naming your magical country "Eidolon," a word that may already be in the vocabulary of the type of twelve-year-old who's actually read The Hobbit and "The Sandman"?

Of course, you shouldn't squint too hard at any fantasy where kids travel through a magic portal into a world where magical creatures speak the same language as the world they left, especially when you have eccentric gentlewomen buying dragons as ecologically sound garden incinerators, but the main trouble with The Secret Country is the way it veers from the mythic atmosphere of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen to the tongue-in-cheek farce of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The artwork has the same problem, with the dog-headed Dodman and his Gabriel hounds looking wonderfully cool and creepy on the cover, promising a good high fantasy, whereas the interior illustrations at the start of each chapter raised my blood sugar level by several points.

Besides which, while the Dodman is supposedly responsible for the deaths of scads of magical creatures, the only one he actually kills on stage is a tiny winged sprite, and that's just to show how wicked he is. (Whereas Iggy, being a cat, apparently gets a pass for eating the talking cockroaches.) Contrast that with Narnia's White Witch, turning countless talking animals to stone and then for an encore stabbing Aslan through the heart--and as we find out a few books later, she once genocided her former world just to prove she could. With the villain insufficiently deadly, it's harder to stay on the edge of your seat for the hero. (Then again, Johnson doesn't have Christian allegory constantly breaking the fourth wall and trying to stuff a bible down the reader's throat, something which I could not pardon C.S. Lewis for as a child and even less as an adult.)

Gripes aside, The Secret Country, is still an enjoyable light read and I'm looking forward to the sequel. I'm also going to pass on the book to my twelve-year-old niece to get her take on it, which I'll post here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

UFO from 1896

From the Sacramento Evening Bee, November 19, 1896:

I was just in Truckee last week. Amazing what can happen in these small towns.

The Lazy Drinker: Mad Alchemist's Cocktail Device

Remember that bit in the first film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where Gene Wilder (the nicer Willy Wonka) presses all the buttons and all the tubes of colored syrups and fluids whirl and pipe, in the end producing a pretty uninteresting looking stick of chewing gum? Admittedly a magic stick of gum that turns Violet Beauregard into a giant blueberry, but still, kind of a let down.

This is the same sort of device, except that it's made out a blueberry-blue rollaway cooler, and it uses a computer program to dispense cocktails. Better, you can download the software for free, and buy everything from do-it-yourself kits all the way up to the full-on cooler.

Who needs to be rolled away to the Juicing Room when now you can turn any room into a Juicing Room? Just watch the movie:Link:

Monday, December 12, 2005

Word of the Day: Mirabicary

A seller of miraculous goods and magical items.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I've been Boing-Boinged

Just dropped a tip to Xeni over at Boing-Boing about some old wax cylinder recordings I'd found, since she is doing a feature on them currently. She's as amused as I am at the "I'm a Naught Girl" bad-girl tune recording.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Word of the Day: Osturducken

A turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken) stuffed into an ostrich--a South African dish, following an ancient tradition:

Actually the concept underlying the turducken goes back much further than that. For example, a time-honored South African dish employed the turkey-duck-chicken combination but went a step further and stuffed it into an ostrich. (The result, obviously, was an osturducken.) An old feast dish in the Republic of Georgia consisted of an ox stuffed in succession with a calf, a lamb, a turkey, a goose, a duck, and finally a chicken. A traditional wedding dish in West Africa was a camel stuffed with, among other things, a couple of sheep, a few bustards and several carp.

In fact, the technique of stuffing one animal into another can be traced back at least to the Middle Ages. A 13th century cookbook, for example, contained a recipe for a ram stuffed with small birds. By the 19th century Dumas' Le Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine offered a recipe for a turkey stuffed into a pig. A Southern recipe from 1832 called for a dove stuffed into a quail, then into a guinea hen, then a duck, then a capon, then a goose, and finally a peacock or a turkey. By comparison, turducken sounds like something out of Cooking Light magazine.

I am wondering whether, via scientific misuse of the varying sizes of egg coddlers, and a recipe for scotch eggs, it would be possible to do the same with a turkey egg, a chicken egg and a quail egg. I've made scotch eggs before with turkey eggs and they're particularly yummy, turkey eggs being richer than chicken eggs and double-yolkers. There is nothing except theory and insanity to keep you from stuffing them all in succession....

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Witch Hunt in Denmark

Interesting what your morning mail can bring.

One of my small sidelights and hobbies is fontography. As with many small sidelights, I went wild with it a few years ago, and designed two fonts, Witch Hunt and Death Dance. I put them up and offered them as shareware, hardly hearing a word about them and no money attached...until this morning.

I was contacted by Bonnier Publications, a Danish publisher, who would like to make use of Witch Hunt for their History magazine. They also asked if I could make three Danish characters: the AE, the O with the slash through it, and the A with a circle on top.

My font programs are packed away two hard drives ago, so I thought quickly and then called up David Nalle at the Scriptorium ( and found that he was not only willing to make the additional characters for Bonnier, but was interested in carrying my fonts on his website and would clean and spiff them up to current fontography standards. Witch Hunt will likely be broken into one set for the font and one for the elaborate glyphs, with them sold as a set, but all this sounds good, and likely something similar with Death Dance.

This is all very cool.