saga

Max Gladstone – Author

Max Gladstone is a novelist, author of Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise and the up-coming Full Fathom Five.  He was also a 2013 Campbell Award nominee and these are his good things.

Good things to read.

I’m on record all over the internet encouraging people to read Roger Zelazny and Dorothy Dunnett, so let’s treat those as a given for the purposes of this exercise and focus on more recent discoveries.

John M. Ford, basically everything, but The Final Reflection and The Dragon Waiting will be the easiest to find.  I was introduced to John M Ford’s work at Boskone this year and I’m now in a desperate frenzy to track as much of it down as possible. He’s a great writer, fast-moving and densely plotted while at the same time deeply concerned with his characters as human beings rather than Story Engines. His prose is poetical in the elevated sense of “elegant sentences garnished with perfect detail” rather than the failure mode of “so purple it looks like someone’s been at it with a carpet beater.” And he’s funny! Read him if you haven’t already.

Sara Gran’s, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.  Gran’s two psychedelic detective novels are brilliantly written mystical journeys into the souls of cities and the people who live there. Claire DeWitt, ex-girl sleuth and World’s Greatest Detective, is a student of a French school of detection that employs dreams, the I Ching, and drug-addled visionquests as much as old-fashioned policework. These books are sharply observed, well-written, horrific and beautiful and mind-expanding by turns. A lesser writer might use this territory to play pure metafictional games, but Gran’s as interested in the social reality of her settings—post-Katrina New Orleans and modern San Francisco—as in authorial gamesmanship. I don’t know any books quite like these, and I can’t wait for the next in her series.

Saga.  Saga is a rip-roaring space opera about the karmic consequences of violence, starring a woman with wings and a guy with horns, their baby, and their ghost baby sitter. They’re fugitives from opposite sides of an interstellar war, being pursued by a robot prince and a mercenary with a psychic sentient cat and an infinitely extensible lance. Read this book. Read it now. In fact why are you still reading this article when you could be reading Saga, or Claire DeWitt, or something by John M Ford?

Good things to watch.

BBC Sherlock.  My wife and I recently came through a very intense span of work, and are only now settling down to catch up on the third season of Sherlock. I know, I know! But man, I missed this show. The actors remain amazing. I would watch most of these people read from the phone book in combinations, and Martin Freeman’s Watson continues to be the emotional core of the show, and the defining modern Watson. Though I’m given to understand I should check out Lucy Liu in Elementary.

The Wire.  This is a master class in storytelling disguised as a show. I’ve started watching with notebook in hand, and after every episode I go back through to dissect what the writers are doing. Of course the actors are great, and the show does this wonderful job of showing us moral ambiguity rather than showing people talk about it. Also, Idris Elba, who Idris Elba.

The Lego Movie.  This may be the best Batman movie ever made. Bonus points for sneaking neat theological issues like God’s relationship with time and art into a movie about block toys! Also +1 for the duplos reference at the end.

Good things to use.

Mechanical Keyboard.  I like it when my keyboard clicks. It lets me know I’m actually doing something. I use a Leopold Tenkeyless with Cherry MX Blue switches, and it feels like espresso for the fingers.

iPad.  Tablets are a personal gift from Computer God to writers. They’re lousy as a rule for composition, but they’re ideal editing machines: the portrait orientation resembles a piece of paper enough to shock me out of screen-reading-aimless-skim mode. My iPad has made the infinite redrafting process a lot faster and more pleasant. The new iPad Air is also light enough to hold for hours at a time without giving myself horrible RSIs.

Standing Desk.  I do my best writing—and I mean here the actual core productivity “adding words to novel” stuff—while sitting down, but I spend a lot of time on the computer writing blog posts, responding to email, editing, and doing a bunch of other stuff that isn’t core but without which the core would just sort of flop around the universe like an ungainly literary catfish. Standing desks are awesome. And when you use a standing desk, you can dance while you’re working—like I’m doing right now!

Connect with Max on Twitter, @MaxGladstone.

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Galen Dara – Illustrator

Galen Dara likes to sit in a dark corner listening to the voices in her head.  She has a love affair with the absurd & twisted, and an affinity for monsters, mystics, & dead things. Also, she likes extremely ripe apricots. She has illustrated for Edge Publishing, Lightspeed, Fireside Magazine, Apex, Scapezine, Tales to Terrify, Dagan Books, and the LovecraftZine. Recent book covers include War Stories, Glitter & Mayhem, Oz Re-imagined, and the Geek Love anthology – these are her good things.

Good things to read.

Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Stapels. The storytelling is brain blowingly poignant and the art is sublime. Marko and Alana are fugitive lovers from two sides of a bloody galactic civil war, on the run from assassins, the whole thing is narrated by their newborn baby girl. Wow. A profoundly amazing family story. (Oh, but not family friendly. This is a very “adult content” comic, in fact Comixology banned issue #12 from it’s stores. After an uproar and some diplomacy that issue is back up now.) You can get Vol 1 and 2 in trade paperback, but if you have a chance, go put the monthly singles on a pull list at your local comic store. It’s worth it just for Brian’s letter column at the end.

Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. I picked this one up at the library a few years ago, not knowing anything about the author or what it was about, simply because the title intrigued me. (“What, there are no men left in America??!”) What followed was a fascinating look into the life of Eustace Conway who walked away from suburbia when he was 17 to become a modern day mountain man. It totally captivated me.

Anything by Octavia Butler. I first stumbled across her work in an Isaac Asimov collection of Hugo Winning short stories: Speech Sounds (1984) and BloodChild (1985) remain some of the most memorable pieces in that collection. Parable of the Sower, Wild Seed and Fledgling are some of my favorite of her novels, but her collection of short stories (Bloodchild and other stories) just gives such a powerful glimpse into her favorite themes spread across a variety of settings and characters, I love it!

Good things to watch.

Weeds. Is it too disturbing that my new motto is “What Would Nancy Do?” Seriously, suburban housewife slash marijuana dealer Nancy Botwin is not an optimal role model and sometimes I hate her, deeply, but I am head over heals in love with this entire darkly funny series. (Created by Jenji Kohan who also created Orange is the New Black. Jenji, I love you!)

X-Files. Oh Scully, you make my heart flutter with every long suffering eye roll. And I never get tired of hearing you ask “Mulder, what’s going on here?” as the conspiracy unfolds in high dramatic fashion. I really thought I had seen all of the X-files, (I would come home with stacks of VHS copies from the video store on a regular basis.) But no, thanks to Netflix I am discovering huge gaps in my collection and I am fixing that with enthusiasm. (omg. All the guest stars I never quite grasped before! Seth Green! Tony Shalhoub! Jack Black! Shia LaBeouf! Kaylee Frye!! etc.)

Stuff You Should Know. Well I mostly listen to the podcasts, but they do have a TV show on the science channel (and a YouTube channel) so I’m counting it. Josh and Chuck you are seriously awesome. I also enjoy Stuff To Blow Your Mind, and will eventually dive into Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know (I think it will go well with my X-Files fanaticism). But really, saving the best for last, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey have all my love for their research on Stuff You Missed In History Class episodes.

Good things to use.

A door frame pull-up bar installed inside your residence. I’ve had them on the porch or garage and still use them, but when it’s installed actually inside my living space (like in my bedroom door) I use it much more. Every time I walk by it is an invitation to get my feet off the ground for a moment or so. (For variation in getting one’s feet off the ground I’ll eventually install a hanging board above the kitchen door. Meanwhile I’m making good use of some Metolius rings a friend gave me. (Thanks Gerry!))

Walking shoes. Nothing fancy, just something you can comfortably walk around the block in. I love walking, NEED to walk, I do it several times a day whenever time (and climate) allows. It keeps me sane, helps me decompress, gives my mind a chance to unwind.

Sketchbook and pen. Never be caught without one. The Canson basic black sketchbook, 5.5 x 8.5 inches is an old standby for me. Moleskines are awesome but I tend to fight with the thick creaminess of the classic moleskin pages: the pocket sized graph paper version is my favorite as far as moleskins go. For pens, while I frequently use just any old black-inked ball point pen, it’s the .005 sized microns just make my heart flutter.

Connect with her on Twitter, @galendara.

William Shunn – Author

William Shunn is a computer programmer turned award nominated science fiction writer, missionary turned accidental terrorist, and web programmer for Motley Crue turned web programmer for Big Bird. He is also the Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author of over thirty works of short fiction, which have appeared since 1993 everywhere fromAsimov’s Science Fiction to Salon these are his good things.

Good things to read.

Little America by Henry Bromell. Henry Bromell is best known as a television writer and producer, with credits stretching from Northern Exposure and Homicide: Life on the Street through Rubicon and Homeland.  But his writing career began in the 1970s, with a string of linked short stories (mostly published in the New Yorkers) that fictionalized his peripatetic childhood as the son of a CIA case officer.  In 2001 he returned to that setting for this marvelous novel in which an adult writer tries to unravel the mysteries of his father’s espionage career.  The tension between what Terry Hooper remembers witnessing as a child in 1958 and what was actually going on in the (fictional) kingdom of Kurash fuels the most cogent and compelling exploration of the history and politics of the modern Middle East, and Western meddling, that I’ve ever read.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples. The hippest, most inventive space opera of the past couple of years isn’t a book, movie, or TV show, but an ongoing comic series from the writer of Y: The Last Man and the artist of North 40.  Saga is an exciting far-future thriller, moving family drama, and terrifying horror story at the same time, not to mention a very adult exploration of such topics as cross-species love and child exploitation.  Best of all, it’s a collaboration in the truest sense, with Staples’ feverish art and creature designs feeding back into Vaughan’s writing.  And they’re not afraid to take a hiatus every six issues to be sure they don’t rush the magic.  I’m delighted that (for once) I managed to get in on the ground floor with this one.

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch.  For any writer of fiction, this how-to manual from the former chair of the Creative Writing Department at Columbia University reads more like an extended one-on-one session with the wise, compassionate mentor you wish you’d found in college.  Koch’s advice is top-notch, but more importantly is freeing.  Perhaps the most important section in this book is the one where he gives you permission and encouragement to just start writing.  I’ve read a lot of books on writing in my time, and this is hands-down the best.

Good things to watch.

Europa Report (2013), directed by Sebastián Cordero, screenplay by Philip Gelatt
You may think you’ve seen this tale of doomed space explorers before, in everything from Alien to Sunshine, but what sets apart this modest but moving story of a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon is top-tier acting married to rigorous adherence to scientific fact.  We never lose hope as the noose tightens for this very human band of astronauts, and the decisions they make ultimately make this movie more a paean to the advancement of science than a monster mash note.

Attack the Block (2011), written and directed by Joe Cornish.  In this very British monster movie, a young nurse reluctantly joins forces with her teenaged muggers to defend their London tower block from an invasion of murderous aliens.  Little seen in the U.S., Attack the Block is the most pure fun I’ve had at the movies in years.  (I dragged four different friends to see it in the theater on four separate occasions.)  The fact that it was executive-produced by Edgar Wright might tell you a bit about its tone, but may not prepare you for the sheer brio with which Cornish directs.  The accents can be impenetrable at first, but don’t worry, you’ll pick up on it all pretty quickly.  Nick Frost has a very funny role as a low-level drug dealer, but the real stars are the teen actors, who helped Cornish develop the movie’s colorful slang.

Terriers.  This 2010 buddy detective series from FX didn’t make much of an impression on viewers — except for the loyal few who gave it chance.  Those who did discovered a refreshing portrayal of male friendship wrapped in crackling dialog and terrific acting.  Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James had more chemistry than just about any television duo I can remember, even as creator Ted Griffin and producer Shawn Ryan put their characters through more hell than two trying-to-be-nice guys should ever have had to face.  The series finale was wrenching, and though it was left open-ended, the final scene still plays as the kind of epitaph most shows would have killed for.  This is only time I’ve ever written to a network begging for a show to be renewed.  There’s been no DVD release yet, sadly, but you can now get it on Netflix Instant or Amazon Instant Video

Good things to use.

Roku 3.  I’m a proud cable-cutter, and my Roku units are the reason why.  With Hulu Plus, Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant Video, and hundreds of other channels available, if I can’t watch it via my Roku then I figure I don’t need to watch it at all.  The RF remote doesn’t require line of sight to work, which means you can mount the device out of sight on the back of your TV, with the latest version you can even plug headphones into the remote for private audio.  Roku is easy to hook up to your TV, and best of all the various units are all priced between $50 and $100.

Sonos.  I always dreamed being the guy with speakers wired into every room of his house, all controllable from one central unit.  Sonos takes that dream a step further with a wireless sound system that lets you configure anywhere from one to 32 speaker units throughout your house.  You can set them up singly or configure them in stereo pairs — it all depends on how many units you care to buy.  (And you can add more any time you like.)  You can stream the same music (whether from your local MP3 library or online services like Spotify or Pandora) or radio programming to all units, or different send different streams to different rooms, however you choose.  Sonos even makes a soundbar for your television, and the TV audio track can be streamed to other rooms too.  My only problem with Sonos is saving up the money to buy more speaker units for more rooms.

WordPerfect.  I’ve been a WordPerfect user since about 1986 (version 4.2 for DOS), and I’ve resisted switching to any other word processor in all the years since.  Why?  WordPerfect is simply the most sensible word processor out there.  The “Reveal Codes” feature is one big reason; like viewing the source of an HTML document, it lets you peek behind the screen and see exactly where all your formatting tags begin and end.  (Try that with Microsoft Word.)  That’s because WordPerfect documents have been structured using SGML-like markup since long before the Web popularized the concept.  There’s also a fully featured scripting language for writing macros.  I’ve written a lot of them over the years, and I’d be lost without them.  I still write all my fiction in WordPerfect, only exporting to Word format (under protest) when I have to send something to an agent or editor.  (Full disclosure:  I worked for WordPerfect from 1991 to 1994, and was a member of the development team that built version 6.0 for DOS — the final DOS version of WordPerfect, as it turned out.  80×86 assembly language, baby!)

Connect with William on Twitter, @Shunn.