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Moving Forward:
Life in a Science-Fiction Novel

April 24th, 2020

A few months back, while prepping for The International Conference on the Fantastic, I wrote a piece titled “Existential Threats” that considered how social media and digital tech were reshaping our culture. The essay centered on two sf classics, Ray Bradbury’s “The Murderer” (pictured at left) and Arthur C. Clarke’s “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Since the conference would focus on the Anthropocene, I figured the essay would fit nicely into the discussion of how technology is transforming the world.

Then came COVID-19. The conference was canceled, and the essay is now available in the current issue of Dissections, the British literary journal edited by Gina Wisker and published out of the University of Brighton, UK. You can read the essay here.

Reflecting in the essay now — just two months after it was written — I recall a review of Michael Crichton’s novel Prey that appeared in The New Yorker some 20 years ago. The review considers how scenarios in Crichton novels tend to ignore the technological changes that follow cataclysmic events:

[Crichton’s novels describe] things that could change the world—but don’t. The Andromeda strain of space germs mutates into harmlessness and goes away; the lost city of the Congo is wiped from the map by lava; in Sphere, the discoverers of the extraterrestrial artifact of untold power use that power to wish it into retroactive nonexistence. The fact that Crichton has no interest in showing what might have happened is what makes him a writer of suspense fiction, rather than of science fiction. A science-fiction writer would naturally want to see what would happen if the technologies stayed out of control (as most do), and might even want to ask whether the consequences would be all bad (as they often aren’t). Might not free-range dinosaurs make Costa Rica an even more interesting place than it is today? What if nanoswarms offered promise as well as peril? Prey, with its kill-them-all-and-get-out approach, is neither as frightening nor as fascinating as Greg Bear’s novelette of twenty years ago, “Blood Music,” in which the characters, transformed by the nanotechnology within them, become both far more and much less than human.

COVID-19 will certainly be a game-changer, with the potential to accelerate the development of digital communication and redefine the elements of human interaction. Consider just a few of the news stories and op/eds running today:

Clearly, digital media seems poised to change the post World War C world as dramatically as missiles and atomic energy did in the aftermath of WWII. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A point I might have hit harder in “Existential Threats” is that the dooms-day scenarios of  “The Murderer” and “Dial F” are best read as cautionary tales, warnings of what could happen if change is handled irresponsibly. Such stories are not predictions, and they are balanced nicely by other sf works that look beyond momentary chaos and toward the promise of a new normal.

Fasten those seat belts folks. Stay safe, healthy, and open to the possibilities lie beyond the turbulence. As characters in a science fiction novel, we have no choice but to face the current challenge and move forward into a life 2.0.

Walking and Talking:
Things to Come in 2020

February 29th, 2020

“If you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk.” You know the expression. It’s all about the importance of doing, as in Death of a Salesman, where all-talk Willy Loman is amazed to learn that all-walk Bernard is going to argue a case before the supreme court.

“The Supreme Court!” Willy says. “And he didn’t even mention it!”

To which Bernard’s father replies, “He don’t have to – he’s gonna do it!”

Don Keefer reprising his Broadway role as Bernard in the 1951 film version of Death of A Salesman, with Fredric March as Willy Loman. IMDB.com

I find it helpful to remember that exchange when I fall behind on this blog. “I’m busy walking the walk,” I tell myself, even though there are folks out there who manage both.

A few years back, I did a blog post on “The Writer & Social Media,” in which I quoted Robert J. Sawyer (one of the first sf writers to have a blog) on the current state of author websites. “Almost all author webpages are appallingly hard to read, not updated, and lacking in current content,” Sawyer said. Now, to be fair, those qualities likely results from writers being busy writing stuff that pays. Nevertheless, to avoid being one of those guys with an out-of-date webpage, I’d like to take a moment to share some news about what I’ve got cooking for 2020.

Here’s a quick preview:

First up, hot off the presses, is Issue 12 of Unnerving Magazine, the publication that a recent review in Amazing Stories called a “must-read” for fans of the horror genre. The current issue includes a feature titled “My First Horror” with Cat Rambo, Daniel Kraus, and Richard Chizmar; an interview with the prolific William Meikle; and a roster of fiction that includes my story “Circle of Lias.”

“Lias” first appeared in Tom Montelelone’s Borderlands 4 back in 1994, and though it received good notice, it has only been reprinted once (in my collection This Way to Egress) until now. “Lias” is one of my personal favorites, and I’m thrilled to have it back in print.

Next, coming to earbuds everywhere, the popular horror-story podcast The Wicked Library will soon be launching its tenth season with a roster of all-new creepy tales.

Founded by writer and vocal performer Nelson W. Pyles, The Wicked Library’s stated mission is “to provide a showcase where you can find the work of the best existing and up-and-coming voices working in the world of Speculative Fiction and Horror.” The episodes are performed by a talented team of voice actors and produced by Daniel Foytik of 9th Story Studios, with musical scores by resident composer Nico Vetesse.

Each installment is available for free at The Wicked Library website, where listeners have the opportunity to access additional content by signing on as a patreon member. It’s money well spent.

Season 10 of The Wicked Library launches in March, and among the stories will be my new novelette “The Other Kind,” for which I’ll also be doing the audio narration. But there’s no reason to wait until then to become a listener. Dive in now, and you’ll be hooked when “The Other Kind” lands in your podcast queue. I recommend starting with Season 9’s “Cinnamon to Taste,” by Christi Nogle. Featuring a strong performance by Sara Ruth Thomas; it was my introduction to the series, and I’ve been a regular listener ever since.

And coming up in the journal Dissections, I’ll have a new essay titled “Existential Threats” in the forthcoming issue, which is scheduled to coincide with this year’s installment of The International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts to be held March 18-21 in Orlando, Florida. The essay presents what I trust is a timely consideration of two vintage short stories — Ray Bradbury’s “The Murderer” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Considered together, the stories present a dire warning for the world of 2020. I’ll share a link to the issue as soon as it’s available.

Also in the works is a U.S. edition of Nightmares. The Mexican release generated good notice when it made its debut at the SusteFest International Film Festival in Valle de Santiago last October. The new edition will contain the first U.S. publication of Mick Garris’s “Chocolate” (the story that became the basis for his Masters of Horror segment of the same name), the first English-language publication of a story by Sandra Becerril (one of Mexico’s bestselling horror writers), a gripping piece of psychological terror by Richard Christian Matheson, and the first-ever American reprint of one of my tales from This Way to Egress. We’re also working on including some special content that will be new to the American edition. I hope to have more to report on this one soon.

Until then … scop on!