Thursday, December 8, 2016

Traveling to the Land of Award Pimpage

I've had a number of short stories published in 2016 (will write a separate post on this) but if there's one thing I'd like you to seriously consider, come award nomination and voting time, it's my book TRAVELER OF WORLDS: CONVERSATIONS WITH ROBERT SILVERBERG (which, cough cough, is eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work), published by Fairwood Press in August 2016.

The book was a passion project for me, and all reader responses so far have been very positive. If you're interested in the history of science fiction, in the writing process, and in the writing life (and associational activities) of one of the field's Grand Masters, this book is for you. Gardner Dozois, a legend in his own right, provided a lovely introduction, and Karen Haber (Robert Silverberg's wife) did the Afterword. Kim Stanley Robinson, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress, Sheila Williams, Jack Skillingstead and John Clute all said nice things about it.

Here's a roundup of some great reviews and/or mentions of TRAVELER OF WORLDS, including coverage in The Washington Post, Locus, Locus Online, Kirkus Reviews, Science Fiction Studies, The Future Fire, and other cool places, as well as a few guest posts, including an interview at The Huffington Post:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Blind Luck

It has been an intense 48 hours.
On Thursday morning we were woken up at around 4:45 am because of a family emergency involving Rebecca's son, Jonny. This ordeal, in which I did not have to deal with the brunt of responsibility but merely provide assistance and moral support, involved a 600 mile drive and, eventually, the amputation of Jonny's right pinky. For details, see here:
What is relevant for this update is that upon waking up at that early hour, and coping with the various physical and emotional stresses of the day, I noticed a general blurriness in my vision. I attributed it to simple eye fatigue and sleep deprivation and went on with the show.
By Thursday evening, I started to become more alarmed. The loss of vision seemed to be getting worse, not better. Covering my left eye, I determined vision through my right eye was perfectly fine. Covering with right eye, I realized I had lost much of the visibility of my left eye. All was blurry and dark.
Friday morning the problem remained, so I immediately went in for an eye exam at a local clinic. This revealed a likely retinal detachment in my left eye.
A few hours later, a more detailed inspection by an experienced ophthalmologist at a medical center confirmed this initial diagnosis. The retina was torn, with an impact to the macula, and the extent of the damage was determined to be severe. An on-call retinal ophthalmologist was brought in. A few hours later, his inspection ratified a giant retinal tear/detachment and he advised immediate emergency surgery would be required.
Approximately two hours later I was connected to an IV and administered "twilight" anesthesia in an operating room. The surgery lasted between 1.5 and 2 hours and involved the insertion of a scleral buckle, the reattachment of the retina, the injection of a gas bubble to hold the retina in place, and laser welding of the retinal attachment area. I was discharged at around 11:30 pm, took some strong painkillers, and went to sleep.
Today's initial post-op consultation has revealed that the retina appears correctly attached. The pain is decreasing, while the swelling is increasing, and there is some discharge--all as expected. I have a gas bubble cataract which should in principle disappear as the gas bubble itself dissipates.
The reason for my focusing on this last detail is because the gas bubble, which will take approximately one month to dissipate, will have a significant impact on my immediate future. As gas expands with altitude, I have been forbidden from any altitude-related travel for the next month.
Unfortunately, and much to my distress, this means that I can neither drive nor fly to Kansas City for WorldCon.
I am deeply saddened that I will miss all my friends, be unable to join in the wonderful roster of panels I had been assigned, and sign copies of my new book. If I had made social or business plans with you, I sincerely apologize, and hope you will understand my absence. More thoughts on that in a future post. I have emailed the programming team and hopefully they are updating information as needed.
Throughout these travails, I have had the indefatigable support of Rebecca, who calmed and helped me through the various stages of fear and anxiety and in general was indispensable to navigating the practicalities of the situation. When I came out from anesthesia I asked the nurse to fetch my partner immediately. "Rebecca?" asked the nurse. "*Golden* Rebecca," I corrected somewhat groggily. I could blame it on anesthesia-induced delirium, but in fact I believe that was a very clear-headed observation. Thank you also Thea for your support and spending time with Rebecca while I was under; very much appreciated. Thanks to Jesse for croissants today. And thanks to everyone with whom I've interacted along the way that sent positive wishes and provided help or encouragement.
The next month will involve slow healing and a restricted scope of activities. Work is out of the picture this coming week, as is driving for the next several weeks. Right now my visibility in the left eye is limited to motion-recognition; no shapes or colors are visible. The expectation is that as the gas bubble dissolves and the eye heals, I will gradually recuperate vision. In the meantime I have been instructed to administer antibiotic and steroid drops to assist healing. It is unclear how much vision I will eventually get back, but I will take whatever I can get--it will be better than what I experience immediately pre-surgery.
The scleral buckle will remain inserted for life. I can't quite claim to be a cyborg, like Neil Clarke does, but I am inching in that direction.
Obviously, as my vision is impaired and should not be taxed, I will be able to use screens only in moderation, and will also limit my time reading. This will curb my social media for a bit.
However, audiobooks to the rescue! I started on my first one this afternoon, projecting the sound through a wireless speaker, so that I can lie down with my eyes closed with the sound nearby. I have a feeling I'm going to be getting a lot of "reading" done via audiobook in the coming weeks 
That's it for now. More updates as I have them.
Thanks again to everyone and sorry for not being able to make this WorldCon. I was really really looking forward to it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

WorldCon 2016 Schedule (Draft)

I'm tremendously excited by my panel schedule for the upcoming MidAmeriCon II, to be held in the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, MO from Wed to Sun, August 17-21, 2016.

I feel really fortunate to have been selected for these panels, which include incredible participants, and are all about subjects that I enjoy.

Note: The ones with an "(M)" next to my name indicate that I'm a moderator.


Reviewing the Reviews
Thursday 11:00 - 12:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)
With the internet, it is easy to find reviews of just about any book published.  But not all reviews are created equal. How can you find reviews that are more than just raves about a favorites author or flames about a hated one?  Which review sites are better than others?  Do Amazon reviews really mean anything?
Gary Wolfe, Michelle (Sagara) West, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (M), Rich Horton

Is Cyberpunk Still a Thing?
Thursday 12:00 - 13:00, 2502B - A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
Cyberpunk hit with a big splash, but as personal computers became more prevalent, smaller, and portable, the genre seems to have faded.  Or has it?  Our panelists take a renewed look at the state of Cyberpunk at ripe young aged of 35.
Ms Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow (M), Mr. Matt Jacobson, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, James Patrick Kelly


The New Space Opera Golden Age on the Screen

Friday 10:00 - 11:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
There appears to be a resurgence in space opera on the silver screen, including The Force Awakens, Jupiter Ascending, Interstellar, and Guardians of the Galaxy not to mention new TV shows like The Expanse and the forthcoming Old Man's War. Is this an encouraging sign that public interest and enthusiasm for science and SF is on the rise? Is this resurgence manifesting in literature as well? What more do we want to see?
Ms Sumana Harihareswara, Lauren Roy, Mr. Matthew S. Rotundo, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Mr. Walter H. Hunt (M)

Magazine Group Reading: Analog
Friday 12:00 - 13:00, 2202 Readings (Kansas City Convention Center)
Our Magazine Group Reading Series continues with a special group reading that features authors from Analog.
Trevor Quachri (M), James Van Pelt, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Ken Liu, Stanley Schmidt, Mr. Alec Nevala-Lee


Alienation and Science Fiction
Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Science fiction is often seen as an optimistic genre but it isn't all digital sunshine and robotic puppies. There's plenty of bleak SF, reminding us that we are essentially alone. Whether bleak or bright, what makes SF the perfect genre for setting individuals apart in the world in order to examine what it means to be human or inhuman?
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (M), Robert Reed, Dr. , Joy Ward, Robert J. Sawyer

Traveler of Worlds: A Year of Conversations with Robert Silverberg
Saturday 13:00 - 14:00, 2205 - A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro collaborated with Robert Silverberg on When the Blue Shift Comes.  He has now published a volume about his discussions with Worldcon GoH, SFWA Grand Master, and Hall of Fame author Robert Silverberg and wants to share the behind the scenes stories with you.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Mr Robert Silverberg

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Note on Literary Influences (Poe and Lovecraft via Others)

At the end of 2014 The Journal of Unlikely Entomology published a new horror story by me, called "Miranda's Wings". It seems to be doing well; I've seen some favorable responses to it, including a "Recommended" rating by Lois Tilton in her latest online review piece for Locus.

Then in January the same 'zine published an interview with me, and one of the questions I was asked was whether I was consciously influenced by either Poe or Lovecraft in my work, to which the short version of my answer is, "No, not really."

I did consciously think of John Fowles' The Collector (1963) when I planned my story, but Poe and Lovecraft?


And yet--

The question has lingered in my mind ever since the interview, and now whenever I'm writing something, particularly if it's dark, a part of me wonders whether I'm somehow channeling Poe or Lovecraft. I keep telling myself that I can't be, because, against all the odds, I've hardly read these must-read authors.

But what about indirect influences? Say, what if there was story I really liked, which consciously influenced my work, and *that* story in some way channeled Poe or Lovecraft?

Well, I might argue that this still wasn't a case of "conscious" influence. But it would be influence nevertheless.

And the more I've been thinking about "Miranda's Wings", the more I think there may be a two-degrees-of-separation influence at work after all...

One of my favorite short stories from 2009 was Michael Bishop and Steven Utley's "The City Quiet as Death." I reviewed the story for Strange Horizons back in 2010. One of the things that stuck with me about the story was the remote setting. When I was deciding where to set "Miranda's Wings", I remembered it and tried to pay it tribute. The main action in that story unfolds in a house that "graced the high slope of a ridge behind Infante Sagrado, the jewel of Isla Arca" and overlooks the sea. In my story the protagonist's "house was indeed remote, perched as it was on El Sagrado Obispo’s highest mountain" and later we learn of the "home’s seaward balcony".

Both stories feature tortured, cultured, mostly solitary protagonists, so I thought that structurally the choice of setting would make sense. Bishop/Utley's Don Horacio can't bear "the endless din of the stars," while my own Leonard Clegg is prey to other demons I'll leave it up to you to discover. But it's Don Horacio's sensitivity to sounds, to the forces of the Universe oppressing him from every which way, that stayed in my mind.

Fast forward to 2013, when I watched Roger Corman's film adaptation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe story "The Fall of the House of Usher". In Corman's film Roderick (Vincent Price) reveals to a visitor that Roderick's family--the Usher family--has a cursed bloodline which has driven all his ancestors to madness. In his case the disease manifests as an extreme sensitivity to sound.

This made me think of Don Horacio at once. In the Bishop/Utley story Don Horacio is similarly over-sensitive, so that he can hear the clamor of the stars themselves. Both Roderick and Don Horacio live in remote places. There's also something Gothic and absurd about the tone. So one might make a case that "The City Quiet as Death" subtly channels Poe, something which I missed the first time around.

What it does contain more explicitly--it's referenced in the text itself--and which I mentioned in my original review, is a pretty horrific Lovecraftian transformation.

And in my story...

Well, what can I say. The editors of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, well-versed in the classics of horror, and fine, sensitive readers, picked up on something in my work that I had missed.

By way of "The City Quiet as Death" there is Poe and Lovecraft in "Miranda's Wings" after all!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TRAVELER OF WORLDS coming in 2016!

Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press has made this announcement:

We're going to discuss every single story
in them magazines. Just kidding.

"I'm delighted to announce Alvaro Zinos-Amaro’s Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, coming from Fairwood Press in 2016. In addition to exploring Silverberg’s career, now in its sixth decade, this collection of transcribed conversations will delve into aspects of Silverberg’s life—such as his extensive travel, passion for film, opera and classical music—not covered elsewhere.

A decade-and-a-half-long friendship, and working together on When the Blue Shift Comes, afforded Alvaro the opportunity to speak at length with Silverberg. The result: a remarkably candid series of conversations that will be of interest to science fiction readers and anyone curious about the writing life. [Note: Throughout 2015, Alvaro will also be fielding reader questions through Facebook to include in additional dialogues. More info on that as it becomes available!]"

Needless to say, I'm incredibly excited about this project!

As Patrick notes, the conversations with Bob for this book aren't quite done yet, and I'll be taking reader questions to be included in additional dialogues throughout 2015. You can email me with any suggestions, though I'll be creating a FB group in the coming months.

Once I have the transcripts of all the conversations, I'll be editing them and sequencing them as smoothly as possible. My goal is to try to preserve as many of the conversation's natural "beats" as possible, but above all I want to make sure the dialogues flow, while sticking to certain broad subjects. So far my outline calls for three main thematic sections, with a total of eight chapters split among them, three, three and two.

My plan is also to add a chronology of major works and life events, which I've already started working on. It's weird trying to summarize someone's eight decades of life in a page or two--and really puts things into perspective.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The 10 Books I Most Enjoyed Reading in 2014

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

"Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"
"All like ours?"
"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound--a few blighted."
"Which do we live on--a splendid one or a blighted one?"
"A blighted one."

Even knowing the miseries that lay in store for Tess (who ceases being a "maiden" in the most cruel way possible), I couldn't help but suffer alongside her, enduring each and every one of her trials and tribulations.

I found the final section shattering. At times I suspect that Hardy must have enjoyed emotionally torturing his readers almost as much as his characters. A literary sadist cut from the finest Victorian cloth, whose portrait of the world encompasses humans and nature in equal measure.

 On Conan Doyle - Michael Dirda

Dirda's book is wonderfully evocative. His writing here brings to life lost worlds, both literary and historical, as filtered through a gently nostalgic lens.

I loved learning more about Doyle's non-Sherlockian oeuvre, and as a result of Dirda's concise page-turner I've picked up a number of Doyle's other collections, and fine associational anthologies like The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

The Hugo Winners, Volume 1 - ed. Isaac Asimov

Want to learn about the history of the Hugo winners? This is a great starting place. Read all the short form winners through 1960.

My favorites in this batch are Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" (1959), Clifford D. Simak's "The Big Front Yard" (1958), Robert Bloch's "The Hell-Bound Train" (1958) and Clarke's "The Star" (1955).

Didn't particularly care for Poul Anderson's "The Longest Voyage" (1960).

Enjoyed the Walter M. Miller, Jr., Eric Frank Russell, Murray Leinster and Avram Davidson stories without loving them.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright

Wright (Pulitzer winner) exhaustively researched this book. At times, you'll swear you're reading fiction. Great insight into Hubbard's early days and the Church of Scientology's modern-day practices.

Te Tratare Como a Una Reina - Rosa Montero

This is my first novel by Montero, who is very well known in Spain as a mainstream literary writer ( though curiously, she has recently ventured into science fiction).

I loved her characters and the way she brought them to life. Shattered dreams, misplaced hopes, and ill-advised relationships form the groundwork of a very intimate novel crafted largely through somewhat tempered stream-of-consciousness. Like Hardy's novel, this is ultimately a tragic work, and it packs quite an emotional punch.

Among Others - Jo Walton

Excellent evocation of a period and of a phase in one's life. Excellent treatment of disability. The magical elements are blended perfectly (and sparingly) with the realism of the Bildungsroman.

And of course for many modern-day readers part of the joy of this novel is remembering their own favorite authors of adolescence and getting to revisit some canonical works through the eyes of the protagonist, an amazingly voracious reader (like the author herself).

Not surprisingly, this won a Hugo.

Expedition to Earth - Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke's first story collection, and perhaps his best of the individual collections. Contains several classics and near-classics. My favorites here are "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth ...", "History Lesson", "Breaking Strain", "Exile of the Eons", "Expedition to Earth", "The Sentinel" and "Second Dawn". These stories tend to rely primarily on atmosphere and a wonderful sense of cosmic perspective, rather than being hard sf, which is what some people associate Clarke with.

Two stories were originally published in Astounding, one in F&SF, one in Amazing, and the rest in "lower" magazines.

Magnetism - Stephen J. Blundell

Not only is Blundell’s book an excellent primer on magnetism, but in many ways it’s also a model on how to write popular science, because Blundell uses one branch of science to illuminate countless others. Magnetism underlies so many phenomena in the Universe that we actually get discussions of unification, quantum mechanics, relativity and pulsars - in addition to much else, besides, like the magnetite and maghemite in the beaks of homing pigeons, for example, or how Thomas Edison lost the AC/DC war.

Blundell’s style is charming. He writes accessibly, regardless of the subject matter’s difficulty. I also appreciate Blundell’s lack of patience for pseudo-science and charlatanism, of which there’s been plenty (and, unfortunately, there continues to be) in the history of magnetism.

Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s - Andrew M. Butler

Andrew Butler’s academic book-length exploration of 1970s sf is a must for anyone interested in the history of the field and the myriad ways it has been shaped by, and recorded, that decade’s major social and political upheavals.

As a one-stop record of 1970s sf in print, film, television, music and games, Solar Flares is indispensable, and remedies a long-standing gap in historical scholarship. At times Butler’s descriptions and summaries, often reliant on those of other academics, may feel a tad familiar, but his knack for even-handed synthesis, and the enormous specificity of cultural and historical detail that he provides as context for his discussions, are to be heartily applauded.

A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living - Luc Ferry

Ferry does a remarkable job of arriving at a seemingly simple set of criteria by which to evaluate or get to the heart of philosophical theories and movements. Using these basic parameters, he neatly unpacks the works of some of the world's greatest philosophers, while placing them in their appropriate social and historical contexts. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Interview, a MindMeld and Two Reviews


Vanessa MacLellan, with whom I share a table of contents in the 2015 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide, interviewed me for her blog.

She's going to be doing a series of interviews like this one with other authors appearing in this anthology, so make sure to check her blog regularly for updates.

Meantime, I should probably mention that the anthology itself is already available through Amazon :-) You can get the e-book here and the physical version here.


SF Signal recently invited me to participate in one of their MindMeld features. The topic at hand was "SF Stories That Predicted the Future — Or Didn't". A lot of interesting responses, as usual. I ended up using the MindMeld to recommend ten different books. To get to that list, I started with a broader selection and eventually whittled it down. I wasn't entirely surprised to see that my list of runner-ups included several of the titles others mentioned. I'm glad I went with a slightly different take on the question and provided mostly unique suggestions. (I say "mostly" because I couldn't quite bring myself to remove William Gibson from my final list, so that one still overlapped.)

Two Reviews

My first two reviews of 2015 are out, in my second "Another Dimension" column for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Here are the links:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Short Story Discussions, and Being Name-Dropped

Recently I've been thinking a lot about science fiction short stories--why I like the ones I like, which recent stories resonate with me the most, which stories other writers are recommending on their blogs (awards nomination season), and so on.

While there are lots of forums, message boards etc. dedicated to short story discussions, most of them are clustered around a single publication, imprint, writer's group or sub-genre. I thought it might be fun to try to create a one-stop central social media hub where anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories can discuss them, so I've created a public Facebook group to that end: = Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Short Story Discussions

You do need to sign up with Facebook to be a part of it, but I figure many people are already on Facebook (at least a lot of my writer friends are, so of course I'm biased here!) and that shouldn't be too big a deal. And though newly created, some extremely talented professionals have already joined--Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Mike Allen, and Juliette Wade, just to name a few. And Jamie Todd Rubin has been kind enough to tweet about it, too--thank you, Jamie!

So, that's a start anyway. Now we just need to start having interesting discussions about short stories, per the group's raison d'etre, and hopefully the group will thrive and attract more members :-)

Speaking of short stories, I'd like to publicly congratulate Charles Coleman Finlay on becoming the new editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I was really impressed with his guest editorial work and am excited about what he'll bring to the magazine (including leaving e-subs permanently open, already implemented) in the months and years to come.

Now, since I've just done a bit of name-dropping, I thought I'd mention something that really made my day a couple of days ago. I picked up the January 2015 issue of Asimov's and, as I typically do, started working my way through all the non-fiction pieces (I always tackle non-fiction before fiction; don't ask me why). Sheila Williams' editorial is amusingly called "Whirlwind Worldcon; or Shameless Name Dropping". What I expected from the editorial was a whirlwind recap of the dozens of Very Important People Sheila had mingled with, the Hugo Awards ceremony, and maybe a bit of description of her non-con activities. Much to my surprise and delight, here's what I encountered on the second column:

Wow! One of those surreal moments. I've been reading this magazine since I was fifteen or so, and seeing my name in an editorial--and in such a cool context--is both weird and flattering to the nth degree. [Felt the same way when Bob Silverberg mentioned me in a "Reflections" column, but that one wasn't entirely unexpected, because I'd seen the piece in advance.] Okay, fannish squeeing over (for now).

Can't wait to meet up again with friends during this year's WorldCon

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Two-Way Interview and More

The fine editors of Journal of Unlikely published an interview with me yesterday. In one of those delightful turns that shakes up the protocol a bit, they asked me if I had questions for them, and I did, and I asked them, and they answered. So this is a bit of a two-way interview, a rare category of interview of which I think there ought to be more.

In other writing-related news:

  • The e-book of the brand new anthology 2015 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide is now available on Amazon. The anthology, edited by Corie and Sean Weaver, contains my story "Repeat After Me", and has a really cool lineup of authors, including Nancy Kress, Deborah Walker, Eric James Stone and Eric Del Carlo. Excited to be in this one! Physical editions of the book should be coming soon, too.

  • Dario Ciriello, former editor of the Panverse anthology series and full-fledged author in his own right, left a really nice review of When the Blue Shift Comes over at Amazon today. Dario's recent collection Free Verse is garnering great reviews of its own. Excerpted from Dario's review:
"The Stellar Guild series, of which this book is part, is edited by
SF superstar Mike Resnick, and each volume teams up an established, big-name author with an emerging author of their choice in back-to-back novellas. Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (author of the second, concluding novella) does a fantastic job of matching and resolving Silverberg's initial piece in style and tone, and shows himself fully in control of the wild plot elements which Silverberg has thrown out there in the first novella.

The extraordinary thing about these paired novellas--which between them form a complete story--is the narrative voice. Exuberant, bardic, improbable, tongue-in-cheek, filled with narrative asides and hilarious digressions, it brings faint echoes of Douglas Adams, Spinrad, Zelazny, and even Vonnegut at their wildest, and yet is wholly original; there are similarities to Fred Pohl's "Day Million", but without the latter's urgent, harsh edge (some readers might even invoke Farmer/Trout's infamous "Venus on the Half-Shell"); there is worldbuilding to make your head spin; there is hard science; and there is, at the heart of it all, a very Silverbergian love story.

Incidentally, I think this makes Dario the first to pick up on the Pohl tribute/homage in the story. In fact, "Day Million" was one of my original working titles for a sub-section of my novella, which I eventually changed to something else that seemed more appropriate.

Cutting, Stripping, Attaching

I'm thirty-five, and I like music a lot. Yet somehow, throughout my entire life--until last night--I had managed to avoid what must surely be one of the dreariest tasks related to setting up new audio equipment. Either because I was lucky and someone else did it, or because my equipment was the kind that didn't need it...

I'm talking about speaker cables. "Wires." Which require cutting and stripping. And, in last night's case, because I was feeling generous, or maybe foolhardy, it didn't stop there: after cutting them and stripping the ends for connectivity, I found myself attaching them to banana plugs. I only needed cables for two speakers--but each cable has two strands or polarities, and each requires its own stripping and banana plug. That's eight end points; eight banana plugs. Boo.

As I was learning how to do this, mostly with help from YouTube, it occurred to me that it's a weirdly backward, archaic thing. I mean, most home entertainment equipment that isn't wireless can be connected via HDMI these days. But speakers require you to buy copper wire, cut it, strip it, and carefully insert it so that it makes contact with the right pieces of metal. What?

(I'm aware of wireless speakers, but the bulk of higher quality speakers remain cable dependent).

Which led me to search online. Surely, I couldn't be the only one thinking that AV receivers, which encourage this sort of ancient operation, are beasts of a bygone era. A few clicks led me to a great, timely piece by Matthew Moskovciak over at CNET:
How to save the AV receiver.

Anyway. I realize I'm babying about first world stuff! Got through it. Hooked everything up--a CD player, an AV receiver, two speakers. Simple, right? I mean, that's a pretty basic component setup.

But I hit a snag right away. As soon as I turned on the receiver, the screen blinked a message urging me to follow the initial set-up instructions via the screen. Meaning, television. Uh...oh oh. I intended to use the receiver purely for music, not as part of home theater system, so there was no television attached.

I tried bypassing the pesky message via all kinds of key commands on the remote, but it couldn't be shaken. The manual (basic and advanced, I checked them both) was useless. Eventually I found a way around it; turning the unit off and on a couple of times. But now I really *wanted* to complete the set-up, because it includes steps like connecting the receiver to wifi and calibrating sound levels with the provided mic. Fortunately, I remembered I had a TV in storage, hauled it out and worked through the various menus, memorizing what the receiver screen looked like at each stage.

Now everything is hooked up and sounds marvelous. (Pic shows new dedicated reading/listening corner. Yay.)

But you really shouldn't need a TV to set up an AV receiver; and you shouldn't have to cut, strip and attach cables to get speakers connected.

Perversely, though, despite everything I've just said, I'm kind of glad I learned how to do it. Learning new (admittedly minor) skills is ultimately fun.

And I have a feeling it won't be the last time I make use of them...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Top 10 2014 Movies

Scroll down for Top 10...

I watched 106 movies in 2014, many of them classics I was thrilled to experience for the first time. A fair number of the movies I watched were of more recent vintage, though: about a third were 2014 releases (or borderline 2013/2014 releases that I'm choosing to include in this category):

The Invisible Woman 1/10/2014

Non-Stop 3/1/2014

300: Rise of an Empire 3/15/2014

Noah 4/26/2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier 4/26/2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 5/3/2014

Reasonable Doubt 5/7/2014

Under the Skin 5/15/2014

Locke 5/16/2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past 6/28/2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 7/30/2014

Guardians of the Galaxy 8/29/2014

A Most Wanted Man 9/10/2014

The Two Faces of January 9/20/2014

Gone Girl 10/5/2014

Annabelle 10/11/2014

Nightcrawler 11/8/2014

The Theory of Everything 11/15/2014

Whiplash 11/24/2014

Birdman 11/26/2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 11/29/2014

Lucy 11/30/2014

Interstellar 12/4/2014

The Imitation Game 12/12/2014

Wild 12/20/2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel 12/21/2014

Listen Up Philip 12/22/2014

Foxcatcher 12/25/2014

Inherent Vice 12/26/2014

Boyhood 12/26/2014

Only Lovers Left Alive 12/27/2014

Nymphomaniac, Part I 12/29/2014

It's interesting, though not surprising, to see how heavily these are weighted towards the end of the year ("awards season").


My top ten picks from the above:

1. Whiplash
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
4. Under the Skin
5. Foxcatcher
6. The Theory of Everything
7. Nightcrawler
8. Wild
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
10. Locke

Honorable mentions go to Birdman, The Invisible Woman and A Most Wanted Man (which coincidentally all contain the words "man" or "woman" in the title).

Boyhood and The Imitation Game were also quite good, and for comics-inspired movies I thought Captain America: Winter Soldier was riveting and excellently crafted.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

What I Read in 2014

Here are the covers of the books and comics I read in 2014, along with some observations below.


  • Count: If you normalize and remove some of the clutter created by individual comics issues, the total book count comes to 53, where I am including comic book multi-issue collections, as they take as long to read as standalone novellas, which I also count. I'm pleased at having read just over a book per week, my personal best in a while. It's nowhere near what some readers regularly log on Goodreads, but I'm not racing anyone, just enjoying myself.  
  • Gender Mix: Only 12 of the 53 books were by women, which is a little disappointing. It doesn't help me that I like prolific male authors. I mean, reading a bunch of Simenons is going to skew the stats, darnit :-) I'll be more cognizant of this going forward, though.
  • Short Fiction: I read 228 short stories in 2014. Some of these are captured in the above, but many are not. Probably deserves a separate post. For now, I'll refer back to a short fiction reading spree I did, with 50 capsule reviews of short stories: part 1 and part 2.
  • I'm pleased to have read short story collections, anthologies, novels and non-fiction books on various subjects. The mix keeps things interesting and lively.
  • This year, after wanting to for some time but not getting around to it, I finally got back into Spider-man, and I started with the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Reading these electronically on a touch screen is quite a different experience from what it was like thumbing through the pages as a kid, but no less enjoyable for it.
  • I really enjoyed a lot of the books I read. Probably 80% I would rate as very good or above.
  • I'll have to give some thought to the 10 books I enjoyed most, and post that in the next few days...

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Writing and 2015 Stuff

2014 Writing

A review of the year, with links galore:
  • The UK edition of When the Blue Shift Comes, with Robert Silverberg, was published by Gollancz. Seeing it on the shelves at Blackwell's in Oxford during our WorldCon trip was so cool.
  • Throughout the year I wrote 17 new stories. I started 3 other stories I didn't complete but will continue working on in 2015.
  • I sold 14 short stories: 11 to pro-paying markets, and 3 to non-pro markets.
  • I had 9 new stories published in 2014. Here they are:
  1. "Fires of Night" appeared in the anthology Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse, edited by Alex Shvartsman and William Snee.
  2. "Coffee in End Times", with Alex Shvartsman, was published in Nature. It was also podcast by Nature.
  3. "Hot and Cold" was published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
  4. "Eine Kleine Nachtfilm" appeared in Galaxy's Edge.
  5. "Waste Knot, Want Knot" appeared in Nature Physics.
  6. "The Memory-Setter's Apprentice" was published in Fantasy Scroll.
  7. "A Vision of Paradise" was published in Bastion SF.
  8. "Dumpster Diving" appeared in Nature. It was also podcast by Nature.
  9. "Miranda's Wings" was published in The Journal Of Unlikely Entomology.
  • I started a new bi-monthly review column, "Another Dimension", for the magazine Intergalactic Medicine Show. My first column covered the anthologies Solaris Rising 3: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction and Time Travel: Recent Trips.
  • I edited a number of guest posts and Roundtable discussions for the Locus blog and wrote a couple of my own.

2015 Forthcoming Stories

  • "Repeat After Me" is my first middle-grade SF short story, and will be included in the 2015 anthology Young Explorer's Adventure Guide, edited by Corie and Sean Weaver. I've seen the ebook version of this, and think physical copies will prob start shipping in Jan or Feb.
  • "The Obvious Solution", in which I resurrect a famous SF author, will appear in Buzzy Magazine. This is scheduled for publication on 02/06/2015.
  • "The Romance of Flying on Dead Languages" will be appearing in the first issue of Bahamut (scheduled for June 2015), edited by Rima Abunasser and Darin Bradley, with quite an extraordinary line-up of authors.
  • Mike Resnick bought "The Rose is Obsolete", about time-travel and the challenges of old age, for Galaxy's Edge. Not sure yet when this will come out, but will be in 2015.
  • Rose Lemberg picked up my experimental piece "And Now You Are Alone Among the Stars" for the anthology she is editing, An Alphabet of Embers. Not quite sure of publication date yet.
  • "The Black Hole and the Entropy Collector" will appear in Nature Physics. Again, not quite sure of publication date yet.
  • "Gate of Sun, Gate of Moon" will be appearing in the anthology Ruins Excavation edited by Eric. T Reynolds. The theme of the anthology is archaeologists who are women of color. My story is science fiction, but other entries will be in different genres, as well as mainstream. No final publication date yet.
  • A French edition of When the Blue Shift Comes, from ActuSF, is forthcoming, and will most likely appear in 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Setting the Tone for the New Year

I guess there's something to be said for the idea of setting the tone--for an interaction, an activity, anything really. But how does one set the tone for a calendar year, which is in essence an arbitrary, human-created division of something mysterious and profound, time?

We went about it by sleeping in today, going out for a nice breakfast/lunch, and then spending a few hours on a very pleasant hike. 

Our pace was slow, relaxed. The vibe of the experience was deliberately mellow. Enjoy the moment, relish unexpected delights, that kind of thing.

Turned out to be a lovely way to spend the afternoon. I got that wonderful buzz of vitalizing energy one does from time outdoors, in the sunshine and in the shade.

The conversation was pretty wide-ranging, too.

I've been visiting the Euthyphro dilemma quite often lately, and it was fun to verbally untangle some of its knots and discuss its elegance, power, implications.

One of the reasons I think I keep coming back to it is because it seems likely a remarkably powerful conceptual tool, or set of logical implications, arising from an apparently simple clarifying question of cause and effect. 

That eternally complicated question of "how do you pick the next book you're going to review" also reared its head. In this particular case I need to select two SF books and review them for my column at Intergalactic Medicine Show. The two-review piece is due by next Friday, and I have yet, after much back-and-forth, to pick the books. But I'm confident I'll select them by the end of the day, and that the books will be read and the piece delivered on time.

Rather than allowing this to be stressful, I'm choosing to focus on the joy of reading two new SF books--the privilege of my "first world" problem to begin with--and the added joy of then being able to share my thoughts with readers. Part of that "tone" thing I was mentioning before.

And speaking of books, the 2015 reading list already is absurdly long. But I'm not worried about it either. I'm going to read primarily for pleasure in 2014, continuing the trend I started in 2013, and wherever that takes me, that's where I'll go. "Whimsy welcome" is part of my New Year's mantra. All lists are just reference guides at this point, completely optional.                                                                                                                
Speaking of reading and writing, I do want to publish a post about my writing in 2014 and what stories etc. I have coming out (so far) in 2015. I've drafted it and it will most likely go up tomorrow.                                                                                                                                                                                            
So now, time for a deep breath. The new year is *here*. It was ushered in in the company of friends and loved ones. Today has been about relaxing, the pleasure of a partner's company, taking stock of time, looking inward. As the day winds down, I'll be slipping a little bit into task mode and focusing on the practicalities of some of the weeks ahead. Logistics, travel, deadlines. etc. But I won't become completely absorbed by them. That would disrupt the tone...