a series of tubes

A Return to the Second Life Book Club this Wednesday, July 12 at Noon Pacific

This Wednesday I’ll be returning to the virtual stage at the Second Life Book Club. If you’ve been dying to see me talk about The Destroyer of Worlds while cloaked in a Li’l Cthulhu avatar, this is your chance.

The event will be livestreamed on YouTube, and the video will be available on YouTube afterwards. You are also welcome to (virtually) attend the event—no VR goggles are required, just a (free) Second Life account. Click the “Join Now” button on the Book Club page to get started. (N.B., you’ll want to do this in advance, as it takes some time to create your avatar and get used to moving around the world.)

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Lovecraft Country paperback trailer

If you have questions about the novel that the video doesn’t answer, you can come by my Reddit AMA tomorrow. I’ll start answering around noon EST, but the page will be open for you to leave questions an hour or so ahead of time.

Also:

* Goodreads is giving away 5 copies of the Lovecraft Country paperback. The giveaway runs through the end of the month and you can enter here.

* Today is the last day of the Bad Monkeys ebook sale. It’s only $1.99, don’t miss it!

* I’ll be reading and signing books at Third Place Books in Seward Park this Thursday, February 16, at 7:30 PM.

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Location scouting for the next apocalypse

Odds are I’m going to die in bed or in a really stupid-sounding accident, so I don’t actually need a remote mountain hideaway to serve as my last redoubt, but this’d be an awfully cool one, don’t you think? It’s the Hotel del Salto, located at Tequendama Falls outside Bogotá, Columbia. According to the Internet, it was built in the 1920s and abandoned in the 1990s due to river contamination, and because of the high number of suicides inspired by the falls, it’s also haunted. Now it’s being turned into an ecological museum, which means we can add genetically engineered killer vines and velociraptors into the mix.

The above photo is from a blog post by Francesco Mugnai called “30+ of the most beautiful places and abandoned ruins i’ve ever seen.” Some great story and/or offbeat travel fodder there. (I also really like the Christ of the Abyss statue and the abandoned Japanese amusement park.)

Incidentally, the secret back entrance to my last redoubt is located in the Ukraine:

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The Mirage makes Locus magazine’s 2012 recommended reading list

Locus magazine’s February 2013 issue, on newsstands now, includes their 2012 recommended reading list, and The Mirage is on it. Quoth senior editor Tim Pratt: “[The Mirage] is more than a clever inversion of the War on Terror… in my review I called it a modern answer to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and I stand by that.”

In other news:

* The Mirage trade paperback will be on sale next Tuesday, February 12. (Links for online preorder here.)

* I’ve been getting a lot of emails from fans in Germany asking when a German translation of The Mirage will be available. I don’t have an exact date yet, but my current understanding is that Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag will be publishing it sometime late this year or very early in 2014.

* The latest in procrastination technology: Bradley W. Schenck’s Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual website presents the Pulp-o-Mizer, which lets you create custom pulp sci-fi magazine covers and download them as .jpgs or, for a fee, have them printed on posters, cards, and coffee mugs. It’s a cool thing, and I hope the ‘Mizer is expanded to include other pulp genres. (Assuming my current book proposal goes well, I’ll be in the market for a horror/weird tales version.)

* Stewie, the world’s longest house cat (4 feet from nose to tail) has died at age 8.

* …but Shiro lives!

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Foul matter

“Foul matter” is the term of art for the big hunk of paper your publisher ships back to you after your book goes to press: your copyedited manuscript, one or more galley proofs, plus whatever other messy raw material is left over from the editing process.

This is the foul matter for The Mirage, which UPS delivered a couple months ago and which has been sitting on a cabinet in the living room ever since, waiting for me to decide on a more permanent storage solution. Unfortunately for my retirement fund, this stuff isn’t as collectible as it once was. Not long ago, the copyedited manuscript would have been a unique physical object with handwritten corrections. Now, thanks to the evolution of publishing, it’s a printout of a Word file with my responses to the copyeditor typed in comments.

If you’re wondering, “Why even bother to keep the foul matter, when you’ve obviously got an electronic copy of the files on your computer?”, the answer is a combination of inertia, sentimentality, and a compulsive hoarding instinct. It’s also nice to have a record of the editing that won’t need to be updated to Word 2037 format. Or so I tell myself.

Other quick notes:

* Speaking of compulsive hoarding instincts, the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair is this weekend. Tickets are just $5 at the door.

* This week’s PSA, courtesy of @GlennF: Don’t drink liquid nitrogen, even if a professional bartender serves it to you. A teenager in England had to have her stomach removed after doing this. The danger is not just that liquid nitro can freeze and kill living tissue, but that when placed inside a warm container (like your stomach) it expands rapidly, as in this video demonstration.

* “A well-meaning civil rights organization creates a new CAPTCHA system that tests for ‘fitting’ emotional responses. How does that make you feel?” (Via @cstross)

* The Honest Trailer for Prometheus.

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The pilgrim’s progress

I broke ten thousand words on a new novel this week. Still not certain it’s The Next One, but it’s looking promising. I’ll see what my editor thinks in another month or so.

Meanwhile, five things make a post:

* As part of the research for the new book, I spent some time earlier this summer poking through back issues of the Chicago Defender. The Defender archives are available digitally through ProQuest, which the University of Washington library subscribes to. If I were a UW student or faculty member I could access the archives from home, but because I’m not, I had to physically travel to the campus and use a guest computer. Which had me wishing, on more than one occasion, that I could subscribe to ProQuest directly. Unfortunately, they don’t sell database access to individuals, only to institutions. I’m sure with enough money there’s a workaround for this—e.g., get the home office accredited as a research library—but it’d be simpler if one of you Internet startup wiz-kids would just create a Rhapsody for newspaper and magazines. (I know a lot of publications, including the Defender, actually do sell individual access to their online archives, but it’d be great to be able to do one-stop shopping.) ETA: The always helpful Lee Drake notes in comments that ProQuest now does offer a service for individuals, called Udini. Thanks, Lee!

* In a weird bit of synchronicity, the night before Neil Armstrong died, I rewatched Capricorn One, a 1977 movie about a faked Mars landing. There are some serious plot holes and plausibility issues (one of the most glaring being the use of an Apollo-style command module and lander for the months-long Mars mission) but if you can suspend your disbelief it’s a fun ride with some great character moments. I loved the banter between Elliott Gould and Karen Black, and David Doyle (Bosley from Charlie’s Angels) has a nice snarky turn as Gould’s boss.

* Along with the Neil Armstrong obituary, today’s New York Times breaks the news that dancer, artist, and writer Remy Charlip has died. Charlip was the author of one of my favorite (and most surreal) children’s books, Arm in Arm: A Collection of Connections, Endless Tales, Reiterations, and Other Echolalia. He also wrote and illustrated many other baby boomer classics.

* Speaking of surreal things, the mystery of the floating feet has been solved. (It’s been solved for a while, actually, but I was on book tour when the news broke.)

* Can you imagine a world with Hover Bacon?

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Notes from the ferment

Apologies for the long silence, but I’ve been in my head for the past month, trying to work out what book #6 is going to be. (Still getting there, but the road ahead is clearer now.)

Some random quick notes:

* Lisa and I saw The Dark Knight Rises. I feel like I need to see it again before making up my mind on what I really think about it. My initial impression was that there were some great individual elements, and on a purely emotional level it did work, but there were also some serious thematic and plot incoherencies that I couldn’t quite bring myself to overlook. This Film Critic Hulk essay touches on some of the issues that bothered me, and offers an interesting theory about what might have gone wrong.

* Speaking of Film Critic Hulk, if you aren’t already a fan, you should be. Here’s a nice archive post linking to all his greatest hits. Some good pieces to start out with: Why you should never hate a movie (applies to novels, too); Why the Campbellian “Hero’s Journey” is a lousy template for storytelling; and an amazing explication of What the hell is really going on in Mulholland Drive.

* If you’re looking for something different to rent on Netflix, check out Errol Morris’s documentary Tabloid, a bizarre true-life tale about a Mormon missionary kidnapped by a former beauty queen. If you’re not already familiar with the case, you may want to avoid spoilers—Lisa and I went into it cold, and part of the fun was guessing at what point the story was going to stop getting weirder.

* My pal Neal Stephenson will be appearing in Kane Hall at the University of Washington tomorrow night at 7:30 PM to promote his new book, Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. Paul Constant will be interviewing him.

* The Curiosity landed safely on Mars last night. It was fun following the collective nerdgasm on Twitter, but I have to confess, having experienced Viking as a kid, I’m feeling strangely jaded. The space probe I really want to see before I die is an ice-fishing expedition to either Europa or Enceladus. In the meantime, Hollywood, how about a remake of Capricorn One?

* Moose Snow leopard and squirrel. Bonus video: A goat smaller than a house cat. Thanks, evolution!

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Seattle to host real-life spinoff of The Avengers

As you may have heard, yesterday’s May Day protests in Seattle were marred by an anarchist reenactment of the WTO riots. Amid the window-smashing, there were reports that Seattle’s leading real-life superhero, Phoenix Jones, was pepper-spraying members of the Occupy Movement. Jones quickly posted denials on Facebook and Twitter:

Bleeding Cool has more on the story, including pics of Jones and his sidekicks standing guard outside the Seattle courthouse:

…and in an ominous development, Seattle’s first real-life supervillain, Rex Velvet, has posted a video on YouTube:

So you can see where this is going. By now I’m sure Nathan Myhrvold is putting the finishing touches on his Iron Man suit (or at least snapping up all the related patents), and thanks to The Hunger Games we’re knee-deep in potential Hawkeyes. As for Thor, I’d look for him up on Phinney Ridge.

And Nick Fury? Hmm…

“They call me Mr. Glass.”

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My weekend in L.A.

I attended the L.A. Times Festival of Books last weekend. Short version: It was fun and I had a great time.

Longer version: I flew down on Friday, on Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines, let us state clearly, has an above-average safety record, but because they had a fatal crash in 2000, the same year Lisa and I moved to Seattle, and because that crash was attributed to poor maintenance and oversight, I persist in thinking of it as the deadliest airline in the Pacific Northwest (yes, Alaska Airlines PR department, I realize this is horribly unfair and irrational, I’m a mindless sheep, deal with it). Adding to the perception of risk was the fact that I was sharing the flight with a high-school sports team, which, if God happens to be in a joking mood, is like a giant bull’s-eye on the fuselage.

Miraculously, we did not explode in midair. There was a moment on final approach to LAX when I noticed some kind of smoke/vapor passing over the wings and thought, “Hm, fire in the cargo compartment?” But no, it was just smog. Hello, Los Angeles!

Friday night I went to the SoCal Mystery Writers of America party at Skylight Books, a great indie bookstore in Los Feliz. Among other nice people I met Steph Cha, lawyer by day/novelist by night, whose first book, Follow Her Home, is being published by St. Martin’s Press early next year. She’s in the middle of copyediting right now, and we bonded over our shared unorthodox notions about usage and punctuation. (Yeah, like you don’t have a opinion on commas.)

Saturday morning was my discussion panel, “Seeing the Light.” It turns out the Festival has this tradition of making up panel names and leaving it to the participants to decide what the panels are actually about. Our moderator, Mary Otis, did her best to tease out shared themes of mystery, enlightenment, and transcendence, but really it was three authors talking about their work for an hour, which the audience seemed perfectly fine with. My co-panelists were Janet Fitch, author of Paint it Black and White Oleander, and Alex Shakar, whose novel Luminarium just won the L.A. Times Book Prize for fiction. (Alex also gets the prize for biggest reversal of fortune: This is a dude who sold his first novel for a six-figure sum, only to get hit by a double whammy when (a) his editor died, and (b) his book tour, scheduled to begin on September 13, 2001, was preempted by Al Qaeda. I didn’t get to hang out with him as long as I would have liked, but he struck me as a good guy, so it’s great to see him getting another shot at recognition. Check out his book, it sounds really interesting.)

Saturday afternoon I went to see Judy Blume get interviewed onstage at Bovard Auditorium. I’m a Blume fan from back in the day, but I don’t think I’d ever heard her life story before: Married and with two kids by age 25, feeling like something was missing, she started writing in her spare time and became one of the most successful authors in history. Now 74 (!), she’s been at it long enough to have multiple generations of fans. During the audience Q&A, there were middle-aged readers bursting into tears as they described how much her books had meant to them, and little kids barely tall enough to reach the microphones begging her for one more Fudge novel.

Saturday night was the Young Literati’s Book Drop Bash—aka the Socially Anxious Introverts’ Mixer—at the L.A. Central Library. I chatted with Greg and Astrid Bear for a while, then introduced myself to John Scalzi. That led, in turn, to the most surreal moment of the entire Festival, in which I found myself sitting around a table in the kid’s lit section of the library with Scalzi, Lev Grossman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumnus Amber Benson. It was pretty late in the evening by that point, so my main contribution to the conversation was to restrain myself from blurting out “HOLY SHIT, AMBER BENSON!” but it’s these small acts of self-control that make civilization possible.

My Sunday event was a book signing at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore booth. It turns out The Mirage is Mysterious Galaxy’s book club pick this month, and when I asked if they’d like me to join in the book discussion via Skype, they said yes. So if you missed seeing me at the Festival, here’s another chance. The meeting is this Saturday, April 28, starting at noon, at Mysterious Galaxy’s Redondo Beach location (2810 Artesia Blvd. Redondo Beach, CA).

Sunday afternoon I roamed around the Festival grounds. I bumped into my pal Aimee Bender, and met (and got a big hug from) Tayari Jones, one of my favorite new NEA Fellows.

And then it was time to go see the “Nerds Shall Inherit the Earth” panel, co-starring the aforementioned Amber Benson and John Scalzi, along with Maureen Johnson and Pamela Ribon. I’d been told in advance by several people that Maureen Johnson is hysterically funny, and also that she “has crazy eyes”, and both those things are absolutely true, but the funniest moment of the show belonged to Pam Ribon. Asked what nerdtastic thing she was most obsessed with right now, she said she had discovered a hidden YouTube genre of girl/horse breakup videos. The actual videos are kinda sad (well, some of them), but what had the audience falling out of their chairs was Pam’s explanation of why adolescent girls are so drawn to horses in the first place (paraphrasing from memory here, with emphasis added): “It’s this big, muscular thing that you can ride, like your Dad, while you transition towards your first adult relationship with a man or a woman.” To get the full effect, you have to picture John Scalzi rearing back in horror, while Maureen Johnson rests on her elbows, one eyebrow arched, giving this sideways look that says, “Well now, I wasn’t aware this panel would include discussion of unnatural acts.”

…and that was pretty much a wrap on the Festival. I took a last pass through the grounds, caught the shuttle back to my hotel, downloaded a copy of Pamela Ribon’s Going in Circles to my iPad, ordered room service, and crashed. Monday’s flight home—on Alaska, with a middle-school orchestra filling up the rows behind me—was uneventful. We even landed a little early.

Thanks L.A., that was fun. See you next time.

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