Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dark Knight Rises Podcast

So back on July 21, Nat Sylva and I hit the premiere of Dark Knight Rises, rushed home and recorded the timeliest podcast for Dark Knight Rises imaginable. It was comprehensive, covering the scripting, acting, ties to the previous films, the score, the handling of new and old characters - we were pretty proud of ourselves.

Today, on September 15th, the episode finally went on-god-damned-line.

It's been funny watching the relevance of this episode languish, as the opening weekend passed, and then the movie slipped from first place, and then from the top ten movies in the country, and is now well on its way to DVD. I could almost record a podcast about how doomed this podcast was.

Now, I don't want to point fingers (lies, I really do), but this is finally out of the archives. Spoiler-heavy, an in-depth discussion of one of the summer's biggest movies and a retrospective on Nolan's revival of the Batman franchise. You can download the episode totally free right here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: South Korea Bans/Teaches Evolution

A stunning reversal this morning as South Korea announced it will continue teaching the theory of evolution in its schools, but ban evolution itself from nature. If any life form is discovered to be changing over a course of generations, it will be gassed. If it evolves against the gas, men with heavy boots will be dispatched. Children will be given meal vouchers and a copy of Jurassic Park.

The teaching of evolution has been a controversy for some years in South Korea, which boasts Asia’s largest per capita Christian demographic. The practice of evolution has been less controversial, its tide more or less halted by concrete and Lysol.
Archaeopteryx. Confirmed dead.
Sources disagree over how the controversy began. Sources within the South Korean education system report the dispute emerged over depiction of the archaeopteryx, a primitive bird, as an example of evolution. Sources on anonymous message boards report the dispute emerged over "how shitfuckingly gey teh bibel is."

The truth is a toss-up; a matter of faith. Even conservationists are split over the move to ban evolution from the country. Some see it as a denial of a principle of life, an impractical march against what begat us, or even a refusal of God’s lasting creativity. Others see it as the best way to preserve life. Nancy Atweiler, a native Korean of sixty generations, says, "If you want to save the Asiatic Black Bear, you've got to stop it from adapting. What if it evolves into the Asiatic Hot Pink Bear? Then your Black Bear is extinct. Evolution is a heartless murderer and must be stopped."

Experts estimate that natural selection kills trillions of organisms per year, more than handguns, automobiles and illicit drugs combined. “In fact,” says Chung Jong-kwan of Hanyang University, “Handguns and automobiles are just a symptom of the problem that is natural selection. Natural selection can pretty much take credit for anything dying. It's nature's bureaucrat.”
Beige Countries: places where evolution happens.
Red Dots: dunno.
So far only South Korea has made explicit legislation to ban evolution. There are unofficial anti-evolution measures in other nations, such as Vatican City which applies celibacy to counteract evolution’s sexually transmitted issues, but these motions are the minority. China was previously expected to lead the way on anti-evolution legislation with its one-child policy, but caved to the Evolution Lobby. At present, the United States, Germany and Russia have a laissez-faire policy towards evolution, but sources within the Obama administration claim the president is, "willing to adapt."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bonus: "A Worrisome Return" by Emma Newman

There’s a bonus on The Bathroom Monologues today! In addition to This Heavy World, we're hosting a tale from Emma Newman's Split Worlds. Emma is delightful lady, a longtime Twitter friend whom I finally met up with at WorldCon. She has a drop-dead reading voice, and has provided an MP3 reading for your additional entertainment. I'll let her set it up her story below.

This is the twenty-eighth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. This story is part of the build-up to the release of the first Split Worlds novel "Between Two Thorns" in March 2013. Every week a new story is released. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here, where you can also sign up to receive each story free in your inbox every week (starting at the very first one).

A Worrisome Return
by Emma Newman

Aquae Sulis, 2002

Will searched for something familiar in his brother, but the man who walked through the front door bore little resemblance to the boy who'd left four years before.

Will was eight when Nathaniel had left for his great adventure and all he could remember about him was his superior strength. There were countless examples in his memory; being pinned down on top of wooden building bricks that left perfect rectangular bruises on his back and being crushed in a bear hug until he'd passed out.
He looked to his sister for solidarity but Imogen was beaming, no doubt hoping for a spectacular gift from their elder brother. Will was the only person in the household who seemed unhappy about his brother's return.
"Hullo," Nathaniel looked down at him as he crushed Will's knuckles against each other. "Still short I see."
"Hello Nathaniel," Will did all he could to hide the pain as they shook hands. "Still ugly I see."
Nathaniel laughed and released Will to clap him on the back. Will squeezed all the pleasure he could from staying on his feet despite his brother's efforts and followed the rest of the family into the drawing room.
"So," Father said as he poured sherry. "How was the trip?"
"Most enlightening," Nathaniel said.
"What was Paris like?" Imogen asked. "What's the latest fashion?"
"The only fashion worth noting in Paris," Nathaniel replied, "is that one should never appear to be concerned about fashion."
"He was probably too busy trying to get the dresses off them to notice anything useful," Imogen whispered in Will's ear.
Will tried to imagine a Paris ballroom full of beautiful women desperate to have their fashionable gowns removed but the fantasy collapsed when he thought of his brother being there.
The gifts for his parents were horribly boring; some kind of drink Will had never heard of for Father and Venetian glass for Mother. Imogen was given a necklace that glittered enough to make her happy and then Nathaniel fished out a small package from his travelling bag.
"And this is for my baby brother."
"I'm twelve."
"You'll always be the baby of the family though," Imogen said.
Will took the package and unwrapped the top layer to reveal tissue paper beneath. A row of tiny colourful dolls, wrapped in bright threads instead of clothes, lay within. "You got me dolls? I'm not a girl!"
Nathaniel laughed. "They're Guatemalan Worry Dolls. It's a custom I thought you'd appreciate."
"I've heard of these," Mother said, taking them from his hands to inspect them. "Oh they're adorable. Will, you whisper your worries to them and then tuck them under your pillow before you go to sleep."
He peered at them. Surely it was a trick. "Really? Why?"
"The natives believe the dolls worry for you so you don't have to," Nathaniel said. "And when you wake up in the morning the worries are gone."
"It's such a thoughtful gift," Mother said, handing them back to Will. "I think you should use them tonight. Now thank your brother."

Will woke in the night, alert and tense. There was a sound from the side of his bed so he peered over the edge. One of the worry dolls was lying on the floor, bathed in the light stretching under the door from the hallway. Thinking it had been pushed to the edge by his night time fidgeting he reached down, but the doll stood up and quivered before he reached it. Will snatched his hand back under the duvet as the miniature figure wobbled its way towards the door.
It was followed by another and then another. They were so small Will didn't feel them worming their way out from under his pillow. Casting long shadows, all six made their way to the door and wriggled under the crack beneath it.
Shaking, Will got out of bed and went out into the hallway. The dolls were heading for the door out of the nursery wing and into the main part of the house. He wasn't old enough to live there yet. But Nathaniel was. Just as he was about to curse his brother, the dolls lurched to the left and headed for Imogen's room instead.
Will followed them on tip-toe and pressed his ear against her bedroom door as the dolls wriggled beneath it.
He could hear her giggling and then the sound he hadn't missed at all; Nathaniel's low chuckle. His tormentors were reunited.
"Here comes the first one," Nathaniel said and sweat burst across Will's forehead at the thought of what he'd whispered to it. "What burdens are you carrying little fellow?"
Will heard his own worried whisper, the one he'd uttered to the doll earlier that evening. "What if I don't get any taller?"
"Oh, poor little William." The mockery in Imogen's voice made Will's stomach cramp.
"Ah, here's the next one," Nathaniel said. Will pressed himself tighter to the door as his breath seized in his chest.
"I'm worried I'll grow up to be just as stupid as my elder brother," the doll reported.
Will covered his mouth with both hands to stifle his laughter.
"What if I have a nose like Nathaniel's?" Reported another doll. "What if I come back from my Grand Tour with as big a-" A thud cut off that one and no other dolls were invited to report in.
Will dashed back to his room, satisfied that he'd emerged from the prank as the victor. He knew Nathaniel hadn't changed and that there was no love behind the gift. His only regret was realising it after he'd whispered to the first doll.

Bathroom Monologue: This Heavy World

“World isn’t full of heaviness. It isn’t full of death and despair and failure. If it was, those things wouldn’t hurt so much. If the world was full of heaviness, nothing could drag you down. You’d be heavy in the middle of other great weights, and stay right where you were. If we plummet, it is because there are lighter things in this world, often above us, but isn’t the sky nice? Laughs, sharks, flatulence, sunny days, cool water, beaches, orgasms and overwritten poems. It’s a big place, of many masses.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saturn, Disability, and the Hugo Awards at ChiCon 7 - The Wrap-Up


Good view for a Thursday.
A beautiful building right on the river, across from Chicago’s unparalleled skyline, was the perfect place to spend Thursday night. I spent sunset chatting about Hugo nominees and waiting for Saturn to become visible. While it was tiny even in the most powerful telescope we had, it was striking. Even when its figure is smaller than the tip of your pinky finger, you can make out its rings. Until then, I’d honestly thought that was an invention of cartoons, but it really does look like one of the glowing stickers I used to have on my wall as a kid.

While you’ve probably heard some complaints against the con-runners (and are about to read some more), they handled the Adler very well. Admission was free if you had your convention badge, and they rented eight buses to shuttle everyone to and from the planetarium for hours into the night.


While everyone working at the Hyatt Regency Chicago was courteous to me, I couldn’t recommend using the site again. Giving the floors arbitrary color names rather than numbers, and even less sensible themed names for the rooms (good luck finding “The Gold Coast Room” on “The Bronze Level”) were one thing, but the hotel is split into two towers that can only be navigated by three means:

1) a skybridge on the second floor where no convention events took place, requiring you to take either an escalator or a second, much slower elevator downstairs.

2) crossing the street outside on the ground floor, between a floor with three panel rooms and a floor with none.

3) crossing an underground bridge on the Bronze Level, where there were many panel rooms, including at least one that was only accessible up a set of stairs.

Complicate that with some elevators going down only to this set of colored floors, and some stairwalls only going this high, and you had a lot of baffled attendees walking indoor miles per day just to get lost. I expect to hurt when I’m at a convention, and had to set aside an hour every day to be in private over body tremors, but that’s my issue and I can handle it.

If they ever want to make a WorldCon Risk...

If you were in a wheelchair, though, you routinely had to cross to the other tower just to get downstairs and cross back to the tower you’d just been in to reach a room. That’s no reasonable way to ask someone to get downstairs. There have been reports of handicapped con-goers only being able to attend every other panel due to travel times within the Hyatt. They were rightly furious to make such long treks only to find a room with its own private set of stairs and no other point of entry. 

Especially at this point, I don't think outrage at con-runners is constructive. You can't fix architecture; you can only avoid patronizing it. WorldCon sites should be accessible to all attendees. Right now there are bids for 2015 between Florida, Washington and Finland. At none of the room-parties for these respective bids did I hear anyone pitch accessibility services. I’m hoping the post-con furor raises awareness. When you have over a thousand attendees, your location needs to start with being accessible.


I am a longstanding and publicly-admitted cynic about awards shows. They are generally artificial and reek of politics-over-product. I can’t say that about the 2012 Hugos; at least half of the nominees claimed not to have written speeches thinking they would lose, and that same number looked genuinely shaken, stunned or overwhelmed. Whoever screamed in surprise when E. Lily Yu was announced for the John Campbell for Best New Writer was perhaps the single loudest I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’m told it was Yu herself.

There were a lot of class acts. Jim Hines won for Best Fan Writer, mostly for his amusing series on how women are objectified on book covers, and excused himself from the category for every future Hugo to ensure that more new voices would be recognized. Ursula Vernon (Best Graphic Story) gave an endearing ramble on how she entrusted her boyfriend with the ending to Digger, just in case she ever died before it finished. John Picacio was the only figure to swagger up to the podium, and while he hadn’t prepared a speech, he remembered in the six times he’d previously failed to win Best Professional Artist the names of artists he’d grown up on and wished had been recognized with their own Hugos. He waited about a decade just to name them from that podium.
This is Jim Hines.
As far as I know, this is not a degrading pose,
but he sure has a grip on that thing.
And as coldhearted as I am, Jo Walton almost got me to choke up. She deserved the Best Novel Hugo that she won for Among Others, but still seemed to be processing merely getting nominated. She me by recounting something Ian Osmond told her: "Lots of people have said Among Others is a love letter to fandom. Didn't you expect to get a reply?"

It was well worth the half hour traffic jam leading to the sole escalator back upstairs.

It was also at the Hugos that I had my highest point. It was perhaps the only time of the year I’d wear a tie, and the last day that I shaved, but I couldn’t help being myself. I sat with an exceptionally good-spirited group of guys, and we quickly fell into joking about great novels and bad Adam Sandler movies. When they asked what I did, I described my upcoming novel and they showed keen interest, though I didn’t know how keen. I just enjoyed making them laugh, because that’s one of my favorite things to do for other people, even if it’s at the expense of Deadman and Jason Todd.

It was as Jo Walton finished her acceptance speech that one of them leaned over to me, writing on a scrap of paper. He asked how to spell my last name. I told him, then asked what was up.

“I can’t wait to read your novels,” he said. “You’ve got a fan for life.”

I shook all of their hands and probably failed to express how much that meant to me. Exhausted and pretty sick with the syndrome at that point, I couldn’t have felt better.

I still want a Hugo, though.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reading and Writing at ChiCon 7

Day Two of Three from the ChiCon 7 diary. Tomorrow I want to touch on disability issues at the hotel, the Hugo Awards, and seeing Saturn for the first time. Today is devoted to the public readings and private writings that go on at these sorts of conventions.


I went to my share of readings over the weekend, and saw some very talented writers. The one that rocked me back in my chair was Mary Robinette Kowal, sharing “Locked In” from Apex, at the Broad Reading meeting. It’s a piece of flash fiction that captures Science Fiction, Horror, Tragedy and the Medical Thriller without succumbing to nearly any niche’s expectations, and it’s a great reminder of why Apex Magazine is a top resource in the industry.

I managed to make a total ass out of myself afterward by congratulating Kowal on that story and not realizing she was the same Mary Robinette Kowal up for a Hugo for the superb “For Want of a Nail.” It’s great when you realize the two people you’re a fan of are the same person. Not so great when you realize you're an idiot.
This is not two people.
Some people have a harder time learning this than others.
Broad Reading was a neat setup, housing over a dozen quick readings from individual members in an all-female writing group of all levels of expertise. Most official readings were for one person. Jo Walton, who won the Hugo for her touching tale of adolescence in Among Others, read from her work in progress about teens in space who want to party on the ship forever instead of land. George R.R. Martin’s reading room couldn’t have been packed any more hopelessly if he’d written it.

Friend and fellow #fridayflasher Emma Newman showed the chops she’s honed recording audiobooks in a fine reading from her short story collection and the upcoming Split Worlds. Probably the highlight for all readings for me was when she read of a curse being cast on our hero, and somewhere outside our walls, a pneumatic hiss went off and filled the room. You couldn’t pay for better publicity than that, though the hotel should check that elevator.

There’s a lot you can learn from a reading, even a bad one. Maybe especially a bad one, because you can study how authors psych themselves out. One author, who I won’t name, kept stumbling over her excerpt. At first I felt bad, but then I started constructing narration in my own head, and realized her errors were highlighting how strong the voice would be on the printed page. It was kind of uncanny, and reaffirmed a couple of things I suspect about how plot progression works. One of my recent hobbies is listening to readings or audiobooks and testing how it would sound in my head, as opposed to how it’s intended.


These are an institution at WorldCons, and will hopefully be for the foreseeable future. Oz Drummond and Lou Berger organized at least eighteen different groups of three aspiring authors (“victims” is the official unofficial name). These trios were joined with two professionally published authors, forming critique groups of five, to hone the victims’ craft. I had the pleasure of working with Martha Wells and Gregory Wilson, who treated all three of us with total professionalism and consideration.

Typical writer reaction in workshops.
Our session lasted two hours, and we spent about forty on every victim, myself included. Your mileage will vary, but we were all serious about craft and I don’t think a minute was wasted. This workshop was a big test for my thoroughly peer-read The House That Nobody Built, as I thought it was near publishable an wanted to see how it would stand up to scrutiny. I left jubilant, having retained more of the positive feedback than the negative. But just as important, the negative feedback was all reasonable, like the desire for a few details, or how to streamline the synopsis. Reasonable, and addressable in just a few minutes of word processing.

So it was the positives I lingered on, which is rare for me. One of my pros asked if I’d already queried it, seeming to think it was ready. One of my pros also described it with what I wish to God will be a cover blurb: 

“This is like Dungeons & Dragons, except awesome!”

There were some other developments at the convention I can’t speak on yet, but cross your fingers for me. I’m doing everything I can with what luck I get. I can’t praise these workshops enough, if you have the fortune of attending a convention that runs anything like it. If I turn “pro,” I’d be happy to help operate one.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Panels of ChiCon 7

Last week I had the pleasure of attending ChiCon 7 in Chicago, host to the 70th annual WorldCon. My digital camera died going through an airport scanner, so there are few photographs, but some things about the convention beg to be shared. I've split it into three days on different subjects so as not to drop a giant hunk of text on the site. Also, the Panels of ChiCon 7 really deserve their own post.

There were at least three panels about the schism between real medicine and Science Fiction. The con devoted over a dozen rooms to a plethora of topics, ranging from formalized book clubs (I hit the one discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) to thoroughly unformulized nostalgia. You wanted zombies? You got zombies. Ethics of book reviewing? Could you biologically engineer a plausible dragon? They had experts on all of this. All you had to do was find your room on this map.

Behold: The Mapocalypse

There were two particularly stand-out panels, one a raucous group effort, and one a gutsy one-man act that I doubt many people in the field could match.

Jack McDevitt might have been the single-handed king of the convention for me. He’s a prolific Nebula-winning author, but even his panel’s circumstances impressed. Just hours from his flight into town, and minutes from having fought through Chicago traffic to get there, McDevitt ran a 90-minute one-man panel on what gets your work rejected from magazines and publishers.

He riffed on the audience, he was funny and insightful, and seemed to know how to work a crowd just as well as how to edit a manuscript. There was the traditional advice of cutting adverbs and using only as many characters as was absolutely necessary, but also analysis on how hooks work, and why forcing the reader to wait can be a great strategy (his formidable example: waiting for the murderer to strike in Horror).

There's no better reason to go to the next EerieCon in Buffalo than to catch him as the Guest of Honor. His best advice was perhaps the best advice of the whole weekend, and I furiously scribbled it down:
"Keep the exposition short, but get it right. ...
It's the things you think you know
and don't look up that you get wrong."

Jack McDevitt, taken by Maureen McDevitt

You couldn’t beat what McDevitt brought, but you could excel at something entirely different. For instance, moderator Myke Cole, Jean Johnson, Scott Lynch (of Lies of Locke Lamora fame), Marie Bilodeau and the man known as “Eightball” discussing Disaster Relief in Science Fiction.

Everyone on the panel has real life experience in disaster relief, from firefighting to wrangling Deep Water Horizon, and so you wouldn’t expect them to put on the funniest show of the weekend. What began as an inquisition into what film habitually gets wrong and how strong the human spirit is devolved into a ten-minute debate about how to put a tourniquet on a bleeding asshole. Cole’s facial expressions as he listened put me into tears laughing. You know you’re winning when the Iraq-veteran-turned-moderator is hiding his face in revulsion.

Myke Cole could kill me, or entertain me with his giddy list-making of horrible disaster movies.
The depth and variety at these events left me deeply desiring to do one. It also left me deeply desiring that audiences shut up during them. There's little worse at a panel than the nerd who can't help yelling opinions, or raising their hand for a question and then monologuing on their lives for five minutes. The strangest thing of the weekend came not from religion or cosplay, but from an audience member breaking into a screaming fit against Apple when someone merely mentioned Amazon's business tactics.

An honorable mention for Achievement in Panels goes to Kendall F. Morris on the Medicine and Science Fiction panel, who shared a unique insight from engineering cough medicine:

“We learned if you cough a lot, it’s irritating.
If you don’t cough at all, you die.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: To Serve a SciFi Nerd

Step 1: find a SciFi nerd rabid enough to argue that Star Wars is Fantasy.

Step 2: suggest that Arthur C. Clarke’s third law means that Star Wars just has some micro-technology the aforementioned nerd can’t discern from magic. Comfort him/her by saying Captain Picard probably couldn’t tell them apart either, and that Star Trek’s Q was essentially a wizard, as were the aliens in Contact and Clarke’s own 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Step 3: persist until he/she coughs up blood and passes out.
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