Monday, July 27, 2015

The Pyramid of Krakow


"I love montage. I don’t care whether it’s out of style or not. It’s excellent for capturing a multi-layered story. I’m looking forward to working on the next one coming up soon."

Gregory Manchess has blogged about how he went about creating the illustration for my new Mongolian Wizard story, "The Pyramid of Krakow."

Any aspiring illustrators should head over there immediately, because in a simple and straightforward manner, Manchess explains how the montage moves from thumbnails to the final image. There's much to be learned here.

Me, I don't have the talent to benefit from the post, though I can appreciate it the saame way I might a similar post by an acrobat or a magician. But I do notice that this particular image is even darker than usual. Which is appropriate because "The Pyramid of Krakow" is the story in which the series takes a turn into moral darkness.

You can see the blog post here.

You can also read about crumping (Manchess's own term) here.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Ask Unca Mike


Long, long ago, in the early years of this century, I ran a feature on my webpage called Unca Mike's Bad Advice. It was based on the realization that science fiction writers in particular are extremely generous with our advice to aspiring writers and that this practice was only encouraging them to replace us in the affections of our readers and budgets of our editors. So I decided to engage in a little written self-defense by providing advice that would cut off the next generation ofwriters at the knees.

In a few weeks, I'm going to resurrect this column under the new name of Ask Unca Mike.  It will run here every Friday.  In the meantime, here are a few classic responses from the archives:

October 2001: Income

Joseph asks:    In today's market, what could a moderately successful science fiction writer expect to pull down per year? Will he or she be able to live, or just feed his or her goldfish?

A moderately successful writer – we're talking midlist here, and reasonably prolific (say one novel every eighteen months) – ought to be able to pull down eighty to ninety thou a year, easily. Toss in a couple of short fiction sales, and call it an even hundred thousand bucks. If you've been writing more than two or three years and haven't hit this mark yet, I'd advise you to throw in the towel.

September 2001: Selling Ideas

KC asks: I have writted SF since JUne last year, n only F&Sf send any replies. Analog does not n Asimovs nor Amazing. As for F & Sf, they keep rejecting my works. maybe I don't know how to write stories but some of my ideas have even been praised by Greg Bear n Ian Stewart. How do i turn them into engaign, saleable stories?THank u very much!

The solution to your problem is so simple, you'll kick yourself for not coming up with it on your own: Sell your ideas to Greg Bear and Ian Stewart! Or, for that matter, to just about any science fiction writer. All the top writers are always in the market for hot ideas. You should see how their eyes light up when a stranger approaches them with a great notion for a novel and an offer to "split the profits." Not me, though – I just bought fifteen years' worth of ideas from a guy in Newark. But anybody else.      

July 2001: Dialogue

Steve Taylor asks: How do you avoid incredibly duff dialogue? The stuff I write down is so awful that it pains me to read it. My ear can tell good dialogue from bad. Why can't my writing hand?

Avoid duff dialog? Why on earth would you want to? Do you for an instant believe that someone like, say, Lucius Shepard, who on a good day writes like God's own Stasi agent, outsells a talentless purveyor of multivolume fantasy pap like [name accidentally lost to line noise]? Absolutely not. Here's an exercise: Go to any book store and pick up volume 8 of any fantasy trilogy. Don't drop it on your foot! Now ask yourself, could any reader possibly wallow through 1,200 pages of this bilge, if he had to read ever word? No chance. "Thou foul caitiff!" the spunky heroine cries. "Hast never thou ..."

Okay, thinks the reader. Princess Whatserface doesn't like the Dark Lord. His finger moves halfway down the page.

Personally, I like to work out my dialogue out loud, when there's nobody else in the house. That's how I snapped a tendon. One character said something that needed correction. The other had a snappy comeback. I delivered it with a hand-waving flourish ... and there was a wall in the way. Ouch.

Back in the Sixties, we used to say, "A clean mind, a clean body - take your pick." Today, it's seven-figure tripe or nine-finger art. The choice is up to you.

If you have a question for Unca Mike, you can post it below. Or write to AskUncaMike ("at" sign)  I'll respond to those I have the best answers for.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In the Company of Dragons


Here I am, in my natural habitat -- in the company of dragons.  This was taken outside of Yangshuo at Moon Bridge Mountain.

Just wanted you to see that.

I've been working on promotional materials all day and have to go pick up some relatives at the airport now.  But this would be a good place to mention that I'm going to be running classic Unca Mike's Bad Advice columns for the next few Fridays. Then, after I've garnered enough new questions to proceed onward, I'll be making Ask Unca Mike a regular Friday feature for the foreseeable future.

Be there, as we used to say back in the Neolithic, or be square.

I miss Wooly Mammoths.

Above: Photo by Eileen Gunn. Used by her permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, July 20, 2015

You're Invited To My Book Launch!


The launch for my new Darger & Surplus novel, Chasing the Phoenix, is only weeks away! And you're invited, of course.

The event will be held on August 11 starting at 7:00 p.m. at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr.  Or, to be specific, at 1041 West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010.

I expect it will be a lot of fun. I hope to see a lot of my friends there. And I hope to autograph a lot of books.

But I should warn you that Main Point Books is quite a nice bookstore. If you can get out of it without buying more than one book, you've got a lot more self-controle than I do.
And for the same of gonnabe writers out there . . .

The critic and book collector John Clute once explained to me that, when autographing a book,  an author should only add the date during the year of publication or on days significant to the book's career -- the day it wins an award, say, or the author commits suicide. Any other time, the date adds nothing to the book's collectibility. Though if a reader requests one, it's only polite to oblige.

(I tell my friends that if they ever find me autographing and dating all my old books, they should buy me a drink and try to cheer me up.)

The date of the book's first appearance is, of course, a particularly desirable one.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Chasing the Phoenix: Advance Glimpse!


Not long ago I was in Poland for Falkon, that nation's second-largest science fiction convention, where  I met David Weber for the first time and took an instant liking to the man. We were on a panel and somebody asked whether it's a good idea to post an excerpt from your novel on the Web.

"It depends entirely on the publisher," David said, turning a thumb upward. "Baen says always!"

I  turned a thumb downward. "And Tor says never!"

So it hasn't taken me at all long to be proved absolutely one hundred percent wrong.

Tor has just put the first two chapters of Chasing the Phoenix -- debuting in less than a month -- online. You can read them now, if you wish, and decide whether the rousingly entertaining adventures of Postutopian confidence artists Darger and Surplus are to your liking or not.

The excerpt can be found here.

And coming soon . . .

I've decided to resurrect Unca Mike's Bad Advice.  Watch these pages for further information.

If you wish to submit a question, you can write to AskUncaMike at


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 5)


Here at the American Martini Laboratory, we have been running a series of re-creations to track the evolution of the Emperor of Cocktails from its unlikely ancestor, the Manhattan, through the strange beauty of the Martinez, up to the austere and steely perfection that is the Martini.

Not everybody drinks Martinis, of course, and there's nothing wrong with that. But let's be honest here. There are moments in life that call for nothing less. Immediately after winning World War II, for example, did your grandfather reach for a Fuzzy Peach Navel? We think not. Upon finishing "One Perfect Rose," did Dorothy Parker fix herself a Screaming Orgasm? She'd have thrown the thing in your face.

Today, after long and regrettable delay, we arrive at perfection.

Here's the recipe:

Three to five parts London gin
One part dry vermouth
shake over ice
strain into a glass
serve with an olive or a twist of lemon peel

It's just that simple.

We at the Laboratory had a tasting, of course, and... it was a Martini. 'Nuff said.

And in days to come...

But does the story end here? It does not. Mankind, in its infinite pride, cannot keep from tinkering with perfection. The results will be posted here in a continuing series, so that future generations may learn from our tragic mistakes.

And for those who came in late . . .

Part 1:  Click here to discover the Ur-ancestor of the Martini.

Part 2:  Click here to witness the miracle that was the Martinez.

Part 3:  Click here to discover the first, not-entirely-convincing Martini.

Part 4: Click here to discover the last (and worst) of the pre-Martinis.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Fannish Treasure


John Costello, anthropologist, philosophical Objectivist, science fiction fan, Russophile, and many other things as well, died recently.  I never met the man, though I suspect I would have liked him.  In the wake of his passing, thousands of his books and boxes of his papers were put up for grabs at Readercon.

Cool, right?

It gets better.

The boxes of papers were a mixed lot.  Many were in Russian.  Some were TV Guides.  Much was kibble.  Most people didn't dig very deep. But some of the old hands scrounged up a Russian reader to go through the papers. He found Samisdat fanzines.  Lots of them.

And the cry went out:  "Seal those boxes!"  And now they are bound for whatever appropriate archive will be available to scholars of Soviet science fiction.

Astonishing, right?

It gets better yet.

A fan -- he would not thank me if I mentioned his name, I suspect -- dug deeper and more thoughtfully than the rest.  And he found... wait for it... A cache of letters from John W. Campbell!

Those things are worth money. More than that, the markets for such papers are libraries and archives. So by selling them, our Scavenger Hero will be performing a good deed for All Literature.

Especially since if he hadn't scrounged them up, they would have been thrown away.

And since you're wondering...

No. It wasn't me.

Darn it.

And a word about the convention hotel...

This year's Readercon was the noisiest convention I've ever attended. The renovations underway during last year's con have been completed and they bounce voices back at you in a hideous clatter. At one point, talking with friends, I stepped out of the hotel and blessed quietude wrapped itself around my ears. "Ahh," I said in a near-whisper. "I can stop shouting now."

When I told a friend that it was like attending a convention of the deaf, he said, "Worse, it's like suddenly being stricken deaf."

At the launch party for Elizabeth Hand's new novel, Wilding Hall, I couldn't help thinking that it was a lot like Hell: The company was terrific but the ambience sucked.

Apparently, the convention is moving next year, which is good news. The Boston Marriott Burlington  is a terrible venue for any kind of public gathering whatsoever.

Above: I found treasure, too: The perfect swimming hole. No, I'm not going to tell you where.