Monthly Archive: July 2010

A Pool of Sweat is Me

The reading last night at Paper Cone Stories at Jack’s in Manhattan was a blast. A sweaty blast. In typical smoove, classy authorial fashion I worked up a lather of sweat walking over to the place, and then continued to sweat for pretty much the rest of the evening. While actually reading under the lights up front I actually began to drip sweat onto my pages, making them blurry, and ended up my performance by toweling off and mopping my area, in consideration for the other authors. In truth, the reading was a smashing success, and I’m indebted to Sean Ferrell, author of the soon-to-be-released novel Numb, for inviting me to join him at his reading to celebrate the release of his book. We had a blast. A sweaty, sweaty blast.

Some folks from The Internet showed up (Patty Blount brought cookies! COOKIES, people. This is how to attend a reading. Booze works too.) and the place was packed tight with folks. I read first, and spent the first five minutes apologizing because I refused to explain anything about what I was reading despite the fact that it’s the fourth book in a science fiction series, meaning the audience would understand nothing. I made the bold decision to mystify everyone and hope I could get by on charm and charisma alone, which, as usual, failed. You can’t be charming when you’re sweating profusely.

Evan Mandery read second, and was hilarious. Evan also remembered to acknowledge Sean and thank him for the invite to read, as opposed to being a total jackass and leaping up there as if it was all about me. Like I did.

Sean ended the evening by reading part of chapter one of Numb, sitting on a stool that appeared to be slowly spinning away from the audience as he read. I was gratified to see that he was almost as sweaty as me by the end of it. For a moment I was wondering if my diet of bacon grease and booze was finally catching up to my cardiovascular system, but this assured me that I still have the constitution of an 18-year-old.

Afterwards, a group went out for a drink (my wife The Duchess bailed out, knowing full well how those evenings go: Me drunk as a skunk, everyone making obscure jokes about our agent, flat diet coke served up by the bartender) and the evening ended at one in the morning with a plate of freshly fried bacon on the table – nothing else, just bacon – which I eyed with appropriate unease and took as a sign that it was time to go home.

Photos! My lovely, talented, and tolerant wife took these with her iPhone before giving me permission to go out boozing with my agent, Ferrell, and others (After the break):


Avery Cates Intro Music

UPDATE: Fixed the link. Stupid Jeff.

One of the great benefits of your books being translated into other languages is, of course, being contacted by readers from that part of the world. The fantastic and quite German Stoif has emailed me a couple of things recently and has been really very cool, but this takes the cake:

The Gweat and Tewwible by Stoif

Just a short piece but I think it’s great, and I like the mood.

Reading @ Paper Cone Stories

The Terminal State!A reminder that I’ll be out in public again, reading from The Terminal State and making a drunken ass of myself, next week:

WHERE: Paper Cone Stories (138 West 10th, Jack’s Stir Brew in Manhattan)

WHEN: Wednesday, July 28th, 8:00 pm

WHO: Me, the insufferably talented Sean Ferrell, and the insufferably talented Evan Mandery

WIll there be drunken shenanigans, caustic wit, and possible spontaneous pantslessness? It’s been known to happen. Of course, Ferrell and I have been known to drink ourselves unconscious and wake up inexplicably in Coney Island wearing Promise Rings, but the chances of it being that kind of night are low. No more than 25%, tops.

Be there or miss me in my Author Costume (blazer, wrinkled white shirt, jeans) as opposed to my At Home Costume (nude except for running shoes). Ask me if I write like Vladimir Nabokov!

Spoilers & The Book of Eli

Be warned: MY contempt for spoilers means this little essay referencing The Book of Eli will be filled with spoilers for this and other stories. So if you fear spoilers, I wouldn’t read this. Carry on.

IT'S THE BIBLE! THE BOOK OF ELI IS THE BIBLE!FRIENDS, I don’t worry about spoilers. I used to. There was a time I avoided spoiling stories until I’d read/watched them just like a lot of folks do, but I’ve given up on that. I don’t make any judgements – if you choose a spoiler-free life, go with Gary and be happy. I’ve decided to go the opposite route: I now actively seek spoilers. I dare spoilers to ruin my day. My epiphany a few years ago was that the vast majority of stories in the world have been spoiled for decades if not centuries, yet the good ones still get read and enjoyed. Thus, if a spoiler truly ruins a story, that story sucked to begin with.

Of course, a sucky story with a great twist can still entertain, so there’s logic behind avoiding spoilers. Like I said, no judgements here. But I figure if a spoiler is so huge and a story so poor that mere knowledge of its denouement ruins everything, then I have better ways to spend my time. Thus, I seek spoilers: The Movie Spoiler is my friend.

Anyway, one reason this comes to mind is because I watched The Book of Eli on pay-per-view this past weekend. The movie stars Denzel Washington as a man in a post-apocalyptic America traveling and protecting what may be the last bible in the world, and Gary Oldman as that favorite post-apocalyptic trope The Last Educated Man as the leader of a rough town of hoodlums who thinks that the words in the bible will help him to rule all of what’s left of mankind. Hilarity ensues.

Not a bad movie, no small part because of the epic charisma of the two male leads. Denzel Washington can play anything and make me like it, and Gary Oldman sells the Ridiculous like the best used car salesman in the universe. The movie also stars Mila Kunis, whose voice makes me want to hit myself, but that’s besides the point.

Now, there’s some debate about the spoiler for this movie – well, the major spoiler. The fact that the book Eli is carrying is a bible is treated as a tiny secret, but it’s revealed halfway through the movie and isn’t that much of a mind-blower. No, I mean the major spoiler, which, depending on who you believe, is that Eli is blind through the whole movie (when the Bad Guy gets his hands on the bible at the end, it turns out to be a Braille version, and thus useless to him). Some folks will tell you Eli is blind and thus his amazing acts of kung-fu and gun-fu throughout the film are just that much more amazing because of it. Others will sneer and say there’s plenty of evidence he can see quite well, and if he was blind, well, that just makes the entire movie hogwash. It’s an interesting argument, and in some sense any story that inspires argument has done a good job.

It was interesting to have read about this before watching the movie. If I recall correctly, the movie wasn’t marketed as having a twist, but then again in these post-Sixth Sense days audiences are increasingly ready for twist endings and even expect them, so maybe marketing twists is redundant. I remember after watching The Sixth Sense, in fact, back when I still feared spoilers, I waited for the home video release just so I could watch it again with the blinders off, and a curious thing happened: I enjoyed the movie even more because I could see the subtle artistry that went into staging the scenes. I particularly loved the scene where Bruce Willis’ doctor and the kid’s mother sit in silence in her apartment, facing each other, for a few seconds before the kid comes home. On first viewing, it appeared that the doctor had been invited to come and speak to the kid, and the two adults simply had exhausted all small talk by the time the kid finally came home. Of course, since the doctor was a ghost only the kid could see, the mother was simply sitting there in silence waiting for her son to come home. It’s a great scene in a good-to-great movie, I think, and nothing was lost, and a lot was gained, when I knew the spoiler.

The Book of Eli has some similar moments. Choosing to view Eli as blind, you can see how smart some of the setups are.  One thing I liked particularly is that when Eli is shown reading the bible – which he states he does every day – his fingers are on the page. Now, simply being able to read braille doesn’t mean you’re blind, but if you assume he is blind, it’s a nice subtle hint to the fact. Some of the scenes where Eli is reading are just throwaway establishing shots, bit of business, but with this knowledge they took on more weight and did more work for the story, and I appreciated it. There’s also a scene where Eli is in a (admittedly improbable) shootout with a gang, led by none other than Titus Pullo (“Thirteen!”). He kills everyone except Pullo, who is a badass and so just stands in the open, amazed, then Eli steps out into the street and turns to face Pullo, who puts his gun on him, and then lowers it and nods as a sign of respect for what he’s just seen, allowing Eli to walk away. Viewing it with the knowledge that Eli is blind, however, the reason he steps out into the open is because he can’t hear Pullo, who doesn’t move, and the reason he just stands there while Pullo has a clean shot at him is because he can’t see Pullo.

For me, knowing the spoiler improved the experience, and I’m finding that more and more – the spoiler either improves the whole movie, or it’s a cheap last-minute rugpull that ruins everything. And I have come to prefer to know what I’m getting myself into.

Your mileage may vary, of course. And there is something to be said for the thrill of sudden wonder when a spoiler is pulled off with real flair and intelligence, and I am probably ruined forever because I tend to look at the creaking gears and pistons under the hood of most plots these days, looking for tricks to steal and giving everything the yellow eye of professional jealousy. Still, I’m going to keep spoiling movies for myself, daring them to still be good.

Ask Jeff Anything Part I

Well, last week I offered to answer any question sent to me here in video form. Here’s the first installment, in which Elizabeth Black asks me what my Eagle Scout Service Project was:

Keep the questions coming! First come first serve but I’ll get to them all, promise.

Ask Jeff Anything

I’ve got an idea: It’s simple but could be fun. I get questions via email on a pretty regular basis, ranging from the sedate and expected (When’s the next book coming out, aren’t those bastards at Orbit going to have a trade size of The Terminal State) to the disturbing (Would you mind sitting in the other chair I can’t get my telescope that far to the left, or Is that really you speaking to me in my dreams telling me to burn down Citi Field?) I try to answer every question as promptly as possible, but I am a busy man, if complaining now counts as an activity you can be busy with.

So, let’s do a weekly question thing, where anyone who wants to can send me a question, and I will post a brief video to answer it. I’ll attempt to do this once a week, but lord knows once I get busy with drinking and sleeping and hunting the grounds for my lost trousers, time slips away fast, so no guarantees. What I do guarantee is that no question shall be ducked. Ask me anything. You may not like the answer, but that ain’t my problem.

Send all questions to


?”Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job / Even though he could have smashed through any bank / In the United States, he had the strength, but he would not” – Crash test Dummies, Superman’s Song

InceptionI want to see Chris Nolan’s new movie Inception, though due to time constraints I want this in the same way I wish to learn how to play the solo from Rock and Roll perfectly from beginning to end — vaguely, hopelessly. The way things have been going, I’ll likely see it on pay-per-view in 2015.

Which might be for the best. My lust for Inception reminds me of a fundamental rule of the universe and a fundamental question of the ages: 1. The movie playing in my head right now called Inception is waaayyy better than the actual movie (even if the actual movie turns out to be a 5-star masterpiece, the movie in my head is 15 stars, easy) and 2. Why does every good SF idea have to be filtered through a crime caper story?

Now, full disclosure: My own damn SF ideas are usually filtered through a crime caper, so I’m not framing this as a bad thing, really. Just an observation.

So, let’s start with the question/observation: Why does every SF idea seem to be fodder for tales of FutureCrime™? Well, of course that’s not even remotely true, it’s just an easy/lazy way to ruminate on the subject. There are an awful lot of stories that take fantastic SF ideas and plant them right on top of caper plots, or other plots involving gunplay and/or cops and robbers et al. One big reason for this, I think, is that it grounds the fantastic in something familiar, which makes the story a little more easily accessed by audiences that might otherwise sneer or fear SF tropes. Another reason, though, is simple: People are evil bastards, and I think the vast majority of people would use SF power for evil. In other words: If you had the ability to enter someone’s dreams and examine their subconscious, you’d likely use it to your evil advantage. In other other words, SF ideas get applied to criminal tropes so often because that’s exactly what we’d all do with SF ideas.

Let’s face it, the more thoughtful the SF story, the fewer guns and explosions, the less interested people are in general. Solaris? Try as you might, its audience will remain relatively small. The Matrix? Guns, Kung Fu, and fucking-A bullet time? It’s the national sensation of 1998, Bub.

The fact that no movie will ever match the epic masterpiece in my head of the same name is a familiar quirk of the universe to everyone, I think, and while you might want to blame your rampaging imagination or the severe lack of imagination in Hollywood, what you really ought to be blaming is trailers.

The art of the trailer is mysterious and arcane: Every single trailer created for a movie is better than the movie itself. Obviously this is because you’re cherry-picking the good bits, but also because a skilled editor can take lines and sequences out of context — hell, as the fans of the new Predator movie can attest, they can take scenes that aren’t even in the goddamn film at all — and fashion something wholly new and alien out of it. And talented miscreants all over the Internets have gifted us with remixed trailers that make The Shining into a romantic comedy and shit (genius!). Trailers are magic, and you watch the ninety seconds of genius and the movie you extrapolate from it in your head maintains that level of genius. The actual movie, being something completely different and concerned with things like plot mechanics and how much of Leo DiCaprio’s naked ass they are contractually allowed to show, can never ever live up to that.

So, one of these days I will leave the house, wearing just a tattered old bathrobe and tissue boxes for shoes, and I’ll buy a ticket for Inception using a jar of pennies and some Burger King coupons, and then I’ll sit there and be very, very disappointed despite giving the movie a likely four-star review to the people who sit down in front of me for the third or fourth consecutive showing. And then I will be removed from the theater by security, as usual.