Monthly Archive: October 2010

When Does Sci Fi Stop Being Sci Fi?

The question in the Ask Jeff Anything video below got me to thinking about Star Trek. Actually, just about anything can make you think about Star Trek these days, which,as we’ll see if you stick with me on this amazing wild ride, is kind of my point. But now I’ve digressed. And I’ll have to spend some rhetorical gas winding my way back to my point.

Start Trek was brought up as an example of bad time travel in the AJA piece, and I was tempted to call foul on that – not because Star Trek has ever done time travel well – because I am not sure that it has – but because Star Trek has so fully and completely permeated the popular culture at this point, I’m not sure it still qualifies as science fiction. Part of SF’s appeal (and goal) is to astound – to present the reader with concepts and images they’d never encountered before, or at least in an innovative and unexpected way. Star Trek, a victim of its own success, no longer qualifies in any way: Everyone knows the Trek universe, whether you like it or not. You might disdain the show and the show’s fans, but you damn well know the phrase live long and prosper and have spent some time in your life wishing that at least one of these technologies was real: a) Holodeck; b) Replicator; c) Transporter.

Don’t deny it. Denying it just makes me want to trace your IP address and mail you monkeys. Horrible, angry monkeys:

Horrible, horrible monkeys

Courtesy of

Once your ideas have taken on the kind of cultural weight Star Trek has, they’re just part of daily life. Sure, the underlying concepts are still SFnal. but as a whole no one can separate the concepts from the whole mess that is Star Trek, from Bill Shatner to trekkies to the 2009 reboot, to Kirk screaming “Khaaaaannnnnn!!” at the sky to Picard ordering Earl Grey to Spock telling you something is illogical, our brains go quiet and dull at the mention of Star Trek, and nothing else gets through. Using Star Trek as an example in a discussion about science fiction writing is useless, because nothing you say about it registers as science fiction any more.

That’s actually a testament to the success and power of the story, of course. I’m not slagging Star Trek, though its handling of time travel has always been … sketchy. As is its concept of worldwide cultural development, but that’s a whole other subject. Give it a few more decades, and Star Trek will be right up there with the frickin’ bible as far as texts that everyone is familiar with.

Of course, it’s a double-sided blade: On the one hand, when arguing a subject you want references that people will recognize immediately, right? The broader the better. Star Trek qualifies there. On the other hand, people will likely not even realize you’re making a point about science fiction when you invoke Shatner and company. The tropes and details of Star Trek are just part of everyday life now, Sci Fi or not.

Then again, what do I know. I never even watched Star Trek: Enterprise.

BoucherCon Final Thoughts

Whew, am back in Jersey with the cats, exhausted. Here’s a few final thoughts on BoucherCon:

Fave moment: Running into Janet My Agent in the lobby, sitting down to have a drink with her, and ending up part of a 20-author/agent/editor strong group of boozers having endless conversation.

Second-fave moment: Dan Krokos, who you will hear from soon, walking into my panel, taking a shot of whiskey, and shaking my hand, in that order.

Third-fave: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir inviting me to look her up when I’m in Iceland.

Overall, a great time.

Here’s the Questions section of my 30-on-30 panel, if you’re interested:

Bouchercon Day Three, Missive One

I mean to post more interim updates here as I ran around Bouchercon like a madman, but of course between Internet outages, booze, and general incompetence this never happened. Yesterday was a quieter day for me; I didn’t have any panels or events, so I just wandered to other people’s panels and tried to make a nuisance of myself. I checked out Gary Corby’s panel on mysteries in ancient Rome and Greece, which was really great and interesting (best line of the panel: The Roman Empire was the original Tea Party: They didn’t want to pay their own taxes either, and were experts at turning barbarians into taxpayers [I paraphrase; it was much better put in the panel]). Gary Corby is my new intellectual crush, actually. Check out his books.

After a bit of lunch around Union Square with The Duchess, I headed back for a panel moderated by Andrew Grant which was partly obscured by the two people wearing huge, huge, HUGE cowboy hats sitting in front of me. Why I had not thought to bring a jaunty hat to set myself apart, I don’t know. Next time. It’ll be an old-fashioned conical wizard’s hat, with stars and crescent moons on it.

Then, I bumped into Janet My Agent in the bar, and we slowly collected a circus-like group of people, including Gary Corby, Patrick Lee, Dana Cameron, Dan Krokos, Barbara Poelle, and many others. It was much like the Algonquin Round Table of old, I think, although my own memories of the evening are vague and troubling, involving a snake, a dinner jacket, and someone in full clown-makeup. Overall, a fantastic day. Today I’m planning to attend Dana Cameron’s panel, because she is hilarious, but otherwise I shall be a wandering spirit. Cheers!

BoucherCon Day Two, Missive One

So far BoucherCon has been an exhausting joy. Cons are always kind of manic – so many people, people who want to talk to you (yes, me, damn you; I am a popular and charming man), people you want to talk to, and just plain people, everywhere. Although, blessedly, at least no one here is wearing a costume.

Yesterday I did my 30-on-30 Panel, which was just me, a bottle of whiskey, and a microphone. Had a surprisingly high turn out – nothing record-breaking, but more people than I’d expected, included fellow authors Dan “The Krokinator” Krokos, fresh from witnessing a felony across the street, Patrick Lee, and Gary Corby, as well as Uber-Agent Suzi Townsend. Long, loooong videos of that panel appear below, for the curious. The Duchess worked the camera and actually shows herself a few times; wave at the screen when she appears!

Afterwards, I signed books in the Book Room, which was fun. I sat next to Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who was very nice and invited The Duchess and I to look her up if we’re ever in Iceland. The kindness of people often startles me.

Then, the Opening Ceremonies, where Dana Cameron and Sophie Littlefield were robbed during the awards-giving, and Dennis Lehane brought down the house with an introduction to Lee Child (who wears the hell out of a suit, let me tell you) he sent in (he didn’t actually attend). Fun.

Then drinks, dinner, and hilarity with Janet My Agent, Krokos, Suzie, and the Slithery Barbara Poelle and her husband Travis. And now, resting up for Day Two!

Vids of my panel:

My introductory remarks:

My actual presentation:

Questions afterward:
This one turned out to be too long for Youtube, so until I have time to edit it a bit, it must wait. Sorry!

BoucherCon Day One, Missive Two

Well, after Janet My Agent’s uproarious panel, I had to hustle: Because I got my slot signiong books so late in the game no one had any of my books here. My publihser, god bless ’em, shipped a box overnight to me, and I had to worm my way into the bowels of the hotel to locate said box and retrieve it. It was a nightmare I will never speak of, nor will I ever explains these stains on my elbows.

Books in hand, I trooped to the Book Room to put on my salesman hat and convince some of the dealers there to offer them to ungry fans. While there my wife The Duchess spied Lee Child prowling around and rushed after him to get an autograph, which just underscored the difference between me (lugging my own books around like a loser) and Lee Child (elegant and being followed by a camera crew). Screw you, universe.

Then it was off to buy liquor for my 30-on-30 session. Right now I’m taking a quiet moment to gird my loins for that panel (and yes, “girding my loins” does mean “drinking booze”, what of it?). Whew!

BoucherCon Day One, Missive One

So, it’s 7AM here. After a long flight yesterday, The Duchess and I played some hooky and drove around Sonoma pretending we weren’t exhausted and bloated from the plane trip, then passed out in the hotel for a while. I tweeted our arrival and when I woke up this morning I had a bunch of “WE ARE IN THE BAR WHERE ARE YOU” messages, which makes me feel loved.

I’ve never done BoucherCon before, so this is going to be interesting. I’m attending my first panel at 10AM this morning (my lovely and fierce agent will be on it) and then we’re off to the races until my vaguely-defined, possibly career-ending 30-on-30 event at 3pm. Watch the skies for news of an author stripping naked and assaulting his audience around 3:20pm.

And now: Coffee, and lots of it. Then I register and take a spin around to orient myself. If you’re here, feel free to walk up to me and say hello – I’ll be the guy in glasses, unshaven, wearing his standard Author Costume: Wrinkled shirt, jeans, sneakers, blue blazer, hangover, defeat, and suspicion.

Bouchercon Followup

Okey dokey, so here’s my Bouchercon schedule in case anyone out there is also going and wants to track me down. I don’t carry a cell phone, so too bad on that front. Yer just going to have to find me!

I start at the Con on Thursday morning. I’ll be running around like a jackass – try to hit me on Twitter or email if you’re looking for me. I am doing a “30 on 30” panel thingie, where I basically just talk for 30 minutes about anything. Room: Seacliff D, 3pm, Thursday 10/14. Come on in if you can’t get into the better panels.

The rest of my time there will be spent trying to find people to buy me drinks, so look for the sad-looking fellow with the WILL DANCE FOR BOOZE sign around his neck.

Stops Copies Me

Someday, I will write a novel copying all the techniques of Metalocalypse.

Someday, I will write a novel copying all the techniques of Metalocalypse.

I’ve always been a good mimic, as a writer. Pretty much if I read a book or story that impresses me, I can and usually do write something that takes the style and technique and replicates it. This is not to steal anyone’s ideas or brilliancies – most of the time the story that results is far too close to the inspiration to be saleable. It’s good exercise, though, and I do it more or less unconsciously.

This is, however, kind of like homeopathy, in a sense: The molecules of that other writer’s ideas get increasingly diluted as time goes by and I move on to other things, until, eventually, you can’t recognize any of them in my work. Yet the effect remains, so diluted and subtle that you would never link the two, but it’s there, combining witrh the invisible thefts from other writers.

This is why everyone tells you to read constantly when you’re an aspiring writer: You’ve to steal little and steal big.

So what happens to me is that I read a few things by, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald and there follows for a few weeks a stream of stories or perhaps one ungainly novel that mimics his sgtyle and technique. These are mainly unusable, though great fun. Then, two years later, a story emerges that has tiny slivers of Fitzgerald in it but has been alchemized into something different, something new to me (if not necessarily the world at large), and boom! I’ve got more to work with as a writer. This happens without any conscious thought or direction; I just do it, and always have.

This has gotten me into trouble before. Back in my college days an asshat professor once gave me a D on a term paper because he was convinced it was too well written and scholarly in tone to be the product of a Sophomore. I complained and he challenged me to bring him examples of my writing to prove I was capable of it, so the next day I showed up with a box of manuscripts. he looked at the box, looked at me, and conceded defeat. And then the jackass who thought the paper was too good to have been written by me gave it a B+ instead. Jackass.

What had happened, of course, was that I read a long list of scholarly books about the subject at hand and unconsciously absorbed the style and tone of them, then replicated it in my paper.

This is a good thing. Sure, the first attempt is going to be an embarrassing imitation of another writer. But the exercise gets that DNA into your bloodstream, and years later it’ll bubble up and just add a little something to your own work. This is how you get better: You steal little and steal big from everyone around, while they’re stealing from you (hopefully). You discard the chaff over time and keep the good stuff.

Plus, I figure that someday I can parley this skill into a neato ghostwriting gig, like writing “new” Robert Ludlum novels or something. Man’s gotta drink.

Reading! Survived!

The reading last night at The Cell Theater in New York was a blast. I think I did pretty well, and the other readers were all great and entertaining. And there was free wine. What more do you want?

Famous author Sean Ferrell showed up, which was a great surprise, and I asked him to video my reading. When I got home and checked the camera, there were two videos. This was the first one:

That’s right: Thirty-six seconds of Sean Ferrell’s foot.

The second video started off better: It was actually me, reading! A bit shaky, perhaps, as if Sean was falling into a coma of some sort as my voice washed over him, but still, video. Then, at the 2 minutes mark: Done. I don’t recall seeing Sean sleeping, but then I was distracted:

(giggling courtesy of The Duchess)

All in all, though, a lot of fun, and I thank Karen Heuler and The Tandem Reading Series for the invitation! The Cell has an amazing program of events – music, literature, art – so I encourage anyone in the area to stop by!