February 21, 2010: Somebody get me those Ghost Hunter guys! Dinner at Lumiere! Nebula Noms!

I fear my house has become a massive cold spot for bizarre, inexplicable occurrences clearly supernatural in nature.  It began a few days ago in the form of random manifestations in the various bathrooms that, like crop circles, seemed to contain some sort of otherworldly messages in their design.  I provide photo documentation of the initial phenomen –

Note the way the toilet paper tapers, clearly suggestive of intelligent design.

The next incident was even more  of a shock.  I opened up the linen closet to retrieve a bath towel and discovered its once disorganized contents had been transformed into THIS ordered state –

!!!

Equally mystifying developments have followed.  The dishwasher runs without my loading it or turning it on.  The washer and dryer also seem to operate of their own volition.  And my dog Maximus has started answering to Makka-chan.  What the hell is going on?

I’m frightened.

Erring on the side of caution, I hired an exorcist to come in and rid my home of the underwear-folding spirit while Akemi and I headed out to what is purported by many to be one the city’s top dining destination: Lumiere.  The last time I visited was over a year ago, shortly after then-owner Rob Feenie had left/been forced out (?) of his own  kitchen.  On the night I dined there with Bob Picardo, the place was almost empty – but the quality of the dishes was excellent.  We enjoyed a multi-course meal (I believe we were served seven or eight plates) with nary a misstep in the bunch (with the exception of the venison with chocolate sauce).

Well, last night, I was back to a transformed dining room and menu.  Gone were the elaborate multi-course menu’s that offered anywhere from seven to twelve dishes.  We had a choice of a three or five courses.  Despite Akemi’s protests, I decided to go with the latter.  In addition to a couple of glasses of Riesling (Akemi) and a few cocktails (me), we enjoyed a silky sweet and smooth pumpkin soup with parmesan foam as an amuse-bouche and our first course: Beet & Vodka-Cured Hamachi with sturgeon caviar, baby beets, and horseradish cream. Delightfully delicate and delicious. Akemi was very impressed with the quality of the fish.

Akemi was less impressed with the quality of the butter served with dinner, however, a whipped run-of-the-mill Fraser Valley offering that paled in comparison to what we were served at Bishop’s only night’s earlier.  A minor quibble, especially considering I don’t usually partake, but it’s the small things that make a difference – especially when you’re dining at a place with the fine-dining cachet of a Lumiere.  Next up…

Cornemal-Crusted Qualicum Bay Scallops with apple-truffle coleslaw, brisket, parsnip puree, and scallop just. The scallops were divine, marrying nicely with the tender brisket and sweet parsnip puree. The sour green apple crisps topping the scallops were a bizarre little addition that detracted from the whole. The coleslaw was fine.

For an additional charge, we were able to include an extra course - risotto with shaved black truffles. As much as I love the truffle, I found this dish underwhelming.

Slow Baked Arctic Char with Potato Lyonnaise, Leek Royale, and Beurre Rouge. Three for three on the fish and seafood. The char was perfectly prepared, the accompaniments terrific.

Duo of AAA Dry Aged Beef - red wine braised short rib with potato fondant & rosemary soubise, seared rib eye. I preferred the marbling of the short rib but the rib eye was well-seasoned and tasty. Nowhere near in the same league as Japanese beef but fine nevertheless. That rosemary soubise on the other hand was ghastly. Akemi and I both took a bite and set 'em aside. "Mazui!"as the Japanese would say.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the menu offerings – and even more disappointed when I witnessed the table beside us being served items that hadn’t been made available to us including a fantastic looking pork duo that I would have much preferred over my beef.  At one point, our neighbors were served foie gras.  “It’s like eating a piece of fat,”sniffed one woman at the table and, with that, all four set their forks aside and waited for their dishes to be cleared.  What a waste.

Chocolate fondant with homemade ice cream. A luxurious duo.

The dessert was followed by a little surprise in the form some lovely warm madeleines and passable petits fours.

Then, THAT dessert was followed by a second little surprise in the form of a 20% service charge added to our bill.  Not a reasonable 10% or even 15%.  20%!  Okay, while I understand that the concept of tipping is foreign to many tourists and that restaurants may feel the need to protect their staff (although of the seven restaurants I’ve taken Akemi to since her arrival, only one – Lumiere – has taken this step), I still bristle at being slammed with a 20% service charge – and this from a guy who tends to tip between 20-25%.  It really left a bad taste in my mouth.  But, in all fairness, it could have been that rosemary soubise.

Well, the Nebula nominations have been announced and some familiar names made the list.  Congratulations go out to blog regular Michael A. Burstein whose “I Remember the Future” (one of several wonderful tales collected in his I Remember the Future anthology, a former Book of the Month Club pick) gets the nod in the Short Story category.  Well done, Michael!  Congrats also go out to the immensely talented, always entertaining – and, oh by the way, SGU Creative Consultant – John Scalzi whose The God Engines received a nomination in the Novella category.  John has also been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy  for Zoe’s Tale, alongside two other Book of the Month Club guest authors: the late great Kage Baker for Hotel Under the Sun, and Catherynne M. Valente for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (which you can check out here: http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/fairyland/).  Kage Baker’s The Women of Nell Gwynne’s is also in the running for Best Novella as is “Act One” by SF veteran – and yet another Book of the Month Club guest author – Nancy Kress.  Another past guest author, the weird and wonderful Jeff Vandermeer, gets the nod in the Best Novel category for Finch, while a future guest author – Cherie Priest – receives the nod in the same category for Boneshaker, March’s Book of the Month Club pick.  Hope you’re all making your way through your copies and will be ready for the upcoming discussion!

June 11, 2009: Author Michael Moorcock Answers Your Questions + Supporting Author Catherynne M. Valente’s Latest Project

Michael Moorcock

I started this little book club a couple of years ago for a number of reasons. It was originally envisioned as a way of: 1. Getting some of you SF enthusiasts reading. 2. Sharing my love of reading with likeminded individuals. 3. Introducing readers to authors they may not have otherwise checked out. 4. Spotlighting new or lesser-known writers and giving them whatever exposure this modest blog could provide. Over the course of the club’s run, we’ve read some wonderful books and hosted some equally wonderful authors – a few up-and-comers, many established players in their various genres, and a couple of outright legends in the field. Today’s guest author falls in the latter category.

I’ve been a fan of Michael Moorcock for as long as I can remember and it gives me great pleasure to be able to introduce some new readers to the works of an author who helped shaped not only the Fantasy genre, but SF, comics, and gaming as well. But before I turn this blog over to Mike, I’d like to make mention of another author many of you may be familiar with.

About a year ago, author Catherynne M. Valente kindly took the time to stop by and discuss that month’s Fantasy Book of the Month Club selection – The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden. Those of you who took part may remember the book, a wildly inventive narrative that fashioned tales within tales within tales, or the supporting Q&A (click here to jog your respective memories: http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2008/08/26/august-26-2008-author-catherynne-m-valente-answers-your-questions-and-carl-binder-takes-us-on-a-virtual-tour/). Well, in today’s comments section, blog semi-regular Gen informed us that Catherynne is going through a bit of a difficult time and has come up with a novel way of dealing with the challenge she faces. She has started to write a novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, that she will be offering up free to those interested. Every Monday, a new chapter will be made available on her site. As I said, it’s free, but if you enjoy Catherynne’s work (and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t) and want to support her in this ongoing project, there’s a handy link you can click on to make a donation. As Catherynne writes: “Pay whatever you like for it, whatever you think it’s worth.”: http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/487082.html.  Head on over a check it out.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I proudly turn this blog over to Michael Moorcock…

 

Sparrow_hawk writes: “Questions for Michael Moorcock.:

1. I first read the Elric stories almost 30 years ago. Even though I enjoy them now just as much as I did the first time I read them, I’m a very different person than I was then and my perspective on Elric has changed. Did the way you perceived and portrayed the character of Elric change as you wrote about him over time?”

MM: Yes.  I wrote the first Elric stuff as a late teenager and he reflects all my late teenage angst.  As I matured, ironically he matured to a degree, which was a bit hard to do in retrospect.  Having killed him off in Stormbringer (which was conceived as a novel, by the way, but written in four parts to fit Science Fantasy, which did not run serials) I then had to go back and write a YOUNGER version of a character with whom I continued to identuify!  I could also develop his world and back story a lot, of course, because in this kind of supernatural adventure, derived (by me at least) from the early 19th century gothic novel, the landscape and weather is a reflection of the characters’ inner workings.  Later, I was able to send Elric on his ‘dreamquests’ (see Making of a Sorcerer, the most recent comic original) which also helped explain other aspects of his character, and the last three novels (generally known as the Dreamquest trilogy) which began with The Dreamthief’s Daughter also came up with other ways of developing his character to reflect what you might call my own maturer development as a writer.  Of course, this regular habit of mine to go back to earlier characters has been a help in that it’s a bit more like weaving than telling a story entirely from beginning to end — in a sense more the way memory works, shunting back and forth through past, present and future, nolt necessarily in that order!

“2. There is a line at the very end of Stormbringer that seems very sad to me and John Picacio’s image of Elric in the book fits it perfectly: “And as he died he wept again, for he knew that the fraction of the sword’s soul which was his would never know rest but was doomed to immortality, to eternal struggle.” Could you discuss a little (or a lot!) about your idea of the “Eternal Champion”?”

MM: I actually wrote The Eternal Champion, The Sundered Worlds (which introduced the idea of the Multiverse) and the Elric stories all around the same time, so I was thinking on my feet a bit, not having thought the material through as much as maybe an older writer might have done.  A major influence was Melmoth the Wanderer, the story of a man doomed to immortality until he can shift his burden on to another.  I was swamped not only in Romantic poetry and fiction but also in existentialist work by the likes of Sartre and Camus.  I saw Elric as representing an eternal element in human nature — the wish, in spite of all vicissitudes, to create justice, either through self-sacrifice or through some form of imposition.  All that said, I was writing in a popular form (even if I was trying to make it my own as best I could) so wasn’t about to go into long explanations about Elric’s inner struggles.   But I’ve always believed that it takes  a long, long time to achieve social justice and that ending reflects my belief (and also, I suppose, my patience! ) .

“3. Let’s say that someone, like me for example, loved your writing but had only read some of the Elric books and was interested in reading some of your other Eternal Champion books. There are a lot of them. Where would you recommend that I start?” 

MM: The Eternal Champion books, beginning with The Eternal Champion and the other main books in that set (The Silver Warriors aka Phoenix in Obsidian, The Dragon in the Sword and possibly the graphic novel The Swords of Heaven; The Flowers of Hell).  Then the Hawkmoon books, then the Corum books.  After that you get into the non-S&S stories, such as the Cornelius tetralogy.  Slowly, I hope, the books open up to include a lot of non-fantasy work as well, because my basic argument has been from the beginning that we are ALL the Eternal Champion — we’re all heroes.  And heroines. 

Tammy Dixon writes: “My questions for Mr. Moorcock are: Elric’s world was so detailed with layers upon layers of stories/myths. These stories were written over a period of time. How did you keep all of these details straight? Are there any details that you goofed on, that you can share with us? The back book cover mentioned a movie deal. Any word on that?”

MM: First, the movie.  There have been movie offers made on Elric for some forty years, but I rejected them all, usually very quickly, because I didn’t like what the producer or director wanted to do.  When the Weitz brothers came to me, I liked what they had to say and also by then the LOTR movies had come out showing that your story (in a fantasy film) didn’t have to take second place to the effects.  Effects should help tell the story, not the other way around.  Then we had a contractual glitch which took a long time to resolve and we all went off to do other things.  But Chris Weitz and I are still discussing what to do (after he finishes the sequel to Twilight) assuming that we are still happy with the studio, who have continued to keep the project alive for us, in spite of our delays.  However, should anything emerge which makes me not want to do the movie, I won’t do it until I’m happy with the situation.  It’s important to me to keep Elric true to the original character and idea.

I’m sure there are some minor details I’ve goofed on, but I have a great editor in John Davey, who edited the special omnibus editions of the entire EC cycle in the 90s, and John will pick me up on something he spots.  Mostly, I don’t seem to goof all that much, at least by the time stories get into book form.  I have only ever reread one Elric book (Elric of Melnibone) and have not read the others, relying on some instinctive memory of the character (and the other characters) in the stories.  I don’t know what it is, but somehow I can, by knowing the character, seem to remember events.  There have been a few goofs in for instance the Hawkmoon books, but those were addressed mostly soon after the books were written.  I have a lot of readers who are quick to let me know when I goof!

DrowElf writes: “I was one of those Elric first-timers and even though, as you say, the stories were assembled by publication date, I thought they held together well. At no point was I confused (well, there was one story, I can’t remember which one, when Moonglum was absent at first and I was wondering why but it’s later explained that he was visiting his home town) and it all flowed together nicely.   I have some questions for Michael Moorcock –  How do you think fantasty literature has developed since Elric was first published? At the beginning, it was all Tolkien derivatives but today, you have books like Rothfuss’s lyrical Name of the Wind, Abercrombie’s anti-fantasy First Blade series, and Erikson’s dark Malazan novels to name just a few. How do you think Elric influenced the development of fantasy? How do you view fantasy being written now? And are there any contemporary fantasy authors you enjoy reading?”

MM: Well, this is slightly tricky.  But when I started reading fantasy there wasn’t any Lord of the Rings.  I’d heard of The Hobbit as a children’s book, but it had looked a bit ‘elfy’ to me and I didn’t much care for stories with the average elf, gnome or pixie in them by then (though Tufty the Tree Elf was the first fantasy I read at about age 4).  I was also a bit too old for the Lewis books, though I’d loved the E.Nesbit books, which were his great influence).  I had grown up with Norse myths and legends, Celtirc M&L and later Hindu M&L and so on.  And I loved ERBurroughs’s Martian books, as well as, a bit later, Robert E. Howard.  I had heard that LOTR was going to be published.  People were talking about it in terms of William Morris.  Then I read  an American book by a new writer called Poul Anderson.  Published in 1954, it was called The Broken Sword and was set in the time when Vikings were raiding England and the peoples of Norse legend were being pushed back by the coming of the Christians.

I’ve reviewed it in the reviews section of my own website Moorcock’s Miscellany.  I have to say that when I eventually did read LOTR I found it disappointing.  I’ve read very little of the fiction which derives from Tolkien.  Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Howard and the whole tradition of American fantasy adventure fiction is what chiefly influenced mine.  The author I preferred to Tolkien was Mervyn Peake and he remains my single greatest favourite, though there is almost nothing supernatural in the Peake Titus Groan books which, being published around the same time as Tolkien’s, have often been compared with LOTR, though they have almost nothing in common.  That said, while I have not easily been able to get into Tolkien, I also can’t read H.P.Lovecraft or other fantasy ‘classics’ — I tend, in fact, to like ‘science fantasy’ better — the kind of thing written by China Mieville and M.John Harrison.  Erikson and Co represent a very interesting strand and I have to say I like it better.  Gene Wolfe could also be included, I think. Elric had a pretty strong influence on fantasy fiction, much of it through RPGs and the original D&D book (which listed his mythos) as well as comics and so on.  The whole notion of the multiverse, for instance, made its way into fantasy fiction by that route and there are quite a few Elricoids out there, it seems!   Certainly, there seem to be a lot more troubled albinoes about than when I was a lad…

StarFury writes: “Mr. Moorcock, As a big fan of your work, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have this opportunity. Thank you for making the time to stop by and chat with us.  A couple of Elric-related questions:
– We’ve had some discussion about Stormbringer’s gender and the suggestion that the sword is female – something that was downplayed in later editions. I’m wondering what your initial feelings were in this regard and how the jibe with your present mindset. Stormbringer = male, female, or asexual? And why?”

MM: To be honest, I don’t think I gave Stormbringer one particular gender.  I still don’t think of the sword as male or female but as both.  I didn’t deliberately downplay this idea.  I must unconsciously have made the sword a ‘she’ in earlier stories and I know that in later stories I choose not to give the sword a gender at all.  I’ve written several stories where I haven’t described the gender of a character and you’ll find a fair bit of ambivalent sexuality outside the fantasy stories.  Arioch, even, is described as male but is not always presented in male form.  Jerry Cornelius shifts sexual identity faster than most of us change underwear.

“- When writing your very first Elric story, were you at all concerned that your hero would prove too unlikable to an editor or the general public? Was there ever a point early on when you considered softening Elric to make him more palatable to the consumer or was this never an issue?”

MM: Never an issue.  Elric was based on the hero-villains I’d liked as a boy — including, of course, Byron.  I don’t think it occurred to anyone.  In those days we didn’t really discuss how a character was likely to go down with the public — unless we were coming up with a comic book character when I worked at Fleetway.  Elric came out pretty much exactly as I wanted him to be (influenced, as I’ve said elsewhere, by Zenith the Albino, an adversary of pulp detective Sexton Blake — I’ve talked about him elsewhere, including in the current Del Rey series).
 
“And general questions – There has also been some discussion on the role of women in the fantasy genre. What do you say to those who feel female characters have historically been given short shrift? Is it a result of the genre’s roots as targeting predominantly male readers? Do you think that things have improved re: fantasy’s depiction of women?”

MM: When I first started drafting the Elric stories I was 18 or 19 and was 20 when I did the first one.  That was in 1960.  In those days black people were still called ‘coloured’ by people trying not to sound racist and ‘negro’ was used for similar reasons.  Neither the politics of colour or gender had been greatly discussed.  In the following five years we became increasingly sopihisticated in our realisation of what stereotyping did and how it was a bad idea.  The first Elric stories had women who were mostly ‘handbags’ (as we now call men who are an accessory to a woman…) but I soon began to develop women who drove the dynamic of the story.  I have always hated stereotypes and worked against them.  I had trouble at Fleetway (IPC — UK’s largest periodical publisher) because of my refusal to use stereotypes.  In fact, in some of my early criticism I discussed how the form itself is often the message, almost demanding that the author employ stereotypes.  The medium really can be the message.  So you’ll find a lot of my work goes against stereotyping after those early stories.  If I could go back and change them, that female stereotyping is the one thing I’d  change.

I think the depiction of women has improved across pretty much all genre fiction.

“You’ve written for both SF and Fantasy. Do you prefer writing for one genre over the other? And why do you think it is that Fantasy outsells SF so considerably?”

MM: Well, I’ve written in most genres and also written a fair bit of literary fiction.  I’ve always said that I pick the form that best suits the idea.  At present I’m writing a new Elric story, a ‘straight’ realist story that’s pretty autobiographical, a satirical pulp detective story (actually it’s more homage than satire), a novel that is part fantasy/part autobiography, an article about my relationship with London for The Financial Times and I’m working on another story which might come out ‘straight’ or fantastic.  I’ve done that since the beginning of my career, just as I prefer to tell some stories in graphic novel form, for instance.  I think contemporary fantasy has largely taken over from the historical fantasy (pirate bodice rippers, say) as well as other related to genres, so it appeals to a much wider audience than SF.  SF has always tended to have a mainly male audience whereas contemporary Fantasy (with its wider base) clearly appeals much more to women AND men.

“- Given the opportunity in some alternate reality, what book series or character not your own would you have loved to have written?”

MM: Well, Elizabeth Bowen is my ‘default’ favourite modern novelist and I think she’s the writer whose talent I most envy.  I actually haven’t read her fantasy short stories (she’s primarily a literary novelist) but I’d certainly like to have written some of her novels.  I also like the novelists Elizabeth Taylor, Colette, Angus Wilson and, as mentioned, Mervyn Peake.  Perhaps J.G.Ballard is my favourite writer of science fantasy.  You’d have to BE him to write like him and I’m not sure I’d want to go through his life. 

Tangar_Ree writes: “And questions for Michael Moorcock -Can you tell us about your works in progress. What are you toiling away on at present?” 

MM: Oops.  I’ve just spoken a little about work in progress.  I’ve started writing a fresh series of Elric stories set at the time when he and Moonglum are wandering the Young Kingdoms. The first of these was Black Petals in Weird Stories, the second is called Red Pearls and I’m doing it for a S&S anthology.  The Sanctuary of the White Friars is a three book series which uses a lot of straight autobiography but is set in what was a real thieves’ sanctuary off Fleet Street in London into the early 19th century. The story mixes real elements and straight elements and in some ways looks to the theological fantasies of Charles Williams (the ‘other’ Inkling, whom I greatly admire) for inspiration.  Stalking Balzac is also autobiographical but deals pretty much wholly with my relationship with a very dear friend, Tom Disch, who died last year.  Another story, provisionally called Curare is my homage to Sexton Blake (aforementioned pulp detective) and Zenith, among others.  Various other shorts in the works.    I’ve also been in the process for some time of writing a memoir of Mervyn Peake.

“And what can you tell us about the upcoming Elric movie? How involved will you be in its development?”

MM: If it comes off, I’ll be very involved.  If I’m not involved, it won’t come off. 

The English Assassin writes: “Hello Michael, I’m happy to hear that an Elric movie has finally been given the greenlight. Which brings me to my question: When will an updated version of Jerry Cornelius hit the big screen?”

MM: Nice idea.  I’ve thought of that a bit lately — perhaps because someone’s doing a remake of the movie Jim Cawthorn and I wrote in the 70s, The Land That Time Forgot!  It would be nice to do a good Cornelius movie today.  Something a bit less simple minded than The Matrix? 

Eric Stewart writes: “Here are my questions for Mr Moorcock: 1. How did Elric get Stormbringer?”

MM: That’s described in Elric the Making of a Sorcerer (DC Comics) and in Elric of Melnibone.  To say anything else would be a spoiler, I think.

“2 Why does Stormbringer take souls?”

MM: To feed Elric and maintain their symbiotic relationship.

“3. Has Elric signed an evil pact that prevents him from getting rid of Stormbringer?”

MM: Not exactly. 

“4. Elric so far seems to abandon every women he gets involved with, is there a particular reason? Is Stormbringer a jealous sword?”

MM: Only, I think, in the first stories does he do that.  But mostly he doesn’t stay with them because of what happens to most women who are around him.  You could say that Stormbringer’s jealous.  But Stormbringer’s really more ambiguous than that.

“5. What inspired you to create this character?”

MM: I wanted to write a fantasy character who was as different from other fantasy characters as possible.

“6. How old were you when you wrote the first Elric story?”

MM: I was 18 when I first sketched the character and first story out but I didn’t write the story until commissioned to write it by Ted Carnell, editor of Science Fantasy magazine when I was 20.

EndofTimes writes: “Hi, Mike. Thanks for coming by and answering our questions. I’m wondering if you have a preference in terms of genre (fantasy vs. scifi) or media (novels vs. comic books)? If so, why? Do you feel that one gives you a freedom to pursue certain stories? And, finally, an plans to write for film? Like, say, an Elric movie script?”

MM: I don’t much like writing for film.  Too many other people involved!  As I said elsewhere, I tend to pick the form which best suits the story.  This is probably noticeable mostly in the US in The Best of Michael Moorcock which has just appeared.  That shows a pretty wide variety of different kinds of fiction.  I really do get ideas which are best suited to one form or another and sometimes will even change genres when I’m part-way through if it seems the story will be better suited to another form.

GateTech334 writes: “I really enjoyed this book. I honestly didn’t think I would because I’ve always been more of a fan of what you referred to as more traditional fantasy, but I fell in with the Elric character. I’ve already picked up the next two volumes and look forward to reading them all eventually.  If I could ask the author a question, I’d like to know the genesis of the Elric character. He makes mention of his inspiration for the albino character in the book’s introduction, but I’m wondering if there were parts of Elric’s character that were inspired by real individuals? Maybe a bit of himself?”

MM: Yes, there was a lot of the young me in the first Elric stories and I have tended to identify with him all my life, which is probably why I’ve written so much about him over the years.  The only other character for whom I feel exactly the same bond is Jerry Cornelius, who came out of Elric in the first place!

DasNdanger writes: “First, let me say that I am thrilled to finally have discovered your books, and your characters. The stories flowed with such ease I almost forgot I was reading, and the characters really resonated with me. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to share with your readers, both here and elsewhere. Thanks you.  Now, a few questions:

1. Mike, you have said that Elric very much reflects the man you were at the time of your writing these stories, and the character of Moonglum was inspired by a dear friend of yours. What about the antagonists – Theleb K’aarna, and Jagreen Lern – did anyone or anything in particular inspire their creation?”

MM: Good question.  I think the villains were more complilations of people I disliked than Elric, for instance.  I have based certain villains on other people I’ve truly disliked, but none of Elric’s antagonists I can think of are based on real people.

“2. You describe the Melnibonéans as “a race without conscience or moral creed, unneedful of reasons for their acts of conquest, seeking no excuses for their natural malicious tendencies. But Elric…was not like them.” Is it this difference in Elric – call it a fledgling conscience, or sense of morality – that fated him to be the Eternal Champion, or something else?”

MM: It’s one of the reasons.  But the Melniboneans weren’t always as I described them when the first stories open.  In other stories I show how they gradually became as they are, so it’s fair to argue that Elric might even be a throwback to a different time.

But it seems that the Eternal Balance chooses its champions for mysterious reasons!

“3. Elric is a character in conflict, full of contrasts. One that stood out to me was, despite his gloomy, brooding nature, he often seemed quite optimistic that things would work out in his favor. At times this came across as something akin to a childlike naiveté, as if he could not – or perhaps would not – anticipate what could go wrong. Was this due to over-confidence on his part, or idealism, or just plain stupidity?”

MM: Arrogance, mostly, I’d say.  Also I’d argue that anyone who claims to be a pessimist doesn’t usually involve themselves in action.  Elric’s actions often contradict his own assessment of his character.

“4. I’ve heard writers say that sometimes their characters ‘hijack’ the story and take on a life of their own, perhaps taking the story in a direction they hadn’t intended, or surprising them with a revelation that they hadn’t expected. Has this ever happened to you, or do you have a fairly strong outline for what you want for both the characters and the story that keeps everything in check?”

MM: It happens  lot.  I create the character, then the story, then the plot.  Frequently the characters take the story over and drive it in an entirely different direction to the one I planned.” 

“5. Hand-written or typed – which allows thoughts to flow more freely when writing?”

MM: Both — depending on where I am or what I prefer at the time.  I’ll frequently start a story in longhand and finish it on the keyboard, but I’ll often go back and forth, also.  I’ll start typing, then find I prefer to do it in longhand for a while.  One thing I’m no good at however is dictation.

“Mike, thanks again for taking this time to share your thoughts and your creations with us!”
 
MM: You’re welcome!

KellyK writes: “Joe, thanks for introducing me to the Elric saga. Yet one more author to add to my growing list. And thanks to Michael Moorcock for 1. Agreeing to answer our questions and more importantly 2. Writing such a great series. I honestly cannot wait to read the rest.And while I’m thanking people, thanks to artist John Picacio for the beautiful artwork.Okay, some questions for Mr. Moorcock:

1. Judging from the sheer volume of work produced and the fact that you wrote one of your first Elric story in a day(!) I’d say its safe to say you were a fairly prolific writer. My question is – Would you still consider yourself a prolific writer?”

MM: I probably am, by most standards.  Most of my fantasy novels were written in 3 days.  As I got older it started to take a week and the last ‘just Elric’ novels I wrote took three weeks.  So it’s evident I’m slowing down.  But I’m still writing an average of two novels a year or more in terms of volume. Which is considered prolific, though it feels pretty damn’ lazy to me!

“2. One question that comes up now and again when authors comes to visit concerns their writing process. Some writers are early risers while others are night owls. Some (like Stephen King) work to raucuous background music while others prefer silence. What is your writing process? Day? Night? Loud? Quiet? And when it comes to writing, do you plan out your stories in any detail before starting or are you a make it up as you go along type?”

MM: Again, it depends very much on the work being done.  But I used to write a regular day with an hour off for lunch, developed when I had young children and tight deadlines.  Same with music.  I generally do play music but sometimes it will be loud and raucous, sometimes popular, sometimes classical.  I tend to have a bunch of favourites I’ll play, though.  Other times I listen to BBC Radio Four which is mostly a news and features channel.  I’ve done this since I was a kid. If I plan stories in detail it usually means that I’ll change the story in a lot of ways before it’s complete.  I’ll often have a dozen or more plots for the same story before it eventually gets where it’s supposed to go. 
 
“3. It has just been brought to my attention that you maintain a web presence (which is great). I’m wondering what your take is on how growing technology has affected the face of publishing. With more and more small publishers shutting down and genre magazines ceasing publication, what can authors do to keep their work relevant in the face of rapid change?”

MM: I think web magazines are, in some form or other, going to take over where conventional magazines and publishers leave off.  I think there are some superb ‘smaller’ publishers around, these days, which use the web to their great advantage.  As larger publishing conglomerates start collapsing under their own weight, I suspect we’ll see more and more successful ‘niche’ publishers, who can take advantage of IT to grow.  Authors can start thinking in terms of using YouTube, say, to bring mixed media to their storytelling methods.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff being done — and to be done.

Bailey writes: “I remember reading the Elric books many years ago and being fascinated by them.  Have you gone back and read them recently?”

MM: No.  I’ve only ever read Elric of Melnibone all the way through, about nine years ago.

“What did you think, would you change anything if you were writing them today?”

MM: Some of the stereotypical stuff.

“Has your outlook on life changed significantly since then?”

MM: I don’t think so.  It’s become more sophisticated, I hope, but I still feel passionate about much the same things, including social injustice. 

Drldeboer writes: “For Michael Moorcock: Thanks so VERY much for offering to answer questions.
1) Are you still critical of fiction writers who push an “agenda” with their stories, such as political views or deliberate stereotypes (ie Jewish characters)?” 

MM: Well, I prefer to leave as much as possible to the reader’s interpretation.  I don’t much like reading most fiction where the author has a clear agenda, I must say.  I have to say I hate racial or gender stereotyping, so I wouldn’t mind a character being of any race or gender preference as long as the story isn’t used to attack such a character.

“2) Do you still think fantasy lit should have meaning, and not just be escapism, or do you think both have their merits?”

MM: Both have their merits.  I tend not to like portentous fiction, as so much sf use4d to be, which pretends to have meaning when it’s really just a bit of escapism.  I don’t write much that is JUST escapism, but I don’t mind readers reading my stuff just as escapism if that’s what suits them.  I never expect readers to have to analyse what I write.

“3) Many of your characters have the initials “J.C.”, is there a reason behind that?”
 
MM: Pure coincidence, though much has been made of it.  Many of my friends — John Carnell, Jim Cawthorn, John and Judith Clute, John Coulthart etc. etc. — have those initials and the James Colvin pseudonym I sometimes wrote under was given me by — John Carnell.  I DO tend to pick names with that resonance, but not deliberately. 

Joseph Kiss and Jack Karaquazian are two more.
 
THANKS EVERYONE FOR ALL YOUR QUESTIONS.  IF YOU HAVE ANY OTHERS, YOU’RE WELCOME TO VISIT MY WEBSITE ‘MOORCOCK’S MISCELLANY’ ( http://www.multiverse.org/) which has an ongoing Q&A thread.

And thanks again, Joe.

All best,

Mike

August 26, 2008: Author Catherynne M. Valente Answers Your Questions – And Carl Binder Takes Us On A Virtual Tour

Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne M. Valente

Today, it gives me great pleasure to turn this blog over to Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden. If you didn‘t get the chance to participate in this month‘s Fantasy BOTMC discussion, all is not lost. Both The Orphan‘s Tales: In the Night Garden and The Orphan‘s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice are available for order. And, if you have any further questions for Catherynne, head on over to her blog at: http://blog.catherynnemvalente.com/. Finally, a big thank you to Catherynne for managing to squeeze us in between all of the writing and world travel.

Caitlyanna writes: “I do have two questions for Catherynne M. Valente:
Question #1: What inspired you, if anything, to write this particular story?

I read Arabian Nights for the first time since I was a child in the summer of 2002. It was a relatively new translation, Hussein Haddawy’s, rather than the typical Burton collection of whitewashing, additions, and bowdlerizations. I was fascinated by the structure–how each tale broke from the previous one, to give the sense of a whole, though Arabian Nights has given us many individual tales. I had just graduated from college with a degree in Classical Linguistics I thought entirely useless, and had a bunch of mythology banging around in my head. I was daydreaming on my couch in the sweltering air-conditioningless Rhode Island summer and I thought: I wonder if I could put together everything I know about mythology and folklore and language and storytelling and make a completely new myth cycle? Hot on the heels of that my brain piped up: what if all the stories in Arabian Nights were really just one big story, not individual ones at all?

Brains do things like that to you sometimes. Dastardly things.

So I decided I’d try to write a few stories like that and give them to my niece for Christmas. I’d laminate them so she could get jam and mud all over it. I wrote her a story about a prince and a goose. And the thing is, the story just kept opening up in my head, like an origami box. It just grew and grew, and I suppose in some sense I grew up with it. I was barely 23 when I began it, and 29 when the last book was published. I lived all over the world while I worked on it–Rhode Island, Scotland, California, Japan, Virginia, and finally Ohio. Everything I loved and learned went into it.

My niece never got her laminated pages. But the book is dedicated to her.

Question #2: Did you write each individual story then piece them together or did you write, or plan, them already intertwined?”

I’m a very organic writer. That sounds like pretentious writer-speak, but what I mean is that like a plant, my books just start with something really small, a “What if I…?” seed, and then they grow slowly and weirdly from that. Unpredictably. They snarl and warp and wither, groundhogs eat the fruit, they get meshed up with other plants and invade other gardens, they sprawl and shrink. And I never know when I begin what it will look like at the end. I started with that prince and that goose, and it spooled out from there. I wrote those books from page one to page 500, completely linearly, in the order you read it. I try to proceed through my books the way a reader would, so that I take the same narrative journey they do.

Plus, I’m a terrible magpie. If I wrote the fun parts and promised to fill in the rest later, I’d never fill in the rest.

So the answer is, I didn’t plan anything ahead of time–I just let go and ran with it, spun around three times and pinned a tail on the computer.

Thornyrose writes: “Actually, Ms. Valente’s website has such a comprehensive FAQ, I’m almost at a loss to come up with anything new. But I will venture a couple. First, I see you’ve travelled to Japan. Have you travelled extensively elsewhere, and what countries/places would you like to visit if you had the time and means? Secondly, if you had the chance to travel to ancient Alexandria, and visit the Library, whose works would you seek out, and why? Thank you very much for your time and participation here, and more thanks for producing such an enchanted novel.”

I lived in Japan for two years–I also went to university in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I’ve lived all over the US. I was born in Seattle, went to high school in central California, did the first half of my degree in San Diego, and lived in Rhode Island, Virginia, Cleveland, and San Luis Obispo. I’ve also traveled quite a bit in Europe and a bit in the Caribbean. A classics girl will have to visit Greece and Italy! I have an irritating case of wanderlust, and there’s few places I don’t want to go. I hope to travel to Russia soon for research for a novel I’m working on, and I’d love to visit Argentina and North Africa.

And what a question! I suppose I’d first head for the lost works of Sappho and Euripides, and just roll around with the Greeks like a happy kitten. I love both their work, in the original they are so rich and gorgeous. It’s tragic we have so little of Sappho, and the hints of missing Euripides plays are fascinating. But then, I’m the kind of geek that gets teary-eyed over lines of poetry in a dead language.

ChrisT. writes: “This wasn’t your typical fantasy novel and I mean that in a very good way. So I was wondering what kind of works influenced you in your writing? And what can you tell us about the second book in the series? How did The Orphan’s Tales differ from your previously published works?”

Well, I mentioned Arabian Nights. Also Milorad Pavic’s novels (particularly Landscape Painted with Tea) made me think about similies in a new way–he’s a Serbian writer, and though the books are translated into English, you can see through the similes that he is functioning in a very different culture. I liked being able to see that through the comparisons a culture finds it logical to make. A good example of this is that, in English, we use the word “fair” as a synonym for beautiful. It denotes pale skin, high-class, old-fashioned beauty, because for a woman to have fair skin once meant she didn’t have to work in the fields. But in Russian, they use the word “prekrasnaya” as the same sort of synonym, which has as its root the word for the color red–because in their culture, to have ruddy, red skin meant a girl was healthy and hardy. It’s logical, just a different logic. I tried to do the same with the similies in the Orphan’s Tales, which all serve to illuminate the culture of the particular tale they appear in in some way.

The Orphan’s Tales differs from my previous novels in that it is, believe it or not, much more linear and accessible, with a much stronger plot than anything else I had done. My first three novels (The Labyrinth, The Book of Dreams, and The Grass-Cutting Sword) are very much based in the language they use–that was the seed, if I can recall the earlier organic idea. they aren’t really too concerned with a strong plotline. I love them deeply and am proud of them, but they are, well, as the reviews said, “not for everyone.” I heard that phrase so many times a friend of mine sent me a picture of a gravestone with “Catherynne M. Valente–NOT FOR EVERYONE” engraved on it.

KellyK writes: “Were you inspired by an specific myths or legends? There were times when some of the stories felt like fresh reimaginations of existing fairy tales. And – I don’t know if this was already asked but what was your writing process in putting this story together? Did you write it as it appears on the page or did you write one story from beginning to end, then go back and write another and weave them through each other once you were done? Were any sort of charts involved? (I’m not kidding)”

I was inspired by every myth or legend or fairy tale I’d ever read. Several of the stories are deliberate mash-ups of familiar ones, new musculature on old bones. I wanted to break down fairy tales into their smallest parts, and then build them up again all out of order, in to things that spoke to what I felt it was to be human, to be a woman, to be old, to be a man, to be lost, to be ugly, to be abandoned. We live in a new world–we need new myths. The Tale of the Office Worker, the Tale of the Freelance Writer. But the old ones pack a punch for a reason, and I love taking apart their fighting styles and using them for my own nefarious ends.

And this is the hard part to believe: I never took a single note or made a chart. Every time I sat down to do it, reasoning that it would be much easier than keeping it all in my head, I just felt like it would take less time to write the damn book than to chart it out. I keep most things in my head–I’ve had so many data loss incidents with my computer I’m a little scared of taking notes. At least any data loss involving my head would be more spectacular than a blue screen of death.

Other people have made charts on various wikis though–and I’m terribly impressed with them. Maybe someday I will have a time machine that will allow me to reach into the future and use the charts before the book is done. That would be pretty sweet. Of course, then I’d know how the book ended, and I’d never write it. So keep your time machines to yourself, Science!

Antisocialbutterflie writes: “1) You had dozens of story threads that you had to keep track of and tie up at the end. How did you keep them all straight? Flow charts, venn diagrams? I kept seeing that scene from A Beautiful Mind where the room was filled with highlighted newspapers connected by red string.

It’s more like the scene from A Beautiful Mind where he looks at the birds in the courtyard and sees equations linking their movements. I was driving from Virginia to Ohio–a trip I used to make a lot, and along the lines of the road at night I could see the story unpacking itself–all of the sudden I knew in a rush how to start the sequel, who the girl in the garden was, how it all connected. When I got to Ohio I sat in the car for half an hour scribbling it onto the back of my interstate map so I wouldn’t forget it. I worked out a lot of those books driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I stare off into space and I see a story unfolding, bit by bit, opening up. I write by my headlights–I can only see what’s right in front of me, what I’m writing today, maybe tomorrow if I’m lucky. But I can see, dimly, how that bird out there connects to all the others, and what it needs to accomplish right now to make that connection.

2) I was really impressed by your Black Mare/Star mythology. What were your influences?

Well, the Night Mare is a real figure from Celtic myth, bed of bones and all. I discovered it while reading Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, which for all its issues is a beautiful book. The Star mythology just sort of grew out of my head, to be honest. I love, and have always loved, to think of celestial bodies as actual bodies–Ama-Terasu, the Japanese sun goddess, the man in the moon. I am in love with human physicality, and I wanted to make the sky a living thing, to make the stars not just something you watch, but something that watches you back.

At the same time, I didn’t want to create a religion so pervasive and undeniable that everyone believes it without question, a common trope in epic fantasy. So people fight over their gods and argue about what they mean, what they want–and the gods are just as lonely and confused as the rest of us. I suppose I wanted my mythology to reflect how I see the world–everyone’s just searching for the object of their obsession, whatever that is, and I don’t think gods are exempt.

3) This is my random stupid personal question. It is intended to get a little peek inside your head but if you find it offensive, feel free to ignore it entirely. Do you find that you have difficulty answering questions with a simple yes or no? Do you feel compelled to elaborate on everything?

Yes.

Beverly writes: “I was entranced by your book. How did you come up with the idea to write a book of interrelating stories? Did you have to do much research to come up with all the different characters and mythologies?”

Since I already talked about the beginning of the book, I’ll just speak to the research here. That Classics degree turned out not to be so useless after all. Since I’ve been obsessed with fairy tales and myth since I learned to read, to some extent I’d been doing research all my life. But I did do a tremendous amount of linguistic research, to ground each culture in the real world, and delved into a lot of the more obscure folkloric systems–Slavic, southeast Asian, central African. I also spent a lot of time coming up with names–they all have some particular meaning relevant to their stories. Names are hugely important to me. The first thing I do in any story is find the right names for the characters–those names inform the whole story for me.

Airelle writes:
-How long did it take to write this book?”

Six years, from page one to the last page of the sequel. But that was certainly not non-stop. I wrote three other novels and four books of poetry in the meantime. I suppose, if I add it up, it was probably something like a year of continuous work.

“-Was there a reason the boy prince and the girl with the birthmark eyes had no names in the story?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked this question! No one has asked me this yet!

First, the girl does have a name. It’s revealed in the sequel. I agonized over whether to give the boy one–he had one for about a year, but I cut it. Firstly because in all the Western story tales the girls have these outlandish names: Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella. But the boys are just the Prince.

More importantly, I wanted their relationship to have an archetypal quality to it. If they have names they’re characters, but a boy and a girl…we;;, we’ve all been boys and girls. We’ve all been lonely and tried to make friends with the weird kid in the playground, or been the weird kid ourselves. We’ve all tried to be beautiful for someone, to tell a magical story about ourselves, so that the pretty, beloved kid will stay and be our friend. That sort of thing is universal, and I wanted this boy and this girl to be all those boys and girls, too.

On The Church of Dead Girls:

Thornyrose writes: “Indeed, the writing style began to positively irk me, which made it increasingly difficult to stay in the story.”

Answer: What was it about the writing style that you found so off-putting?

Antisocialbutterflie writes: “The narrator was an interesting thing to digest. He was, in my mind, very androgynous. Given all the books with heroines that we have been reading, I though the narrator was a woman until the character was finally described as a “he.””

Answer: That’s very interesting. I never envisioned the narrator as a woman but, now that you mention it, why not?

Drldeboer writes: “I spent most of the book thinking the narrator was going to be the killer, and was a bit disappointed when he wasn’t.”

Answer: Ha! So did I! I was expecting a twist that never came – which, I think, is actually a good thing.

Allie writes: “I found it really weird that Sadie would hang out with the narrator of the story. It really bugged me. I was fine with her hanging out with Ryan, though.”

Answer: I actually found it bizarre that this young girl would be hanging out with either them. After all, one (the narrator) is middle-aged while the other (Ryan) though younger, is still an adult. I guess it wasn’t so much the fact that she had befriended these older men and they took care of her while her father was out (the narrator essentially babysits her) but more their attitude toward her and the fact that they spent so much time with her that I found kind of creepy.

Reminder! You have until tomorrow night to post your questions for Andy Mikita. I’ll be sending them his way on Wednesday morning because he starts prep on the series finale, Enemy at the Gate, on Friday.

Today’s video: As per your request = A video tour of Stage 6, the Atlantis standing sets, hosted by none other than writer-executive producer Carl Binder. Part 1.  (Hmmm.  Googlevideo seems to be a little finicky today and the file is too big for photobucket, so check back later tonight when it will hopefully be working). 

Today’s mailbag:

Ryan writes: “What is with all the binders on the shelf in the writers room, do each of them hold a script of a previous episode?”

Answer: Yes. The shelves lining the walls of the writers’ room held every script ever written for the Stargate franchise, from SG-1’s Children of the Gods to the latest Atlantis. Since the video was taken, however, we ran out of room and ended up transforming Paul Mullie’s office into a repository for the Atlantis archives. Now, whenever I need to fact-check, all I have to do is stroll in, step all over his couch, and consult the appropriate script.

Wonderingbrit writes: “Where do the cast do the ‘Read-Throughs’ then?”

Answer: They don’t. Not anymore. When we did do read-throughs, we held them in the conference room (video tour – first door on the right).

Shippychick writes: “Who’s desk is the neatest and who’s is the worst?”

Answer: Neatest = Carl Binder’s desk. Worst = mine.

MysteryMadchen writes: “In your personal opinion, do you think that with a large fan outcry, Atlantis could be saved?”

Answer: As much as empathize with the fans and admire their determination, I believe that it’s a done deal. That said, if ratings continue to rise and the series finishes strong, I can think of no better going away present for the cast and crew. And maybe, just maybe, while it wouldn’t get the show uncancelled, it might cause “some” to regret seeing the show end. So get out there, find someone with a Nielsen box, and go watch the rest of the season at their place!

MysteryMadchen also writes: “Have you guys seen a large influx of protesters out side your doors and the studio since the announcement?”

Answer: Not really. I thought we had one yesterday, but it turned out be just some guy watering the bushes outside the gate.

MysteryMadchen also writes: “What is the mood in the office and studio since most of the writers and producers are going to be out of a job?”

Answer: That’s not true. We’re all awaiting word on how things will shake out for next year.

MysteryMadchen also writes: “How is the atmosphere on stage considering the actors are now with out there jobs? Is it a sad place to be now that they know the news? Are emotions running wild?”

Answer: No wild emotions. Everyone has been very professional. Jason M. is single-handedly ensuring that the mood on-set remains upbeat.

Paloosa writes: “I was wondering, if the last episode shot finishes filming at the end of September, how many more weeks of post production will you have until the final episode, sadly, is completed and you can finally relax?”

Answer: Probably not until mid to late December.

Thesp3aker writes: “If the first movie’s a success, how long do you think future movies would keep being produced for?”

Answer: Indefinitely. So long as they’re profitable, I can’t see any reason why MGM would want to stop making them.

J Williams writes: “Why is your calender set to October, two months before October.”

Answer: Ah, eagle eye! The calendar is set to October because that particular video was taken in October of last year.

Jmanzione writes: “Is a new SG1 movie script in the writing stage at this point?”
Answer: No. It’s in the “thinking about” stage.

DasNDanger writes: “How does it make you feel, knowing that I roll out of bed and check your blog first thing, before I even eat, or say ‘morning’ to Mr. Das, or feed the cats?”

Answer: Uh…good?

Shadow Step writes: ““”On a different note, could you explain why David Nykl gets a credit for a 3 second walk past?” Answer: Sure. Because his scene was cut for time.”

But why retain him in the credits?”

Answer: Because he did work on the episode despite the fact that his big scene didn’t make the final cut.

Shadow Step also writes: “Btw do you wear high heels or were your secretary following you around the production shoot?”

Answer: I prefer low-heeled pumps.

Ladyflowdi writes: “When Rodney is telling Keller about his mother, and he makes the comment that he doesn’t understand her… I’ve taken it to mean that either he was very, very little when she died, or else she was speaking to him in another language (French?).”

Answer: Neither. I believe this is an indication that McKay’s memories are fading. He remembers her talking but doesn’t know what she is saying because he can no longer recall her words.

Leila writes: “For the record, Joe I don’t think that you knew. And even if… if you knew then how could we be angry at you keeping it a secret. It’s call confidentiality.”

Answer: I can assure you that if that was the case and I did know beforehand, I certainly wouldn’t be making it a point of saying I didn’t.

MrsB108 writes: “1)Does “Inquisition” show us the inner workings of Sheppard’s thoughts and well-kept guilt?

2)In “The Queen”, does Teyla’s abilities exceed what is expected of her?”

Answers: 1) No. You’ll have to wait until Remnants for that. 2) Very much so. Yes.

Liam writes: “From what source do you get the questions to which you respond in your blog at this site? Is it from comments submitted here or elsewhere (and/or other sites like Gateworld)?”

Answer: I pick and choose from among the questions posted here.

Liam also writes: “Also, will any or some group of the writers/producers/directors be attending the April 2009 convention in Vancouver?”

Answer: The producers are rarely invited to those things so I wouldn’t know.

FatesPleb writes: “To keep the flames burning in these dark times, would you tell your avid fans a basic plot summary for the episode that could have been – hexed.”

Answer: If you remind me again, in the coming days I’ll give you a rundown of some of the story ideas that didn’t make the cut…

August 18, 2008: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden

A young girl, shunned by her community, is forced to spend her days wandering the grounds of a palace garden. Considered a demon by many on account of the mysterious dark tattooing that covers her eyelids, hers is a lonely existence – until the day she is approached by a curious young boy. Touched by his kindness, she tells him that the tattoos are the work of a spirit. They are actually finely-scripted verses and song: “Together they make a great magic, and when the tales are all read out, and heard end to shining end, to the last syllable, the spirit will return and judge me.” The boy begs to hear the tales and she agrees, telling him the story of Prince Leander who runs afoul of a frightening old crone who tells him a story of her youth, when she was imprisoned with her grandmother who told her a story of her own…

Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden offers stories within stories within stories, fashioning an intricate web of myths and fairytales that weave in and out of a narrative that continuously circles back in on itself. The tales are at once familiar and unique, a colorful mix of reinvented European and Eastern lore. The story-telling structure is rich and complex and, as someone who forgets his co-workers names on a daily basis, I’ll admit to having been confused at times, especially early on when I found myself having to backtrack and re-read certain passages in order to keep everything straight. But a little patience and perseverance paid off and, eventually, it became easier to track the various stories and characters. The brevity of the individual chapters (no more than five pages in length) also helped put the various narrative pieces in perspective. If you’re looking for light summer reading, this aint it. But if you enjoy sophisticated storytelling, challenging imborglios, and fox-headed pirates, then The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden is for you.

Of the various tales that run through this book the melancholy Firebird’s Tale and unsettling Assassin‘s Tale were among my favorites. I was also intrigued by the relationship between the enigmatic young storyteller and the boy who befriends her, especially when the boy’s domineering older sister attempts to put a stop to their clandestine meetings. Which brings me to my only real problem with the book – the way it ends. Or, to be more precise, the way it doesn’t end. The author leaves us hanging but, thankfully, not for long as I’ve since discovered that the second and concluding book in this duology, The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice is already available.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t make mention of Michael Kaluta’s brilliant illustrations. Paired with Valente’s lyrical prose, they lend this edition the sense of a treasured tome unearthed in some dark attic corner. Magical.

So, those are my preliminary thoughts. What did everyone else think? Get your comments and questions in for author Catherynne M. Valente who’ll be dropping by later this week.

Speaking of dropping – the expected ratings downtick wasn’t as bad as I assumed it would be. Despite the fact that we were up against live same-day late-day coverage of Pakistan vs. Bornea in men’s field hockey, Ghost in the Machine pulled in a 1.2.

This morning, we were discussing the Olympics and talk turned to that ridiculous fast walk event. You know, the one where the participants appear to be walking but not really. Well, apparently there’s a whole technique to the fast-funny-walk and, after some heated back and forth, we decided to put our respective fast-funny-walking techniques to the test. Check out the video for the race highlights. Sadly, Special Features Producer Ivon Bartok, whose fast-funny-walk technique I liken to a Martini-toting Dean Martin hurriedly sashaying to catch a bus, was not among the participants. The race itself was not much of a contest but I’ve since filed an official protest against Alex Levine’s illegal traipsing. Watch the video all the way through and you will see me demonstrate the proper technique. Note: It’s all in the wrists!

Mailbag:

Cat4444 writes: “Oh, and how come Jelly’s leg is shaved?”

Answer: She went in for her dental and they had to put her under. That’s where they attached the IV.

Telekineticforceblast writes: “Question regarding “Ghost in the Machine”:

are they just going to leave her out there?”

Answer: Yep.

Belouchi writes: “1. So including Dr.Weir there were only 9 surviving replicators aboard that aurora class ship at the end of BAMSR? I would imagine a ship like that would contain more.

2. Will their Aurora class ship that we see grounded on the planet where they meditated ever gonna be found and used by our heroes or will it be forgotten just like the TRIA?”

Answers: 1. Only 9. Although it could have held more, they were the only survivors. 2. We don’t have access to that particular ship. As for the Tria, it’s not forgotten – only inactive.

Shawna Buchanan writes: “Why is it that the good guys are such pricks?”

Answer: The Atlantis expedition is asked just that question (more or less) in season 5’s Inquisition.

Ecoharmony writes: “How do you tell Bubba from Jelly?”

Answer: Unlike, say, babies or small children, dogs are fairly easy to tell apart if you spend some time with them.

Anais33 a ecrit: “1)Pour l’instant quel est la chose la plus horrible que vous avez manger?
2)Combient de scènes par jours peuvent tournée les acteurs de stargate atlantis?”

Reponses: 1) Un sandwich à graisse de poulet. 2) Cela dépend de la longueur des scènes.

Translation: 1) Grossest thing I’ve ever eaten = a chicken fat sandwich. 2) How many scenes can the actors shoot in a day? That depends on the length of the scenes.

Tina writes: “…the hardest thing to accept is why the team were even forgiving of the “new” Weir, considering how close she had come to destroying Atlantis…”

Answer: First of all, she was not the one threatening Atlantis. It was the other replicators. And while she may have been indirectly responsible for what happened, she didn’t have an active hand in attempting to sink the city. Secondly, whether or not Sheppard and the team actually fully trusted her is open to debate. In an early draft of the script, Weir doesn’t know what lies on the other side of the gate and steps through trusting our team. The fact that she sends the message back, all clear, in that case I thought made her sacrifice all the more poignant.

Tina also writes: “Teyla told her friend, I think the episode was Sunday, that she had a crush on someone from Atlantis and hoped he would make a move. But we are now to believe that Teyla at the same time also had a sparkle in her eye for Kanaan.”

Answer: People aren’t as simplistic as that. They can have their eye on someone without realizing that their love of their life could be right under their noses the whole time. I have many friends who ended up marrying a good friend in whom they’d hitherto shown no romantic interest.

Tamijb writes: “When is Lexa Doig going to be a guest on the blog?”

Answer: As someone pointed out, Lexa has been very busy of late, but I’m sure she’ll jump on those questions as soon as some time frees up.

MrsB108 writes: “1)Are there any mystical/magical elements to any of the storylines this year?

2)Do Teyla and Kanan have any serious issues coming up between them?”

Answer: 1) Nope. 2) Again – nope.

Steph writes: “In this case, you’re seeing the Puppia harness and the Three-in-one Safety Harness being modeled. Nice choices by the way, Joe!”

Answer: Thanks. They also allow me to belt the dogs into the backseat when we’re traveling.

Thomas Lompton writes: “Joe, I have a great idea for season 6 (complete story arc), how could I send it to you?”

Answer: Sorry, Thomas. We can’t accept unsolicited story ideas.

August 17, 2008: Upcoming Guests, Pooch Pics, and The Weird Food Purchase of the Day

Maximus = Best in Show
Maximus = Best in Show
Maximus and Bubba all smiles
Maximus and Bubba all smiles
Lulu Lounging
Lulu Lounging
Jelly Smiles
Jelly Smiles
devilish Lulu
devilish Lulu

Hope you’ve all finished up this month’s fantasy book of the month club pick, The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, because I’ll be weighing in with my thoughts tomorrow. I’ll also be collecting questions for author Catherynne M. Valente who will be dropping by later in the week. This one was a very unique and interesting read. I look forward to checking out your comments.

Speaking of dropping by later in the week… You first knew her as replicator technician, then as human technician, and now as fab-haired recurring gate tech Amelia Banks on Stargate Atlantis. Next weekend-ish, actress Sharon Taylor will be dropping by to field your questions about her growing role on the series. What’s in store for Amelia in season 5? The answers may surprise. I’ll be taking questions for Sharon starting on Wednesday.

Well, the early numbers for Ghost in the Machine come in tomorrow afternoon and I predict our hitherto consistently upticking numbers take a bit of a hit as we went up against the Olympics last Friday night. Alas, not even the combined forces of Earth’s battle cruisers and the city of the Ancients are a match for the triple jump and women’s sabre. Hey, did you catch Tajikistan win the bronze in judo? No, neither did I.

Big news on the home front. Bubba took his first off-leash walk today. And, I’m proud to report, that not once did he go berserk and get all up in that passing Chihuahua’s grill. I’m sure that to those of you who don’t own a dog, this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Hmmm. How to put it in terms you could understand? Well, I guess it’s sort of like a baby saying its first words or taking its first steps. Only more meaningful.

Fondy came back from a pet expo today, arms laden with dog treats. “Here you go,”she said, holding up a bag of desiccated chicken hearts. “Your next weird food purchase. I dare you.” Well. Them’s fightin’ words. On the other hand, them’s also some nasty smellin’ treats so I think I’ll hold off on the desiccated chicken hearts and go with something only slightly (and I do mean ever so slightly) less disgusting today: wheat grass. Check out the video at the bottom of this blog entry.

Hey, 1st Assistant Production Coordinator Tanja Balic was kind enough to send me copies of the photos she took during my dogs’ last visit to the studio. If the pooches look crazed, that’s only because they are.

June 28, 2008: More BIG Book of the Month Club news! Montreal Visit Day 1!

Baby

Mom

Felix and sis

Yeah, we over-ordered.

I woke up at 5:20 a.m., a full forty minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off. It’s always the way the night before I travel. For some reason, something in my subconscious mind won’t allow me a restful sleep. There’s always that niggling doubt, that faint uncertainty that I did, in fact, set the alarm properly. Silly, granted. I mean, I’ve done it hundreds of times: slide the button, set the hour, set the time, release the button. Piece of cake, I told myself and drifted off.

My eyes flashed open! 6:35 a.m.! Sweet Father Christmas! My alarm didn’t gone off! I was late!

I jumped out of bed and it was GO!GO!GO!

Fortunately, I’d taken the time to check-in the previous night and had my e-ticket sent directly to my new blackberry. “I got one of these,”I told the airport employee standing at the head of the long, looooong check-in line, fully expecting her to ask me what the hell it was I was showing her.

Instead – “Just go to gate C-35,”she instructed.

It seemed implausibly simple and yet, once I got to the security check-point, all I had to do was flash my blackberry and the guard on duty motioned me through. I grabbed a seat outside gate C-35 and breathed a sigh of relief. Plenty of time. Finally, I could relax. Until I remembered that I’d failed to recharge my blackberry battery the night before. Granted, the prospect of it dying on me – and taking my e-ticket with it – were remote, but the way my day was going…

Happily, I was able to board without incident. I settled in, pulled out my copy of In the Garden of Iden, and started reading (Incidentally, discussion on the book begins this Monday, so finish up gang. Kage Baker will be coming by to make sure you’re all up to date.). I read half the book, then set it aside and took a nap.

I may have been out ten, maybe twenty minutes before I was shaken awake. In my bleary-eyed state, I imagined the air hostess standing over me: “Sir, you missed your stop! Now we’re on our way back to Vancouver!” It took me a couple of seconds to realize that I wasn’t being shaken awake by anyone. It was turbulence. I shut my eyes and attempted to go back to sleep but, strangely, the prospect of being rattled out of a flying tin can and sprinkled over central Manitoba made that a little difficult. Eventually, I gave up and resumed reading.

I touched down in Montreal where I rented a car. The guy at Hertz said there was only one car left, a Ford Escape, and informed me I would find my car in stall 107. It turned out the car parked in stall 107 was actually a Toyota RAV4. Rather than trek back to Hertz, I tried the key I’d been given, just for the hell of it.  It worked.  Ford Escape.  Toyota RAV4.  Close enough.   

I got to mom’s house a little after 5:00 p.m. There was really not that much catching up to do since I’ve been reporting on a daily basis since my move to Vancouver, but she did make it clear she didn’t love the haircut before making me speak to my relatives in Toronto (“Hi!  It’s Joe!  Yeah, I’m on Montreal.  Only six hours away from you!  I’m calling you now because I’m practically around the corner and, well, I don’t own a phone in Vancouver…”)

For dinner tonight, mom, sis, sis’s friend Lily, and I went to Aikawa. While I prefer the quality of the west coast fish, I’m always impressed by the creativity of the east coast sushi chefs.  Check out the culinary creations. 

Finally, more BIG BOTMC NEWS! I’ve heard back from August’s Book of the Month Club selected authors – Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherynne M. Valente, and Stephen Dobyns – and all three have kindly agreed to come by and field your questions. So, once again, we are three for three. Check the right sidebar for news on the upcoming discussions. Or, keep reading…

BOTM Club Selections

JULY SELECTIONS

In the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker.
Discussion the week of June 30th, with author Kage Baker.

The Etched City, K.J. Bishop.
Discussion the week of July 7th, with author K.J. Bishop.

Unwelcome Bodies, Jennifer Pelland.
Discussion the week of July 14th, with author Jennifer Pelland.

AUGUST SELECTIONS

Cordelia’s Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold
Discussion the week of August 11th, with author Lois McMaster Bujold.

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente
Discussion the week of August 18th, with author Catherynne M. Valente.

The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns
Discussion the week of August 25th, with author Stephen Dobyns.

June 26, 2008: My green initiative, more special guests, and next month’s Book of the Month Club picks.

A little bit of early 20th century charm in early 21st century Vancouver.

The gang is cranky because I woke them up to look at some shots.

Salad days.

Breaking news on the bulletin board.

Bones is dubious.

The Mastermind Mark Savela

Hurray! Today, I received my $100 Climate Action Dividend from the government of British Columbia. According to the document that accompanied the check: “…this year’s Provincial budget is making it easier for British Columbians to choose a lower carbon lifestyle.” I suppose, for instance, the $100 could be put toward the purchase of a scooter or a hand lantern or one of those pedal-powered generators that the Professor built on Gilligan’s Island. As most of you know, I incorporated some major lifestyle changes last year to help reduce my carbon footprint (read all about them here: http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2007/07/07/july-7-2007/) so the prospect of having this extra one hundred dollars to spend on my green initiative is heartening. Of course, technically, it’s not really an extra $100. I mean, the government would like us to think it is and their use of the term “revenue neutral” to describe their new carbon tax would imply that, at the very least, we’d break even in the long run. And maybe if I didn’t partake in lavish excesses like driving a car or heating my home, I would break even. But, sadly, because of my unstinted addiction to things like food and water (which, incidentally, is trucked in to supermarkets by companies that will be hit with this new gas tax and inevitably pass the cost on to consumers), it looks like the government’s grand gesture will mean very little to me in the long run. Still, $100 is $100. I could use the money to create a new state-of-the-art compost heap. Or, follow Fondy’s suggestion and use it to purchase one hundred dollars worth of gas to fill my SUV which I would leave idling through most of Friday. I’m inclined to go with the latter.

Hey, a great response to yesterday’s announcement that actress Janina Gavankar (aka Dusty from the upcoming Stargate: Atlantis episode “Whispers”) will be swinging by to chat with us. I’m going to continue gathering questions until Friday night at which point I will send them Janina’s way and, hopefully, receive a response from her some time this weekend. Also, on the same topic…

I thought it might be fun to profile various of the behind-the-scenes players on Stargate: Atlantis by having them follow Janina’s lead. So, in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to query the likes of Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela, writer-producer Alan McCullough, and Production Designer James Robbins. It’ll be a real a real treat for a) those interested in television production and Stargate: Atlantis and b) a lazy blogger looking to fob off an entry on some poor unsuspecting soul. I’ll keep you posted on upcoming guests.

Speaking of which – Kage Baker will be answering your questions this coming week! Finish up In the Garden of Iden so that you can weigh in with your opinion once discussion begins. Then move on to K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City because K.J. will be joining us the following week. Then motor right into Jennifer Pelland’s Unwelcome Bodies as Jennifer will be joining us the week after that. It’s all there in the right sidebar, folk, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As for next month’s BOTMC selections… Well, let’s face it. It’s not really a Book of the Month Club. It’s more of a Book of the Month and a Half Club as I want to give participants time to read all three books if they so choose. And, if you’re looking to get a jump on August’s picks, here ya go.

In the SF category, it’ll be Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor. Now this is an omnibus made up of two novels, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, so you have a choice of reading one or both.

From the publisher: “In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan—he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr”—and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.

Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar—and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the-minute biowar technology. Neither Aral nor Cordelia guessed the part that their cell-damaged unborn would play in Barrayari’s bloody legacy.”

Discussion on Cordelia’s Honor begins August 11th.

 

 

In the FANTASY category, it’ll be Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden.

From Publisher’s Weekly: “A lonely girl with a dark tattoo across her eyelids made up of words spelling out countless tales unfolds a fabulous, recursive Arabian Nights-style narrative of stories within stories in this first of a new fantasy series from Valente (The Grass-Cutting Sword). The fantastic tales involve creation myths, shape-changing creatures, true love sought and thwarted, theorems of princely behavior, patricide, sea monsters, kindness and cruelty. As a sainted priestess explains, stories “are like prayers. It does not matter when you begin, or when you end, only that you bend a knee and say the words,” and this volume does not so much arrive at a conclusion but stops abruptly, leaving room for endless sequels. Each descriptive phrase and story blossoms into another, creating a lush, hallucinogenic effect.”

Discussion on The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden begins August 18th

..

 

And, finally, in the HORROR category, it’ll be Stephen Dobyns’ The Church of Dead Girls.

From Library Journal: “Despite the lurid title, Dobyns’s latest novel (he is a poet and author of the “Saratoga” mystery series) is a compelling mystery that shows how the people in a small town change because of a series of murders. First, a promiscuous woman is murdered. Then three girls disappear in succession. The narrator reports how the symptoms of fear escalate into a raging disease consuming the community. Cloaking prejudice and fear with righteousness, certain citizens target individuals who are on the community’s fringe. By the story’s end, no one escapes suspicion. Many characters and the complexities of human interactions receive well-rounded treatment. This absorbing tale, fit for any general collection, is highly recommended.”

Discussion on The Church of Dead Girls begins August 25th

..

 

I was at The Bridge today to preview some of the Whispers visual effects shots with Mark Savela. While there, I made a point of snapping some pics of the VFX gang still hard at work (and eating the occasional salad). Check out their quaint red brick dwelling. Probably the last place you want to be when the big one hits, but charming nevertheless.