July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

1

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

1

Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

1

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

1

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

1

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

1

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

1

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

1

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

1

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

1

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

1

Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

1

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

1

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

1

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

1

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

1

Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

1

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

1

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

1

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

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!

January 31, 2010: What was your favorite “story moment” from the first half of SGU’s first season?

I asked.  You answered…

20) The race back to the gate (Air III).

With time ticking down, Greer rallies Scott and, as both men scramble to get back before Destiny can jump to FTL, Eli buys them time by holding the gate open for them, quite literally risking life AND limb.

19) The Senator’s sacrifice (Air II).

With Destiny’s oxygen supply dwindling, Senator Armstrong locks himself within the damaged shuttle, sealing the venting breach and buying the rest of the crew time to save themselves.

18) The sacrifices made by our team (Time).

Cut off from Destiny, with a horde of menacing aliens lurking in the shadows, the team make a heroic last stand.  And then do it all over again.

17) The evacuation of Icarus Base (Air I).

As Earth’s top secret off-world base comes under attack, desperate guests and personnel scramble  through the gate to safety – and one big WTF?!

16) Discovery of the alien ship (Justice).

The Destiny crew makes an awesome off-world discovery: a downed alien vessel.  It’s Rush’s lucky day!

15) Eli realizes Chloe has fallen for Scott (Light).

As the gathering of crew members within the gate room disperses, Eli scans the crowd for Chloe and finds her – in Scott’s arms.  The look on Eli’s face says it all.  Bummer.

14) Young beats the crap out of Telford (Life).

Young doesn’t like the fact that Telford has been spending time with his wife, and he lets him know.  With his fists.

13) Now that is one sweet po-ta-to! (Justice).

Greer taste tests an alien tuber, much to the delight of his fellow crew members who happily follow suit.  What were they thinking?

12) O’Neill takes on Young (Earth).

Jack O’Neill was always the easy-going comedian on SG-1 but here he demonstrates his tough military side with a dressing down of the Destiny commander.

11) Eli opens up to a dying Chloe while an emotional T.J. looks on (Time).

A distraught T.J. can barely keep it together as Eli opens himself up to Chloe, only to realize she has died.  Gut-wrenching.

10) The crew prepares for their seemingly inevitable deaths (Light).

Taking part in a prayer service, playing cards, reading a truly mediocre book – the crew of the Destiny live out what they assume will be their final moments.

9) The crew watches their own deaths (Time).

All are stunned.  Chloe is sick.  Eli turns to the others and says what we’re all thinking: “What the – ” And we cut to commercial.

8) Rush pulls off his secret plan to rid Destiny of Telford and co. (Earth).

Alarms sound.  Destiny is doomed.  As Telford and his people flee, Rush gives Brody a nod.  The alarm’s cease.  Destiny’s been saved.  But was it ever really in danger?  According to Rush, it could have been.

7) The suggestion that Rush knew all along Destiny wasn’t doomed (Light).

As everyone celebrates their close call, Young posits the possibility that Rush may have known they were in no danger all along.  Everyone else dismisses the notion.  Everyone, that is, except Dr. Rush.

6) Eli visits his mom (Earth).

Eli pays his mother a visit under an assumed name – and body.  He opens up to her and, all the while they talk, she remains oblivious to the fact that he is, in fact, her missing son.

5) The lottery (Light).

With Destiny headed toward certain doom, a lottery is held for the precious few available seats on the ship’s shuttle – and a shot at survival.

4) That WTF? ending (Time).

No narrative spoon-feeding here as viewers are dealt an ending that had some thrilled, others livid.

3) The Young/Rush throwdown (Justice).

No cartwheeling acrobatics or spinning roundhouse kicks here.  It’s down and dirty when Young and Rush finally go at it.

2) Destiny’s solar encounter (Light).

Incredibly, Destiny does not go out in a blaze of glory.  Instead, it skims the surface of the star, gathering the energy it will need to continue its journey.

1) Rush gets left behind (Justice).

After his tussle with Young, Rush awakens to discover he’s missed the last bus.

Yes, great moments all, but I have a feeling that as the back half episodes start airing, this Top 25 list will change…

Finally, I conclude today’s entry on a sad note.  As many of you may have heard, author Kage Baker passed away today after a long battle with cancer. I didn’t really know Kage, my association with her was limited to some emails we exchanged leading up to the reader Q&A she did with us back in July of 2008, but even those brief interactions conveyed a personality that was compassionate, clever, and delightfully humorous – traits reflected in the many works she leaves behind, from her short stories to her popular Company series.  Tonight, my thoughts are with Kage’s loved ones and  her many, many fans.

January 16, 2010: Show Your Support for Kage Baker!

Just this morning I received news that author Kage Baker is in hospital fighting for her life.   Details here: http://tribes.tribe.net/renfairehistorysnobs/thread/c6091923-27e4-438c-ac8e-0e28d596b85d#402bb8f2-e567-471b-9fad-6ed5551c4f2e.  Back in July of ’08, Kage visited this blog to participate in a fan/reader Q&A in support of her wonderful In the Garden of Iden.  She’d been scheduled to come by sooner but, given the then recent passing of actor Don Davis (SG-1’s General George Hammond), she had suggested putting off the Q&A out of respect for the man and his many fans.  As a result, Kage ended up having to field the many reader questions during her already busy Guest of Honor appearance at the Las Vegas Westercon – and yet was more  than happy to do so.  I wasn’t at all surprised given that, only months earlier, during a discussion with editor Lou Anders on his anthology Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge, she had also made it a point to stop in and offer a special hello to Stargate fans.   I found Kage incredibly thoughtful and accommodating in my admittedly brief dealings with her and would like to do anything I can to support her during this difficult time.  Kage was kind enough to make time for us back then and now it’s time to make time for her.  So join me in sending Kage our positive thoughts and hopes for a speedy recovery…

Emails of support will be printed and read to her immediately
emails can be sent to: materkb@gmail.com

Letters, notes, cards and anything else you can think of can be sent to her home:
Kage Baker
331 Stimson, Apt. B,
Pismo Beach CA 93449

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to Kage Baker.

Mailbag:

Luis writes: “Why did Lawren did not like the Thai Noodles??? were they to Spicy???”

Answer: Quite the opposite.  He found them bland.

Taylor writes: “I was just wondering if SGU was going to be following along the lines of Stargate Atlantis’s first few seasons in regard to slowly discovering parts of the ship, repairing various systems etc, and then eventually getting in full control of the ship. Or is the discovery and/or repair of the Destiny and it’s systems going to be a long term story ark in the show?”

Answer: It will definitely be an arc that will run over several seasons – however, some mighty big discoveries upcoming…

Grapesofwraith writes: “I’m curious, what was the “Sam’s 5-Star Burger?””

Answer: I believe it was soy protein.

Pastrygirl writes: “Do you like middle eastern/persian/ etc cuisine? I don’t remember ever hearing you mention it – and I know there’s a falafel place on practically every corner in Vancouver.”

Answer: Really?  Where?  I know that there’s a terrific place for shawarma near Chapters on Robson but other than that, very few good middle eastern options.  Believe me, I’ve looked.

Mika writes: “You must’ve had an amazing night if the service didn’t mention several paragraphs on its own…”

Answer: The, uh, service was one of the things we were warned about so we were expecting the worse.  Granted, for a while early on it looked like we would never get served but eventually the waitress came over and took our order.  From there it was relatively smooth sailing.  Except for instances where Carl and Lawren attempted to flag down a server for a water glass refill only to have their plaintive cries go unheeded, consistently ignored as if they were a couple of boorish construction workers making catcalls at her.

Dodoalda writes: “I read somewhere, that in casting documents, was col. Young former SG leader and two members of his team were killed during a mission. Is this gonna be mentioned in the show?”

Answer: There will be a reference to a tragedy that links Young and Telford later this season.

Tina writes: “I was just wondering is there an email address where a friend could forward something on to you?”

Answer: BaronDestructo@yahoo.com.  He’ll make sure I get the email.

P.S. Your guesses are way off on the episode titles…

#1: INT*********

#2: AFTERMATH

#3: AWAKENINGS

#4: P********

#5: C*********

July 9, 2008: Liquorice notes with honey spice cake hints, redolent of tropical fruits and spicy flavors with an undertone of gut shank

Monde Chocolat
Monde Chocolat
My chocolate-tasting kit
My chocolate-tasting kit
The knowledgeable Pierre Cluizel presides
The knowledgeable Pierre Cluizel presides
(
I already ate mine 🙁
Mackenzie takes time off from acting, prawn-fishing, and zip-lining to cover the event
Mackenzie takes time off from acting, prawn-fishing, and zip-lining to cover the event
Hodie, Karlo, Fabiana, and Pierre Cluizel
Hodie, Karlo, Fabiana, and Pierre Cluizel
Japa Dog
Japa Dog
Hot dogs - Japanese style
Hot dogs - Nihon style
Kurobuta - the kobe beef of pork!
Kurobuta - the kobe beef of pork!
My black hog dog
My black hog dog

“The first thing to do is look at the chocolate,”advised Pierre. “Study its appearance.” Everyone unwrapped and carefully scrutinized their squares. The woman to my right gaped as though she’d just borne witness to some astounding magic trick. Hey, that’s not a chocolate! That’s my card, the Ace of Clubs! “Now, break the chocolate.” Pierre demonstrated. “A good chocolate will snap.” Snaps all around. “Now, put it in your mouth.” I was already there, having skipped chocolate-tasting steps #1 through #5 and gone straight to steps #6 and #7, chew and swallow. “What do you taste? Licorice? Green olives?” Nods and murmurs of assent from the gathering.

“Woodiness?”someone piped up.

“That’s licorice,”Pierre set them straight. And then, without missing a beat: “Apricots? Currants?” My unrefined palate tasted chocolate mostly. Well, chocolate and an underlying sharpness that may have been currants but could just as easily have been the tiny corner of foil wrap I’d unwittingly ingested.

It was a little after noon and I was at Monde Chocolat on Burrard. The shop was hosting Pierre Cluizel, son of Michel Cluizel & operations manager of the Michel Cluizel company, who was in town to promote the high-end chocolate line. Of course being the chocolate veteran I am, I already knew Cluizel from A to V (A for their Los Ancones plantation in Saint Domingue and V for their Vila Gracinda plantation on the island of Sao Tome), and Fondy in particular is more than familiar with their Grand Lait 45%, her very favorite milk chocolate bar. Still, Monde Chocolat co-founders and owners Karlo and Fabiana were kind enough to invite me and a dozen other lucky regulars for this early afternoon chocolate tasting.

“How would you approach tasting if you were pairing chocolate with wine, cognac, or porto?”asked one eager beaver. Then, another participant inquired about the conching process. As Pierre fielded their queries, my inner voices kept screaming: “Come one! Come on! Let’s get back to the tasting!”

And eventually, we did, making our way through each of the squares in our complimentary chocolate kit. This one redolent with caramel aromas. That one possessed of herbaceous notes. That other one boasting a subtle spiciness and the flavor of green bananas. I took time off from my chocolate appreciation to take pics of the gathering. Across the room, some unidentified young woman was snapping photos of her own a with much, MUCH better camera – one of those fancy ones with the removable lens! As she lined up her next shot, I sidestepped clear. “Sorry.” I felt the need to apologize. “I’m notoriously un-photogenic.” She smiled sympathetically. I redirected my attention back to the chocolate lesson. From the corner of my eye, I caught her lining me up and snapping a pic. She checked the result and frowned, lined me up and tried again.

The demonstration wrapped and, while everyone else worked the room, I redirected my attention back to my chocolate kit and its remaining contents in a bid to further educate myself on its tastes and textures (a.k.a. tide myself over as it was well past lunch and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast). As I polished off my complimentary snack box, the mystery photographer stepped up and snapped another photo of me. “I taste licorice and green olives,”I expounded, “with just a hint of the migrant farm worker who was murdered and buried near the cocoa plant where the beans were harvested.”

She nodded, casting her mind back to the chocolate’s multi-layered essence. “I think his name was Manny…Manuel…”

“I’m getting more of a knifing undertone than bullet notes.”

“Yeah, sort of one of these,”she concurred, shanking me in the gut with her invisible shiv.

She introduced herself as Mackenzie and it turned out she wasn’t there to snap photos for her own blog after all. She was documenting the event for her mother, Hodie, who is a partner in the chocolate shop. Over the course of our ensuing conversation, I learned that she not only dabbled in photography but acting, prawn fishing, and zip-line operation as well. Just the thought of the latter – screaming down an angled cable hundreds of feet above a forest canopy – was enough to make me shudder. “No way,“I confided. “I don’t even like it when someone I know is on a balcony.”
“You’re afraid of heights.”

“It’s a medical condition,”I explained and then, glancing down at the time on my blackberry realized I had twenty minutes to get downtown. I excused myself. “I’ve got a meeting with my accountant and then another meeting with my financial advisor.”

Mackenzie threw me a sideways glance. “Are you going in for a root canal too?”

“Actually, my dentist appointment is next week.” And with that, I was out the door.

About an hour later, once my sit-down with my accountant wrapped, I walked up the street to Japa Dog, Vancouver’s one-of-a-kind Japanese hot dog stand. In addition to the standard fare (turkey, bratwursts, and jalapeno and cheese smokies), Japa Dog offers some unique menu items like the Terimayo (an all beef smothered in Japanese mayo, nori, teriyaki sauce, and fried onions) and the Oroshi (a bratwurst laden with special soy sauce, green onions, and daikon). Its tiny set-up is plastered with photos of celebrities enjoying their Japa Dog dogs. “Hey!”I was tempted to say. “I’ll have what Ice Cube had.” But instead, I went with the latest addition to the menu: the Kurobuta (Japanese black hog) dog smothered in grilled red onions, wasabi mayo, and hot sauce. Wow! Totemo Oishikatta!

I returned home to various household chores and a veritable ant invasion. Apparently taking advantage of Fondy’s absence, they’ve elected to bivouac in the front room. “I had the same problem,”my mother revealed when I spoke with her tonight.

“What did you do?”I asked.

“Put down the cucumber skin. The ants don’t like.”

So I put down the cucumber skin. I can’t be sure whether the ants liked it or not, but I do know that one of my pugs certainly did. Five minutes after carefully lining the perimeter of the back porch, I stepped outside in time to catch Bubba snapping up the last of the thinly sliced English cukes. If he could speak, I knew exactly what he would have said: Slightly herbaceous with earthy notes and an undercurrent of formicidae.

Our continuing discussion of The Etched City –

Thornyrose writes: “The Authorities probably saw it as a way of ensuring Horn Fan’s destruction, given the three to one odds they were granted. And I attributed the victory of the Horn Fan less to supernatural explanations than the simple fact that every man on that side knew that they were dead men anyways, and they fought accordingly.”

Answer: Maybe, but I found it odd that given the nature of the battle, the Society of the Horn Fan suffered no significant injuries. This would seem to suggest more than sheer luck was at play.

Aqualegia writes: “Thoughts on The Etched City: I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the book where they were escaping, it was a rollicking adventure. Unfortunately it went downhill from there. Once they were in the city it was hard going, and not very interesting. The final straw as far as I was concerned was when the religion/religious discussion got to be the main focus of the story….”

Answer: I’ll admit that the story slowed down for me too at this point but then quickly picked up with the developments in the Horn Fan camp. With the introduction of Elm’s son, events took an even darker turn and I fairly sailed through the rest of the book.

Finally – Heard from Janina who wanted to express her appreciation for all of the great feedback on her appearance here.  She asked me to pass along the following links if you’d like to keep up to date on with her and her ongoing projects…

http://www.janinaz.deviantart.com
http://www.twitter.com/janinaz
http://www.msdewey.com
http://www.janinagavankar.com

The mailbag:

SG1Fan writes: “On various places on the web, a few people have claimed to be involved in Stargate behind the scenes in some form or another, and have mentioned a number of times that the fans shouldn’t be looking at Continuum’s success (which it will have I am sure!) to bring about a third, or even more movies…but in fact, an eleventh season.”

Answer: People who are making such claims have no idea what they’re talking about and I seriously doubt they are in any way involved in the show’s production. As much as I would love to see an 11th season for SG-1, it aint gonna happen.

Sarah writes: “In a recently published interview with yourself and Mr. Bob Picardo, Bob was quoted as stating in reference to Kanan: “…Teyla’s husband–the father of her child…” Can you let us know if this is a major spoiler or just a slip of the tongue error?”

Answer: Slip of the tongue. Teyla is not married.

Narelle from Aus writes: “Do you have wine preference to go with all of this food?”

Answer: Believe it or not, I’m not much of a wine drinker.

RangerOne writes: “Do the people who do the commentaries get paid to do them?”

Answer: Those who take part in the commentaries do so on a voluntary basis. They do not get paid. As much as the production would love the secure the participation of the various actors, producers, and directors, it comes down to availability. The commentaries are done in Vancouver during the show’s production and it’s often very difficult for an actor to find the time to do them. As for what is discussed – it all depends. The directors will discuss the technical aspects while the producers will probably discuss both the story and production aspects. We try to cover a variety of topics. What you find boring, others fans may find interesting – and vice-versa.

Big J writes: “When Ronon was introduced to Stargate Atlantis, he remarked that he couldn’t be fed upon. The new info (a teaser for the episode) says that Ronon is fed upon and given life over and over as torture. How can this be possible?”

Answer: Ronon never said he couldn’t be fed upon. He told his story to Teyla and we witnessed a flashback in which the wraith was about to feed on Ronon then stopped, reconsidered, and made him a runner. We discussed this scene with the writer, Rob Cooper, two years ago and, in his mind, the wraith didn’t stop because he was unable to feed. He stopped because he was so impressed with Ronon’s defiance that he realized he would make for great sport – and thus made him a runner.

Cheeky Lil Devil writes: “Thanks for keeping us up to date, I just hope, you know that Remnants will be everything we hope it is, because you know what the whumpers are like. You know especially how much we adore the character development. So any news on what the network said about some of the scenes?”

Answer: Well – y’know – we’re still on hiatus and I – well, y’know – just got the script in a little while ago so I expect notes – y’know – hopefully sometime before we start shooting.

Jm writes: “I was wondering how you felt about that juxtaposed to the success of shows such as “Lost” where the audience inherently *doesn’t* get it, especially on an episode to episode basis?”

Answer: Lost is heavily serialized. At the heart of its premise is an intriguing mystery that is explored and revealed over time. It’s a completely different show.

Shadow Step writes: “Well, needless to say I disagree – there are always rules and limits, they can just be harder to see sometimes. If you have a transporter which can beam the heroes to safety – is easier to write a “good” story with it working or would it be easier if one was to contrive a malfunction?”

Answer: I don’t think you can make the same comparison with time travel. You need to be consistent with what you can and cannot do. Simply saying “Hey, anything can happen” and then writing a story that suits your needs, creating contrivances to patch up spotty logic is, in my opinion, lazy writing.

July 4, 2008: With Extra Special Guest Star…Kage Baker!

Kage Baker
Kage Baker

Today, I turn the blog over to Kage Baker who has graciously taken the time to field your questions and comments on In the Garden of Iden, this month’s SF BOTMC selection. Truth be told, this is actually Kage’s second appearance here. The first was a quick cameo back in February when she offered some insight into “Plotters and Shooters”, her contribution to Lou Anders’ Fast Forward I: Future Fiction From the Cutting Edge. I so enjoyed that particular short story that I decided to check out one of Kage’s novels as well – this, the first installment in her Company series – and bring you all along for the ride. And, judging from your reaction, it was a great call.

Those of you who read my review know that I’ll be checking out the ensuing titles in this series. Hopefully, many of you will as well. And, along the way, if you’d like to learn more about Kage, her work, and her incredibly diverse background (graphic artist, mural painter, teacher of Elizabethan English for the stage) head on over to: www.kagebaker.com

Now before I turn things over to our extra special guest blogger, I’d like to thank Kage. First, for being incredibly thoughtful by offering to postpone her appearance here out of respect for the late Don S. Davis. (I assured her that Don would’ve good-naturedly threatened me with an Ozark butt-kicking if I’d even considered it.) Second, for being so accommodating, managing to find time for us amid a hectic travel schedule and a Guest of Honor appearance at the Las Vegas Westercon (July 3-6, at the JW Marriott Resort, 221 N Rampart Blvd,Las Vegas, NV – so if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by!).

Over to Kage…

Hello to Stargate fans! And my condolences on our losing Don Davis.

Let’s see if I can answer your questions…

Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “My question to Ms Baker, why did you choose the Spanish Inquisition and the English setting for the book? Both excellent choices for this tale, and a remarkable feat of story telling. Also which of the Company Series did you find the most rewarding and-or difficult to write and why? Thank you for a wonderful creation!”

Shirt ‘n Tie: You’re welcome! I chose the Elizabethan setting because I was throroughly familiar with that era, having taught Elizabethan English for many years and also done living history set in Tudor times. Since the Inquisition was such a powerful force, it made sense that the Company would have agents stationed in its ranks, to enable them to sift through the people and things that disappeared into the Inquisition’s dungeons. As for which was most difficult of the books to write: that would be the last one, the Sons of Heaven. All those plotlines to tie up!

Eva K. I adore the idea that nothing we can do can change the past; it’s very convenient for mucking about in the past without having to worry about stepping on butterflies.

But did you come up with the idea of solid unchanging history first and fit the plot of the book within those perameters, or did you need to figure out a way the plot could work, and thus came up with the way timetravel works?

Eva K.: I came up with the idea of a story involving time travelers first. Having done that, I had to lay out the rules for my own little universe, because I needed consistent parameters or my story wouldn’t be very effective. Time Travel as a subgenre has been handled a lot, so I wanted something a little different from most others. That was why I made the rules stringent: No travel into the future, no carrying objects from the past to the present, and moreover time travel is too expensive to do much of it. Sort of setting my Difficulty level at High. And, after all, no actual time travel takes place in the book!

Bar Stool Babe writes: “My questions for Ms. Baker are did the whole series develop at once or did new characters demand more time from you once your introduced them (I’m thinking specifically of the residents in Mendoza in Hollywood)? And did you have the whole mortals versus immortals tension when you started writing the Company books or did it evolve as you wrote more of the series. I also must applaud the way you show the inevitable progression of “political correctness” in the future. Yech!”

Bar Stool Babe: The main characters—Mendoza, Nicholas, Joseph—were in the series outline from the beginning. However, the others just popped up as the books went along and took on lives and opinions of their own, much to my surprise. The tension between mortals and immortals was always there. Mendoza is a deeply wounded person, and one of the series themes is her journey from complete alienation back to some kind of reconciliation with her humanity. As for ‘political correctness’—only last week I read that kids in the UK can’t call study sessions ‘brainstorming’ anymore—it might offend epileptics. The approved term now is ‘Thought Showers’….

Narelle from Aus writes: “The questions I have for Kage Baker:
1. Is it an equal interest in both History and Sci Fi that motivated you to write this series of books?
2. Why do so many Sci Fi authors have a fascination with Warner Brothers cartoons (and I’m putting my hand up as a big fan of them)
3. Do you find it difficult to switch from one character to another when writing each book? Ie: Mendoza for Iden, Joseph for Sky Coyote?”

Narelle: Actually I’ve always been much more interested in History than in Science Fiction. But if you’re going to write a time travel novel, it’s gonna be science fiction. I can’t speak for other SF writers, but I grew up with Warner Brothers cartoons, and really—could you find a better symbol for human futility and eternal hope than Wile E. Coyote? As for the point of view switch: it was a little difficult, from brooding superteenager to crafty old field agent. Joseph is based on a friend of mine, and one of the things I did to get his voice was put on a tape of a class he had taught and listen to it as I wrote, to memorize his speech rhythms.

Anti-Social Butterfly writes: “My question for Ms. Baker concerns her use of anachronistic speech throughout the novel. What led to your decision to use it? Were you concerned that it might pull the reader out of the story? How did you draw the distinction between the jarring, over the top speech (exemplified by everything said by Joseph) and the casual, fluid speech (i.e. the conversations between Nicholas and Mendoza)?”

I won’t get spoilerish for those who haven’t read beyond the first book, but I would like to know if Ms. Baker created her own “Temporal Concordance” to keep up with all the characters and the convoluted plotting with changing times and locations.

Anti-Social Butterfly: Anachronistic speech was necessary to give each character his or her characteristic voice; after all, it isn’t a straight historical novel, but a time travel story. My editor begged me to keep the Elizabethan to a minimum, and I was able to comply with a certain amount of cheating; a lot of Elizabethan is actually pretty straightforward, and it’s possible to get the right voice without a lot of “beholdeths” and “walkests” and awkward grammar. Did I keep my own Temporal Concordance? I wish! As the series progressed I’d have to grab up previous books and frantically leaf through them to see what I’d written before about, for example, how old I’d said Joseph was.

Honshuu writes: “If I was to meet the author and ask questions, I would have only one, at this point. “Why did you choose to go with cyborgs as opposed to full androids? Was it to keep a human connection to the world they were supposed to help save/preserve?…or to add that human fallibility to the characters?””

A.Honshu: Yes indeed, because most of the series is about the human pull on people who are developing into posthumans. If I’d gone with androids… well, about the only story you can tell with androids is about an android trying to become human. The old Pinocchio game. Though of course there was Marvin the Paranoid Android!

Michelle writes: “I would ask Ms. Baker to explain more about what parts of the immortals are still human, though perhaps that’s more explained later in the series.”

Michelle: It is covered to some extent in the later books. Unbreakable ferroceramic skeleton, drastically modified spinal chord, brain augmentation by way of installed wetware, muscles and tendons reinforced with biopolymer, nanobots engineered to reside in the tissues and repair anything that’s compromised, organs modified to manufacture pineal tribrantine III, training to develop hyperabilities… the rest is all human, pretty much.

Sylvia writes: “Questions for Kage Baker
1. Early references to the people who bought the young girl, was a comment that “he, …likes young girls..” and this kinda rang a bell with the recent events of the FLDS – polygamy.
Why were children sought by the adult Mendozas?
The text implied the adult Mendozas wanted the child for sacrifice; or was there another reason?

2. The child (Mendoza) could not remember her or her family name, yet she was adamant stating she was not a Mendoza. Yet, she ended up with that name.
What was your thought process for giving the child the name?

3. Given the assumed normal morals for that “time,” I wondered why she was never taken to task for her relationship with Nicholas which became widely shared.

4. Did you intend to write a series of books when you started In the Garden of Iden? Or, did you decide at some point later?

5. Perhaps my sense of “timing” is warped, but as I read, I had the feeling that there was a sense of urgency as the operative Mendoza told her story. It comes from the very beginning. Like she had to get the story out before…something stopped her. Of course I have not read the other books…so, may I ask if this was intentional? Or, just a case of my perception?”

Sylvia: For questions 1 & 2: the implication is that the aristocratic crowd who buy Mendoza are into devil worship, or at least some kind of late-medieval neopaganism, and intend to offer her as a child consort to the Lord of the Fields. FLDS sex? Human sacrifice? Who knows? The Inquisition comes to the rescue first, and promptly arrests the cult’s intended victim too. A very small child in a largely illiterate rural environment might well not know her own family name, and any uncertainty would only be made worse by Inquisitorial terror tactics. “Mendoza” was simply the name that popped into my head the first time I ever saw her in my mind. 3: The morals of the day were actually pretty easygoing; the Puritans and Victorians were a ways off yet. A young couple shacking up wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows, especially if the girl’s father seemed to tacitly approve. 4: Yes, I did intend a series, though not as long a series as I ended up writing. 5: No, I think it’s your perception. Mendoza is writing from a place from which she can’t escape, and has enough time on her hands to review her past. You’d find out why in the third book, “Mendoza in Hollywood”.

Thornyrose writes: First, what appealed to you about the time period you set “In the Garden of Idun” in it? When you first started writing about the Company and its time travel adventures, did you originally approach it as a one shot, and build on the concept, or did you already have some idea of what direction it would take? When writing, what sort of envirement do you do your work? cozy office with no outside distractions, some sort of background music, regular hours at the computer or as the mood hits you? Which genre and format do you most enjoy? Fantasy/Sf/straight fiction/ short story/novels/series? And in the company series do we see any of the Immortal agents turning on the Company?

Thornyrose: See above for why I chose the Elizabethan time period. I did actually have the whole story in my mind from the beginning, with the idea that Garden of Iden was the first movement, as it were. The story just expanded in a few unexpected directions as I wrote it. As for where I write: In my living room, at a big rolltop desk I bought with my first royalty check, generally with a screaming parrot on my shoulder. From time to time he sidles down and tries to steal my pens or bite through the mouse cord. The desk is cluttered with notes on scraps of paper, reference books, good luck writing juju, and St. Jude candles. Generally I listen to classical music as I write, because anything with song lyrics is distracting. My favorite reading matter boils down to 3 authors in 3 genres: Robert Louis Stevenson, Terry Pratchett, Patrick O’Brien. And as for whether the Immortals rebel against their masters: that would be telling! Read on…

Mercie writes: “My only question for Kage Baker is: Being an aspiring writer, myself, I was wondering if you ever end up writing a story and realize at the end that it is a completely different story than the one you intended to write? My stories tend to have a life of their own, and twist out of my grasp to become something entirely different. Not bad, mind you, just different.”

Mercie: Yes, very often! In fact, usually. The story takes on a life of its own and goes where it wants.

AMZ writes: “I haven’t been able to read In the Garden of Iden but I have a question for Kage Baker based on some of her short stories I’ve been fortunate
enough to read: How important do you feel humour is to your stories? “

AMZ: I never set out to write a story with humor in it; it just happens. Life, while perfectly horrible and tragic sometimes, can also be hysterically funny, often at the same time it’s tragic. My experience is that the SF field frowns on humor, as being lightweight and frivolous, but clearly they’ve never read Hamlet carefully enough…

Fsmn36 writes: “What was your inspiration for the subject matter? And in labeling it a bodice-ripper, was that your intent? Was writing something more romatically-based your goal, or merely a product of the universe and characters?”

Fsmn36: My inspiration for the subject matter was a scene I imagined once on a bus rolling through Central California, and it had nothing to do with the book I ended up writing. I was on a bus with about 50 other actors, coming home from a show we’d been doing in Northern California. We were traveling along I-5, which crosses a lot of what was then empty backcountry, and there were these lion-yellow hills rollling off to the western horizon, here and there dotted with oak trees. The image of a woman walking along through them came into my mind, a woman alone, walking purposefully to cover a lot of distance, in this searing heat under a hot blue sky. She stayed in my imagination; I wondered who she was and how she had come to be there, and the whole story of her life just sort of unfolded for me. The term “bodice-ripper” was a joke, because I was having a bit of fun playing with the tropes of romantic fiction. Those stories always end happily, and of course in Mendoza’s case real life intervenes instead. Did I mean to write something more romantically-based? Not really; but love makes the world go round, as they say, and love stories are powerful.

Dyginc writes: “My questions to Kage Baker are the following
> > 1)Why Queen Mary? Is that a time you are interested in?
> > 2)How much research did you have to do for the dance?
> > 3)I would like to know if you had to edit the down the Cabinet of Curiosities or did you not feel it would add another level to the eccentric behavior of Sir Walter?
> > 4)What authors inspire you?
> > 5)Are you a fan of historical fiction and if so do you read Philippa Gregory?
> > 6)Now that she is a cyborg and a young woman does she actually start to age?
> > 7)Is the Company more of a science verses faith idea?”

Dyginc: As above, I’ve always been interested in the Tudor era, and Mary Tudor is a particularly tragic figure– hated, and for a good reason considering how many people she had killed, but you can’t help but feel pity for her. For the dance– I didn’t have to do any research, because I knew people who did courtly dance and also I own about a dozen albums of period dance music. I did have to edit down the Cabinet of Curiosities! It was fun to write, but it slowed down the story a bit. What authors inspire me? As above, Stevenson, Pratchett, O’Brien. Read them and find out why. I read some historical fiction, yes, O’Brien for example, but I’ve never read anything by Philippa Gregory. No, Mendoza will never age physically past the age of young adulthood. If Immortals need to appear older, they have to wear padding and appliance makeup, or at least grey their hair. No, emphatically, the series is not science versus faith. I am on the side of science, I guess, being a secular humanist, but I’ve seen a lot of scientists who are idiots and a lot of religious people who are wise and humane. So I’d prefer both sides to live together in peace.

June 30, 2008: In the Garden of Iden

Read this book

I was first introduced to the works of Kage Baker through Lou Anders’ Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge, a former book of the month club pick. Baker’s contribution to the collection, “Plotters and Shooters”, was far and away my favorite of the short stories in FF1 and so, when it came time to put in my next book order with Amazon.com, I placed In the Garden of Iden at the top of the list.

It’s no secret that one of the thing my favorite authors have in common is a sense of humor – Abercrombie, Banks, Ford, Martin, Scalzi, Willis to name a few. I’m not talking about balls-out side-splitting comedy but an undercurrent of humor, often subtle, that serves to contrast the occasionally dark themes introduced. Now granted, “Plotters and Shooters“ was a fun piece of short fiction, and I was fully prepared to encounter a very different tone in Baker‘s novel. Still, I’ll admit to growing a little apprehensive after having Baker describe the book as a “Hard-Boiled Bodice Ripper”.

Bodice-Ripper? Images of a shirtless Fabio sweeping a swooning heroine off her feet materialized in my mind’s eye. And then, remembering this was SF – images of a shirtless green-skinned Fabio sweeping a silver spandexed heroine off her moon boots. Funny, yes, but not intentionally so.

Oh, me of little faith. One chapter in, and I was intrigued by the clever scifi premise. Two chapters in, and I was captivated by the characters, our plucky heroine Mendoza in particular. Three chapters in, and I’d been completely won over. If this book is indicative of the sub-genre, then I may have to start doing four BOTMC selections in the categories of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and, yes, Hardboiled Bodice-Ripper.

Our protagonist, Mendoza, is one of a class of immortals, former orphans rescued from certain death and transformed into cyborgs by Dr. Zeus Inc. Under the employ of The Company, these cyborgs (humans in mind but physically superior) are dispatched to points throughout history to collect extinct species and valuables that will better humankind. Mendoza’s first time-tripping assignment finds her in 16th century England where she and her team – high-strung mentor Joseph and no-nonsense zoologist Nef – have been sent to gather samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. Alas, these are complicated times in England with Bloody Mary’s ascension to the throne. And so, amidst a backdrop of political and religious struggle and techno-temporal subterfuge, the hitherto hardnosed Mendoza discovers the very best and very worst that humanity has to offer.

Thematically, it is somewhat reminiscent of Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, a book that, similarly, follows the exploits of a time-hopping retrieval crew, but The Garden of Iden is its own unique beast. In fact, were I to compare it to any other work, I’d liken it to a futuristic Jane Eyre. Like Bronte [not Austen, oop], Baker does a beautiful job of immersing the reader in period detail, offering up a very convincing setting complete with equally convincing characters, possessed of a charm and subtle humor that draws the reader in from the get-go.

Baker’s treatment of time-travel is interesting, neatly side-stepping the issue of paradox (ie. You travel to the past to kill your grandfather. But can you ever be successful because if you do succeed in killing your grandfather, you would have never been born and so who was it that traveled into the past and killed your grandfather?). In her world, time-travel to the future is impossible. It is only possible to travel back to the past but, in so doing, one can never change the course of history. If it’s a part of recorded history, it’s set in stone and cannot be changed. However, the smaller details of history that have not been recorded can theoretically be changed, although one can argue that were these smaller instances detailed, they would always play out the same way, either through The Company’s interference or without. What this presents us with is not the ability to change the unrecorded details of the past, but the perception that the past is changeable when it is, in fact, not. Sure, The Company can influence history in small ways (ie. by rescuing a goat) but one could argue that these influences were, for lack of a better word, “fated” to play out a certain way (ie. in the grand scheme of things, that goat was always destined to be rescued). The absence of a historical record concerning certain details gives the illusion that one can influence the past in certain ways because one does not know the outcome. So it is with Mendoza at novel’s end as she struggles to save Nicholas’s life. Success or failure are not in her hands, but in the determination of an immutable history. And I feel that the book’s conclusion says as much.

At first, I was a little disappointed with the way things wrapped up but, upon further reflection, I realized that, thematically, it was the only possible ending for this novel. We, as readers, are much like the agents for The Company, mere witnesses to these past experiences – the oft baffling, occasionally amusing skirmishing of monkeys. It’s easy to see the errors committed in retrospect which is why the desire to change past mistakes overwhelms. But what strikes home is not so much the inability to change what was, but the inability to see what is – history’s lessons applicable to the still compliant present. And, at book’s end, when Mendoza notes “There were monkeys out there fighting, screaming and pelting one another with rotten fruit” and she shudders, I shuddered right along with her.

Well-written, thought-provoking, and enormously entertaining. And, the best part is, it’s the first in a series.

So, what did everyone else think?

Hmmm. I see yesterday’s post engendered a fair amount of panic in fandom land. Sorry. I was in an introspective mood for a number of reasons and I wanted to put things into perspective. Too often, supporters of a show are left in the dark concerning the realities of film and television production and I just wanted to make sure you were all informed because, quite frankly, as supporters of this franchise for so many years, I thought you deserved to know that, often, a show‘s fate is not as cut and dried as one would thing. Now, given everything that was covered in yesterday’s entry, what most failed to note was my reference to SG-1’s impressive and surprising 10-year run. Way back when, we assumed it wouldn’t make it past a fifth season – and it did. Boy, did it ever. Things look more hopeful on the Atlantis front however, especially given its ratings (and, as I mentioned in yesterday’s comments section, particularly in key demos). And if this uptrend in the ratings continues, it will certainly go a long way toward making a case for a sixth season pick-up. Still, in spite of what some may assume, that decision is still a long way off. Come mid-season, I believe we’ll have a pretty fair idea of how things will play out. Until then – rally the troops and help get the word out! Give ’em a damn good reason to pick us up!

Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday boy Enzo Aquarius and to new Stargate fan Adria Nicole.

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.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

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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

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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.

June 25, 2008: Spoilers abound, the scene that almost got me killed, and actress Janina Gavankar offers to swing by and field your questions.

Mailbox quota exceeded? How the hell is that possible? I mean, COME ON! My writing partner Paul hasn’t deleted an email in over three years. His inbox looks like a guest list for an Italian wedding and yet he doesn’t seem to have any problem either sending or receiving. Of course, it may have been the size of the files being sent my way. They were images from Broken Ties that the visual effects department was sending MGM’s way for the official website. For some reason, I have become the middle man in all matters of publicity between the production and either the studio or network. Whether it’s photos, trailers, or episode synopses, they have to go through me before they go public. This because of past instances in which spoilers have been unintentionally revealed (as opposed to the intentional reveals I can do nothing about, ie. Cue network promo: “And in this week’s episode, you won’t believe the last five minutes…” Cut to a shot of Carson Beckett, very much alive. “…unless you happened to watch this promo. Stargate Atlantis! Watch it live – because when you‘re dead, it‘s nowhere near as good! ”).

 

Yeah, it’s always annoying when a major spoiler gets out. Still, there are so many precautions you can take. The early release of Search and Rescue is a great example. This season, we were faced with a choice: send out press screeners like last year and risk the episode ending up on the net, or hold of on sending out copies of the episode with the press kit. Ultimately, we decided to send out the screeners because we felt that there was more to be gained by getting the show out there to the various media outlets. Will the S&R leak hurt the ratings? Will the positive word of mouth and write-ups help the ratings? Well, we’ll find out in about a month.

Another source of the leaks that have plagued the production is the online system used to distribute sides for upcoming auditions. What happens is the production forwards a final script to the casting director and the casting director posts excerpts of the script at somewhere like showfax, an online resource community for actors. Having learned from the past, we’ve been very careful not to release full scripts or any scenes that we deemed “too spoilery”. So it came as a huge shock a couple of weeks ago when word broke that a major season 5 spoiler had been leaked. I did a little digging and discovered that the source was show fax. I checked with our casting directors and they were quite adamant that they had only posted the scenes directly related to the parts being cast. We were wracking our brains, trying to figure out what had happened, when Marty G. came up with a novel solution. He actually paid the subscription fee and logged onto showfax. As it turned out, the sides for the specific scenes had been posted – along with the transitional scenes that had been helpfully X’d out. Only problem was, those scenes were still readable. Mystery solved.

Now, instead of merely being careful, we’re being extra careful. And, if it comes to it, I suppose we’ll have to be extra extra careful. Still, there’s no guarantee we’ll manage to keep the spoilers in check. Which is why I came up with a spectacularly devious idea late in season 9 of SG-1. I actually wrote a scene that went something like this:

FADE IN:

INT. CORRIDOR – SGC – DAY

A somber General Landry heads down the hall with Major Evans.

Evans: How’re you holding up, sir?

Landry: It’s never easy to lose someone under your command, Major.

Evans: How’s the rest of SG-1 holding up?

Landry: As well as can be expected. They’ve just lost a close friend. It’ll take them a while to come to terms with what happened.

End scene.

In the end, the only thing that kept me from sending it in and sparking an online firestorm the likes of which had never been seen was Rob Cooper who took one look at the scene and informed me: “When the truth gets out about this, the fans are going to kill you.” I laughed. “No, I’m serious,”he said, stonefaced. “They will hunt you down and murder you in cold blood.” Of course I knew he was being sarcastic. Surely, once all was said and done, the fans would see the humor in the hoax and not resort to tracking me down and setting upon me like a pack of wild dingoes.

Yeah, I didn’t think so either. So I scrapped the idea.

Hey, just finished exchanging email with Janina Gavankar – a.k.a. Sergeant “Dusty” Wells from the season 5 episode Whispers, and she has expressed an interest in swinging by and fielding any questions and comments you may have about her on-set experience with us (It was, according to Janina, the most fun she’s ever had on any gig), how she managed to put up with Paul McGillion for so many days, and maybe a little sneak preview and some insight into her colorful character. I’ll start gathering questions for Janina starting tonight, then send them her way over the weekend.

And speaking of questions, start preparing your queries for author Kage Baker who will be joining us next week as well as we discuss her book, In the Garden of Iden.

Today’s pic: Well, since Janina has put me back in a Whispers mood, here’s a creepy little snap from the Whispers shoot.

June 21, 2008: Gremlins, Curses, Psychics, BOTMC Winners, and Kung Fu Scotsman!

Kung Fu Scotsman!

Furious Monkey stance

Carson Beckett M.D. - Mighty Debonair

The doctor is in.

Paul practices his new dance moves on Kerry

So which one do we feed to the wraith?

I realize this may sound a tad crazy, but I actually believe I’m being harassed by gremlins. Last month, it was the water damage in the furnace room. Weeks later, my satellite stops working. The other day, my cell phone dies on me. This morning, I go to turn on the t.v. and am greeted by a loud pop not unlike a balloon bursting. Suddenly, my plasma has been transformed into the world’s most expensive radio. I can hear the broadcast but the screen is dark. I hop in the car to run some errands and – PING! – a little orange light on my dashboard informs me that my right brake light needs servicing.

One, two, maybe even three of these things happening to me within a one-month period I could chalk up to coincidence. But five?! No, the only logical explanation is gremlins. Well, gremlins or some sort of curse.

I’m kind of bummed because there was a masseuse that used to come by the production offices a couple of years ago who, beside offering massages, also offered psychic services. It said so right on her card: Masseuse, Healer, Psychic. If I remember correctly, she also sold Mangosteen juice out of the back of a van. Unfortunately, I threw away her card ages ago thinking “Hey, when the hell am I ever going to need a psychic?”. And now look at me. Okay, granted, a psychic probably wouldn’t be able to help me with the gremlin/curse problem, but she probably could have put me in touch with a good exorcist or carpenter. I understand they all hang in the same circles.

Of course, far be it for me to make fun of psychics. Someone I know actually swears by them. They even played me a recording from their last visit to demonstrate the clairvoyant’s uncanny abilities. The sessions go something like:

Psychic: I’m seeing the letter L. L as in Larry. Leo. Lawrence. Lex. Lana. Lacey. Laura.

Friend: I have an Aunt Lori.

Psychic: Has she been sick?

Friend: No. She’s as strong as an ox.

Psychic: Tell her to bundle up this Winter. I see possible pneumonia in her future.

Friend: Oh, dear.

Psychic: I’m also seeing a man whose name starts with the letter P. Peter. Paul. Perry. Friend: Pat?

Psychic: Yes, Pat! You shouldn’t trust him.

Friend: He’s my neighbor. He borrowed my trowel last week.

Psychic: You should get it back. Also, he covets your azalea.

Friend: I knew it!

So, are there any bona fide psychics out there who could pinpoint the source of these supernatural afflictions and help rid me of their nefarious machinations. Or, at the very least, take a look at my picture tube?

 

Hey, what’s everybody reading? I hope it’s Kage Baker’s In the Garden of Iden because it is July’s SF Book of the Month Club selection and, in a little over a week, Kage will be dropping by to answer your comments and queries about the book. So finish up and start composing your thoughts for the discussion which begins the week of June 30th. And if you haven’t started…What are you waiting for?!

Congratulations go out to the randomly selected winners of the previous BOTMC discussions (The Blade Itself/The Android’s Dream/Crawlers): Jens and Ytimynona! I’ve sent you both emails regarding the prize so get back to me!

Today’s pics: Kung Fu Scotsman and such.

June 9, 2008: Chinchilla Wins Mayoralty Race in San Monito County

Lining up for the wraith team\'s free kick.

Our caterer also handles first-aid and pirating duties.

Waiting for the next shot - or lunch.

Archie from accounting would like to go over your expenses with you.

Joel Polis as Elson, owner of Elson\'s Old Time Intergalactic Tavern.

A back-issue of Ancient Architectural Digest.

I\'m always misplacing my rifle.

Like most high schools the set splits up into cliques, the jocks and the dandies.

Clearly we don\'t pay these office P.A.\'s enough.

And people complain that my writing is illegible.

Your typical day at the office.

If you experience computer problems go see Sid over at tech support.

Your guess is as good as mine.

I went over the script one last time, then handed in after lunch. Finally, I’m done. Until, of course, I get the notes and have to begin the rewrite. Alex Levine, who went over the script before distributing it, had some thoughts. He found the Shen imbroglio too subtle (I thought it might be). He bumped on the end of Act IV and its resolution (I figured some would). He felt the reveal needed to be moved up and the big decision needed more of a build (Hey, man. Don’t come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions.). I expect feedback from everyone else in the not too distant future. Hopefully before we all go our separate ways this Friday. The rest of the gang is understandably busy. Still, we did find time to gather and discuss Martin’s script (a very special Stargate Atlantis). The highpoint of the afternoon’s progress was, of course, the place-holder title we came up with: Snow Globe. Ah, the satisfaction of another day’s work well done.

I was rewarded with a package from Atlantis fan and artist Helene Labrie (aka FargateOne) who, somehow, correctly predicted I would be completing work on Remnants today and perfectly timed delivery of various chocolates (including a very-intriguing/alarming dark chocolate and Brittany seaweed) and a booklet containing an overview of some of Helene’s impressive sculptures. Click on the link to check out her work: http://www.tessimaphoto.com/galeriesweb/HeleneLabrie/. Merci, Helene.

Hey, just checked the sidebar and I see that next month’s Book of the Month Club discussions fast approach. A gentle reminder that we’ll have not one, not two, but all three authors swinging by to discuss their work and field your questions:

Kage Baker is coming by the week of June 30th to discuss In the Garden of Iden.

K.J. Bishop is coming by the week of July 7th to discuss The Etched City.

Jennifer Pelland is coming by the week of July 14th to discuss Unwelcome Bodies.

I’m hoping that we can equal this past month’s great reader response to John Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself and John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream. Oh – and I’ll be picking a couple of random winners from the recent discussions in the days to come.

And speaking of picking and the BOTMC, I suppose now is a good time to start thinking ahead to August’s selections. I have a couple of titles in mind, but would love to hear any recommendations you all might have.

 

Today’s pics: Behind the scenes on Outsiders.