July 12, 2008: Bookly Things and Behind-the-Scenes on Search and Rescue

I’d like to begin today’s blog entry by once again thanking K.J. Bishop for stopping by to spend time with us. As expected, her novel, The Etched City, engendered some fairly strong and wide-ranging opinions. According to Kirsten, she was “just amazed at the detail and thoughtfulness of the responses”. So, kudos to all those who took part in the discussion, offering up some very interesting thoughts and interpretations. Besides answering our questions, Kirsten also made it a point to throw a few questions our way…

“We’re all readers here, and I’m interested in what makes us readers,”she wrote. “What do we look for in books; why do we give them hours and days of our time?”

I already dedicated a blog entry to the reasoning behind my new-found passion for books so, to avoid repeating myself suffice it to say reading is one of my few non-guilty pleasures.

“Given the length of time it takes to read a book, is there something you as a reader expect in return that you wouldn’t expect from, say, a painting?”

Ideally, I would like to have my mind opened to new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, or arguments I’ve never considered. For the time I invest in reading a novel, all I ask for in return is a character or two I can care about and a story I can invest in.

“Do you read novels for insight into the human condition, to immerse yourself in another world, to live out fantasies vicariously?”

Both. In that respect, reading is not all that different from going to see a good movie or enjoying a well-written television series.

“Could you read a book that took abstract expressionism or cubism as its inspiration?”

Hey, like I said, if the characters are interesting and the story is engaging, why not?

“Is there anything you’d like to say about your relationship with these strange long lies called novels?”

Well, this is one relationship in which I strive to maintain an adventurous and promiscuous attitude.

Next, I’d like direct everyone’s attention to the image that accompanies today’s entry. It is award-winning illustrator John Picacio’s cover for Fast Forward 2, the follow-up to Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. FF1 was, of course, our SF Book of the Month Club selection back in February and the week of its discussion saw a visit from editor Lou Anders, our very first guests from the literary world. According to my sources (a.k.a. the search function on Amazon.com), FF2 hits the shelves on October 21, 2008. Don’t worry. I’ll remind you. In the meantime, enjoy the cover art. According to Lou: “this iteration of Fast Forward was very much influenced by the wonderful discussion with your readers, as well as by a joint sense, on both John and my part, that SF is very relevant to today’s world and has a very important job to play in it. That being said, the opening story, by Doctor Who’s Paul Cornell, about a sort of alt. history James Bond in a weird British-dominated solar system, is just pure wacky goodness and one of the most fun stories I’ve read in ages.” BTW, Lou’s latest anthology, a collection of alternate history crime fiction titled Sideways in Crime, was just released. Check it out.

John, meanwhile, had this to say about his work on FF2: “Covers like Lou’s FAST FORWARD 2 are dream assignments. What’s fun about them is the stories respond to the evolving state of science fiction and therefore, the covers should do the same. It’s an amazing collection of stories, and I’m proud to be associated with it. I studied posters about revolution and protest when I was working on this cover and that was certainly a conscious influence. There’s an awesome quote by Paul McAuley that you’ll find in Lou’s FF2 introduction, and it stuck in my head while I was creating this cover, “(Science fiction) not only shows us what could happen if things carry on the way they are, but it pushes what’s going on to the extremes of absurdity. That’s not its job: that’s its nature. And what’s happened to science fiction lately, it isn’t natural. It’s pale and lank and kind of out of focus. It needs to straighten up and fly right. It needs to reconnect with the world’s weather, and get medieval on reality’s ass.”

I think that people tend to overlook the importance of cover art. In all honesty, I probably would not have discovered the works of some of my favorite authors (Abercrombie, Lynch, Banks to name a few) if it weren’t for how damn good their books looked. It’s amazing how an eye-catching cover can tip the balance in favor of picking up a title while a garish or hideous cover can pretty much deep-six a purchase. What are your thoughts? Have you ever picked up a book based solely on the cover art? On the other hand, have you been so turned off by the look of a book that it actually dissuaded you from buying it? In my opinion, this is a seriously underappreciated but very important part of publishing. Agree? Disagree? What do you think? What does an illustrator like John Picacio think? Well, why don’t we ask him ourselves since he has graciously agreed to swing by and do his own guest Q&A on this blog.

Mosey on over here to check out some of John’s work (http://www.johnpicacio.com/index2.html), then come up with some hard-hitting questions for our very first guest-artist/illustrator/designer .

Next, I’d like to thank everyone for weighing in with their thoughts on Search and Rescue, our fifth season premiere. Fab director Andy Mikita continues his winning ways while Golden Boy Marty G. did a great job writing and producing what was, in my opinion, our best opener to date. Congrats to cast and crew on a job well done.

Finally, I’d like to wrap up today’s entry with a book recommendation. Or, more accurately, a re-recommendation. I already mentioned Glasshouse by Charles Stross last week when I finished reading it, but I wanted to make it a point to INSIST you pick it up. What’s it about? Well, Publisher’s Weekly offers the following write-up:

“The censorship wars”during which the Curious Yellow virus devastated the network of wormhole gates connecting humanity across the cosmos”are finally over at the start of Hugo-winner Stross’s brilliant new novel, set in the same far-future universe as 2005’s Accelerando. Robin is one of millions who have had a mind wipe, to forget wartime memories that are too painful”or too dangerously inconvenient for someone else. To evade the enemies who don’t think his mind wipe was enough, Robin volunteers to live in the experimental Glasshouse, a former prison for deranged war criminals that will recreate Earth’s “dark ages” (c. 1950″2040). Entering the community as a female, Robin is initially appalled by life as a suburban housewife, then he realizes the other participants are all either retired spies or soldiers. Worse yet, fragments of old memories return”extremely dangerous in the Glasshouse, where the experimenters’ intentions are as murky as Robin’s grasp of his own identity. With nods to Kafka, James Tiptree and others, Stross’s wry SF thriller satisfies on all levels, with memorable characters and enough brain-twisting extrapolation for five novels.”


Yep. Brain-twistingly brilliant.

Oh, and quick reminder to finish up Unwelcome Bodies. Discussion on this unsettling and no doubt controversial collection of short fiction begins Monday and author Jennifer Pelland will be dropping by to field our questions.

Today’s video: Search and Rescue.  Rehearse and shoot.

July 11, 2008: K.J. Bishop drops by to answer your questions, discuss The Etched City, and much more


the delicate crunch


the salty zing


Today’s special guest author joins us all the way from her home in Bangkok, Thailand. As a result of your interest in her novel, her willingness to make time for us, and, of course, the magic that is the internet, K.J. Bishop is here to address a slew of your questions and comments. A huge thank you to Kirsten for offering some wonderful insight into The Etched City, her writing process, and the craft of writing in general.

Today’s pics: I asked Kirsten to send me a picture of herself to accompany the entry and she directed me to these three photos that document her first taste of fried grasshopper during a bus trip to the tourist town of Siem Reap (for the full account, go here:  http://kjbishop.net/2008/07/06/an-entertaining-companion.html ).  She writes “would any of the photos halfway down the page […] be suitable or would you like something normal?”  Something normal?  Puleeze!  I’ve decided to use all three along with the accompanying descriptions. 

For those of you who simply won’t be satisfied with this lone guest blog entry (and I‘m sure there will be plenty), head on over to http://kjbishop.net/ for your K.J. Bishop fix. Over to you, Kirsten…

To Joe and everyone, thanks for your thoughtful comments and your questions. I’ve answered them all except a couple that were the same.

Joe writes: “In your mind, what happens to Gwynn at novel’s end?  I assumed his departing spirit was borne away by Beth/the Sphinx, but in your mind was this final act intended to suggest some sort of final redemption?  Yes?  No?  Wait for the sequel?”

In my mind at the time, his spirit and most of his physical substance were borne away. If Beth hadn’t saved him, the Coldrake would have got him, I think. I don’t know about redemption—redemption isn’t really in Gwynn’s idiom, as Sir Lancelot would say; the idea would be foreign to him, and to Beth too—but rescue, certainly. I have a scenario for what happens next, but I don’t know that it would be wise to write it, as after initial strangeness it heads into more conventional fantasy territory.

Sylvia writes:

“1. Loved the “general look” of the book cover the design and colors. Not sure of what the centerpiece is or depicts, as it had elements of possibly being one of the discoveries Raule had in her laboratory. Ignoring that, the colors and framing was—well, I liked it. Are you able to share the spark or impulse to its design?”

I can’t speak for the designer, but the publisher wanted it to look decadent and Art Nouveau-ish and to have crossover appeal between mainstream literature and fantasy. . That’s a pomegranate in the middle.

“2. For the courtroom portion, who and/or what is the significance of Madam L____ C___?”

I was so tired by then that I couldn’t think of a name, probably! Actually, it’s meant to imply that no one knows her full name, or that it would be indiscreet to reveal it. They used to use dashes like that in old books, so I might have been trying to hint that the whole epilogue was apocryphal, but I don’t seem able to remember, sorry.

“3. Gwynn’s never ending supply of cigarettes was intriguing. Initially, I was going to say he must have magic abilities too. Only at the end does he make a comment about packing choices to ensure he has enough cigarettes.”

Packing choices aside, every character is allocated a certain amount of hammerspace—it’s union rules J .

“4. Please elaborate on the lighter that Gwynn uses. The use of a “lighter”—of course that word strikes me as something more modern like a zappo/bic. So it seemed out of place instead of matches.”

The level of technology in the book is roughly 19th century, but I didn’t want it to be a facsimile of our own 19th century. The lighter was invented in the 1820s and the technology improved a lot during the First World War—so, close enough. You mentioned newspapers, too—they had those in the Old West. I wanted to include a few items that would be feasible with the industrial development they’ve got in the book, but also ordinary to a modern reader, so that the ordinary becomes the exotic element.

“5. The story seemed to be set up whereby Gwynn and Raule might continue the “adventure” together. But that did not happen. What were your thoughts? Did you intend to give Gwynn a love interest from the beginning? Did this just evolve?”

I always knew he would fall in love. I’d already written a rough version of his affair with Beth. I didn’t know Raule was going to basically disown him, but she was adamant about that.

“6. It seemed that the etchings on Gwynn’s sword and/or Beth’s art might be linked to the title—the Etched City. Is this thought on the right track?”

Beth’s art, definitely. I hadn’t thought about the sword—but sure, why not? The inspiration for the book’s title—and the first inspiration for Ashamoil itself—came from this image by Sidney Sime for Lord Dunsany’s story How One Came As Foretold to the City of Never, which I think is an aquatint, though it might be pen and ink.

“7. Did you have any experience that led you to write this book?”

Different experiences contributed to different scenes. Driving across the Australian outback, a godawful holiday in Morocco… and, particularly, a story I was told that provided the basis for the murder of Hart’s wife. This guy was an ex-kickboxer turned kickboxing promoter. He must have got on the wrong side of the wrong people, because his wife was murdered in her bed. Their baby son was left alive. For years, I assumed the killers hadn’t been able to shoot the child. Then I realised it must have been for insurance. They needed to leave the guy something to protect and live for, or he would have come after them—he was pretty tough. The idea of a violent world with completely different laws colliding with your own safe world wouldn’t let me go, and that in turn led me to think about magical and supernatural worlds infecting or colonising ordinary ones. Richard Calder’s Dead trilogy inspired me in that direction, too.

“8. What was the basis for the character Gwynn? I found him interesting and intriguing.”

He comes from a lot of places. He’s named after the Welsh god of the hunt and the otherworld, Gwynn ap Nudd—so he’s that kind of dark hunter, except that he’s also a comparatively modern man—a dandy in the Baudelairean sense. Baudelaire wrote that “dandyism is the last flicker of heroism in decadent ages.” That captured my imagination. I like to think that the mythic and the ordinary mingle in him. Sometimes heroes become gods; then gods dwindle into fairies and folkloric amusements—or just mere mortals. He’s somewhere at the bottom of that trajectory; he is descended from myths and legends, but he’s human. However, he has the vanity of Lucifer and he tries to be the most interesting human he can be. He’s been in my head for a long time, since I was a kid. He’s picked up a lot of influences over the years—the violence came earlier, the dandyism later. Various figures and characters stuck their own influences on him, from Adam Ant to Maldoror .

Narelle form Aus writes: “What was your motivation for moving to Thailand from Australia?
Was it for inspiration, job opportunities, change in lifestyle?”

My husband Stu and I had been to Thailand twice and knew we could have a good life here. It was financially advantageous. I’m also allergic to something in the air in Australia—grass or pollen or something that’s everywhere. I don’t have that problem here.

“My reason for asking…

Our long term goal (in around 5 years to get everything in place) is to sell up most items here in Australia and live in Thailand for a much simpler life as opposed the crazy, materialistic world that surrounds us here.

My ultimate goal is to open an education centre for women in the hope they do not have to resort to prostitution but that will come down to whether I will be beating my head against a brick wall due to a pre-existing culture that won’t budge. Even if I can help just a few girls get the required skills to give them a well paying job and break the cycle then I’ll be happy.

We are heading over to Thailand in a few weeks to spend a bit more time trying to work out if it is something that is realistic or just a dream.

I always get told I’m crazy for even thinking of doing something like this. Oh well, so be it. Thank you for coming to visit here and your blog is great!”

If you want to leave the crazy, materialistic life behind, Bangkok isn’t the place to move to. However, other parts of Thailand offer an opportunity for a great simple life—renting a bungalow on an island, for instance, though you’ll need a source of income, and it can be hard to find a good job in those idyllic locations. Bear in mind, though, that the visa situation is problematic. Thailand doesn’t bend over backwards to encourage foreigners to stay and work or do business here, so best to do your research carefully before you commit to anything.

Regarding your idea for an education centre, there’s an organisation called Empower that you should definitely check out:




If you look at the website, you’ll see that Empower has education centres. Sex workers may want to remain in the job for as long as they can for the sake of the money, but in the meantime academic education, money management and business skills can make a huge difference to their lives afterwards. A sex worker can set herself up very well if she is astute. If she lifts herself out of the poverty cycle she may well lift others in time. Education can also help a woman get a better job in a better bar—if she speaks English, for instance.

A little bit more about the money. The problem is basically that the gap between rich and poor in Thailand is immense. Most of the women who become prostitutes or bar girls are poor, usually from rural areas. An uneducated girl can earn 3-4000 baht a month in a factory, maybe 5000 as a maid in Bangkok. As an unskilled dancer (shuffling around a pole) in a bar, she can earn 14,000 if she doesn’t go with customers. If she goes with customers, the pay goes up a long way. A pretty girl can make 100,000 a month. To make that kind of money outside the sex industry she would need a professional education and a very good job. Check on this, but I think you’re looking at jobs like heart surgeon and high level executive.

Another important fact is that nearly all sex workers send a large portion of their income home to their families. They may be supporting their parents or enabling their siblings to stay at school. They can’t afford to take time off for university, and on a shop worker’s or clerical salary that they might be able to obtain with lesser qualifications they couldn’t do nearly as much for their families. Sex work is one of the very few channels through which significant capital flows from rich to poor in Thailand. Regarding “a pre-existing culture that won’t budge,” really, what isn’t budging is poverty and a culture of inept, corrupt governance that lets poverty continue.

I really urge you to talk to Empower, if you’re comfortable with the idea of sex workers remaining sex workers while they’re young enough to be paid well for it and to find work in clean, comparatively safe establishments. If you’re not comfortable with that, I honestly think you’ll end up wasting your energy and goodwill. But re that and all of the above, don’t take my word for it. A lot of misconceptions about Thailand arise from people believing what someone else says. It’s great that you’re going to come and investigate for yourself.

N.B. The western media is not always careful to differentiate between regular sex work and sex slavery. The girls who end up as indentured prostitutes generally come from other, poorer countries in the region. They are not the majority of sex workers in Thailand and you’re unlikely to find them in areas that foreigners have access to. Also, consider that prostitution exists all over the world. Conditions for sex workers in Thailand, at least those in establishments catering to foreigners, compare favourably with many other countries in terms of safety, safe sex, and the right to refuse clients. You might find you can do more good elsewhere, such as Cambodia, which you could check out while you’re in Thailand, or by joining an organisation that fights child prostitution and sex slavery.

AMZ writes: “Did you set out to create the city as a character in its own right?”

Nope, not really. It’s meant to be a stage set for the action. I come from a visual arts background, so it seemed natural to me to “draw” the background around the characters. I’ve travelled a bit and seen some fascinating cities, so I used impressions of those. To some extent Ashamoil is a collection of my holiday snaps. I looked at some of my favourite writers who have created vivid places—M. John Harrison, Pierre Loti, Lawrence Durrell—and tried to study their techniques, but I still only thought I was designing a set. I hadn’t come across the concept of a city as a character at that time, I don’t think.

AMZ writes: “When/where did you intend the setting of the book to be? Was it a post-apocalyptic world or a pre-technological one?”

I intended it to be roughly 19th century in terms of technology, and postwar—any war, take your pick—in terms of zeitgeist. I didn’t set out to make it post-apocalyptic.

“A lot of books which include a journey start in a city, town etc, and then go into the physical journey. But with The Etched City you started with the physical journey and then looked at city life. It seemed to emphasise the psychological journeys of the characters in the city, but I wanted to ask: why did you structure the story like that?”

It was gut instinct to start with, I think. Back in Melbourne I lived in an area where there were a lot of refugees, people from places like Sudan who’d come to a city in a foreign country in hope of a better life. As usual there were doctors working as taxi drivers because their qualifications weren’t recognised, people who’d been through horrifying traumas being expected to just get on with life in an alien culture, some doing okay, others falling into despondency. Their stories influenced the book’s structure. I also wanted to show what Gwynn had been before he reinvented himself as a dandy and an urban criminal.

“Were there any myths and historical events/places that influenced the world you created in The Etched City?”

The wasteland motif, the journey to the promised land, the myth of the femme fatale. Civil wars, but I don’t think you could single out one in particular.

Charlie’s Angel writes: “What made you decide to move away from the character of Raule and concentrate on Gwynn? Did you plan that from the beginning, or did the story just grow that way?”

What happened was that I lost contact with Raule’s voice in my head. I had only written a couple of short stories before I wrote the book and didn’t know much about writing. I relied a lot on my unconscious mind to produce the story, and it was as if Raule slipped out of the dream I was having. I knew it was a problem; I just couldn’t find a solution at the time. Raule is probably the most mature person in the book, and perhaps at the time I wasn’t enough of a grownup to slip into her shoes.

McWraith writes: “1. Do you feel being Australian gives your writing a unique flavour?”

That’s hard to answer. Australia is a pretty diverse place. There might be a style of speech, secular attitudes, perhaps an appreciation of platonic friendships between men and women—I don’t seem to see so much of that in American culture. Although I’m an urban Aussie and only a tourist in the outback, the immense age of the land, they way it is worn down by time, and the way our cities cling to the coasts, gives me a sense of civilisation as a young, fragile thing that we have to tend carefully. There’s a sense of strangeness about Australia —one was born there, one lived there, but one hardly inhabited the place, because it is largely uninhabitable. In a place like Rome or London, the psychogeography is rich. In Australian cities it’s flimsy. The European history only goes back to the 19th century in most places, and the Aboriginal history is mostly invisible. These factors probably influence my writing.

“2. Could you share about your journey to getting published? Did you have to persevere through a lot of knock backs or did it come easy?”

Two knockbacks, then I published through Prime, a small press in the US, on a friend’s recommendation. Through Prime, I met authors who recommended me to an agent. He sold the book to major publishers in the US and UK—the latter being one of the two who turned it down at first, although by then it had been heavily revised and was a better book. In short, I was incredibly lucky.

“3. Have you earned a degree or doctorate in creative writing? Or have there been any courses or workshops that have been helpful in developing your gift?”

I have a BA in English, so I studied books. I don’t have a doctorate in anything—I have little Latin and less Greek (though my Japanese is ok). I did one creative writing course in poetry, with Chris Wallace-Crabbe, which gave me an interest in the word-by-word details of writing. I consider books my best teachers. I study the techniques of writers I like—that is, I study them now. I didn’t decide to try being a writer until after I’d written that first book. At the moment I’m reading Frederick Forsyth, as I’m trying to learn some tricks of plotting. I have an aversion to workshops. I prefer to get the opinions of a few people who I know are honest and perceptive.

Thornyrose writes: “When writing Etched City, was it a case of the book writing itself, where you simply started with your characters, or did you outline the novel, including some of the more fantastical aspects of the tale?”

Initially it wrote itself. At some point I had to try and plan and order it a bit. Then it did some more of its own thing. Mainly, I just tried to follow the characters without interfering too much.

“Are you planning other stories or novels in the “Etched City” universe, examining other parts of the world you’ve portrayed so vividly?”

Not especially. I’m not a fanatical worldbuilder. Those environments were stage sets, and they’re packed away now. I’m not interested in creating a secondary world that you could draw on a map or write an encyclopedia about. But the characters, yes. I can’t resist writing about Gwynn from time to time, but so far I haven’t been able to manage more than vignettes, which I wouldn’t even try to publish (see answer to next question).

“Was the epilogue planned from the start to wrap up the story of Gwynn and Raule, or did you decide to add it after finishing the main story? I thought it was admirable and gutsy to close out their stories that way. Though there is still room for sequels involving them, the epilogue seems to seriously restrict such opportunities.”

It wasn’t planned from the start, but I’d written a story several years before, The Art of Dying, featuring Gwynn. The Etched City is set sometime prior to that story. I decided to link the two together. I also deliberately made it hard for myself to write a sequel. I wanted to force myself to write different things, so I put that obstacle there.

“Finally, what conditions do you normally write in? Do you prefer music or other distractions in the background, do you set down to write at certain times each day, or do you write when the Muse strikes, so to speak?”

I write in the mornings. I live in two rooms in Bangkok. My husband’s a night owl, so the mornings are mine. I used to write late at night. I usually write the afternoons, too, when I’m not at work. I sometimes write with music in the background. My number one composer to listen to when I write is Harold Budd. Coincidentally Jeff Ford, one of my favourite writers, listens to him too. When I was writing battle scenes for The Etched City I listed to the Ennio Morricone’s film scores (A Fistful of Dollars, et al) and Basil Poledouris’s score for Conan the Barbarian. If I only wrote when the muse struck I would never write at all, but the muse lurks, and by writing he or she can be encouraged to come out and bop me on the head with a sparkler. I wrote some of The Etched City in the atrium of the Crown Casino in Melbourne, which is a psychedelic sort of environment.

Airelle writes: “What/why were the ghosts in Raules dreams?

Old comrades long gone, probably.
“Was the story/characters from an experience or a dream? A lot of dream reference in the story is why I ask.”

Only one line in the book comes from a dream—“You don’t know how dead you are.” On the whole, my dreams don’t furnish material for writing. (The other night I dreamt about a Pacman robot with Darth Vader’s head. I don’t want to touch that stuff with a 10-foot pole…)

“How do you try to think of ideas for a story?”

Sometimes ideas come serendipitously. Sometimes I have to put screws on my brain and hope something seeps out. As a last resort, I summon devils and get them to give me ideas. What seems to happen to me is that a character comes into my head, and then I spend a long time trying to understand that character. It can be like tuning a short wave radio. I have to be patient. I listen to the character while they tell me what they want to do, and we have a conversation about how we could collaborate. Sometimes other people give me ideas. Because my own process is so slow, it’s good when someone says, “Write a story about this.” I’ve done that a few times, not counting commercial work where I wrote short fiction for real money. It’s amazing how the muse will hop to it for a dollar a word.

“Is a lot of research involved once you get an idea?”

It depends on the idea. I try to get away with as little research as possible, but sometimes you have to read a lot of background material to get the one or two details that will end up in the work.

Anti-Social Butterflie writes: “Dear Ms. Bishop –

How did you come up with the character, Beth? Was she based on a real life person or was she an extension of yourself?

It seems as though you have a casual ease with the character that, in my experience, tends to come from an intimate clarity about that person.”

There’s a book called Idols of Perversity by Bram Dijkstra that looks at the femme fatale, often iconised as the sphinx, in fin-de-siécle culture. I was fascinated by the neurotic attitudes of men towards women that the book discusses. Prevalent was the idea that man must be the creator, woman the passive muse. I decided to make the sphinx the creator and give her a male muse. In that sense, Beth is like me. I have male muses. I studied printmaking, so I knew what the process of her work involved, which is always helpful in being familiar with a character. She has a mythic dimension, too. She isn’t an extension of myself so much as an embodiment of something I care about, namely the right of a woman to be what she wants to be. I still don’t think we’re anywhere near achieving that. She’s my feminist icon, my Kali. That’s why the world of dangerous men can’t touch her. She’s my wishful thought.

“Also do you relate more to Raule or Gwynn or are they two sides of your own personality?”

I relate to them both. They both have aspects of my personality, but I’m not as brave as either of them or as determined as Raule to do good in the world. I have Gwynn’s skepticism and Raule’s waspishness (sometimes).

Michelle writes: “My questions for K.J. Bishop would be, what inspired the desert descriptions — have you spent time in deserts?

In the arid outback of Australia—two long roadtrips there, and an impromptu excursion to the edge of the Sahara in Morocco. Those, plus the Spaghetti Westerns that Joe mentioned, were the main inspiration, along with Mad Max and Pierre Loti’s book The Desert. Since then I’ve been to Jordan and Egypt. Deserts used to fascinate me but I feel I’ve seen enough of them now. The desert was partly inspired by the Wasteland myth that you have in Grail legends and T.S. Eliot’s poem. There’s an awesome Wong Kar Wai film, Ashes of Time, set in a desert. It gave me some inspiration too. I could probably also say Tatooine. Maybe my inner six-year-old told me that stories start in deserts and then go someplace else entirely.

“Second, what do you have in the works now?”

Secret—can’t tell, sorry! I get superstitious about WIPs. Sometimes when you talk about them it seems to have an adverse effect.

Sparrow Hawk writes: “1. What is the significance of the red thread/Beth’s red hair? It seems to attain the significance of a religious relic to Gwynn.”

That’s something that I think is open to interpretation, but my take on it would be that, atheist that he is, he doesn’t realise it, but some part of him has a devotional relationship to her. Red thread is used in Hindu ritual; it also figures as a protective charm in Jewish culture. Red has various esoteric meanings that I thought were appropriate for Beth. It’s the colour of the left hand path of tantra, and Lilith supposedly had red hair.

“2. Is Beth human?”

There’s no definite answer to that question. Is a caterpillar a butterfly? J There are multiple possibilities—and within the book, multiple subjective realities in which she might be different things.

“3. The book gave me the feeling of wandering through an art gallery — from the clean, stark desert paintings of Georgia O’Keefe (Copper Country) into Salvador Dali then on to Aubrey Beardsley, Hieronymus Bosch and M.C. Escher with touches of Paul Gauguin. What was your inspiration for the book?”

There were many influences from different places. As for artistic inspiration, there was the Sidney Sime illustration I mentioned above, Beardsley definitely, the Australian painter Russell Drysdale for the Copper Country, old prints of India in the Raj days; architecturally, the cityscapes of Rome and Fez; and I think some things that go back to childhood, like Dr Seuss and Maurice Sendak—the boy who dreams of becoming a Wild Thing in the jungle, if he were a girl, might be Beth.

“It made me wonder whether, in Bishop’s fantastic world, perhaps Beth is a goddess who took on a human body and eventually, after experiencing all she could in this world, ultimately shed her mortal form. Maybe Gwynn, her demon and muse, both inspired her art and enabled her to complete that transformation.”

I think that’s a very plausible reading. While the text really doesn’t tell you, something a lot like that was in my mind.

A few of responses to points raised:

The religious discussions—if I were writing the book again now, I would try to knock some verbiage off those. I wanted to give Gwynn an equal adversary in the Rev. Looking back, instead of talking so much about abstract theology, perhaps the Rev should have nagged him more about actual crimes he committed.

Can you write without an inborn “It” —Somerset Maugham and George Orwell both worked hard to improve their writing. I don’t know if they had “it” or if they grew “it” through diligence. As for structuring things properly, the word “properly” smells bad to me. Writing, done “properly”, is in danger of reaching the condition of Tupperware. I’d like to improve my control over structure and other aspects of craft, sure, but I think you have to beware of formulas that smooth off all the rough corners and eliminate oddnesses and asymmetries.

The battle on the bridge—I might have overdone the amount of luck the Horn Fan had. I wanted the reader to be pretty sure something supernatural was at work, perhaps Beth’s imperviousness to danger rubbing off on Gwynn and his mates. But I think I could have either been more subtle or provided more explanation.

Beverly writes: “Even Raule was morally corrupt in her own way—she never protested when Gwynne tortured a young boy to death. She just stood there and felt nothing.”

I think Raule was exhausted. I’m interested in the fragility of civilisation and morals. We seem to slide rather easily when we’re hungry, tired and frightened, or when our own friends/family/comrades are threatened or harmed. That was a nadir for her, but perhaps most of us, under similar stresses, would have reacted the same way.

Terry writes: “I am curious how KJ Bishop categorizes her story.”

I don’t categorise it, lol. I don’t have a taxonomic mind. It’s fiction. Fantasy, if you really push me. Beyond that, I run shrieking from the label monster. I don’t think it really matters, except for marketing, which isn’t my job, thank goodness.

Phew! Joe said I could talk about anything I liked, but I feel all talked out. So instead of talking, I’ll ask some questions. We’re all readers here, and I’m interested in what makes us readers. What do we look for in books; why do we give them hours and days of our time? Given the length of time it takes to read a book, is there something you as a reader expect in return that you wouldn’t expect from, say, a painting? Do you read novels for insight into the human condition, to immerse yourself in another world, to live out fantasies vicariously? Other reasons? Could you read a book that took abstract expressionism or cubism as its inspiration? Is there anything you’d like to say about your relationship with these strange long lies called novels?

July 8, 2008: Meals, Musings, and Mailbag

Napkin at m:brgr
Smoked meat sandwich and fries at Smoked Meat Pete
Smoked meat sandwich and fries at Smoked Meat Pete
Crispy sweetbread and squid, chorizo, piquillo peppers, pumpkin seeds, and seafood emulsion at Bronte Restaraunt
Crispy sweetbread and squid, chorizo, piquillo peppers, pumpkin seeds, and seafood emulsion at Bronte Restaraunt
Baised rabbit pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and olive oil at Restaurant Bronte
Baised rabbit pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and olive oil at Restaurant Bronte
lobster and veal
My surf ‘n turf combo at Club Chasse et Peche: lobster and veal

Hmmm. I’m busier now at home than I was back at work. So much for time off. And with Fondy out of town, my meals have tended toward the uninspired: tuna, chicken, soup, and salad. A far cry from my feasting frenzy in Montreal. That dinner at Restaurant Garcon aside, I’d declare it a fairly successful culinary trek through my old stomping grounds. Some of the highlights:

Lunch at Smoked Meat Pete: If there’s one thing Montreal is known for (besides strip clubs) it’s smoked meat, so whenever I’m in town I make it a point to stop by my favorite lunch spots – Smoked Meat Pete. When you order up a sandwich, make sure to specify between lean and medium-fat (I personally lean toward the latter). Pete’s is known for their fries, a love ’em or hate ’em menu item that is lovingly double deep-fried for extra tastiness. And they ARE tasty.

Dinner at Bronte Restaurant: Now this is more like what I was expecting from the Montreal fine dining scene. The appetizer of braised rabbit pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and olive oil was heavenly, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in recent memory. For the appetizer route, next time I’m in town I’m ordering a triple portion as my main. My sister really enjoyed her veal tenderloin as well as the salad of chorizo, piquillo peppers, pumpkin seeds and seafood emulsion that accompanied her crispy sweetbread and squid starter. The service was first rate, attentive without overwhelming.

Dinner at Club Chasse et Peche: A cavernous dining room in Old Montreal boasts one of the city’s most revered restaurants not to mention one deliciously buttery lobster dish. My mother adored her kobe beef and short rib.

Continuing our discussion of The Etched City –

Thornyrose writes: “I was constantly reevaluating the world they were in, trying to decide if it was a post apocalyptic Earth, an alternate Earth, or a separate universe.”

And Sylvia writes: “This was another world in the “old west/cowboy settings and medieval Europe” and also middle east/Africa. Technology was not advanced. There seemed to be some skipping around with technology or mysticism or magic and also in timeframes. At first the introduction of newspaper surprised me.”

Answer: Yes, there were a fair number of seeming anachronisms but they didn’t really bother me. Like you, Thornyrose, I vacillated. I imagined their world as a distant future in which rare elements of technological advancement have survived after societal collapse. Either that, or an alternate Earth whose progress has followed a distinctly different path.

Sylvia also writes: “Finally after 2/3 of the book, I think I realized the significance of the title Etched City – all of the drawings that Beth does; the etchings on Gwynn’s sword.”

Answer: Well do tell. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Sylvia also writes: “Still do not have full appreciation of the religion discussion between Rev and Gwynn. Not the first, second, or even the last when Rev does the miracle.”

Answer: I agree. Although I found Rev’s motivations interesting (the fact that he is a corrupt priest who attempts to redeem himself, not by changing himself but by changing Gwynn), I wasn’t sure quite what to make of the sacrifice and renewal at novel’s end.

Sylvia also writes: “Have to admit, I thought Gwynn was going to figure more in Raule’s life, but of course that did not happen.”

Answer: As did I, especially given that the book begins from Raule’s point of view. Still, I give Bishop points for not going down the obvious route of some sort of romantic entanglement between the two. Their relationship was one of the most interesting male-female dynamics I’ve read in a long time.

Thornyrose also writes: “The hardest thing for me to grasp, or follow, was the relationship between Beth and Gwynn. This aspect of the book above all others moved this book into the fantasy genre for me. Like so much else in this novel, I felt off balance, trying to figure out what was happening, or even what was real in the context of the novel.”

Answer: Yes. Beth struck me as almost vampiric, using Gwynne as a muse for her art, drawing on his dark energy to give life to her creations. I found it curious how she seemed impervious to danger, mesmerizing even the most fearsome of assassins and mercenaries, strolling through their turf without a care in the world. It was as though she was exuding a dark energy of her own that held them in awe.

Thornyrose also writes: “Raule’s niche in the city; her rejection by the medical establishment as some sort of quack practioner, and her continued self education even as she was forced to settle for a position she was vastly overqualified for.”

Answer: Yes. I was fascinated by Raule’s determination, first in striving to attain a position as a healer to the city’s destitute and then, much later, striving to attain a similar position of witch doctor to the nomadic tribe she joins. Unlike Gwynne who refuses to change (as Rev discovers the hard way), Raule is always transforming herself – from idealist rebel to wanted outlaw to outsider to respected surgeon to outsider again to respected witch doctor.

Thornyrose also writes: “Elm. His ambitions, his scheming, his willingness to gamble his entire fortune on the outcome of a single battle, his ultimate end.”

Answer: Hmm. To be honest, this was the one element that really bothered me. I had a hard time buying that standing authority would accept such a barbaric means of settling disputes. I was also bothered by the fact that the way the battle swung seemed to imply supernatural forces at work (with Beth as the source I assumed) but this was never pursued or addressed.

AMZ writes: “, The Muqaddimah (I think that’s the correct spelling) by 14th century North African historiographer Ibn Khaldun. Khaldun compares Bedouin cultures within Africa to sedentry civilisation, and a watered-down version of what he says is that Bedouin tribes tended to me more aware, alert, respectful of their surroundings and capable of survival. They also seemed more content. I found it really interesting to compare his philosophies with the development of Gwynn and Raule – how they were before they reached Ashamoil, and how they were once they had settled into life in the city.”

Answer: Interesting, particularly as it relates to Gwynn who, in my eyes, availed himself quite nicely once he was in the city, exploiting the opportunities presented him to secure a comfortable position. That said, in spite of his success he was far from content. In comparison, Raule had a much more difficult time of it and yet, while I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest she was content, I did sense that she derived a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that she was helping others.

AMZ writes: “This connection made me start to wonder – would Gwynn and Raule have ever been friends if they hadn’t needed to be? It seems from their interaction in Ashamoil that the answer could be “no”, but somehow I always seemed to think there was chemistry of some sort between the two of them – a connection that couldn’t be broken by their distaste for each other in the city, possible from their experiences in the desert together? What do others think.”

Answer: I don’t know. I found their relationship fascinating in that they were so very different and yet, beyond those differences, one couldn’t help but sense a mutual respect present in their dealings with one another. As for whether I think they would have been friends if circumstances hadn’t thrown them together? Probably not. Given who they were, I don’t find it very likely that the two would have developed any sort of friendship. However, the experiences they did share, while dire, allowed them to see each other at their very best and their very worst.

If you have any questions for author K.J. Bishop, make sure you get them in soon because I’ll be sending them her way tomorrow night.

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to Kassandra. Hope all goes well with the MRI.

The mailbag returns:

DasNDanger writes: “Are you nervous about the new season and how fans will receive it, or what the numbers will show?”

Answer: Overall, I’m very happy with the way season 5 is coming along and I’m confident that the fans will be pleased with what we have in store for them: our usual mix of action, comedy, adventure, character developments, and surprises. As for what the numbers will show – well, I’ve been fairly philosophical of late. I know our fans will tune in and enjoy the show and I’m certain that the first-time viewers who tune in t check us out won’t be disappointed, but the task of growing our audience rests with the studio and network. Promote the show and people will tune in to see what the fuss is about. It’s as simple as that.

Arctic Goddess writes: “Have you ever read The White Plague by Dune author Frank Herbert?”

Answer: On Brad Wright’s recommendation, I picked up and ended up making it November’s Book of the Month Club scifi pick. My thoughts here: 



Wraith Cake writes: “Dear Joe, I have to admit (sheepishly looks around) I typically don’t read anyone else’s comments on your blog except the people who I know from the WDC—I already have enough posts to sift through as it is. However, it looks like my question has stimulated quite a bit of discussion, and taken on a personality of its own, which usually happens with controversial topics.”

Answer: Well, nothing wrong with a little controversy so long as everyone plays nice.

Mrs.B108 writes: “Will Sheppard and Ronon have any significant disagreements this year, something possibly resulting in more than just angry words?”

Answer: Yes they will. Check out season 5’s third episode, Broken Ties.

Mrs.B108 writes: “Beyond motherhood, does Teyla have any strong angsty storylines this year?”

Answer: Mucho angst for Teyla in The Queen and later Prodigal.

Neb writes: “If Vega is the leader, Porter is the Doc, and Dusty is the bodyguard, what’s Cox’s character’s role on the team?”

Answer: Teldy is a Major. She’s the team leader.

PinkSander writes: “Also sorry on the dinner woes. Maybe the kitchen had an off night, do you think you’ll brave it and try it once more? Or did you have enough that night?”

Answer: My time in Montreal is limited and rather than risk a repeat performance, I’d prefer going somewhere I’ve already enjoyed or trying somewhere new. If it was simply a case of a dish or two being problematic, I’d say the kitchen had an off night, but quality was pretty suspect across the board. Also, some of the creations weren’t simple missteps. They were downright disasters.

Rose writes: “I’ve been reading your blog for close to a year now and I can’t help but notice that “Whispers” seems to be very close to your heart, more so than any of the other Atlantis episodes you’ve written. Am I wrong?”

Answer: Yes and no. Given the complexities of the episode (and because I had some free time), I made it a point to be on set throughout production so, in that respect, Whispers did garner more of my attention. I’m equally proud of Broken Ties however and, hopefully, I’ll be able to say the same for Remnants.

Montrealer writes: “Now that you are back on the West coast. Did the dogs miss you?”

Answer: They did! The second I walked through the door, they were bounding around me like I bacon in my pockets.

DasNdanger writes: “ I hope this isn’t a prying question, but what part of Italy is your mum from? The reason I ask is because my friend looks so much like her (my mom agrees), and her youngest daughter looks very much like your sister. She told me tonight her family’s from Naples, so I was just curious if – perhaps – your mother is from the same region.”

Answer: Hmmm. Interesting. My mother is from the Altamura (southern) region of Italy. But my father’s family is from Naples.

DasNdanger also writes: “I had a call first thing this morning – mom had a fall and was rushed to the hospital. […]. Fortunately, she only dislocated her shoulder (which is bad enough) and is now home, resting more comfortably.”

Answer: Hope she’s on the mend and on her way to a full recovery. Hopefully she’ll be back to pitching for her softball team in no time.

Toby writes: “Hey Joe. I’m off to Tokyo for 2 weeks in a couple of days and wondered if you’d ever been there? If you have been, do you have any suggestions of places to eat/places to visit?”

Answer: Hey, Toby. Yes, I’ve been to Tokyo a number of times. Check out a place called Gonpachi. There’s one in Ginza and another in Odaiba. Also, get up early and enjoy a sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market. Finally, if you’re willing to spend a few bucks, treat yourself to a meal you won’t soon forget at the Tapas Molecular Bar in the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. Read all about it here: http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2006/12/05/december-5-2006-part-ii/

AMZ writes: “Hope all goes well with the plasma repairs and, hey, did you ever solve your cell phone problem?”

Answer: Yes, I solved the problem by getting a new phone.

Shadow Step writes: ““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.”

With the respect to the author (and not having read the book you speak of) that sounds like setting the difficulty level at easy. Surely its when there are no limits it becomes difficult. (Just think how they moan about the teleporter on Atlantis”

Answer: Quite the opposite actually. Having no limits means no rules and THAT puts the difficulty level at easy (a.k.a. lazy).

DasNdanger also writes: “Joe – I’ve often had a sip of Jager to settle my stomach. The main herb in Jager is known for its ‘digestive’ benefits.”

Answer: Hey, ever have an oatmeal cookie? One shot Jaeger, one shot butterscotch schnapps, one shot Goldenschlager, and one shot Bailey’s. Taaaasty!

Thunder writes: “Hey, I finally get to see some captions under the pictures. Have all your previous pictures have had captions under them before?”


Answer: To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what happened. For some reason, the captions just started appearing under the pictures.

Mrs.B108 writes: “Does physical torture play a part in the season to come?”

Answer: Yep. We’ll certainly be surpassing our torture quota this year.

JennyL UK writes: “I’m coming to Vancouver on holiday with some friends on Saturday and I was wondering if you could recommend any good restaurants for us?”

Answer: Sure. Fuel, Vij’s, Tojos, Yujis, Don Francesco, Bristrot Bistro, the Seoul House, Sun Sui Wah, The Memphis Barbecue House, Fortune Garden, Rekados, Tai Son, Prima Taste. Start with those and get back to me.

AutumnDream writes: “ Is the light hearted action-adventure tone of the show too prohibitive for the more heavy literary concepts you enjoy in novels? Even though Stargate has massive scope and story potential, I can see how a writer for the show – or any television show, for that matter – might find himself limited in terms of the “heavyness” of idea he wishes to express.”

Answer: I don’t think there’s anything that prohibits us from telling “heavier” stories. I’d say that season four saw its share of decidedly dark moments (Reunion, Missing, Miller’s Crossing, Last Man). Too often, it’s not the subject matter per se but the way it is executed that gets us into trouble. When the network and studio reads a script, they’re main concern is to ensure that everyone at home “gets it”, which certainly ensures a general understanding of a given episode but, frankly, makes it very difficult to impart any subtlety to a given story.

StellaByStargate writes: “Based on what Martin Gero said in the intro to the scene, would it be safe to assume that it was your intention to go on the record, albeit in your usually deft and subtle manner, in confirming the relationship between Sam and Jack at that point…”

Answer: Yes.

StellaByStargate continues: “…and that, for all intents and purposes, the existence of their relationship is a given among TPTB.”

Answer: Depends which PTB you happen to be referring to. Hey, we can’t even agree on lunch.

July 7, 2008: K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City

It has drawn comparisons to the Dark Tower series and Perdido Street Station, yet The Etched City owes far less to King and Mieville than it does to ancient lore, Eastern mythology, spaghetti westerns, and the works of Hieronymous Bosch. At turns fascinating, frustrating, yet ultimately rewarding, this first novel by Aussie author K.J. Bishop defies attempts to pigeonhole it into a specific sub-genre. Steampunk, new weird, and supernatural western are just a couple of the terms used to describe it, but I prefer “literate dark fantasy”, a phrase that neatly encapsulates its lushly imaginative, incredibly captivating, and occasionally bewildering narrative.

Our story opens on Raule, a survivor of a civil war in which she had the misfortune of aligning herself with the losing side. She meets up with a former colleague and veteran of the conflict, Gwynne, a fellow drifter who is suffering his own spot of bad luck in the form of a mercenary posse, The Army of Heroes, hot on his dusty trail. Reunited by circumstances, the two ex-rebels flee across the unforgiving Salt Desert in a desperate bid to reach the safety of a distant bridge before frontier justice can catch up with them.

This first quarter of the book is riveting as we follow Raule and Gwynne’s attempts to outpace their pursuers. We are offered insight into their characters, their thought-processes, but little in the way of their respective pasts. They are Eastwood’s Man with No Name riding on camelback through an inhospitable wasteland that is equal parts Gobi, Sahara, and Mojave. A series of dispiriting setbacks culminates in a longshot forty on two last stand. But our protagonists prove themselves determined, strategically apt, and necessarily merciless in turning the tables on the enemy, ultimately leaving them matched against their sole remaining foe: the desert itself.

Eventually, the two find refuge in the city of Ashamoil where they attempt to build new lives for themselves, Raule as a doctor to the city’s needy, Gwynne as a mercenary enforcer for the slave-trading Society of the Horn Fan. Their divergent paths leads to an unspoken falling-out between them and as their uneasy friendship drifts, so does the narrative, growing more diffuse as Raule seeks redemption amidst the squalid environs of the city’s destitute and dying, while a fallen priest takes it upon himself to seek redemption for the seemingly unredeemable Gwynne. There is a sudden and inexplicable shift in POV, from Raule to Gwynne, as we focus on the mercenary’s rise through the city underworld, his religious and philosophical debates with the sinning Rev, and a burgeoning relationship with an enigmatic artist named Beth. Occasionally, we check in with a struggling Raule, juxtaposing the horrors of her job with Gwynne’s, and things take a bizarre, hallucinatory turn as the line between fantasy and reality wavers and fades. Sphinxes, minotaurs, artwork come alive, stories within stories within stories. I’ll admit to losing focus myself at this point, struggling with the narrative diffuseness, trying to piece together a plot from the bizarre elements introduced.

And yet, my frustration was short-lived as sudden dark developments within The Society of the Horn springboard the story back into its initial brisk pace. Hopelessness, despair, revenge, art, magic, and love all come together in the book’s final act to offer a conclusion that is paradoxically satisfying yet baffling.

The Etched City is beautiful written, filled with richly realized scenes and characters. It is a novel that seems to question our objective reality, using the noition of duality to explore its various themes: Raule as life-giver vs. Gwynne and death-dealer, the sun-scorched barrenness of the Salt Desert vs. the dank squalor of Ashamoil, the beauty of art and the grotesqueries of nature.

In the end, I was left with many questions but that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of The Etched City. That said, I think it has the potential to be a polarizing book and those who prefer their storytelling grounded and ambiguous are bound to come away disappointed. So I really look forward to hearing the various opinions on this one.

As for me – I found The Etched City complex and compelling, a sophisticated and satisfying novel.

Well, no sooner do I get into town than my wife is heads out of town, leaving me to my dogs, my books, my chores, and you, dear readers. It’ll be a somewhat relaxing final week of hiatus marked by home repairs (I’m assuming the company we hired to work on our basement will be calling me up any day now), some episode #20 spinning with Paul, the special Michel Cluizel chocolate tasting I’ve been invited to on Wednesday, and more thought given to Project Twilight. I had some ideas for the latter that I sent Paul, Brad, and Robert’s way. It seems a long way off now but these things have a way of sneaking up on you.

Hey, if you haven’t already read it (thought I assume you probably have since it was a 2007 Hugo Award finalist for best novel), check out Glasshouse by Charles Stross. Great mind-bending fun!

Finally – Get your questions and comments in for K.J. Bishop who will be visiting us later in the week.

July 5, 2008: It all catches up with me, mom’s secret easy-to-make Friendship Cake recipe, In the Garden of Iden, and looking ahead.

What\'s cookin\'?
What's cookin'?
Whip up two cups of whipping cream with a tablespoon of sugar
Whip up two cups of whipping cream with a tablespoon of sugar
Add the custard
Add the custard
Use your almond biscotti crumbs as a base
Use your almond biscotti crumbs as a base
Top with custard-cream
Top with custard-cream
Layer with those apple cake slices you happen to have lying around
Layer with those apple cake slices you happen to have lying around
it aint love)
Add the special ingredient (hint: it aint love)
Slather on another layer of custard-cream
Slather on another layer of custard-cream
Sprinkle liberally with almond biscotti crumbs
Sprinkle liberally with almond biscotti crumbs
Et voila!
Et voila!
Awww, he\'s so ugly he\'s...well...ugly.
Awww, he's so ugly he's...well...he's ugly.
Mom\'s homemade ribs were just the thing to soothe my savaged stomach.
Nothing soothes the savaged stomach like mom's homemade ribs
...and Friendship Cake of course.
...and Friendship Cake of course.

I woke up at a little before 2:30 a.m., nauseous, sweating, a Miley Cyrus song on endless replay in my head. Finally, on my last night in Montreal, my hard-eating ways had caught up with me. Rabbit parpadelle, roasted suckling pig risotto with foie gras shavings, deep dish chocolate chip with vanilla ice cream – to think that those I’d loved so dearly had conspired against me. The very thought of a truffle-scented kobe beef burger was enough to rouse me out of bed, stomach lurching, and send me down the hall to the bathroom where I spent the next twenty minutes considering the pros and cons of purging my system. Eventually, I decided against re-experiencing my wonderful buttered lobster and grilled veal surf ’n turf in reverse, and left the bathroom to find mom waiting for me, shot glass in hand. “Drink thees,”she advised. I accepted “the medicine”, a thick, amber-colored liquid that smelled of flowers and cloves and the back of your elderly family doctor’s medicine cabinet. I eyed it suspiciously. “It’s Padre Pepe,”she informed me. “It will help settle your stomach.”

I was dubious a shot of hard liquor would actually work to my benefit but figured that, at worst, it would obviate any need for further deliberation over the merits of inducing vomiting. I thanked mom and headed back to my room where I did a shot “to help settle my stomach”. And promptly passed out.

I woke up seven hours later. No nausea. No sweats. The Miley Cyrus song was gone, replaced by that equally annoying tune sung by the Ting Tings, but I was feeling immeasurably better. I showered, dressed, packed, and then headed downstairs where my mother was about to make her famous Friendship Cake. “It’s a very seemple recipe,”she said in her thick Italian accent, throwing a look to my camera. I took the hint and picked it up, prepared to document the process. “Very seeemple. It takes only ten meenutes.” Ten meenutes! Hey, this sounded like something even I could pull off! “First, you wheep two cups of wheeping cream.” She demonstrating, whipping the cream into a fluffy thickness. “Then, you add one tablespoon of sugar…” Okay. Two cups whipping cream. One tablespoons sugar. So far, so good.. “And two cups of the custard.”

I watched her retrieve the custard from refrigerator and proceed to spoon it into the cream. “Custard?”I asked. “Where’d that come from?”

“The fridge,”she replied, missing the point. “You meex them together.” She mixed. “Then, you make the base.” She held up a bag of what looked like bread crumbs. “Not bread crumbs,”she corrected me. “The crumbs from my almond biscotti.”

I watched her sprinkle a handful of the almond biscotti crumbs, then pour some of the cream-custard mix atop them. “This is the first layer. I make smooth and then I put slices of apple cake…” Apple cake?

Top that with a sprinkling of Tia Maria, lay down another layer of cream, a final sprinkling of almond biscotti, and there you had it. And as promised, it only took all of ten minutes. So those of you looking for a quick-fix dessert, look no further than mom’s Friendship Cake. All you need are six simple ingredients found in most any household:

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups of custard

1 cup of almond biscotti crumbs

2 tablespoons of Tia Maria

1 apple cake

Let me know how your attempts to turn out.

Following up on some of your comments on In the Garden of Iden –

Terry writes: “Still, Baker never says all of history is immutable, just recorded history. Isn’t the butterfly effect an issue? Even if you alter something not part of recorded history, don’t you run the risk that some ripple effect could alter history?”

Answer: I have yet to read anything beyond this first book in the series so I may be way off base, but my interpretation of the rules of time travel in this book suggest that history has the appearance of mutable but is, in fact, immutable. It’s not so much a re-imagining of time travel as it is re-conceptualizing time itself. Rather than view it as a ever-flowing river, envision it as a still picture. Unrecorded historical events would seem to be more compliant to time traveler influence but that is only because we have no idea how things would have turned out. Someone travels back in time and wipes out a certain species – say, the dodo. One would think that history has been changed but not really because this individual from the future has always been fated to travel back in time and wipe out the dodo species. Historically, we know the dodos were wiped out, but there is some disagreement as to how and why. Some say they were an incredibly stupid species that allowed themselves to be hunted to extinction. Others argue that they were wiped out by disease. But perhaps the real reason hasn’t even been considered because it seems wholly implausible: that time travelers are, in fact, responsible. Okay, before people start posting angry comments, I don’t actually believe the dodos were wiped out by time travelers (they were culled as part of an alien experiment but more on that theory some other day), I simply wanted to offer an example of how I believe the rules of time travel apply in this series. And, like I said, I could entirely off the mark here.

Dyginc writes: “. The thought of time travel and not messing with the past can seem like you are able to tell only a bit of a story and are not able to jump out of that set arc. I will have to admit some sci-fi time travel stories have confused the heck out of me.”

Answer: Me too, and I occasionally write them for a living.

Narelle from Aus writes “ Wasn’t it mentioned extremely early on that only immortals could cope with the physical demands of time travel? I’m reading a few books at the moment so maybe I’m having a blonde moment.”

Answer: That well could be. Maybe I was having a brunette moment.

Fsmn36 writes: “While I don’t usually like the real technical sci-fi, I was disappointed at how little the sci-fi figured in and how much was romance.”

Answer: I too was surprised by the emphasis on romance over scifi, and even more surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I loved the characters and, at the end of the day, I didn’t really mind the minimal SF elements.

Fsmn36 writes: “I wished I could have seen more of The Company. I’ll admit I prefer organizations and political intrigues to romantic ones.”

Answer: So do I. Here’s hoping the ensuing books in the series offer us the best of both worlds.

Narelle from Aus also writes: “From the reading list on the side bar I have access to:
– Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilherlm
– Inherit the Stars, James P. Hogan
– Chocky, John Wyndham
– Vellum, Hal Duncan
– Ten Thousand Light Years from Home, James Triptree Jr.
– Crossing the Line, Karen Traviss
– Feersum Endjinn, Iain M. Banks
– The Embedding, Ian Watson

Any that you would say, just don’t bother?”

Answer: It really depends where your interests lie. Inherit the Stars if hard SF. Vellum is an almost hallucinatory experience. Crossing the Line is a sequel to City of Pearl, so I would recommend you start with the latter. Of those listed, my favorite was Wyndham’s Chocky followed closely by Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang and Feersum Endjinn.

Well, after seven glorious days in my hometown of Montreal, I’m finally back in Vancouver. The flight was delayed by half an hour because there was some sort of problem getting the baggage aboard. I didn’t have any checked baggage so my inner voice was screaming: “Screw the cargo! Let’s go! Let’s go!” While we waited for the problem to get sorted out, I sat back and listened to the in-cabin music. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it a little disconcerting to hear the theme from Six Feet Under playing on a flight just before take-off. Equally disconcerting is having the pilot make a special announcement halfway through the flight asking whether there was a doctor on board and, if so, to please head to the back of the plane. Holy crap, I thought. I’d had the fish! Fortunately, it seemed to be an isolated incident quickly addressed. I’m assuming: a) it was a false alarm, b) the person in need of the medical assistance recovered or, c) the person passed away and the air hostess simply draped a blanket over his corpse and proceeded with the in-flight service. Someone I know actually experienced the latter firsthand, flying first-class with a covered dead body lying beside him in the full-recline.

Well, among the things I have to look forward to: home and plasma repairs, meetings with my accountant and financial advisers, two script reviews, and Project Twilight await. Also, you’ll be pleased to hear that the mailbag will be making a long overdue return in the day(s) to come.

Speaking of the days to come, here’s what’s in store…

Sunday: Janina Gavankar drops by to answer your questions.

Monday: Discussion begins on this month’s phantasmagoric fantasy BOMTC selection: The Etched City. Finish up and ready your questions (I’ll even have a few this time out) because K.J. Bishop will be joining us all the way from Bangkok.

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.

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.