Monday, November 10, 2014

World Fantasy, How Do I Love You? Let Me Count the Ways

  1. Finishing the draft of Solistalgia the day before I left for DC.
  2. I don't live in Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio, I only have to drive through them to get to you.
  3. I used to live in Pennsylvania. It is still beautiful, especially this time of year. Hail, Pitt!
  4. NPR had a bit on a magicians' library that I listened to on part of my drive. It was fascinating and gave me grist for the next novel.
  5. The Educated Goldfish.
  6. I don't have to live with DC traffic.
  7. There was a biker-veteran convention (Rolling Thunder) at the same time. How cool is that?
  8. Lots of books in the book bag. One of which I actually wanted!
  9. The World Fantasy Convention passport, which shrunk down what is usually an excessively-oversized program booklet into something literally the size of a passport. Well-played, WFC committee, well-played. 
  10. Ghost Stories Without Ghosts panel with Patty Templeton, et al.
  11. Patty signed my copy of her book with a ghost!
  12. Scribe Agency authors going to dinner after flashing devil signs, a-like so: 
  13. Many good foods. Indian, Thai, Fillipino, Japanese. Thanks for the weight-gain, WFC.
  14. Jeffrey Ford's reading. Wow.
  15. Watching the Badgers beat Purdue with Jim Minz. Go Bucky!
  16. Having some stranger at the Thai restaurant see my Badgers sweatshirt and say (with a smile) "Your team just got lucky". My response: "Oh, you're a Purdon't fan?" It's all in good fun, but seriously, they let these people into our nation's capital?
  17. Author signing, where I sold a few copies of Heraclix and Pomp and learned (directly from the reviewer) about this very, very positive review.
  18. Reconnecting with old friends whom I haven't seen for years, such as: Jeffrey Ford, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, John Picacio, Jim Minz, Paula Guran, John Lawson, and a bevy of others. So many that I'm sure I've missed a dozen of you (for which I profusely apologize).
  19. Reconnecting with those I've seen not so long ago: John Klima, John O'Neill, Patty Templeton, Mark Teppo, Darin Bradley, Agent Kris, Jenn Brissett, Becky Johnson, etc.
  20. Meeting those with whom I've had virtual relationships, but only now met in person; mostly editors who have published my work but whom I hadn't had the pleasure to meet in person until now: Mike Allen, Matthew Kressel, Sheila Williams, and others.
  21. Meeting new-to-me and very talented people like Matt Wuertz, Russ Linton, Jeremy Zerfoss, and so on. Special props to dinner with Matt and regaling each other with old D&D stories, laughing our fool heads off the whole time. The waitresses didn't quite know what to do with us, I don't think.
  22. Selling some books.
  23. Drooling over more rare books than I will ever be able to afford in my lifetime, viz., everything Arkham House ever published and every hardcover put out by Tartarus Press.
  24. Very, very late nights where I was the only sober person within a three mile radius (I don't drink, but people I hang out with drink quite a bit).
  25. My sister-in-law and her husband, who let me crash at their place and come in at very odd hours of the morning.
  26. Everyone in attendance at WFC, except for that douchebag who thought it was okay to conduct a live interview in the freaking writer's retreat room that was reserved as a quiet space specifically to allow writers to WRITE. Some of us were actually in there to write, not to here your condescending drivel about how badly-behaved con-goers have become. Puke.
  27. Notre Dame, for losing their game. Jim and I high-fived each other more for that than for the Badgers' winning. I love WFC: I hate the golden domers. No, seriously, I do.
  28. Seeing Vincent Villafranca's amazing sculptures in person, along with the other amazing art on display at the art show. Lust, lust, lust.
  29. Hearing that Sofia Samatar's outstanding novel, A Stranger in Olondria won the World Fantasy Award.
  30. Heard another great story on NPR which will also feed into my next novel, at least thematically. Maybe I should just entitle this one "Thanks, NPR"!
  31. Seeing a billboard as I entered Indiana that said "Remember: Always Wear Your Life Vest" and thinking "Right now? While I'm driving?"
  32. Speeding, a lot, and not getting caught, which shaved about an hour off my travel time home.
  33. Listening to the radio as the Packers dismantled Da Bears.
  34. Avoiding Illinois drivers, who were on the other side of the road, coming back from pillaging my beloved Wisconsin one last time before winter sets in.
  35. Seeing home all safe and sound.
  36. Only one regret: Having missed the Demystifying Crowd Funding panel, because I had overslept that morning.
  37. Slowly remembering all the great things that I've forgotten that didn't make this list. Best World Fantasy Convention so far. Well done, WFC committee!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Away for a Spell

I will be away for a week at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC. I hope to do up a full report when I get back.

In other news, I have completed the draft of my space operatic science fiction novel, Solistalgia. I will be moving on to another project to give my brain some breathing room before I go back to do some thorough edits, as well as continuing on with my top-secret RPG project.

See you on the other side!

Playing Surreal Games at Mystery to Me Books

I love to write, I love Madison, and I love games! I'll be combining these three loves of mine at Mystery to Me books in Madison on Friday, December 5th, from 7-9 PM. The clientele there likes audience participation, and audience participation they shall have! We will be playing several surrealist games, all meant to expand creativity and foster strangeness and fun, using the text of Heraclix and Pomp as a jumping-off point. If you're in the area, stop in, warm up, buy a few books, and have a great time! I look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book UniverseSuper Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you love graphics, statistics, and comics, this is your book. Ever wonder who all has been, for example, an Avenger? It's here. Want to know the relative strength of Galactus versus Apocalypse? It's there, too. Need to know which comic book heroes are associated with Rodents? Check: from Atomic Mouse to Mighty Mouse to Squirrel Girl.

And it's not just all about the characters. There is an intriguing swirl-graph showing the increase in Comic-Con attendance, The Chris Ware Sadness Scale (from Jimmy Corrigan to Quimby the Mouse), relative height and ride length of 15 different roller-coasters associated with superheroes . . . you get the idea.

As one would expect, the book is Marvel- and DC Comics-heavy, but there is plenty in here from independent and smaller presses referenced, as well. I was glad to see this, as I made mine Marvel as a kid in the '70s (remember Spider Man on The Electric Company?), had a brief love affair with several indies in the mid-'90s (Mostly Grimjack, Albedo Anthropomorphics, and Konny and Czu), and have recently been roped back into the comic fold by such excellent series as Fatale, The Manhattan Projects, and Prophet. There seems to be a bit of a renaissance happening now, with some great titles out there. Give it ten years, and this book may need to be rewritten with an even stronger emphasis on the indies. I'll look forward to that volume, should it appear, as well.

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The Dying Earth

The Dying EarthThe Dying Earth by Jack Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's do some quick math. Jack Vance's The Dying Earth was originally published in 1950. I was born in 1969. I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, in earnest, in 1979. It is now 2014. On second thought, screw the math. You can plainly see that my reading of The Dying Earth is tardy, given that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson cited Vance's work as influences on the development of the Dungeons and Dragons game.

And how.

More than an influencer, The Dying Earth is a wholesale supplier of D&D wares. In the first story, "Turjan of Mir," we see something akin to alignment, the fact that wizards must memorize their spells from spellbooks, the limitation (which I always thought was a rule to add game balance - I was wrong) that mages can only memorize so many spells a day, and at least one spell that was almost lifted verbatim from Vance to Gygax and Arneson (the Excellent Prismatic Spray, which appears in D&D as "Prismatic Spray," unless it is cast by one of the wizards Bill or Ted, in which case it is the "Most Excellent Prismatic Spray, Dude").

Now, that's not to say that The Dying Earth is one long hack-and-slash D&D adventure. Far from it. Vance is a far more sophisticated writer than Gygax or even Arneson (who, in my humble opinion, is the better of the two - compare Arneson's wrting on his Blackmoor campaign with that of Gygax's Greyhawk campaign setting. Gygax had more stuff, Arneson had better original writing). So don't go in expecting a Choose Your Own Adventure. Vance is choosing the adventure for you, and his characters and their quests are meant to be read, not played. These characters, in these situations, would crumble in the hands of a lesser artist (like the 12 year old me that would have tried to create D&D stats for these characters and sent them on a killing spree through a non-descripts dungeon crawl).

I will admit that the first couple of stories were a bit trite. The thin plot devices and moralistic tales read more like a poorly-copied fairy tale than a good work of fantasy. I'd love to know the order these stories were written in, as they got better as the book progressed. By the end, they were outstanding.

The second-to-last story in the book, "Ulan Dhor," follows the journey of the titular novice sorcerer in his quest for the lost city Ampridatvir, once ruled by Rogol Domedonfors, a wizard of great power. Ulan Dhor is sent there by his mentor, Kandive, to recover the lost magic of Rogol Domedonfors by bringing together two tablets which, when combined, will restore the magical power that once held sway in the city. Along the way, he encounters a strange culture and even stranger magic - the magic of the ancients that once held sway before the sun began its slow death. One can see that this story might have influenced M. John Harrison's Viriconium or Jeffrey Ford's Well-built City.

The final, longest, and most compelling story, "Guyal of Sfere," follows another adventurer on a quest to find the Museum of Man to speak with the Curator, from whom Guyal wishes to gain knowledge. Again, the seeker travels into strange lands, encountering strange customs and cultures, in a story that is, at first, less about the magic (though magic does play a part) and more about the men and women Guyal meets in his journey. Only when Guyal and his new travelling companion, Shierl, make their way into the Museum of Man does magic play a major role. And this is strange, strange magic, of the kind that would fascinate nerds like me for decades to come. There is a hint of absurdism in the tale, which reinforces the bizarre feel of the story. Suffice it to say that we encounter one of the most disconcerting demons I have ever had the dis-pleasure of reading about - which is saying something, given my . . . particular . . . reading tastes. I could see this story influencing Gene Wolf's Book of the New Sun and, to some extent, Book of the Long Sun, which could make for some compelling historical analysis (of which I am not capable).

What started out as a not-particularly-spectacular read ended up as something excellent. I will be reading more of Vance's work, not because it's assigned reading for a class in Dungeons and Dragons history (for which I was really tardy), but because the writing in the last half of the book was excellent, the characters less shallow than much of modern fantasy, and the strangeness endearing to this strange reader.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Win a Free Audiobook of HERACLIX AND POMP! Express yourself!

Heraclix and Pomp is now available in audiobook format at right here. The narrator, Brandon Massey, is a gentleman and a scholar. I had very pleasant interactions with him as we worked together on pronunciations of the many foreign and downright fantastical words in the book. He is an interesting fellow, as his bio indicates:

Brandon Massey comes from a classic theatrical background, having performed in many Shakespeare plays and having studied the classics in Greece. The long hours of meticulous study necessary for such endeavors is similar to the precision required in recording audiobooks. In addition to audiobooks, Brandon has narrated several documentaries and short films, along with performing in regional theatre. Most of the activities he does in his spare time have something to do with Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, and/or Carl Sagan.

In celebration of the release of the Heraclix and Pomp audiobook, I will be giving away a free copy of the audiobook. But "free" doesn't always mean "without effort". So here's the rub: I love art. I studied humanities as an undergraduate, which meant a lot of time getting very up close and personal to paintings, sculptures, and other forms of representation. I almost kissed a painting in a museum once (and had to explain myself to museum security, as a result - *blush*), not because I loved it, but because I got a little too close trying to see the brushstrokes in an effort to understand the artists technique. That's how much I love art. I get in trouble for art because I love it so much.

That said, there's no accounting for taste. And my taste might vary wildly from yours. But someone has to judge this thing, right? So I'll take the fall and be that guy. Here are the rules:

  1. Your artwork can be of any medium except dead humans . . . or dead animals, for that matter, unless they were already dead when you found them. Seriously, use pencil, paintbrush, clay, porcelain, digital, photography, macrame, WHATEVER . . . just be creative.
  2. The artwork must represent something to do directly with the novel. If you want to show your interpretation of Heraclix or Mowler or Von Graeb or whomever, that's fine. Maybe you're a wood carver and would rather do a representation of Pomp's bow and arrow. Perhaps you're a costume designer and want to cosplay a fly-devil. Or you're really into architecture and want to create a scale model of the Shadow Divan. Draw a cartoon of a scene from the book, sew Beelzebub's infernal apron, henna tattoo your hand to match Porchenskivik's own, whatever you like, so long as you can tie it directly to the book. Performance art and cinema is also encouraged, so long as it doesn't get you or me arrested. And if you want to venture into the musical arts or poetics, by all means, let's hear it!
  3. Tell me what it is. There are a lot of potential images in that book. They've already spilled from my brain on to the page, and middle age prevents me from remembering everything.
  4. Keep it PG-13 or cleaner, please. I'd like younger readers to enjoy this, as well.
  5. Submit your artwork to *forrestjaguirre*@** (remove the asterisks) or, if you're feeling particularly brave, paste a link to your art into the comments below.
  6. Remember that you keep all rights to your art. If I want to use it, I might ask to pay for the privilege, but otherwise, it is yours, not mine. Only mine to judge and enjoy. I do reserve the right to send out tweets and make a blog post about the winning art, because I'm certain your art will deserve some wide exposure!
  7. You will need an account to retrieve your prize. And I will need your email address, as well. I won't sell it, give it to anyone, or use it in any way outside of contacting you to let you know how to get your free audiobook.
  8. I will be taking entries until December 15th. This deadline is so that I can decide and notify the winner by Christmas day.

It's a $21.83 value, so I'm hoping to see that much value worth of art, at least. And, yes, I know how much original art goes for, so I'm not expecting a masterpiece. But if you insist . . .

I think that's it. If any of you legal watchdogs see something missing in the above rules, let me know and I'll fix it forthwith. Other than that, good luck and enjoy creating!



Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Gay 90's

Mark Ryden: The Gay 90'sMark Ryden: The Gay 90's by Mark Ryden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an unabashed fan of Pop Surrealism (aka "Low Brow") art. Ryden is one of the most prolific and high-profile artists of the movement. His self-admitted goal in producing the work represented in The Gay 90's is to "pull the lowest of the low into the highest of the high" by reinterpreting the kitsch representations of the 1890's (most of which were actually realized in the 1920's) as surreal-renaissance-style paintings. There is a sense of the solemn, even the divine, in the paintings themselves, but with such a twisted absurdity as to be transgressive. The painting "The Parlor" is a good representation of Ryden's aesthetic, showing porcelain-skinned Victorian girls in a parlor featuring a curiosity cabinet (carefully-planned in every detail by Ryden, as evinced by a pre-painting sketch), a tuxedoed and top-hatted Death holding a tarot card, and a gigantic eye set atop an antiqued wooden post. The center of attention is an infant (the Christ? Difficult to say, though Ryden has representations of Christ throughout the rest of the book) holding a clock-cum-image-of-eternity - a swirling snail-shell clock surrounded by symbols from the Zodiac, along with a series of Chinese symbols (that, alas, I cannot interpret). Near the eye, a nude goddess figure sits atop an overly cheerful creature somewhere between a lamb, a polar bear, and a poodle. This mixture of a sacred mood overlaying a ridiculously kitsch menagerie of figures, is emblematic of Ryden's work.

Ryden's work can be found all over online, but this book is worth owning because of the many preliminary sketches, which show the evolution of Ryden's thoughts in the very act of creation, and because of the outstanding introductory essay, "Mark Ryden and the Transfiguration of Kitsch" by Amanda Erlanson. These provide an excellent introduction to Ryden, his work, and his place among the contemporary luminaries of Pop Surrealism.

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