Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

2019 Hugo Awards Finalists Announced

Hello everyone!

2019/1944 Hugo Award Finalists have been announced today, and I have some thoughts I wanted to share. And you're contractually obligated to listen to me because I have a blog, and everyone who has a blog gets read all the time, all the way through.

So as tends to happen, I don't know most of the finalists, so I'm obviously only going to be speaking to the things I have some experience with.

You can read the whole list here.

So, the names that stuck out to me most were in Best Novel (I'm not going to touch on the 1944 Retro Hugos in this post.). Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning is here as a first novel, and I've been excited about that book since before it came out. Catherynne M. Valente is one of my favorite authors, so seeing Space Opera make the cut was also exciting. And I always enjoy seeing our old guard pumping out books, so Mary Robinette Kowal's appearance there is good by me.

Aliette de Bodard and Nnedi Okorafor are also favorites of mine, so I'm thrilled to see them both up for Novella (Also, let's give a big shout out to the sheer domination of female candidates this year. We're talking about a genre that was born from Frankenstein, after all.). Best Short Story is full of new names for me, thus further confirming that shorts are still a solid launching point in the genre, and a place to watch or the novelists of tomorrow. I mean, de Bodard herself was someone I marked as really, really skilled off her short work, and now she's all over big books.

Short Form Editors are a strong showing as well. Neil Clarke, the late Gardner Dozois, and Lynne and Michael Thomas from Uncanny Magazine. Although personally, things being what they are, I think Dozois is going to be a hard one to beat. The SF/F community lost him in 2018, and he was so instrumental in the genre...I just think there's not much chance of anyone topping him out this year.

Semiprozine is strong across the board, although I love seeing both FIYAH and Fireside on there, and the now defunct Shimmer as well. And of special note in Related Work are Archive of Our Own, and Lindsay Ellis's Hobbit Duology. Metatextually, those are fascinating. Lindsay is, I believe, the second YouTuber to get a Hugo Final? And Archive of Our Own is...basically just a collection of fan fiction. Those are very different than what we would normally see in Related Work, so those excite me.

Anything from the finalists that really excites you? Let me know in the comments below.

Voss

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Text Message Story: War of Witches

Hello hello! I'm writing you from frigid, snow-covered Eastern Washington, with--this might be hard to believe--a new book!

I know, I know, pick your jaw up off the floor. It's been a minute and a half since I've had a book out, but I have one today: War of Witches.


Fair warning, this book isn't in a traditional format: it's delivered one text message at a time. Highly recommend reading it on the phone rather than on the computer, but both options will get the job done!

I'm quite excited about this, since I love playing with format in my writing, and I hope you'll all be excited about this foray into urban fantasy as well.

Anyway, that's all I had to say. I hope your day is wonderful and considerably warmer than mine is looking to be.

Voss

Friday, January 25, 2019

Diablero and Cultural Differences in Media


If you've been here for a while—remember when the blog was that weird ugly brown color I picked to start out with?—then you know I have a love affair with non-US speculative fiction. There's just a quality to it that is so refreshing, I just can't get enough of it. The Neverending Story is one of my all time favorite books (German). I grew up reading Eva Ibbotson and JK Rowling and, a little later on than those, Phillip Pullman (British). I also watched a ton of anime and read a ton of manga (Japanese). And I still watch and read British, German, Japanese, Spanish, Chinese…I mean, translations or subtitled, obviously, but you can't file off those cultural serial numbers.

Well it happened again. This time, it's a Mexican paranormal drama I stumbled across recently on Netflix (If you're watching it, you probably know what I'm talking about.). It's…it's like Preacher meets Hellboy. Dynamic characters in a shitty situation with strangely intertwining personal lives.



It's called Diablero, and it really has me thinking, once again, about spec fic from other cultures. Because I don't think any native born US citizen could have made Diablero. At all. Nothing even close. The same way an American couldn't have written The Book of Souls, or Bleach, or Dark, or The Golden Compass.

I think—especially if you're in a creative career or just running a creative side-hustle—that these foreign produced media are some of the best things we can take in as people. Seeing another perspective is a powerful thing, both for personal growth and, in my case, a creative sense.

Let's bring this around to Diablero, since it's the crux for me writing this particular article right now. If I sold it as it was—a Mexican demon hunting show—you might be tempted to think, "Oh, like Supernatural." That's what my roommate thought when I explained it that way, at least.

But it's so not. Spoilers, to a certain extent, but I want to go into things a little deeper than the trailer (I still haven't finished the show. I'm about halfway through it right now.). So, to start with, a US show would have at least blinked at making a priest who got a woman pregnant their main character. They also might have blinked twice at making the church have a shadowy underbelly. Not that a US show or book has never done that, but it might make somebody along the way stop and take a closer look.

But more divergent is the use of old culture, and namely old culture in a respectful way. America A: doesn't like to dive into its past because it's ugly and B: doesn't tend to do it well or respectfully. Also C: we really don't have much past to draw on. But then you have Diablero, which establishes a history from the first moment. It brings in aspects of Mexican culture, from as far back as the Aztecs with Diablero magic being cast in Nahuatl and invoking the names of Aztec deities like Quetzalcoatl, to old school brujeria, to more modern Mexican lore, legend, and religion like Santa Muerte. A full spectrum of evolving, historically based magic is shown off in Diablero.

I think, actually, having history is a huge part of the feeling that media from outside of the US evokes. Other than a sparse handful of Native American spec fic, like Rebecca Roanhorse's books, the oldest US history that gets brought in is…when the white people showed up. There's just not a ton of history we have to draw on, which can make our fantasy…a little more sparse, honestly. I mean, when we talk about worldbuilding, fantasy writers are supposed to know the history of the world so they can see how things have come about. 250 years just doesn't quite cut it.

And, on a broader note about culture differences, Diablero has made me—and will probably make others—challenge my notions about Mexico. Even the most socially and culturally aware of us still has prejudices, good and bad, that we haven't yet confronted. Diablero helped me confront it some of that. It showed urban Mexico, which I shamefully admit wasn't a thought in my head. It should have been, obviously, but…well, just goes to show you how much work we all still have to do. And I think shows and books like this help, especially if you're not one of those folks who can pack up and fly around the world to expose yourself to other cultures…like I'm not.

Seeing what people create, in a way, condenses culture into a single, simple package. It's not a full course, it's not dropping yourself off in a foreign country for a month. But it's a start, and I think it's a worthy start.

And from a quality standpoint, I can't recommend Diablero enough. It's short, and the English subtitles do not match the English dub track, but it's still wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

Do you have a soft spot for media from other countries? Are you from outside the US and have things to say about US media? Chime in and let me know.

Voss

Friday, December 28, 2018

New Year's 2019


Oh lord. 2018 is almost over, and I'm not handling this whole "It's almost 2019" thing very well at all. Like…2019. 2001 used to be far-flung future. People thought civilization would collapse in 2000. 2012? Mayan calendar was up, remember?

When society has outstripped the dates of its science fiction, that's something worth taking note of.

Me personally, I'm setting things up for the year to come, even though it's a scary, freaky little year we're looking at jumping into. I have a "planning party" with a couple fellow authors on the 30th to get our years in some semblance of order. I'm looking at reading challenges to get myself back into reading books. I'm even considering keeping Kindle Unlimited, just so I have more books to read.

2018 was sort of an eye-opening year for me, at least from a financial and business standpoint. See, I really floundered in 2017. I did nothing. I finished 0 manuscripts, and most of my time was spent editing one book for a publishing house that almost immediately went under after I turned in my final edits (Yeah, that was super fun…). So 2018 was a lot of catch-up, studying the market, writing books, etc.

And then in August, I broke my ankle. Right through the thickest part of the tibia. It was a nasty break, too. Like, surgery was on the table at the start, and it's having problems, so surgery is now back on the table, joy of joys (I'm hoping to avoid it. Just got a bone growth stimulator, so we'll see how that goes.). But that really laid me up. I was completely out of commission for about a week, then mostly out of commission for another two months after that (I was bound to crutches, even after I got my walking boot). I mean, I'm still using a shower chair because I can't stand.

It really knocked me on my ass, is what I'm saying. And it gave me a lot, lot, lot of sedentary time, just me and my laptop. While I'm not here to say that breaking my ankle was a good thing—0/10, do not recommend—it really did end up being helpful. I couldn't leave the house. I barely made it to my podiatrist appointments because it was such a hassle some days.

It also meant that I got insurance, finally. And not leaving the house meant I didn't really spend money, so suddenly I had a savings account. A modest one, but I had one. Time locked up with my laptop meant I put my fingers on the keyboard a hell of a lot. I started working on ads and cracking the code on those a little more. Jesus, I mean, I sold my car and I was okay. Like…I did things, and they didn't destroy my entire life. I got good at things. I made strides, I made progress.

I also eventually made purchases that put a dent in my bank account. Things like internet blocking software…and a shit ton of smelly candles because I'm a classy bitch. But that's just it: they were a dent.

I feel like the aftershocks of my broken ankle actually did help me out. At least my mental and emotional state. I ended up clicking a lot of things into place that I wouldn't have otherwise, I don't think.

Okay, that was a lot of semi-esoteric rambling, but it boils down to this in the real world: I'm moving. I have plans. I have new covers purchased, new books ready to publish (I hope you like magic spilling into your Criminal Minds.).

Things are moving, so watch out for me in 2019.

What are you doing in the coming year? What are you getting prepared for? Are you in need of good TV shows to watch on Netflix, because I also spent a lot of time with my eyes glued to that screen while recovering from my broken ankle.

Like…a lot.

Whatever you're doing, whatever you have in store, I hope you kick 2019 in the ass. Let's climb that mountain, and I'll see you at the top.

Voss

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Missive: 2018 Edition

You know, two years ago I spent Christmas drinking and telling everyone the world was on fire and we were all fucked. So even though it would be really hard to go downhill from there, I'm still going to take credit where credit is due for not being quite so hopeless as I was in December 2016.

2018 has been one heck of a year. I'm not going to do a complete year in review sort of thing (Not yet anyway...), but Christmas comes with a certain nostalgia. I think about the family members I haven't been around in way too long. I think about past Christmases and how much more decoration went on when I was younger (When your dogs are as ball-crazed as mine are, it's...difficult to hang shiny, round, mouth-sized ornaments on the tree.). I drink the same drinks, smell the same smells, see the same lights, and read the same books (I'll be starting my annual reading of Krampus: The Yule Lord tonight!).

So with that nostalgia comes things that are just a little different than I would have planned. I didn't plan on going through Christmas with a walking boot because my ankle still isn't healed. I didn't plan on starting a proofreading service. I certainly didn't plan on owning so many Bath and Body Works candles (If you don't have Frosted Cranberry in your life, you're missing out!).

But I think most refreshing, and simultaneously most depressing, is that I didn't plan to be so happy. I wouldn't have believed that things could be feeling so downright okay if you'd told me. And it really all happened from my birthday at the beginning of October to now. Yep, while I was still laid up in an actual cast, not the significantly more convenient walking boot.

In October, I got a lovely reminder from my roommate that I'm cared for/about. She acknowledged the sacrifices I make, and it was just...incredible. I don't like to talk about any sort of personal hardships, so to have someone see them and accept them and all that, it was really something. And October just kind of built from there, in ways I would never have expected. Early October was spent with a very dear old friend, and then my local RWA chapter imploded, leaving me and two other friends holding the bag for the board if we wanted to keep the chapter. It was not pretty, but it's honestly proven to maybe be the best thing for the chapter's health, in the end. People are excited again, including me.

In November, I actually made a new friend, which never happens. I'm a 27 year old introvert, currently with a broken ankle. I don't get out much. But she's been wonderful. More money's been coming in. Proofreading is going well.

December is looking much the same. My dearest of dearests, Frances Pauli, gave me a Christmas present that had a ton more impact than I think she's put together (It's an auryn pendant, from The Neverending Story. She's one of the few people who probably has any idea how much I love that book, so for her to pull that out of the ether or memory...well, it's another "you're cared for" reminder.).

So this Christmas, as I'm happy, I hope all of you are as well. I hope you're all going to have a wonderful holiday season. I hope your troubles are vanishing. I hope that, if like me, you break your ankle, ruin your hands, and slice open your toe along the nail bed, you'll still be happy enough you're smiling your ass off. Because everyone deserves to feel like that.

Happy Holidays, everyone,
Voss

Monday, October 1, 2018

Lamb, or How Christopher Moore Actually Made Me Care About Jesus

**Note: The product links in this article are Amazon Affiliate Links. No extra cost to you, but I get a kickback from any purchases. Let's call it a headhunter's fee...but less cool.**

So, I've said in the past in various interviews that I don't have a favorite author, per se. I find it nigh impossible to actually nail down one singular author I love the most. Rowling embedded herself in my soul, but Valente's words make my heart soar. Lem's wit and absurdity never lose their shine, but Jemisin's worldbuilding is to die for.

But I think, if you drove the tacks down under my thumbnails and said I had to give one name, I think that name would probably be Christopher Moore.

Those who know him are probably nodding to themselves knowingly. For those who don't...how to sum up Christopher Moore...hmm...

Take a Mel Brooks movie. No, not that one. Yeah, that one. Then cut out all the fluff. Keep the insane, WTF concepts, then add a Richard Pryor sense of humor with a Joan Rivers (RIP) dry delivery, and then sprinkle on the sort of heartbreaking poignancy present in a movie like RENT or The Green Mile.

Also some magic.

And if you can imagine that, then you've got a much better imagination than I do. Christopher Moore's work is hard to parse out in a short summary like that because there really isn't anything like what he does. You have to make a minimum of two or three comparisons to really try and capture it. From The Island of the Sequined Love Nun and The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, with their over the top absurdity, to his vampire trilogy (You Suck, Bite Me, and Bloodsucking Fiends) rife with wit, to my personal favorites (And personally, I think Christopher Moore's favorites, too.), his research-heavy novels. I've written already on Sacre Bleu, his Impressionist era fantasy, but it also includes Fool and The Serpent of Venice, his riffs on Shakespearean classics (King Lear and The Merchant of Venice, respectively.).

But probably his most famous of the lot, maybe his most famous book of all, is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.


One side will say it's sacrilegious...and the other side will agree, we just don't care. Have you ever wondered what happened in the missing years of Christ's life? Well, Christopher Moore has the best answers for that.

(Umm...the spoilers are going to start here. So be aware of that shit.)

See, I'm not a Christian. We won't get into many specifics, but suffice it to say that view isn't changing any time soon...ever, really. I don't buy into the religion, and I also have never bought into the sort of heart-wrenching, hair-ripping zealotry to Jesus that I grew up around. I've read The Bible. I've read The Book of Mormon. I've read a lot about Christianity, along with a lot of other religions. I didn't understand why people would love Jesus so God damn much.

Lamb is the first and only book that has ever made me love the Christ child. It's the only one that made me care. And after my fourth or fifth re-read just recently, I've been picking apart why.

It's dead simple.

Moore's Joshua (Apparently that would have been his actual name? Maybe? I'm not sure, but let's go with that for now.) is the only time I found Jesus sympathetic. He was relatable. He was human, which is supposed to be the big draw, right? He's just one of us. He's, at his core, supposed to be a man. But the religious version of Jesus is so holy and shit that it just doesn't connect to me. Never has.

But in Lamb...the first time we see Joshua, he's reviving a dead lizard that his brother keeps killing. Just an endless cycle of resurrection. Because what the hell else would a little kid with godly power do? He falls in love with Mary Magdalene, but he knows he can't do anything. It's a little boy crush. His best friend is a crude, sinful son of a bitch. And Joshua is wracked with doubt: he's not ready to be the Messiah, his dad won't talk to him, and he's trying to figure out how to just cope with all of this.

For five sixths of Lamb, everything is spent building up Joshua and Biff as characters. They travel along the Silk Road to meet the three wise men. They learn ancient Chinese chemistry and acupuncture and medicine. They study in a Tibetan monastery and learn Kung-Fu and Buddhism. They study with a yogi in India.

And Biff has a lot of sex. Joshua doesn't.

So by the time we get back to preach the gospel, we've followed about 2 decades of Joshua's life, traveling the world. And because the story is told from the POV of his best friend, we see him in maybe the best light possible.

That makes the return to Israel brutal. Saving Mary Magdalene from a disastrous marriage. Gathering the Apostles. Preaching on the Holy Ghost...I mean, it's a Jesus story. It ends one way.

But when we get to the scourging, the sacrifice, the crown of thorns, the crucifixion, it's heartbreaking. Not in a "human condition" kind of way, but in a "this is Joshua, and he's refusing to speak in his own defense" way. And for such a funny book (The scene where Jesus has coffee for the first time is one of my favorite scenes in any book, ever.), the ending is...well, it's a freaking Jesus story. the ending is miserable.

And that is to its credit. In the midst of the laughing, the silliness, all of that...you forget that this is the story of Christ. Somehow, Moore manages to make the crucifixion a surprise gut punch at the end. And it's the longest gut punch ever. Up to the last moments, he's feeding you hope...but there is no hope.

So rather than the actual Biblical Jesus, a figurehead instead of a person, Lamb takes Joshua, puts him through hell, shows you his human side in the best and worst ways, puts his flaws on display...and then rips him away from you. And that is why Lamb is the only book that makes me give half a crap about Jesus. Ever.

Monday, August 27, 2018

On Endings and Dragging On

**Spoilers for Supernatural and The Almighty Johnsons may be encountered in the wilds beyond. Venture forth at your own risk.**

My roommate and I have spent the last, oh, year making our way through Supernatural, seasons 1-13. That experience is sort of what spawned this whole post into my head. But to talk about it, and the subject of endings, properly, we need to go back in time a little bit, to the mystical, long-forgotten year of...2008.

I was in high school, listening to my band director be directorial. He wasn't the kind of man who minced words, when things were important. He cared about the results we got out of something. The journey there was never the most important part of the lessons. So he dropped this pearl of wisdom that always really stuck in my head.

If you're going to work on anything, work on the beginning and the end. That's what the audience is going to remember. If the beginning and end are good, the middle doesn't matter.

I really do think, at least in live music, that's a lot truer than an audience would like to admit, and maybe truer than a musician would like to hear. See, I've been to live orchestras and symphonies. And I distinctly remember an example of this from The Four Seasons. I love that suite, and it started beautifully. I mean, who doesn't love Spring and Summer? After the intermission came Autumn, and it was fair.

And then Winter. My god Winter. It's never been my favorite, but it's not a bad piece. Except that night. That night, I don't know if they decided to double up certain sections, or play it at half speed, or if they were just exhausted, but it dragged. It was dull. They didn't nail the ending of the suite, and 10+ years later, it's still stuck in my craw.

I think you can apply the same thing to writing/reading. I mean, look at Harry Potter. Potterheads the world over can recite the opening line, and the ending line. And while there are moments that are just as memorable throughout the book, those two are universal.

Now, we're not quite back to Supernatural, but we're getting there. I promise. Stop judging me.

There's a phenomenon that's well-documented when it comes to long running TV dramas. The longer they run, the more confident they are that they'll be renewed, and the more they'll seed the next season toward the end of the current one. It leads to messy endings, and as we've established, endings leave an impact.

I'm looking at The Almighty Johnsons for this one. Great show. Can't recommend it enough. But that ending...yikes. Not only was it rushed, but they put in a very clear, obvious seed for the next season in...and there was no next season. Just Colin tossing a mysterious gemstone into the woods.

So now we can swing back to Supernatural, and their ending problem.

I wanted to establish the first type of ending because...well, we need a point of juxtaposition. Supernatural, with a couple exceptions, has sort of the opposite problem. They end a lot. Like, so many times, you can see that they were ending the series. That was it. Game over. There's no way to top what we just did, so let's pack it up. And that, honestly, is another problem entirely. It makes the storyline weirdly choppy, and there's no longer an arc to the series. It does take care of any cliffhanger endings or anything like that, but where The Almighty Johnsons swung too far toward continuation, Supernatural swings too far toward a nice, tidy package.

But even that is not the main thing I think Supernatural has an issue with when it comes to endings: I think they drag. I think the entire show is often being dragged along when it should be over. And that's a problem that crosses media.

See, what comes to mind for me here is a long-running D & D campaign. Supernatural started pretty close to the main characters, but it eventually had to move beyond their sphere and into new stories. And that works...for a while. But now, like in Dungeons an Dragons, Sam and Dean have both been to Hell at least once, resurrected at least a couple times apiece, both been vessels for archangels. And in a world where they took pains to establish other hunters...well, those hunters never seem to be able to do anything meaningful. In later seasons, it gets to the point of ridiculousness. They had to include a multiverse, alternate timeline plot just to have something new. And frankly, I found the world without Sam and Dean to be the more interesting one.

None of this is to denigrate the show as a whole. I highly recommend watching it, at least through a few seasons. And I honestly got really excited at the end of season thirteen. I'm going to watch season fourteen. But that doesn't mean it's beyond reproach, either.

Now, I think books have an interesting solution to this problem that TV shows either don't have or don't employ. When you look at something like Dragonlance or the Pern novels, they aren't "Dragonlance 1" to "Dragonlance 182." It's little snippets. Trilogies, maybe tetralogies. They follow characters through those groups, and then stop before it gets boring.

I think it's a solid choice. It obviously has sold plenty of books. And it would be worth trying in television. I mean, imagine if Sam and Dean were only one of three or four hunting groups. And not just for an episode or two. Instead of...the ever-growing mess in the middle, seasons 6-10 were following someone else entirely. Familiar places, familiar faces, but not trying to shoehorn Sam and Dean into everything, and constantly outdoing themselves with the level of the threat. I think it would have alleviated some of the plot slumping.

I don't know that there was a point to this, per se. I wanted to talk about endings. I wanted to talk about Supernatural. And I did those things. So I bed you good day.