Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Letter From The Editor - April 2008, Issue 8

It's like when you (or your wife) are pregnant: suddenly there are pregnant women everywhere. At the mall waddling from storefront to storefront; in the DMV standing in that line that never moves and never ends; in the supermarket buying ice cream and cookies. The truth, however, is that there really aren't any more pregnant women than there were before; it only seems that way because your awareness of them has been heightened.

It was that way for me when I put the current issue of IGMS together. I didn't set out for it to be a themed issue, and I'm still not completely convinced that it is. On the other hand, once the idea reared its head, it seemed quite inescapable.

I blame Dennis Danvers. His story "The Angel's Touch" opens with a man getting on the elevator in his apartment building, only to find an angel there, waiting for him and wanting to chat. Not the nicest angel you ever met, either. Although "The Angel's Touch" wasn't the first story I bought for this issue, without it there probably wouldn't have been any of this 'theme' business.

You see, I had already bought Matt Rotundo's "Frankenstein Diaries" and planned for it to begin in issue eight (it's our current novelette, and will be concluded in issue nine), and at the time it was simply a great story about a man and his son's clone, nothing more. And even when I found Dennis's story after that, still the word 'theme' never entered the conversation.

Next came Stephanie Dray's "Limbo," and I thought to myself, Now there's an interesting and amusing twist on the afterlife . . ."

And then John Brown's "From The Clay of His Heart." It's your typical girl-meets-golem, girl-can't-rid-of-golem, girl-almost-loses-golem-to-evil-volhov story. You know how those go.

But then "End Time" arrived. Maybe I should point the finger at Scott Bull instead of poor Dennis. But as soon as I read it, I thought, Hey, I've already got the angel story . . . I should put this story, about a guy who's tired of doing the devil's bidding, in the same issue. Kind of a yin and yang thing. They would be great together . . .

And then suddenly all of the stories were pregnant with thematic possibilities. The golem, the distant and not-so-distant relatives displaced from the afterlife, the angel, the devil, even the novelette, which so nicely captures the original Frankenstein's theme of man playing God and paying a price for it. They all seemed to have religious implications.

But I needed one more piece. I had enough fantasy stories for this issue; I needed one more SF piece to balance things out. So when I found Aliette de Bodard's "Rise of Horus" about an AI (artificial intelligence) and his murdered father -- who were both named after Egyptian gods -- I knew I had to include it in this issue. It just fit . . .

But, hey, there's still Eric James Stone's ultra-fun flash fiction story, "Accounting For Dragons." It features dragons and virgins and treasure and accountants (oh my). No God or gods or even anybody named after one. So you see, it's not a themed issue. Not on purpose, anyway. Really.

Happy reading.

Edmund R. Schubert
Editor, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

P.S. Yes, here comes issue eight, and no, we still haven't posted the Ender universe story for issue seven. It is coming. We promised an Ender universe story in every issue and we'll keep that promise as soon as humanly possible.

P.P.S. New Story behind The Story essay tomorrow. I promise.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Con? What Con?

More like con-medy of errors. Here's the most concise version I can deliver:

My wife, Terry, called me in Richmond and asked me to come home early from RavenCon (which, in three years of cons she has never done before). She had taken my daughter, Katrina, back to the doctor for a follow up visit Friday afternoon (she had broken her arm on Wednesday) and the doc said the xray had been misread the first time and they needed to cut her out of her original cast and put her in one with a different alignment.

Within a few hours, though, Katrina was in so much pain that she went off on her own and somehow got herself out of this second cast (which I never saw, but Terry described as 3/4 cast and 1/4 straight-arm splint). So Terry wakes up the next morning to find Katrina has put her old cast back on (it had been neatly cut in two pieces and she saved it because her friends had written all over it), using an ace wrap to hold together.

So now Terry finds an orthopedic specialist who had office hours on Saturday (how's that for a minor miracle?), who re-xrays the arm and tell her BOTH of the first two diagnosis were wrong and they need to put her in a third cast. (This is the point where Terry called and asked me to please come home.)

In the mean time I'm at RavenCon, losing things left and right because of the pain medication I'm on after the root canal the dentist did on Thursday. Those meds just took my brain and threw it out the nearest window, then ran out into the street where the brain landed and jumped up and down on it. Thank God I carpooled with James Maxey, who did the driving; I really didn't belong behind the wheel of an automobile. Unfortunately I had to ask him to cancel his book signing so we could leave early. I didn't mind too much about canceling my own stuff, but I hated having to ask him to do so. He was extraordinarily gracious about it.

Somewhere in there I did manage to do a few panels and see a few friends. Went out to dinner Friday evening with authors David Coe, Dennis Danvers, and Gail Martin (when we were done I made them wait while I hunted all over the restaurant for my sunglasses, which it turned out I had never taken into the restaurant in the first place). Went back to the con hotel and lost a few more things. Then I did two or three panels Friday night, and a workshop and a panel on Saturday before I left. At least I think I did. Could just be the drugs talking...

At least I was home for Katrina's birthday party, which we held despite everything else that happened. Bad enough to break your arm, but lose a birthday party too would have just been wrong.

So how was your weekend?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Locus Award Nominations

Just a quick note before I run to RavenCon to congratulate Peter S. Beagle for being one of the finalists for the Locus Award for Best Novelette. Peter's "We Never Talk About My Brother" appeared in the summer 2007 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show and everyone at IGMS knew right away that it was a special story. Congratulations, Peter. Glad to see the story getting the recognition it deserves.

For a full listing of this year's finalists, visit:


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Broken Arms and Little Drummer Girls

I've gotten a couple of emails in the past 24 hours from folks who were more interested in my daughter's broken arm than my con schedule (and who can blame them).

So here are the details: Katrina broke her left elbow at school yesterday. Got knocked down in gym class and fell right on the point of the elbow. She said she heard it crack when she hit the ground. Feel free to wince; every one else has when they hear that.

Coincidentally, she broke the same arm in the same place almost exactly 8 years ago. She'll be in a cast for 6 weeks. It comes off on June 4th, two days after her middle school spring band concert (she's a drummer). She was quite distressed about that because she really enjoys playing the music. "Why couldn't it be two days before the concert," she's asked more than once. I told her not to dwell on it too much, because even if it came off two days before the concert, she still wouldn't be able to play (between not being able to practice and the arm being weak). The really fun part will end of grade tests, because she's a lefty and won't be able to mark those little fill-in dots with her number two pencil.

Not one to let the kid have all the attention, today I went to the dentist and got a root canal...

So, how was your day?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

RavenCon 2008

I'm getting ready to head up to Richmond VA for RavenCon. Had a great time there last year; it's one of the most well-organized cons I've ever been to. Road trippin' up with James Maxey, who's always good for several hours of interesting conversation, and looking forward to seeing many other friends while I'm there.

Current schedule as follows:

Friday - 5 pm - Koffee Klatch
8pm - Opening Ceremonies
9pm - Writing The Perfect Blurb
10pm - Quick Write

Saturday - 9am - Allen Wold's Story Workshop (runs until noon)
12pm - The Business of Editing

And that's all. I'll probably hang around until 7 or 8pm to see friends and talk with folks, but since I don't have any panels Sunday, I'm going home early for my daughter's 12th birthday party Sunday afternoon (she just broke her arm today!).

I'll post another Story Behind The Story essay before I leave, so you have something to read over the weekend.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Horus Ascending" by Aliette de Bodard

"Horus Ascending" was the collision of two ideas I had seen over the year of 2006: first, there was massively parallel computing, in which several computers work together as one. Add to this a conference on image compression and radio transmission that led me to realise that with a proper compression scheme, one could transmit a fair amount of information via a standard radio link. The two ideas collided, and I started to shape a story in which an entire fleet of ships was piloted by one AI--in reality a sum of different processors, linked together by the radio-transmitted instructions. The ships, I decided, would bear colonists to a new planet.

Being a destructive sort of person, I immediately wondered what would happen if the radio transmissions between the ships were cut off. Massive computer crashes would take place, followed, most probably, by the fleet tumbling down from the sky--a disaster both in human lives and in material costs, since little would be salvaged from that ship. It was probable the colony would be very reduced in its first years of life.

That was a cool setting; but I didn't have a character to go with it. The colonists were mostly faceless, and I wasn't really interested in writing a long, dragging story about the slow process of rebuilding. I thought then of what would happen to one of those computer units--one that managed to get itself restarted after the crash, on autonomous. What would it remember of its time in space? What would it be dreaming of?

One morning, I woke up and wrote the very first words of the story: "In my dreams, I'm my father...", and I knew I had found the voice of my main character. The rest followed pretty easily--I added the complication in the person of Amanda, a person whom Horus was bound to loathe; and I drew on my knowledge of computers and image processing to add the technical layer to the story. The final few paragraphs were the ones that gave me the most trouble; I ended up writing three different versions before I found one that satisfied me.

(artwork for this story (in the current issue of IGMS) by Laura Givens: http://www.lauragivens-artist.com) (Aliette's website: http://www.aliettedebodard.com)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"From the Clay of His Heart" by John Brown

The story behind From the Clay of His Heart

I was on a business trip, and just before checking out of my hotel, I read an interview with Deborah Vetter who used to be the editor for Cicada. She said that many stories she liked took a common theme and gave it an unexpected twist. Cicada was open to fantasy at the time, and so I asked myself: what’s a twist on a common fantasy element?

I got my luggage together, checked out of the hotel, and drove over to a Lowe’s around the corner. All this time I’m running various fantasy elements through my mind—witches, ghosts, dragons, etc.—asking how I might twist them. I got out of the car at Lowe’s, walked in, and realized I needed to use the restroom. I made a bee-line for the back, but kept running options through my head. About halfway there, on the trim isle, I got to “golem.”

All the golem stories I had read were about the guy who created the golem. So I asked: what if it wasn’t about the guy who creates the golem? What if it’s about someone who finds a golem?

I immediately saw the bank of a river, the Evanston, Wyoming river my girls and I had been playing on a few weeks earlier. I imagined the river in autumn, yellow leaves on the ground. I imagined a bald man of red clay, half exposed in the freshly shorn bank, the rune of power on his forehead and neck. The river was low, the mint growing on the exposed sand and gravel bars, the smell of leaf mold hanging low over the water.

My cool meters went wild. Some ideas carry such a delicious energy.

I finished my business, captured the image on a scrap of paper, and began asking questions. Who finds it? A woman. Zing! Where? In the woods of North Carolina. Zing! And it was some Native American creature. Zing! What’s the problem? What’s at issue? Either the redman has his own agenda, I thought, or it's others forcing it on him, or he's trapped. A trapped soul…and the woman and the golem love each other…Zing!

I did pre-draft work for the NC setting and found I wanted to move it in time and location to Medieval Croatia. That’s just were the juice led. So I did research on Croatia and golems. I followed the idea of her finding the golem, taking the thing home, cleaning it, stroking its cheek, humming to it, stitching clothing and socks. And then one night she hears a gasp. It’s alive. It’s a story of obsession, I thought. But the energy of that idea eventually petered out.

So I went searching for another problem. I made the following entry in my pre-draft document.

What's at stake? The woman finds this thing, so what? She's obsessed. But what's the big issue here?

· Danger, if she wakens maybe it will kill

· Maybe if people find out they will want to use

· Maybe she will be declared a witch

· Maybe it will eat her out of home

· Eat her children

· Maybe it will force her to feed it, force her to bring people to him so he can kill them

· Is it a thing of danger?

· Maybe it will force love upon her? Breed with her and create a race of goblins or trolls.

· It is a great thief--bringing her presents, presents for the master. And one day it brings a child.

· A goblin with long hair and not dumb, not brutish, by hungry, a predator, one who will eat you, who loves hunt and chase, but can dress and act civilized.

· Maybe that's the thing--it draws you, draws your dreams or your mind, feeds on these things until it has strength to go on and takes a part of you with it, your longing, longing, longing for it to return.

I tried a few drafts, still focusing on it being a thing she wakens, but they all eventually lost energy. So I tried something new. Here’s what I wrote:

What if it IS about him stealing things? "The golem was a thief, and this made her believe it might not have been such a holy thing after all."


She's looking. Can't destroy it because of its holiness. But didn't the wizards of the devil turn rods into snakes in the Pharaoh’s court? And didn't men always take God's gifts, like Adam, and throw them away?

This was a question.

That last line brought in a voice. I tried that on for size and wrote the first paragraph of the current story. The paragraph just rolled out of me—“The golem was a thief”--and so I wrote another and another until I ran out of ideas, which took me to about page three. I loved the voice. I loved the issue. I realized the idea that was crackling with life wasn’t about obsession, but something else entirely.

And so the process of creation continued until the very last piece, which, in this instance, was the title. The story was originally named “The Valiant Women of Plavca.” I wasn’t satisfied with that, but I couldn’t come up with anything better at the time. Luckily, Edmund requested something with “a bit more punch,” and, after much creative Q&A, I found the current title—yet another small joy in the long line of delights I discovered while writing this story.

(artwork for this story (in the current issue of IGMS) by Scott Altmann: www.scottaltmann.com) (John's website: www.JohnDBrown.com)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NASA's new top scientist - 13 year-old German boy

What are a couple of decimal places among friends...? It's only the fate of humanity and piddly stuff like that. (Actually, I find it particularly ironic that of our space trash makes us 100 times more likely in this case to die a fiery death.)

German schoolboy, 13, corrects NASA's asteroid figures

BERLIN (AFP) - A 13-year-old German schoolboy corrected NASA's estimates on the chances of an asteroid colliding with Earth, a German newspaper reported Tuesday, after spotting the boffins had miscalculated.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP) to calculate that there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

NASA had previously estimated the chances at only 1 in 45,000 but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency (ESA), that the young whizzkid had got it right.

The schoolboy took into consideration the risk of Apophis running into one or more of the 40,000 satellites orbiting Earth during its path close to the planet on April 13 2029.

Those satellites travel at 3.07 kilometres a second (1.9 miles), at up to 35,880 kilometres above earth -- and the Apophis asteroid will pass by earth at a distance of 32,500 kilometres.

If the asteroid strikes a satellite in 2029, that will change its trajectory making it hit earth on its next orbit in 2036.

Both NASA and Marquardt agree that if the asteroid does collide with earth, it will create a ball of iron and iridium 320 metres (1049 feet) wide and weighing 200 billion tonnes, which will crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

The shockwaves from that would create huge tsunami waves, destroying both coastlines and inland areas, whilst creating a thick cloud of dust that would darken the skies indefinitely.

The 13-year old made his discovery as part of a regional science competition for which he submitted a project entitled: "Apophis -- The Killer Astroid."

Tomorrow: new essay from one of the authors in the current issue of IGMS.

But first, a follow-up. Here's the latest on the 13 year-old wunderkind:

Schoolboy's asteroid-strike sums are wrong

German kid saw 1 in 450 chance of Apophis apocalypse

Published Wednesday 16th April 2008 11:06 GMT

Widespread media reports claim that a German schoolboy has recalculated the likelihood of a deadly planet-smasher asteroid hitting the Earth, and found the catastrophe is enormously more likely than NASA thought. The boy's sums were said to have been checked by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and found to be correct.

There's only one problem with the story: the kid's sums are in fact wrong, NASA's are right, and the ESA swear blind they never said any different. An ESA spokesman in Germany told the Reg this morning: "A small boy did do these calculations, but he made a mistake... NASA's figures are correct."

It would appear that the intial article in the Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, which says that NASA and the ESA endorsed Nico Marquardt's calculations, was incorrect. The story was picked up by German tabloids and the AFP news wire, and is now all over the internet.

It seems that Marquardt's calculations included the possibility of collision with a satellite in some way not thought to have been covered by NASA, which bumped up the odds of a subsequent Earth strike. But NASA says:

[The asteroid will pass] within the distance of Earth's geosynchronous satellites. However, because Apophis will pass interior to the positions of these satellites at closest approach, in a plane inclined at 40 degrees to the Earth's equator and passing outside the equatorial geosynchronous zone when crossing the equatorial plane, it does not threaten the satellites in that heavily populated region.

All in all, it seems there's no need to dust off the asteroid-busting space nukes just yet. ®

Sunday, April 13, 2008

“The Angel’s Touch” by Dennis Danvers

How I Came to Write “The Angel’s Touch”

Sarah and I were traveling. We turn into TV sluts when we have a hotel room and a remote control, cruising up and down all those channels. At home we wrestle with rabbit ears for everything we watch, a struggle with cosmic forces, not unlike Jacob’s tussle with an angel but with much less spectacular results.

I came out of the shower, and found Sarah watching some sappy tale of divine intervention nearing its predictable conclusion. You could tell by the music, the beatifically smiling faces. It made me nauseous. “It’s one of those angel shows,” Sarah said. “The one on the left’s an angel. She saved them from suffering.”

“What suffering?”

“I missed that part.”

I groaned. “Anything else. Please.”

I knew I was running a great risk. Sarah has been known to land on a televangelist and stay put just to lure a bit of sacrilege out of me. It’s one of my more attractive traits, she claims.

The angel was still on the screen, being angelic. I grumbled, “If they wouldn’t always make angels so insipid, so goody-goody. I mean, the angels in the Bible aren’t exactly Care Bears with wings.”

Sarah finds it interesting that a non-believer like myself has read the Bible more than once. It’s a strange world. When I taught Bible in World Lit. classes at a Texas university, a student who claimed to believe every word of the Bible to be literally true, couldn’t remember what it was exactly Abraham had done. “Was he the guy with the ark?” he asked me. “No, he was the one who almost offed his kid because God told him to.”

“I think you should write an angel story,” Sarah said as the credits started to roll, and she resumed surfing.

“Right,” I said.

“I’m serious.”

What a ridiculous idea, I thought, and immediately started thinking about it. If God employs a tribe of assistants in the world, they would have to have a wide range of duties and personalities to match. Some of them might be a bit unnerving, even scary as shit. They are, after all, alien beings, and their duties might very well include the full range of divine prerogatives, which would include, well, everything. Even all the unpleasant bits. Like death and sin and suffering and disease and... You get the idea.

Maybe it was because there was an elevator in the hotel, but almost immediately I saw my scary angel packed rather uncomfortably into an elevator, riding in close quarters with my hapless protagonist. However unpleasant he might be, I did want him to be a real angel, that is, an agent carrying out the will of God, so that the result of his intervention in my protagonist’s life should plausibly represent the will of God, which, if you believe in an omnipotent God, would be, well, everything, so I didn’t see that as much of a plot impediment. I decided to make it a love story, since, speaking from experience, love offers so many opportunities for mortals to screw up.

In an early draft of the story, I blew everybody up, just to get it out of my system, I suppose—to flex my God muscles. I call that the Sodom and Gomorrah draft. Once I didn’t blow the lovers up, the story wrote itself. Since God is reportedly keen on the forgiveness of sins, I daresay he would approve of the results.

My neighborhood association each year asks me to read at the neighborhood Christmas gathering. Year before last I wrote a story, “R3,” especially for the occasion, which ended up appearing in Strange Horizons last December. This last year I read “The Angel’s Touch,” and got a terrific response. That is, they laughed in all the right places.

Actually, the story was dictated to me by an angel after every publication in heaven turned it down as insufficiently angelic. He’s letting me keep the money. Seems they don’t have money in heaven.

(artwork for this story (in the current issue of IGMS) by Liz Clarke: www.lizclarke.co.za)

(Dennis's blog: www.dennisdanvers.com)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

IGMS - Issue 8

Wow, I thought the cover illustration for James Maxey's story in issue 7 was cool (and it still is), but the illustration for John Brown's "From The Clay of His Heart" in issue eight rocks the house right down to the ground. It only came in two days ago, which is why we're about a little late getting the issue up (you can fudge a lot of things with an online magazine, but the cover isn't one of them) so I'm just seeing this now for the first time and I've gotta say, I'm blown away. And the bigger it gets, the more impressive it gets. Click on the link at the bottom of this post and tell me I'm wrong.

Okay, I'm done being a fanboy now.


Issue eight, available for your reading pleasure, includes:

"From The Clay of His Heart" by John Brown
"The Angel's Touch" by Dennis Danvers
"Accounting For Dragons" by the ubiquitous Eric James Stone
"End Times" By Scott Emerson Bull
"Horus Rising" by Aliette de Bodard
"Limbo" by Stephanie Dray
"The Frankenstein Diaries" (novelette, Part I) by Matt Rotundo


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dreaming Creek

I just got the the final files from the designer who did the cover for my upcoming novel, Dreaming Creek. I haven't been this excited in a long time; it's gorgeous work. I just wish I didn't have to wait until this fall to hold the book in my hands...