Not a Blog

Let His Voice Be Heard

August 15, 2022 at 1:16 pm
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Let me be clear.  I do not know Salman Rushdie.   Oh, I know OF him, of course.   He has been one of the world’s most celebrated authors for decades now.   I have seen him on television, read about him in newspapers and magazines, listened to his interviews.   We have some mutual friends and acquaintances, I believe, for the world of publishing is a small one, but we’ve never been in the same place at the same time that I recall.   I doubt that he has ever read any of my work, and I am abashed to admit that I have never read any of his.

Not for any particular reason.   There are hundreds of authors whose books I keep meaning to read, without ever quite getting to them.   My unread shelves hold more books than I could possibly read if I lived to be a hundred and did nothing between now and then but read, all day, every day.   There are classics of English literature that I know only from the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED comic books I read in the 50s.   There are major seminal works of science fiction and fantasy gathering dust on my shelves.   One day, I tell myself, one day.   There are books I have loved… yet other titles by the same writers remain “to be read.”    So my neglect of Rushdie really had nothing at all to do with him, and everything to do with how many books there are in the world, and how few hours in the day.

Not (yet) having read Rushdie’s novels did not keep me from admiring the man… from afar, as it were.  Along with the rest of the world, I read of the turmoil around THE SATANIC VERSES and the fatwa declared against him by the ayatollahs of Iran.     For the “crime” of writing a book that some people did not like, he was forced to spend a decade in hiding, surrounded by guards, wearing disguises when he dared leave his house.  Through it all, he displayed courage, compassion, and grace under fire, while holding firm to his principles and yielding not an inch to the haters.    In more recent years, the danger finally seemed to have ebbed, and Rushdie was once again able to speak and travel and appear in public.

He emerged as one of the world’s leading defenders of free speech, which only deepened my admiration for him.   Freedom of speech is a central pillar of our democracy, and every other democracy in the world.   There is nothing, but nothing, that I believe in more strongly.

And these days freedom of speech needs defenders, for when I look around, I find it under attack everywhere.   Blacklisting, cancel culture, libraries being closed or defunded, classic works of literature being banned or bowdlerized or removed from classrooms,  an ever growing list of “toxic” words the mere utterance of which is now forbidden no matter the context or intent, the erosion of civility in discourse.   Both the Rabid Right and the Woke Left seem more intent on silencing those whose views they disagree with, rather than besting them in debate.    And the consequences for those who dare to say things deemed offensive have been growing ever more dire; jobs lost, careers ended, books cancelled, “deplatforming.”

And now, it seems, attempted murder.

I cannot begin to express how horrified I am by the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York as he was about to give a speech.   He was stabbed multiple times by a masked man who leapt onto the stage and rushed at Rushdie before he could say a word.    The latest report I’ve read says that Rushdie is off the ventilator and improving, but he will never entirely recover.    He suffered damage to his liver, and to his arm.   He may lose an eye.   The attack took place in front of a large audience who had come to hear him speak… ironically, about America as a haven for dissidents.

The attacker was arrested, and is being held without bail.   His name is known, but I will not use it here.   He already has an attorney, and I read that he will plead “not guilty” to the various charges being brought against him.   When you try to kill someone on a stage in plain view of hundreds… well, I have to wonder how his legal team will dispute his guilt.   An insanity defense?   The devil made him do it?   He was just following orders, a soldier of god?  Maybe he just did it for the money.   There is a considerable bounty on Rushdie’s head, after all.   (Would that those who offered that bounty could also be arrested and tried before the World Court).   Perhaps the attacker was drunk, or on drugs.   Maybe he’d eaten a Twinkie.   No doubt we will learn his motive when the case comes to trial.   (Will the trial be televised?  Will the public follow it as avidly as they did the Johnny Depp/ Amber Heard case?   Call me cynical, but somehow I doubt it).

I think we all know what motivated the attack, however.   We know what Salman Rushdie did.   We have known for many years.

He wrote a book.

A book that a lot of people did not like.

I don’t know Salman Rushdie, as I said.    That cannot be helped.   There’s not much I can do for him… except to hope that he makes a full recovery, or as much of a recovery as he can possibly make, given his injuries… or maybe I should call them wounds.   For that is what they are, wounds received in battle in a war he has been fighting most of his life, a war for freedom of speech, for art, for compassion.

I don’t know Salman Rushdie’s work either, however… and THAT is something I can do something about.    I just placed an order for copies of THE SATANIC VERSES, MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, and several of his other books.   And I have instructed the managers at Beastly Books, my little bookshop here in Santa Fe, to order every Rushdie title presently in print.   Beastly is not an ordinary general interest bookshop (Santa Fe has several of those); almost of the books it stocks are autographed.   They carry my own titles, of course, along with books by the authors who have appeared at Beastly Books and the Jean Cocteau Cinema over the years for signings, interviews, readings, and other events.   Rushdie’s books would not previously have been on our shelves, no more than those of thousands of other writers who we have never hosted.   But that’s changing, as of today.   From here on, we will be stocking everything Rushdie wrote…

The man who rushed on stage in Chautauqua with knife in hand wanted to do more than murder Salman Rushdie.   He wanted to silence him.

Well, fuck that.   I say, let his voice be heard.  

I hope that all of you reading this will join me.

If, like me, you have never read his books, if he’s only someone you saw on the news, go out and buy THE SATANIC VERSES.   Or any of his books, actually… but SATANIC VERSES is the one that will make the point most clearly.   If you already have a copy on your shelves, great… but he has lots of other books, buy some of them.   Tell your local bookstore to put his novels on their shelves.   Make sure your local library stocks them.

If enough of us out there truly believe in freedom of speech, we can send Salman Rushdie soaring up the bestseller lists again.   Nothing would please me more than to see THE SATANIC VERSES rise to #1, decades after its original publication.   Nothing would make the point more clearly.

 

 

 

Current Mood: angry angry

COVID UPDATE

July 31, 2022 at 7:57 pm
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An Update from LA

THIS MESSAGE HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE MINIONS OF FEVRE RIVER

Words For Our Times

July 5, 2022 at 10:50 am
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CAN we keep it?

I am not so sure any more.

 

Current Mood: scared scared

Good Stuff, Bad Stuff, Strange Stuff

June 1, 2022 at 8:25 pm
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So much going on everywhere, it is hard to keep up.   Some random thoughts —

A week ago, Parris and I went down to Bernalillo for  a memorial gathering for our friend John Miller.   It was good to see so many old friends, and to share our memories of John… but profoundly sad at the same time, to realize once again that we would never see John again, that there would be no more memories.   John was one of the mainstays of Wild Cards, part of the series since the very beginning, the creator of Chrysalis, Yeoman, Carnifax, the Midnight Angel, Father Squid, and so many more.   He probably wrote more Wild Cards stories than any other author, with the possible exception of Melinda Snodgrass… I have not counted, but the two were neck and neck.  He was also a Mets fan, a baseball buff, a RPG player and gamemaster, and a fan of bad movies.   I wish he had written more.   He had been working on a novel called BLACK TRAIN COMING even longer than I have been working on THE WINDS OF WINTER.  It would be great if one of his writer friends finishes it for him.   Beyond all of this, however, John was a really good guy, very bright, always fun to spend time with.  And he and his wife Gail really loved animals.   More than I can ever tell you.   All of us at the memorial are missing him.   We will miss him for years to come, I do not doubt, until the day comes when we all go to join him.

These past few years have been rough.  I miss them all.   Ed Bryant, Michael Engelberg, Ben Bova, Phyllis Eisenstein, Victor Milan, Steve Perrin, Kay McCauley, Gardner Dozois… ah, Gargy… I know I am forgetting people.   They made the world a richer place, and we are poorer for their absence.

And the larger world is so ugly that I can hardly bear to watch the news.   What can I say about Russia’s attack on Ukraine that others have not already said?   I was GOH at a con in St. Petersburg a few years ago.  The con was fun, the city was gorgeous, and the Russian fans and writers — even the border security guards — were so warm and welcoming.   Putin is a malign thug.   That seems to be the story of the world, though.   Good people with hideous leaders.   Listening to reports of the fighting makes me feel so angry, so helpless…

And things are pretty ugly over here as well.   The latest school shooting, for instance, and the usual response of the GOP, a refusal to do anything to fix it.   Is baseball still the great American pastime, or is that school shooting now?   No other country seems to have much of an issue with it, only us.  And what answer do the Republicans propose?   Arm the teachers?  Lock the doors?  Toughen the security?

We are becoming more and more a police state.   I am, I am aware, very old and getting older.   Young people may not believe this, but… I remember a time when security was not omnipresent.   When I could get on an airplane without being x-rayed and searched and probed and made to give up my pocket knife.   When I could visit any publisher in New York by walking into their building, looking at the directory to see what floor they were on, taking the elevator up, and announcing my name to the receptionist.   When kids could go to schools that were not fortresses… we did learn to duck and cover under our desks in case the Russians dropped an A-bomb on us, but we did not need to fear being shot by our classmates.

It makes me want to scream.   What the hell happened to this country?   To this world?

I am depressing myself, and probably all of you as well.   Let me talk about some happier things.

DARK WINDS debuts on AMC on June 12, and we’re getting a lot of nice press about it.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-features/amc-series-dark-winds-tony-hillerman-1235156491/

https://www.emmys.com/video/under-cover/dark-winds

https://www.emmys.com/news/features/cover-2022-06

First season will run six episodes, based largely on Tony Hillerman’s novel LISTENING WOMAN.   Watch the show, read the book.   Then read the other books, they are great.   I am very proud of my association  with this one, and glad that I could help make it happen… though, truth be told, I did little enough.   The real credit should go to Robert Redford, Chris Eyre, Zahn McClarnon, and all the other folks mentioned in the articles… and one who was not.   Let me give a shout out here to TINA ELMO, Bob Redford’s right hand and an inexhaustible champion of Tony Hillerman and his work, who was present every day on the shoot and did so much to make our series one to be proud of.

Other good stuff.   NIGHT OF THE COOTERS, the short film we made based on the classic story by Howard Waldrop (the one and only) is complete.   Directed by and starring Vincent d’Onofrio, and a cast of dozens.  H’ard himself has seen it and pronounced it Good.  The film was shot entirely on greenscreen; the actors and horses are live, everything else was supplied by the wizards at Trioscope.   It clocks in at about thirty minutes.   At the moment we are entering it into film festivals all around the nation and the world.  We’ll let you know when and where it gets accepted.   Maybe you will be able to catch it at a filmfest near you.   If so, give it a look.   It’s a lot of fun.

Oh, and right now, this very moment, we have a second film crew down in White Sands National Monument, shooting another short film based on another Howard Waldrop masterwork.   I could tell you which, but then I might have to kill you.   So far, so great, but there’s still lots of work ahead.    Howard may have a new collection coming out this year as well.   Who knows, 2022 could be the Year of Waldrop.

HOUSE OF THE DRAGON?   Glad you asked.   I’ve now watched rough cuts of nine of the ten episodes, and I continue to be impressed.   I cannot speak to the SFX, many of which are not in yet, but the look of it is great, and the acting, the directing, and writing are first rate.   And yes, for all you book fans, it IS my story.   Sure, there are some changes from FIRE & BLOOD — we could not present three alternative versions of every major event, not and keep our sanity — but I think Ryan Condal and his writers made good choices.   Even some improvements.   (Heresy, I know, but being the author, I am allowed to say so).    For years, as some of you may recall, I have been saying the TV version of Shae, as portrayed by Sibel Kekilli, was a deeper, richer, and more nuanced characters than the Shae in my novels.   In a similar vein, I am vastly impressed by the show’s version of King Viserys, played by Paddy Considine, who gives the character a tragic majesty  that my book Viserys never quite achieved.   Kudos to Paddy, Ryan and his writers, and Miguel and the other directors.   (There are a lot of great performances in HOUSE OF THE DRAGON — or HOT D, as I hear some are calling it.   You may never have heard of some of our actors, but I think you will learn to love them, just as you did with the cast of GAME OF THRONES).

Back home in Santa Fe, Sky Railway is doing really well.   Many of our trains are selling out.   If you are visiting the Land of Enchantment, be sure to book your ride early.   Oh, and last weekend we re-opened the bar and cafe at the historic Santa Fe Southern Depot in Lamy.   Right now only open weekends, but we will be expanding the hours.

I should say a word about my appearances.    I have decided not to attend this year’s worldcon in Chicago, for a variety of reasons.   Chicago remains one of my favorite cities, though, and it looks as though I may be travelling there once or twice during the year to come… for reasons quite different, and much more exciting, than a con.    Instead of worldcon, it looks as though I will be attending this year’s San Diego Comicon… assuming they do not move to December or go virtual, as they did last year thanks to the pandemic.   I would rather not attend any more virtual conventions.   Guess I’m a boomer, not a zoomer.

(It will feel odd to travel again.   I have only left home once since January 2020).

WINDS, you say?   Yes, still working.   Finally finished a clutch of Cersei chapters that were giving me fits.   Now I am wrestling with Jaime and Brienne.   The work proceeds, though not as fast as many of you would like.

That’s all for now.

Words For Our Times

May 29, 2022 at 9:33 am
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Current Mood: discontent discontent

Words For Our Times

April 23, 2022 at 9:48 am
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Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

Farewell to a Friend

January 15, 2022 at 6:01 pm
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I have been struggling with this post for ten days now.   The words come hard.    Sometimes, no matter what you say, it does not seem enough.   How do you sum up a man’s life in just a few paragraphs?  How do you do justice to forty years of friendship?

John Miller died last week at his home in Albuquerque.  John had been in ill health for some years, but even so, his sudden passing in the night was a shock to all of us who knew him.   I had spoken to him just a few days prior, and seen him as recently as November at the signing party for the Tor reissue of his Wild Cards novel, DEATH DRAWS FIVE, at Beastly Books.   He was the same old John, a little grumpy, not feeling his best, but always good to talk with.   One of the other Wild Carders was in town and we were throwing a party, and I had called John to invite him up… but he did not feel well enough to make the hour long drive to Santa Fe.   He even said he might have to give up driving entirely.  We joked about how I might have to drive down to his place to see him henceforth, and talked about me coming down to grab a dinner after things calmed down a little.

A day later, he was gone.   He is survived by his wife, Gail Gerstner Miller, by all of his fellow members of the Wild Cards consortium, and by a large circle of friends here in New Mexico.

Most of you reading this probably knew John best for his work on Wild Cards, where he wrote as both John J. Miller (in the early days) and John Jos. Miller (later on).     ((Ah, that name, that byline… John Miller is such a common name, e  John was constantly being confused with other John Millers, to his vast annoyance.   When he wrote comics, he was confused with John Jackson Miller, another comic writer.   Amazon mashed his own books together with those of another John J. Miller, a right wing journalist for the NATIONAL REVIEW.  He replaced the J with Jos. when that happened, but even that did not help.   I must have urged him to adopt a more distinctive pseudonym a hundred times, but he was a stubborn guy, and his name was his name, so… ))

John… our John, not those other guys… was one of the original Wild Carders, the founding fathers (and mothers) wh0 were with us from the start, and right through to the end.   His was the last story in the first book.   In a world full of aces and jokers, he went his own way, and made a nat his viewpoint character: Yeoman, the yen archer, a hard-as-nails Vietnam vet seeking revenge on the crime lord who killed his wife.   John had originally created the character for SuperWorld, the RPG game that preceded and inspired Wild Cards, but Brennan made the leap from game to page smoothly, and became one of our mainstays in those early volumes.

Yeoman was by no means the only character John created for the series.   Aces, jokers, deuces, nats… he contributed as much to the series as any other writer.   Chrysalis, the information broker with the transparent skin, our first iconic joker character.   Wraith, librarian and jewel thief.   SCARE agents Lady Black and Chrysalis (Billy Ray).   Mother and her children.   Father Squid was his, along with the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker.   A hardcore baseball fan, he kept the Dodgers in Brooklyn by having Walter O’Malley draw a black queen and melt into a pile of sludge.   He also short circuited the Cuban revolution by giving Fidel a better curveball, so he became a Hall of Fame major league pitcher instead of a revolutionary.   Later down the road, he gave us the Midnight Angel and her flaming sword, and John Nighthawk, born a slave, the oldest man in the Wild Cards universe.   There were more… so many more… John loved the world and its characters, and his creativity was boundless.   John probably created more characters and wrote more stories than any of the other forty+ writers who have contributed to Wild Cards over the decades, and gave us so many memorable moments.   His credits included one-and-a-half Wild Cards novels:  DEATH DRAWS FIVE, a solo novel reissued by Tor this November, and DEAD MAN’S HAND, a collaboration with yours truly wherein Yeoman crossed paths with my own character Popinjay to solve a murder.

Wild Cards was by no means the only thing he wrote.   He published a number of short stories over the decades, and wrote half a dozen work-for-hire books for a variety of franchises, among them Buck Rogers, Dinosaur Samurai, and Witchblade.   He wrote comics and graphic novels as well, including adaptations of some of my own stories.

John  had the worst luck of any writer I have known, though.  His first sale, to FANTASTIC, came out in the final issue; the magazine folded after publishing it.   So did Kitchen Sink Press, later on.  And iBooks, which published John’s novel DEATH DRAWS FIVE a week before they went bankrupt.   Only six hundred copies ever managed to make it to market.   And then there was the time another publisher sent the advance for John’s novel to another John Miller, who cashed the check.   The mistake was theirs entirely, and the other John Miller lived in Indiana rather than New Mexico, but it still took our John half a year to get paid.   (Giving birth to the saying familiar to all Wild Carders:  “Don’t buy the couch.”   For the past decade or so, he was writing an original  novel all his own, a period horror/ SF tale called BLACK TRAIN COMING.   He never finished it, though he had been laboring on that one even longer than I’ve been working on THE WINDS OF WINTER.   His declining health the past few years slowed him down considerably, sad to say.

Still, for all the setbacks and struggles and frustrations, John persisted.   He was a writer, and that’s what a writer does.

John and his wife Gail were two of the first friends I made when I moved to New Mexico at the end of 1979.   They were part of a gaming group that met weekly in Albuquerque, an amazing, creative, half-mad gang whose numbers included Walter Jon Williams, Jim Moore, Victor Milan, Chip Wideman, and Melinda Snodgrass.   Parris and I were welcomed into their fellowship,  and soon found ourselves addicted to role-playing, staying up to dawn at John’s house or Melinda’s to play MORROW PROJECT, PARANOIA, GURPS, CALL OF CTHULHU, and… eventually… SUPERWORLD, with me as gamemaster.   Thence came Wild Cards, and days that shall live in infamy.   Dr. Tachyon, the Great and Powerful Turtle, Fortunato, Peregrine, Modular Man, Golden Boy…

There is so much I could say about John.

He was born in upstate New York, and worked on a rat farm.

When he was younger, he was an athlete.  Softball, racketball, handball.   And he loved baseball with a passion.   The Brooklyn Dodgers till they moved away, then the Mets.   I am a Mets fan too.   We had that in common, and we’ll always have 1969 and 1986.

(Every writer has stories they never get around to writing.   John had one such.   On his way up, Babe Ruth played briefly for a minor league team in Providence, Rhode Island.   John had this great idea for a story called “Howard and George,” wherein Babe meets H.P. Lovecraft on the streets of Providence, and both men’s lives are changed profoundly by the meeting.   It could have been such a wonderful story, and John talked it about often, but never got around to writing it.   Breaks my heart.  I wanted to read that story).

He was a collector.   Books, comic books, baseball cards.

He and Gail loved animals.   They had tropical fish, poison arrow frogs, lizards… and dogs, and cats, and dogs, and cats.   So many dogs and cats.   John was a big guy and could sometimes seem gruff, but he had a soft heart where animals were concerned.   He refused to watch movies or TV shows where an animal was killed.   And whenever a cat needed a home — as Vic Milan’s did after his death — John was always there to take them in.

He served two years as secretary of SFWA.   One of the better secretaries SFWA ever had.

He wept when Roger Zelazny died.

He loved bad movies.   He and Gail used to have Bad Movie Night at their house once a week.   They introduced me to some truly terrible films, the kind that are so bad they are hilarious.

He was an expert on baseball’s Negro League, its history and players.   His last published story features Satchel Paige.

His academic background was in archeology, he went on many digs, but he gave up a promising career as an archeologist to write science fiction.

He loved rock music, especially the Grateful Dead.   Gail and John joined Parris and me twice for Dead concerts down in Mexico, trips we will never forget.

Whenever I had a barbeque in the back yard, John would turn up with a big crockpot of his famous baked beans, best I ever had.

And… and… and… there is so much more.   Memories.   Stories.

It really has not sunk in yet.   Part of me does not really believe he’s gone.   Part of me still thinks that if I picked up the phone and dialed his number, he’d  answer.   Then I could drive down to Albuquerque and we could go out for Mexican food and a bad movie.

John was one of the good ones.   A good writer, a good guy, a good friend.

Wild Cards, and the world, will not be the same without him.

 

 

 

Current Mood: sad sad

Three and Seventy

September 20, 2021 at 9:19 am
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I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?


I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

((with thanks to T.S. Eliot))

Current Mood: melancholy melancholy

Farewell to an Ace

August 15, 2021 at 3:13 pm
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I am very saddened to report that we have lost another of our Wild Carders.

I received word yesterday that Steve Perrin, the writer/ creator who gave us Mistral, her father Cyclone, and the ace reporter Digger Downs, died at his home in California.   I am told that he died painlessly in the night, from an atrial fibrillation.

Steve had been part of Wild Cards since the beginning… BEFORE the beginning, actually… though he never actually wrote a story for us until the triptych in our latest volume, JOKER MOON, which just came out.   I am very pleased that he was at least able to see his story in print and hold the book in his hand before he passed away.   But his contributions to the series went way, way beyond that one tale.   Steve was a game designer, a mainstay at Chaosium and other game companies, and was one of the creators responsible for such landmark RPGs as RUNEQUEST and CALL OF CTHULHU.   He was also the writer and designer for SUPERWORLD, the role-playing game that inspired Wild Cards.   Without his game, there would never have been a Wild Cards series.

I first “met” Steve when both of us were in high school (me in New Jersey, him in California), writing amateur superhero stories for the ditto’ed fanzines of the fledgling comics fandom of the 60s.   I met him the same way I met Howard Waldrop  (who was also writing for the same fanzines) — through the mails, and in the lettercols and comments sections.   He was a very prolific writer, turning out far more stories than me and Howard combined, and creating dozens of characters… among them, the very first African-American superhero of the Silver Age, the Black Phantom… who made his debut in a fanzine well before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with the Black Panther.

Perrin was also one of the founding members of the SCA, and loved games.   He was a big DIPLOMACY player, as I recall, and later on, with high school and college behind him, he made his career designing and writing role-playing games.   There was none better.  I have no doubt that if he had decided instead to write for Marvel or DC, he would have been just as successful.

I never actually met Steve in person until the worldcon in San Jose in 2002, but we kept in touch, off and on, over the decades.   He was a true ace, and all the gamers out there will miss him, as will our Wild Cards readers, and his fellow members of the WC consortium.

Current Mood: sad sad

Words For Our Times

May 5, 2021 at 6:49 pm
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Current Mood: contemplative contemplative