Not a Blog

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

Wild Days Are Come Again

November 11, 2021 at 8:11 am
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It will be a wild weekend at Beastly Books and the Jean Cocteau… a WILD CARDS weekend, that is.

Two new Wild Cards books are being released this week by our friends at Tor… or rather, two old Wild Cards books, unavailable for decades, are being re-released with smashing new covers.   Looking to complete your Wild Cards collections?   Your days of searching for old used copies on ebay are over.   Pick up the new editions, and enjoy the read.

Both of these new/old books are solo novels.

DEATH DRAWS FIVE, by John Jos. Miller, was volume seventeen in the series, the second (and last) of the two originals published by iBooks, released a bare week before iBooks went under.   Very few copies were ever distributed back then.    John’s novel features the return of Fortunato,  star turns from Billy Ray (Carnifex) and Jerry Strauss (Mr. Nobody), and introduces John Nighthawk and the unforgettable Midnight Angel (that’s her on the cover).  The fate of John Fortune… and the world… hangs in the balance.

The new Tor edition is a hardcover.

TURN OF THE CARDS, by the late great Victor Milan, is the other novel to return this week.  Volume twelve in the series, this globe-trotting adventure features Mark Meadows… aka Cap’n Trips… and all of his “friends,” including an old friend and a brand new one.   It’s Vic at his finest, and it’s another volume that has been very hard to find since its original publication.   The Tor edition is a trade paperback.

It goes without saying… we are celebrating the release of these two favorites with a cool event this Saturday (NOVEMBER 13) at the Jean Cocteau Cinema and Beastly Books, on Montezuma Street in scenic Santa Fe.

The festivities will start at 4:00 pm with a Happy Hour.   Come meet the writers and your fellow Wild Cards fans.

At 5:00 we will shuffle into the JCC auditorium, where John Miller will talk about DEATH DRAWS FIVE, his Wild Cards characters, and his other work.   After that we will have a panel, “Remembering Vic Milan,” wherein John and I and Melinda M. Snodgrass will share some memories of our lost friend and the stories he left behind him.

Finally, at 6:00 PM, we will adjourn next door to Beastly Books for the booksigning.   John and I and Melinda will all be on hand, and there’s a chance a few more of your favorite Wild Cards writers may also swing by.   Cross your fingers.

Come join us if you can.   And if you can’t, well, signed copies of all the Wild Cards books, old and new, are always available via mail order from Beastly Books in Santa Fe.   And hey, Christmas is coming up soon … autographed books make GREAT gifts.

https://jccwildcards.eventbrite.com/

Current Mood: pleased pleased

Turn That Card Again

September 27, 2021 at 8:14 am
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November 9 is going to be a big day for Wild Cards fans.

That’s the day that Tor is going to be releasing not one but two classic hard-to-find Wild Cards novels as reissues.   These are not the usual mosaics, but solo novels by two of the mainstays of the series, John Jos. Miller and the late great Victor Milan.

I have already blogged about John’s novel DEATH DRAWS FIVE (take a look downstream if you missed it).  Volume seventeen in the overall series, it was initially released by iBooks a week before the company went under, and later made available by Brick Tower Press as a print on demand title.  The new Tor hardback will be the first edition to get widespread national distribution.   This will be a great chance for all of you who missed DD5 the first time around to fill that hole in your Wild Cards collection.   And it’s a helluva ride.

But that’s only half the news.   Tor will also be releasing Vic Milan’s much sought after Cap’n Trips novel, TURN OF THE CARDS, as a trade paperback the same day, with a stunning new cover by Michael Komarck.

TURN OF THE CARDS was the twelfth volume in the series, and the last to be released by Bantam Spectra, our original publisher.   Our contract was up once Vic delivered the book, and rather than re-up for more volumes, we moved Wild Cards over to Baen Books.   (Which proved to be a huge mistake, but that’s a tale for another time.   Buy me a margarita at a con some day and maybe you can winkle it out of me).

Unsurprisingly, moving the series to a rival house did not endear us much to the old team, and when TURN finally came out as a mass market paperback, only a month before the first of the Baen volumes, promotion was pretty much non-existent, and sales declined sharply from the previous volume.

Which was a disappointment to all, and a real shame.  Vic was one of the stars of Wild Cards, the guy who started the whole thing when he gave me that SuperWorld game, and  TURN OF THE CARDS is some of his very best work.   Over the years Vic created a dozen characters for us, great and small… but the most memorable and popular of them all was Mark Meadows, a blond bearded scarecrow of a hippie who ran a head shop, wore a purple Uncle Sam suit, and went by the nom de guerre Cap’n Trips.   Despite the colorful costume, Trips seemed to have no actual superpowers.   Most of the people in Jokertown regarded him as a colorful eccentric rather than an ace.  Ah, but Mark was also a genius biochemist who had concocted a number of designer drug cocktails… and he had friends.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash (that’s him above, on the cover).  Aquarius.   Starshine.   Moonchild.   Cosmic Traveller.   Monster.   Each with his (or her) own personality, quirks, passions, and powers.   And the Radical, the first and the last, who combined the powers of all of them.

Mark and his friends were among the most popular characters in Wild Cards, right from the start.

TURN OF THE CARDS is his novel, a globe-spanning adventure that takes him halfway across the world to Vietnam, with DEA agents, SCARE heroes, and all manner of other aces in hot pursuit.

Like as not, you missed it the first time around.   Don’t miss it now.

NOVEMBER 9.  From your favorite online bookseller or local brick-and-mortar bookshop.

 

 

 

 

 

Current Mood: pleased pleased

Death Draws Again

September 7, 2021 at 8:57 am
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DEATH DRAWS FIVE is one of the rarest of the Wild Cards series.

The series started with a twelve-volume run at Bantam Spectra, then moved to Baen Books in the early 90s for three books.   (Not the brightest decision I ever made as editor, but that’s a long story for another day).  The Baen books — the Card Sharks triad — were among our strongest, I thought, but for various and sundry reasons they did not sell nearly as well as the Bantam twelve, and afterward Wild Cards was without a publisher.   Seven long years ensued, and for a time it appeared as if Wild Cards might be dead — to the dismay of all of us involved in the series.   Then, as now, we loved the world we had created, and the amazing cast of aces, jokers, and deuces we had created to populate it.

Then Byron Preiss came to the rescue with iBooks (which had nothing whatsoever to do with iPhones, iPads, or iAnythingElse, let me add).  A fan of the series, he stepped up with an offer to reprint some of the old Bantam titles, long out of print, and do two new originals as well.   The first of those was DEUCES DOWN, an anthology of stories about those the Takisian virus had given small, useless, sometimes silly superpowers.   Volume sixteen in the overall series.   The second original, volume seventeen, was a solo novel by long-time Wild Cards stalwart John Jos Miller: DEATH DRAWS FIVE.

Though iBooks was a small publisher with limited distribution, the revived series was doing okay…. until Byron Preiss was killed in a tragic automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway.   His company did not long survive him, alas.  The last book they published was… you guessed it… DEATH DRAWS FIVE.   iBooks closed up shop a week later and soon filed for bankruptcy.   We were told that fewer than six hundred copies of John’s novel ever made it into the bookstores.

That was a shame.  DEATH DRAWS FIVE is a damned good read, and it deserved better.

Later, another small publisher called Brick Tower acquired the assets of iBooks in a bankruptcy sale, and issued their own editions of DEUCES DOWN and DEATH DRAWS FIVE on a print-on-demand basis, but those did not get any distribution to speak of either, and the two volumes remained hard to find even for the most ardent Wild Cards fan.

But now… at long long last… DEATH DRAWS FIVE is getting a new lease on life, as a hardcover from Tor.

 

DEATH DRAWS FIVE features John’s popular ass-kicker Billy Ray, aka, Carnifex, and the long-awaited return of Fortunato, one of the most popular characters from the early days of the series.  This is also the volume that introduces John Nighthawk, the oldest man in the Wild Cards universe, and the Midnight Angel.   It’s a wild ride, and one you won’t want to miss.

On sale NOVEMBER 9 in hardcover from your favorite online bookseller or local bookshop.   And yes, signed copies will be available via mailorder from Beastly Books in Santa Fe.

 

Current Mood: pleased pleased

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

New Wild Cards original on Tor.com

July 26, 2021 at 1:27 pm
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There’s a brand new Wild Cards original from a brand new Wild Cards author up on Tor.com.

“Skin Deep” is from Alan Brennert.   Who is not a new author at all, of course (( though he was back in the mid-70s, when he was a Campbell Award loser just a few years after me )) but he IS brand new to the world of aces and jokers.   I first had the honor of publishing Alan when I was doing NEW VOICES, the Campbell Award anthology that was my first foray into editing.  A decade or so later, he and I worked together when I got my first gig writing for television, and he helped teach me how to write a teleplay.   In more recent years he has been writing novels — his bestselling Hawaii series, and a really wonderful book about Palisades Park in New Jersey.

So go and check out “Skin Deep” on Tor.com.   It’s FREE.

Skin Deep

And after you’ve enjoyed “Skin Deep,” go check out the rest of the Wild Cards stories on Tor.com, and pick up a couple of Wild Cards books from your favorite bookseller.. along with a few of Alan’s novels.   They’re terrific.

Current Mood: pleased pleased

Rockin’ With the Aces

July 12, 2021 at 9:16 am
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(And the jokers too)

Hey, Wild Carders.   Jason Powell has another of his excellent essays up on Tor.com, this one about the history of rock n roll in the world of the Wild Cards.   Check it out at:

https://www.tor.com/2021/06/28/music-making-mutants-rock-n-roll-in-george-r-r-martins-wild-cards-series/

Current Mood: geeky geeky

I See a JOKER MOON Rising

July 7, 2021 at 1:13 pm
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Is it a bad moon?

Or a new moon, full of hope?

You will need to read our new Wild Cards book, JOKER MOON, to find out.

Our latest volume, number thirty in the overall series, contains stories by Christopher Rowe, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Walton Simons, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Michael Cassutt, Leo Kenden, Steve Perrin, Caroline Spector, David D. Levine… and the last story from the late great Victor Milan, completed by his friend John Jos. Miller.

Theodorus was a dreamer.   As a child, he dreamt of airplanes, rockets, and outer space. When the  wild card virus transformed him into a monstrous snail centaur weighing several tons, his boyhood  dreams seemed out of reach, but a Witherspoon is not so easily defeated.

Years and decades passed, and Theodorus grew to maturity and came into his fortune. . . but still his dream endured.  But now when he looked upward into the night sky, he saw more than just the Moon . . . he saw a joker homeland, a refuge where the outcast children of the wild card could make a place of their own, safe from hate and harm.

An impossible dream, some said. Others, alarmed by the prospect, brought all their power  to bear to oppose him. Theodorus persisted . . .  never dreaming that the Moon  was already inhabited.

And the Moon Maid did not want company.

Copies of JOKER MOON are now available at your favorite local bookstore or online bookseller.

And if you would like an autographed copy, we have those too… at BEASTLY BOOKS.   Go check out the listings at https://www.beastlybooks.com/

 

Current Mood: accomplished accomplished

The Candle Is Burning

May 21, 2021 at 5:19 pm
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The Candle is back, in “Ripple Effects,” Laura J. Mixon’s great new novella on Tor.com… for all the Wild Cards fans out there, and for everyone who does not know they are Wild Cards fans yet.

Check it out.   It’s free.

Ripple Effects

Current Mood: excited excited

The Candle is Coming

May 2, 2021 at 8:23 am
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Remember the Candle?

No?  Tsk.  Obviously you are behind on your Wild Card reading.   The Candle was one of the contestants on the first season of American Hero back in 2007, as chronicled in INSIDE STRAIGHT.   You missed INSIDE STRAIGHT?   That’s not a problem either.   You can snag a nice hardcover edition from Beastly Books, my newly-reopened (yay!) bookshop in Santa Fe.   At Beastly Books, ALL the books are signed, and INSIDE STRAIGHT has more signatures than most, with autographs from many of the contributors as well as yours truly.

But I digress.    I was talking about the Candle.   For all of you who might be wondering what the Candle has been up to since American Hero… and who he was, and where he came from, and how those amazing powers of his worked… our Hugo-Award-winning author Laura J. Mixon has some answers for you.   So be sure to check out her brand-new, original Candle novella, “Ripple Effects,” upcoming on Tor.com.

It’s a terrific story, and if there is a whit of justice, it should contend for awards.   But you can be your own judge.   “Ripple Effects” goes live on Tor.com on MAY 19, and like all the Wild Cards stories on Tor.com, it’s FREE FREE FREE.

Give it a read, but be warned… Wild Cards has been known to be addictive.

Current Mood: pleased pleased