Thurman; or How I Became an Astros Fan

As many of you know, I’m a huge baseball fan especially of the Houston Astros. But that wasn’t always true. With the Astros playing the New York Yankees for spot in the World Series, I thought this would make an ideal time to share this previously unpublished essay “Thurman,” which reveals my early love of the Yankees.

Honestly, I’d forgotten about this piece until my mom uncovered some of my childhood writings. Among those missives was a paper on the tragic Thurman Munson, who was one of my childhood heroes. When she told me about this, something went off in my head and I began looking through my files where I uncovered this essay written about 20 years ago (probably nearly 20 years after the one my mom found).

In the late nineties/early aughts, the burgeoning site Salon held an essay contest for writers to share tales about people who affected their life in some way. I quickly cranked out the below piece and sent it off. In my haste, I missed the fact that it must be about a living person. I did write another piece, “Michael Moorcock: No Ordinary Buckaroo.” While still a quality essay, it’s inferior to the emotional “Thurman.” Though it met the prerequisites, the second piece didn’t win, but it did eventually see publication in Geek Confidential.

So enough preamble, let’s play ball!

Thurman

About the only worthwhile thing I learned from my father was that it was okay for a man to cry. My folks had split by the time I was five and, like so many of my generation, I was raised without a father. It’s really a sorry state of affairs for my generation, the so-called Gen X, afflicted with so many deadbeat dads. Luckily for me there was my grandfather and there was Thurman Munson.

Arguably the greatest American League catcher of the 1970’s, Munson donned the mantle as the first Yankee captain named since the great Lou Gehrig’s forced retirement back in 1939. A leader who won the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player while leading the fabled Yankees to their first World Series in over ten years. Sure they lost that series but then came 1977 and ‘78. The Yankees won those and to the boys living in New Jersey, there was no one greater than Munson. We could emulate his batting stance. We knew he learned to fly planes so he could visit his family in Ohio on off days. He was the first Yankee to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards during his career. In short, he was our Superman. And for many of us, he became a surrogate father of sorts. There he was every day, playing for the team you loved. We knew all the guys in the Bronx like they were our neighbors. Reggie, Willie, Catfish, The Chicken, Louisiana Lightning, sometimes Billy, sometimes Lemon, and above all Thurman. From 1976 through 1979, I don’t think I missed a Yankee game on the tube. Only school could keep me away. It was a blissful time to be a child. But then the fantasy ended.

August 2, 1979, the saddest day in Yankee history since the death of the great Gehrig. It feels like it just happened. A group of us, 10-11 year old boys, were playing ball when a neighborhood kid named Patrick emerged in the park with tears in his eyes.

“Thurman.” He had trouble breathing. He kept gulping for air between the tears, but he finally got it out. Thurman Munson died! We stood there stunned. Surely he was wrong. Patrick managed to tell us he saw it on the news. He went down in a plane while visiting his family. Tears welled up inside of all of us. There we were five pre-teen boys, standing in the park with our gloves and bats, bawling for our dead hero. We all cried, but not just for Munson but for losing someone we loved. Again. For some of us, it was our fathers leaving again. Here was this great man, doing the right thing, but now he was gone as well.

A memorial for our fallen hero occured before the scheduled national TV game with the Baltimore Orioles on August 6. To this day I have yet to see a sadder thing on TV. All the Yankees wearing black armbands, the crowd eerily silent for five full minutes, and then the kicker of them all: Reggie Jackson in tears on national TV. I cried along with him. I ceased being a Yankee fan that day, my love going down in a plane over Akron, Ohio.

Even now, the memories of that day cause a lump in my throat and bring a tear to my eye. For my thirtieth birthday, my aunt gave me a Thurman Munson statue. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I ever received. A reminder of the legacy of Thurman Munson. You must do what you can today for tomorrow may never come. And above all don’t forget or forsake your family, something most of us never learned from our own fathers. A lot of boys of my generation learned that lesson that day. We are all the better for it.

 

A few weeks later, we moved from Old Bridge, NJ to Houston, TX and I latched onto my new team and perpetual heartbreak Houston Astros.

It’s ArmadilloCon time again: Where I’ll be talking, reading, etc.

 

It hasn’t rained in forever, the mercury is hitting triple digits, and we’re just passed the halfway point of the baseball season. It must be time for ArmadilloCon once again!

This year’s con, the 39th such affair, takes place this coming weekend, August 4-6.

Guest of Honor:  Nisi Shawl

Toastmaster:  Don Webb

Fan Guest:  A.T. Campbell, III

Artist Guest:  Mark A. Nelson

Editor Guest: Trevor Quachri

Special Guest: Tamora Pierce

 

As I have for roughly the past 25 years or so, I’ll be in attendance and because apparently the con organizers have learned nothing, I’ll be sitting in on several panels.

 

Social Media for Writers
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Ballroom E
Rick Klaw, Alan J. Porter

Tips and tricks for social media amplification

 

Movies You Should Have Seen
Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM Ballroom F
A.T. Campbell, A. de Orive, D. Johnson, R. Klaw*, G. Oliver, P. Sullivan

 

ST/TNG: A Generation Later
Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Southpark B
R. Eudaly, P.J. Hoover, R. Klaw, D. Liss, A. Porter*, H. Walrath

It’s been 30 years. Seriously? What has aged well, what not? How does it stand up against later SF on TV?

 

Western and Noir Themed Speculative Fiction
Sun Noon-1:00 PM Southpark A
B. Crider, K. Hoover, G. Iglesias, R. Klaw, J. Lansdale*, A. Marmell

 

Reading
Sun 1:30 PM-2:00 PM Conference Center
Rick Klaw

 

Hope to see everyone this weekend.

The Steam-Driven Time Machine: My Adventures in Steampunk

As revealed in my previous post, I’m moderating the Steampunk panel at this weekend’s Comicpalooza. Newer folks may wonder why I’m moderating such a panel. (Or not, but I’m going to share this with you anyway).

Way back in 2008, I produced this little essay for Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s bestselling, seminal anthology Steampunk. The magnificent book came out just at the beginnings of the latest Steampunk craze. After nine printings, one could argue it helped fan the flames of the movement.

Without further ado, here’s the unabridged piece.

The Steam-Driven Time Machine:

A Pop Culture Survey

by

Rick Klaw

When I was a child in the seventies, it seemed like the 1961 Ray Harryhausen special effects-laden The Mysterious Island played constantly on the TV. Not that I minded. Michael Craig leads a crew of Confederate P.O.W. escapees as they pilot a hot air balloon toward points unknown. Crash landing on an apparently deserted island, the castaways encounter giant animals: a crab, a flightless bird, bees and an cephalopod, all presented in Harryhausen’s dynamic stop motion animation. The group discovers the presumed dead Captain Nemo, who had mutated the animals as part of an experiment. Throw in the pirates that attack the island and you have the recipe for a near-perfect movie. By nine years old, after many repeated viewings the film entered my personal zeitgeist, informing my later tastes and many of my creative decisions.

Mysterious Island was my first exposure to steampunk, long before K. W. Jeter coined the word in the late 1980s.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for [Tim] Powers, [James] Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like “steampunks,” perhaps… (Locus, #315 April 1987)

Featuring interviews with Jeter and Blaylock plus a cover by Tim Powers, the Winter, 1988 issue of Nova Express introduced me to the term “steampunk.” By that time Powers and Blaylock were both part of my reading repertoire. Jeter joined a few years later.

Among many of the advantages of living in Austin as a young science fiction fan in the late eighties and early nineties was the strong and fairly well organized creative community. The local science fiction literary convention, Armadillocon birthed though probably as a surrogate the Cyberpunk movement, as it was the first North American convention to feature William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, and Pat Cadigan as guests of honor. Austinite Lawrence Person’s previously mentioned ‘zine Nova Express further encouraged science fiction critical studies with insightful interviews and reviews by professionals and fans alike.

Some twenty years later, pop culture has embraced steampunk. Publishing, film, and even the Internet embolden the term as a branding tool. Nary a week goes by without Boing Boing (www.boingboing.net), the venerable group blog, posting about some sort of steampunk inspired gadget, cartoon, or essay. A search of their archives generates almost 1500 articles. Subjects vary greatly: laptops, keyboards, watches, Transformers, planes, Car Wars, submarines, and so on. Many articles showcase functioning modern technology using steampunk methods and materials. Others present actual working machines from the 19th century. Images presenting artistic depictions of steampunk, paintings, sculptures, architecture and the like. Reinterpretations of popular shows such as Star Trek and Star Wars litter the listings. Original short films featuring steampunk tropes offer many amusing and sometimes exciting diversions.

The user-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org) contains lengthy, extensive entries for both “Steampunk” and “List of steampunk works”, citing an array of sources. The English language version of the Polish site Retrostacji, Steampunkopedia (steampunk.republika.pl) offers the most comprehensive steampunk works chronological bibliography available on the web along with numerous links to steampunk-inspired videos. Sadly, the site stopped updating in February, 2007.

Using the collaborative wiki-method, ther Emporium (etheremporium.pbwiki.com) claims “to provide a onestop resource and archive for all things Steampunk”. Potentially very interesting, the sparse site supplies some intriguing information and views from the nascent steampunk subculture. Another online cultural source, SteamPunk Magazine (www.steampunkmagazine.com), dedicated to “promoting steampunk as a culture, as more than a sub-category of fiction”, produces a pdf format magazine and for-sale print version under the auspices of the Creative Commons license, an agreement that allows anyone to share and distribute the work as long as it is not for commercial or financial gain. Each of the three currently produced issues contain fiction, features exploring different aspects of the subgenre, and interviews with steampunk luminaries.

Even Wired (www.wired.com), home of the techno elite, lists some 930 archived pages about the subgenre. Often sharing similar coverage with its cyberculture cousin Boing Boing, the subjects run the pop culture gamut. Oddly, the domain name steampunk.com works as the home for The Speculative Fiction Clearing House, a portal for science fiction websites. The site has only a tangential relationship with the subgenre.

Back in the late eighties, I encountered my first steampunk role playing game. Featuring Victorian space travel and steam powered devices, Space 1889 (1988) was the first primarily steampunk rpg. At the time, I immersed myself in the rpg community, envisioning myself more of a gamer and possibly role play games creator than an essay or even a fiction writer. This delusion lasted for about two years, after which I decided to devote my creative energies toward other writing and editing pursuits.

Prior to Space 1889, steampunk elements frequently cropped up in games. Most Dungeons & Dragons campaigns contained various steam-powered devices, usually projectiles or vehicles. Hero Games’ pulp era adventure game Justice, Inc (1984) featured many steampunk-type props, most notably steam-powered robots. Cthulhu By Gaslight, Victorian era rules for the Lovecraft-inspired Call of Cthulhu game, premiered in 1986. While set in the 1890s, the supplement relied less on steampunk– beyond an odd section on time travel– and more on real-world settings.

In the ensuing years, steampunk routinely appeared in rpgs. Within the popular gaming universes such as Warhammer, GURPS, and Dungeons & Dragons, steam-driven devices and Victorian era tropes became commonplace. The cross-pollination of the American Old West and anachronistic devices thrived within several games, chiefly Deadlands and the Japanese title Terra the Gunslinger.

Even LARPers got in the act. Premiering May 21, 2004 near Baltimore, MD with a three-day episode, Brassey’s Game, a steampunk live action role playing game (LARP)1, involved approximately 30 players in Victorian garb, who relied on heavy character interaction. The initial campaign ran for six weekend-long episodes. Six other stand alone Brassey’s Game episodes took place during the first campaign. Since its introduction, several other groups from various parts of the US, using modified versions of the original rules, participated in their own Brassey’s Game events.

Another element of my seventies childhood, The Wild Wild West, the first, best, and longest running steampunk television series, forged my future love of the weird western. The show related the adventures of two Secret Service agents- James West, a charming, womanizing hero, and Artemus Gordon, inventor and master of disguise– as they protected, often in secret, the United States, its interests and citizens. In four seasons from 1965-1969, the duo encountered all sorts of odd villainy including a brilliant but insane dwarf, recurring arch-villain Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, and bizarre weaponry such as cue stick guns and a triangular steam-powered tank with a barbed tip. Combining the best elements of traditional westerns and James Bond, The Wild Wild West spawned two late seventies TV movies with the original cast, a dreadful 1999 big screen movie, two separate comic book series (1960s Gold Key and 1991 Millennium Publications), and four novels, as well as influencing a generation of writers including Joe R. Lansdale, Norman Partridge, and Howard Waldrop.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., the direct thematic descendant of The Wild Wild West, premiered on August 27, 1993, starring the cult actor Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame as the title character. Set in the 1890s, Brisco attempts to capture the members of the Bly Gang, the cutthroats responsible for his father’s death. The series sported an intriguing cast of characters: Lord Bowler, bounty hunter and rival, lawyer Socrates Poole, Dixie Cousins, con-woman and Brisco’s great love, and inventor/scientist Professor Wickwire, brilliantly portrayed by John Astin and supplier of Brisco’s steampunk-like gadgetry. Even with clever story lines, the show lasted for only one season.

Perhaps the most unexpected use of weird western steampunk tropes occurred in the second season of the animated Adventures of Batman & Robin. “Showdown” with a Joe R. Lansdale teleplay from a story by Kevin Altieri, Paul Dini, and Bruce W. Timm tells of the immortal Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul’s 1883 confrontation with the DC Comics gunslinger Jonah Hex. The battle centers around a plot to blow up the nearly-completed tracks of a transcontinental railroad using dirigibles loaded with cannons and other explosives.

Because starring in one Wild Wild West­-inspired short lived TV series is never enough, Bruce Campbell portrayed the title character for two seasons in the disappointingly inane Jack of All Trades (2000). Jack Stiles, a secret service agent stationed by President Thomas Jefferson on the fictional French-controlled island of Palau-Palau, defends American interests while serving as the aide to a French aristocratic. Jack employs many steampunk-type weapons and gadgets. Loosely based on the classic 1919 novel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World amazingly ran for three seasons (1999-2000) with poor special effects, bad acting, poorly crafted storylines, and some minor steampunk elements. The 1982 Q.E.D., set in Edwardian England, last for only six episodes. Voyagers!, a time travel adventure series with periodic steampunk bits, managed 22 episodes over one season (1982-1983). Steampunk materials appeared in several episodes of the various Doctor Who incarnations.

Under the premise that Jules Verne actually lived the adventures that he wrote about, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (2000) delivered steampunk action with airships, steam powered devices, and even a steampunk cyborg! Playing upon the inherent metafictional possibilities, several episodes featured “real life” authors and personalities such as Samuel Clemens, Queen Victoria, Alexander Dumas, Cardinal Richelieu (a time travel episode), and King Louis XIII. The promising show never jelled and was canceled after one season.

The Japanese have also embraced steampunk television, albeit the animated variety. Based on the long running manga Fullmetal Alchemist, set in an alternate late- 20th century society that practices alchemy and uses primarily early 20th technology, enjoyed a 51 episode run (2003-2004) and an 2005 anime feature film. Steam Detectives (1989-1990) follows the adventures of a young detective in a reality where the only source of energy is steam power. Set on a floating world with stylized Victorian fashions, Last Exile (2003) relates the story of airship pilots Claus and Lavie and their involvement in a plot about a mysterious cargo.

Another steampunk show derived from the works of Jules Verne, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1989-1991) inspired a feature film sequel (1992) and a manga series. Set in 1889, circus performer Nadia, young inventor Jean Ratlique, and the famed Captain Nemo attempt to save the world from the Atlantean known as Gargolye who is bent on restoring the former underseas empire. Translated into eight different languages, the series achieved worldwide popularity.

Based on a series of popular video games, Sakura Wars relates an alternate 1920s reality that uses steam primarily to power all sorts of modern devices. Developed into numerous video games on several platforms, a manga, a tv series, five OVA2 tie-ins, and a feature length movie, Sakura remains a uniquely Japanese cultural phenomenon.

Back in the seventies, Mysterious Island opened my eyes to new worlds as I encountered many more steampunk films. The 1930s Universal monster pictures with lighting-powered monsters, chemically induced madmen, and animal-mutating mad scientists exploited the yet undefined genre. Beneath a Victorian backdrop, Victor Frankenstein empowered his creatures in both Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) using the highly unlikely method of electrocution. In the latter film, Dr. Pretorius joins forces with Frankenstein, attempting to create life through alchemical means. Director James Whale recognized the inherent Victorian melodrama and the treated the films accordingly, thus creating two masterpieces.

Two of H. G. Wells’ science gone-amok novels inspired a pair of 1933 Universal movies. The Invisible Man, directed under the masterful hand of James Whale, relates the story of a man who goes mad after imbibing his own creation: an invisibility potion. Starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, The Island of Lost Souls adapted The Island of Dr. Moreau for the first time. The story of Dr. Moreau and his rebellious mutations, like that of The Invisible Man speak to the Victorian notions of science and sadism. The Island of Lost Souls has been remade poorly twice as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977, 1996).

Fittingly, the first film recognized as steampunk was the 1902 fourteen-minute French animated short Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), based on Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon. Wildly popular upon its release, the Georges Méliès film– one of his hundreds of fantasy films– achieved canonical status within science fiction.

Hollywood rediscovered Verne with a vengeance in the 1950s and 1960s, making numerous film adaptations including the steampunk films 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Mysterious Island (1961), Master of the World (1961), Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), and tangentially Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969). Wells was not far behind with most notably The Time Machine (1961). One of producer George Pal’s special effect spectaculars, The Time Machine thematically remained close to the source material especially the portrayal of the machine itself. An awful version of Wells’ book was made in 2002.

The seventies witnessed a severe drop in steampunk related films as whiz bang space science fiction became the norm. A notable exception, the entertaining Time After Time (1979) suggested that Wells invented a time machine and traveled to 1979 in pursuit of Jack the Ripper.

In 1986, Hayao Miyazaki released his groundbreaking anime Castle in the Sky (aka Laputa: Castle in the Sky). A magical tour-de-force featuring floating cities, airships, and pirates, the film follows a young girl, Sheeta, and boy, Pazu, on their quest for the mystical, missing city of Laputa. Miyazaki returned to steampunk in 2001 with his masterpiece Spirited Away, the highest grossing movie in the history of Japan. Easily the most awarded steampunk work in any medium, Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film, the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival Silver Scream Award, the Nebula Award for Best Script, the San Francisco International Film Festival Audience Award Best Narrative Feature, five Mainichi Film Concours Awards, two Awards of the Japanese Academy, four Annie Awards, and many others. Miyazaki’s eagerly anticipated follow up was the steampunk Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), based on Diana Wynne Jones’ popular young adult novel. Successful both financially and critically, Howl’s plays as a traditional European fairy tale but with steampunk elements.

Sadly with a few exceptions, Miyazaki’s works represent the abnormal in modern steampunk. While movies such as Vidocq (2001), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Hellboy (2004), Van Helsing (2004), Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Steamboy (2004), and The Brothers Grimm (2005) display strong stylings, they all fall short on substantive storytelling.

The third and perhaps weakest of Terry Gillum’s Trilogy of the Imagination, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) recounts the legendary tales of eponymous Baron. Littered throughout with steampunk tropes and devices, Gillum displays a magical world in this delightful, if overlong film.

The French duo Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro created the strange, surrealist masterpiece 1995’s The City of Lost Children (La Cité des enfants perdus). Unable to dream, a mad scientist steals the dreams of children. The kidnapping of a circus strongman’s little brother leads to some bizarre and fascinating confrontations between the strongman, the children, and the scientist. Beautifully imagined within a late 19th century industrial city complex, The City of Lost Children magically envisions a dark steampunk society.

The disappointing film version of The Golden Compass, the first novel of Phillip Pullman’s extraordinary trilogy His Dark Materials, premiered in 2007 amidst a maelstrom of controversy, as various Christian groups–most notably The Catholic League– urged their members to boycott the movie citing the story’s perceived anti-God bias. The protesters had little to worry about since director/screenwriter Chris Weitz stripped the original tale of any complexity and relevant subtext, presenting a dull, lifeless movie. Even with gorgeous visual effects (particularly of the dæmons and the airships), superior acting (especially Dakota Blue Richards’ authentic portrayal of a fierce twelve year-old girl), and a $200 million budget, The Golden Compass offered yet another 21st century steampunk film failure.

Some thirty-five years after my initial discovery, steampunk still fascinates. I eagerly await to read about the new devices listed on Boing Boing. Even given the poor quality of most steampunk movies, films with airships and Victorian stylings still excite me. Clearly I am not alone as evident by the sheer amount of steampunk material continually being produced and the very existence of this anthology. 

Vive la vapeur!

1a form of role-playing game where the players physically act out their characters’ actions.

2Original video adaption, a phrase coined by the Japanese for direct-to-video films.

A return to Houston…

It’s been quite sometime since I’ve been to the old hometown, but I’ll be there Mother’s Day Weekend as guest at Houston’s Comicpalooza. That’s right it’ll be Chuck Norris, Anthony Mackie, Felicia Day, Judge Reinhold, Jim Butcher, Lev Grossman, Mary McDonnell, and me. You’ll see me listed after you scroll through a zillion other names in the dreaded Authors – Continued section.

I’m there because of my so-called literary chops. They even put me on three panels. Will these people never learn?

Friday, May 12

2:30 – 3:30pm Is That Steampunk, or Did You Just Glue Some Gears on Your Hat?

Jim Butcher, Rick Klaw, George Wright, Padgett Michael, Ashleigh Finn (I’m moderating this one)

 

Saturday, May 13

2:30 – 3:30pm Horror for the 21st Century: Film and Literature

Naveen Ramineni, Alan Cerny, Channing Whitaker, Rick Klaw, Hank Schwaeble

 

Sunday, May 14

4:00 – 5:00pm Wordsmith For Hire: All About Freelance Writing

Holly Lyn Walrath, Rick Klaw, Alan Cerny, Wayne Basta, Kevin Tumlinson

 

Seriously, I had a great time at my previous Comicpalooza and I’m looking forward to my return trip. I hope to see everyone there.

New (to me) volume of The Obscure Cities coming soon!

I ran across this preview of The Theory of Grain and Sand at CBR:

 

The second book of The Obscure Cities series following The Leaning Girl. Gholam Mortiza Khan comes to Brüsel to sell some jewelry, but before the sale can be closed, Khan dies in an accident. Thus begin events sparking an investigation by Mary von Rathen: accumulation of sand in the apartment of Kristin Antipova; accumulation of stones in the house of Constant Abeels, and Maurice who is loosing weight by the day. The events have a catastrophic effect on Brüsel and time is of the essence.

Newly translated into English by Ivanka Hahnenberger and Steve Smith (translator of The Leaning Girl and The Beauty) and edited by Smith and Karen Copeland at Alaxis Press for publication by IDW.

  • First time translated into English for western readers!

 

To say I’m excited would be an understatement. When The Leaning Girl came out back in 2014, I had this to say:

After a freak accident, thirteen year-old Mary Von Rathen begins to lean at a 45 degree angle. After nothing fixes her affliction, her selfish mother and hen-pecked father send her away to a private school. Shortly after, Mary runs away and quite literally joins the circus where she remains for several years, performing her amazing leaning girl act. A newspaper editor tells her of a scientist, Axel Wappendorf, who is planning on a journey to a planet that might unlock the secret behind Mary’s trouble. Interspersed within Mary’s tale, is the story of fine artist Augustin Desombres, who escapes from his busy world and buys an empty building on the French countryside. He begins painting murals of strange globes and worries about his sanity. Mary’s and Wappendorf’s explorations bring them into a collision course with Desombres and hopefully the answers that Mary’s seeks.

Part of the legendary Obscure Cities sequence, this extraordinary French graphic novel serves as an ideal introduction to the long running series produced by writer Peeters and artist Schuiten. Expertly employing the tropes of 19th century science fiction, the duo’s creation achieves the unique duality of both very familiar and very different. Schuiten’s exquisite line work pairs perfectly with Peeters’ prose in creating the mythical worlds, outlandish ideas, and commonplace people. Further enhancing the work’s uniqueness is the Fumetti style of Desombres’ story as envisioned by the black & white photography of Plissart. The riveting, beautiful Leaning Girl fascinates, while providing one of the best reading experiences of the year.

Years later and, The Leaning Girl remains one of my all time favorite comics. I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume.

Until The Theory of Grain and Sand comes out, I’ll just have to be satisfied with this sample page. Visit the CBR post for more images from the book.

The Other Worlds Austin 2016 preview Day 4

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

After two successful years, the Other Worlds Austin scifi film festival returns this Thursday, December 1st, in new digs (Flix Brewhouse) and with an additional day. The now four day event has grown to include 18 full length films, a slew of of shorts, and an appearance by B-movie legend Sybil Danning, the late Dan O’Bannon’s wife Diane O’Bannon, and others. Not terribly surprising to anyone who regularly follows my writings, I’m covering the event.

Here’s what to expect at Other Worlds Austin 2016.

 

Sunday, December 4

 

12:20 PM SCIFI SHORTS 2 – TOMORROW’S HEARTS BROKEN TODAY

Stripes (Texas Premiere)
Tibo Pinsard | France | 4 min
Writer: Tibo Pinsard

Another first date gets hijacked by two people unable to get past their own masks.

Memoir (Texas Premiere)
Alexander Jeffery | USA | 17 min
Writer: Paul Petersen

Dr. Theodore Maine is on the cusp of losing his job at Janus Labs where he is developing research for Alzheimer’s treatment, until a mysterious child arrives to change his future forever.

RAE (Texas Premiere)
Aaron Rovner | USA | 13 min
Writer: Aaron Rovner

When an office robot gives a co-worker a friendly gift, the fragile balance between the employees in the office is pushed to a tipping point.

Una Mujer Sin Precio 1961 [A Priceless Woman]
(Texas Premiere)

Juan F. Moctezuma II | Mexico | 15 min
Writer:  Juan F. Moctezuma II

When a perfectionist scientist loses his wife to a car accident, he builds a robotic version to replace her, in this newly restored classic from the missing genre trailblazer, presented by documentarian Alaric Rocha.

 The Lost City Of Tomorrow  

Auden Bui | Canada | 16 min
Writer: Auden Bui

Sent to shut down a floating film archive orbiting high above Earth, a bureaucrat meets an android caretaker whose love of film makes him almost more human than his counterpart.

Beautiful Dreamer
David Gaddie | USA | 26 min
Writers: David Gaddie, Steven Kelleher, & Ken Liu

Facing a terminal disease, a mother uses space travel and relativity to stretch her last two years over the lifetime of her baby daughter, building a relationship despite the longing and estrangement that mark seeing each other only once every seven years.

 

12:45 PM STILLE RESERVEN [HIDDEN RESERVES]

stillereserven-plakat-2

Valentin Hitz | Austria | 96 min

Writer: Valentin Hitz
Cast:  Clemens Schick, Lena Lauzemis, Daniel Olbrychski, & Marion Mitterhammer

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With powerful companies running the Vienna of the not too distant future, only the privileged elite can afford death insurance. The rest suffer their corpses to be used long after their passing in life-support farms, until their debts are paid. When Insurance agent Vincent Baumann goes undercover to ‘sell’ activist Lisa Sokulowa on his services, he discovers a brewing revolution that may be worth cashing in his own policy.

Continue reading

The Other Worlds Austin 2016 preview Day 3

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

After two successful years, the Other Worlds Austin scifi film festival returns this Thursday, December 1st, in new digs (Flix Brewhouse) and with an additional day. The now four day event has grown to include 18 full length films, a slew of of shorts, and an appearance by B-movie legend Sybil Danning, the late Dan O’Bannon’s wife Diane O’Bannon, and others. Not terribly surprising to anyone who regularly follows my writings, I’m covering the event.

Here’s what to expect at Other Worlds Austin 2016.

Saturday, December 3

11:30 AM UNDER WORLDS SHORTS

Blight (US Premiere)
Briane Deane | Ireland | 15 min
Writer: Matthew Roche

A young priest travels to an isolated island community to face a dark supernatural force that has consumed a young woman.

Girl #2 (Texas Premiere)

David Jeffery | USA | 9 min
Writer: Kari Wahlgren

Even with a deranged killer running rampant inside the house, the girls still vie for leadership in the sorority.

Photo 2 IM_02_1920x1080.jpg

Quenottes [Pearlies] (Texas Premiere)
Pascal Thiebaux, Gil Pinheiro | France/Luxembourg | 13 min
Writer: Pascal Thiebaux

In many cultures, the tooth fairy that brings you a coin in exchange for the tooth under your pillow is a benevolent little mouse.  But what if the teeth he collects are dental trophies, to be guarded at all costs?

Whit Spurgeon | USA | 4 min
Writer: Stephen Newman

In the middle of the night, things should be quiet. Sometimes things go thump.

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Nasty
Prano Bailey-Bond | UK | 15 min
Writer: Anthony Fletcher

Exploring the mysterious disappearance of his father, twelve-year old Doug is drawn into the lurid world of VHS horror ‘nasties,’ in Margaret Thatcher era UK.

Ángel Ripalda | Spain | 12 min
Writer: Santiago Manuel Taboada

Troubled at school, ten-year-old David complains he is not the one to be blamed for his mischief.  His father hires a specialist to discover the truth.

John the Carpenter
Matt Braunsdorf  | USA | 19 min
Writer: Matt Braunsdorf

After a car accident throws his sister Anna into conflict with a terrifying monster, John constructs a trap to revenge his sister’s sacrifice.

Allhallowtide (Texas Premiere)
Tia Salisbury  | UK | 9 min
Writers: Tia Salisbury

Dan has no time for housemate Molly today, which is just one more annoyance added to her being mute and dead for 180 years.

 

11:45 AM BATTLEDREAM CHRONICLE

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Alain Bidard | Martinique | 108 min
Writer: Alain Bidard
Cast: Jacques Olivier Ensfelder, Yna Boulangé, & Steffy Glissant

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After the empire of Mortemonde reduces the populations of almost all the nations of the Earth to slavery, they force each slave to collect 1000XP every month in Battledream, a video game where they can die for real. Only the successful are granted the right to live until the next month. But Syanna, a young slave from Martinique, the last free nation on the planet, refuses to keep living under these condition.

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The Other Worlds Austin 2016 preview Days 1 and 2

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

After two successful years, the Other Worlds Austin scifi film festival returns this Thursday, December 1st, in new digs (Flix Brewhouse) and with an additional day. The now four day event has grown to include 18 full length films, a slew of of shorts, and an appearance by B-movie legend Sybil Danning, the late Dan O’Bannon’s wife Diane O’Bannon, and others. Not terribly surprising to anyone who regularly follows my writings, I’m covering the event.

Here’s what to expect at Other Worlds Austin 2016.

 

Thursday, December 1

 

7:42 PM RETRO GALA: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS
DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE AWARDEE: SYBIL DANNING

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Jimmy T. Murakami | USA | 105 min

Writers: John Sayles
Cast: Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, George Peppard & Sybil Danning

Sybil Danning

Sybil Danning

A young farmer (Richard Thomas) sets out to recruit mercenaries to defend his peaceful planet, which is under threat of invasion by the evil tyrant Sador (John Saxon) and his armada of aggressors. Among the mercenaries are a Space Cowboy (George Peppard), a spacegoing truck driver from Earth (Morgan Woodward); Gelt, a wealthy but experienced assassin looking for a place to hide (Robert Vaughn); and Saint-Exmin, a Valkyrie warrior looking to prove herself in battle (Sybil Danning). The film was legendarily pitched as ‘Magnificent Seven in Space.’ Produced by Roger Corman in the wake of the Star Wars cash-grab phenomena, the film also features one of the first scores from James Horner, and the below the line talents of Gale Ann Hurd and James Cameron.

(Sybil Danning will be in attendance)

 

Friday, December 2

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From the Cutting Room Floor: Bruce Sterling on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and more

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Back in April on the eve of the annual SXSW Interactive Festival, I met with Bruce Sterling for an interview that’ll be in the forthcoming Pirate Utopia. While roughly 90% of the original discussion made it’s way into the finished book (due out in November from Tachyon Publications), this bit, which I post following the description of the story, was deemed too timely an accompaniment for a tale about events set in Fiume following the First World War.

Cover by John Coulthart

Cover by John Coulthart

Who are these bold rebels pillaging their European neighbors in the name of revolution? The Futurists! Utopian pirate-warriors of the tiny Regency of Carnaro, the unlikely scourge of the Adriatic Sea. Mortal enemies of communists, capitalists, and even fascists (to whom they are not entirely unsympathetic).

 

The ambitious Soldier-Citizens of Carnaro are lead by a brilliant and passionate coterie of the perhaps insane. Lorenzo Secondari, World War I veteran, engineering genius, and leader of Croatian raiders. Frau Piffer, Syndicalist manufacturer of torpedos at a factory run by and for women. The Ace of Hearts, a dashing Milanese aristocrat, spymaster, and tactical savant. And the Prophet, a seductive warrior-poet who leads via free love and military ruthlessness.

 

Fresh off of a worldwide demonstration of their might, can the Futurists engage the aid of sinister American traitors and establish world domination?

Bruce elaborates on the current US Presidential Election, the obsession with Donald Trump, and other worldly matters.

RICK: Are we talking about “we” as the world?

BRUCE: Everywhere, really. The people in the US are obsessed with Donald Trump; in Italy they’ve just…they’re not worried about him, they just know he’s [Silvio] Berlusconi. “Oh, you’ve got Berlusconi! You’ve got a Berlusconi!” Everybody knows what’s going to happen: he’s going to feather his own nest and have a lot of sex with very young women and everyone around him will be as corrupt as he is, ‘cause he bullshits all the time. The thing that is attractive about Berlusconi is that he doesn’t make you do anything. It’s actually kind of relaxing; everybody knows what he’s going to do: he’s just gonna get up and start bullshitting, laughing, swinging his dick around, cheering for the soccer team, driving fast cars. He’s not particularly malignant or anything, and you know he’s not gonna bother you. He’s not going to like, ask you to rise to the level of you better nature. On the contrary, everybody should be in the mud with me! Let’s just relax! Where’s the problem? We’re winning! It’s just very hard to accomplish anything with this bullshit all the time. The fix is in; his cronies aren’t very good, he doesn’t really have a plan, he’s kind of winging it, and it’s very debilitating for stuff like foreign policy, tough economic decisions, infrastructure development, like “Where are you gonna put the highway?” “Who cares?” It’s hard to get rid of him because everybody’s so demoralized by the louche atmosphere of the fish rotting from the head down. Until the guy just becomes nuts and just like, starts having public orgies and just loses all sense of proportion, then it becomes sort of embarrassing. It’s like, well, if we allow ourselves to be associated with this utter pervert. But he’s still in business in Italy and scheming to return to power, and he has guys in his court. But the American problem here, of Trumpism or whatever, is not unique to the US. On the contrary, Britain, which is normally the sane guy in the room has extremely weird politics right now: Scotland is running away, the Bernie Sanders-figure who took over the Left can only talk about breaking free from Europe and there’s no particular reason for them to do that at all, real estate in the capital city is totally out of control, nothing is working. These are normally the people who people ask advice from, Mother of Parliaments, can you come in and show us how to set up your legal system,’cause everything’s broken, the Mayor of London is a lunatic. They have it. The French have it. It’s very bad in France. Italy is sort of okay, but only by Italian standards, Russian politics is very weird right now, it’s kind of Putin and nobody else, he doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s kind of being led by the nose by these weird Ukrainian rebels very like the Fiume thing. They talk about Fiume all the time. All the guys in the Ukraine are big D’Annunzio fans. Fascism is on the rise; there’s a lot of nativist parties all over. And all the global things breaking down–nobody’s going to pass the Pacific Trade Agreement; nobody wants it: the Right doesn’t want it; the Left doesn’t want it. The Euro might break up. We’re just passing into an era of considerable political discord, which is typical of a large-scale economic depression that people can’t get out of. People have just lost faith in their system, and not just in the US, all over the place. There’s just nobody who’s on top of their game. Maybe Canada, but Canada was crazy until a couple of months ago. They were really eccentric. So, it’s a situation that really doesn’t have words for it, and the people who would normally be describing what’s going on are really at sixes and sevens; they just literally don’t know what to say. If you go back and read some press coverage of, say, the American presidential election, it’s got a lot of coverage and absolutely nobody has any idea what’s going to happen. Twitter exchanges just turn out to be blisteringly detached from reality, and just, like, looking for weapons of mass destruction that just plain aren’t there; shock and awe that nobody is shocked by or awed by–weird, crazy shit, and it’s getting worse. Now they’re shell-shocked. Nobody wants to say anything about anything. The only thing that’s kind of good about it, historically speaking, is that the level of violence is really, really low, except in Moslem countries, where they’re busy killing each other. They don’t even kill the West very much. You would think from the violence of the rhetoric that everybody would be out tear-gassing each other, but you’ve got stuff like a guy grabbed a reporter’s arm at a rally and maybe left a few bruises, and it’s as if a nuclear weapon had been detonated. There’s no political violence. There’s lots of personal violence. Every week there’s a massacre by some schizophrenic who just cuts loose with an automatic weapon, but there’s no political violence at all, seriously, any. There’s police killing black people, but there’s no riots, no Watts, no smashing, grabbing.

By John Coulthart

RICK: There’s certainly no rioting in the streets, killing people.

BRUCE: No assassinations. The universities, which are usually super-violent in times of political unrest are sort of like people cowering in safe spaces. They’re locking the doors and staying inside and kind of crying quietly into a handkerchief. It’s a very strange epoch, but not super scary. There’s no purges, the wars aren’t much of a war. Now, the Ukrainian war is kind of serious, but it’s one of the worst wars I’ve ever seen just in terms of the inability of the guys fighting it to know anything about a war. They’re like motorcycle gangs with missiles: “Let’s shoot a Dutch airliner out of the sky!” “Why? Did you check the code to see if it was a civilian?” “I don’t know, I just saw it and blew it away!” Terrible. Really just a terrible military. It’s a joke how bad they are.

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RICK: There’s been a lot of people thinking that the rhetoric is going to lead to violence.

BRUCE: It should have done lead to it a long time ago. America has a very rough and tumble style of politics. The ideological polarization is complete. People say Hillary Clinton is unelectable because everybody on the Right really hates her and her unfavorables are sky high, but there’s nobody on the Left who has any favorables with anybody on the Right. They hate Sanders more than they hate her, and he wasn’t even a Democrat. Anybody who even looks like a leader on the left is immediately totaled. There’s nobody they’d agree with at all. They don’t like any standard leftist, not that there are many left. I mean, it might as well be her, because there’s no other candidate who isn’t just as detested, or wouldn’t be immediately. She’s been around for a zillion years. She might still lose the primaries; she’s not a very charismatic campaigner. And it’s a pity she’s kind of the Ma Ferguson of US politics, but at least she’s not running around with an armed militia having people lined up and shot. She’s not liquidating people and it’s not, in of fact, a particularly violent thing, and that’s what’s historically puzzling to me about it. You would think, looking at the history of the past 120 years that if people were really this badly off that there would just be lots of rioting. What happened to them? Are they all in jail?

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RICK: Especially as armed as we are now.

BRUCE: I actually just suspect that they’re spending all their time typing on screens. They’re literally just too busy to go burn anything. They’d rather be on Facebook.

The interview is but one of the bonus goodies in the inexpensive $19.95 hardback. The legendary Warren Ellis of comics and novel fame offered up the introduction. The extraordinary Christopher Brown, whose debut novel Tropic of Kansas is coming out 2017, delivered the insightful afterword. And finally, the incredible John Coulthart supplied the gorgeous cover, interior illustrations, interior design, and design notes, making for a truly incredible looking volume.

This all serves as a prelude to Bruce’s fine writing, which is of course the centerpiece of the book. The story is getting all sorts of positive buzz.

[STARRED REVIEW] “Noted sci-fi maven and futurologist Sterling (Love Is Strange, 2012, etc.) takes a side turn in the slipstream in this offbeat, sometimes-puzzling work of dieselpunk-y alternative history. Resident in Turin, hometown of Calvino, for a dozen years, Sterling has long been experimenting with what the Italians call fantascienza, a mashup of history and speculation that’s not quite science fiction but is kin to it. Take, for example, the fact that Harry Houdini once worked for the Secret Service, add to it the fact that H.P. Lovecraft once worked for Houdini, and ecco: why not posit Lovecraft as a particularly American kind of spook, “not that old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger, European style of spy,” who trundles out to Fiume to see what’s what in the birthplace of Italian futurism-turned-fascism? Lovecraft is just one of the historical figures who flits across Sterling’s pages, which bear suitably futuristic artwork, quite wonderful, by British illustrator John Coulthart. Among the others are Woodrow Wilson and Adolf Hitler, to say nothing of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Benito Mussolini. “Seen from upstream, most previous times seem mad,” notes graphic novelist Warren Ellis in a brief introduction, but the Futurist project seems particularly nutty from this distance; personified by Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of World War I who leads the outlaw coalition called the Strike of the Hand Committee in the “pirate utopia” of the soi disant Republic of Carnaro, its first task is to build some torpedoes and then turn them into “radio-controlled, airborne Futurist torpedoes,” not the easiest thing considering the technological limitations of the time. A leader of the “Desperates,” who “came from anywhere where life was hard, but honor was still bright,” Secondari and The Prophet—D’Annunzio, that is—recognize no such limitations and discard anything that doesn’t push toward the future. So why not a flying pontoon boat with which to sail off to Chicago, and why not a partnership with Houdini to combat world communism? A kind of Ragtime for our time: provocative, exotic, and very entertaining.”
Kirkus

 

Look for Pirate Utopia this November.

Now it can be revealed: Joe R. Lansdale’s HAP AND LEONARD: BLOOD AND LEMONADE

Cover by Elizabeth Story

Cover by Elizabeth Story

As many of you may know, I was the editor for Tachyon Publication’s Hap and Leonard, a collection of Hap and Leonard short pieces. It contained all the extant stories (several have been published since) and timed to premiere with the SundanceTV series of the same name. Turns out the book, much like the TV series, was a success, enjoying a reprint shortly after publication. I was tasked by Tachyon publisher Jacob Weisman with approaching Joe about a second Hap and Leonard collection to come out when the second season premiered.

Joe: No. I won’t give Tachyon a second collection.

 

Me (flabbergasted): Huh? But.. the book.. it sold well.. it has a cover you love… we can guarantee Elizabeth [Story, who did the first] again… but.. why?

 

Joe (with a cocky smile): I want to do an original Hap and Leonard novel.

 

Me: I think Jacob will be okay with that.

The book Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade is a mosaic novel of sorts. That’s when you take a bunch of related stories and connect them with adjoining pieces ala The Martian Chronicles and the like.

Here’s some copy I threw together to help explain the book. I hope the fine folks at Tachyon can gussy it up a bit.

Since their first appearance in Savage Season through the recent hit SundanceTV series, the unconventional ass kicking duo of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine captured the hearts of fans everywhere. Now in this unconventional novel, creator Joe R. Lansdale explores the beginnings of the decades long friendship between the white, liberal, good ‘ol boy Hap and the black, Republican, gay, Vietnam veteran Leonard. The complicated tale of violence and humor, set in the racist, homophobic late 60s East Texas, introduces the two boys who grew up into the men, who become far more than friends. They call each other brother.

Watch for Blood and Lemonade this March.