Wednesday, January 31, 2007

FINCH (excerpt)

I: What did you see then? After they took the sack off your head?

F: Nothing. I couldn’t see anything.

I: Wrong answer.

F: [howls and screams and sobbing]

I: What did you see, Finch?

F: Just the stars. Stars. I was lying on a hill in the grass. At night.

I: I can ask you this same question for hours, Finch. I can ask you and then they can have the skery ask again in the morning. Except the skery won’t really care about your answers.

F: I saw the Lady in Blue, damn you.

I: There is no Lady in Blue. She’s just a propaganda myth from the rebels.

F: I saw her. On the hill. Under the stars.

I: What did this apparition say to you, Finch? What did this vision say?


Finch, at the apartment door, breathing heavy from five flights of stairs, taken fast. The message that’d brought him from the station was already dying, red spore smear on a limp circle of green fungal paper that had minutes before squirmed clammy in his hand. Now he had only the door uncanny to pass through, marked with the gray caps’ symbol. The mark smelled like the thick perfume his wife had used to cover the stench of her dying.

Nothing would pass, except him.

An act of will, crossing that divide. Always. Nausea. A sudden flash of his partner Gray, telling him he was compromised, him replying, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”

Everyone’s a collaborator. Everyone’s a rebel. The truth’s in the weight of each. Written on a wall at a crime scene. Maybe the Lady in Blue had said it, once.
The knob was cold but grainy, the left side rough with light green fungus. Just like the left side of his right hand. It always felt like a point of no return, and yet he kept returning.

I am not a detective. I am not a detective.

Inside, a tall Partial dressed all in black stood halfway down the hall, staring into a doorway. Beyond him, a dark room. A worn bed. White sheets dull in the shadow. Didn’t look like anyone had slept in it in months. Dusty floor. His place had looked like this before he’d started seeing Sintra.

The Partial turned and saw Finch’s gaze. “Nothing in that room, Finch. It’s all in here.” He gestured through the doorway. Light shone out, caught the dark glitter of the Partial’s skin where tiny fruiting bodies had taken hold. Uncanny left eye. Of course.

“And you are?” Finch asked.

The Partial frowned. “I’m—”

Finch brushed by him without listening, got pleasure out of the push of his shoulder into the Partial’s side. The Partial smelled like sweetly rotting meat, walked in behind him, stood there.

Everything was golden, calm, unknowable for a second. Then Finch’s eyes adjusted to the light from the large window and he saw: living room, kitchen. A sofa. Two wooden chairs. A small table, an empty vase with a rose design. And two bodies lying on the pull rug next to the sofa. One human, male, one gray cap without legs.

His boss Heretic stood there, framed by the window. Wearing his familiar gray robes and gray hat. Finch had never learned the gray cap’s real name. The series of clicks and whistles sounded like “heclereticalic” so Finch called him “Heretic.”

“Hello, Finch,” Heretic said, in the moist glottal attempt at human speech used by all of its kind. “Just in time.”

“Just in time, sir?” Finch looked to the side, away from the liquid eyes with the green pupils and yellow where there should be white. “I came as soon as I got the message.”

“Where’s Gray?”

“Gray couldn’t come. He’s busy.”

Gray was sick, but didn’t seem to know from what. Finch knew from what, but didn’t want to.

“What’s the situation?”

Heretic smiled: rows and rows of needle lines set into a face a little like a squished-in shark’s snout. Finch couldn’t tell if the needle lines were gills or teeth, but they seemed to flutter and breathe a little. Gray said he’d seen tiny creatures in there, once.

Each time, a new nightmare. Another encounter to haunt his sleep. When he slept.

“Two dead bodies,” Heretic said.

“Two bodies?”

“One and a half, technically,” the Partial said, from behind Finch.

Heretic laughed. Finch ignored the comment.

“Do we know if the victims lived in the apartment?” Finch asked.

“No, they didn’t,” the Partial said.

Finch turned briefly to stare at the Partial, then back to Heretic.

Heretic stared at the Partial and he shut up, began to creep around the living room taking pictures with his eye.

“No one lived here,” Heretic said. “According to the photo records, no one has lived here for over a year.”

“Interesting,” Finch said. It didn’t interest him at all. All that interested him was that the Partial felt comfortable enough to answer a question meant for Heretic.
The curtains had faded from the sun. Tears in the sofa like knife wounds. The vase looked like someone had started a small fire inside it. Stage props for two deaths.

Was it significant that the window was open? For some reason he didn’t want to ask if one of them had opened it. Fresh air came in through the window. Just a hint of the marsh smell of the bay.

“Who reported this?” Finch asked.

“It was reported as an energy surge,” Heretic said. “We felt it underground. Then it was confirmed by spore camera.”

Finch tried to imagine the rows and rows of living receivers underground, miles of them if rumor held true. Trying to process trillions of images from all over the city. How could they possibly keep up? It was the hope of every citizen.

“Do you know the source?” Finch asked. He wasn’t sure he understood what Heretic was telling him.

“There is no trace of it now. The apartment is cold. There are just these bodies.”

And that helps me how?

Mostly, Finch dealt with theft, suspected rebel activity, or domestic disturbances. The usual, normal things. Otherwise, unbearable fear, as dark as it was endless.

“What do you think, Finch,” Heretic asked.

The bodies lay next to each other, beside the sofa.

Finch frowned. What do I think? I think I just walked in the door a few minutes ago. I think you, Heretic, expect too much of me.

“I don’t know yet, sir,” Finch said. “I can’t say I’ve seen anything quite like it.”

The man lay on his side, left hand stretched out toward the gray cap’s hand, while the gray cap lay face down, arms flopped out at right angles.

“Might be a foreigner. From the clothes.”

The man could’ve been forty-five or fifty, with dark brown hair, dark eyebrows, and a beard that appeared to be made from tendrils of fungus. He wore a blue shirt long out of fashion. Strange, tight-fitting long pants. Dirty black boots.

“I think he’s definitely not from the city,” Heretic said.

Finch squatted beside the bodies, took out his useless pen and his useless pad of paper. Above him, the Partial leaned over, taking pictures.

The gray cap looked like every other gray cap. Except for one detail.

“I don’t know what caused the, er, injury to the other one, sir.”

I don’t know what caused the complete lack of legs.

“When we find out,” Heretic said, “we will be just as kind as your understated description, Finch.”

The cross-section of the gray caps’ waist fascinated Finch. He almost forgot himself and poked at it with his pen.

The cut had been so clean, so precise, that there was no tearing. No hemorrhaging. Finch could see layers. Gray. Yellow. Green. A core of dark red. (Was it always that dark, or only in death? Finch didn’t want to ask.) Within the core, Finch saw a hint of organs.

“Is this…normal?” Finch asked Heretic.

Heretic laughed. It was a sound like dogs being strangled. “Normal?”

“The lack of blood, I mean, sir,” Finch said.

Gray caps bled. Finch knew that. Not like a stream or a gout, even when you cut them deep, but a steady drip from a leaky faucet. Puncture wounds healed almost immediately. It took a long time and a lot of patience to kill a gray cap.

“No, it’s not normal.” The humid weight of Heretic was at his side now. A smell like garbage and burnt glass.

Now that can’t be normal. A sudden urge to giggle.

“None of this is normal,” the Partial ventured, ignored.

Finch looked up at Heretic. From that angle, the pale wattled skin of Heretic’s long throat. Making him nauseous.

“Do you know who the…um…who…the…” Finch hesitated. Gray caps didn’t like being called “gray caps,” but Finch couldn’t pronounce the word they did use. Farseneeni or Fanaarcensitii? The Partial circled them, blinking pictures through his fungal eye.

“Do you know who that is?” Finch said finally, pointing at the gray cap.

Heretic made a sound like something popping. “No. Not familiar to us. We cannot see him,” and Finch understood he meant something other than just looking out a window.

“Have you…?” Couldn’t say the whole sentence. Too ridiculous. Terrifying. At the same time. Have you eaten some of your dead comrade’s flesh and picked clean his memories?

And yet, Heretic knew what he meant. “We tried that first. Nothing that made sense. I will have a report made up for you, though. You can read what we found.”

For a second, Finch relaxed. Forgot Heretic could send him, Sintra, and his whole sector to the detention camps.

“If you couldn’t decipher it, how will I?”

Then went stiff. Too much like questioning Heretic’s competence. Richard Dorn, a good detective, had questioned Heretic too closely and wound up with a wasting disease that ate him out from the inside. Nine months to die.

A bullet to the head, in that case.

But the gray cap said only, “You have fresh eyes. Maybe you will have better luck.”

Heretic pulled a pouch out of his robes. Finch rose and stood to the side. Heretic opened the pouch, sprinkled its contents—a fine green powder—over both bodies.

“You know what to do, Finch,” Heretic said.

Nausea crept back into Finch’s throat. “But I’ve never. Not a gray cap. I mean, not one of your people.”

“Don’t worry,” Heretic said. “You know me. You know me.” The grin on that impossible face grew wide and wider. The laughter again, worse.

Finch laughed back, weakly.

“Of course you won’t understand anything you see, but write it down. Write it down anyway. And maybe it will help.”

Help what? Get the nightmares of you out of my head?

Mercifully, Heretic looked away.

“A gray cap and a man. Dead in such a manner. We need to know. Finch. Everything. We have our own working on this, too. But your perspective may be valuable. This is important.”

“Yessir,” Finch said. He could not keep the grimace off his face.

Heretic seemed to take it for a smile. As he walked past on his way to the door, he awkwardly patted Finch’s elbow. Finch shivered.

“Report in the morning,” Heretic said. “Report and report and report, Finch.”

The laughter again.

Then Heretic was gone, the doorway eating him up, the apartment door opening and closing.

Finch could hear his own breathing. The sudden panicked drum, tight in his chest. The butterfly blinks of the Partial, still snapping photographs.


J.K. Stephens has pointed out to me that there is a rare copy of Book of Lost Places currently on ebay. I should bid for this myself, considering I only own one copy, but I won't.



Battlestar Galactica is beginning to suck. In a soap opera way. Big-time. As it progresses this season, it has lost its balance in terms of character focus. It's also given us very little macro level storyline. It's also got stupid stuff, like the admiral and the president personally overseeing interrogations. Blah.


Sunday, January 28, 2007


New project. Layout by Jacob McMurray of Payseur & Schmidt. Cover by Heiko Mueller. Interior illustrations by Mark Rich. November 2007. Details to follow...

Jacob also has a cool new blog.


Saturday, January 27, 2007


Ann and I have just accepted "Boojum" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette for the pirate anthology. It's a wonderful story and I wouldn't be surprised to see it in some year's bests at some point.

In the next week or so we'll clear the decks. So if you've got something on hold with us or submitted in the last month you'll be hearing from us shortly, don't worry.

Editing any anthology involves a whole series of checks and balances. It's not even so much a question of one story being better than another. It's more a question of how it all fits together. So we're being very methodical and patient in our reading and our re-reading. Some things will be rejected or accepted faster than others as a result. And, as you might expect in this internet age, snail mail stories are being looked at more slowly than electronic submissions. Thanks for your own patience waiting to hear from us.

As for what we are seeing too much of...that's difficult because we are definitely seeing a lot of traditional pirate stories. And yet, we do want traditional pirate stories. I would just say, more specifically, that we're seeing a lot of Master-and-Commander rip-offs. Otherwise, keep 'em coming, in all varieties.

You can still submit to the anthology until the end of February. Piratical guidelines are here and the normal ones are here:

Fast Ships, Black Sails, to be published by Night Shade Books, wants exciting, bone-rattling pirate fiction set in the past, present, or future, covering the full spectrum of parrot-carrying, booty-taking, grappling-hook pirate adventure and fun. Submissions should be between 3,000 and 10,000 words, with payment set at 5 cents per word to 10k, two contributor copies, and a share of royalties. No simultaneous submissions. No boring stories. Electronic submissions to peglegparrots at in Word or RTF format. Snail mail submissions to POB 38190, Tallahassee FL 32315, USA, with SASE for reply only. We will read from November 1, 2006, through the end of February, 2007. – Captains Ann and Jeff VanderMeer


Thursday, January 25, 2007


Best American Fantasy reading is dead. Long live Best American Fantasy reading. We've made our last selections, queried the authors, and made a short list of back-ups in case we can't get everything. And now we're starting reading 2007 material as it comes in from this point forward. This has, again, been one of the more rewarding experiences of my life, the only painful part the stories we had to part with, mostly for lack of space. We won't be releasing the full contents list until the anthology comes out--we are promoting a brand and an idea as much as anything else--but here's a short description of the book that hints at its contents.

The first volume in a distinctive new series, Best American Fantasy collects the best fantasy short fiction published in North American publications, written by American authors. The anthology includes Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Peter LaSalle, Brian Evenson, Sarah Monette, and over twenty others. Sure to become a favorite of both mainstream and genre fans, Best American Fantasy features rotating guest editors, a preface and introduction from the editors, and a selective recommended reading list. Current guest editors Jeff & Ann VanderMeer have over 40 years of editing experience between them, and their work has won or been shortlisted for many awards. Series editor Matthew Cheney is a respected literary blogger and writer who provides a solid grounding for each new volume. For more information on Best American Fantasy, visit the website: The editors are currently reading 2007 stories for the next volume of the anthology.

Thanks to Ann and Matt for making this such a wonderful experience. I think we've put together something profound, funny, deep, clever, inventive, and often very strange indeed. With any luck, we'll have advance reading copies in time for the AWP Conference in early March.


Now that it's out, I thought it would be a good time to repost my comments on Dan Simmons' The Terror, from late last year. I have to say that the thing that sticks with me the most, as noted below, is how strange the book is, in an entirely great way. It's, at heart, a truly insane novel and there are scenes in it that rank among the best I've ever read. I keep reiterating this because it's being marketed as a mainstream thriller. And that it is, but it's one of the weirdest in memory, and as much as it's a page-turner, it's also, in some ways, deeply antithetical to the idea of "commercial" fiction.


If anyone has wondered why I haven't emailed them or been that responsive the last few days, it's because I've been reading the advance galleys of Dan Simmons' new novel, The Terror (Jan. 2007). Telling the story of a possibly doomed arctic expedition in the 1800s, this is possibly one of the most harrowing, beautifully (and carefully) written, strangest, and just plain brilliant novels I've read in a very long time. It's one of those books that qualifies as a page-turner and a serious read that you want to savor. Unfortunately, the page-turner impulse won out over savor over the last hundred pages and I wound up finishing it last night in a fever-haze of exhaustion and sleepiness, not unlike (but nowhere close to the severity of) the condition of the trapped crews whose various fates are detailed in the novel.

Here's the description from Amazon:

The bestselling author of Ilium and Olympos transforms the true story of a legendary Arctic expedition into a thriller worthy of Stephen King or Patrick O'Brian. Their captain's insane vision of a Northwest Passage has kept the crewmen of The Terror trapped in Arctic ice for two years without a thaw. But the real threat to their survival isn't the ever-shifting landscape of white, the provisions that have turned to poison before they open them, or the ship slowly buckling in the grip of the frozen ocean. The real threat is whatever is out in the frigid darkness, stalking their ship, snatching one seaman at a time or whole crews, leaving bodies mangled horribly or missing forever. Captain Crozier takes over the expedition after the creature kills its original leader, Sir John Franklin. Every day the dwindling crew becomes more deranged and mutinous, until Crozier begins to fear there is no escape from an ever-more-inconceivable nightmare.

I have to admit to not reading Simmons after The Hollow Man, which I thought was lazy in its level of detail. But The Terror is one of those books that thrives on specific detail without it getting in the way of the plot, and makes me want to go back to some of his recent novels and re-try him.

There's much that's heart-rending, horrifying, and just plain uplifting in a grim way as Simmons' details his characters' struggle to survive. But there are also scenes of strange fever dreams, of possible second sight, of bizarre Masques held on the ice...well, let's just say that I could see this becoming a bestseller, but there's a darkness and an utter strangeness at the core of the book that distinguishes it from the run-of-the-mill and makes it top-notch. I'm still trying to absorb the book, but I'm afraid right now it's absorbed me.


This weekend I'm participating in the Other Words conference on the FSU Campus. Friday at 3pm I'll be on a panel with the editor of Web Del Sol talking about web stuff and on Saturday at 3:30 I'll be doing a reading from my spelling bee antho story. Fun for the entire family, except the ones whose brains are still functional.




Or, "Electronic Misunderstandings." I reprint this exchange only because it came to an amicable conclusion. I mean, I've had days where I've fired off an email in haste or misinterpreted something. No worries. You don't write someone off for a hasty email, and I'm posting the exchange by permission, just cause it's kinda funny and a slow news day.

Anyway, this was, obviously, a query by someone for the pirate anthology. Who will still be submitting and we'll still be reading it studiously and fairly.

Er, the lesson isn't to abuse editors, though. We're already overworked and underpaid.


Initial query:

Hi there, Captain,

Are you still accepting submissions for your anthology from worthy pirates?

Thanks a lot from your deck buddy, the most fearsome pirate of all,


You cannot escape so easily, Dragon. It is not done between us.It will not be done until the end of time.

My response (in a rush):

Yep--through the end of February.

351st person to use pirate lingo in query or submission email. Congrats!


O My Gawd Response to My Response:

Yeah, I feel you. It is really surprising to see all those people using pirate lingo. Where did they get the ridiculous idea from? How could they not realize that officially representing themselves requires a better style? I really cannot figure this one out. Do you have any idea, maybe? Let's think together. Could it be, by some chance, that they got the remarkably foolish idea from something you did with your site? Could it be, through some unexplainable occurence, that they decided to follow your lead? That they didn't realize they were not supposed to, but were instead intended to guess that they are expected to act as you think, and not as you do? I suppose the fact that you mingled official guidelines for submission with some inane rambling, making it hard to even find on your own site what you want them to do, has nothing to do with it whatsoever? Do you want to hear a piece of advice? Well, obviously you don't, but hey, it's an email, so I'll just go ahead anyway since I have the opportunity. There is a slight risk in building a public personna different from your actual personality. People are superficial and tend to see what you show them, without bothering to look deeper. Do you even fathom how un-professional it is for a self proclaimed editor to project such a public image? How can you be surprised later that somebody, and apparently 351 somebodies are trying to mix business with pleasure and entertain you somewhat in the process of submission. Well guess what, maybe some of us were hoping to make you smile a bit, create a good atmosphere of cooperation. If you are not interested, that is your right, if only you were so kind as to let us know. Don't send mixed signals on your site, and you will not be bored by person number 352. And lastly, when you get to be a Tor, Bantam, or Penguin editor, then you can be bitchy and expect us to take it anyway, since we have to go through you to become big. As things stand, you are not that big, and I while I thought I could find my way with you, I can admit my mistake and find it without you. The loss is truly yours, whether or not you see it at the moment. So, how about that?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


(The cover, along with a detail of the cover photo, from Insect Lab.)

New Weird anyone?


Hey--why are there writers on that cover who definitely aren't New Weird?
Really. I hadn't noticed. Well, perhaps you should wait until you see how they're deployed before complaining.

My favorite New Weird author isn't on the cover. Why did you exclude this person?
It's early days. We haven't solicited all the content yet. The antho comes out in spring 2008.

You hate New Weird as a term. You're on the record about that. You're a hypocrite.
No, I can just hold two semi-opposing ideas in my head at the same time without going mad.

Who the heck is "Felix Gilman"? What is a "Leena Krohn"?
All in the fullness of time, grasshopper. Now get on board this leaf and go cross that raging river over there.

More Information

The New Weird from Tachyon Publications is the first collection devoted to a “moment in time” and a “movement” that has quickly become a clear subgenre within fantasy, and one that has received the lion’s share of critical and often reader acclaim and attention since 2001.

In addition to the main reprint fiction section, the anthology will also include such added highlights as critical writings about New Weird, excerpts from the original, often heated online discussion about the term “New Weird”, an exciting “Laboratory” section featuring some of the most interesting writers in fantasy fiction (Hal Duncan, Paul Di Filippo, Sarah Monette, and others), commentary from continental Europe on the mutation of the term "New Weird," and such original fictions as the story that became K.J. Bishop’s award-winning novel The Etched City.

Editors Jeff & Ann VanderMeer have forty years of editing experience between them and have edited anthologies and publications that have won or been nominated for every award in the field. This may, of course, be the anthology that kills them.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


(projected cover art, Liza Phoenix)

Mapping the Beast: The Best of Leviathan & Album Zutique is due out in November of this year from Prime Books. I'm happy to say we've just about finalized the contents, except for a few stragglers. I'll post the full contents shortly, but can't help, being excitable and all, posting what we've got confirmed so far, and additional information.

Jacob McMurray of Payseur & Schmidt will do the cover design and interior layout.

I always thought of AZ as a mini-Leviathan and since it had a limited print run, I thought it wise to include it in the anthology. Leviathan 3 is probably the best-known of the Lev series, but some stories from it just had to be reprinted. Leviathan 4 had so many long stories it was just impossible to include more of them in this selection. But we probably will work out some kind of special offer through this blog, if nothing else, so when you buy Mapping the Beast you can get Lev4 at some kind of discount.

A lot of these stories are more transgressive than I remember. Some of them, like the Evenson, elicited review comments like "close to an abomination." I've included all of the most outrageous stories because I think that reviewer response was predicated more on moral grounds than on anything to do with the success or failure of the story in question. (One of the most notorious stories is still a straggler--hope to add it to the list soon.)



Mapping the Beast collects the best fiction from the anthology series Leviathan and its sister publication Album Zutique. From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, Leviathan provided confrontational, sometimes controversial surreal short stories, and helped chart the limits of fantasy fiction. Contributors to Mapping the Beast include Edgar Award winner Jeffrey Ford, Crawford Award winner K.J. Bishop, NEA Fellow Brian Evenson, Philip K. Dick Award winner Stepan Chapman, World Fantasy Award winner Zoran Zivkovic, and many others. Editor and founder Jeff VanderMeer provides an indepth introduction and story notes to a collection sure to appeal to readers and academics alike.

Contents (minus a few stragglers)

“The Blue Flower Case,” Nels Hanson (Leviathan 1)

“The Face of Days,” Mark Rich (Leviathan 1)

“Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-aged Woman,” L. Timmel Duchamp (Leviathan 2)

“Gatling Gums,” from “The Darktree Wheel,” Rhys Hughes (Leviathan 2)

“Minutes from the Last Meeting,” Stepan Chapman (Leviathan 2)

“State Secrets of Aphasia,” Stepan Chapman (Leviathan 3)

“The Weight of Words,” Jeffrey Ford (Leviathan 3)

“The Progenator,” Brian Evenson (Leviathan 3)

“The Swan of Prudence Street,” Scott Thomas (Leviathan 3)

“My Father's Friends," from "The Genius of Assassins,” Michael Cisco (Leviathan 3)

“Noble Library,” Zoran Zivkovic (Leviathan 3)

“A Season With Dr. Black,” Brendan Connell (from Leviathan 3)

“The Dreaming City,” Ben Peek (Leviathan 4)

"A Hero For the Dark Towns," Jay Lake (from Album Zutique)

“Python,” Ursula Pflug (from Album Zutique)

“Maldoror Abroad,” K.J. Bishop (from Album Zutique)


Just a few links of possible interest.

Strange Maps

Jerusalem Dreaming, the Edward Whittemore Website, has a new URL.

Robin's Big Date

For those who say Americans are tackier than the Brits, here's proof it's not always true.

And, in a few days, the Shriek movie will be up on the Shriek website.


Friday, January 19, 2007


Evil Monkey:
You write too slow.

Who asked you, banana breath?

Evil Monkey:
No need to get huffy.

Yeah, well...

Evil Monkey:
You said it on your blog.

I did.

Evil Monkey:
More or less.

You pass judgment too quickly.

Evil Monkey:
If you wrote faster, you'd be richer.

If you moved slower I'd wring your furry little neck.

Evil Monkey:
If you wrote faster but slept slower I'd be able to get all of that poison into the porches of your ears by dawn.

If you drank slower I wouldn't have to drive you home every night.

Evil Monkey:
If you drank faster maybe you'd stop posting so many pointless blog entries.

If you were faster on the uptake you'd realize appearances are reality.

Evil Monkey:
If you were quicker-witted you'd realize this whole discussion is pointless.

You'd make a terrible slow writer.

Evil Monkey:
You'd make a terrible fast writer.

I don't write to deadline! (*Beats chest*.) Look at me!

Evil Monkey:
That's because nobody cares if you finish anything.

Nobody cares if I finish you off.

Evil Monkey:
If a tree falls on you in a forest while you're writing your slow fiction, would there be a news report?

If a middle class, middle-aged writer throttled a sock monkey in the privacy of his own home, would said sock monkey make a sound?

Evil Monkey:
Yes, he would.


Evil Monkey:
Why dost thou hate the fast writers, Jeff. Is it because thou are so slow?

I don't hate the fast writers, but try to ask a bleepin' question and the bullshit rises to cover everyone!

Evil Monkey:
But slowly, my friend. Slowly.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Does anyone know a safe and reliable service to host my audio and video files that I then hotlink to from my Shriek website?

Mediamax double and triple bills me for erroneous services, makes upgrades that fuck up my links without telling me, and in general displays the foresight and intelligence of a three-year-old. And I'm being generous.



I thought that, having posted something about the negative aspects of doing so much reading in magazines, anthologies, and online venues for Best American Fantasy, I should comment on the positive aspects. (I should note that I'm only speaking for myself, not for Ann VanderMeer or Matt Cheney.)

We found more than enough excellent material to justify the anthology, for one thing. Given our brief to be very inclusive of American literary magazines, in addition to looking at publications devoted to genre work, this was a relief and a pleasure. That we found variety and also depth made the reading experience a very pleasurable one. On some fundamental level, I felt extremely blessed to have the opportunity to sit down and discover so many fascinating fictive voices.

We went into the reading experience with the idea that to properly express the idea of "Best American Fantasy," we should be open to excellence put to many different purposes, some serious, some less so. For this reason, our selections run the gamut from experimental to traditional, from clever to deep, from intricately plotted to slice-of-life narratives. I'm very excited about the juxtaposition of voices and writers in this anthology.

We also went into the reading experience with the idea that "fantasy" is not just about the reality of a fantasy element on the page but that it also exists on the metaphorical level, and in the texture and intent of the prose. Some writers and some stories are clearly fantastical or fabulist even if they do not contain any clearly-defined "fantasy" element.

This is the first year's best anthology I've helped edit, and there is a different kind of pleasure involved than that of reading for an original anthology. Reading the slushpile for an original anthology is, I think, a much more difficult and strenuous job. It is a job fraught with peril and sometimes indecision. Because you really are the gatekeeper, the arbiter. If you pick something that isn't actually good, or accidentally dismiss something good, it's all on you. You have a very intense pleasure of discovery when you find something good from someone new or something unexpected from someone established. But inbetween these highs, you have the daily, weekly slog through the mundane and depressing world of mediocrity, incompetence, and unrealized potential.

Reading for BAF, you're a gatekeeper of a different order. Despite my grousings about DOA stories in professional publications, you are still, mostly, dealing with a different level of technical competence. And at the highest heights, you are determining (in at least one case, I believe) between genius and mere excellence. The endorphin high from this kind of selection process is nearly constant, addictive, and very satisfying. Merely to have access to such riches is intoxicating.

So to say that reading for BAF has been fun would be an understatement. The discussions and arguments with Matt and Ann have been especially fun, because they're within this context of "good" versus "great".

It is also exciting to be helping create the foundation for a series relatively unique within the fantasy genre. After year two, Ann and I will no longer be the guest editors. Matt Cheney will continue to serve as series editor for stability, but each year will bring a new guest editor and thus a different set of assumptions, prejudices, likes, dislikes, and values. Why is this important? Because each editor has favorite writers, no matter how one tries to keep impartial. Revolving editors should provide a measure of equality and fairness. Literally, although some kinds of excellence remain objective--or at least objective to a larger rather than smaller number of people--you should see wild variations in the writers selected each year. This is a good thing, a way of celebrating diversity, of keeping things fresh.

In addition, by emphasizing literary magazines and online venues, while not ignoring traditional genre publications, BAF will most likely continue to have radically different contents from other fantasy year's bests, in most years. It is therefore serving a valuable function and will be of interest to readers for this reason.

I am reluctant to get into specifics about story selection since we are still sending out acceptance emails, and because the contents will not be revealed until publication in June, but I cannot stress enough how much fun this process has been and how uplifting. In some ways, I had lost faith in the fantasy short story over the last few years. So little material had moved me, made me think, or made me gasp in appreciation at the audacity of it. But this in-depth immersion in the entirety of American fantasy in the short form has made me realize just what a wealth of great literature is being produced by writers from the U.S. and Canada.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I love this list of unfilmable novels.

What would you add to it?

I also think this brings up a serious point: more novels should be unfilmable. Because this speaks to what about the form cannot be replicated in other art forms. When I was writing Shriek, one thing I had foremost in my head was to create something that couldn't be filmed (well, except for little excerpts of it...). I've been thinking a lot about the influence of movies and television on novels. Some of it has been good--different ways of editing scenes, or jumping from one scene to another, just to name some simple ones--but in other ways it has been extremely bad. The immutable and yet completely fluid thing about novels that differentiates them from practically every other art form is that the reader creates the images and scenes from the information given to him or her by the writer. Each version of the novel is slightly different in each person's head. There is some of this effect in film, but not that much. Novels, to me, seem much more open to interpretation as a result.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Just a few little bits of news.

First off, I'll be moving to WordPress in February, not this month. Just too much to do.

We'll wrap up Best American Fantasy reading by the end of this week. Very exciting. We found such amazing, amazing stuff!

Toni Jerrman's Tahtivaeltaja magazine is going to do a Finnish version of "King Squid."

It looks like the ReaderCon souvenir book will include my essay on Angela Carter, and my personal appreciation of her. And, as I may have mentioned earlier, the Encyclopedia Britannica online edition has added a link to my essay on Carter at the Modern Word, which is kinda cool.

I'll have news soon on the New Weird antho, Mortar Baby: The Best of Leviathan, Last Drink Bird Head, Love Drunk Bird Heads, and much much more.



In January 2006 the UK trade paperback of Shriek came out, followed by the hardcover US version in August 2006. This month, the mass market of Shriek is out in the UK. It looks great. A nice 450 pages. A nice chunk o' book. Later this month, the Shriek movie will debut online.

Thus far, Shriek has made the best-of lists of The San Francisco Chronicle, The Austin Chronicle, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Forbidden Planet, Ed Champion, and Revolution SF.

I've also been pleased to see City of Saints still making inroads, appearing on a lot of blogger year's best lists. It also appeared on one list as "most overrated" book of the year. Which really tickles me because this assumes a level of "ratedness" that I never expected the book to achieve.

As far as the UK goes, radio silence for the most part. I expect that to continue, for a variety of reasons.


Saturday, January 13, 2007


Reading for Best American Fantasy has been very interesting. Unlike reading a slushpile, there is a basic level of competence but sometimes not much more than that. After reading continuously for several days and weeks now, a few negative trends emerge.

Wrapping up!
I think this trend is definitely due to the influence of television, in particular the end shot after the main storyline has been resolved. Like, all the cops back at the station and a conversation like "Boy, that was scary." Yeah, glad I had my flashlight." Laughs all around. Cut to commercial. A crippling number of stories in print seem to end with this kind of inane resolution after the climax, trivializing the seriousness (sometimes) of what went before.

Inability to construct a solid paragraph
I have to say I found this in genre magazines more than in the literary magazines. At the paragraph level, there's a whole lot of nothing going on in a lot of published stories. Instead of recognizing that sentences and paragraphs can do triple or quadruple duty, the writers are using them merely to advance the story. But you can encode paragraphs with a lot more information about character, setting, and subtext without actually making them longer. But a lot of writers are apparently looking ahead to the next event rather than understanding that the events occur on a word, sentence, and paragraph level as well as at the level of action or conflict. If your sentences or paragraphs are dead, in a sense your story is, too. I'm not just talking about emotional life, but intellectual life as well. In most short stories, you should be able to pull out individual paragraphs and parse some deeper meaning or take a pleasure out of them that is both relevant to the larger story and also exists independent of the larger story.

Ridiculous dialogue
One particular magazine featured ridiculous, unbelievable dialogue in story after story, issue after issue. Basically, if anyone--from the writer to the editor who took these stories--had read even a page or two of these stories aloud, they might have realized that the dialogue had invalidated the protagonists' credibility to the point of invalidating the remaining worth of the story. The dialogue I've read is particularly heinous in secondary world fantasy, which is exactly where it needs to be the strongest, to support the necessary suspension of disbelief. I think the problem is the same problem you see in much historical fiction: a kind of subconscious belief that everyone needs to talk like they're in a Shakespeare play, or with a kind of false and ensanguinating bravado. At base, if your character talks like an idiot then he or she is an idiot, no matter what their actions. There are times when you want to use this as a counterbalance or counterweight to some effect you are trying to achieve, but only writers really skilled with dialogue can pull this off.

Inability to flesh out an idea or concept
At the level of concept or idea, far too many published stories seem very proud of having been able to come up with a semi-unique fantastical idea. Period. A kind of brimming with self-congratulatory ardor. "Look at this cool, shiny thing I thought up!" And the story ends with the "look at my originality" when that is often the starting point of a story and all else has been preamble. Nascent is not adult. It is as child is to parent. Often, this coincides with a flattening of characterization, in that the fruition of the idea lies in the fleshing out of the characters as well. I also think this failure is tied to ego.

Anyway, we have found lots of wonderful material, but I have found it interesting how many published stories display the flaws set out above. Perhaps more depressingly, there have been whole issues of publications which feel like dead weight, where the stories are inert and lifeless. Going through the motions. Writing from a plot spine and just draping papermache over the skeleton and hoping no one will notice the creature isn't alive. When there is nothing personal or at stake for the writer in the story, there often is nothing personal or at stake for the reader. But this is not just the responsibility of the writer. It's the responsibility of the editor. The fact is, there are few enough stories in any year that really needed to be published, needed to be read, and will survive in the public imagination for more than a few hours or months.

And, yet, as I mention, we have found loads of good stuff, too.


Monday, January 08, 2007


(Taken from the Gainesville Sun.)

In a blow-out. My Gators win the national championships. Congrats to the University of Florida, Urban Meyer, Chris Leak, and the rest of the Gator Nation. (And thank gawd--I had about $500 riding on it, over all.)




My January Bookslut column on comics is now up.

The major portion of the column focuses on Ivan Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. I liked the anthology. I wasn't so fond of the editing effort involved. Contradictory? Read the review.

One comment I must make. I've seen more than one blogger, and some Amazon readers, comment that Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories is far superior to Best American Comics.

This is so utterly misleading as to be incomprehensible to me. Brunetti's anthology picks reprints from the last 10 to 20 years (and sometimes from earlier), while Best American Comics is a yearly compilation of the best from the prior year. Comparing the two and finding Best American Comics lacking is just plain stupid.


Sunday, January 07, 2007


Locus Online has posted my Twelve Overlooked Books from 2006. Couldn't resist the fecund opening.

Out of curiosity--how many books on the list had you already heard of or bought?


Saturday, January 06, 2007


Congrats to the finalists!


The judges of the 2006 Philip K. Dick Award and the Philadelphia SF Society are pleased to announce seven nominated works that comprise the final ballot for the award:

MINDSCAPE by Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct Press)
CARNIVAL by Elizabeth Bear (Bantam Spectra)
SPIN CONTROL by Chris Moriarty (Bantam Spectra)
CATALYST by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Tachyon Publications)
RECURSION by Tony Ballantyne (Bantam Spectra)
IDOLON by Mark Budz (Bantam Spectra)

LIVING NEXT DOOR TO THE GOD OF LOVE by Justina Robson (Bantam Spectra)

First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 6, 2007 at Norwescon 30 at the Doubletree Seattle Airport Hotel, SeaTac, Washington.

The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the award ceremony is sponsored by the NorthWest Science Fiction Society. Last year’s winner was WAR SURF by M. M. Buckner (Ace Books) with a special citation to NATURAL HISTORY by Justina Robson (Bantam Spectra). The 2006 judges are Geary Gravel, Anne Harris, Christine Mains (chair), Kristine Smith, Mark Tiedemann.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Stolen from this thread:

Charlie Stross, Jeff VanderMeer, David Edelman...TC Boyle. Amir Aczel. THEY LIVE.


....all featured in my upcoming report on economic genre fiction for National Public Radio Weekend Edition Sunday. It should run at twenty minutes before the end of the second hour.

If you miss it and even if you don't, go the website, and pop over the Weekend Edition Sunday page. They'll have a link there to listen to and email the story. Should it get emailed enough, look for lots more SF&F coverage. This is, one must understand, not the usual NPR lineup. I have a great editor over there who really gets it, and more stories in the queue. Hope you enjoy it. There's more
information at my website, and I'll amend this thread with the URL for the RealAudio version / Email this story link once it goes up Sunday morning.

Thanks, Rick Kleffel
The Agony Column

Two somewhat funny things about this. I tend to get a little nervous doing radio and as a result don't drink coffee or tea or anything before I go on because it tends to make me burp, just because I'm not breathing naturally. This time I forgot that important fact, so, alas, Rick told me later they had to edit out my burps. Hee. (Evil Monkey: "That's disgusting.")** Second thing is, I was waiting in the local NPR studio for Rick to come on and was told he was running late, and as they begin to patch me in to the feed to Rick in California, I hear this kind of rapid-fire ghosting voice in the background. I'm like, hey, that voice is familiar, and that voice appears to be splicing chaos theory to economics to a little old lady in Topeka to the death of the dirigible to god knows what, and all at the same frenetic pace more familiar to an auction barker. Sure enough: it was Charlie Stross.

So: I'm fairly sure for every word of mine in the NPR thing there will be four from Charlie. LOL! In fact, I'm fairly sure my appearance is fairly brief in this piece. When you say stuff like, "I think it's important to have characters who you can imagine having to go down to the corner store to buy a gallon of milk," the subtext is kinda "I love to bore my readers with the mundane!"

Anyway, listen in Sunday if you're so inclined. I'm rather interested to see how Rick wove together all of these disparate writers into something coherent.


***Funniest moment ever on radio, for me, was Hour of the Wolf. First extensive radio I'd done. I was chugging coffee like you wouldn't believe because it's done live at four in the morning and I'd stayed up all night (Minz is partially to blame, among others). So I was burping due to nervousness like you wouldn't believe. Which I could cover while answering questions. But then I had to do a reading from Veniss Underground. Readings are a little tougher than casually answering questions. I couldn't turn away from the mike as much. To burp. So I had to read the long sentences fast and the short sentences slow so I could then turn from the mike long enough to burp and then get on with the next sentence. Luckily, no one noticed, not even the host (I think).

Evil Monkey: Why are you telling them this?

Jeff: I dunno. Cause it happened?

Evil Monkey: I'm ashamed for you. I really am.

Jeff: It's not even the worst radio moment for me.

Evil Monkey: Really?

Jeff: I mean, I really am fine on radio. The nervousness doesn't really show, I've found out. But...

Evil Monkey: Spill it. You've come this far.

Jeff: The first time I was on radio, I called in to a talk show about smoking. I thought the guests were really being stupid. So the production people asked me what my comment was. I told them. It was erudite and wordy, I'm sure. Then they put me on and I froze. I assumed a Southern accent, said, "I'm John Trinidad and I'm as stupid as you wanna be." And hung up.

Evil Monkey: Why in the name of all that's holy did you do that?!

Jeff: To this day, I do not know. Twelve years have gone by and I still don't know.

Evil Monkey: I'm not sure I want to know you.

Jeff: And then, when I got off the phone, I went outside and ran around the outside of the house three times, screaming at the top of my lungs because I could not believe how retarded I had been.

Evil Monkey: Do I know you? I don't know you. Who are you?

Jeff: I'm your bro...

Evil Monkey: Are you talking to me? Cause I don't know you, mister...

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Alone with the bodies, Finch could see the frailty death had lent them. A vulnerability. The way the light used them in the same way it drew him.
He walked to the window, looked out across the city of Ambergris.

Three years and I can’t recognize a goddamn thing from before.

The harsh sprawl of the bay. Bled from the River Moth. Carved from nothing. First thing they’d done when they’d Risen, drowning thousands. Mid-bay stood the empty scaffolding of the two incomplete towers. Great masses of green fungus clung to the nubs. Made them seem disturbingly organic, animal-like. A smell like oil and sawdust and frying meat. At dusk every day the gray caps led a work force from the detention camps south of the city. All night, the sounds of hammering and construction. Emerald lights moving more like slow stars. Screams of injury or punishment. And Truff knew to what purpose. While along the lip of the bay, monstrous fungal buildings rose in darkness and the old, familiar architecture fell simultaneous.

To Finch’s left: smudges of smoke, greasy and gray. The smoke rose above the charred and broken skyline of buildings half-demolished by war. It was the only sign of the camps, hidden behind the debris. One of the last signs of the war, too. Heavy tank battles in the south. Still hundreds of burnt-out tanks amongst abandoned and reclaimed buildings. Finch had only had to go back there once for his job. He was glad. He didn’t like the memories. They’d held until they couldn’t hold, and it wasn’t good enough. Creatures they called flying fish screaming into the ranks, lofted from the other side, cutting into flesh, colonizing nervous systems. Men asphyxiated from the inside out. Dead in mid-scream. Other terrors besides. More subtle. Intel didn’t know the half of it.

To Finch’s right: huge tendrils of reddish-orange fungus veined into the rocks lining the water. A general greenish-orange haze to the air, obscuring any view of what might be left on the north shore. The Hoegbotton & Frankwrithe Zone. Supposed hotbed of rebel activity. Once, the HFZ had grown each day. Now it remained an inert, motionless boundary. Covered about five square miles. Part of the city, part of the wilderness north of the city. Finch could see it from his own apartment, too. Almost every citizen could see it. A little. For all the good it did. When the wind was wrong, great glittering particles drifted green and purple and blue across the bay into Ambergris. Along with the smell of candy mixed with something foul. Then they would all have to wear the masks the gray caps had provided to them. Even the gray caps didn’t enter the HFZ except by proxy. Content to let the remnants of the rebels wander through a toxic fungal stew. Almost like another camp, without fences or guards.

No one came out of the HFZ. The rebels, if they still existed, hadn’t attacked in over a year.

Finch still remembered the day of The Great Retreat. The broadcast promises of a quick return. Just a retrenchment. A slight setback. The gray caps hadn’t won. Not really. That had been four years ago. For awhile it had seemed true. So much heavy armor and munitions had gone into Northern Ambergris that day that it seemed hard to believe it could just vanish or molder. Yet, apparently, it had. The rebel commander, the man they called Stretcher Jones, after a long-dead enemy of the Kalif, seemed now like a myth or a ghost.

They’d gone in and the gray caps had created the Zone around them. The rebels could all be dead, or so utterly transformed that they fought an entirely different war now. Finch didn’t really want to think about it.

Still, it was their only hope. That or the thin line of a shanty town that had grown up near the HFZ. Room for spies and turncoats and rebels to operate. Finch had a feeling he’d have to go down there soon, on this case.

Finch turned away from the window after a minute or so. It left him sad and cold and frightened. The towers especially. What would happen when the gray caps had finished them?

A view like that could drive a person mad.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Link here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Shriek makes the Barnes & Noble best-of list with a lot of other cool stuff, including .Scalzi's TAD.

The UK mass market version comes out this month and there's also the Shriek film, which will finally be online by the end of the month.



Early last year, Tobias Buckell was kind enough to provide this template for a SF/F/H Manifestos summary/clearinghouse site. The idea was to provide links to and short descriptions of an manifestos, polemics, rants, etc. Beyond the obvious reasons, it has seemed in recent years like many people who launch into new manifestos/movements/etc. seem to have new clue what came before.

The seeds for this site can be found here, in a thread that began to compile them.

The problem for me now is that, a year or more later, it is clear to me that I'll never have time for this project. If there is anyone out there interested in having a go at it, drop me an email at vanderworld at

I think this is a worthy project (unless, of course, it already exists somewhere out there on the worldwide tubes).




What better way to start the New Year than with photos of Riley, available here!


Monday, January 01, 2007

SF SITE COLUMN--Fish Holidays

My latest Dispatches is up, including a review of Grey and a discussion of Smaragdine fish holiday. Featuring an interview with Ellen Datlow.



Just a reminder--if you, as a reader, writer, editor, or publisher read an exceptional piece of fiction published in 2006 in an American (Canada/US) magazine by an American (Canada/US) writer, please send us your recommendation via the Best American Fantasy Website. Your recommendation might well influence the final table of contents for the anthology. We will be reading through February 1st.