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Year’s Finest is Full

Paula Guran has put out the Table of Contents for the latest volume in her annual collection, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2017.

“The Finest, Fullest Flowering” made the cut, and is in some splendid company.

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2017

[Cover is not finalized]

Contents (in alphabetical order by author’s last name)

“Lullaby for a Lost World,” Aliette de Bodard (Tor.com 06/16)
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” Brooke Bolander (Uncanny #13)
“Wish You Were Here,” Nadia Bulkin (Nightmare # 49)
“A Dying of the Light,” Rachel Caine (The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft)
“Season of Glass and Iron,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales)
“Grave Goods,” Gemma Files (Autumn Cthulhu)
“The Blameless,”Jeffrey Ford (The Natural History of Hell)
“As Cymbals Clash,” Cate Gardner (The Dark #19)
“The Iron Man,” Max Gladstone (Grimm Future)
“Surfacing,” Lisa L. Hannett (Postscripts 36/37: The Dragons of the Night)
“Mommy’s Little Man,” Brian Hodge (DarkFuse, October)
“The Sound of Salt and Sea,” Kat Howard (Uncanny #10)
“Red Dirt Witch,” N. K. Jemisin (Fantasy #60)
“Birdfather,” Stephen Graham Jones (Black Static #51)
“The Games We Play,” Cassandra Khaw (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
“The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth (Murder Ballad No. Ten),” Caitlin Kiernan (Sirenia Digest #130)
“Postcards from Natalie,” Carrie Laben (The Dark #14)
“The Finest, Fullest Flowering,” Marc Laidlaw (Nightmare #45)
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com)
“Meet Me at the Frost Fair,” Alison Littlewood (A Midwinter Entertainment)
“Bright Crown of Joy,” Livia Llewellyn (Children of Lovecraft)
“The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch,” Seanan McGuire (Lightspeed #72)
“My Body, Herself,” Carmen Maria Machado (Uncanny #12)
“Spinning Silver,” Naomi Novik (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales)
“Whose Drowned Face Sleeps,” An Owomoyela & Rachael Swirsky (Nightmare # 46/What the #@&% Is That?)
“Grave Goods,” Priya Sharma (Albedo One #6)
“The Rime of the Cosmic Mariner,” John Shirley (Lovecraft Alive!)
“The Red Forest,” Angela Slatter (Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales)
“Photograph,” Steve Rasnic Tem (Out of the Dark)
“The Future is Blue,” Catherynne M. Valente (Drowned Worlds)
‘‘October Film Haunt: Under the House’’, Michael Wehunt (Greener Pastures)
“Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left,” Fran Wilde (Shimmer 13)
“When the Stitches Come Undone,” A.C. Wise (Children of Lovecraft)
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” Alyssa Wong (Tor.com 03/16)
“An Ocean the Color of Bruises,” Isabel Yap (Uncanny #11)
“Fairy Tales are for White People,” Melissa Yuan-Innes (Fireside Magazine Issue 30)
“Braid of Days and Nights,” E. Lily Yu (F&SF, Jan-Feb)

 

@lantis…and Others On the Way

Rudy Rucker and I have been writing stories of surf-jerks Zep and Delbert since the mid 1980s, beginning with “Probability Pipeline” which appeared in George Zebrowski’s Synergy series in 1988. It’s a series, but we treat them like episodes in a comic strip, so not much carries over from one story to the next, other than the characters. They have changed over the years, but not much.

(Above is Jeremy Bennett‘s awesome Asimov cover illustration done especially for “The Perfect Wave.”)

This summer we had the chance to hang out together for a couple weeks, and started talking about doing another. Each one of these seems a little crazier than the last, and we had a lot of fun writing it. The end result just sold this week to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (which published the previous two, “The Perfect Wave” and “Watergirl”).

It’s called “@lantis.” I will post more when I know the publication dates. (For the complete series, don’t forget “Chaos Surfari”…the only one to have a band named after it!)

I also finally finished the latest tale of Gorlen Vizenfirthe, the bard with a gargoyle hand. I wanted to do one substantial story that would round off the series so that I could put it aside, maybe collect all of them in a single volume, give those who’ve been following the series over the years a sense of closure. I might come back to it eventually, either to continue Gorlen’s story or plug some gaps in between the existing tales, but for now it seems a good time to put it aside and make room for completely new ideas. This one is called “Stillborne.” No news yet on where or when it might appear.

And finally, a very short story called “Vanishingly Rare,” emerged almost out of nowhere. Well, not exactly. I spent much of last year going through my papers, preparing to pack them up for donation to UC Riverside’s Eaton Collection. Out of that mass of notes, I pulled one self-contained fragment that had been intended as a piece of a longer work to be called (at last retitling) The Secret War of Photographs. I doubt I’ll ever do the long work at this point (the fragment was dated 11/26/90, so it’s probably past its expiration date), but I did hit on a way to turn the fragment into a complete short story. I will post when it has found a home!

 

Twisted: I Alone Am Escaped From the Floppies To Tell Thee

I sent several 5.25″ floppies to a service that scoured them for salvageable files. Most of what they found were documents of little interest or which I already possessed on paper.

This very short piece called “Twisted,” featuring Charles Dickens as an “eye in the sky” breaking news reporter, is the one exception.

I don’t remember anything about, but it seems quite self-contained and self-explanatory. The world was perfectly fine without it, but I’m happy to have rescued it.

Twisted!

 

Afterthought Overkill

[file dated 11/6-11/9/98]

Preface: This appears to be an expanded version of the “Day After Shipping” document, that was being written simultaneously. Ah, word processors, with your copypaste function making document provenance baffling. It incorporates big pieces of the other document, but is wrapped and shot through with a fair bit of new stuff. I think this was probably written to be presented at a CGDC Roadtrip—a smaller, local developer’s conference. I added “Anyway, as I was saying” sorts of things that made it sound more talky. But I don’t believe I ever got up and gave the talk. I recall I was on a panel about narrative in games, and might have spewed small chunks of it then, however.

Deep breath…

***

When I was about twelve years old, sometime around 1972, I wrote a few pages of a science fiction story about a futuristic form of entertainment. About all I remember is that it featured huge banks of lenses projecting holographic images into the middle of a round stage, and that the audience participated in the performance somehow. I recall making a big deal out of the futuristic-sounding words “three dimensional”—as if everything in 1972 were actually two dimensional, and we’d have to wait another 50 or 100 years for the third dimension to kick in. The story was supposed to be about this new entertainment industry, but since I don’t recall ever inventing any characters or conflicts or anything that might actually happen in the story, it didn’t get much beyond the planning stages. Read More

Writing For Half-Life

(File dated November 9, 1998)

PREFACE: Another file from the same disk with the Nihilanth sketches, this one, if it is to believed, written the day after we shipped Half-Life. I do believe it because the file’s creation date is indeed November 9, 1998, and I am not l33t enough to know how to fake that sort of thing. The title of this file was “CGDCTALK” but I don’t remember ever giving a talk anywhere until years later, after the success of HL2. It might have been published somewhere (perhaps near Geoff Keighley’s piece on The Last Hours of Half-Life), but if so it was probably edited, and there might be some value in the unedited braindump. If this was indeed written right as we shipped the game, then I would not be surprised if it conflicts with things I’ve said in decades since. But the guy writing this little article was there, and his memory is much better than the old guy writing this preface, so I’d be inclined to believe him over me.

***

When I started working at Valve, Half-Life was almost finished. It would be on sale for Christmas. If I was lucky, I would get to put in a few weeks of touch-up work on the story, and then get on with a far more detailed storyline for our second game. That was in July of 1997. Read More

Mathoms from the Lambda Files (c. 1998)

PREFACE: For the past few months, as part of my post-retirement purge, I’ve been organizing papers, rummaging in drawers, going through the basement, getting rid of moldy paperbacks, looking for the occasional piece of debris worth saving. At the end of the process I ended up with a stack of 3.5” floppies, so I bought an external floppy drive to see if there was anything on them worth saving. Mostly they held back-ups of old manuscripts and story fragments from before I joined Valve, but on one disk I found several documents from the summer of 1998, late in Half-Life 1’s development, when I’d been working on the game for a year.

The first one is called “Finale” and appears to be an attempt describe the whole final sequence, which makes it pretty clear that we didn’t have an ending built yet. Another interesting thing is that it ends with a third-person cut-scene view of Gordon Freeman. As I’ve stated before, we only committed completely to first person when we realized we didn’t have time and resources to do a good job with third person views. Resource constraints forced our hand and gave the game its strict first-person integrity. It was all very seat-of-the-pants. Read More

Charles L. Grant: Restless in Silence

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In September of 1974, age 14, I bought my first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from a newsstand. This was one of the first times I encountered short fiction live, as it was happening, rather than from one of the relatively stale collections stocked in the library or supplied by the Science Fiction Book Club. I discovered in that issue the latest stories by several young writers I had never heard of: Tom Reamy, Michael Bishop, and Charles L. Grant. The cover was inspired by Bishop’s dreamlike planetary adventure, “Cathadonian Odyssey”; Tom Reamy’s “Twilla” featured a striking glimpse of a genie’s enormous schlong; but it was Charlie Grant’s “The Rest Is Silence” that struck me most deeply. (Well, I confess I do still think of that genie dick from time to time.) I did a lot of my reading, back then, in the back seat of cars, with the freeways of Southern California gliding past; and I still remember how the bright hot afternoon was pierced by a moment of dark chill and stillness as I reached the end of the Grant’s story.

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From that moment forward, I sought and devoured every one of his tales, wherever I could find them. A couple dozen Grant stories appeared over the next few years, in various magazines and anthologies, and I read most of them. They were all beautifully written, lyrical, more occupied with atmosphere and character than with the shocking effects of many other writers at the time, who were trying to one-up The Exorcist in the gross-out department. His distinctive titles suggested poetry as much as genre horror: “When All the Children Call My Name,” “A Glow of Candles, A Unicorn’s Eye,” “The Dark of Legends, The Light of Lies”…

As he shifted his energy into writing novels, his output of short fiction dropped off dramatically. But Grant’s influence was already in effect on my own writing. Among my ambitions as a writer of horror and dark fantasy, I now valued the quiet chill of Charlie’s work, and always looked for opportunities to emulate it.

Grant was often compared to Ray Bradbury, perhaps because he wrote a number of stories that focused on childhood in ways reminiscent of Bradbury’s own nightmarish stories of youth; and no doubt Bradbury was a huge influence. But his work reminded me more of Rod Serling. Not the Serling of the science fiction twist, but the author of “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” who drew deeply from the hearts of haunted people. Serling and Grant were both veterans, both marked by their wartime experiences, and I wonder if this is one of the reasons I found something similar in their work. As far as I know, Charlie never wrote openly of his time in Viet Nam or used it as a setting for fiction (I would love to hear otherwise), but there is no question the stories sublimate his experience and come from a darker place perhaps than Bradbury’s Midwestern carnival idylls. Both wrote of death, but while Bradbury’s prose seems ultimately innocent and scarcely scathed, Charlie appeared to know much more of the wounded, of how one lived with scars and struggled on through injury.

In the summer of 1977, after a week at a small wooded lake in Oregon, I came home and wrote an aimless, atmospheric story about weird things in the woods. Its wordy title, “A Peaceful Summer by the Lake of Shadows,” marked it as something written under the spell of Charles L. Grant. That October, I carried the manuscript with me to the Third World Fantasy Convention in Los Angeles, and late one night, in a smoky hotel suite, I introduced myself to Mr. Grant and asked him if he might read it and give me feedback. I believe I must have written him some fan letters by this time; but even so, he had no particular reason to accept the manuscript. Still, he took it with him, and a few days later sent it back to me with some notes. I no longer have his reply, but I know it was a gracious one, even as he gently let me know that I had a long way to go.

Around this time, he announced the creation of the Shadows series. The ultimate validation for me at that time would be to know I’d written something worthy of inclusion in the volume. I almost certainly pestered him with multiple submissions, although it couldn’t have been many, since I was just heading off to college and my own writing tapered off to almost nothing for a few years. It wasn’t until he was reading for Shadows 6, with the series well-established, that I sent him a very minor short story called “Sneakers.” Charlie seemed relieved that he could finally justify publishing something of mine, and despite the very un-Grantish one-word title, you can see his influence in the way very little is seen directly, and most is told literally through whispers. I always hoped to sell him something more substantial, but I was moving away from horror at that time, in search of my own voice. (And apparently Charlie liked the story a bit more than I realized, because while looking through old boxes of books, I discovered that he’d troubled to include “Sneakers” in his Best of Shadows anthology…a fact I had forgotten until yesterday.)

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Years later, I wrote a story that in retrospect seems a much better example of the Charlie Grant influence: “Cell Call.” Charlie was certainly much on my mind around the time I wrote “Cell Call.” He was gravely ill, and his health was a topic of much concern among the community of writers and fans who admired him. I had never gotten to know him beyond our early correspondence, but I was glad to join others in writing to let him know how much his work had meant to me. I hope he received many such letters.

Despite my love of his work, I read only a few of Charlie’s novels. Around the end of the Seventies, he moved away from short fiction, commencing a prolific period of writing novels under several different names in addition to his own. This was the time when I was drifting away from genre in general, so I read fewer horror novels, including Charlie’s. But though I return again and again to read horror from every era, it is still those stories of the mid-to-late Seventies that strike me as the purest, finest examples of his work. While most of Charlie’s novels languish out of print, I note that editors continue reappraising and collecting his short stories in such volumes as Scream Quietly: The Best of Charles L. Grant (2011), edited by Stephen Jones.

Even so, “The Rest Is Silence” is still fairly hard to find. It was nominated for a Nebula Award the year it came out, but it is not in the last few collections of his best work. This strikes me as an oversight. It’s time to go digging into my boxes of old magazines. It’s time to appreciate Charles L. Grant anew, before the silence settles in completely.

Won’t you join me?

…let me just…catch…my breath…huff!

It started with scanning my old stories, posting them here on the site, a week or two basically stuck at the scanner forgetting there was an outside…then the discovery that using Abbyy FineReader on a set of old PDFs led to far cleaner OCR versions than similar software had generated a few years ago, making the task of converting my old novels to ebooks seem no longer insurmountable…and stumbling upon a method for generating my own cover art…then, just over a month ago, I uploaded the first of my old books to the Kindle store.

The process is a blur now that it’s behind me, and most of the weight of task-dread has been lifted. My books are back in print. Sort of. They are available for Kindle only at this time, and will probably remain that way for a while. Kindle offers a free app that allows them to be read on your PC, iPad, iPhone, etc., but I understand that some people simply prefer a nice bound book, and others refuse to pitch a dime into the Amazon slot.

The process of learning just the basics required to produce a reasonably professional, clean and readable Kindle ebook was exhausting and frequently frustrating, especially when it came to getting the logical Table of Contents working–and especially because I changed from PC to Mac halfway through the project. There are still some tweaks I’d like to make to the current editions, but I’m going to let them (and myself) stabilize for a bit. There are typos to track down, and some formatting I’m not very happy with. Eventually I will add more stories to 400 Boys and 50 More. Eventually I might give The 37th Mandala another light pass to touch up some prose that bugged me (the first time through, I wanted to simply reproduce the print editions without doing any revisions). But I have to think about whether it would really be worth the time and energy necessary to tackle the learning curve for Nook, Kobo, and other forms of ebook. Since I don’t read on those platforms myself, I am hesitant to offer editions that I haven’t fully checked for quality. I have several Kindle-kin devices and was able to inspect my books a few different ways, and on each one I discovered unique problems. I can’t imagine what might go wrong on devices I’ve never used.

As for print editions, my reluctance about shipping a product in a form I haven’t mastered is heightened multifold. At least I can patch an ebook if I detect a flaw. Do I really want to subject paying readers to my clumsy first attempt at print on demand? I feel like the low price for the ebooks reasonably reflects the amount of craftsmanship that went into their production, quite apart from the issue of whether the stories themselves are worth the cost. But a bound book is another matter.

Perhaps the presence of these editions will catch the attention of an actual publisher at some point, and there will be interest in bringing them out once more (or, in the case of the collection, for the first time) in a print edition. Or perhaps when I’ve recharged a bit, I’ll get motivated to tackle book design myself; although I think I’d rather use that energy to start moving forward again with some new projects. You know…ones I don’t necessarily have to self-publish.

If you have picked up any of these books, I am grateful and gratified that they have found homes again, and an audience. As aways, if you spot any typos, please use the contact form and let me know!