Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Best albums: 2010-2014

Over at Pitchfork today, our list of the top 100 albums of the first half of the decade, 2010-2014, has been posted. I got to write the entries for #60 (PJ Harvey's Let England Shake), #50 (Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Allelujah! Don't Bend Ascend!), and #28 (My Bloody Valentine's mbv). Along with the rest of Pitchfork's contributors, I submitted a ballot of my own personal top 100 albums from 2010-2014 before the master list was made. In the interest of transparency, discourse, and why-the-fuck-not, here's my ballot:

  1. Deafheaven: Sunbather
  2. Swans: The Seer
  3. Jesu: Ascension
  4. The Men: Open Your Heart
  5. Locrian: Return to Annihilation
  6. White Lung: Deep Fantasy
  7. Pallbearer: Sorrow and Extinction
  8. Iceage: New Brigade
  9. My Bloody Valentine: mbv
  10. Fucked Up: David Comes to Life
  11. Cult of Youth: Love Will Prevail
  12. Wolves in the Throne Room: Celestial Lineage
  13. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake
  14. Circle Takes the Square: Decompositions: Volume Number One
  15. Sunn O))) / Ulver: Terrestrials
  16. Prurient: Bermuda Drain
  17. Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me
  18. Liturgy: Aesthethica
  19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
  20. Chelsea Wolfe: Pain Is Beauty
  21. Ty Segall: Sleeper
  22. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
  23. Mamiffer: Mare Decendrii
  24. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
  25. Metz: Metz
  26. SubRosa: More Constant Than the Gods
  27. Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right
  28. Bill Callahan: Dream River
  29. Deafheaven: Roads to Judah
  30. Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana
  31. Merchandise: Children of Desire
  32. Loma Prieta: I.V.
  33. David Bowie: The Next Day
  34. Converge: All We Love We Leave Behind
  35. Agalloch: Marrow of the Spirit
  36. Marissa Nadler: July
  37. Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
  38. Code Orange Kids: Love is Love/Return to Dust
  39. No Age: Everything in Between
  40. Destruction Unit: Deep Trip
  41. Ceremony: Rohnert Park
  42. Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
  43. Inter Arma: Sky Burial
  44. Pianos Become the Teeth: The Lack Long After
  45. Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love
  46. YOB: Atma
  47. Lower: Seek Warmer Climes
  48. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
  49. Self Defense Family: Try Me
  50. Lycus: Tempest
  51. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
  52. Trap Them: Darker Handcraft
  53. Kinit Her: The Poet & the Blue Flower
  54. Cult Ritual: LP1
  55. Screaming Females: Ugly
  56. The Haxan Cloak: Excavation
  57. Tombs: Path of Totality
  58. Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years
  59. Krallice: Diotima
  60. Priests: Bodies and Control and Money and Power
  61. The Body: I Shall Die Here
  62. P.S. Eliot: Sadie
  63. Thursday: No Devolucion
  64. Swans: To Be Kind
  65. Tigers Jaw: Charmer
  66. Arctic Flowers: Reveries
  67. Year of the Goat: Angels’ Necropolis
  68. York Factory Complaint: Lost in the Spectacle
  69. Savages: Silence Yourself
  70. Horseback: Half Blood
  71. White Suns: Totem
  72. Total Abuse: Mutt
  73. Cloud Rat: Moksha
  74. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong
  75. Emma Ruth Rundle: Some Heavy Ocean
  76. High on Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis
  77. Have a Nice Life: The Unnatural World
  78. Amebix: Sonic Mass
  79. Wild Flag: Wild Flag
  80. Barn Owl: Ancestral Star
  81. Touche Amore: Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
  82. Neil Young / Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill
  83. Fear of Men: Loom
  84. Windhand: Soma
  85. The Saddest Landscape: You Will Not Survive
  86. Barren Harvest: Subtle Cruelties
  87. Pissed Jeans: Honeys
  88. La Dispute: Rooms of the House
  89. Taurus: No/Thing
  90. The Soft Moon: The Soft Moon
  91. Pig Destroyer: Book Burner
  92. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks
  93. Rush: Clockwork Angels
  94. Baroness: Yellow & Green
  95. Bob Mould: Silver Age
  96. Oranssi Pazuzu: Velonielu
  97. Planning For Burial: Desideratum
  98. Blood and Sun: White Storms Fall
  99. Russian Circles: Empros
  100. Ex Hex: Rips

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reading this Sunday: The Time Traveler's Almanac

I am once again pinching myself. The Time Traveler's Almanac, the definitive anthology of time travel fiction, just came out via Tor Books, and I am honored to be a part of it. My essay, "Music for Time Travelers," is one of the pieces of nonfiction commissioned for the book by its award-winning editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and I'm pretty proud of it. To commemorate the release of this massive book, its three Colorado-based contributors--Connie Willis, Carrie Vaughn, and I--will be reading from and signing copies of The Almanac this Sunday, March 23, at Denver's Broadway Book Mall at 3 p.m. The event is free, so if you're in the area, stop on by and say hi. In the meantime, check out a couple interviews I did in advance of the reading for Westword and The Denver Post. You can also read the preface of the book, written by the VanderMeers themselves, over at The A.V. Club. Meanwhile I'll be over here pinching myself some more.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Some Interesting Facts About Words

-A word can grow only so long, but the largest word ever found was in South Africa and measured 22 feet.

-A word has no arms, legs, or eyes.

-Words live where there is food, moisture, oxygen, and a favorable temperature. If they don’t have these things, they go somewhere else.

-In one acre of land, there can be more than a million words.

-Slime, which words secrete, contains nitrogen.

-Charles Darwin spent 39 years studying words more than 100 years ago.

-Words are coldblooded.

-Words have the ability to replace or replicate lost segments. This ability varies greatly depending on the amount of damage to the word and where it is cut.

-Words are not born. They hatch from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.

-Even though words don’t have eyes, they can sense light, especially at their anterior (front end). They move away from light and will become paralyzed if exposed to light for too long.

-Words are hermaphrodites. Each word has both male and female organs. Words mate by joining their clitella (swollen area near the head of a mature word) and exchanging sperm. Then each word forms an egg capsule in its clitellum.

-Words can eat their weight each day.

-If a word’s skin dries out, it will die.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On Growing Up Geek and Poor

I wrote an essay for the new issue of Clarkesworld Magazine about growing up disadvantaged and also a fan of science fiction/fantasy. It was a hard one to write. But the issue of socioeconomic diversity in SFF is one I've thought a lot about over the years, and while I'm happy to see the issue get more traction lately, I also feel it tends to get discussed in abstract terms rather than human ones. In any case, thanks in advance for checking it out.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Flipping Ahead: SF/F Books I'm Anticipating in Early '14

Did I read even half of the new books I wanted to in 2013? Not even close. But that hasn't stopped me from looking forward to some of the most promising novels (by my humble estimation) in the speculative-fiction/science-fiction/fantasy realm that are due in the first couple months of 2014. Like these:

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee (Riverhead, Jan. 7)

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh (Crown, Jan. 14)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Random House, Jan. 28)

Hang Wire by Adam Christopher (Angry Robot, Jan. 28)

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Feb. 4)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals, Feb. 4)

The Waking Engine by David Edison (Tor, Feb. 11)

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun (Hogarth, Mar. 4)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Year in the Rear-View: 2013

Every December I sit down to write one of these end-of-the-year posts, and every year I’m floored. I didn’t do half the things I swore I would this year! I did twice the things I swore I would this year! At the same time! What makes this paradox possible is the fact that I’m crazy, the world is crazy, and writing is crazy. Amid those vectors of craziness, however, shit got done. Here’s some of what went down in 2013:

-In March, I was nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Semiprozine category as part of the Clarkesworld Magazine editing team in 2012 (I served as Nonfiction Editor last year). And then, in September at Worldcon in San Antonio, WE WON—and I now have a shiny Hugo rocket sitting on top of a bookshelf next to my Lego pirate ship. I owe the win to Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, and Kate Baker at Clarkesworld, who continue to put out the best science fiction/fantasy magazine in the universe. I can’t thank them enough for having me along for the ride. During my twelve months as an editor at Clarkesworld, I launched a new monthly column, drew in a fresh crop of top-notch nonfiction contributors, and helped streamline some behind-the-scenes workflow. I’m extremely proud that I was able to play that small part in the continued excellence and success of Clarkesworld. Heck, I even squeezed in an essay for them this year about locomotives throughout the history of science fiction.

-I proposed to my girlfriend of six years, Angie, on New Year’s 2012. She said yes! In September, we got hitched. It was a small, quiet, beautiful wedding ceremony, and Angie is the best person I’ve ever known, so… that was pretty awesome.

-I wrote first drafts of two novels. The fate of them remains to be determined, but I’ve got some nibbles, and I’m currently in the midst of doing a massive revision/polishing job on one. It’s a science fiction book with a 12-year-old protagonist who lives in a peculiarly dystopian future. The revision should be done and sent off to some editors by the end of this month. So, yeah, fingers crossed.

-After four years of freelancing for The Onion’s A.V. Club (and three years of being their City Editor in Denver before that), I was promoted to Senior Writer of the site. It’s an honor I never could have imagined a dozen years ago, when I decided to quite my retail job and start writing for my local alt-weekly newspaper, let alone when I first discovered and fell in love with The Onion and The A.V. Club many years ago. Of all the stuff I wrote for A.V. this year, I'm most happy with the launch of Fear of a Punk Decade, a year-long series where I examine '90s punk, hardcore, and emo, year by year, mixing in a little memoir along the way.

-I began writing music reviews and articles for two other publications that I love: Pitchfork, the biggest independent source of music criticism in the world, and Decibel, the best heavy metal magazine in existence. Hell yes.

-I had my first byline on NPR.org, for a book review I wrote of Nick Mamatas’s excellent new novel Love Is the Law. A year and a half earlier, when my own novel Taft 2012 came out, I was interviewed for NPR’s Morning Edition—so getting to review books for them kind of brought it all full circle.

-I was asked, and eagerly accepted, an assignment to write a chapter-length essay about time-travel-themed music for The Time Traveller’s Almanac, an epic compendium of short stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Not only did the British edition of the book come out in November (the U.S. edition will be published in March via Tor Books), I got to share a table of contents with some of my heroes—including Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, and Douglas Adams (not to mention friends of mine such as Carrie Vaughn and Genevieve Valentine).

-And speaking of the great Carrie Vaughn: She and I recently co-wrote a creative essay for Jeff VanderMeers’s next anthology, The Steampunk User’s Manual. It was a blast shooting text back and forth with Carrie, and I think the piece came out beautifully. I’m not exactly certain when the book comes out, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be in 2014.

-A couple other random publication credits that I’m (still) very excited about are an essay on J. G. Ballard and post-punk for the British speculative-fiction journal Adventure Rocketship! as well as a more personal essay about being an erstwhile touring musician for the literary journal New Haven Review.

Of course, there were some things I wanted to do this year that I didn’t get around to, including finishing the first draft of my eternally-in-progress post-steampunk novel. Yes, you read that right: post-steampunk. What does that even mean, besides the fact that I clearly love the prefix “post-” too much? The book is still in progress, so I guess we’ll both see.

Actually, finishing a first draft of that book is my primary goal—call it a resolution—for 2014. Some other resolutions involve selling at least one of the nonfiction book proposals (of three!) I’m currently working on AND writing a first draft of a supernatural/science fiction book for kids that I’ve been turning around in my brain for a few weeks. And did I mention the anthology-editing plans that my friend S. J. Chambers and I are cooking up? Because there's that, too Oh, and Angie and I will be going on our honeymoon to Ireland in the spring, so that’s something to look forward to in 2014.

Along with more writing. Lots and lots of writing. Algebraically paradoxical shitloads of writing. Or something.

UPDATE: I almost forgot that one of my old bands, Red Cloud West, played a reunion show last month. It was fun as hell, especially seeing as how I (sadly) don't have time to be in a full-time band right now. Hmmm, maybe I need to add that to the 2014 to-do list. I clearly don't have enough stuff on there as is.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My MileHiCon schedule

Tomorrow I'll be headed to MileHiCon, Denver's longest-running science fiction/fantasy convention, which takes place in the Hyatt Regency Tech Center. I'll be there all weekend, but my programming will go down on Friday and Saturday. Here's the rundown of where I'll be... If you'd like to grab a cup of coffee, please say hi!

Panel: Are Writing Workshops Worth It?
With Jason Heller, Ian Tregillis, S.J. Chambers, Matthew S. Rotundo, Thea Hutcheson
3 p.m., Grand Mesa B-C

Readings by Jason Heller and David Riley
7 p.m., Wind River B

Panel: Beyond Brass And Goggles
With Jason Heller, S.J. Chambers, David Riley, Guy Anthony De Marco, Sam Knight
3 p.m., Wind River B

The greatest Table of Contents ever

I just got my contributor's copy of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's The Time Traveller's Almanac. Holy shit. I'm sharing the Table of Contents with a staggering array of writers, including heroes of mine like Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Not to mention George R. R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, Nalo Hopkinson, William Gibson, and writer-in-residence at Odyssey Writers Workshop (and all-around inspiration), Carrie Vaughn. My contribution to the book is titled "Music for Time Travellers," and it's a nine-page essay about how time travel has inspired all kinds of popular (and not-so-popular) music over the past few decades. The book comes out
on March 18, 2014 -- the week of my birthday, coincidentally. I'll consider it all the present I need. Um, no pun intended.

My first NPR byline

My first review for NPR
is up! I covered Nick Mamatas's excellent new novel, Love Is the Law, a rousing piece of punk-and-magick-spiked crime fiction set in the late '80s. But I'll let my review speak for itself.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Married a Hugo Winner (and Other Things My Wife Can Now Say)

Okay, so. I have been lax lately. Not lax about doing writerly stuff, because I've been keeping crazy busy. Lax on blogging about all the writerly stuff. And the non-writerly stuff, like getting married.

Yes, I got married. On September 14, my girlfriend of six years, Angie, tied the knot with me during a small, quiet ceremony on the roof of our apartment building. It was beautiful and she is beautiful, and our wedding is by far the most important thing to happen to my since I blogged last. Heck, maybe even my whole life and stuff.

But there's something else pretty important that happened to me this month. On September 1, during the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I won a Hugo Award.

I didn't do it alone. As the highest honor in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, the Hugo is reserved for really badass writers, artists, podcasters, and so forth. They also give them to editors, and that's what I won for -- as part of the 2012 editorial team of Clarkesworld Magazine. I won alongside publisher Neil Clarke and cohorts Sean Wallace and Kate Baker, with whom I served last year as Clarkesworld's nonfiction editor. The Hugo ceremony was amazing, although nowhere near as amazing as my wedding ceremony, I should hasten to point out.

What else? Oh, right. I started teaching a science fiction and fantasy curriculum at Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver. I am truly lucky to be able to foist my warped taste on others, and to help guide them toward their goals as SF/F writers. Fingers crossed, this curriculum will thrive, and there will be a new place for aspiring genre writers in the Denver area to convene, workshop, and grow.

Lots of other incredible stuff has been happening here in the wide world of Heller, which is neither particularly wide nor particularly much of a world. More like the narrow cell in which I pace, laptop dangling from the ceiling by some cruel torturer, my sole source of both torment and commune with the universe. But I won't bore you with all that.

I'm much too happy at the moment. Happy, and just a bit lax.