Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My AnomalyCon schedule

The schedule for this year's AnomalyCon -- Denver's big steampunk convention -- just went up. I'm on a whopping SEVEN panels, including a couple with Cory Doctorow and a few with my friends S. J. Chambers, Carrie Vaughn, and Molly Tanzer. My schedule is below (subject to eleventh-hour tweaks, of course). The con goes down March 27-19 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. See you there?

7pm: Ancient Civilizations
From the very ancient to the near modern, history has a way of romanticizing features of our past that make us want to rewrite the stories about them.
B. Cherf, J. Heller, S. West, TL Morganfield

8pm: Why Are We Still Talking About This?
No, seriously. Why are we still talking about feminism and equality? Isn't it here yet?
C. Doctorow, S. Chambers, M. Fowler, J. Heller, C. Rose

11am: Steampunk, Anarchy, and Sociopolitical Activism
Steampunk is on the rise and fans of the genre enjoy more than just the aesthetic. But what about using the core of a movement to bring about positive change in the political or socioeconomic climate?
C. Doctorow, S. Chambers, J. Heller, A. Rogers

12pm: The Science of Steampunk
Steampunk might be considered "fantasy" to some hardcore scientists today, but the science of Steampunk looks a lot like hard science when examined through a Victorian lens.
G. DeMarco, M. Tanzer, J. Heller, S. Chambers

2pm: A History of Steampunk Music
What is Steampunk music, really, and how has the genre evolved through the ages?
T. Deeney, C. Vaughn, J. Heller

6pm: Steampunk Is Taking Over the World!
When people think "Steampunk," Jules Verne and Wild Wild West often come to mind. But the last 50 years of media have been full of hints of Steampunk. It's everywhere, and there are things you need to see and read.
J. Heller, S. Chambers, M. Acevedo

9pm: Why Steampunks Love Squid
Why Verne, why H.P. Lovecraft, why all the mysterious affiliations with squid? Discuss the Steampunk attachment to certain kinds of fiction.
G. DeMarco, J. Heller, T. Kroenung

Monday, February 9, 2015

Downton Abbey characters ranked by which ’80s British bands they listen to

Edith: The Smiths

Barrow: Death in June

Tom: Billy Bragg

Lady Mary: Siouxsie and the Banshees

Rose: The Style Council

Daisy: Bow Wow Wow

Lord Grantham: Cliff Richard

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Announcing: Fantastique

For the past few months, my old friend Frank Romero (co-founder of Denver Comic Con) and I have been curating and hosting SCIENCE FRICTION, a monthly science fiction film series at Alamo Drafthouse Denver. It's done so well, we're branching off into a second monthly series: FANTASTIQUE. The new series will be all fantasy, and it will go down on the first Thursday of every month at Alamo.

We're launching Fantastique on April 2, and we had to kick things off with one of our favorite fantasy films of all time: Highlander. It's a movie that helped put urban fantasy on the map in the '80s, back when that protean, nebulous term had different connotations entirely, and it stands as an undeniable epic (just don't think too hard about the sequels, although I will admit to having a real soft spot for the underrated Highlander TV series).

Fantastique, however, won't only cover the swords-and-sorcery end of fantasy, although there will be plenty of that. It's my goal to represent fantasy cinema as inclusively and diversely as possible; for me, there's room for all kinds of fabulism, magic realism, and/or uncategorizable films that stretch our view of reality. Conan the Barbarian? Willow? Sure, we love it. But Fantastique also has room for quieter, quirkier films like Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud and Guy Maddin's Careful.

As always, Frank and I will appear in person to introduce each Fantastique film as well as offer giveaways, host special guests, and so on. In fact, we have a great guest lined up for Highlander on April 2: Carrie Vaughn, New York Times-bestselling fantasy author, as well as a huge fan of Highlander herself. She's even started spreading the rumor that she may show up to the movie cosplaying as Sean Connery's character, Ramirez, sword and all... fingers crossed! She'll also be giving away signed copies of her latest novel, Low Midnight, courtesy of Tor Books. Oh, and like Science Friction, Fantastique is sponsored by The A.V. Club, where I'm Senior Writer and sometimes-puller-of-strings.

Tickets for Highlander aren't on sale quite yet, but I will certainly and selfishly spread the news as soon as they are. And I almost forgot to mention, the kitchen at the Alamo will be offering a dinner special that night, in honor of the film's Scottish theme: haggis. Not even kidding. See you there?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"...a labyrinth of capillaries."

Farrago's Wainscot--one of the most progressive and adventurous weird-fiction publications in recent memory--is back. And I'm lucky enough to have a short story in their new issue. The story is titled "Of Homes Gone," and it imagines an impoverished world where people are no longer allowed (or no longer allow themselves?) to go inside buildings. It also has boys without noses, hints of Guy Debord, and architecture that resembles "a labyrinth of capillaries." If you dare to read it, I hope you like it.

From Motherships to Dazzle Ships: An Author-Selected Sampler of Great Science Fiction Music

Adventure Rocketship! #1
A couple years ago I asked a few writers I love to list their favorite science-fiction-themed music. The goal was to print those lists in a future issue of a new SF journal out of England, Adventure Rocketship!, that I'd begun writing for.

That second issue of AR! has yet to materialize (although I'd love to see it surface at some point), which left me holding a handful of great lists of SF music. Below are those lists, a stellar sampler of albums, songs, and insights about the intersection of speculation and sound. Thanks to all involved. Time to queue up some Parliament.

My favorite SF-themed music is the stuff that heads straight for the
 concept of alienation and then turns it all the way inside out, sothat the sparks fly--no, soar--in every direction, and reach all ofus. I don't know how to rank these, so I won't; they're inchronological order.

1. Sun Ra, Interstellar Low Ways

2. Parliament, Mothership Connection

3. OutKast, ATLiens

4. Radiohead, Kid A

5. Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid

1. UFO: Strangers in the Night
The live rendition of "Lights Out" is the best soundtrack to an SF adventure film never made. Ever. 

2. Montrose: Self-Titled Debut
In any intergalactic pit fight, someone will come to the match with "Rock the Nation" or "Space Station No. 5" as their theme song. 

3. Rush: 2112
Inspired by SF works from Isaac Asimov to Samuel R. Delaney, Neil Peart's space opera is smarter than anything Hawkind ever wrote, if not as cool. 

4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
When a new planet is born, the main theme is played. When a planet dies, the last song is played. 

5. Queen: Soundtrack to Flash Gordon
When a soundtrack is this awesome, No explanation is required.

My tracks, which purposefully don't include "The Final Countdown," though I did really want to somehow feature a Yes video:

1: "Rocket Man," Elton John
The loneliness up there, man. It's like Don DeLillo's "Human Moments in World War III" story. Also, Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. At least not yet. But I've always wondered if that line was in response to Stranger in a Strange Land.

2: "Highwayman," Highwaymen
Willie liberating jewelry, Kris doing his best Bobby McGee out on the high seas, Waylon building Hoover, Johnny Cash playing Fear Agent out there between the planets. It all confirms some suspicions I'd had all along, about time and space, life and death.

3: "Band on the Run," Wings
I've always heard this song as if sung by a spaceship crew. Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever. That could be Ripley and Bishop and them, yes? HAL and Dave. And there's even an M-class planet in there, a 'desert world.' This song's pure Silent Running, pure Sunshine. And then of course they fall into that sunshine.

4: "Life on Mars?" David Bowie
Not the usual spidery pick from his catalog, I know. But how can that girl be watching that movie? And how can this 'Bowie' have written it? The story of the song wraps around on itself in a very Calvino way, and then's out the door only two verses in, so you don't even have time to question what just happened. Real aliens are clever like that.

5: "The Voice," Moody Blues, from Long Distance Traveler
I title I keep trying to use, for science fiction. You know how The Dark Side of the Moon's supposed to go with The Wizard of Oz? I've always thought Long Distance Traveler was meant as accompaniment for Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker. Just listen to that first distant, obviously galactic sound that opens up "The Voice." It's haunting, it's bigger than any of us. Your mind has no choice but to fold open.

First runner-up: "Everything You Know Is Wrong," Weird Al. Obviously. 

Also, I vote Ace Frehley as the most science fiction of any guitar player ever, even counting interplanetery history and the Dominion.

Powers by Andy Partridge should be on the list. His eerie soundscape tribute album to sci-fi master artist Richard M. Powers is great.

Top 5 SF albums:

Really, nothing more need be said.

Queensryche--Operation: Mindcrime
Dystopia, mind control, assassination. Doesn't get much more SF than that.

King Crimson--In the Court of the Crimson King
My go-to psychedelia.

An underrated work. "The Gates of Delirium" is suitably epic.

Iron Maiden--Somewhere in Time
Another underrated album. One of the band's best. And hey, "Stranger in a Strange Land."

Top 5 SF singles:

Billy Thorpe, "Children of the Sun"
A one-hit wonder, but what a hit.

Blue Oyster Cult, "Veteran of the Psychic Wars"
A nightmare vision of the future, done without a hint of irony.

Rush, "The Body Electric"
Featuring one of my favorite Rush lyrics ever: "Bytes break into bits."

Zager and Evans, "In the Year 2525"
Cheesy? Sure. But never let it be said that rock 'n' roll doesn't take the long view.

Pink Floyd, "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
No idea what the song's about, but the title demands to be included here.

The ELO half of the soundtrack to Xanadu.

Deltron 3030: Deltron 3030
This record is to science fiction what Enter the Wu-Tang was for kung fu. A dense, mythology-heavy concept record with more sfnal ideas than you can shake a blaster at, it's also a damn good listen from start to finish.

David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
I mean, c'mon.

Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Y'all can keep your Zeppelin-y ruminations on the Shire; I'll take the crushing, post-apocalyptic tunes of classic Sabbath any day.

Parliament: Mothership Connection
Like Douglas Adams, Parliament punctures the myth of the self-serious science fiction nerd with one of the ass-shakin'est records of all time.

Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!
De-evolution never sounded so good.

1) "Replicas" by Gary Numan and Tubeway Army
Full of robot friends ("Are Friends Electric?") and night clubs were humans are tortured for the entertainment of robots ("Down in the Park"), this album to me fully encapsulates the cyberpunk verve of the early 80s.

2) "Visage" by Visage
Glitz and glam new wave with a decidedly futuristic edge, this was the sound we imagined would be playing in the night clubs of the 21st century, back when 2000 seemed so far away. The video for the title track "Visage" might have been a cut scene from Blade Runner. And I could see their most popular hit, "Fade to Grey", as the theme song to Chris Marker's brilliant French time-travel film La Jetée.

3) "Flaunt It" and "Dress for Excess" by Sigue Sigue Sputnik
I include both albums here because it's hard for me to separate them. SSS mocked the corporate excess and over-consumption that showed its moisturized face in the early 80s. SSS went so far as to put ads for hair products (Loreal) and fashion rags (ID Magazine) and others between each song. "Love Missile F1-11" made an appearance in the opening act of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the upbeat track turns Cold War paranoia into one long sexual metaphor.  Layering their music with samples from Blade Runner, Scarface, Dirty Harry, and Japanese advertisements, it's easy to enter the future techno-pop world that Sigue Sigue Sputnik imagined for us. Favorite tracks are "21-st Century Boy," "Teenage Thunder," "Rio Rocks," and "M.A.D." The albums are worth it just for their cover art.

4) "Dazzle Ships" by OMD
Known for their pop songs like "If You Leave," "Dazzle Ships" was a sharp departure from their previous oeuvre. "Genetic Engineering" warns about the dangers of experimenting with human DNA and has my favorite use of a Speak-and-Spell (an 80s toy) which creepily chants in a Stephen-Hawking-esque voice, "Babies, mother, hospital, scissors. Creature, judgment, butcher, Engineer." "Dazzle Ships Pts. 1-3" might be the sound of a spaceship docking gone wrong, while "Time Zones" layers recordings of individuals from around the world announcing the time. With tracks called "The Romance of the Telescope," "Radio Waves," and "Telegraph" this album veers sharply toward the science-fictional landscape and safely lands on its own unique planet.

5) Blade Runner Soundtrack by Vangelis
Blade Runner, that iconic film that has influenced everything from fashion to architecture, would only be half a film if not for the surreal aural landscape painted by Vangelis. Due to rights issues, the original film score wasn't available for public release until 1994, and so for years we had to listen to the cheap methadone substitute of an orchestral version. Who can forget the atmospheric sounds of "Main Titles" when the film opens to Los Angeles' smog-choked streets? And the haunting saxophone of the "Love Theme" is forever seared into my mind as the sound of future city blues.  With "Memories of Green" we can almost hear Rachael's tears as she realizes she's a replicant. "Tales of the Future" takes us down into Animoid Row, where artificial animals are sold on thronging streets.  And the "End Titles" might be the orchestral accompaniment to Philip K. Dick's dreams. May you rest in peace, fair prophet!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Vermillion Revisited

In this month's issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, I took a look back at Vermillion: the doomed, erratically brilliant DC/Helix comic book written by the late Lucius Shepard. Vermillion ran for 12 issues in 1996 and '97 before being unceremoniously canceled along with most of the Helix line, noble experiment that it was.

I love Shepard's work -- I reviewed his posthumous novel Beautiful Blood, the culmination of his masterful Dragon Griaule cycle, last year for NPR -- and it was an honor to dwell in his abandoned city-universe for a little while longer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Morrissey Solo Albums: Ranked

For no real reason other than the fact that I'm trying to find reasons not to do actual work to today, I thought I'd rank all of Morrissey's solo albums. A little background: Morrissey's debut solo album, Viva Hate, came out in 1988 (on my 16th birthday, no less!), and as huge Smiths fan I bought it immediately. I've been faithfully buying his solo albums, for better or worse, ever since. I still spend SO MUCH FUCKING TIME listening to these albums, far more time than I spend listening to most other music, new or old. I have something wrong with me.

Please note: For the sake of simplicity I'm excluding most of Morrissey's many compilation albums, save for Bona Drag, which stands alone well enough despite its overlap with Viva Hate (and also because we all had no idea back then that Morrissey was going to turn into such on obsessive self-cannibalizer, discography-wise). I'm also leaving out the live album Beethoven's Deaf, despite how awesome it is. Oh, and in all cases, I'm using the most recent reissue of said album--especially in the case of my #1 pick, which particularly benefits from its reissue bonus tracks. And yes, this is all 100% subjective. Do I really even need to say that?

1. Southpaw Grammar (1995)

2. Vauxhall and I (1994)

3. Your Arsenal (1992)

4. Bona Drag (1990)

5. Viva Hate (1988)

6. You Are the Quarry (2004)

7. Maladjusted (1997)

8. Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)

9. Years of Refusal (2009)

10. Kill Uncle (1991)

11. World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014)

Now go listen to Southpaw Grammar five hundred times in a row and try to tell me I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Year in Stuff

Seeing as how 2014 is being put to bed, I find myself prone to the same backward-glancing rumination as your average navel-gazing creative type. Turns out, 2014 was a more happening year than it seemed to me at first. And not just because I went on an Irish honeymoon with my lovely wife in May, which was amazing. Here are a few things I've been up to over the past few months:

-A chapter on time-travel music that I wrote appeared in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's latest anthology, The Time Traveler's Almanac (Tor Books). I also did a reading/signing with my table-of-contents-mates Carrie Vaughn and Connie Willis, which was beyond an honor.

-I wrote a Goosebumps book for Scholastic that will tie into the Goosebumps movie next year.

-In addition to reviewing a bunch of books for NPR.org, I wrote my first music article for them: a piece about the Bedhead box set.

-I wrote a ton of stuff for Pitchfork, including dozens of music reviews and longer pieces on John Fahey, Sun Ra, Steve Albini, and Peter Bebergal's great new book, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.

-Over at The A.V. Club, I finished my year-long series on '90s punk, Fear Of A Punk Decade, as well as lots of other assorted malarkey, including pieces on Dragonlance, The Black Hole, Lev Grossman, and China Mieville.

-I started writing for Entertainment Weekly, and there I rambled on about everything from Margaret Atwood to Marianne Faithfull, and from steampunk to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

-My alma mater, Clarkesworld Magazine, ran a couple essays of mine, including one I'm really proud of: a piece about growing up geek and poor.

-I launched a monthly science-fiction film series at Alamo Drafthouse Denver called Science Friction, which I curate and host along with my old friend Frank Romero, cofounder of Denver Comic Con. Fantasy author Jesse Bullington filled in as my cohost a few times, and those two guys are the best.

-I wrote a couple short stories that will be published in 2015: "Of Homes Gone," a surreal science-fiction tale, for the relaunch of Farrago's Wainscot, and "The Projectionist," a dreamy horror story for Nightmares Unhinged, an anthology from Hex Publishers.

-I finished an extensive revision of the first draft of my middle-grade science-fiction novel, Lullaby Underground, and got some great interest and feedback from a certain editor who shall remain nameless, but who rocks. I'm giving it one more rewrite, and from there, fingers crossed.

-I lined up a few awesome things for 2015, including editing an anthology with the great S. J. Chambers, co-author with Jeff VanderMeer of The Steampunk Bible; contributing to another excellent book by an editor/author already mentioned; and being part of a novel-writing workshop in the summer of '15 with a handful of amazing writers, which will take place in the house of a Very Famous Author (tease, tease).

-I got a new tattoo: Bubo from Clash Of The Titans.

-For the 42nd year in a row, I didn't kill anyone.

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