Monday, June 29, 2015

Readercon bound

I'll be attending Readercon in Burlington, Massachusetts, from July 9-12! This is my second time at Readercon, and the first time I'll be on programming (not counting the last-minute Sybil's Garage reading I participated in back in '09, thanks to my magnanimous editor Matthew Kressel).

This year I'll be on one panel, and it's on Friday, July 10 at 1 p.m., and the topic is: "It's Actually About Ethics: Reviewing the Work of Colleagues and Friends." My fellow panelists will include Jonathan Crowe, Elizabeth Hand, Kathryn Smith Morrow, and Liza Groen Trombi.

I'll be out and about at the convention all weekend, so if you'd like to chat about anything and everything (including any upcoming books you may have on the horizon), please do say hi. But just to let you know: I'm an introvert and a morning person, so if I seem distracted and/or overwhelmed (especially after dinnertime), that's why. Thanks for understanding.

See you there!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Mile High Soul Club


Human beings frighten and confuse me, so I don't go out much these days. But I'm happy to make an exception tonight for MILE HIGH SOUL CLUB. I'll be the guest DJ tonight, and I'll be bringing my box of soul 45s, and I'll be playing them while I watch you dance. Does that sound creepy? Because it kind of is. Most of human existence is sort of sickeningly absurd, when you think about it. Thankfully there's soul music to help distract us from our own frightening, confusing selves. FUCKING PARTY! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Materialized

Some new flash fiction of mine, you know, just for the hell of it.



Materialized
By Jason Heller


Esther woke up one morning to find herself in bed with a spaceship.
The metal of the capsule was cool against her skin. It bisected her bedroom, curving down from the ceiling, neatly cutting through her sheets and mattress. It hadn’t landed there, she concluded. That would have crushed the entire house. It must have just appeared there.
What was the word she was looking for? Materialized. Yes. That was it.
At first she didn’t know it was a spaceship. It could have been anything, really. Anything that size and shape made of metal. But she quickly concluded that there were no other things that size and shape made of metal, so a spaceship it must be.
What was that Sherlock Holmes line that’s always overused on bad TV shows? “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.” Yes. That was it.
Then she remembered she didn’t live in a house at all. She lived on a spaceship. Therefore, apparently, a spaceship had crashed into her spaceship. That definitely seemed improbable, so she decided that it was true.
Her spaceship had been gone a long time. The scientists back on Earth had been worried. Every other time they’d launched a spaceship from their dying planet, the crew had gone insane as soon as it had lost sight of Earth. That wasn’t very far out. Just beyond the Solar System. Not anywhere near as far as a spaceship had to go in order to reach a habitable planet. After decades, as the Earth dissolved into a puddle of toxic jelly around their ankles, scientists had solved all the problems of space travel: all the propulsion problems and antigravity problems and even Einstein problems. But they’d couldn’t figure out why people misplaced their minds the moment Earth become invisible to the naked eye.
Esther stroked the chrome of the spaceship’s hull, the little spaceship, and let its metallic skin thrum against her fingertips. She saw her face reflected in it. She watched her breath condense on it. She sang to it.
What was that song her grandfather used to sing to her, when she was a little girl and couldn’t get to sleep? Something very old, from when he was a little boy. “It’s the thought of a ride that makes my eyes wide, I’m caught up / I’m trying to make all of my dreams materialize.” Jazy-Z. Yes. That was it.
Materialize. She’d always loved that word. It’s when something that isn’t made of material suddenly becomes material. Or is it when something that is material becomes a different kind of material? The kind that we can see? If Esther’s spaceship turned around and sped back the way it came, would the Earth materialize as soon as she saw it again? Is it there now?
She remembered what it was like yesterday, or last week, or maybe a minute ago. The moment she couldn’t see Earth anymore. She might have been with her crewmates on the ship. She might not have any crewmates. Maybe she used to have them, but she didn’t anymore. It wasn’t important. What was important was the fact that she felt like she was falling sideways, or maybe slightly upward at some oblique angle, or maybe spiraling inward, toward herself, like a collapsing star.
Her bed began to cool. She loved a cool mattress. Grandfather had always left the window open in her bedroom after singing her a Jay Z song, so that she could look up and see the stars. Stars that might have been planets. From that distance, who could tell the difference?
Next to her, the spaceship was alive now. Not moving, but humming with life, like the root of a tree. The root of a tree that had come unhooked from its trunk. It was burrowing through the soil, blindly like a worm, looking for the tree that had given it birth. For the tree that had forsaken it. For the tree it could no longer see.
Esther woke up one morning to find herself in a spaceship with a bed. The sheets of the bed were cool against her skin. It bisected her bedroom, curving down from the ceiling, neatly cutting through the steel and chrome. It hadn’t landed there, she concluded. That would have crushed the entire ship. It must have just appeared there.
What was the word she was looking for? Materialized. Yes. That was it.

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?

FRIDAY 3/27
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

SATURDAY 3/28
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:

Rush--2112
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.

Yes--Relayer
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.