Archive for August, 2009

Disney just bought Marvel, and I think the sky is in no danger of falling

Monday, August 31st, 2009

This has nothing to do with me, but I’m kind of a superhero geek so I can’t help but talk about it. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it matter? I have to think that, overall, this will be a very good thing for Marvel.

You have to remember that the image of Disney as an evil, money-grubbing corporation is based almost entirely on Michael Eisner, the accountant who became the boss and immediately started slashing quality and attacking competitors in an attempt to raise profits at the expense of all else. They stopped making good cartoons and started doing straight-to-video sequels, because it was a smaller investment of time and money and provided almost as much profit. What it did not provide was a positive brand identity–Disney stopped being a fabled creator of magic and wonder, and became an entertainment factory that churned out bland, lowest-common-denominator pulp. If that Disney had bought Marvel I’d be terrified, but that Disney is gone, and the new Disney is trying very hard to recapture it’s old image. Eisner got the boot, and better leaders took over. John Lasseter swept into the animation studio like an avenging angel and got them back on track. Their deals and acquisitions and products of the last few years have shown that they’re slowly getting back on track, focusing on quality as a long term brand identity. Give it a few more years, a few major releases, and I bet we’ll get right back to the Disney of old, the Disney I grew up with, where your first thought was “if it’s Disney, it must be good.” It could take a long time, but at least they’re trying, and that’s good news.

For Marvel, this means a lot of great opportunities. Getting into the theme parks and the various Disney channels will be great advertising, though I’m not sure they need the help in the US. Internationally, on the other hand, Disney is huge and Marvel is not, and the main benefit of this deal will be to spread Marvel characters and franchises into more markets than they ever could have done on their own. If Disney is smart, they’ll leave Marvel with complete artistic independence and let them continue doing what they’ve been doing for years–this is, after all, the most successful era Marvel has ever gone through, and Disney would be stupid to buy them with the intention of changing that. I suspect that, in the US, we might not see any change at all; Marvel will stay on the same track as before, and Disney will use it’s international muscle to expand that track into other countries. At least that’s my hope.

Look at it this way: Disney has had limited Star Wars licensing for years, and they’ve arguably used it better than Lucas has. I really think that this is an opportunity for Marvel and Disney to help each other instead of change and ruin each other.

Or maybe I just really want The Incredibles licensed for Heroclix.

Random Updates

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

I’m in the middle of edits and rewrites on Book 3, which is not only old news, it’s stuff I can’t talk about, which explains why I’ve been so silent lately. What edits am I doing? I’m making John scarier, mostly, because the first draft focused on other things and left John a little too sunny (though because this is John we’re talking about, he was still pretty creepy, just not enough). It’s very interesting, after starting an all-new project like Strawberry Fields, to go back to an old one and see how different it is–and how much better it is. Strawberry Fields is halfway through a first draft, while Book 3 is on it’s third major revision after a writing group and a professional editor. I have to remind myself that it’s better because it’s more polished, not because I suck and I’m a horrible writer (though that is, naturally, the first thing that comes to mind).

I was really hoping to get Strawberry Fields finished before WorldCon, and I ran out of time, which is too bad because talking to all of those brilliant authors and editors and fans gave me so many ideas for new books, and now I’m itching to drop everything and start something new. Brandon and Howard aren’t helping, either, because the three of us came up with a completely insane, completely awesome joint project that, while it is too secret for me to tell you about, has completely captured my imagination. I had to go back through Strawberry Fields and remind myself that, yes, it’s awesome too, and I’m also excited about that, and I need to finish it.

In other news, the I Am Not a Serial Killer comes out in German this week; the official release date is September 23, but it’s apparently available much earlier than that. Piper, my German publisher, is really pushing the book, and the pre-orders were high enough that they had to increase the print run just to keep up, so that’s fantastic news. I’ve been doing interviews for German magazines all week, and they’re translating some of my earlier blog posts into German for use on their site. I’m really excited about what they’re doing, and I can’t wait to see the reader response.

Beyond that? I have covers for the UK and German editions of Book 2, Mr. Monster, both coming in March of 2010, but I’m going to hold off and show them to you when we get a little closer to launch. And of course the US edition will finally arrive in stores next April, and Tor is really getting behind it and pushing pretty hard. There will be a tour for signings and readings, so watch for details.

That’s all I have for today: rumors and conjecture. I hope it’s enough to sate you. Now it’s time for me to get back to Book 3, where John does…oh yeah. It’s a secret. Whoo, almost flubbed that one.

By the Way, I Still Write Books

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

All of my recent posts have been about other stuff, but yes, I’m still a writer, and yes, I’m working on a book right now. I’m currently in the middle of a rewrite of Book 3, jazzing up the beginning to make John properly disturbing. I told my wife my plan and she said “agh, John can’t do that, I like him,” so I knew I’d found a winner.

Also of note, I just got a Tor winter catalog, and my book is in it! Yay! Apparently April is part of Winter in the publishing world. The write-up is great, and they included the two awesome quotes from F. Paul Wilson and Brandon Sanderson, but the best part is the top corner, where a little icon says “A Winter 2010 Tor Select Title.” I don’t know precisely what that entails, but out of 50 or 60 titles there’s only one other book that has it (The Point Man, by Steve Englehart), so I take it as an awesome sign of awesomeness. Also of note, the book is being released by Tor, not the Forge imprint; we weren’t certain until recently which way they’d decide to go.

Silent Movies: Get Ready for Some Rambling

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Every day in my office, I treat myself to a TV show at lunch—usually The Daily Show on Hulu, but also frequently The A-Team, or Dead Like Me, or Cowboy Bebop, and so on. Last Friday I splurged and gave myself 70 minutes instead of 40 because I wanted to watch The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German film generally considered to be the first horror movie ever made. It was awesome.

Despite being ancient and silent and German, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is pretty well known; if you haven’t seen any direct clips of it, you may have at least seen one of its myriad imitations and homages. Even Rob Zombie recreated it, surprisingly faithfully, in his video for Living Dead Girl (warning: link contains high amounts of awesome). The movie is most famous for its sets, which were deliberately, intensely fake, full of jagged edges and pointed corners and unsettling angles. The town hall is a narrow canyon where clerks perch imperiously on chairs taller than a man; the carnival is a mad labyrinth of spikes and slopes and chaos; the countryside is mountainous and deadly, with serrated grass that reach toward the characters like hungry daggers. One of the most striking scenes takes place in a madhouse, where a cell door the size of a wall swings slowly closed, framing the hallway (and the main character) in a dizzying swirl of darkness and colorless paint. This visual style is based firmly in German Expressionism, and creates a look and feel that perfectly matches the dark, disturbing story.

The plot is fairly simple, as silent movie plots usually were. A “doctor” comes to town with a freak to display at the carnival: a somnambulist named Cesare, who has spent his entire life asleep since birth, but who can be stirred to a kind of waking dream state in which he can allegedly tell the future. Almost as soon as he arrives, however, people start dying, killed in their beds at night. This clip includes one of the most famous sequences, in which the hero sneaks out to spy on the doctor and Cesare and watches them suspiciously for hours, while at the same time, impossibly, Cesare is on the other side of town sneaking into the heroine’s bedroom. The chase that follows, and the revelations about Cesare and the doctor, are a marvel of visual storytelling.

There are more surprises, and some incredibly wonderful shots and scenes (my favorite makes use of the title animations in a delightfully twisted way), but I won’t spoil any of them here. The entire movie is currently available for free streaming on Netflix, and I encourage you to watch it, but be forewarned that the early scenes are fairly slow for modern sensibilities, and the story doesn’t really pick up until about twenty minutes in.

What really struck me watching the movie, however, and the reason I wanted to write this blog post, was the nature of it as a silent movie, and the realization that movie storytelling—from the 1920s right up through today—doesn’t really require nearly as much dialogue as we think. The clip I linked to above is almost ten minutes long, and contains only a scattered handful of words, and yet we can follow the story perfectly. Each scene has one or two major points that need to come across, and once we get those (“Cesare attacked me!” “It couldn’t have been Cesare, I was watching him all night!”) everything else can be communicated perfectly through the action. We don’t need the hero to tell us he’s going to sneak out and observe Caligari, because we see him doing it and we know what’s going on. We don’t need to hear the hero talking to the police about the murder because we already know exactly what he’s saying (“Something weird is going on with Dr. Caligari and Cesare, and we need to get over there right now and figure it out” or something very similar). A silent movie gives us just enough dialogue to get us started, and then trusts us to pay attention and follow along and fill in the blanks.

Compare this to any modern action or horror movie; for the sake of argument, let’s say Transformers. We get a scene where the kid gives a report in class, filled with dialogue, but all we really need to know could fit on a single title card: “My great grandfather was an arctic explorer. I’m selling his antiques so I can buy a car.” Everything else in the scene—the jock making fun of him, the teacher growing impatient, the way the hero keeps looking at the cute girl—is all there in the visuals, and the extra dialogue is almost numbingly redundant: “I’m trying to sell all this stuff. See? Still trying to sell it. Selling stuff.” “I am teasing you. Ha ha!” “He is teasing me.” “I am teasing you!” The scene communicates its one or two major points, and then re-communicates them, and then drives them home a little more, and it’s completely unnecessary. The action scenes are arguably worse, punctuated with the same kind of pointless narration that plagues most action movies: “Shoot it!” “It’s going to blow!” “I’m not leaving you!” With just one or two title cards per scene you could watch the entire movie with the sound off. If I had the time and the tools I’d make a silent version of Transformers, with title cards and everything, just to show how well it would work.

Obviously there are plenty of movies that wouldn’t work without sound; I’d hate to watch a Woody Allen with the dialogue turned off, for example, and a silent Pride and Prejudice would feel hollow without the clever wordplay. But for the most part, as silly as it sounds, I think the soundtrack in most movies is just thrown in so we have something to listen to while we watch the images. It doesn’t add anything, it just holds our attention.

So I started by talking about how awesome this silent movie was, and then ended by kind of using “it could be a silent movie” as an insult, which wasn’t really my point. I think if you turned off the sound in Transformers, for example, you’d find that despite being able to follow the story it would be far more boring than something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—they use the same visual language of film, but Caligari uses it so much better. I think we have a tendency to use sound effects and dialogue as a crutch, thrown in to make things easy for both the audience and the creator; they allow us to tell the audience what’s happening when really we would almost always be better served by showing.

Media Dan Has Consumed: Warbreaker and Life of Pi

Friday, August 14th, 2009

That’s a weird combination of books, I know, but that’s what I took to read on my WorldCon trip.

Of the two, Warbreaker was by far my favorite; in fact, I’d go so far as to say that Warbreaker is one of the best fantasies I’ve read period. Brandon Sanderson has written bigger, more epic stories in the past (notably his Mistborn series, which has the best climax of any book series, hands down), but he has never written them as well as Warbreaker; his mastery as a writer and storyteller is growing with every book.

Warbreaker is a remarkably sunny fantasy, despite dealing with some very heady themes: sex, death, betrayal, religion, heresy, slavery, necromancy, and even genocide. The basic premise is this: the tropical kingdom of Hallandren is ruled by resurrected immortals, and draws immense magical power from both color and from the commercial traffic of “Breath,” each person’s spark of life. Years ago, a group of religious fundamentalists (including the royal family) fled this hedonistic kingdom to live in the cold, drab mountain kingdom of Idris. The king of Idris has promised his eldest daughter to the Hallandrens to help keep the peace between them, but war seems inevitable, and there are far more factions than you expect, each trying to manipulate this tense political climate in their favor.

Warbreaker exemplifies both of Sanderson’s main literary trademarks: “scientific” magic systems, and the meanings of godhood. The magic is based, as I said before, on both color and Breath, both being used as a sort of fuel for magical effects, which can manifest in two ways. First is Breath itself: merely by holding certain quantities of it, you become attuned to higher levels of awareness; you can discern minute differences in color and sound, your senses are heightened, and you can sense the presence of other people more easily. The second effect comes in spending or investing Breath to animate objects, including everything from clothing to dolls to dead bodies. One of Sanderson’s greatest skills, seen in full force in Warbreaker, is taking these kind of simple, solid magical rules and coming up with endless variations for how they can be used and abused. His “wizards” are not just fireball-slinging artillerists but crafty, clever rogues who think on their feet and use their power in brilliant, unexpected ways. As for the theme of godhood, it is more direct here than in any of his other books; one of the main characters is a Returned god who goes through the same religious questions typically faced by mortals, made all the more interesting by the fact that the god he doesn’t believe in is himself.

Despite the massive scope (one of the characters is the God King, for goodness sake), the story is not as epic as you’d expect. It still very satisfying, though, and as I said in the beginning the sheer storytelling talent on display is a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

My reaction to Life of Pi is a more extreme version of the same thing: the writing craft is fantastic and the story is riveting, but while the ending of Warbreaker is simply calmer than expected, the ending of Life of Pi is a downright disappointment. As the title suggests, it is the life story of a boy named Pi, short for Piscine Molitor Patel. Pi lives in India, where his family runs a zoo, and part one of the book shows us the origins of Pi’s two fascinations: religion and zoology. These two topics seem to have guided his life since the beginning, and he finds a surprising number of parallels between them; one of the key sequences is a trip through the zoo where he meets his schoolteacher, Mr. Kumar, and his Islamic mentor, also named Mr. Kumar. The two men talk to him, and to each other, about the animals in zoo, and author Yann Martel doesn’t bother to tell you which Mr. Kumar is making which comment. The message is clear and surprisingly effective: in Pi’s mind there is no real difference between religion and zoology, for they are both the study of life, and how it can be guided and loved and improved.

Another remarkable sequence shows how Pi becomes a devout member of not one but three religions. While he was born a Hindu, and relates his love for Hinduism in remarkably touching vignettes, he grows to have a similar love for both the clean simplicity of Islam and the relentless humanness of Christianity. Despite the apparent contradictions, he becomes more fervent in his triple worship than most people are in just one religion.

Just as part one shows how Pi learns about religion and zoology, part two shows how he is put into a horrible situation and must use both of those disciplines to stay alive. I hesitate to explain what that situation is, but the book’s marketing–and even the cover–make every possible effort to spill the beans, so I’ll go along with it: his family moves some of the animals to Canada to start a new zoo, and halfway there the boat sinks and Pi becomes stranded on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. This sequence on the lifeboat, which makes up the majority of the book, is endlessly fascinating in the ways Pi survives not only the ocean and the weather but also the tiger, who becomes in turn his greatest enemy and his best friend; both a constant threat and the one thing that keeps him going. The parallels between religion and zoology become more subtle and more profound, and in many ways Martel addresses all the same themes Sanderson does: he teaches us the rules of “magic” (how to control a giant tiger), then lets his protagonist use those rules cleverly to stay alive, all the while showing Pi as both servant and god in his relationship with the tiger.

Then, just as Life of Pi starts winding up for the final pitch, and all the themes and characters are perfectly in place for a magnificent finale, it all falls apart. The characters finally arrive on land, but the story remains adrift; in the end there are very few revelations, and the ones we get left me scratching my head and wondering if that was really all there was. Part of this comes from the frame-like structure of the book, which reveals some of the final points much earlier than you’d expect and makes you feel, by the time you see them again, like you deserve more. That said, as much as I disliked part three, parts one and two are well worth it, and I recommend the book almost in spite of itself.

Dan’s Back

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

…hurts?

I have returned from my long sojourn to the east, and lo, it was awesome. New York was fantastic, and WorldCon in Montreal was great, and I never want to walk anywhere again for the rest of my life. We walked a lot on this trip. But since everywhere we walked was awesome, it was worth it.

Saturday, August 1: Grandma took the kids, and Dawn and I spent the day rejoicing in our freedom. Barely three days later we were sadly bemoaning how much we missed them.

Sunday, August 2: Flight to New York takes all day, thanks to increasingly silly airline regulations. The SLC airport has the most efficient security protocols I have ever seen–do they really still need me there three hours early? We landed at JFK, took a taxi ride on Hell’s Rollercoaster, and wandered around in Midtown Manhattan taking in the sights until we got hungry. Dinner: One of the 500 pizza places labeled Famous Original Ray’s.

Monday, August 3: We walked to the Flatiron Building and met everyone at Tor, all of whom are awesome and are very excited about “I Am Not a Serial Killer.” We had lunch with my editor, his in-house contact, the Director of Publicity, and the Director of Marketing, and talked about our plans for the book launch; it should be very exciting. They loved the buttons, so I’m going to print some more and ship them over so they can send them to reviewers and booksellers and such. We spent the afternoon with Emma Hawkes, this year’s Down Under Fan Fund winner, and with my editor Moshe, who showed all three of us all over lower Manhattan. It was the best tour of the city we could possibly have asked for; he knows literally everything there is to know about everything you ask him. Dinner was City Crab with Writing Excuses fan Eliyanna and her wife Danielle; we ate incredible oysters and perhaps the best fish I’ve ever had. Afterward we took the Roosevelt Island tram in an attempt to see the Renwick ruins, but it was getting super late so we just wandered around a bit and caught the subway back to Manhattan. A few pictures of the Rockefeller Center (at which we did not, to my heart’s great sadness, see Tina Fey), and we were done for the day.

Tuesday, August 4: Arguably the nicest guy we met in all of Manhattan was Unsal Yildirim, owner of the Central Park Bicycle Shop, who rented us some bikes for the morning. It turns out Central Park is practically a National Forest; in two hours we barely had time to ride around the periphery, let alone stop and take a million pictures (though we did that too). We had just enough time to get ripped off by a hot dog cart guy before arriving at the Met and having just enough time to not really see even half of the exhibits. Dawn is a huge Monet junkie, so that was her favorite part; I’m more of a modernist, but the gift shop didn’t seem to have a print of my favorite piece. Then we raced to Katz’s Deli for dinner (real pickles, a Knish to split, a Reuben made with their own homemade Corned Beef, and a New York Egg Cream, which instantly became my new favorite drink. Dawn had motzah ball soup and pastrami); we rushed out and ran to the subway and barely made it to the theater in time for “In the Heights,” an awesome musical that I recommend wholeheartedly to everyone who has the chance to see it. Does it sound like we spent the whole day running? Because we did. Next time we visit New York we’re planning at least one extra day, if not more, because there is simply too much to see and do.

Wednesday, August 5: A short walk and a fond farewell to Broadway, and then we raced off to the airport where, once again, we got through security in about three seconds and then sat on our butts for three hours. It gave me time to finish Warbreaker, though, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. The plane to Montreal was one of the little city-bus-sized ones, and it made Dawn so airsick she was dizzy for the next four days. We made it to WorldCon just late enough to miss registration, so we spent the evening exploring the city and trying poutine (verdict: awesome).

Thursday, August 6: My first panel was really more of a writing workshop, which was really more of a presentation by Derek Kunsken–and it ws a completely fascinating presentation. His premise was an Orson Scott Card quote saying that, when you think of a story element, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a cliche, so you should immediately throw it out and think of another one, then throw it out and think of yet another; repeat as necessary. We did this as a group exercise, and it was amazing how much more interesting and original our stories got as we kept digging deeper. This panel went long, so I was late to my next one, which I was technically moderating, but Cheryl Morgan stepped up to the plate and did a fantastic job; she should have been moderator to begin with. It was a panel about how the mainstream media perceives fandom, and what we as fans can do to get our real story told. In the long term it doesn’t necessarily matter, because tomorrow’s leaders are growing up on today’s movies and video games and will end up as fans themselves, but in the short term we have to go out of our way and make our voices heard–and we have to make sure our voices are telling interesting stories that the mainstream media will want to hear. Dinner: a fancy French restaurant with Carsten, my German editor. My book launches in Germany at the end of this month, and they’re doing some incredible things to promote it. I gave him a bag of German buttons, and we talked about our plans for hours.

Friday, August 7: I had my two best panels today, starting with the zombie panel I talked about earlier. It was awesome, and gave me some great ideas I’m still trying to wrestle into a coherent story. After that was our Writing Excuses panel, which was very well-attended, but due to a communication error two of our guests weren’t able to make it. Luckily for us, our third guest was Mary Robinette Kowal, last year’s Campbell winner, who was awesome. You’ll have to wait a few weeks to hear them, but the episodes we recorded with her were some of our very best. Two were audience Q&A, and one was about puppets. Seriously. You’re laughing now, but in my humble opinion it’s one of our best episodes ever. Dinner = awesome chinese food with Eric James Stone and our friend Heidi.

Saturday, August 8: My Saturday panel was “Exploring the monster within,” which could have been awesome, but it was listed with the wrong time, and the wrong location, and the location it actually had was through the “let your kids play around and be noisy” room, so we only had four people show up (which, alas, narrowly missed the time-honored rule: “If you have more panelists than attendees, you hold the panel in the bar across the street.”) It was still fun, sparse attendance aside, and if nothing else I got to meet Lauren Beukes, who was just as interesting as her book’s website had led me to believe. On the plus side, my old friend Will and his family showed up this day, so we got to hang out with them and catch up over dinner at Schwartz’s, an awesome local deli. We got back to our hotel just in time to see an email from Peter Ahlstrom inviting us to dinner with him and Brandon and Howard (and their wives, of course), so we wandered back into Chinatown and hung out for hours. WorldCon travel tip: staying in a hotel next door to the convention center on one side and Chinatown on the other is even more awesome than it sounds.

Sunday, August 9: This was my last panel, a sort of writing crash-course with Brandon, Jay Lake, and Elaine Isaak. I was moderating, and ended up participating very little–when you’ve got that kind of talent at your fingertips, it’s best to just ask some questions and enjoy the ride. That night was the Hugos, of which I predicted more than 50% (yay me!). Howard did not win, which was sad but no surprise because we all knew Joss Whedon was going to beat him. What we did not know, on the other hand, was that Phil and Kaja Foglio would beat Joss, and we cheered like maniacs. Congrats to the Foglios, and to all the winners, for an awesome job. Also of note: the Hugo trophy is slightly different each year, and this year’s was gorgeous. Dinner on Sunday was arguably the highlight of the trip: Brandon, Peter, and I came to Montreal for World Fantasy in 2001, and it was there that we met our editor, Moshe, and he agreed to read our books. We celebrated by eating at a funny little Italian restaurant where they made us some Chinese Spaghetti. We loved that place, and we were almost childishly excited to go back again eight years later as published professionals. It was exactly how we remembered it, though the old mobster-looking guy who sat by the phone and took mysterious calls all night was replaced by a young mobster-looking guy doing the same thing. We ordered Chinese spaghetti and ate some intensely delicious calzones, and when we left we took pictures of the restaurant and the building and the waiter and everything we could think of (though not, it should be noted, the phone guy. If anyone asks, we didn’t even SEE a phone guy. We didn’t see nothin’).

Monday, August 10: The trip came full circle when we met up with Emma Hawkes again, this time listening to her panel about why Australia is wonderful and we should totally go there for WorldCon next year. I would dearly love to, and the possibility is definitely still on the table, but for now I simply donated a copy of my book to the Down Under Fan Fund auction. It is signed, and comes with an “I Am Not a Serial Killer” button with which to put your friends at ease, and you totally want it. When the auction goes online I’ll be sure to link to it. Our trip home was grotesquely elongated by some kind of epic fail at the Detroit airport, which delayed our flight from 4pm until 8am the next morning; we were able to get on the next flight out of Montreal, landing in Minneapolis, and from there we found another flight home to Salt Lake City that same night. So we got home about 4 hours late, but at least it wasn’t 16 hours late. Our kids were so excited to see us again I thought they were going to hyperventilate. Grandma and Grandpa, God bless them, are probably going to sleep for a straight month.

Zombies!

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Today I got to participate in a zombie panel, and it was awesome. Everyone on the panel was just brimming with information, and the audience was engaged, and we all had a lot of fun.

We started with the Simon Pegg quote from the program: “The fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety.” I agree with this statement, and posited my zombie thesis: zombies are not interesting because of what they do, they’re interesting because of what they force the humans to do. This is arguably true of every monster, but more so with zombies because zombies have no personality–they can’t think or reason or choose. Vampires can be protagonists, but the main characters in zombie stories (with very rare exceptions) are humans forced to deal with a zombie threat, and the interest in the story comes from the decisions those humans face. What do you do when the people around you start turning into zombies? Do you save yourself or try to help others? Do you gather survivors to help them or to rule them? If a fellow survivor is endangering the entire group, what will you do? What lengths will you go to to survive? And, worst of all, what will you do when a friend or a loved one becomes a zombie?

So this is a cool thesis, but how does it relate to the Pegg quote? Slow zombies have poetic subtlety because they give the humans, who are more interesting, plenty of time to react interestingly. Consider the scene in Pegg’s own Shaun of the Dead where Shaun and his friend first discover the zombies and have to defend themselves. If the zombies were fast, the scene would be fast–they would attack and the humans would run/escape/die/whatever. It would become an action scene the same as any other action scene. But because the zombies are slow, the humans have time to pull out their record collection and do a very funny scene about which albums they’re willing to sacrifice. This same slowness gives them a host of incredible opportunities throughout the movie, for scenes of comedy and terror and gut-wrenching emotion.

The panel talked about so many things that I can’t even review them all here. We talked about zombies as a reflection of our cultural fears, starting with communism in the 50s and changing, as our fears changed, to consumerism and AIDs and terrorism and fascism. Zombies have always been one of our most political monsters, and it is no accident that the current resurgence of zombie popularity comes at the end of an 8-year term of a wildly unpopular conservative American president.

We talked about the specific definition of a zombie, and came up with three key elements. First, zombie-ism is an infection or corruption that takes a regular person and turns them into an enemy capable of spreading the infection further. Second, the zombie is mindless, lacking will and identity. Third, the zombie is almost inevitably human, which makes their corruption into a mindless enemy all the more terrifying. Taken together, these definitions illustrate very clearly the modern zombie’s roots in the cold war: just like the Red Scare, zombies came into your community and corrupted your friends and neighbors, turning them from a vibrant, free-thinking American into a mindless, brainwashed member of a vast and faceless horde. It’s important to note that this definition doesn’t deal with the specifics of how a zombie works, because zombies have so many different forms: supernatural walking dead, biological carriers of a scientific virus, or even the Borg of Star Trek (the movie First Contact was a very good zombie apocalypse movie, despite the veneer of science fiction, and deals directly with all of these classic zombie issues of corruption, community, and human reaction).

It didn’t stop there: we talked about zombies for 80 full minutes, and every second of it was clever, entertaining, and thought-provoking. This is why I love conventions like worldCon–because the people who attend them are incredibly smart, both panel and audience, and we can have a very deep, scientific/political/literary discussion about zombies as metaphors, and zombies as cultural barometers, and zombies as fun monsters. This is what I love to do, and these are the people I love to do it with.

P.S.: Toward the end of the panel I predicted that the depiction of zombies would continue to change, and that we would start to see sexy zombies inside of three years. I’ve since decided that this was far too loose a prediction, so I’m amending it: we will see sexy zombies in major media inside of 18 months tops, probably less.

Conventioneering

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Montreal, looking over my WorldCon schedule and planning some brilliant comments for my panels and wishing my phone would work outside of the US. I’ll be getting a new phone soon, I assure you.

My poor wife is asleep, completely wiped out by two and a half days running all over Manhattan. I think the convention itself will be a welcome rest, since most of it will be spent sitting down in air-conditioned rooms. This is her first convention, and I think she’s likely to remember it as five days of fatigue. Ironically, the thing that’s fatiguing her the most is indolence; she can’t handling not being productive for this long at a stretch. If you see her at WorldCon, and you happen to have a nearby garden in need of weeding, please ask her to help. It will pep her right up.

Also of note: hotel WiFi does not deal well with the stress of Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and so on–anything with forms, essentially. I’ll be lucky if this post makes it online intact.

What’s the point of all this? I don’t have one. It’s the night before WorldCon, the calm before the storm, and I’m taking a moment to sit back and collect my thoughts. I’m going to pass out a crapload of buttons at this con. I’m going to hand out a few ARCs, too, and I’m hoping to sell a bunch of books so I don’t have to lug them home again (I’ll need the room in my bags for kid presents). By the end of the week, everyone who is not a serial killer will know that they have finally met, after a lifetime of lonely searching, a kindred spirit. It is a weary row I hoe, but I hoe it with all my might.

Okay, that was maybe a bit dramatic. I need to go to sleep.

See you tomorrow, WorldCon.

Writing For Charity

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

A few weeks after I get home from WorldCon, on August 29, I’m participating in the “2nd Annual Writing for Charity Event,” which I kind of wish had a cooler name, but there you go. This is a mini-conference put together by a group of Utah authors and illustrators with a focus on children’s books. It’s going to have a lot of local luminaries like Brandon Mull and Shannon Hale, giving specific writing advice in panels and workshops and smaller breakout sessions. Tickets are $45 ($50 at the door), all of which goes to support the Treehouse Children’s Museum, a great non-profit facility that has a strong focus on family literacy. It’s going to be awesome, so if you’re an aspiring writer in the area I strongly encourage you to drop by.

WorldCon

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

This year WorldCon will be in Montreal–the same city where I met my editor, Moshe, years ago at a World Fantasy convention. I’m very excited to be going back, and I’m especially excited because this year we’re sending the kids to grandma’s so my wife can come to the con. Hooray! Everyone be nice to her; it’s her first con.

My panel list is as follows:

Get Your Writing Kickstart Here
Thursday at 1:00pm
P-516E
Aliette de Bodard (mod), Dan Wells, Derek Kunsken, Nina Munteanu
This is a standard “intro to writing” panel, which I think will be a lot of fun, and for added excitement it’s being conducted primarily in French. Can I be helpful and clever and charming via a translator? We shall see. All I can tell you for sure is that my brain will hear all the not-English and say “Hey! I speak not-English!” and then start speaking in Spanish. Happens every time.

Don’t Main the Streams?
Thursday at 2:00pm
P-511CF
Cheryl Morgan, Dan Wells (mod), Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Karen Haber
How does the mainstream media report on the world of SF? How is SF perceived, how can it be covered well, and what fandom can do to get its story across? I have no idea why I’m on this one, let alone why I’m the moderator, but I think it’s going to be awesome. If you have any great stories or links about how SF gets screwed (or lauded) in the public eye, let me know.

I for One Welcome our New Zombie Overlords
Friday at 12:30pm
P-516AB
Dan Wells, Heather Urbanski, Steven R. Boyett (mod), Trisha Wooldridge, Tony Pi
“The fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety,” said Simon Pegg, star of Shaun of the Dead. So zombies are slow, shambling…and what else? What will the zombie apocalypse really be like? Thank heavens for whoever put me on this one. I don’t know which is scarier, running from zombies or being forced to talk about them entertainingly for an hour and a half, but either way I am up to the challenge.

Writing Excuses Live!
Friday at 2pm
P-513B
Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson, and a cavalcade of awesome surprise guests.
Yeah, baby. An hour and a half of pure awesome. I’d tell you who some of the surprise guests are, but then it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. I can assure you, however, that this will be the best 90 minutes of the entire convention, hands down. I am currently peeing my pants, that’s how excited I am.

Exploring the Monster Within
Saturday at 4:00pm
P-510D
Anne Harris (mod), Dan Wells, Sean McMullen, Lauren Beukes
Some Days I Feel Like the Creature From the Black Lagoon: The appeal of identifying with the monster (or alien, or…?). An exploration of alienation, both societal and personal Let’s see: I wrote a book about a teenage serial killer who’s obsessed with death and tries to save the world by murdering monsters and stalking the girl next door. Yes, I imagine I will be on a panel similar to this one at every convention I go to for the next ten years. AND I WILL LOVE THEM ALL.

JOLT Writing… Get Your Writing Kickstart Here
Sunday at 1:oopm
P-516E
Dan Wells, Elaine Isaak, Jay Lake, Karleen Bradford, Brandon Sanderson
Crash course: Brainstorming, structures, writing… all in 90 minutes. Work on a new story or punch up an old one. This one’s going to be fun; the entire writing process condensed and shot out in rapid fire. There’s no moderator listed, so I’m going to prepare a list of elements and be ready to take over, just in case. Like the other writing panel, this one will be primarily in French.