Friday, February 19, 2010

SFWA announces 2010 Nebula Awards final ballot

CHESTERTOWN, Md. -- Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., has announced the final Nebula Awards® ballot for 2010.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The awards will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet the evening of May 15 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, just 20 minutes from the Kennedy Space Center in Fla. Other awards to be presented are the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Science Fiction or Fantasy for Young Adults, the Bradbury Award for excellence in screenwriting and the Solstice Award for outstanding contribution to the field.

Short story
"Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela," Saladin Ahmed (Clockwork Phoenix 2, Norilana Press, July 2009)
"I Remember the Future," Michael A. Burstein (I Remember the Future, Apex Press, Nov. 2008)
"Non-Zero Probabilities," N. K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld, Nov. 2009)
"Spar," Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct. 2009)
"Going Deep," James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's Science Fiction, June 2009)
"Bridesicle," Will McIntosh (Asimov's Science Fiction, Jan. 2009)

"The Gambler," Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2, Pyr Books, Oct. 2008)
"Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage," Michael Bishop (Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2008)
"I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said," Richard Bowes (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec. 2009)
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast," Eugie Foster (Interzone, Jan./Feb. 2009)
"Divining Light," Ted Kosmatka (Asimov's Science Fiction, Aug. 2008)
"A Memory of Wind," Rachel Swirsky (, Nov. 2009)

The Women of Nell Gwynne's, Kage Baker (The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Subterranean Press, June 2009)
"Arkfall," Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sept. 2009)
"Act One," Nancy Kress (Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2009)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Shambling Towards Hiroshima, Tachyon, Feb. 2009)
"Sublimation Angels," Jason Sanford (Interzone, Sept./Oct. 2009)
The God Engines, John Scalzi (The God Engines, Subterranean Press, Dec. 2009)

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Nightshade, Sept. 2009)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam, Nov. 2008)
Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket, Oct. 2009)
The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey, May 2009)
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor, Sept. 2009)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, Oct. 2009)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Star Trek, J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Paramount, May 2009)
District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug. 2009)
Avatar, James Cameron (Fox, Dec. 2009)
Moon, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker (Sony, June 2009)
Up, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar, May 2009)
Coraline, Henry Selick (Laika/Focus, Feb. 2009)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, July 2009)
Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct. 2009)
Ash, by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown & Company, Sept. 2009)
Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, July 2009)
Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi (Tor, Aug. 2008)
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, June 2009)
Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct. 2009)

For more information, visit and

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Market Life

A friend of mine was thoroughly steamed about the situation where she works, and needed to vent, which she did; and that left us with the rest of the morning. She wanted to go to a farmer's market. Fine by me - I've liked farmer's markets ever since my grandmother took me to the city farmer's market where I grew up in Georgia. There's a little, upscale farmer's market in my neighborhood, and there's a big famous farmer's market in the north part of town (the one on Airline Drive if you're familiar with Houston.) That ended up being the farmer's market of choice.

We wandered by tables of vegetables, bins of packaged dried beans, and shelves laden with local honey and regional condiments. Then we ventured deeper into the farmer's market, out of the more grocery-like area into the asphalt-and-booth expanse where it helps to speak Spanish. The vendors were giving away samples of oranges, and they had the fruits fancifully piled up into little towers. Booths overflowed with onions, cactus pads, red peppers and jalapenos. Ever seen a 20-pound bag of jalapenos? Bulging with its green cargo, the sturdy mesh bag basked in the sun and peppered the air.

My friend and I ended up with some vegetables, nuts and dried fruit and honey, and hope. A farmer's market is very life-affirming in its way - it's more approachable than getting out of town for a hike, less immediately gratifying than sitting down to a rich meal (although it certainly suggests preparing such meals); it's less exclusive than keeping the company of your select family and friends and far less artificial than shopping in a mall. It affirms the role of the good Earth in giving us sustenance and the work of human hands in getting produce out of the ground and into our shopping bags. It forges a community out of the people of various sizes, shapes and colors and walks of life united in the love of good greens or onions or oranges or peppers. It was just what my friend needed. The lush head of kale she bought couldn't make her stressful job situation go away, but in buying the kale, and later at home cooking it up with a nice morsel of sausage, she was renewing her resolve to keep on living and keep on loving her work.

There are other Earth-given life affirmations around right now. Another friend of mine had a bumper crop of yard grapefruit that she harvested just before the hardest freeze of the winter. Grapefruit in a ceramic bowl evoke Earth, flavor, and health.

And I've been watching this yard in my own neighborhood. Unless I'm much mistaken, these are collards. A moderate freeze doesn't faze collards, which is why these are in fine fettle in February. I don't know for sure if any leaves have gone into the cooking pot, but the plants on the back side of the bed, behind the tree, are starting to look picked over! Why not? There's nothing better than fresh, frost-touched collard greens simmering on the stove.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What to do with your pet after the Rapture

From cartoonist Matt Bors (@mattbors), an amazing new business plan that could only be produced by American culture:

Business Week, February 11, 2010
Caring for Pets Left Behind by the Rapture
For a fee, this service will place your dog or cat in the home of a caring atheist on Judgment Day

By Mike Di Paola

Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture . In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?

Bart Centre, 61, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, says many people are troubled by this question, and he wants to help. He started a service called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved.

Promoted on the Web as "the next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World," the service has attracted more than 100 clients, who pay $110 for a 10-year contract ($15 for each additional pet.) If the Rapture happens in that time, the pets left behind will have homes—with atheists. Centre has set up a national network of godless humans to carry out the mission. "If you love your pets, I can't understand how you could not consider this," he says.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Welcome to Nollywood

Welcome to Nollywood, a documentary on the Nigerian film industry, just now popped up on video, after I'd seen it at the Alamo last year. The doc itself is hardly the smoothest film you'll ever see, which is fine. It goes hand in hand with the movies that it chronicles. The DTV direct to video movies that dominate the Nigerian market---and the film explains the dominance due to crime and other problems in keeping actual theaters open---aren't made for export. Nigeria itself is a large enough market to keep the industry alive without having to bow to the western market at all. This obviously is also true of Bollywood now and of Hong Kong cinema back in its 70s-80s heyday. The clips here--and the main reason to rent Welcome to Nollywood is for the clips--show over the top comedies (like the Baby Police trailer above), and unabashed melodramas, firmly grounded in Christian ethics. Not too far from the old touring shows you'd see here when I was growing up, Tyler Perry's plays being the most well known examples. The documentary is framed by the making of a picture, shot on what looks like mid 1990s Sony camcorders, handheld, making it up as you go guerilla filmmaking. One week, one movie, put it out on the streets and get on to the next one.

Nollywood also highlights a tension between these made-for-the-people DTVs and the desire of some university elites for a deeper, more artistic national cinema, an idea not uncommon here--again with Tyler Perry as a flashpoint in the African American community, but back in the Blacksploitation 70s, remember, the NAACP also used to denounce a lot of those Max Julien/Pam Grier pictures. (And the same tension drives Not Quite Hollywood, the must see doc from 2008 on Australian trash cinema.) The high/low debate will never die, apparently.

Unlike Not Quite Hollywood, Welcome to Nollywood doesn't offer the viewer any sort of primer in terms of where to start if you wanted to watch some of these Nigerian films. To be fair, unless you live in an area with a Nigerian population that is importing them (I remember heading to a sketchy little grocery store in the early 90's that had bootleg videos from Hong Kong.) not sure how you'd get your hands on them anyway except to play around on YouTube for clips. So there is still some work to be done for someone to begin to offer the best of these pictures to a western audience, but for now Welcome to Nollywood worked as a basic intro to an unknown cinema.

Friday, February 12, 2010

When New Gods walked the Earth (or at least Santa Cruz)

[Pic: Portia, wife of Brutus, designed by Jack Kirby]

When I walked out of the theater summer before last after screening the Jon Favreau Iron Man, I got in my car and wondered why such a perfect "live action" realization of the comic book of my youth would leave me feeling so completely hollow. My Marvel-addicted inner child had suffered through so many disappointments, from the 1970s Spider-Man TV series to the Bill Bixby-Lou Ferrigno Hulk to the Captain America movie starring J.D. Salinger's kid to the Dolph Lundgren Punisher — a series of lessons in how adult reality throws a wet blanket on juvenile wonder. The new slew of movies like the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man were so perfect in their visual recreation and fidelity to the smart-ass Marvel style that they were taking over Hollywood. So why did they make me feel even worse than their clumsy predecessors?

On reflection, I concluded the problem is this: well-realized comic book movies obliterate the negative space of the comic book form, depriving the imagination of its ability to create by filling in all the spaces previously left unfilled. The brief appearance in a 1971 comic book of some character you had never encountered before, or even the description of other narratives in progress on the Stan Lee Excelsior page, was an infinitely more stimulating trigger of readerly creation than the actual filmic occupation of a reality in which Robert Downey Jr. drunkenly detonates the mujahideen.

So I was very intrigued last week to come across evidence of a very different instance of comic book realization in reality. One so very much like some fantastic counterfactual invention that I'm sure it is a pop-Borgesian reality disruption. The strange story of New Gods-era Jack Kirby's creation of costume designs for a 1969 U.C. Santa Cruz production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The (surely invented) Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center tells the story, without ever indicating it has been written by Lost Pages-era Paul Di Filippo:

In 1969, Sheldon Feldner contacted Marvel Comics, asking if one of Marvel's artists would be interested in designing costumes for a production of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar by the University Theatre Company at Santa Cruz at the newly-built Cowell College of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

As luck would have it, the Kirby family had recently moved to California, and Stan Lee recommended that Feldner contact Jack Kirby. Kirby designed the costumes and provided a drawing that was used on posters, handbills and programs at no cost to the students. The poster drawing was rendered onto large two-color posters by Robert Page of the UCSC Art Department. Page also adapted Kirby's color costume designs into black-and-white. Not only were color photographs taken of cast members in their costumes, but black and white photos were taken during the costume production.

[Pic: Calpurnia and maid]

An article about Kirby providing the costume designs was published in the 3 May 1969 issue of "Peninsula Living," a Santa Cruz-area Sunday newspaper magazine supplement. The article was illustrated with some of Page's adaptions of Kirby's designs, as well as two Thor panels from "Lest Mankind Endure!" published in May 1969's The Mighty Thor 164.

Alas, the awesome revelation that, for a brief period in 1969, the New Gods actually walked on stage and laid down acid-filtered Bardic verse under the black lights, mostly just confirms the extent to which contemporary Capital has appropriated wonder and squeezed out the space for this kind of experimentation with the boundaries of reality and imaginative narratives.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The news from Lufkin

NYT: Charlie Wilson, Texas Congressman Linked to Foreign Intrigue, Dies at 76

By Douglas Martin

Charlie Wilson, a 12-term Texas congressman who was best known for his playboy ways until he masterminded a covert effort to funnel billions of dollars in arms to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, died Wednesday in Lufkin, Tex. He was 76.

Jack Gorden Jr., the mayor of Lufkin, confirmed the death. Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin said the preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest. Mr. Wilson had a heart transplant in 2007.

Mr. Wilson’s exploits to provide as much as $5 billion in arms to Afghan rebels were the subject of a book and the 2007 movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” directed by Mike Nichols. Tom Hanks portrayed Mr. Wilson and Julia Roberts played Joanne Herring, the conservative Houston socialite who first interested Mr. Wilson, a Democrat, in aiding the Afghans.

A former president of Pakistan, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, said it was hard to understate Mr. Wilson’s role. “All I can say is, ‘Charlie did it,’ ” he said on “60 Minutes” in 1988.

It was an unusual role for a congressman representing an unworldly East Texas district. From 1973 to 1996, Mr. Wilson kept his seat by balancing liberal views on many domestic issues with a hawkish stance on foreign policy and paying close attention to his constituents’ needs.

Until his secret role in Afghanistan became the stuff of Hollywood, Mr. Wilson’s fame was pretty much summed up by his nickname, “Good Time Charlie.” An article in Texas Monthly in 2004 said he gave his girlfriends nicknames like Snowflake, Tornado and Firecracker.

Mr. Wilson was able to help the Afghans from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee and from another on its subcommittee on foreign operations.

The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, invited by the pro-Communist government there in the face of an insurgency.

After he visited a refugee camp in Pakistan at the urging of Ms. Herring and saw wounded and maimed Afghan guerrilla fighters, Mr. Wilson vowed to help them and became a key figure in Congress for doing so, overtly pushing for humanitarian aid and covertly obtaining military help, a risky endeavor against a rival superpower. He often gathered his colleagues’ support by voting for military contracts that would serve their districts.

From a few million dollars in the early 1980s, support for the resistance grew to $750 million a year by the end of the decade. The financing was funneled to Afghanistan in secret by Mr. Wilson and other lawmakers.

The help went beyond money. When the Soviets deliberately killed camels and mules to cripple the Afghan fighters’ supply lines, he flew in Tennessee mules. When the Central Intelligence Agency refused to provide the guerrillas with field radios for fear that mujahedeen transmissions would be picked up by the Soviets, he sent an aide to Virginia to buy $12,000 worth of walkie-talkies from a Radio Shack outlet.

Particularly helpful were Stinger missiles from the United States, which were used to shoot down Russian helicopters and became what many consider a decisive factor in wearing down the Soviets. By February 1989, the Soviets had withdrawn and the United States ended its support.

In later years Mr. Wilson insisted that the United States had not made a mistake by supporting the Afghan rebels, among them Osama bin Laden and the Islamists who would form the Taliban regime. He said if the United States had helped rebuild Afghanistan, it would have remained stable and not become a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Charles Nesbitt Wilson was born in Trinity, Tex., where his father was an accountant for a lumber company, on June 1, 1933. He told about his first political experience in the book from which the movie was made, “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History” (2003) by George Crile.

Charlie was 13 when his dog strayed and a neighbor apparently fed it something that contained crushed glass. The boy first doused the man’s garden with gasoline and set it on fire. He then realized that the neighbor was a City Council member and used his learner’s permit to drive black voters to the polls to vote against him. The neighbor lost his seat by 16 votes.

Mr. Wilson attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis and graduated in 1956. He served four years in the Navy and went back to Texas, where he was elected to the State House of Representatives and then to the State Senate.

In 1972, he ran successfully for Congress, where he outmaneuvered a fellow Texan for a seat on the Appropriations Committee as well as a slot on its subcommittee on foreign operations.

Mr. Wilson is survived by his wife, the former Barbara Alberstadt, and his sister, Sharon Allison.

His rowdy behavior produced sensational headlines over the years. There were at least two midnight car crashes. He was investigated for cocaine use, and election-expenditure irregularities resulted in a $90,000 fine.

In an interview with Washingtonian magazine in 1996, Mr. Wilson said Texas voters put up with his antics in part because of the vicarious thrill they got in watching him. He added that he did not lie or whine when caught.

“I just say, ‘Well, yeah, I guess I goofed again’ and go about my business,” he said. “Those good Christians, you know, believe in the redemption of sin.”

When he announced his resignation in 1995, saying the job was not fun anymore, Mr. Wilson thanked his constituents for their tolerance.

“He was our favorite town character,” Mayor Gorden said. “He was a rascal but our rascal.”

Recommended: George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War, the craziest true tale of a Texan surfing the Zeitgeist you will ever read.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Carcosa lullaby.

For my son, Henry.

Goodnight Dead Moon.

In the great sacrifice chamber
In the high tower
In the basalt castle overlooking Lake Hali
There was a shining trapezohedron
And a three-lobed burning eye
And a picture of–
The food beast jumping over the dead moon
And there were three little shoggoths dining on moths
And two little Ulthar kittens
And a pair of ichor-soaked mittens
And a little toy slaughterhouse
And a young mouse
And a blade and some hands and a bowl full of viands
And a somber yellow King who was whispering "Hush."

Goodnight chamber.
Goodnight dead moon.
Goodnight food beast jumping over the dead moon.
Goodnight shining trapezohedron
And the three-lobed burning eye
Goodnight shoggoths
Goodnight moths
Goodnight kittens
And goodnight ichor-soaked mittens
Goodnight pendulum
And goodnight incunabulm
Goodnight little slaughterhouse
And goodnight mouse
Goodnight blade
And goodnight hands
Goodnight Nobody
Goodnight viands
And goodnight to the yellow King whispering "Hush."
Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises. Everywhere.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The future of American manned space flight

CAPE CANAVERAL — President Barack Obama proposed a radical shift in U.S. space policy Monday, saying he wanted commercial companies -- rather than NASA -- to take over development and operation of the rockets and spacecraft flying American astronauts. (

These are the best of times for the commercial space companies who will be getting government seed money.

“During its first turn at bat, the Obama administration really hit it out of the park,” said David Thomson, chief executive of Orbital Sciences Corp. “This is the right time. It’s the right direction for the agency to take in this era.”

These are the worst of times for thousands of employees at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston who may lose their jobs. Thousands more fear for their wives' and husbands', neighbors' and friends' jobs.

Norman Augustine of the visionary Augustine Commission Report released a guardedly optimistic statement. Among other points, he says, "Importantly, the President's proposed program seems to match the ends, and should therefore be executable."