C O N TEN TS COVER ART AND DESIGN SQUID ASCENDANT UPON THE CABINET OF THACKERY Jeremy Zerfoss
4 PERCHANCE Stuart Jaffe 8 WE DON’T DO QUESTS Dale Mettam 12 SELLING HOME Tina Connolly 1 8 FADEOUT Amber D. Sistla 22 LESS THAN ABSENT Kenneth Schneyer
31 THE LONG LIVES OF HEROES
Jeremy Whitley and Jason Strutz PART 2 OF 4
24 THE WOLF TREE John Claude Bemis ≈ Review by
Mur Lafferty; Interview by Dan Campbell 36 THE MAGICIAN KING Lev Grossman ≈ Review by Kij Johnson; Interview by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn 40 ODD? Ann and Jeff VanderMeer ≈ Interview by Larry Nolen 45 DARK TANGOS Lewis Shiner ≈ Review by Richard Dansky; Article and Interview by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn 52 MISERERE: AN AUTUMN TALE Teresa Frohock ≈ Review and Interview by J.P. Wickwire
54 THE DAILY MONOCLE J.P. Wickwire ≈ THE ENTERPRISE OF DEATH Jesse Bullington; DEATHLESS Catherynne M. Valente; ROBOPOCALYPSE Daniel H. Wilson; MACHINE MAN Max Barry 56 REVIEWS ≈ THE CARDINAL’S BLADES Pierre Pevel by Richard Dansky; ZAZEN Vanessa Veselka by Nick Mamatas; STARVE BETTER AND SENSATION Nick Mamatas by Jason Erik Lundberg; SWORD OF FIRE AND SEA Erin Hoffman by Richard Dansky; GHOSTS OF WAR George Mann by Joseph Giddings; GERMLINE T.C. McCarthy by C.D. Covington 60 POETRY ≈ SPACETIME GEODESICS Athena Andreadis; PETALS Mari Ness; RUMINATIONS UPON A DANDELION THEME Nathaniel Lee; SPINNING THE SEABED DRY Edgar Mason; LYSSA DEPRESSED Linda Ann Strang 62 EDITORIAL ≈ What Happened to the Summer?
2 PYR 11 DURHAM LITERACY CENTER 21 ALISON JANSSEN EDITORIAL SERVICES 39 FIRETOWER STUDIOS 44 IGAAKS BRASS AND STEEL VISORS 63 JAMES MAXEY 64 CONTEMPORAL
ISSN 21 52-5234 is published quarterly by Bull Spec / PO Box 1 31 46 / Durham, NC 27709 / United States [+1 .877.867.6889] and is copyright © 2011 Bull Spec & its contributors. Find it in your local book or comic shop or online at bullspec.com! Burning Catalonian Bull photo originally by Stuart Yeates, used and available under a Creative Commons BY- SA 2.0 license. Bleeding Cowboys font used by permission.
BY STUART J AFFE
F ONLY HE HAD snored, Carrie would not have minded. Snoring could be a soothing sound like the gentle rumble of a cat’s purr. A healthy snorer could send Carrie into a refreshing sleep that set her up for a productive, albeit repetitive, day inspecting DVD labels for defects. But Hal did more than snore. Every night kicked off with a symphony of sounds—sniffles and coughs and yawns and cracked knuckles and passed gas that reeked of beef and onions. Then he launched into his ballet. He flopped onto his back, put his hands under his head, put his hands under his pillow, turned to one side, readjusted his hands, curled his legs, straightened his legs, tossed to the other side, rearranged his limbs, worked his way onto his prominent belly, and then with a loud huff, returned to his back, hands at his sides over the covers, then under the covers, then he stuck one leg out but kept one leg under. When he finally drifted off to sleep, the opera of snoring ignited—loud enough to rattle the windows. Rather than the pleasant nights Carrie had envisioned, she learned that insomnia could be caused by other people. For
awhile, alcohol became a good sleep aid but like all good things, she grew accustomed to its charms. She feared anything stronger (Maggie had offered her a joint once, and though Carrie had done plenty of things in her wild days, drugs had been something she shied away from) and even backed off on the drinking, not wanting to become an AA member before turning thirty-five. She tried a meditation CD for about five minutes but couldn’t stop giggling. She tried sleeping on the couch but their worn furniture had as much comfort in it as a bed of misshapen rocks. Then one night, just after the ballet but a few breaths before the first arioso, Carrie decided to forgo sleep. Not just for that particular evening, but forgo the act itself for the rest of her life with Hal. She grumbled and cursed the night she made her decision, stomping around the downstairs like a child denied her favorite sweet, but even in the midst of her anger she could hear the thick snores rolling through the house and knew that the only other choice was a divorce. She loved Hal too much for that. Three days drifted by in a zombie haze, but then she just felt
ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE GALLAGHER
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6 normal. She sat in her kitchen at four in the morning, smoked a cigarette, and just as a sleeping leg fills with blood in a wash of pinpricks and warmth, normalcy filled her—warm and sharp. This is easy, she thought. She was wrong. For her, it happened on the fourth night—her kitchen began to talk. She sat at the chipped white table listening to the refrigerator’s hum as it swooped in and around Hal’s snoring of the 1812 Overture’s cannon fire. She had a tomato in her right hand, and she rolled it to her left. Back and forth she rolled this tomato when she heard a voice. Tiny and tinny, it seemed to drift from behind the stove—but when she moved closer, the sound came from the other side of the kitchen near the pantry door. She placed her ear against that door but then the small voice emerged from behind the refrigerator. This game of hide and seek pressed on for a half-hour when the voice stopped with an abrupt silence. She froze and listened like a deer unsure if it had heard a predator. Her heartbeat pulsed in her fingertips. She held her breath. Then she heard Hal’s long, hard pull of air, and her recent reality returned. The following night, she heard nothing. The night after that, waiting in the kitchen with anxious energy, she rolled a tomato on the table, but nothing happened. She spent her days inspecting those endless DVDs, re-creating the voice in her mind, hoping to decipher what it had said. Each night, she struggled to hear it again. Each morning, she began the day anew, a little more defeated, a little more anxious. On the fourth night, the voice returned. She gave a slight yelp at the sound for she had become convinced the whole thing had been her imagination. As she launched into her search, a warm smile settled on her lips. She scoured the kitchen, but the voice managed to stay one step ahead. Though she still could not make out its words, as five o’clock rolled around, she found she had a better sense of its presence. She could smell it—fresh pine, not that fake stuff they put in floor cleaner, but the real thing, the kind that floods one with memories, the kind that flooded her with images of her family on Sunday afternoon hikes in the woods, especially after a summer rain. When Hal bumbled his way downstairs for breakfast, Carrie had a full meal waiting. As his eyes widened, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him like they had done long ago at the beginning. He wolfed the food but enjoyed it—she could see pleasure painted on his face. For the first time in her life, she loved her job. Mindlessly staring at DVD labels afforded her the time to contemplate what had happened and what might happen. Her belly tightened every time she thought of it, but she refused to bury her worries. This had to be dealt with. And what was this? She didn’t know. The old phrase about looking at a gift horse came to mind. But was this a gift? Shouldn’t she fear this voice in a ’don’t talk to strangers’ sort of way?
But curiosity filled her, and, if she wanted to be honest with herself as she moved a stack of good DVDs back onto a wooden spool, lust filled her, too. A lust unlike any that ever flung her into a drunken bed. This lust had a thirst to it, a hunger, a needy lust like a whining child who will simply die if she doesn’t get her Pretty Sandy doll for Christmas—it may not seem important to others but to her its weight was unbearable. When the fourth night arrived, Carrie pulled a trusty tomato from the fridge, settled at the kitchen table, and rolled her red friend back and forth. The stove clock read midnight, and after several hours, she checked it to find it read only twelve twentythree. Its off-green digital numbers taunted her with each hourlong minute that passed. “Be nice,” she said, “or I’ll put you in the bedroom with Hal.” The clock moved faster after that. When the voice arrived, Carrie did not startle but she did smile—luscious and knowing, a prowling smile. She didn’t bother searching for it in the kitchen cabinets or the fridge or under the sink. She didn’t bother searching any of the places she had before. Instead, she sat still and listened. It was like wind—a child’s voice carried on the back of the wind. And as she sat in her kitchen, breathing deep as if in one of those meditations she had giggled about, she heard with distinct clarity that the voice did not reside in her kitchen or her living room or her closets—not even her house. Rising from her chair, filled with the awe and fear of a zealot coming face to face with her maker, Carrie walked toward the outside door. She hesitated for just a second—long enough to hear Hal, long enough to consider that her actions might not be all that sane, long enough to decide she had to know no matter what happened to the curious cat. She went outside. The night air prickled her skin. She glanced into the neighbors’ yards. Nobody else appeared to be up. Nobody would see her. Despite being lower middle-class, or as Hal often called it upper poor-class, they had the luxury of living in a house backed by woods. True, the other houses were smack on top of them, and true, the woods wrapped around a sewage treatment plant (on blistering summer days with no wind to carry the odors away, Carrie had to lock up the house and swelter), but they had woods. Only she never once stepped into them, never once noticed them as anything other than a backdrop to her life. The voice came from these woods. She stood barefoot just yards from her house, her thin nightgown billowing in the light breeze, and she squinted toward the dark woods. Her mouth opened, ready to call out, ready to ask if anybody was there, but no sound uttered from her lips. The voice beat her to it. “Carrie,” it whispered soft as the wind that brought it. She took a few halting steps forward. Tears slipped from her eyes—she had been stunned into not blinking for so long. Another few steps closer. Her nose wrinkled as the foul odor of rancid meat passed over her from two houses up. Trash day tomorrow, she thought, chuckling at the mundanity.
E ON ’ T DO QUESTS
BY DALE M ETTAM
BEFORE WE GO ANY further, let’s set a couple of things straight. First of all, we don’t do quests.” Jandar sat back and lit up a slim cigar. Leaning forward again through a plume of blue smoke, he laid his hands flat on the table. “Quests require too many initial expenses and never payoff like you expect. Oh sure, we could ask for payment up front, but that usually means later on we’ll be double-crossed and any initial payments made to us are going to be retrieved from our cold, rotting corpses.” At first glance, it might have appeared that Jandar was talking to a curiously tall pile of dirty rags. Further study revealed that thin knotty fingers protruded from tattered cuffs and a long, hooked nose peered out from the deep shadow of a large sagging cowl. To the casual observer, the figure appeared nothing more than an aging wayfarer. But here at the “Hanging Cat Inn” casual observers tended to wake up in the morning finding themselves robbed, naked and dead. Jandar had never been a casual observer, even though his easy air and casual slouch gave no indication of this. And the man across the table from him was anything but as he appeared. Even allowing that his potential employer must have great resources to consider employing the illustrious Jandar sar Hoar, he was either extremely brave or exceedingly stupid to agree to meet in
the “Cat”. An absence of fear or a lack of sanity were two things Jandar knew to be wary of. “I remember once,” said Jandar, pouring the last of the wine into his own cup, then waving the empty bottle at the man behind the bar, “we were hired to go on a quest to retrieve a ring.” A lanky boy, awkward and angular, rushed over to the table and laid a fresh bottle down, along with an extra cup. Jandar quickly pulled the cork free and poured wine into his own cup, then into the fresh one, which he slid across to the old man. “Grau here, he has a thing for jewels,” Jandar nodded his head sideways, indicating his partner. The Dwarf raised an eyebrow, then reached for the bottle. “Anyway, we go get this ring, and no sooner have we got it, then someone else wants us to go on another quest to destroy the thing. Jandar took a gulp and shook his head in disbelief. “I mean, if that’s what they wanted all along, why not just tell us from the start?” “The job I have for you is not a quest,” the old man said. His voice was quiet, calm and resonant. Even above the general hubbub of the bar, Jandar could hear him perfectly, but suspected that anyone listening in would have been hard-pressed to catch what had just been said. “Good,” replied Jandar. “We also don’t do evil dark lords
ILLUSTRATION BY RICHARD CASE
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6 amassing a great and ancient power with a mind to taking over the known world.” “Remember the last one like that we did?” Grau said, his voice surprisingly musical compared to his stolid and gruff appearance. Jandar shuddered. “Do I ever. All I can say is, it’s a good job we didn’t destroy that ring. Turned out to be a damn useful piece of magic we had there. Whoever thought destroying that was a good idea clearly had no concept of just what it could do.” The old man couldn’t help but glance down at Jandar’s fingers, which sported several rings of various designs and insignias. Catching himself, he looked up and saw Jandar grinning at him. The old man quickly took a gulp of his wine, grateful for the chance to hide behind the lip of the cup. “Wine suitable for your obviously discerning palate?” Jandar asked innocently. “What do you know of my palate?” the old man asked. His eyes darted back and forth between Jandar and Grau. “Enough to know that the best this place can offer is a poor second to the worst wine you’re used to,” said Grau. The old man took another swig, as if doing so would in some way prove otherwise to Grau. “It’s perfectly acceptable. Shall we get back to the matter at hand?” “Right,” nodded Jandar. “I mentioned dark overlords, right?” Grau nodded, his attention now primarily focused on a buxom barmaid with ruddy cheeks and too much make-up around her eyes. “Right. No quests, no overlords,” Jandar was checking the mental list off and bending fingers as he did so. Grasping a third finger, he looked across at the old man. “We don’t do dragons.” “This job involves no dragons,” the old man assured. “Good,” said Grau, still watching the barmaid. “Very good,” added Jandar. “Because don’t believe what they tell you. The belly of a dragon is not the weak point. And if you do manage to kill one, getting the treasure hoard somewhere secure is a real pain. Suddenly everyone who was ‘Oh please kill the dragon, Mr. Jandar’ and ‘Take whatever you want, just save our town, Mr. Grau’ forgets all that and wants a chunk of the treasure. These folks who were too frightened to fight the dragon, suddenly develop a backbone and aren’t too frightened to fight you for the treasure. No, sir. We most certainly do not do dragons.” “As I said, there are no dragons involved in this job.” The old man leaned forward, revealing his eyes for the first time. His expression made it perfectly clear that he was growing annoyed at the way the interview was progressing. Whatever he had been expecting, this definitely was not it. He took another swig from his cup and realized he’d drained it. Jandar poured him more. “Don’t forget the Trolls and Ogres,” prompted Grau. “A Dwarf, afraid of Trolls and Ogres?” the old man could barely conceal his surprise and once again hid behind the lip of the cup when Grau turned to face him, his eyes burning. “It’s an ethnic thing,” Jandar explained. “Grau feels that Ogres, Trolls, and Dwarves have a history. Cultural and historic
reasons why they all hate each other, but at the end of the day, we humans have made some questionable decisions in our dealings with all three. He feels, and to be honest I do see his point, that humans don’t make much of a differentiation between any of them, so he feels something of a unity with them. Kinship is maybe too strong, but you get the idea.” “Neither Trolls nor Ogres form any part of the job,” the old man said. “That’s good. We’ve been partners for many years and have been through many trials together, mostly of a figurative nature, but a few actual trials. So if it doesn’t float for Grau, then it’s the same for me.” “I might also add that we were completely innocent of all charges brought against us,” added Grau. Jandar nodded, “And had we not managed to escape ahead of time, I’m confident we ultimately would’ve been found completely innocent.” “As I said,” replied the old man, his clipped tone revealing the extent of his annoyance. “No Trolls. No Ogres. No dragons. And no overlords, evil or otherwise.” “And it’s not a quest, right?” qualified Jandar. “No!” snapped the old man. He took a deep breath and calmed himself. He was aware that Jandar was studying him intently. Perhaps this was all a game, or a test. The old man was not accustomed to anything other than complete obedience, and unquestioning respect, but this job forced him to step beyond his usual methods and minions. What he needed required someone with the dubious skills and talents that Jandar’s reputation suggested. Even so, the old man expected respect and he was sure Jandar and Grau were at the very least not taking him seriously and probably mocking him. He decided to regain some control of the situation. Picking up his cup, he drained it for the second time, then set it down firmly and made to rise. “Perhaps I was misinformed as to your talents,” the old man said. There was only the merest hint of scorn in his voice, but it was there and didn’t go unnoticed. “What do you mean?” Jandar bristled at the slight. “You have gone into great detail as to the matters you will not handle. However, I require a professional who can rise to the challenge. Any challenge. Only that kind of person will get the reward I offer for success.” The old man was standing now, turning to leave. “Did I mention wizards?” Jandar asked. The old man froze, then slowly turned back to face Jandar and Grau. They were both staring intently at him, their faces impassive. “What of wizards?” Suspicion was heavy in the old man’s voice. “We don’t do wizards, either,” said Jandar with a grin. The moment of tension burst and the old man glowered at the two still sitting at the table. The old man turned away, pulling his cloak tight about him as he prepared to weave through the smoky room and out of the bar.
ELLING H OME
BY TINA CONNOLLY
HARP METAL NICKED PENNY’S shoulder and she stumbled, hand clasping her baby brother’s leg. Home giggled as her knees hit the asphalt. Penny felt for the bit of metal scrap as the cars inched past, above, below, up and down all the decks of the Bridge. “Mo, mo,” demanded Home, and she absently tickled his foot as she stood. It was a rusting bit of hubcap, sharp and warm. The day was dusk now, the sun vanishing in smog, but she didn’t need to see perfectly to gauge its value. “That’s a bottle’s worth for you,” she said to the baby as she tucked the metal in her scrap bag. Dusk meant the end of scrapping for the day. Penny hung her elbows on the rail of deck 127, rubbing her shoulder. The Bridge decks soared above her, crisscrossing the sky in streaks of grey, disappearing into night and smog. Through the smog shone the bobbing lights of floats. Shimmery bubbles encased girls in tiny bikinis, laughing and waving at boys on air-scooters, eating ice creams or apples like they were nothing. Penny’s hand tightened on the hubcap, her chest clutched all hollow. “Mo!” demanded Home, and she tickled him absently. She could look just as pretty as that girl in green, just as smart, just as sparkly. The girl in the green waved. Penny looked around, but except for a pack of kids the other side of gridlock, she and Home were the only peds on the Bridge deck. Yet the pretty girl couldn’t possibly be waving to a greasy scrap rat. “Me?” she mouthed. The girl dropped her float to the railing. “Hey,” she said. “I’m Clare. I’ve seen you hanging out. Couple decks down.” “I’m Penny. I scrap 125 to 127.” Three decks was an impressive territory to hold; maybe that would show this girl she was a somebody. “I know,” said Clare. “I watch you. You look really strong.” Penny didn’t understand why Clare would watch her, so she just said, “I carried a whole fender down to 120 once.” “Oh yeah?” said Clare. “But I mean your lungs. It’s a Code Red day and you’re not wheezing.” Code Red was another thing Penny didn’t understand. She said, “Aren’t we breathing the same air?” Clare shook her head. “See how my globe shimmers? That’s the edge of my air, good air.” Behind her the other globes pressed in, like a bobbing pile of headlights, the bikini girls watching. “I thought you all just sparkled,” Penny said, and then grimaced at her own eager words. The girl laughed. “I sparkle to you and you’re like strong Bridge steel to me. It’s funny.” Penny flushed. “I got to go.” “No, wait. I’m sorry if I said anything wrong. Come back and talk to me again, will you? You could come on my float.” Clare gestured at the floating globes of sparkling girls. They billowed up, moving over Penny’s head. “Pem, Pem,” said Home, pulling on her neck. Penny unhooked his chubby fingers, turned to see where the globed girls were clustering around the gang of kids. One girl in blue was as low as Clare was, reaching out to the gang. “You’re so lucky to have him,” said Clare. “We don’t have any
ILLUSTRATION BY JASON STRUTZ
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6 more of them, except the bought ones. Do you love him?” “’Course,” said Penny. “What do you mean, the bought ones?” The girl in blue’s hands thrust through the lit globe. She seemed to carry the light with her. “You have more brothers? Are there lots of you at home?” “I got one named Lark who’s seven or so. Dilys says we have an older brother who’s a Bridge cop up in the 400’s,” Penny said. “But he left when I was four and I dunno which of my memories is Jack and which were her boyfriends.” She turned back to Clare, who was staring hungrily at little Home. “Is that what they’re doing? Are they selling themselves?” “Not them, they’re too old,” said Clare. “Under-fours only. Is that something you’d ever consider? To get a way out?” “No!” Penny backed away. “How can they do that?” “Just fine, long as that Bridge cop doesn’t get there first,” said Clare. A broad figure in black synthetics zigzagged through gridlock, yelling. The glowing girls shot away, except for the girl in blue, who was leaning off her float, reaching for a small bundle. A red hoodie flashed in the middle of the gang and Penny gaped. “That’s Lark!” She darted through gridlock, banging against fenders, one hand twisted to steady Home in his harness. The gang scattered. Somehow the girl had got herself all onto the railing, her float suspended at her shoulder. Both she and Lark had their hands on the bundle; both looked terrified. The girl was gasping, loud and shallow. “Lark, be careful with him!” shrieked Penny over the engine roar. “Steady there, no one’s going to hurt you,” shouted the Bridge cop. “Any of you.” The girl yanked the bundle from Lark’s arms. She shoved it inside her float, overbalanced, and the float lurched away as she scrabbled for it, wheezing. The cop reached for her just as her fingers slipped off the edge. In her fall she was as dark and shadowy as any ped. The float bounded up. “Look what you’ve done, Lark,” said the cop. Lark’s fist pressed to his mouth. He ran for the west stairs, red hoodie flashing. Penny clutched Home’s hand. “That poor girl…” “And you,” said the cop. “Kick Lark out now if you know what’s good for you. Else he’ll be selling that one in the night.” His finger jabbed at Home, who chuckled. “He wouldn’t,” said Penny. “If you hadn’t butted in, that girl wouldn’t a fell.” “Lot you know,” said the cop. “That boy’s ruined.” “Pig,” muttered Penny. She turned with Home, jogged towards the west stairs. The hot rubber stink of stopped cars filled her nose. By the time she clattered two decks down it was fully dark and gridlock was easing. But she didn’t have to cross now; her home was on the north face. She ducked the rail and clambered down the jutting rebar to her home tucked in the concrete struts under deck 125. Lark was swinging his legs off the wooden platform, trying to look unconcerned. “What the hell was that?” said Penny. She set Home down, tied his overalls to the struts. “You’re not even supposed to leave
FADEOUT A F D E“ O U T ADEOUT
BY AMBER D. S ISTLA
I NEVER UNDERSTOOD WHY someone would want to use that fadeout paint,” Mr. Hayden said. “What’s the use, here one minute, gone the next. Seems like a big waste of time to me, to paint something that fades with each viewing?” Nathan wanted to roll his eyes but knew better than to do that now. “Dad, you don’t understand. The paint adds an ethereal,” he’d just learned the word and pronounced it slowly, “quality to the painting. The colors are unbelievable. The Artistic Times & Strokes magazine said it gives paintings charisma.” Unable to sit still, he bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. “To get a chance to see a painting by someone of Selay’s skill is….” His voice trailed off, unable to think of a word big enough to express the wondrousness of it. “His name is ‘Silly’?” Nathan bit back a reply. For as long as he could remember, conversations with his father always ended the same way, but if they got into another argument today, his father would never agree to let him use the scooter. He took a deep breath and infused his voice with, what he hoped, was a reasonable, unargumentative tone. “It’s Selay: S-E-L-A-Y. Dad, I’ve talked about him to you before. I have prints of every single one of his pictures on my walls. This painting is called Harvest. It’s supposed to be the best ever. Everyone’s been blogging about it nonstop.” Mr. Hayden looked unconvinced. “Everyone?” Nathan tried a different tactic. “Selay is a philanthropist. He’s dedicated his art to the disadvantaged in overcrowded areas. Nouveau Art quoted him as saying he wanted to be part of the overpopulation solution. He only shows his paintings in the worst areas.” Mr. Hayden’s face hardened. “We don’t need anybody’s handouts. We work hard and have enough for our needs. I don’t see as how that makes us disadvant-
WAS PREPARED FOR Root’s skepticism, but not for Walker’s outright hostility. I’d forgotten that Walker volunteered for the ACLU in her spare time; of course a more accurate surveillance device would offend her. That made her exactly the wrong person to put on an independent review board, I thought. “One more brick in the prison,” she said, banging down her cup and scalding her hand with coffee. “Look, all this information is floating around anyway,” I said, trying to appeal to the scientist in her. “Heat, electrical impulses, vibrations from heartbeats, pressure changes. How is it an invasion of privacy if I just combine the data?” “That shows all you know,” she said, mopping her hand with ice water. “Unless there’s one of these in every corner drug store, it’s flat against the Kyllo decision.” I was about to retort, but Root, who’d had his mouth full of sandwich and was gazing vaguely across the street, interrupted. “It’s neither here nor there, Melissa. Eddy was going to show us how the thing works. If it works.” He combed crumbs out of his beard with his fingernails. I nodded, aiming the Counter at a four-story monstrosity roughly where he’d been looking, all peeling yellow paint and boarded windows. As expected, it told me no one was inside. “That doesn’t prove much,” said Root. For a mathematician he’s an awful stickler for empirical evidence. Just then, as if by design, a pair of workmen in stained grey overalls approached the yellow building from the other direction, extinguishing cigarettes before they unlocked the door. I ran the Counter again. “Look,” I said. “It confirms the presence of two people inside the building. All the data correlate.” Root nodded thoughtfully; Walker grimaced. I figured I’d won the point, at least with Root. Then three men came out of the same door. Three. Walker let out a derisive yip of laughter. “So much for accurate surveillance technology!” The third man wore the same overalls as the other two; he locked the door, and the three of them retraced their steps, or rather, the steps of the first two. “I don’t understand,” I said. “I do,” said Root with a straight face. “If one of them goes back inside, the building will be empty again.” That is the punch-line of a very old joke. I rolled my eyes. “You mean, there’s negative-one people in the building right now?” “Obviously.” Walker snorted. Root said, “Check your instrument.” I ran the Counter again. The summary readout said, “ ERROR.” Then I checked the component data readings: infrared reduced, vibrations reduced, electrical impulses reduced. I compared them to the original readings; they were lower. Lower by just about the differential for one person. “Q. E. D.,” said Root. “Nonsense,” said Walker. “That man didn’t come from nowhere. You don’t just subtract three people from two people and get negative-one people. Besides being absurd on its face, it violates both conservation of mass and conservation of energy.
ILLUSTRATION BY JASON STRUTZ
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6 The gadget doesn’t work; the building wasn’t empty to begin with.” If Walker was right, then all the law enforcement supply contracts were dead—which is just what she was hoping. I said, “Maybe I should go in and take a look. It’d be interesting to see what a negative man looks like.” “You wouldn’t see him,” said Root. “If you enter the building, then it will be empty.” “You mean, I won’t be there either? Where will I go?” He shrugged, but I didn’t get up; I didn’t actually believe that I’d vanish, but I couldn’t explain the data either. But Walker pushed her chair back and rose. “This is ridiculous,” she said. “I’m about to prove the Counter can’t count.” “I don’t think I’d do that,” said Root. Walker snorted, threw down her napkin and strode across the café, across the street and to the ruined wall of the yellow building. Of course the door was locked, but that didn’t faze her. She went around the other side, apparently looking for a back door. After five minutes Root said quietly, “Check the Counter.” It now indicated that the building was empty. After another five minutes, Root and I paid the bill and found the back door of the derelict structure. It was open, but after we entered, we were the only ones there. When we left, we left alone. &
Melissa Walker has been on the Missing Persons list for three weeks now. There are no leads, no hints, no traces, nothing. The police and FBI have lost their enthusiasm for the Counter. Since I can’t explain why it indicated two men when there were three, they agree with Walker that the invention malfunctioned. They’re unlikely to buy. Walker would be delighted at that development. It’s almost as if she planned it this way. I haven’t been able to find the men in overalls we saw from the café that day. The building has been owned by a holding company for three years. The company hasn’t sent workmen to that location for six months. No one but Root, Walker, and I saw them, and they haven’t come back. But I’m going to keep trying to find them. I especially want to meet the third one, the man who came out but didn’t go in. Does he remember what it was like before he left the building? Was he ever there? And wherever he was before, is that where Walker is now? Maybe if I sit here long enough, I’ll see someone else emerge. ■ During his strange career, Kenneth Schneyer has been an actor, a corporate lawyer, a dishwasher, an IT project manager, and the Assistant Dean of a technology school. His stories have appeared in Analog, Clockwork Phoenix 3, Cosmos Online, and GUD Magazine, among others. He attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in 2009, and became the newest member of the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop in 2010. Born in Detroit, he teaches literature and legal studies in Rhode Island, where he lives with his wife and their two children.
On August 27 at 3 pm at the Public Market House in downtown Hillsborough, John Claude Bemis will launch The White City, the third and final book in his The Clockwork Dark trilogy which began with 2009’s The Nine Pound Hammer. Here, Durham’s Mur Lafferty reviews the second book, The WolfTree, and fellow Hillsborough writer Dan Campbell visits Bemis’s writing cabin in (even more) rural Orange County for an at-length interview. ►
PHOTO BY JUDY WOODALL
After novels Warp (a debut forgotten even on the “other books by the author” page of The Magician King) and Codex, Lev Grossman was trying to work his way into his next novel—without much success. Then, his twin brother Austin sent him the manuscript that would become Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin’s playful, genre-aware novel of superheroes and villains. Realizing that to truly find his voice he would have to embrace the works he grew up loving—C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and T.H. White’s retelling of the legend of King Arthur, The Once and Future King—Lev brought together old fantastic brainstorms (what if there was a school for wizards, and what would real practical magic look like?) with the literary chops he’d honed in the pages of Time magazine where he’d been a book reviewer and technology editor for several years, and came up with Quentin, Fillory, and the 2009 novel The Magicians, which would go on to become a New York Times bestseller, be named one of the New Yorker’s best books of 2009, and lead to a nomination for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, to be awarded in mid-August at Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention— the site of one of Grossman’s stops on his nationwide tour in support of the imminently forthcoming sequel The Magician King. Read on for a review of the novel and an at-length interview. ►
PHOTO BY SOPHIE GEE
THE AND ALCHEMY OF ANN AND JEFF VANDERMEER Article by Larry Nolen
The past four years have been extremely busy yet productive ones for Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Dubbed by Boing Boing as “the literary power couple”, the VanderMeers have co-edited eight anthologies since 2007’s Best American Fantasy 1, with two more anthologies (The Weird and ODD?) due to be released before the year’s end. This is on top of the other projects that they are doing in tandem or solo. Enumerating even a fraction of the projects that each is doing individually in addition to their collaborative efforts reveals two indefatigable people: editing the quarterly Weird Tales magazine, writing the short novel Borne, working on a non-fiction “travel guide” to imaginary settings, graphic novel adaptations, running a website dedicated to creating an open forum for writers to share strategy on how to market their works, short fiction, and other sundry projects. It is too much to cover at length, so the focus of this feature interview will be more on the collaborative projects the VanderMeers are currently engaged in completing as well as a couple of select individual efforts that are representative of their career and personal interests. Both VanderMeers have been active since the 1990s. Jeff star-
ted out self-publishing The Book ofFrog and then moved on to found the Ministry of Whimsy press in the 1990s in order to publish anthologies such as the influential Leviathan series and surreal fantasies like Stepan Chapman’s The Troika. Ann started Buzzcity Press, publishing authors such as Michael Cisco, Jeffrey Thomas, and Jeff VanderMeer himself either in book form or as part of her seminal Silver Web magazine. Over the years, the two began to interact personally as well as professionally, ultimately marrying each other in 2003. I recently asked the two of them to describe the first time the two of them collaborated on a project and what things they learned about each other in the process. Ann responded, “The first time we officially collaborated on a project was the Best American Fantasy series. Prior to that we had our separate publishing house (Buzzcity Press and Ministry of Whimsy) although at that time we were already helping each other in various ways. So with BAF, we decide to make it official. We learned to set the ground rules before embarking on any project so that there were no misunderstandings going forward. For example, with BAF, we decided that each of us could select one story that the other couldn’t veto and that each of us had only one veto we could use. This eliminated a lot of arguments.” Jeff added, “First, we learned that Ann wouldn’t kill me during the editorial process as I can get pretty driven and pretty obsessed. But also that our areas of agreement are wide and our
COVER: ART AND DESIGN BY JEREMY ZERFOSS / TOP: PHOTO BY RICHARD KLÍÈNÍK
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6 areas of disagreement are manageable. One big difference is that by pooling our resources, we manage to be more effective. If one person is busy, the other person can do most of the work for awhile, and that way we’re able to do more projects in a shorter period of time.” As we emailed back and forth, it quickly became apparent that Ann and Jeff have distinctly different yet complementary approaches toward story analysis and editing. When I questioned them on it, Ann said, “When we first began working on projects together we were in agreement on most stories. That is still true today. When we differ it’s usually me leaning towards the more commercial side whereas Jeff will embrace more experimental fiction. We approach fiction differently. Although Jeff is one of a very few fiction writers able to edit as well, he still views fiction through a writer’s eyes. I am first and foremost a reader. So I won’t get seduced by beautiful language if I can’t see a good story underneath it all. Jeff, on the other hand, introduces me to new worlds when he shows me a different way to look at story. We complement each other.” Jeff does not dispute Ann’s observation, but instead notes: “I don’t personally believe I get seduced by beautiful language with no story underneath it, but I do have more sympathy for non-traditional ways of telling stories. What I will do sometimes is be willing to ignore certain things if a certain visionary quality exists in the story. However, it also depends on the project. I would entertain more experimentalism in something like the Leviathan series than some of our other projects.” This interest on non-traditional ways of telling stories is seen in their latest collaborative anthology, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, which was recently published by Harper Voyager.
When I interviewed them, I was curious to see how they viewed this anthology in relation to other editing projects they had done together. Each had different takes. Ann responded, “This was a lot different from our other projects because it is a highly visual book. Many of our contributors are artists. And while we’ve had art contributions in the past, they have never been as central to the book as they are with this one. In addition, our contributors had to collaborate with each other; some even collaborating with more than one other contributor. It was a lot to juggle but it was worth it. In addition, Jeff supplied a lot of new fiction of his own that brought the book together.” Jeff, on the other hand, brought up an interesting point that
we returned to later in the interview, that of the nascent relationships between e-books and print editions: “It’s a good idea in the Age of e-books to diversify into projects that can only be fully realized in print form. This is one of those projects, and a unique way to showcase some of the most amazing contemporary fantasy writers along with amazing artists. There were more moving parts than for any antho we’ve done, but it was worth the hard work.” This admixture of visual art with fiction apparently will not be limited to The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet ofCuriosities, as Jeff stated that this will likely be the case for “pretty much all of them, including a bestiary anthology”, while Ann was a bit more cryptic and unwilling to divulge any more details, responding with a brief “yes, but for right now we’re keeping it a secret!” In 2008, the VanderMeers released the first of two reprint-heavy anthologies of Steampunk fiction, simply called Steampunk. Capitalizing on the growing interest in the Steampunk movement, which emphasizes, among other things a mechanical aesthetic welded onto a social critique of Victorian and imperialist worldviews, Steampunk had multiple reprints and spawned a follow-up in 2010, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, as well as a recent Steampunk issue in Weird Tales, where Ann has been the fiction and now chief editor for the past several years. Jeff wrote a Steampunk fiction, “Finding Hanover”, that has been reprinted in anthologies related to Steampunk short fiction. With the Spring 2011 release of The Steampunk Bible, which Jeff co-edited with S.J. Chambers, the two of them have become associated with the fiction side of Steampunk, an association which might not accurately describe their interests, as is seen in their responses to my question of how their works have been received and how they view the Steampunk subculture, in its wide-ranging literary, fashion, and inventor-chic iterations. Ann was much more effusive in her response, stating: “When we did the first Steampunk anthology we had no idea that there was this growing subculture from other disciplines outside of literature. Speaking for myself, I fell in love with a lot of the attitudes and philosophies of this community, not to mention the beauty of the fashion, art and new creations. And the Steampunk subculture that developed also produced a whole new generation of fiction. I’d like to think I played a small part in that. Both our Steampunk anthologies were very well received, and The Steampunk Bible? I’ll let Jeff tell you about that…”
ANN AND JEFF VANDERMEER—ODD? the world. At that time I never dreamed I’d be editing so many cool projects with my husband. Each book is a revelation to me—and a treasure. I feel blessed to be in this position.” Jeff: “I think on the projects other than my novels and story collections, the moment when things clicked is when we decided to combine forces. That synergy works well for us and allows us to tackle really ambitious anthology ideas. There is probably always an inclination to think some things could have gone better, for both the fiction and the anthologies, but in fact we’ve thus far both had very long-running careers and high-profile books. In terms of the fiction, I just want to keep pushing myself to improve and to try different things, and I have the opportunity to do that. Sometimes labels bother me, but it works both ways— New Weird and Steampunk have sometimes boxed me in as terms but they’ve also allowed me because of their popularity to reach a lot of readers. But in general I’ve seen my career as a steady climb with some dips and some rapid climbs along the way. The benefit of this career path is that by now I’ve been in just about every situation you can imagine in publishing. And that helps in terms of keeping on an even keel and staying hungry but also happy.” Creativity. Sharing of others’ talents with the world. Revelations. Synergy. The irritations that labels bring. The ambivalence toward being “boxed in” by categories that have also brought greater reader awareness. Staying hungry. These terms serve as a précis for what the VanderMeers have strived to accomplish during their careers. One word, however, was rarely stated
during this interview and yet might be most characteristic of both: enthusiasm. Whether it is Ann or Jeff talking about a new author that they have discovered or if the conversation revolves around the visual and tactile elements of their latest anthologies or if there is a discussion on various trends in writing and publishing, both of them never come across as blasé. They are forthright and rarely shy away from any of the challenges associated with editing a diverse set of anthologies while also working on their own individual jobs and projects. Most importantly, each is grounded in the realities of their situations and this acts as a counterbalance to their enthusiasm when a new project is begun. With The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet ofCuriosities, The Weird, and ODD? coming out in a four month window between July and October 2011, the VanderMeers are poised to have a very busy and potentially rewarding close to 2011. ■
Larry Nolen is a history and English teacher who has taught for most of the past twelve years in Tennessee and Florida, in both public and private school settings. Fascinated with languages from an early age, he devotes much of his spare time to reading and translating interviews and articles from Spanish and Portuguese into English, with his first published translation, of Leopoldo Lugones’s “El escuerzo” appearing in October 2011 in the anthology ODD? and his second, Augusto Monterroso’s “Mister Taylor”, forthcoming in Fall 2011 in The Weird. His blog, The OF Blog, can be found at: [ofblog.blogspot.com].
With Dark Tangos, Raleigh author Lewis Shiner has published his seventh novel. In the 27 years since his debut, he has tackled science fiction, skateboarding, racism, and, perhaps most of all, music. Itâ€™s most obvious in his World Fantasy Award-winning novel Glimpses and in his non-genre novel Say Goodbye, but music, rhythm, and dance permeate his social novel Black & White and some of his best short fiction as well. The titular dance in Dark Tangos takes center stage, as Shiner weaves a tight first-person narrative of an American finding his way in Argentina, using the tango as a lens into the cultural and socio-political world of the latter, while turning the lens on itself to, as Shiner does so well, illuminate the former. Read on for a review of the novel and an at-length interview. â–ş
PHOTO BY ORLA SWIFT
Subterranean Press, August 2011
One of the characters in Lewis Shiner’s taut, brief Dark Tangos, a Sikh programmer named Bahadur, is obsessed with thrillers. And for a while, it looks like the book fits neatly into that category. Rob “Beto” Cavenaugh is a middle-aged American reeling from a dissolving marriage and a forcible relocation of his job to Buenos Aires. Once there, he meets a mysterious, beautiful woman named Elena who’s running away from her family and trailed by a mysterious, sinister-looking man. As Beto falls inexorably under Elena’s spell, he’s drawn into the mysteries of her past, ones tied up with Argentina’s bloody history of crushing political dissent and America’s complicity in the horrors committed in those dark days. Her father, it seems, is not who he says he is. The mysterious man following her has secrets of his own. His employer has its hands dirty from Argentina’s “Dirty War” on political dissent. And when things get violent, it’s too late for Beto to back out. If Dark Tangos were one of Bahadur’s thrillers, what happened next would be clear. Elena would be using Beto, controlling him through sex and playing him for a sap, and we all know how that movie ends. Dark Tangos, however, takes a different, and riskier path. Thematically, it has a great deal in common with Shiner’s last novel, Black & White, as an exploration of the messy stuff suburban white Americans find when they go poking at what holds up their safe existences. Rather than dive into gunplay and escalating violence, it goes unflinchingly after the roots of the violence, and asks the question, “What does it take to get this to end?” Dark Tangos is not sympathetic to those who’ve committed acts of brutality, but it does recognize that they, too, have been damaged by the violence that has been done. And while “redemption” is too gentle a term to have a place in the book, the question of atonement and expiation gets an uneasy answer. And then, of course, there are the tangos. Anyone thinking of the term in the military/video game sense is going to be disappointed; there are no hordes of faceless enemies with AKs here. Rather, it is the dance that takes center stage. It’s the lens Beto uses to view Argentina, his gateway to its culture and its world, and seemingly the one refuge from the dirty reality of the inescapable, lingering political violence. Shiner describes the dance sequences the way other authors detail gunplay, luminous and detailed and lovingly explained, and the sense of escape Beto feels while the music plays is palpable. Except it’s not that easy, it can’t be that easy, because the music and the politics are both intrinsic to what gives Argentina its identity. There’s no taking one without the other, for good or for ill. If Dark Tangos doesn’t fall neatly into the box marked “thriller”, it does risk being labeled as another Hollywood staple: the “message” story where an American goes someplace foreign, gets a small taste of oppression and becomes a leader (and irresistible romantic catch) so that everything ends happily. All the pieces are certainly in place for that, and when, after Beto is tortured, his estranged wife whisks him back to the US for better medical care, it seems like the Hollywood ending is on the radar. But
Shiner recognizes the risk in one particularly telling exchange in Durham’s Duke Hospital, as the internist catalogs the injuries Beto has suffered and in the grand scheme of things, they don’t sound like much. Cracked bones will heal, permanent damage seems slight, and Beto just might dance again. And the internist acknowledges this, and in doing so quietly acknowledges that this is just a small fraction of what others experienced at the hands of the same thugs who laid hands on Beto. He doesn’t know it all, he can’t claim perfect understanding, but at the
DARK TANGOS by Lewis Shiner
DARK TANGOS: Review by Richard Dansky
same time it will always be a part of him and that leads to real understanding, not the cheap Hollywood variety. The book is slender, not quite 200 pages. It’s not rippling with action, except in the descriptions of various dances, and the tango terminology flies fast and furious. And, as noted previously, there’s nothing supernatural or science fictiony here, just the story of a man in a rough place where he doesn’t know the terrain, except on the dance floor. And for Dark Tangos, that’s more than enough. Article and Interview by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
After garnering a Nebula Award nomination and becoming both a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award and one of the founding voices of cyberpunk with his debut novel Frontera (the awards were both won by William Gibson’s Neuromancer) and earning a second Nebula nomination with his second novel Deserted Cities ofthe Heart, Lewis Shiner seemed destined for both critical and popular success. Shiner, never content to follow the market or genre boundaries, followed up with a nongenre novel about skateboarding, architecture, ex-cons, and anarchy—the critically well-received 1990 novel Slam—before winning the World Fantasy Award for his 1993 novel of lost 1960s rock albums, Glimpses. Acclaim and praise followed Shiner’s 1999 non-genre novel Say Goodbye as well, but the bestseller lists remained elusive; instead of a million readers looking for more of the same he’d built a passionate following in the thousands willing to follow
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6 him from genre to mainstream and back again. John Kessel, a North Carolina State University professor of English and creative writing, Nebula Award winning author, and long-time friend of Shiner’s, is one of those passionate thousands. “He started out writing more within genre, though he was always pushing the edges of things, and never confined himself to one type of story,” Kessel said. “Nowadays he seems interested in writing whatever most moves him to write, with great regard for the readers but without regard for the market, because depending on what the market tells you will drive you insane.” Even as some of Shiner’s contemporaries finally found their breakout novels (Gibson found his way onto mainstream bestseller lists with his 2001 novel Pattern Recognition, and George R. R. Martin, for whom Shiner wrote several “Wild Card” stories in the mid-1980s, published the third and fourth of his now world-wide bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series) Shiner was hard at work on what would become his 2008 novel of social justice in Durham, North Carolina: Black & White. Still, his readers tend to become more than fans, they become champions of Shiner’s work. One such champion is Grammy and Audie Award-winning audio producer and narrator Stefan Rudnicki, who narrated and produced an audiobook of Glimpses in early 2011. “Lewis Shiner is an amazing writer,” Rudnicki said. “I first encountered him when I picked up a copy of Deserted Cities ofthe Heart back in the 80s. Each book he’s published since then has astonished, engaged and inspired me. Judging from online reviews, I’m not the only one who feels that way. But with often several years between books, Lew hasn’t built up enough publishing momentum to really break out. The fact that he bends genres out of recognition doesn’t help either, since he can’t be easily categorized and marketed.” Another is Sharyn November, a senior editor at Viking. “The first time I read Glimpses, it riveted me,” she said. “The blend of personal journey through time—both in the present and to the past—and the spot-on depiction of what it is to make and listen to music, as well as witness its creation … almost no one can do that. Say Goodbye is one of the saddest and most resonant novels I know. I’ve shared them with many musicians (and music lovers), and know I’ll keep on buying copies and giving them away. Thank you, Lew.” It is this spirit of gratitude, of something shared that is in turn worth sharing, which is both evoked so well in Shiner’s work and which best exemplifies the sentiments of his readers. For Rudnicki, this sentiment has deepened through his hours in the studio with Shiner and his work, which began with Rudnicki producing Shiner’s own narration of Say Goodbye and continued with Rudnicki producing the 2007 three-story audio compilation Missing Persons, for which he also narrated “Perfidia”. “ Glimpses is arguably his most popular novel,” Rudnicki said. “It has elements of science fiction, fantasy, high suspense and profound psychological odyssey. In a dazzling display of literary virtuosity, Lew immerses us in the heart of the sixties rock and roll counter-culture, sneaking us into the music itself as we visit
recording sessions that never took place … face to face with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson and others. As a narrator, I got to voice these highly-charged personalities through the filter of Lew’s protagonist, Ray Shackleford, a man in exquisite crisis who can create music out of the harmonics of history. The experience of recording this book is one that changed my life. Listening to it may change yours.” It was yet another champion, Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer, who published both of Shiner’s most recent novels (Black & White and Dark Tangos), both of Shiner’s most recent short story collections (Love in Vain and Collected Stories), and has overseen the return of Shiner’s previous novels to print in a “Definitive Editions” series—a series which features Shiner’s own cover and interior design. The series, an idea Shiner had nursed since 1996, is one which has been warmly welcome by his readers. “A mainstream publisher should have kept his work in print, in handsome uniform editions,” said award-winning American writer Michael Bishop, “but, frankly, I can’t imagine that they would have done it as well as he has himself, working with Bill Schafer at Subterranean. As far as I’m concerned, he’s done American letters a signal service.” For Schafer, whose selections at Subterranean have always been eclectic and never focused exclusively on genre and marketing categories, the decision to publish Shiner, from first approaching Shiner in the late 1990s to propose what would become the collection Love in Vain, to the imminently forthcoming Dark Tangos, comes from Schafer’s own response to Shiner’s work as a reader. “The short answer is that it’s a Lew Shiner book,” Schafer said when asked what made Dark Tangos a good fit for Subterranean. “Lew’s never been one to cover the same literary territory again and again. If there's a commonality to his fiction, as Karen Joy Fowler noted in her introduction to Collected Stories, it's that Lew’s a very political writer. As a reader, I respond strongly both to the variety of forms he utilizes in his fiction—Black & White is part historical thriller; Glimpses can best be described as a time travel novel—as well as being presented with political realities that I might not otherwise encounter. Dark Tangos is merely the latest, excellent example of Lew’s varied interests and focus.” Kessel also noted Shiner’s tendency toward the political. “Certain qualities of Lew’s work have been there from the beginning, though he also has evolved and grown stronger. But he always has been a writer who cares about right and wrong, which sometimes makes his stories political in the best way. He doesn’t let his strong beliefs prevent him from writing real fiction, not propaganda. He cares about history and the people caught up in it.” Back in the mid 1980s, when Shiner was best known as one of the “Cyberpunks” for his short fiction and for Frontera, he met Richard Butner, a North Carolina writer who would become one of Shiner’s closest friends as well as Shiner’s “First Line of Defense” when it comes to reading and critiquing each other’s work.
Night Shade Books, June 2011
MISERERE: AN AUTUMN TALE by Teresa Frohock
chemistry and past dark connections. Much of Miserere is founded on the principal of ripping open old wounds, and such a character dichotomy is rife with these kinds of opportunities. Plot wise, Miserere pulls threads from a plethora of different religions and mythologies. This gives us an interesting case of possibilities. Hellhounds, angels, magic, exorcisms, gods and goddesses—all of which make the Woerld a strange, and somewhat confusing place for the reader—act as a supernatural power avenue that masquerades as a complicated magic system. With very few of the usual debut novel pitfalls, Miserere is a stunning, vivid foray into a complicated, but decipherable, world. And Theresa Frohock successfully plants a foothold in the speculative market as an author to watch. &
North Carolina author Teresa Frohock has been reading fantasy and science fiction since she was twelve; although her fascination with the grotesque extends back into childhood. Whenever she went to a carnival, she was always the first one at the tent that housed the freak-show. She wanted to see the two-head (chicken, snake, fetus, fill-in-the-blank) and was always disappointed when it wasn’t alive—it seemed like such a rip-off. Springing from the heaven and hell depicted in her Baptist upbringing, drawing from Elaine Pagels’s works on Gnostic Christianity and her own explorations of Buddhism, Wicca, and other religions, Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her first novel, published in June 2011 by Night Shade Books. Review and Interview by J.P. Wickwire
The seven deadly sins are often touted as the seeds of man’s downfall. However, perhaps even more damning would be the absence of essential virtue; the lack of loyalty, love and compassion. Because without virtue, doesn’t everything become a sin? Exorcist Lucian Negru abandoned his lover at the gates of Hell. Now he’s an outcast, struggling and imprisoned under his twin sister, Catarina’s, dark reign in the alternate dimension of Woerld. Catarina has slowly sold her virtue to Hell, each time in exchange for more power, but the resistance still holds onto hope that one day she will be overthrown. Lucian will have to confront his demons and reclaim his past to begin the path to redemption … but can he even find the strength to begin? Teresa Frohock’s spellbinding debut novel, Miserere, is a powerful foray into a world that exists outside the lines. Governed by emotion and pitted on the highest stakes, Miserere explores dark avenues of hope, lust, and eventually, full-on war. Frohock’s writing exhibits few of the caveats usually found in debut novelists. Though she does sometimes “tell instead of show” it isn’t nearly enough to cripple the story, and hardly warrants mentioning. Instead, her writing is fresh, new, and alert. Lucian as a character is flawed and deep, as is his troubled sister, and his possessed ex-lover. As a trio, they form a peculiar sort of love triangle that adds fire to an already thrilling story. But perhaps what makes the characters most enthralling is their natural
You just had Miserere [your first book] published. Has that changed the way you write, or your writing process at all? Yes, because my first book I wrote when I was in my early twenties, and it was terrible. I think I had five different characters, and I was going to focus on all five. So with Miserere, I’d taken two online writing courses. And [they] talked about how to focus on a single protagonist, and carry that story from beginning to end. And that’s what really changed for me. And the other thing was really finding my voice. When I first started my first draft, it was full of purple prose—really flowery—and nobody could get it. I just found the simplest approach was the easiest for me. Was it difficult to find an agent for Miserere? I only submitted to four different agents. One felt that the religious aspect of it might make it a hard sell. [My current agent] Weronika [Janczuk] wasn’t intimidated by it at all. I don’t think anything intimidates her; she’s wonderful. She saw what I was doing, she saw past the religion, and she saw right into it. I had two other agents that sent me the standard “Thank you … no thank you.” I didn’t expect everything to happen as fast as it did. Talking about the religious aspects, you managed to combine all of these different religious without really disrespecting any of them. Was that balance difficult to strike? I worked really hard to keep the balance. The way I did that was I tried to hit it from a scholarly angle, and I wanted to go back especially with Christianity, back to before the church split. I wanted to see what would happen if you had a little bit of Protestant, a little bit of Orthodox, a little bit of Eastern [religion] and you mixed it all together. Your main character, Lucian, has this journey in the book. But no matter how dark things get, you manage to keep things hopeful. I suppose this was just another balance you had to strike? I think part of it just had to do with Lucian. He was just one of those characters that was so easy to write—I mean, he practically wrote himself. With Lucian, it was just easy with him, because he has that philosophy of “it’s going to be okay”. You know with some people, they get beaten down. [Lucian] shifted, and
position, and wait in serenity for answers that may never come. &
STARVE BETTER and SENSATION: Review by Jason Erik Lundberg: “Two From Nick Mamatas”
Nick Mamatas is primarily known alternately as a writer of short sharp fictions that leave the reader both pleasantly bewildered and slightly unsettled, and as an Internet rabble-rouser who takes pleasure in telling newbie writers (and established ones as well) why they are often wrong in their assumptions and conclusions. And so it is fitting that his dual nature is exemplarily illustrated during the summer of 2011, with the release of two new books, one nonfiction and one fiction. Starve Better is the book about writing whose time has come. Subtitled “Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life”, one gets the immediate sense that this is a book which pulls no punches, but does so with humor, exemplified in the title of the first chapter: “All Advice is Terrible Advice, Plus Other Useful Advice.” The book is separated into two halves, The Book of Lies and The Book of Life, the former dealing with writing fiction and the latter non-fiction. Through it all runs Mamatas’s caustic wit and abrupt honesty, which goes a long way toward stripping away the elite glamour of The Published Author and replacing it with the more realistic image of the practical hardworking writer, a technique akin to an older sibling punching you in the upper arm and then tenderly saying, “Look, dumbass, this is how things really work.” An example, from the chapter titled “What is Fantatwee?” which addresses the false axiom that editors “just want good stories”: «I don’t want good stories. I want stories of a certain type. If all I wanted to do was publish good stories, I’d not bother with slush or any of that stuff, but just take a story from the Chekhov archive and paste it up. […] Hell, I could publish [James Joyce’s] “Araby” every single month, and every single month Clarkesworld would feature the greatest short story ever written in English.» Whether Mamatas is discussing nuts-and-bolts issues of craft, or trusting oneself to leave the flaws in one’s writing, or ways to make a living as a freelancer (specifically in non-fiction), or the ins and outs of getting an MFA, his advice is straight to the point,
PM Press, May 2011
SENSATION by Nick Mamatas
Apex Publications, July 2011
STARVE BETTER: SURVIVING THE ENDLESS HORROR OF THE WRITING LIFE by Nick Mamatas
BULL SPEC—ISSUE #6
imminently practical, and often hilarious. With Sensation, Mamatas walks his talk in a novel of recondite anarchic weirdness. The world as we know it is run by the collective super-intelligence of a certain breed of spider, Plesiometa argyra, which has manipulated mankind for thousands of years, and which is the novel’s viewpoint character(s). The only real enemy of these spiders is Hymenoepimecis sp. , a parasitic wasp that injects its larvae directly into the spider’s abdomen and effects behavioural changes that force the spider to weave a web which will cocoon the larvae and allow them to pupate into parasitic wasps themselves (after consuming the spider, of course). When one of these Hymenoepimecis wasps that has been mutated by high levels of radon radiation stings the arm of Brooklynite Julia Hernandez and lays its eggs into her bloodstream, the result is the abrupt dissolution of her marriage to husband Raymond, the murder in broad daylight of a real estate magnate, the birth of a prankster movement similar to the hacktivist group Anonymous, and the destruction of the Internet, all stemming from Julia’s now unexplainable manipulative charisma. The action moves fast and furious, told in a taut and riveting prose style. And although the premise is fantastical in nature, once accepted, it is perhaps Mamatas’s most accessible work to date. Bewildering? Yes. Unsettling? One only need read the passage of a Man of Indeterminate Ethnicity (woven by the spiders as a homunculus for use in human interaction) getting his arm accidentally ripped off, and a burst of spiders erupting from the hole, to answer Yes to this also. But at the same time, the telling itself maintains an air of fabulism that will appeal to readers both of realism and the fantastical, in large part due to the collective voice of the spiders themselves. Which is why it is so incredibly disappointing that the novel’s conclusion just peters out. What should have been the climax of the story, where Julia and two other members of the prankster movement arrive in Hamilton!, Ohio, to confront the locus of spider influence, instead fizzles without consequence; no grand revelations are revealed, no epiphanies occur. This was the point to make a profound comment on authoritarian and corporate methods of hidden control, or the nature of authentic experience versus manipulated illusion, but Mamatas leaves things overly
Bull Spec is edited, designed, & published by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn with poetry editor Dan Campbell. To learn more or to order back issues (or subscribe!) visit [bullspec.com] or email [email@example.com].
EDITORIAL: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SUMMER?
hat’s left of the summer brings (along with its heatwaves) a pile of new books from local authors: David Drake’s Out ofthe Waters and Into the Hinterlands (with John Lambshead), Mark Van Name’s anthology The Wild Side: Urban Fantasy with an Erotic Edge, Rebecca Rowe’s Circle Tide, John Claude Bemis’s The White City, and Lewis Shiner’s Dark Tangos; while the autumn will see: Stephen Messer’s The Death ofYorik Mortwell, Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Rift Walker, John Kessel’s anthology Kafkaesque (with James Patrick Kelly), and Natania Barron’s Pligrim ofthe Sky.
It’s also going to be a busy late summer and early fall in terms of bigname authors having a tour stop in the Triangle. Lev Grossman (The Magicians, The Magician King) comes to Flyleaf Books on August 30, Quail Ridge Books hosts both Terry Brooks (Legends of Shannara: The Measure of the Magic, September 7)
and Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow, Doc, November 15), and for readers more attuned to the graphical medium, NC Comicon returns to Morrisville on November 5-6, bringing a long list of writers and artists. Earlier, Mur Lafferty’s launch party for her Afterlife series was a wonderful celebration of her books and the community
who supported and help launched their beautiful hardcover print versions through Mur’s successful Kickstarter campaign. Another local creator, artist Angi Shearstone, also relied on Kickstarter to launch her vampire-punk “painted comic” series BloodDreams. Meanwhile, it’s a time of transition for the magazine. Slowly but surely, I’ve started the handover of the fiction editing reins to Natania Barron and Eric Gregory, whose selections will start appearing as soon as issue 8 early next year, and upon whom I’ve already begun to rely for story editing. It sets out a vision for the third year of the magazine that I hope you are as excited about as I am—excited enough to tell your friends and coworkers to subscribe, and excited enough to want to be a part of it through our own upcoming Kickstarter fundraiser. Lastly, I want to once again thank Jeremy Zerfoss for delivering a wonderful work of cover art and design for this issue. To thank us in return, Jeremy has a special offer: use code CHEEKYTENNO at his design house [tennoarthouse.com] for a discounted print of “Squid Ascendant Upon the Cabinet of Thackery”. Jeremy is also the cover artist and designer for Jeff VanderMeer’s Cheeky Frawg e-imprint, and I knew immediately that I wanted him to design a cover for this issue around the VanderMeers’s projects. He nailed it.
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn Editor & Publisher, Bull Spec
Document layout created in Scribus with additional text editing performed using OpenOffice.org and additional image editing performed using GIMP and Inkscape. Printed by Publishers Press in Shepherdsville, KY, USA.