Comics events updates

The Chapel Hill Comics event with Lisa Hanawalt for My Dirty Dumb Eyes originally scheduled for Saturday June 29 has been postponed until the fall. But! They’ve added a Saturday, July 6 My Little Pony comic event with cover artist Elena “Yamino” Barbarich.

July Newsletter: ConTemporal, Writers of the Future, Alex Bledsoe, Ehmm Theory, Jenna Black, and Can’t Stop the Serenity

Vol 3. No 7. June 27, 2013:

I’m sneaking this into the end of June because tomorrow (Friday, June 28) has two noteworthy events to mention before we turn the page into the events of July:

  • ConTemporal, the Triangle-area-based Steampunk-centered multi-disciplinary convention for authors, artists, makers, costumers, musicians, gamers, fans, and more, opens its second year, at the North Raleigh Hilton. The “Port” opens at 3 pm, with programming getting started at 5 pm and continuing all weekend.
  • Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books hosts Jamil Nasir for his new sf novel Tunnel Out of Death (Tor Books), along with local writer Alex Wilson for the publication of the latest anthology from Writers of the Future, which includes Wilson’s prize-winning story. Billed as a “dual reading”, this event starts at 7 pm. [Facebook event]

Speaking of July, though, it’s going to be a fun month, with readings from Alex Bledsoe, Stephen Kiernan, and Jenna Black, a comic book signing — a just-announced July 13 event at Ultimate Comics for Ehmm Theory — and to cap the month off the annual charity event by the NC Browncoats, “Can’t Stop the Serenity” on Sunday July 28. And! It’s a big month for regional speculative fiction, too, with new books from Asheville’s Nathan Ballingrud (his collection North American Lake Monsters is actually out a bit early, and reviewed quite positively by, the aforementioned Triangle’s own Jenna Black (Replica), fellow Triangle author Kelly Gay (a short story in the anthology Carniepunk), and Durham writer Jay Posey, whose debut post-apocalyptic novel, Three, will have a local event, but it’s just not scheduled yet as of this writing. Stay tuned! (And don’t stop for too much rest after July, because August is just around the corner, with the big August 3 Bull Spec Summer Speculative Fiction Event at Quail Ridge Books!)

But looking back at June again, one category of thing jumps out at me: podcasts. Here’s a quick rundown of a few to check out from June:

  • Getting Paid – Episode #2 – Freelancing and Scoring the Perfect In-House Job by Gabe Dunston: “In this episode I talk with illustrator, Robb Mommaerts. He is the artist behind some of Cryptozoic’s new products such as the Food Fight game and The Lookouts comic.”
  • Mating Habits of the Modern Geek – Episode #23 – Hints and the Friend Zone: What You’re Probably Missing by Kelley Hightower: “In this episode, Sean Ryan and I discuss several different hints, clues, and tells for determining if that special someone you have your eye on may feel the same about you…or whether it’s time to stop bothering them. We explore the less-than-erogenous zone that is the Friend Zone, and why to women, Friendship is Magic while men avoid it like the plague.”
  • The Shambling Guide to New York City – Chapter 8 by Mur Lafferty — a chapter by chapter podcast of a new audiobook published in late May by Hachette Audio. (More Mur news I can’t resist sharing, among so much: a great write-up from io9, “Now This is the Urban Fantasy Heroine We Want”, and the inclusion of The Shambling Guide to New York City in the LA Times’ summer reading list.)

One last special shout-out this month, for local writer and critic Zack Smith, who is the pen behind the backup story in the next issue of KaBOOM! Studios’ Regular Show comic. Issue #1 sold out in 48 hours, and indeed, Zack is the “handsome devil” (his own words, c’mon, I have to quote them) on the “Next Issue” page of recently-published Issue #2. Congrats, Zack!



27-30 (Thursday to Sunday) — ConTemporal 2013 at the North Raleigh Hilton, beginning with the Thursday evening guest of honor dinner and continuing all weekend, as this Steampunk-themed convention is back for a second year. Guest of honor Ursula Vernon, along with Lee Martindale, Tom Smith, toastmaster Sal Sanfratello, and more. More info:

28 (Friday) 7 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts Jamil Nasir for his new sf novel Tunnel Out of Death (Tor Books), along with local writer Alex Wilson for the publication of the latest anthology from Writers of the Future, which includes Wilson’s prize-winning story. [Facebook event]

29 (Saturday) 6 pm to 9 pm — Chapel Hill Comics will host Lisa Hanawalt on Saturday, June 29, from 6pm until 9pm, when she will sign her new book, My Dirty Dumb Eyes. More info: 7/29: This event has been postponed until the fall.

29 (Saturday) Late to Later — Pittsboro’s Davenport & Winkleperry hosts THE CLOCKWORK BALL: A Steampunk Party.

JULY 2013 Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Quick Updates: Studio Ghibli, George Takei, ConTemporal, Jamil Nasir and Alex Wilson, and The Clockwork Ball

Friday, June 21: It’s quite a week NEXT week, with George Takei leading a musical trip through science fiction at the North Carolina Symphony ahead of year two of the Steampunk convention ConTemporal, a joint event with Jamil Nasir and recent Writers of the Future winner Alex Wilson, and another Clockwork Ball at Davenport & Winkleperry. And, starting this weekend at Durham’s Carolina Theatre, is Part 2 of The Studio Ghibli Collection film series, starting tonight with Kiki’s Delivery Service and Pom Poko and continuing tomorrow with five additional films, some running as long as Thursday, others only here for a few days.


JUNE 2013

21-27 (Friday to Thursday) — Durham’s The Carolina Theatre hosts Part 2 of The Studio Ghibli Collection film series, starting tonight with Kiki’s Delivery Service and Pom Poko and continuing tomorrow with five additional films, some running as long as Thursday, others only here for a few days.

27-28 (Thursday and Friday) — A sf-themed even from the NC Symphony: ‘Join George Takei, “Mr. Sulu” of Star Trek fame, as he guides you through the galaxy accompanied by music from E.T., Star Wars, Close Encounters, and,of course, Star Trek.’ Go to for tickets.

27-30 (Thursday to Sunday) — ConTemporal 2013 at the North Raleigh Hilton, beginning with the Thursday evening guest of honor dinner and continuing all weekend, as this Steampunk-themed convention is back for a second year. Guest of honor Ursula Vernon, along with Lee Martindale, Tom Smith, toastmaster Sal Sanfratello, and more. More info:

28 (Friday) 7 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts Jamil Nasir for his new sf novel Tunnel Out of Death (Tor Books), along with local writer Alex Wilson for the publication of the latest anthology from Writers of the Future, which includes Wilson’s prize-winning story.

29 (Saturday) 6 pm to 9 pm — Chapel Hill Comics will host Lisa Hanawalt on Saturday, June 29, from 6pm until 9pm, when she will sign her new book, My Dirty Dumb Eyes! More info:

29 (Saturday) Late to Later — Pittsboro’s Davenport & Winkleperry hosts THE CLOCKWORK BALL: A Steampunk Party.

JULY 2013

10 (Wednesday) 7 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts Alex Bledsoe for Wisp of a Thing, book two after The Hum and the Shiver in his new contemporary fantasy series.

11 (Thursday) 7:30 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts STEPHEN KIERNAN for The Curiosity. “The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Michael Crichton in a powerful debut novel about a man frozen in ice for more than a century, who reawakens in the present day.”

The Exploding Spaceship goes to Con Kasterborous and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center!


Con Kasterborous ( ) is a Doctor Who convention in Huntsville, Alabama, which also happens to be the location for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal.  Con Kasterborous was until this year a rather small local convention where area fans came to groove with other Doctor Who fans after the season was over. But this year marked the first time they had a media guest, Caitlin Blackwood, who played young Amelia Pond during Amy’s and Rory’s time in the TARDIS. Attendance at the convention tripled and they are looking for a larger hotel for 2014. Huntsville fans are no strangers to running conventions because ConStellation has been running yearly since the 1970s, when Your Humble Columnists were young local fans in the area.  This resulted in a new convention with a very well trained staff. They were very organized, had very obvious security personnel (all staff had color-coded shirts according to function, sort of like the brightly- colored Daleks of recent seasons), and worked very hard to make sure the extremely large crowd for the convention space all had a good time while staying safe.

The dealer’s room was fantastic as the local FYE and Books-a-Million stores had ordered extra Doctor Who merchandise and brought it across the parking lot to the hotel. Also there is a local SF shop which has 3 stores in the area and they had brought merchandise as well.  Huntsville’s chain shops have always catered to a very SF-heavy crowd because the newer shopping areas all are located near most of the contractors who work for Marshall and the Arsenal as well as being near an Arsenal gate.  In the 70s and 80s, NASA publications were frequently featured as local interest publications in the bookstores and the SF section of the Waldenbooks then was nearly half the store. Even today the stores have more geeky merchandise than the same stores in other locations.

Caitlin with TARDIS

Caitlin Blackwood is now a charming twelve year old who is already getting her adult height, rather than the nine-year old who filmed the series. She is a dancer and a veteran of several conventions on both sides of the Atlantic, so she handled the crowds and the microphone with grace and charm. On Saturday, the autograph and picture session ran for longer than they had planned in order to get everyone through who was in line when they called a cutoff. Caitlin signed for nearly 2 hours, and was starting to look tired but she is a pro and never complained.

They stopped between signing and pictures to let the poor child have some cake, which she must have been dying for, because all the fans had been getting cupcakes off the table and munching while they waited in line. After 2 hours, any 12-year-old’s patience would be at an end after seeing everyone else in the room having cake, but you couldn’t because no one wants frosting on their autographs.  She didn’t complain, and was very lady-like with her eating, not wearing any afterwards, unlike some fans who had various colors of frosting on them the rest of the day. The Doctor Who-themed cupcakes and TARDIS cake were definitely a hit with everyone, even if some frosting went places it probably shouldn’t have. The fans included many children because of Caitlin’s presence and the fact that many Huntsville fans had got together and made more little fans. Some families had 3 or 4 generations present, which was great to see.

Costumes spanned the generations too, with people from infants to grandparents wearing costumes. It was fun to see many people in store bought costumes, because this is really the first year that any have been widely available in the US. Having chains like Hot Topic, FYE and Books-a-Million carry Doctor Who wear has really changed the clothing choices for DW fans.  Even people without costumes seemed to all have at least one Doctor Who shirt in their weekend wardrobe.

No DW convention is complete without a TARDIS and this convention had two! And a working Dalek!

TARDIS and Dalek Con Kasterborous

The Dalek was remotely controlled by a Doctor cosplayer and he had quite a sense of humor, so the Dalek scared several little Doctors who approached not realizing it talked and moved. It even gave some adults a fright when it was still and quiet, and then suddenly would blare out “EXTERMINATE!” or “THE DOCTOR MUST DIE!” when someone walked in front of the gun and sucker. On Sunday he used  a very short version of the Dalek scream to make it sound like the Dalek had done too much partying on Saturday night and was cursed with the burps, which gave us all a laugh, even if the children didn’t get why he was “burping”.

The convention had excellent panels with Caitlin doing a question and answer session, a group of podcasters talking about their work, and artist Kelly Yates talking about working on the IDW Doctor Who comic books. Kelly is a friend from Greensboro, NC but we had never seen him do panels alone before. He did a great job and showed us some great behind the scenes things. Hopefully next year they can plan to connect his tablet to a projector (he has already agreed to return for 2014).

In addition to the convention, we visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center ( again. We are members of the museum because we are in Huntsville several times a year. This time in addition to the displays of the Pathfinder shuttle, the Saturn rockets and the IMAX dome, there was a special exhibit on black holes which gave up to date information on theoretical information as well as information gained from astronomical research.  It was interesting and informative. There are two Saturn V rockets at the center, one suspended in sections in the Davidson Center, which is the new building built to house it, and a vertical one in the rocket park outside the Davidson Center.  To someone who saw the Saturn IB become part of the Huntsville’s skyline in 1970, walked under it in amazement as a very small child, then saw modern construction of overpasses and interstates hide it, the vertical Saturn V has returned Huntsville’s skyline to its proper look. It is even protected by law now so no construction can hide the rocket from the skyline. For first time visitors to Huntsville who come in from the airport or Interstate 65, it is quite a sight to see. Caitlin and her mom were quite amazed by it when they first arrived.

In addition to the museum, which is also a visitor center for Marshall Space Flight Center, there are tours of Redstone Arsenal including Marshall Space Flight Center available. Camps are available for all ages through Space Camp, Space Academy, and Aviation Challenge.

The ultimate in geeky weekends away: Con Kasterborous and a trip to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The next convention will be held in June of 2014, but the location is still being determined due to this year’s large crowd, so watch the website listed at the top of the review!

Friday Quick Updates: Merrie Haskell at The Regulator, “Fierce Reads Tour” including Leigh Bardugo at Quail Ridge Books, Free RPG Day, and more

Friday, June 14: It’s a packed weekend with two readings tonight and two all-day events on Saturday. Tonight’s readings are: Merrie Haskell for her new middle-grade fantasy Handbook for Dragon Slayers at Durham’s The Regulator Bookshop at 7pm; and (also at 7 pm) Quail Ridge Books hosts a stop on a 5-author YA sf/f tour, “Fierce Reads”, including Shadow & Bone author Leigh Bardugo. Tomorrow, the all-day events include Free RPG Day at gaming stores throughout the area, as well as Ultimate Comics’ “Best of the Triangle” cookout. (There’s also a Triangle Reddit Meetup for Global Reddit Meetup Day 2013, which starts at 1 pm at Durham’s Geer Street Garden on Saturday as well.) See you out and about! And below is an updated handy handout flyer in web and print editions, along with the events calendar through the end of the month. (ConTemporal! Alex Wilson and the Writers of the Future! George Takei! Exclamation points!)





14 (Friday) 7 pm — Durham’s The Regulator Bookshop hosts Merrie Haskell for new middle-grade fantasy/adventure Handbook for Dragon Slayers, which “mixes magic, mythical creatures, thrilling action, and a wonderful cast of characters.” More info:

14 (Friday) 7:00 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts “Fierce Reads Tour” as “Five fantasy and sci-fi authors join us with their new books! ANNA BANKS, Of Poseidon and Of Triton; LEIGH BARDUGO, Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm; JESSICA BRODY, Unremembered; EMMY LAYBOURNE, Monument 14 and Monument 14:Sky on Fire; and GENNIFER ALBIN,Crewel.” For ages 12+.

15 (Saturday) — Quail Ridge Books hosts fiction author KHALED HOSSEINI – With And The Mountains Echoed.

15 (Saturday) — Free RPG Day at gaming stores worldwide. “Established in 2007, Free RPG Day works with participating hobby game retailers and RPG publishers to bring new and exclusive RPG quickstart rules and adventure modules into the hands of gamers.” More info:

15 (Saturday) — Ultimate Comics is hosting a “Best of the Triangle” celebration cookout for being voted best comic shop in The Independent Weekly’s yearly poll. Free food, drinks, etc.

27-28 (Thursday and Friday) — A sf-themed even from the NC Symphony: ‘Join George Takei, “Mr. Sulu” of Star Trek fame, as he guides you through the galaxy accompanied by music from E.T., Star Wars, Close Encounters, and,of course, Star Trek.’ Go to for tickets.

27-30 (Thursday to Sunday) — ConTemporal 2013 at the North Raleigh Hilton, beginning with the Thursday evening guest of honor dinner and continuing all weekend, as this Steampunk-themed convention is back for a second year. Guest of honor Ursula Vernon, along with Lee Martindale, Tom Smith, toastmaster Sal Sanfratello, and more. More info:

28 (Friday) 7 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts Jamil Nasir for his new sf novel Tunnel Out of Death (Tor Books), along with local writer Alex Wilson for the publication of the latest anthology from Writers of the Future, which includes Wilson’s prize-winning story.

29 (Saturday) 6 pm to 9 pm — Chapel Hill Comics will host Lisa Hanawalt on Saturday, June 29, from 6pm until 9pm, when she will sign her new book, My Dirty Dumb Eyes. More info:

29 (Saturday) Late to Later — Pittsboro’s Davenport & Winkleperry hosts THE CLOCKWORK BALL: A Steampunk Party.

[See the June newsletter for events further down the line.]

The Exploding Spaceship Reviews New Wen Spencer, Orson Scott Card, and Ari Marmell


Review of Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer (Baen hardcover June 4, 2013)

Eight Million Gods is the story about a young adult American author named Nikki Delany, who is on the run from her mother, and she runs to Osaka, Japan where she has friends from the internet. While in Japan she is doing research for her second novel; the book is under contract and she is really stressed about completing it on time, because her muse strikes suddenly and causes her to write in torrents but the multiple scenes of her stories don’t always meet until the end so she stresses out until the story starts to come together.

Things take a turn for the strange when someone starts making her books into reality. At least that’s what Nikki thinks when it happens the first time and she is questioned by the police, but the truth is actually much stranger. It is a tale with Japanese gods, mothers who aren’t what they seem, tanuki, a kitten, a much loved adoptive father, and a scary guy with catlike moves.

eight million gods cover

Japanese mythological characters are running around on the streets of Japan but aren’t noticed by most people.  Nikki tries to sort out the mess caused by the gods fighting and at the same time change the end of her story so everyone doesn’t die. She meets some really interesting people and makes a good friend along the way. She also discovers her writing is indeed a gift from the gods and with practice is better at controlling the mad urges to write which hit her in times of stress.

For fans of anime, manga or Japanese culture, this book offers a wonderful immersion into that culture. Descriptions of everyday life are very detailed: food, drink, finding a place to live, and the general attitude toward Americans. Nikki is a very quirky but highly detailed character who immediately gets sympathy because of her crazy politician mother who is constantly trying to disrupt Nikki’s life (and who, as it turns out, has some secrets of her own).  There is plenty of action with swords, magic…and blenders.

Eight Million Gods offers a fresh look at urban fantasy without Western ideas of werewolves and vampires in it. As with all Wen Spencer’s work it is easy to read, so if your anime fan doesn’t read then you might get them to try this.

in thunder forged cover

Review of In Thunder Forged Iron Kingdom Chronicles The Fall of Llael: Book One by Ari Marmell

This is the first tie-in book based upon the Warmachine steam-powered fantasy game and the Iron Kingdoms roleplaying game, but that being said, we don’t play either of those but still enjoyed the book. The background is interesting and complex and the politics would probably be more detailed in the game material, but the characters and the plot did not depend on the reader knowing anything ahead of time.

It is a steam-tech fantasy wartime adventure but it is from the viewpoint of different individuals, not from a group or unit, when a unit is dealt with it is from the sergeant’s point of view.  There is cloak and dagger espionage as well as battles in the book. It is an interesting take on steampunk because the world’s tech is steam power but the world is very magic heavy so technology combines the two.  War robots are steam and magic powered.  Alchemy is also used to good effect. There are even mages whose only magic is done on guns or ammunition so they can’t miss and shots sometimes have special effects.

The character at the focus of the espionage scenes is Garland, a bright, charming female who uses all her gifts to get what she wants. She also makes interesting use of all the layers of clothing common in fancy female dress.  Sergeant Bracewell is in charge of a small unit of soldiers; bravely leading by example, she is devoted to her troops and will do anything to keep them safe.

When Garland and Bracewell team up with the assistance of female knight Lieutenant Laddermore on behalf of Cygnar, it results in great amounts of gunfire, explosions and running.  The bad guys (section three of Khador) are led by another strong female character named Vorona. Vorona and Garland keep trying to blow each other up but neither is successful. Both sides want the alchemical formula needed for a new weapon.  All this makes for some complex characters who interact with others from their side and the opposite ones in interesting ways.

Hopefully other volumes of the Iron Kingdom Chronicles will feature some of these characters. Most tie-in books are badly written and are aimed at a demographic who wants sexist depictions of women so it was a pleasant surprise to find a well written one with strong female characters who wear clothing appropriate for their professions.

earth afire cover

Review of Earth Afire : The First Formic War Volume 2 of the Formic Wars by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (Tor hardback, June 4, 2013)

This book is part of a newer series in the Ender’s Game universe which looks at the Formic Wars. It is the story of Captain Mazer Rackham of the New Zealand Special Air Services from the time before his appearance as a major character in Ender’s Game.

While everyone is denying the validity of images of alien attacks which have been posted to the web, Mazer is sent to China to train their pilots to operate the new planes their government has purchased. While he is there the Formics blow up some news shuttles and a UN ship on their approach to earth.  This sets everyone on high alert as the Formic send down landers into southeast China.  The Chinese lock down all access to their satellites so Rackham and his team can’t get any intelligence.  They steal one of the planes and go to the countryside where there is no jamming and land.

There are two narrative threads, one of a boy named Bingwen and his family and friends who are in the Formic landing zone in southeast China which starts as a separate thread but merges with the Mazer Rackham thread and then a thread which is set off of earth and follows the people who are trying to do something about the Formics, Lem and Rena. Their thread is not complete in this volume, but they manage to get in the same place and start to plan, so volume three will probably see action against the Formics from them.

Mazer helps rescue the Chinese peasants and then a little later they return the favor. As Mazer travels to the alien lander, he tries to get Bingwen to safety since he is alone now, but Bingwen won’t go. The interplay and discussion of war between them gets Mazer thinking about children and war, some of his thoughts give a clue as to where the idea for Battle School came from.

Mazer and Bingwen are both very interesting characters. You can see Bingwen is sort of like Ender but his upbringing makes him have a slightly different view of things. This time period shaped much of the Mazer we see in Ender’s Game so it is interesting to see the events which changed him. Most of Earth’s governments and the off-planetary government entities are made to look like idiots as a result of the Formic War, so some major changes will be coming. At the time of Ender’s Game, society infrastructure has completely changed in attitude, so it will be interesting to watch things change over later volumes.

The book is a well written adventure story but it is more of a war on the ground version of events than other things we have seen in this universe. It will be interesting to see if this view continues or if we will get more overall or off-earth views of the war in later volumes. The off-earth views in this volume are not of people at war yet, but they are trying to get new technology on-line to get rid of the Formics so they will be more important later. If you are an Ender’s Game fan, then this is a good read. Note that while the book is not marketed at teens, it is a safe read as the war scenes are not graphic and major portions of it have child characters.

The Exploding Spaceship Goes to ConCarolinas!


Review of ConCarolinas May 31-June2, 2013

The Charlotte Hilton University Place hotel used for the convention is in a good location to reach it from the interstates (I-85 and I-40) and the surrounding area has both fast food restaurants and sit-down restaurants within walking distance. The hotel also has a catering area setup to feed some people on site, but the food is only adequate so unless you are in a rush, I would definitely go elsewhere.  The temperature in the meeting spaces was fine, but there were many reports of hotel rooms being too hot, so definitely pack for the heat. June can be pleasant in NC but it can also get quite hot quite quickly so it is best to be prepared.  Also, it can be quite rainy this time of year, and because so many people drive to the convention the journey from the parking lot can become a bit of a hike for those not staying at the hotel.

This is a very writing-oriented convention with at least two writer panels going on in most time slots. The Magical Words blog participants are out in force, both as guests and as attendees. Their panels were completely full all weekend. The scheduling for the panels for this convention is good with enough time in between panels to run to the restroom, travel from one side of the hotel to another or to arrive very early in order to camp in a seat (a requirement for some of the more popular panels).  The panels can run quite late, and the topics of late night panels are not always strictly adult, which can sometimes be a problem for very young con-goers, but the convention uses all the available hotel spaces and so has to run late panels in order to fit them all in the schedule. The panels were all very well attended until about 9 p.m. when things dropped off.  The writing panels we attended were quite good, with participants being prepared and the audience members asking intelligent questions.  The panel topics ranged widely from ones for more experienced writers about marketing and social media to ones for new writers about the mechanics of writing.  Writers of any level could find something to take home from the panels.

The dealer room was well laid out so there was enough walk space. There was a wide variety of dealers, with wares running the gamut from sweets to toys to books.  The dealer room hours were late enough on Friday that even those people who came after work could get in there to look around and they closed early enough on Saturday that the dealers didn’t miss all the night time panels and events. Note that at this convention authors are given table space to sell books and sign them, only a small space though so guests like Tim Zahn still set-up a dealers table. This does mean that authors have a fair chance of selling enough to recoup their costs, but they need someone to man the table when they are in panels.

Overall this is a very well-run convention with a great deal to offer people interested in gaming (which runs most of the weekend on multiple tables) or writing. Note that for 2014 the headline guests are George R.R. Martin and David Weber so the convention may sell out before the weekend and not sell any on-the-day badges. Check on the website  for updates about 2014.

The Hardest Part: Richard Dansky on Vaporware

Durham author Richard Dansky has helped hawk Bull Spec to passers-by at the Bimbe Cultural Arts Festival while wearing a vintage Montreal Expos shirt; he let me excerpt his novel, Firefly Rain, in Bull Spec #2; he’s been pressed to participate in several NC Speculative Fiction Night events, most recently in April, where he read from his new collection Snowbird Gothic; and he’s written a long list of reviews, interviews, and articles for Bull Spec, most recently a tribute to the late Ray Bradbury in issue #8. Here, Rich takes part in the guest author series “The Hardest Part” as it applies to his just-released novel, Vaporware.

by Richard Dansky
JournalStone, May 2013


By Richard Dansky:

The hardest part of writing Vaporware was knowing where to draw lines.

It’s the subject matter that made things difficult, as well as interesting. Vaporware is set at a video game company, and I am a video game developer by trade. I have been for fourteen years, give or take, with four years in-house at a tabletop game company before that. That’s a lot of years spent making games, a lot of games worked on, and a lot of years hanging out with other people who make games.

And here’s something that probably shouldn’t be a surprise: not every game development cycle goes smoothly. Even the best ones demand long hours, hard work, and sacrifice of personal time. As for the ones that aren’t the best, well, the less said about those, the better. I’ve seen good and I’ve seen bad, and just as importantly, I’ve swapped stories with friends and professional peers. I’ve heard their stories of the good, the bad, the ugly, the really ugly, and the “why did this not produce an armed insurrection?”

All of which is an extremely long-winded and ominous way of saying that I know a fair bit about how video games get made, the people who make them, and what it takes to get a game from “I have an idea! Let’s have the game star a robot ninja Dimetrodon!” to finished product. Not everything, not by a long shot, and I’m constantly aware that different studios have different ways of doing things so that no experience is universal, but it’s something I feel comfortable talking and writing about.

Which is where the notion of lines comes in, and yes, I said “lines”, as in “plural”. Because on this project, there was the creative line that had to be drawn, and there was the professional line, and there was the emotional line.

The creative line took the longest to draw, but in a lot of ways, it was the easiest. Basically, it’s the manifestation of the question: How much accuracy is too much. Sure, there are technothrillers that drown the reader in jargon; that’s part of the appeal to an audience that likes that sort of thing. But there are other audiences that don’t like it, or who get overwhelmed by it, and while the urge to get every last detail juuuuust right was strong, so was the urge to not frighten off readers who don’t necessarily want to internalize data check-in procedures along with their fiction. So a line had to be drawn there, one that delineated how much realism was too much for readers who weren’t subject matter experts, and how little was too little for people to understand what goes on during game development. So one draft had a little too much inside baseball and confused people; another didn’t have enough and genericized the game development aspect of the book too much. It was, as they say, a process.

The professional line that had to be drawn was about what I could or couldn’t say. The book was never intended as a roman a clef about my employer, and I didn’t want it to be taken that way. I also felt I had a professional obligation not to whitewash some of the craziness that happens making games; to do less would be to do a disservice to my peers. But again, the question was “how much is too much” – how much could I include without doing my profession a disservice, or creating misapprehensions about what I was trying to do.

Then there was the personal line – how much of myself was I willing to put out there before it was too much. Vaporware was in many places a difficult book to write, dredging up some old memories and rough patches. And when you’re writing material you’re intimately familiar with, what goes in may not be what you intended. I don’t view the book as autobiographical, and I don’t view the protagonist – who is not, in my opinion, a hero – as a stand in for yours truly. But in writing him, in watching the behaviors that he exhibited, it was easy to see echoes of my own in there, or of places I could have gone. Self-examination was unavoidable and, to be honest, not particularly pleasant.

In the end, I think it was worth it to wrestle long and hard with the question of how much to show – of the biz, of the details, of myself. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy. But if you wanted to hear about the easiest part of writing the book, well, that’s a whole other piece.


Briefly known as the world’s greatest living authority on Denebian Slime Devils (a true fact), Richard Dansky works as the Central Clancy Writer for Red Storm/Ubisoft. In 2009 he was named one of the Top 20 Videogame Writers by Gamasutra, and his numerous credits include the acclaimed Splinter Cell: Conviction, Far Cry, and Rainbow Six: Black Arrow. A prolific fiction author as well, Richard has published five novels and a short fiction collection, Snowbird Gothic. His latest novel, Vaporware, was released in May by JournalStone, and he writes regularly for magazines such as Bull Spec and Green Man Review.


The Exploding Spaceship Reviews the Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 edited by Catherine Asaro


Review of Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 edited by Catherine Asaro (Pyr, May 14, 2013)

This volume showcases those works published in 2011 that were on the 2011 Nebula ballot.  All the stories were enjoyable and it was convenient to get them in one volume. Many of the items appearing on the Nebula ballot are not from places the average reader would be able to access after the ballot is out because the magazine volumes in which they appeared have long since left the bookstore shelves.  If you miss issues of the print magazines, it can be difficult to find the missing ones without resorting to a used magazine dealer online and for most people the one story they want to read in a single issue would not be worth the trouble.  The showcase is a good way to provide access to all the stories that SFWA members thought were the best of 2011 publications.

Our favorite short story in this volume was Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie”.  It has a real world setting with just the slightest bit of magic. Because the magic was in childhood toys made by the mother, it makes you feel nostalgic for childhood treasures and you can easily believe those treasures have a bit of magic in them which made them come to life.  Also the issues of the immigrant mother not speaking English reminded us of friends who have a similar problem because their children cannot speak to their grandmother. Immigrants not speaking English is certainly an issue many families and towns are dealing with today. The mother’s lack of English makes her bringing the animals to life using Chinese even more magical because it is something the son and mother shared between themselves and it excluded the father and the boy’s friends. The son did not understand this until the end of the story because as a child he wanted to fit in and stopped talking in Chinese.  The end of the story was very sad because by the time the son understood his mother, she was gone.

The excerpt from Jo Walton’s Among Others was also exceptional. All of Jo’s work is good and we have enjoyed it since her first novel was published, but this work was the first time she had used her childhood in Wales as a resource to produce a fantasy setting.  After reading the excerpt we bought the novel while traveling and read it in a couple of days.  If you have not been to Wales, you have missed a beautiful part of the world. The mountains and coast are so beautiful, it is not hard to believe some of the people living there can do magic. Hidden away from most tourists are areas damaged by mining and quarrying, with buildings abandoned when the resources ran out. These are the areas where protagonist Morwenna goes to play in and that her fairies inhabit. It lends to this suburban fantasy a feel of a mix of the very ancient mixed with the only slightly old (like from our childhoods).  The characters in the story are all interesting, with Morwenna as the viewpoint character giving us a slanted view of many of the adults.  Morwenna had her own ideas about who was a family member and who was not, this did not agree with that of the adults.  It will be interesting to see further work in this universe since Morwenna still has several years of school to get through.

This volume has several excellent short works and excerpts of a few longer ones. If you like some variety to your reading and appreciate a good short story then this volume is for you.


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