Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fear of Pullman

Sydney and I had been wondering when religious conservatives in the United States would get wind of what Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was actually about. We've long expected an anti-Pullman crusade to succeed the mostly defunct anti-Harry Potter crusade. Our wait seems to be over; according to, the e-mail crusade has begun.

Sydney read from The Amber Spyglass, the concluding and most overtly anti-religious volume of the trilogy, at the Oct. 8 Banned Books Reading at Frostburg State University, sponsored by the English department and the campus chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. Several folks said they weren't familiar with those books, and several who were said they never heard of any controversy surrounding them. That will change soon enough, with the movie of The Golden Compass coming out this winter.

Here's Pullman's website. Fantasy fans who haven't read His Dark Materials definitely should. It's a marvel from beginning to end, and as I read, I kept thinking, "He'd never get away with this in the United States."

Citizens for Smart Growth

On Nov. 29, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will hear oral arguments in a case brought by a group I support, Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County, organized in opposition to a development called Terrapin Run.

Terrapin Run would be one of those developments we're all familiar with, in which the natural features for which the development is named are destroyed in order to make way for the development. No terrapins would run in Terrapin Run. But the issues before the court are whether developers have to follow a county comprehensive plan, and whether county officials have the authority to ignore their own comprehensive plan when wealthy developers come a-knocking. If the answers are no and yes, respectively, then what good is a comprehensive plan at all?

This is the question Citizens for Smart Growth -- a small group of locals passing the hat to pay its lawyer -- has asked from Cumberland to Annapolis. The group's persistence has greatly annoyed the developers and politicians who'd love to turn a wilderness valley into the second largest city in the county, despite it being a hundred-mile commute from the jobs that possibly would justify a 4,300-house subdivision. But Citizens for Smart Growth also has accumulated some influential backers along the way: the state Department of Planning, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the American Planning Association, all of whom have filed briefs with the court on Citizens' behalf.

Whatever happens, Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County deserves a lot of credit for not going quietly, and for exposing the business-as-usual decisions of local politicians to scrutiny not only statewide but nationwide as well.

For background on the years-long Terrapin Run saga, see this feature by NPR station WYPR in Baltimore and this story in the Cumberland Times-News.

For more on the consequences of unplanned, uncontrolled development nationwide, read today's New York Times story on fire hazards in San Diego County, where development in the riskiest areas -- adjoining state forests, just where Terrapin Run would be situated -- has gone from 61,000 houses in 1980 to 106,000 houses in 2000 to 125,000 houses today. Or this Associated Press story on Atlanta-area sprawl outgrowing its water capacity. "There are concrete limits to growth," one environmentalist says, "and no one wants to admit that."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Building blogs

I just discovered two blogs by friends in Alabama who are chronicling their very different building projects.

Kristin Walters and her husband, Darwin, live in a 1902 Victorian in Eutaw, and her blog is appropriately titled 1902 Victorian, a.k.a. Home Renovation at the Speed of Sludge.

Olivia and Randy Grider, meanwhile, bought land on Lookout Mountain near Mentone and are building themselves a New Old Cabin. The goal, Olivia writes, is "to create a house that looks, inside and out, as if it's about 100 years old."

My hat's off to these folks, but I sure am glad Sydney and I moved into a 1970s brick rancher that didn't need much of anything done to it. Except we did have to replace the backyard fence. And the storm drain. And the upstairs floors. And, downstairs, the carpet and the light fixtures. And the roofers will be here soon, whenever it stops raining ...

Today's movie recommendation: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Ah, nostalgia

Re-reading this March 2003 debate in The Onion really takes me back.

"Folksy and dangerous"

Jeremy Jose Orbe-Smith at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show has a lovely review of the Wizards anthology, including my contribution:
"A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" by Andy Duncan is another decidedly unusual look at one girl's wizardry. Duncan takes magic out of the middle ages and puts it in the post-civil-war South in a story that manages to be hilarious and folksy and dangerous all at once. Pearl, the young protagonist, runs away from her freak-show of a life, pushing through a diorama and into a house full of ghosts; there are more memorable and eccentric characters in this short little work than a good many novels, and I loved every one of them, even the baddies. Heck, even the Devil's representative was a charming old rapscallion. But then, he would be, right?

Takahashi/Duncan fanfic

"The Afterlife," a fan fiction by BrownRecluse inspired by Rumiko Takahashi's manga series Inuyasha, references my story "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question":
And like the girl who stepped through a diorama into a ghost world, I too had to answer the Devil’s Ninth Question
-- and more ...
I even get a shout-out in the note at the end. How about that?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Larry Craig's Super Tuber

On the Congress Cooks! web page, the recipe contributed by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is for Super Tuber -- a weiner shoved through a cored Idaho potato, then baked. Craig introduces the recipe thus:
Super Tuber is a great snack that uses one of my favorite vegetables: the Idaho potato. Of course, I suppose any type of potato could be used, but I cannot guarantee that a Super Tuber made with anything but a true Idaho potato would taste as good.

The God-o-Meter

Beliefnet has provided us devout political junkies with a God-o-Meter, an ongoing rating of each presidential candidate according to how religious he or she is trying to sound lately. A note on pronunciation: "God-o-Meter" rhymes with "barometer."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A blast at the beach

So far this week, three blasting caps have washed up on the beach at Ocean City, Md. The theory is they fell from a boat off the coast, but no one knows where or how many of these things might be out there.

The Dispatch in Ocean City reports that the fire marshal originally told anyone who found a suspected blasting cap to call 911 immediately. The police department soon amended that, saying first get far away from it, then call 911. Someone remembered, you see, that these things can be detonated by cell phones ...

First sentences, first paragraphs

Since I'm participating in a Capclave panel on great first sentences and first paragraphs, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite openings.
The ship came down from space. It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space. It was a new ship; it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm. In it were seventeen men, including a captain. The crowd at the Ohio field had shouted and waved their hands up into the sunlight, and the rocket had bloomed out great flowers of heat and color and run away into space on the third voyage to Mars!
-- Ray Bradbury, “Mars Is Heaven” (1949)

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
-- Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
-- Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

1. This is a test. Take notes. This will count as ¾ of your final grade. Hints: remember, in chess, kings cancel each other out and cannot occupy adjacent squares, are therefore all-powerful and totally powerless, cannot affect one another, produce stalemate. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion; the sect of Atman worships the divine spark of life within Man; in effect saying, “Thou art God.” Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox on the corner. Not everyone tells the truth. Operational note: these sections may be taken out of numerical sequence: rearrange them to suit yourself for optimum clarity. Turn over your test papers and begin.
-- Harlan Ellison, “The Deathbird” (1973)

Eric was night, and Batu was day. The girl, Charley, was the moon. Every night, she drove past the All-Night in her long, noisy, green Chevy, a dog hanging out the passenger window. It wasn’t ever the same dog, although they all had the same blissful expression. They were doomed, but they didn’t know it.
-- Kelly Link, “The Hortlak” (2003)

We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.
-- Margo Lanagan, “Singing My Sister Down” (2004)

The first bar I ever went to was The Tropics. It was and still is situated between the grocery store and the bank along Higbee Lane in West Islip. I was around five or six, and my old man would take me there with him when he went there to watch the Giant games on Sunday afternoon. While the men were all at the bar, drinking, talking, giving Y.A. Tittle a piece of their minds, I’d roll the balls on the pool table or sit in one of the booths in the back and color. The jukebox always seemed to be playing “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin while I searched for figures, the way people do with clouds, in the swirling cigar and cigarette smoke. I didn’t go there for the hard-boiled eggs the bartender proffered after making them vanish and pulling them out of my ear, or for the time spent sitting on my father’s lap at the bar, sipping a ginger ale with a cherry in it, although both were welcome. The glowing, bubbling beer signs were fascinating, the foul language was its own cool music, but the thing that drew me to The Tropics was a thirty-two-foot vision of paradise.
-- Jeffrey Ford, “A Night in The Tropics” (2004)

The man’s head and torso emerged from a hole in the ground, just a few feet from the rock where Pearl Hart sat smoking her last cigarette. His appearance surprised her, and she cussed him at some length. The man stared at her during the outpouring of profanity, his mild face smeared with dirt, his body still half-submerged. Pearl stopped cussing and squinted at him in the fading sunlight. He didn’t have on a shirt, and Pearl, being Pearl, wondered immediately if he was wearing pants.
-- Tim Pratt, “Hart and Boot” (2004)

Henry asked a question. He was joking.
“As a matter of fact,” the real estate agent snapped, “it is.”
-- Kelly Link, “Stone Animals” (2004)

Capclave 2007

Sydney and I will be at Capclave, Oct. 12-14 in Rockville, Md. The Guests of Honor are Jeffrey Ford and Ellen Datlow, and you can't get better than that, can you?

My part of the program schedule includes a 1 p.m. Saturday panel on Jeffrey Ford (moderated, interestingly enough, by Jeffrey Ford), a 3 p.m. Saturday panel on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, an 8:30 p.m. Saturday reading (most likely of my Eclipse One story), an 11 a.m. Sunday autographing and a 1 p.m. Sunday panel on great first sentences and first paragraphs.

Other scheduled attendees include Catherine Asaro, Kathryn Cramer, Dennis Danvers, Michael Dirda, Scott Edelman, David Hartwell, Klon Newell, Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Swanwick, Andy Wolverton, etc. Y'all come, too.

China moon

Michael Griffin, head of NASA, in a September speech quoted by The Associated Press:
I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are. I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.
Cue Billy Bragg's song "The Space Race Is Over":
It may look like some empty gesture
To go all that way just to come back
But don't offer me a place out in cyberspace
Cos where in the hell's that at?

Andy's Dandy

At the end of July, we bought a 2007 Prius. Sydney's dad, Bill Bowling, has the job of naming all the cars in the extended family, and he's named this one Andy's Dandy.

In these parts, buying a Prius isn't as easy as buying, say, a Camry. We had to drive 60-plus miles to Johnstown, Pa., to test-drive one, then wait several weeks for our local dealer, Shaffer Toyota, to track down the color and options package we'd requested. Shaffer found exactly what we wanted and made us very happy, but we couldn't help wondering why Toyota doesn't put more of these on the market, if it's really committed to the technology.

Speaking of which, the car is a dream to drive, has acres of storage, keeps surprising us with its well-designed electronic extras -- today we discovered the "memo" function on the dashboard calendar -- and, most importantly, gets great fuel economy. Our worst fuel economy to date, on a tank we burned driving the steep streets of Frostburg, was 46 miles per gallon. (As my brother said, with unimpeachable logic, "You have to drive uphill half the time.") Our best fuel economy, while Sydney was visiting her parents in the relative flatlands, was 52 miles per gallon.

Though Sydney has bought several new Subarus through the years, this is the first new car I ever bought. Smiling strangers keep walking up to say, "Nice car! How do you like it?" It's a welcome change of pace from the previous conversation-starters I've owned. Those conversations typically began "Get that piece of crap off the road, buddy!" and went downhill from there.

I knew them when

Rachel Swirsky, one of my Clarion West 2005 students, writes of the upcoming Fantasy: The Best of the Year:
One of my CW submission stories is also being published in the anthology. I dunno if you'd remember it -- "Heartstrung" which is about a woman sewing her daughter's heart to her sleeve.

I'm pleased to share a TOC!
This is excellent news, and I well remember reading that amazing story in manuscript. This may be the first time I've ever shared a table of contents with one of my former students. "Heartstrung" first saw print this year in Interzone. Rachel has others coming up in Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales and anthologies from Night Shade Books and Subterranean Press. Here's her blog.

Another story I well remember reading in manuscript is John Schoffstall's marvelous "Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery," first published in Strange Horizons in 2006. John was one of my Clarion 2004 students. The first print publication of "Fourteen Experiments" is in the new Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: 20th Annual Collection, as a Kelly Link-Gavin J. Grant selection. John's fine story "Bullet Dance" was in the July 2007 issue of Asimov's and is online at the Asimov's site.

And when I opened David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF 12, I was tickled to see "Just Do It," a Fantasy & Science Fiction story by one of Rachel's CW95 classmates, Heather Lindsley. Cory Doctorow calls "Just Do It" a "doozy," and he's right. I also commend to your attention Heather's laugh-out-loud "Atalanta Loses at the Interpantheonic Trivia Bee," in the September 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the impressive collage of famous Janes at Heather's blog, Random Jane. Heather's Jane-quilt reminds me of Karen Joy Fowler's "The Elizabeth Complex."

A number of my former Clarion and Clarion West students, not just these three, are on their way to becoming very well known in the field. I claim no credit for the success of any of these people. I'm just privileged that I got to hang out with these folks for a week one summer. They inspired me then, and they inspire me now.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fantasy: The Best of the Year

Sean Wallace at Prime Books sent me this distributor's-catalog mockup of the front cover for the 2008 Fantasy: The Best of the Year anthology, edited by Rich Horton. He thought I'd like it, for some reason.

Seriously, I'm delighted to learn that my story "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question," from the Gardner Dozois-Jack Dann anthology Wizards, is included in the book. I don't know the rest of the contents yet, but I suppose we can infer two of the other authors.

Make that three: David Barr Kirtley says on his blog that his story "Save Me Plz," from the October Realms of Fantasy (which I haven't read yet), also will be in the book -- his first appearance in a year's-best volume. This tickles me because I met David 10 years ago at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts when he won the Asimov Award for undergraduate sf writing (since renamed the Dell Magazines Award), and I've been rooting for him since. He's now a grad student in the writing program at the University of Southern California.

Eclipse One cover

Check out the cover of the anthology Eclipse One, imminent from Night Shade Books, at the blog of its editor, Jonathan Strahan. I'm delighted the anthology contains my story "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse."

Night Shade has the table of contents and the ordering information, but not the cover yet.

Publishers Weekly gives the book a starred review (scroll down), calling it "superb" -- Yay, team! -- so I can't decently complain about PW not mentioning me, can I?

Letters to the editor

Two more of my occasional letters to the editor got published in the Cumberland Times-News recently.

Here's my Sept. 6 letter, a reply to a letter writer who implied that terrorists attack the United States only when Democrats are in the White House.

Here's my Sept. 21 letter, a reply to a letter writer who said the answer to our health-care problems is to deregulate insurance companies and leave them in charge.

I'm not sure I ever posted here a link to my first letter to the editor of 2007, published June 13, so here it is. It's about mountaintop development and the Johnstown Flood.