Reading Doc Savage: The Czar of Fear

IMG_0699I’m skipping around a bit in the course of these rereads, but this is number twenty-two of the Bantam Reprints. On the green-toned cover, Doc is menaced by several figures in black hoods with glowing green eyes. A trick of the light makes it appear that the middle figure actually has three glowing green eyes, but the text does not support this, alas. This figure also has a shape half-obscured on its chest that will turn out to be a green bell but in this looks more like one of those things you put over food to keep them warm. Doc is posed very awkwardly, head turned towards the men and stepping toward them while wrenching his chest towards us in order to display rippling muscles half-obscured by the customary ripped shirt.

The narrative begins with a radio squawking and a man in a lunch-room: “pale fright rode his face”. He’s gulping his fourth mug of coffee, accompanied by two women, one “a striking beauty” in her twenties who turns out to be his sister and the other “a pleasant-faced grandmother type.” We learn their respective names are Jim, Alice, and Aunt Nora and they’re in search of Doc Savage.

There’s a pause for atmosphere to build tension before our action begins:

Rain purred on the lunch-room roof. It crawled like pale jelly down the windows. It fogged the street of the little New Jersey town. The gutters flowed water the color of lead.

And then we hear a sound from the radio: “a tolling, like the slow note of a big, listless bell. Mixed with the reverberations was an unearthly dirge of moaning and wailing.” The trio react with panic, but Aunt Nora reassures them, “It’s not likely the Green Bell was tolling for us — that time!” We learn that whenever the bell tolls, it means death and insanity.
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Yearly Recap Plus What’s Ahead in 2018

Among the things I’ve done in 2017:

  • In writing, I did the works listed here as well as turning Hearts of Tabat (so MANY thanks to my awesome editor, Kevin J. Anderson) into the publisher (also Kevin) and starting book #3, Exiles of Tabat, which I’ve got about 40k on so far. I didn’t publish any book-length work, but I’d had two in late 2016 (to the point where I was thinking one had come out this year) and will have at least two in 2018, so I guess it all evens out.
  • Lots of new classes for the Rambo Academy, including guests like Alex Acks, Jennifer Brozek, Cassandra Khaw, Rachel Swirsky, Paul Weimer, and Fran Wilde.
  • In skill acquisition, I added how to cook sous vide, coffee roasting, basic lockpicking and (even more basic) scuba to my overall character sheet. I also learned how to load and shoot a pistol, along with basic gun safety.
  • In fear conquering, I swam with sharks (twice) and took a self defense class.
  • In travel, I visited Orlando, New York City, Indianapolis, and Pocatello (ID) in the US and Dominical and surrounding areas in Costa Rica.

Picture of SFWA President Cat Rambo holding a small robot sculpture

Nebula weekend, 2017.

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My Award Eligible Stuff for 2017

IMG_3041If you’re looking for my roundup of F&SF posts by other writers, it’s here.

Most of my stories appeared privately for Patreon. Those Patreon stories included:
PATREON, October, 2017. A Restless World, co-written with Rachel Swirsky. (flash)
PATREON, October, 2017. Penned. (flash)
PATREON, August, 2017. A House Alone. (children’s story)
PATREON, July, 2017. Another Selkie Story. (fantasy story)
PATREON, July, 2017. Say Yes. (flash)
PATREON, June, 2017. Leaves. (far future SF story)
PATREON, May, 2017. The Houses of West Seattle. (fantasy story)
PATREON, April, 2017. Fix the Page. (flash)

Other stories included “Preferences” (SF) in Chasing Shadows, edited by David Brin and “Girls Gone Wild” (crime) in Blood Business, edited by Josh Viola and Mario Acevedo.

I am happy to send copies of anything people would like to see.

I am eligible as a fan writer; here are the essays and pieces I am particularly proud of:

Another Word: The Subtle Art of Promotion in Clarkesworld magazine
Another Word: Reading for Pleasure in Clarkesworld magazine
Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Report (Part One) (Part Two)
SFWA and Indie Writers (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four)
Celebrating Rainbow Hair
Time to Fix the Missing Stair
Reading Doc Savage: Land of Always-Night
Reading Doc Savage: The Sargasso Ogre
Reading Doc Savage: The Spook Legion
Reading Doc Savage: Quest of Qui

I have another novel coming out next year, Hearts of Tabat! If you’re interested in a review copy, please drop me an email or comment here. While it’s the sequel to Beasts of Tabat, it should read perfectly well even if you haven’t read the first book.

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2017 Award-Eligible Work Blog Posts & Roundups for F&SF

Time to start reading!

Time to start reading!

Hello! I’m posting my yearly round-up of eligibility posts. If you’ve got one, let me know by commenting here, e-mailing me, or messaging on social media. I’ll update daily.

An eligibility post is a blog or social media post listing what you published in 2017 that is eligible for awards such as the Compton Crook, Dragon, Endeavour, Hugo, Lambda, Nebula, World Fantasy Award, and WSFA awards, and sometimes including information such as which pieces you like the best or think are the strongest, word length, and genre. You can click through for many examples.





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Nattering Social Justice Cook: This Is Not A Review

Picture of male footprints in sand.So I read a book recently and I loved some parts of it and other parts…not so much. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since because there was one part of it I just adored but I don’t feel like I could tell anyone to read the book without a big “hey and you should watch out for this” addendum. I’d bounced off a previous book by this author with what was supposed to be grimdark but had a big ol’ weirdly ungrimdark gendered cliché early on that made me think so hard about it that I couldn’t pay attention to the rest of the book, so I was already a little cautious, yet optimistic because I knew the author to be a good writer.

I’ve talked before about reading when the protagonist is markedly not you, and how used to it women — and other members of the vast majority the mainstream media calls Other — become. And this was a good example of a very young, very male, very heterosexual book. Which God knows I’m not opposed to. I remain a huge fan of the Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir Destroyer series and Doc Savage was a big influence on me, growing up.

So why did this book hit me so hard in an unhappy place? Because it was so smart and funny and beautifully written and involved connected stories about a favorite city and magic, which are three of my favorite things. And because it had a chapter that was one of the best short stories about addiction that I’ve read, and that left me thinking about it in a way that will probably shape at least one future story.

And yet. And yet. And yet. Women were either powerful and unfuckable for one reason or another or else fell into the category marked “women the protagonist sleeps with”, who usually didn’t even get a name. Moments of homophobic rape humor, marked by a repeated insistence on the sanctity of the hero’s anus, and a scene in which he embraces being thought gay in order to save himself from a terrible fate, ha ha, isn’t that amusing. And I’m like…jesus, there is so much to love about this book but it’s like the author reaches out and slaps me away once a chapter or so.
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Stay the Course

Small things matter. Kind acts accrue. Sometimes you can change history by saving the butterfly rather than stepping on it.

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Three New SFWA Programs

One of the nice things about having a lot of pots bubbling away, particularly when other people are supervising some of them, is knowing what’s coming up on the menu. So here, in no particular order, is a deeper look at three pet projects that are manifesting.

SFWA Ed will be online education via the web: an array of classes aimed at a range of writers, from new to professional. We’ve got a lot of members who teach, and I know our coordinator has been reaching out to as many as he can. That’s been rolling along splendidly thanks to the undauntable and indefatigable Jonathan Brazee. I believe it will be a mix of paid and free classes; we’re still figuring out all the details.

First Chapters is my attempt to answer the question: how can I know what to vote for in award season without reading every single book? That’s the biggest complaint I hear about any of the awards. Or one of them, now that I think about it. At any rate, this compendium will have a first chapter from eligible books, with the info you need to figure out what category or categories it fits in for awards like the Nebulas, Hugos, Norton, the Dragon Awards, etc. Using it should help someone find the books they want to read in their entirety. If you’re interested in making sure you’re contacted when we start taking chapters, please drop me a line. (If you have been asked not to contact me, please mail your interest to This project is rolling along thanks to the efforts of Dan Potter and the Publishing Committee.

The Preserve Your Legacy Campaign. So to talk about this one, I have to talk about a SFWA volunteer, Bud Webster, who was frickin’ tireless in working with the SFWA Estates Project, which works to connect authors’ estate with publishers, editors, scholars, etc. Bud was smart and funny and above all, kind. One of the good-hearted people that help keep the world running. This campaign is aimed at helping writers learn how to preserve their literary estate and archive their works. This one’s being driven by the excellent Lawrence Schoen.

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Media Consumed in October, 2017

happyhalloweenNot much October travel, yahoo! Game-wise it’s still StarDew Valley and Skyrim on computer and console, D&D5E and Star Wars RPG (Fantasy Flight) for tabletop.

In television, I’m happy to have a new season of DC Legends and The Flash start; I’ve been working my way through The Arrow and am finishing up Season 2 now, but it lacks the humor and sweetness of the other two. We did finally get around to watching season 1 of Stranger things, which didn’t really grab me much at first, but finally won me over. We finished that up last night and are looking forward to season 2.

As part of my reading, I did learn how to pick a lock this month, or at least have gotten to the point where I can pick the practice one in about ten seconds (which makes me feel a little badass, but in a pretty limited way) and also understand both how a skeleton key works and what a padlock shim is. I figure this will be a useful skill, post zombie-apocalypse. Maybe. Lotsa story ideas brewing from it, though, including a new Serendib piece.

Here’s the books I read:

Anonymous. Visual Guide to Lockpicking.
Michael Bishop. Light Years and Dark. One of the strongest anthologies I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across.
Leigh Brackett. The Long Tomorrow.
Rutger Bregman. Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build an Ideal World. Great argument for basic income, lots of fascinating history of what’s been tried (and worked with amazing effectiveness).
Chesya Burke. Let’s Play White.
Chesya Burke. The Strange Crimes of Little Africa.
Robert Coram. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Interesting bio, particularly if you’re curious about 4GWarfare since his concepts inform it.
Tananarive Due. The Black Rose.
Tananarive Due. My Soul to Keep.
George Alec Effinger. Heroics.
Laurie Forest. The Black Witch.
Victor Gischler. Ink Mage.
Robert Graves. Watch the North Wind Rise. Well, that was interesting, is all I’m going to say about that.
Charlaine Harris, Day Shift.
Brandon Massey. Whispers in the Night.
Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Space Opera.
Nnedi Okarafor. Binti.
Lorenzo Pecchi and Gustavo Piga. Revisiting Keynes: Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.
Declan Shalvey. Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan #1.
Michael Swanwick, Being Gardner Dozois.
Pamela Samuels Young. Buying Time.

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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Self-Defense Class, Week One

Image of a baby two-toed sloth, taken at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica.

Sloths are kinda irresistible in the morning.

Well, it’s been interesting.

Monday, I got up at 4:45 AM and drove over, first making sure I’ve eaten half a protein bar despite my stomach protesting the early hour. Because I’m always anxious about getting places late, I was there fifteen minutes early and got a chance to chat with the instructor, Carrie, a peppy woman maybe 10-15 years older than I. The gym’s fairly minimal: mats and bags. Four other women arrived, and we got started.

Shock number one. We’re learning self-defense, but this is also a fitness bootcamp with a hearty dose of circuit training included. I find the fact that I walk a lot and do a plank once every few days has totally deluded me to my state of fitness. This is brought painfully home during the jumping rope section. I haven’t done it in decades and simply cannot do more than a couple without hitting my feet. Still, I persevere.
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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Defending Yourself

kickboxing-152817_1280Monday, in the wee and terrible hours of the morning, I’m dragging myself off to the first of twelve women’s self-defense classes, which meet three times a week for the next month.

While I’m not fond of the circumstances pushing the need for something like this, it’s something I’d thought about for decades, so probably it’s good to be going ahead and doing it before I get so creaky that I worry about breaking a hip. As it is I know I’ll be collecting some bruises.

It coincides with a gun class halfway through, since I figured as long as I’m living in a house with guns, I might as well know how to pick one up and shoot it in the case of a zombie apocalypse. (This is an interesting year! So far I’ve added the following skills, all at 1st level, to my character sheet: scuba, lockpicking, coffee roasting. Basic CPR is another I want to append before year’s end.)

Mainly this will be interesting because it’s a big change in mindset. The last time I hit a human being with my fist was, I think, second or third grade. While I’ve played sports, they’ve never been rough and tumble ones; softball, golf, or tennis are more my style. Maybe bowling. I did fence briefly in high school and have always regretted not sticking with it.

But, plain and simple, I’m going to be grappling with my own fight or flight instinct and learning how to look at the landscape a bit differently. I plan to journal throughout because I think I’m going to run up against my own internal anger and deal with it in a way I’ve never had to before. I know it’s there because I glimpse it every once in a while.

While I was at Snake River Comic Con, I was talking with some other women about self defense classes, since a couple of them had taught them (in fact, SRCC’s kids track included a Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher showing them how to use a quarterstaff). They all agreed that they’d hit a particular phenomenon (“It happens all the time,” one said.) A man shows up to a women’s self defense class in order to demonstrate to the women that the class is pointless and in each case getting taken down by the instructor. And that night, when I was thinking about the mindset required to appoint oneself the policer of women, showing up to give the message that men can hurt them no matter what skills they acquire, I could feel that anger creeping along my body, extending outwards along my limbs, tensing them in a way I had to consciously concentrate on in order to stop.

I am aware of my surroundings at most times that, when on the street, does factor getting grabbed, because I have been groped, grabbed, squeezed, and otherwise forced into physical contact that I didn’t want multiple times. That sounds paranoid, but I think many women know what I mean. For me it’s a result of this encounter when I was a young adult, maybe 19 or 20. I was walking to work around 9 in the morning, downtown, when I passed an elderly man. There was nothing about his appearance or demeanor to distinguish him from a normal human being. But unlike one, he grabbed my ass as he passed, not a tentative little pat but a full-out invasive, startling, unexpected move that stopped me dead, spun me around, while he walked on, smiling broadly.

Where was the pleasure in that act sited for him? Was it the feel of my flesh? Or in the fact that he’d violated my boundaries, there in daylight? I’m pretty sure it was the latter.

How shitty does your soul have to be to get enjoyment out of hurting another person, either physically or verbally? Seriously. Trying to rebuild the crumbling brickwork of internal sense of worth while not realizing this is the very thing that’s destroyed it. Taking pleasure from hurting a fellow human being is vile. It corrodes your humanity in a way Uncle Screwtape would have heartily approved of.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 10.19.06 AMNowadays, I’d react differently. I’d take a picture, call the cops, and follow him till they arrived. Because that sort of shit needs to stop.

Beyond two actual attacks, since then plenty of subway gropes, elevator boob brushes, lingering hugs. Laughing invitations to sit in men’s laps. Sometimes meant to intimidate, but often unthinking, like the fourth grade teacher known for snapping girls bra straps but who also gave me my first Heinlein novels to read. And you know, I don’t really care about a lot of that myself because I’m older now and know how to roll my eyes while at the same time keeping an elbow ready for that man standing waiting for the airplane bathroom and rubbing his crotch on my shoulder. (Yes, taken from life.) But that’s armor I’ve acquired. Many of my fellows, particularly the younger or particularly different ones, don’t have the same toughness.

Maybe we can try to create a world where they don’t need to. In some ways I’m encouraged by the way 45 has actually forced some formerly more wishy-washy allies into solidarity, made them go, well, okay, maybe the mentality informing “you can grab ’em by the pussy” isn’t really so much humorous as it is toxic.

I ramble. That’s okay. We are all made up of impressions, encounters. Moments frozen in our memories and shaping our thoughts for decades to come. What does it mean that there’s people out there who want others — particularly women — to have moments of fear, powerlessness, humiliation, pain? How do you heal those broken souls so they stop spreading their poison? Is that the right strategy? It seems the best longtime one, the one with the most result for the human race.

Call-out culture is something I was thinking about this morning. It seems to me the teaching there is aimed outward, not at the person being called out so much as the people witnessing. Perhaps more effective but also one that takes the center target and leaves them humiliated, angry, hurt. Yet that’s not the intent so much as collateral damage from pot shots at the system. I find talking privately usually more effective, but there are times when that’s not appropriate. Thinking about the guy who grabbed me, it would have seemed pretty appropriate to call him out because it would have made him realize sometimes there are consequences to oneself from committing and taking pleasure in assault.

Maybe this rumination is all particularly appropriate for a Sunday morning. Figuring out this shit is hard and looking at the Unitarian church’s sermon today to see if it’s applicable, I see they’re going to be discussing arguments for and against changing the wording of the First Principle from “person” to ‘being”. Probably a lengthy walk in order to think would be more useful, and luckily it’s a nice day for it, blue skies and leaves still on the trees being all beautiful and autumn-y.

Still waiting on that Adulting for Dummies book I was metaphorically promised as a child. Maybe they’ll hand them out in the first session of that defense class.

We shall see.

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