According to John Klima, he and I first met at the SFWA Authors & Editors Reception in 2001, perhaps introduced by Cory Doctorow. I have no memory of that. The first time I remember meeting John was at a party at a convention around that same time (I forget which one) where he was handing out free copies of his new zine, Electric Velocipede. I was dubious, eyeing the cheap, stapled covers, but everyone else around was acting like they'd just been given a gift of gold.

Electric Velocipede, Issue 1 Before I started reading that first issue, I had never given much thought to sending any of my stories to fanzine markets, or even really to the semipros. Electric Velocipede changed my mind. The fiction was good, really good, and John had a keen, idiosyncratic editorial eye. And an air of unlikely coolness somehow clung to the roster of names on the cover. I wanted to be a part of it.

And by Issue 4, I was, with a weird little horror story called "Mrs. Janokowski Hits One out of the Park," a story I believed in but that no pro editor seemed interested in. That was the first of five EV stories over the years (including one under my Perry Slaughter byline). Along the way another story appeared on the EV blog, and John also published my chapbook An Alternate History of the 21st Century, which contained two more original stories that no one else seemed to want to touch. (One of those, "Objective Impermeability in a Closed System," ended up reprinted in Hartwell & Cramer's Year's Best SF 13.)

All this is by way of saying that Electric Velocipede has played a crucial role in my short fiction career, and I owe John Klima a deep debt of gratitude. Now, after a Hugo Award win and something like four World Fantasy Award nominations, EV is publishing its 27th and final issue. It's a sad occasion, but I hope you'll join me and a boatload of other contributors on Friday, February 28th, at Bluestockings Bookstore, for a reading, release party, and memorial service. It'll be great fun, and besides me you'll get to hear from writers like Robert J. Howe, K. Tempest Bradford, Nancy Hightower, Matthew Kressel, Barbara Krasnoff, Richard Bowes, Mercurio D. Rivera, Jonathan Wood, and Sam J. Miller. There'll be raffles and snacks, and a chance to purchase an EV sampler with stories by all the participants.

Please join us in sending a great magazine off in a big way!

Electric Velocipede Issue 27 Release Party & Memorial Service
hosted by Sam J. Miller & Nancy Hightower
Friday, February 28, 2014, 7:00 pm
Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002
facebook event listing | more info


Bill Shunn & John Klima, by Ellen Datlow on Flickr


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
New York's Hook & Eye Theater company is nearing the end of its run of its new play "The Summoners." A surreal, mindbending blend of Groundhog Day and Synecdoche, New York, "The Summoners" tells the thought-provoking story of what happens when the blanket of clouds that has shrouded America for three years parts for five blissful minutes over one Indiana town—and the chilling media circus that ensues.

Our friend Cynthia Babak is part of the terrific cast that together devised the story of this play, which was then turned into a script by Gavin Broady. But it's only running two more nights! See it tonight or Saturday at The C.O.W. Theater, 21 Clinton Street in Manhattan. Tickets are a mere $18! Don't miss it!

The Summoners


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
senior citizens
holding hands like preschoolers
blocking the sidewalk


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
When I showed up to attend the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading on August 21st, the last thing I expected was to end the night in front of a radio mike. But that's what happened.

Rather than greeting me in a traditional fashion when I wandered up to say hello, Jim Freund said to me, "You're on the air at one-thirty."

"Tonight?" I said. "One-thirty A.M.?"

It seems he'd had a guest for his long-running WBAI program "Hour of the Wolf" drop out on him, and he needed a substitute. Well, fair enough. I'd done the show at least five times before, and I'd enjoyed it, so what the hell.

That's how I found myself in Harlem in the wee hours of Thursday morning, smack-dab in the middle of the beautiful City College of New York campus. Thanks to its highly publicized financial problems, WBAI is sharing studio space with WHCR until it either moves into a new space in Brooklyn or collapses altogether.

Jim and I discussed my recent move back to New York, Tuesday Funk, Orson Scott Card, and what I've been working on lately. I also read a couple of chapters from my recently completed novel Root. Here's what it all sounded like:




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
She strains at the leash,
Trying to turn the corner.
"Not that way," I say.

But Ella insists,
So I give in and follow.
Not that big a deal.

This short, narrow lane,
It's a valid path back home,
Not such a detour.

Along the sidewalk
We rush, my arm stretched out straight,
Not pausing to sniff.

She stops at the porch,
Looks at the door, looks at me,
Not old now but young.

We were gone six years,
Back now in the neighborhood
Not even six weeks.

I wish we could knock,
But our friends are not at home,
Not now, not for years.

They fled this city
Even sooner than we did,
Not fond of Gotham

But fond of our dog,
Who wags on their former stoop,
Not fenced in by time.

Their former stoop


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Brooklyn-bound N train, Thursday evening.
Leaving Ditmars Boulevard,
End of the line,
He slouches through the doors from the next car
Like a gunslinger into a quiet saloon.
Angry and blond under a straw fedora,
Jaunty beach towel around the shoulders
Of his Cuban shirt,
Belligerent hips thrust forward,
Hand jammed down the front of his
Oversized blue swim trunks
Like he's just waiting
To unload on the first cocksucker
Who looks at him funny.

No one gives him the satisfaction.

Where's he coming from, this Lord of Flatbush,
This Warrior coming out to play?
There's no beach at Ditmars,
Not unless you just swam over from Rikers.
It's ninety minutes to Coney Island
And dusk will soon be falling.
A hundred minutes, let's say, since humiliation
Sent him fleeing the sand and cotton candy
To the farthest corner of the earth:
Astoria, Queens.

But the gravity of betrayal on an otherwise
Perfect afternoon draws him back,
Back to an abandoned beach blanket for two
In the shadow of a graffiti-tagged lifeguard tower.
Flopped in a plastic seat, legs splayed,
Glaring and helpless,
He burns to curse the heavens,
But all the God was prayed out of him as a child.
Or is he still a child,
Hand down his pants
Fondling his balls like worry beads,
Like a long-dormant rosary?
Hail Mary full of grace.
Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch me,
No, don't watch me,
What're you lookin' at anyway?

Ninety minutes to Coney Island,
End of the line,
To take back what's his—
Or, more likely,
Kick sand in the face of the moon.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Let me tell you about the night I hung out with Mötley Crüe.

Okay, to be honest, it was only half of Mötley Crüe, and it's not like we were out clubbing it up with groupies and blow. But we were at a club. I was reminded of this story the other day when I happened to hear "Shout at the Devil" on the stereo for the first time in quite a while.

This was June 1997. I was working in New York City as technical producer for a website called Rocktropolis.com (sadly now long deceased). Our company, N2K Entertainment, ran a variety of genre-specific music sites, all meant to drive traffic to our online CD store, Music Boulevard. At Rocktropolis we ran rock music news, contests, curated streaming radio, artist chats, and—coolest of all—live concert webcasts.

Some of our live shows were simply streamed versions of special syndicated radio broadcasts, but more and more we began to arrange our own on-location webcasts. We would get a temporary DSL line installed in the venue (if they didn't already have one—and they usually didn't), hump our equipment over there, tap directly into the soundboard, and stream the feed out to users via RealAudio. Believe it or not, this was trailblazing stuff at the time.)

So it was that my friend and colleague Andrew and I lugged our gear uptown to Roseland Ballroom one afternoon to set up for a special Mötley Crüe record release show. This was their big comeback attempt—well, their first one, anyway. Vocalist Vince Neil had just rejoined the band after an angry stint away, and the new album, Generation Swine, featured a touch of oh-so-no-longer-hip industrial flavoring.

Generation Swine For the weeks leading up to the show, we'd been running giveaways on the site and debuting a new track from the album every day. The office favorite—okay, the favorite of me and Michael, tech producer on Classical Insights—was track 12, a re-recording of the Crüe's 1983 hit called, imaginatively enough, "Shout at the Devil '97." Michael and I would arrive at the office early just to blast this tune at full volume in our little wing of the cubicle farm. (I wasn't super-familiar with the original version, having deliberately avoided all things hair-metal in high school, so the faster, harder 1997 version is still the one that sounds "right" to me.)

Anyway, along with our decks for compressing and transmitting digital audio, Andrew and I brought a couple of huge laptops. These were not just for running the webcast but also for the live chat session we were doing before the show with Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee—the so-called "Terror Twins." We set up shop in a balcony overlooking the club floor. At about two hours to showtime, our chatroom was teeming with fans who'd logged in for the unmoderated free-for-all. That's when Nikki and Tommy walked up to the long table where Andrew and I had the laptops set up.

Now, I met some of my favorite musicians while working that job, folks like Curt Smith from Tears for Fears, and John Wesley Harding. Chuck D. was in our office once. I even spent a couple of hours on the phone with Krist Novoselic from Nirvana, moderating a chat session. Hell, my boss was Nick Turner, who'd been the drummer for Lords of the New Church and The Barracudas. But of all those people, Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee were the two who looked more like rock stars than anyone else. Tall, muscular, slim, heavily tattooed, wearing their expensive white T-shirts, black jeans, cowboy hats, and boots with casual ease, oozing charisma. They shook our hands and put us instantly at ease. They came across as the nicest, most charming guys in the world.

We all sat down at the table. I ended up between Nikki and Tommy, with Andrew on Nikki's far side. The two of us had the jobs, for the next 45 minutes or so, of monitoring Nikki's and Tommy's activity in the chatroom, standing by to offer any needed assistance, and being ready to fix any technical issues.

"So, do we just jump in and start?" Nikki asked, watching the chatter scroll by on the laptop in front of him.

"You're both logged in," Andrew said. "Any time you're ready."

Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee Nikki started typing. I was watching Tommy's screen, and I saw Nikki's first comment appear:

Nikki_Sixx> Hey fuckers!

I must have chuckled, because Nikki turned to me and said, with a grin but in all earnestness, "Insults and profanity are the entire basis of our relationship with our fans. Which is mostly thirteen-year-old boys."

I thought this was a remarkably cogent analysis of market expectations from someone I hadn't expected to be quite so self-aware. I was thinking about this when Tommy, who had been pecking two-fingered at his keyboard, leaned past me.

"Hey, Nikki!" he said, sounding as proud and excited as a three-year-old. "I just typed 'Fuck'!"

I have to say, hanging out with them during the chat was a lot of fun, even if it was a little surreal to have someone who'd been clinically dead for two minutes after a heroin overdose sitting to my right, and the star of the most infamous celebrity sex tape to date sitting to my left, and who between them had been married to three Playboy Playmates. (Of course, we were seeing only their most charming selves. I'm not sure I would have wanted to meet them under other circumstances.)

After about 45 minutes, Nikki logged out. "Time to get in wardrobe," he said, standing up. "Come on, Tommy."

"I'll be there in a few minutes," Tommy said. He was having a hell of a good time chatting.

Maybe fifteen minutes after Nikki's exit, Tommy turned to me in consternation. A troll in the chatroom had been saying for some time that Tommy and Nikki were not who they claimed to be, and now he was urging everyone else to stop chatting with Tommy.

"What am I supposed to do?" Tommy asked me. "This guy's telling everyone I'm not Tommy Lee. How do I prove I'm Tommy Lee?"

"Um," I said, racking my brain, "I don't know. I guess all you can do is say something only Tommy Lee would say."

Tommy frowned, then bent back to the keyboard and typed:

Tommy_Lee> fuck you i am tommy lee!!!

Eventually someone from the band's management came upstairs to the balcony and insisted that Tommy get down to his dressing room. He hugged us both and went on his merry way. I'm a little bummed that I didn't carry a cellphone at the time. A picture of us all would have been cool.

I worked other live location webcasts, including a Halloween show with The Cure at Irving Plaza, and two nights with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre, but our Mötley Crüe night was by far the most memorable. Now I feel like shouting at the devil, '97-style:




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Seven years on, what does September 11th mean? Nothing.

Perhaps it would be less confrontational to say it means everything, or anything.

I had a terrible argument with a relative of mine during those bleak last months of 2001. I said something to the effect that a person's experience of September 11th was more valid if he or she was there, or at least that's how, in my clumsy way of speaking, my words came across. My relative took great offense at the idea that he wasn't as affected in Utah as I was in New York City. "You're telling me," he said, "that you wouldn't feel bad if someone blew up the Church Office Building in Salt Lake?"

"Of course I'd feel bad," I said. "But I wouldn't feel the same way as a person in Salt Lake. It would be more abstract for me."

This got me nowhere, but I stand by the core argument I was trying to make. I was in Queens when the planes hit the towers, and as much terror and horror as I felt watching from the seat of my bike at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island as all that black smoke roiled into the air four miles away, my experience was nothing like that of the people who had to run for their lives through the debris cloud when the first tower collapsed, or, God forbid, like that of the ones who had to choose between burning to death or jumping to death. And my experience of that day—of seeing the city where I lived and worked and played be attacked and disfigured and transformed, of losing the ugly but somehow comforting giant landmarks that made orienting yourself in the urban maze so simple, of ghosting through the otherworldly hush of Manhattan in the days that followed, of rolling through the deserted and darkened subway station at Cortlandt Street—was quantifiably different from someone whose experience of that event was entirely mediated through television, radio, print, email, telephone, and word-of-mouth, and who maybe had never been to New York City at all.

This doesn't mean someone two or even twelve thousand miles away could not have been affected as significantly by September 11th as someone who was in one of the target zones. I can't even call the spheres of experience concentric, because someone in Japan who lost a family member that day is no doubt still more affected by it than I was. I don't think there's a person in the world who wasn't affected somehow, and to graph everyone's comparative experience would call for the most complicated Venn diagram ever devised.

Only if you grant my proposition that September 11th is in and of itself meaningless can you possibly say that John McCain and Barack Obama appearing together at Ground Zero is not political. Maybe I suffer from a lack of imagination, but I can't see how the sight of opposing presidential candidates, one young and black, one old and white, sharing a stage at the site of the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil can fail to be political. What that political meaning will be will of course be different to each person watching, but it will be there because of the individual emotional freight we all bring to such images as contrasting skin color, American flags, snapshots of the dead, and giant holes in the ground.

And that emotional freight will dictate how we feel, and how we feel will, in most cases, dictate how (or whether) we vote in November. The more I read and listen to voices on the radio, the more elections I live through, the more I'm coming to believe that we vote because of how we feel, not because of what we think. And I think we are feeling our way blindly into deeper disaster.

With Bush's approval ratings so dismal for so long, there is no logical reason for McCain and Obama to be so close in the polls. A Republican administration got us embroiled, bogged down, and distracted in Iraq, wrecked our economy, rolled back our civil rights, and ruined our standing in the world, and yet it's still working for Republicans to say that only they can fix the mess they got us into. McCain's recklessness in picking his running mate is confirmation of his "maverick" credentials, while Obama's long and fruitful relationship with his is swept under the rug. Obama's long experience is dismissed as non-experience, while Palin's non-experience is pumped up to levels of Jeffersonian statesmanship. Her family demands that its pregnant teen daughter's "decision" remain a private matter, while stumping for judicial change that would take that same private decision away from other families. McCain's erratic record is seen as consistency, and Obama's consistency is seen as dangerous. Outward signifiers like flag pins are more important than inward qualities like reason, compassion, and integrity. The levels of Orwellian doublespeak are remarkable, and the mind-bending contradictions make natural sense to way too many people.

Reason does not rule us as a species. The heart does, or some deeper, less specific organ of instinctual decision-making. That's why we're more likely to swallow big happy lies than sober assessments, galloping cowboys than careful blueprints, loaded buzzwords from an old white man than reasoned conclusions from a young black man. It's the same organ that tells us God can cure our cancer even though we know He will never restore our severed limbs. It's because we make our decisions with our guts, not our brains.

Of course, that's just my gut talking. It's just what I see in the meaningless image of those twin smoking towers, the greatest and most crucial Rorschach inkblot test in our nation's recent history. If I hope anything today, it's that we can all see through the inkblot, and not let our vision be clouded by it.

April 2014

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