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The Tao of the Dude by Oliver Benjamin Review

Within these pages lies the sacred space where Taoism and The Big Lebowski intersect to create something both funny and profound. By not taking life too seriously, wisdom emerges. Within these pages are analyses of the film, quotes from famous dudes of history, and a joyful reminder just to appreciate life in its simplicity and taste the sweetness. If not, then, well “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Ideally written for the fans of the film, but ultimately, surprisingly and maybe accidentally so much more. This is a book about a religion based on the behavior of a character in a movie that resembles a real religion that has, in fact, inspired its own religion. And although this whole concept of Dudeism is jokey and lighthearted, there is a genuine similarity to the real thing.

Devotees of the Dude will surely enjoy this book, as a light introduction to Taoism, this isn’t bad either, and it is an essential text for anyone with an interest in Dudeism.

Take it all will a grain of salt, but mostly “Take ‘er easy.”

Abidingly Submitted by:

The Dudely Rev. Dave Ordained Dudeist Priest at Dudeism, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude

The Autumnlands Vol. 2: Woodland Creatures Review

In some distant future version of Earth ruled by eloquent magic wielding animals, a champion has been called to save them all. This tech assisted human soldier was summoned from the past in order to restore magic to the world. This process of acquiring a savior of civilization caused the magicians’ giant floating city to crash to the ground. In the first volume, Stephen Learoyd manages to rescue these desperate wizards from ravaging bison hoards and escapes with his life.

This latest chapter has the hero (accompanied by Dusty the apprentice mage terrier) get closer to the mystery of what has happened to the world. Throughout the tale, the nature of myth and storytelling is explored in thrilling and thought-provoking ways. The story is rich with brilliant plot, dialogue, and character from Busiek and gorgeous and evocative art from Dewey. Expectations are exceeded at every turn.

This TPB should not be missed. Where Volume One was clever and innovative, this continuation is astounding. This is a work to be savored. Every panel, every page, and every line is crafted with precision. What may appear to be a typical sword and sorcery fantasy is anything but typical. It is epic in every way and encompasses aspects of Science Fiction as well. The artwork is phenomenal, weaving callbacks of the frontispieces of 20th-century adventure books with the best styles from Classic Comics Illustrated and Prince Valiant. I enjoyed this excellent work more than I thought possible. Highly recommended.

10
Score
Autumnlands Vol.2: Woodland Creatures
The Bottom Line
I enjoyed this excellent work more than I thought possible, Autumanlands Vol.2: Woodland Creatures is highly recommended, and it earns a 10 out of 10 because I couldn’t ask for any more.
Yes!
Epic in every way
Phenomenal artwork
No...
Nothing...nothing at all
Read The Autumanlands Vol. 2: Woodland Creatures Now!

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos | Review

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Bloomsbury Publishing
February 28, 2017
(320 pages)

I had been under the impression that good memoirs could only be written by those people who have had lived extraordinary lives. Whip Smart, the story of a college age dominatrix certainly fit into that preconceived notion. This new memoir, however, centers more on the ordinary. Here, we are given the easier to identify with experience of love and loss. We see the limits of devotion and the hunger for a solution to the story of oneself. Doesn’t everyone want to be loved? Don’t we all want to know where we came from? The examination of how these questions intertwine makes for a beautiful and compelling journey.

A few pages into Abandon Me, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s emotional truth of “Loving is so short, forgetting is so long” from “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines” came to mind, hitting me with the same gut punch reminder of how love is often all consuming. Where Melissa Febos’ prior memoir Whip Smart lived in the dark, Abandon Me runs to the light, but both stories nonetheless are about transformation. Here, we see the aching truth about love, how it is craved, and how it must be survived. In this return to the life of a former dominatrix, there still is beauty and pain for all to see, but this time it is expressed in a journey out of one relationship and into an understanding of personal history.

Intimate and heartbreaking, this is the story of endurance through hope and grace despite tendencies to do otherwise. This is a marvelous glimpse into what love makes us do and feel and what it allows us to become.

Thanks go out once again to NetGalley for the review copy. Abandon Me is to be released in February 2017 by Bloomsbury Books.

Chris Sharp Interview

Charlie was fortunate enough to get the chance to sit down with Tor’s author Chris Sharp, and talk about his upcoming book, Cold Counsel. Below is the transcript of the interview in its entirety. Chris and Charlie discuss everything from the new book, to good and bad ‘writing days.’

Chris’ newest novel is set to be published on February 21st, 2017. To pre-order a copy of Cold Counsel click here: Pre-Order Cold Counsel, and to learn more about the book, Chris, and Tor, click here: Tor Publishing. Enjoy!

 

(CC) Before getting into the writing talk, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who is Chris Sharp?

(CS) A middle-aged dreamer with a propensity for long-winded storytelling, a fierce resistance to adulthood, and an optimist’s belief in magic—within the hardened shell of a pragmatic pessimist.

Grew up in the suburban wonderland of Alexandria, VA making home movies and playing RPGs with my friends. Did some college, moved to Brooklyn and worked in film and commercial production for 16 years—often with those same friends—while writing books at night.

Now I’m in MA, with a wife, kid, and cat; writing as much as I can and trying to get as many of these stories out of my craw in some form or another.

(CC) Sixteen years is a long time, was it difficult to leave the film and commercial production business behind and pursue writing?

(CS) Yes it was.

I had always worked toward and hoped to do both, and I still do. But now I’m coming at it with writing, rather than producing, as a primary focus.

The thing I’m currently writing is a screenplay.

(CC) Onto writing, why do you do it? What is it about the craft that not only brought you in, but keeps you coming back for more?

(CS) I’ve wanted to weave epic stories into the world since before Pre School. I think I’m only a somewhat more realized version of who I was at the age of five. The writing of long-winded books seemed the most natural and expedient way to focus/excise some of the stories I had brewing. The first thing I wrote to completion was a 270,000-word dark fantasy novel about schizophrenia, the slow death of myth, and Jungian archetypes of dream. It was all a bit much, but one day I hope to turn it into something swell. The writing of that was like my own self-taught MFA. Learned a lot, kicked the shit out of my ego, and caught the bug. Not sure if I’m any good at it yet, but can’t seem to stop. I hate reading the stuff that I’ve written, which may be part of the problem.

(CC) This book sounds epic. When do you plan to re-visit it, and what do you think has to be done to it?

(CS) It was certainly epic, but there were many things wrong with the execution. I need to go back to square one and re-produce the story in a streamlined, less autobiographical way from start to finish. Maybe even without looking at the original. There are certainly some salvageable and even some good segments, but a full reboot is needed across the board.

Not sure when I’ll delve back in. My wife and I have come to jokingly refer to that book as the Monster. We’ll see what happens. Some day the Monster will escape its cage, and in some ways, with Cold Counsel, it already has.

(CC) Since you’re not big on reading your own work, how terrible is the editing process?

(CS) I’m getting better at it—in less of a rush to get through it, and more forgiving of my sloppiness and screw-ups. I do tend to avoid reading my stuff once it’s out of my hands and published. I still find mistakes in my sentences that drive me crazy, and not being able to go back and fix them has been known to send me into a negativity spiral about the worth of the entire work. I get over it fairly quickly and keep working, but it’s not the best way to waste time.

I definitely prefer first drafting, but I’m starting to find some real enjoyment in the reworking and polishing stages as well, and there is no arguing against the necessity of drafts 2-infinity.

(CC) We all have good days and bad days, so tell me, what is a good ‘writing’ day, and what is a bad ‘writing’ day?

(CS) A good writing day is when I actually get a nice chunk of time to focus on writing—and don’t get sucked down the negativity vortex of our world’s current state. Just the simple act of focusing on writing is calming. I love first drafting; the cursor on the cusp of blankness is my happy place.

A bad writing day is when the brain won’t settle on the story at hand, or when I go over words that are supposed to be good, but aren’t, and I can’t figure out how to fix it.

(CC) If you had to pick, what three novels, would you say, have influenced you the most?

(CS) Watership Down by Richard Adams: I think it was the mythology of the rabbits that spoke to me most. It seemed so real to me, El-Ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlay, and if the rabbits had mythology, then so did everything. That was a world I wanted to live in.

The Silmarillion by JRRT: I carried a picture of Bilbo Baggins that I’d cut out of the TV Guide from the Rankin Bass Cartoon in my Velcro wallet in Pre School. Used to play Frodo and Sam with my chums. But it was the blocky and elevated language of the Silmarillion that really blew my mind; so much history, detail, language, and depth—all in broad strokes. It’s like reading the bible of the elves, and just like with those rabbits, the mythology of it seemed real to me. For a fantasy construct to make me believe that felt powerful. That was what I wanted to do.

House of the Dreaming Door by Chris Sharp: This one, the aforementioned 270,000-word monster, was my attempt to emulate the works above. I failed. I’ll let that one speak for itself, when and if the time comes for its excavation.

(CC) I think that it’s great that you picked your first novel as one of the most influential. Do you think that all writers need to write that first book that doesn’t necessarily work to get it out of their system? Is writing that first novel more important or beneficial than the formal education?

(CS) I never had a formal writing education outside of English classes in high school and college, so I can’t say if just jumping in and doing it is more or less beneficial than an intensive program. There is plenty that I wish I’d learned prior to setting out, and a lot to be said for the structured, communal aspects of writing that you might get in an MFA program. I see writers who are skilled and motivated by creating and fostering a writer’s network around them, and I’m a little jealous of that. For me, such a network seems less helpful amid the varied stages of writing a story, but I think it’s invaluable for when you’re going out with work and hoping to get a foothold in the business.

But I do think that in the creative pursuits, whether its writing books, making movies, or anything else, there can be no substitute for throwing yourself into the mix and trying your hand at the thing you want to do.

While I was writing that first book, and now again with the benefit of hindsight, I loved the experience and value it as highly as anything I’ve done. But I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the handful of years in between then and now when the avalanche of rejection and my failure to make that attempted opus find an audience didn’t crush my soul and fill me with doubt.

Maybe a good short story or three is a better way to start out…

(CC) What are some of your other non-writing influences, and what have you picked up from them?

(CS) I borrow and steal from everything I read, watch, and experience. I love movies and television, and enjoy trying to write for screen as well. My book writing can sometimes get a little light on the description because of it, and my screenplays tend to be a little too wordy.

(CC) Now, tell me about the new book, what’s it about?

(CS) It’s a reimagining of Norse mythology in a post-Ragnarok world from the vantage of the angry losers of the ancient Vanir/Aesir war. It’s also a ferocious coming-of-age/revenge yarn about a boy, his aunt, and his ax against the backdrop of a dying dreamland. The boy is the last troll to survive the genocide of his race, his aunt is the masked reincarnation of an ancient goddess consumed by anger, and the ax is a possessed relic from the storied age of giants.

There are no humans or easy heroes to hold to, but you’ll find yourself rooting for a loveable band of bloodthirsty killers, and wishing for more at the story’s close.

It’s fast, furious fun for the whole family, if the family isn’t afraid of harsh language, brutal violence, and reveling in the fodder of nightmares.

(CC) Favorite bloodthirsty killer? Go.

(CS) My cat, Goblin. (R.I.P.)

(CC) Did the concept for Cold Counsel practically fall out of the sky, or did you have to do some digging?

(CS) The protagonist, the troll, SLUD, was first summoned up through the rolling of dice for the Palladium Fantasy RPG in the seventh grade. I used to doodle his picture in my notebooks and write epic verse in his honor. I’d always thought to write his origin story some day, and started it on a whim with the notion to write a little and sell it as a serialized novel… No takers.

But I was in an angry place at the time, and this angry story kept coming whether I was ready for it or not. I’d been disheartened by the underwhelming sales of my first published book, depressed by the direction some of my life choices had taken me, and penned inside by the brutal New England winter of 2014. SLUD’s story was the most fun I’d ever had writing. It was started as an exercise in speed and brevity, but metastasized into the book it is today.

(CC) Tell me about the process, did you do some major outlining and plotting prior to putting the pen to page, or did you just sit down and start writing? How do you usually work, was writing Cold Counsel any different?

(CS) I just sat down and started to write. That seems to be my usual approach, though I am certainly not afraid to do some note taking, plotting, and research type behavior throughout.

Cold Counsel came more easily than previous efforts. I had thought about SLUD for many years, and developed bits of the dark world he’d inhabit in the writing of my first book. It spewed out in a big bloody mess over the course of a few months, and hasn’t changed too much since.

(CC) SLUD’s story had been sitting with you for quite some time; why do you think that now was right time for you to get it right?

(CS) I didn’t, SLUD did.

(CC) What were some of the best/worst moments that you experienced while writing Cold Counsel?

(CS) The writing itself is always the best part. For me, a swollen sense of worth and expectation accompanies the typing of that final page, and all that comes after is a slow deflation back to reality.

(CC) After completing a draft (first, second, final) do you celebrate, or are you saddened that you’re one step closer to finishing and deflating?

(CS) I don’t really celebrate, but I think that’s a bad habit. You should celebrate every step; just make sure that you don’t get complacent and stop stepping. Writing can be an isolating existence. Little bits of self-acknowledgment along the way are healthy, and if you can get another to participate in that celebration it makes it seem all the more legitimate. If you are still hunting for an audience and starving for validation, the vacuum can get filled with confused echoes from yourself. Sounding boards of love are beneficial.

The best remedy for deflation is starting something else as quickly as possible.

All of us at The Brazen Bull thank Chris Sharp and Tor for the opportunity. Again, to pre-order a copy of Cold Counsel click here: Pre-Order Cold Counsel, and to learn more about the book, Chris, and Tor, click here: Tor Publishing.

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus
Tor
Release April 25, 2017

I am interested in stories, the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves. Buffalo Soldier is about a lot of things, but mostly it is about the importance of stories and the power of story-telling. With this novella, on the surface, we have a steam punk alternate history tale of escape on the road combined with the protection of a golden child, but it is the stories within the story that make Buffalo Soldier sing.

Desmond is on the run with a very important little boy and all he wants to do is keep him safe and allow him to grow up. Meanwhile all the players in the various conspiracies including Tejanos, Pinkertons and Brits want to see Desmond stopped at any cost. If he reaches the First Nations’ territory he might find some safety.

Along the way, everyone tells him some tale of struggle. Ultimately he learns that it is the story which must live. “We do not create out of nothing but rather from what has been here before us. You work from a half-remembered idea, and soon the rest of the story will come to you.”

My only real criticism is that this is too short even for a novella. I want more of this world and soon.

Buffalo Soldier is being released by Tor April 25th, 2017. Order a copy for yourself by clicking here: Buffalo Soldier

Score: 7 out of 10

The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott

The Fortress at the End of Time | By Joe M. McDermott
Published by Tor | Available January 17th, 2017

Modern SF at its best, Joe M. McDermott’s newest novel, The Fortress at the End of Time, is an excellent piece of existential literature.

The Fortress at the End of Time is centered around a military officer’s clone who is shipped to a terribly lonely outpost at the edge of the galaxy. And the interstellar war that requires such a posting of personnel has been over for decades. Here, McDermott showcases the other, less glamorized, side of war, and does so with an intimate style and voice that conjures feelings of utter desolation.

The Fortress at the End of Time is a dark examination of life and of its (perhaps) meaninglessness, and while it is far from ‘thrilling,’ readers will find themselves swallowed by an inescapable void upon reading the first several pages.

Clearly, this is one of the better pieces of SF that I have read thus far. I absolutely recommend this novel to fans of both SF and existential literature. You won’t be disappointed.

The Fortress at the End of Time is being published by Tor, and will be available for purchase on January 17th, 2017. You can currently pre-order the work by clicking here: Pre-order The Fortress at the End of Time

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Interview with Joe M. McDermott

Recently, The Brazen Bull’s Charlie Chipman was fortunate enough to get the chance to sit-down with Tor’s author Joe M. McDermott, and talk about his upcoming book, The Fortress at the End of Time. Below is the transcript of the interview in its entirety. Charlie and Joe talk about everything from what is about the craft of writing that intrigues Joe to the so-called ‘Dream Salesman’ and their unfortunate customers. Joe’s newest novel is set to be published on January 17th, 2017. To pre-order a copy of The Fortress at the End of Time click here Pre-Order The Fortress at the End of Time, and to learn more about the book, Joe, and Tor, click here Tor Publishing. Enjoy!

(CC) First, before we dive into your book, FORTRESS AT THE END OF TIME, I want to know about you, the author. Tell me about yourself, who is Joe McDermott?

(JMM) I’m pretty sure I’m human. I’m a pudgy, middle-aged white guy from suburban Texas, mostly.

(CC) Why writing? What is it about the craft that drew you in? When did you realize this?

(JMM) I wish I had a good answer, but I don’t. I write because I don’t have the power to change the world. It’s either writing or standing on a street corner and shouting at passing cars. I don’t feel like writing is nearly as effective, but at least I don’t have to leave the house to do it.

(CC) When it comes time to write, what is the process like? Do you sit down at the desk, same time, every day and stick to a firm word count, or are you more laid back with your approach?

(JMM) Different processes produce different results. I don’t like to write the same book twice, so I work differently each time. It’s sort of both an intentional choice and an organic expression of the voice and tone the book requires. In this case, with my latest novel from Tor.com, I actually wrote the first draft longhand in a couple notebooks while working at a Christian Bookstore that’s, alas, gone out of business. I miss it. It was slow, though, and when the store was clean and the customers were served, I could sit at the register and scribble away.

(CC) Writing longhand – especially a work of decent length – is very interesting. What, if any, advantages did you find when writing an initial draft longhand versus typing it. What disadvantages?

(JMM) For me, the advantage was twofold. First, it slowed down the voice of the narrator into something that felt more mid-century European and confessional in nature. Second, it made it possible for me to work in places where I couldn’t otherwise work, like the desk at the bookstore, or the front bedroom if the only computer in the house was being used by my wife for her job. When I was transcribing the draft into the computer, I revised as I went, and one of the challenges in that is to stay mostly true to what is about to come next enough that your revisions don’t send you off into some interesting, but distracting, tangent. I did like how the slow process initially led to a much cleaner second draft, though, so I think it ended up saving time over some other methods I’ve tried. It helped that I had a clear sense of the outline inside my head, without too much room to wander. There’s only so much space available to explore in the claustrophobia of the Citadel.

(CC) Writer’s block, fact or fiction? Do you get it, and if so, what do you do about it?

(JMM) I think it’s hard for me to generalize about something so personal as everyone’s creative energy. Some people say it doesn’t exist, and for them, it might not. For others, I bet it does. Psychology is messy, after all. I don’t write if I don’t want to write. I figure if I force myself to write something, it’s going to feel forced to the reader. I’d rather write nothing at all than something shitty. If I’m not interested in it, you won’t be, either. So, I just write what interests me, when it is interesting to write it.

(CC) Writing when interested sounds like the way to go. Do you ever lose interest in a project (novel, short story, etc) before finishing it. and if so, what happens then?

(JMM) I absolutely do, and it ends up sitting in a file on a computer, somewhere, generally in a google doc, lately, and waits for me to come back to it. I have generously stolen material from failed projects for better ones. I have only had one instance where a novel just fell apart, for me, but I still believe I will come back to it, soon, and just need to figure out how the mechanics of the far-future world work a little better.

(CC) What are your top three biggest ‘writing’ influences, (authors or fictional characters) and what have you learned from them?

(JMM) In science fiction, the author that looms largest in my imagination is Maureen McHugh. I had been writing fantasy for years without any serious consideration of writing SF when I came across Of Mothers and Other Monsters, her early collection of stories from Small Beer Press. It was like a lightbulb going off inside my head, that there were writers of SF that had many of the concerns, narratively, that I did, that could feel so natural and unconventional at the same time. I love her work. My favorite of hers is MISSION CHILD, but HALF THE DAY IS NIGHT and CHINA MOUNTAIN ZHANG and NEKROPOLIS are all wrapped up inside my head with the way the aesthetics of science fiction is supposed to be, what it can be and do and feel like. Other than her, the largest influences are probably Lloyd Alexander, an author that I devoured all through my formative years, that really pushed me down this path of creative energy, and then there’s Larry Nolan, of OF Blog of the Fallen, who has a very specific role to play with this specific book.

I had reached out to him and asked for a recommendation of something good to read, as I was in a reading rut. He suggested Dino Buzzati’s THE TARTAR STEPPE, which I loved, and which also led me to see THE OPPOSING SHORE by Julian Gracq on the Amazon recommended section of the Buzzati book. Both of these books are clear influences of the ideas behind my own book. Distant, unappealing military fortresses in imaginary foreign lands, with a mysterious enemy that never seems to come. It’s like Waiting for the Barbarians, except inside the bureaucratic machine of the military, exploring how that edifice shapes humans for the worse. It seemed like an excellent frame upon which to hang a story about deep space, and a closer look at what space warfare will really be like where time and space stretch out so much, and aliens are so alien, so unknowable.

(CC) What are some of your other non-writing influences, and what have you picked up from them?

(JMM) I like making things. I garden as much as I can. I grow a lot of fruit. Right now, I just finished a batch of Habanero/Jalapeno Pepper Jelly using peppers from my wife’s farm, and meyer lemons from the tree in our dooryard. This morning I ate the last of the frozen blackberries leftover from our summer harvest. I’ve got to go to the store and get supplies to make some green papaya relish, from the papaya trees in our yard.

I guess, one of the things that M. John Harrison has talked about with his rock climbing is the need to connect to something physical, and I feel that. I love stepping into my yard and seeing all the butterflies and bees accumulating at the Sweet Almond Verbena bush, and the passionvine. I love watching anole lizards amble along the rocks in the herb garden. I love knowing that the birds who have lost so much habitat, so much food, to our dead oak and grass lawns, have a refuge in the pomegranate trees, where they can build nests and find things planted to feed them.

My work has a strong influence of the idea of the wilderness, the unknown parts of nature, and I find a little bit of it in my yard every day.

(CC) Alright, now onto the book. Tell me about FORTRESS AT THE END OF TIME. What is it about?

(JMM) Imagine that you have been told that you will get to fly warships at the edge of human space, and you will clone out to other colonies, exploring the galaxy and making a difference. Then, when you arrive, leadership is brutal and indifferent, conditions are terrible with no improvement in sight, and the dream that you were sold will never come. If the enemy returns, the station will probably not survive the first volley. All you can hope to do is be ready to send back the warning of their return before the end comes for you and all you have built. What do you do?

Captain Ronaldo Aldo, for many years, tries to do the right thing and he is punished for it, has such bad luck. Finally, he decides to cheat.

(CC) I can relate to doing the right thing for a while and then feeling the urge to ‘cheat,’ where did this come from? Do you think that this type of thinking is inherently human, or is it inspired by an event/situation in your own life?

(JMM) I think it’s inherently human, and, to me, is tied into the question of nature versus nurture that has been a major focus of my novels, in particular. Kick a dog that doesn’t bite enough times, and someday you’re gonna get bit. Build a system that creates the best rewards for the bad actors in the network, watch even good people succumb to temptation. And, the conflicting messages fed to people in society mean that, in some respect, everyone loses, and everyone is cheating at some aspect of what they believe and value.<

(CC) How did you come up with the concept or plot? Do you prefer to plan everything out first, or do you write by the seat of your pants?

(JMM) This one really came from trying to combine ideas about deep space colonization, what I envision intergalactic warfare might actually look like to most people engaged in it – i.e. a lot of dull waiting and preparing with no actual war in sight – and the two different approaches to the problem presented by those existentialist European novels that Larry led me to find.

(CC) Do you envision intergalactic warfare often?

(JMM) I don’t, actually. Scarcity drives conflict. There’s a character in the book that explains how senseless it seems to have violence in space. Once interstellar, and even intergalactic travel open up, it makes no sense to me that anyone would want to fight over rocks, when there’s plenty more just over the horizon. I watched the reboot of Star Wars, the Force Awakens, and I had trouble getting over how ridiculous much of their combat was. Like, when the Millenium Falcon breaks through a shield barrier by traveling at light speed… Why not just send a bunch of little bombs through the shield at light speed? They don’t even have to be bombs. Big, heavy objects moving fast enough will be just like bombs. And, why fight at all? If the empire wants to be evil right there, just set the ship to go and take a nap for a while, and wake up far enough away that the empire is busy squeezing what they have. As casually as everyone hops around the planets, in the films, their combat makes no sense, to me. The only one that made sense was actually one of the worst movies of the bunch: The first prequal. Blockades make sense, to me. Sort of. It breaks, though, because the planet had a vibrant ecosystem and cultures that were proud and living in plenty. It was not crowded enough on the ground to make any sort of difference that no one could leave the surface or the sea. There was so much free space, so much farmland waiting to be tilled. The blockade would have been an inconvenience to the people on the ground, who would probably not be shouting for war if it meant dying over a few lines of exotic shipments. Data could still get through. How could they blockade data? The data is the true value of the intergalactic network, not the supplies. Anyway, I’m rambling, but the combat that I see in films, and read about in books is rarely sensible. I like Ursula K. LeGuin and Vernor Vinghe for visions of space combat that actually make sense, to me, economically and technologically.

(CC) What was the process like—did you have to overcome any hurdles to finish FORTRESS, or was it all sunshine and rainbows?

(JMM) It was just work. One does the work until it is done. Each book is different. Some days it comes easy, some days it doesn’t.

(CC) War and conflict, both literal and metaphorical, are a big part of FORTRESS. What are your experiences with war?

(JMM) Personally, I have no experience whatsoever. But, I do come from a military family. My parents met in the army. My father is a retired Lt. Col. Three of my four grandparents served in the military in a time of war. My grandmother is buried in a military cemetery. My brother was a Marine MP and retired as a Lance Corporal. My sister went to West Point and is a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, and her resume is, frankly, presidential. One thing that I noticed with the stories I’ve heard around the kitchen table, compared to what I read in fiction and see in movies, is that there is a real disconnect between what is sold to us in the media compared to what is actually experienced. Very, very few soldiers actually fire a weapon in the direction of an enemy. The vast majority of soldiers never so much as look down the gun barrel at an enemy combatant. They, instead, work inside a giant and oppressive bureaucracy that wears the shell of warfare in a facade. Administrators shout HOORAH before an eight hour day preparing powerpoint slides and filling out paperwork. They play the game of soldier. Very few will actually be asked to do any soldiering. With all the military service in my family, including people in combat jobs, no one has any story to tell about actually going out and engaging the enemy, or defending against them. Thank god! But, in media, we are sold this very exciting, very important and intense vision of military life, when a better representative of this life, I think, comes from my mom’s story of what happened just after she gave birth to me in a military hospital in Heidelberg. She had just given birth to a nine pound child that was believed to have been twins in a time before ultrasounds and who was a month late. She was in a room with a very tiny Vietnamese-American woman, probably a war bride, who had also just given birth. The orderly came by with fresh sheets, and placed them on the edge of the bed and said. “Today is the day we change the sheets.” The orderly left. The women who had just given birth were expected to change their own sheets. It was not a request, either. They were not permitted to opt-out. This is, I think, a better reflection of the insanity of what can be experienced in service. The bureaucracy has its own rules, its own way of operating, and it runs upon a shell of the warrior, toughening every aspect of life. Much of military fiction and military science fiction is engaged with the exciting stuff – jumping out of planes and going to battle against “bad guys” – but the actual lived experience of the military is not well-reflected in the literature, where most service members live, trying to carve a life for themselves in a community that commands them to do things that make no sense and may even be actively harmful to them. Hoo-Rah.

I was discouraged from military service by my parents who knew the very things that make me a pretty good writer also make me a poor candidate for the army. I ask questions. I think. I can’t shut up and be tactful when I feel something is wrong.

With my latest book, I tried to capture the way the dream of service, the glory and the jumping out of planes and being a hero, intersects with the day-to-day lived experience of service, where you are at the whims of an indifferent, occasionally actively-malicious bureaucratic system that simply does not line up with the dreams that you were sold.

And, outside of the service, in life, one jarring trend I see that needs addressing: The people and institutions who sell you dreams tend to blame you when those dreams don’t come true.

(CC) Do you think you were successful in depicting the spot where dream and reality collide? Now, reflecting on the finished work, is there anything else that you would like to add or change to accentuate this reality even more?

(JMM) I don’t know. We’ll see. Initially, I didn’t think there was a need for a sequel, but I think there’s two more stories to tell in this world that I might get around to telling. Every Inferno is followed by Purgatoria and Paradisio, after all.

(CC) Why do you think it is that the ‘Dream Salesmen’ blame their customers when everything doesn’t work out?

(JMM) For some, it is because they are unscrupulous liars who always know, deep down, they cannot make enough money on the sale if they only allow the future successful ones to buy in.

I have an MFA, and my professors knew and repeated the knowledge that there is no guarantee that anyone will “make it” from the program, only that the students would leave the program better writers by some measure of quality, more well-read, or something. They knew that part of what they do in the program is sell the dream of the bestselling author. I know, when I teach college, that I am also guilty of selling the dream of success. At the end of the day, though, I cannot promise it. I can watch the students take out loans and do the work and all I can tell them is that it will probably make them a better human at being human, and there may not be the magical job at the end of the tunnel. They will likely be in the same dead-end job, just with more debt, now.

As for the military, it is hard to express what I have seen among my family members, and what impact it had on their lives, to take that path a while, and shout hoorah and run and shoot and prepare for war, in their way. And, the dream of the military career is a lie that is ingrained as a culture unto itself, with massive edifices of administration present to confound all hope of something different, more true to the dream.

That’s all folks! To learn more about Joe M. McDermott, his newest novel, The Fortress at the End of Time, or Tor/Forge publishing, click here: Tor Publishing and to pre-order a copy oh his newest novel now, click here:

The Fortress at the End of Time.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

“Some people know things about the universe that nobody ought to know, and can do things that nobody ought to be able to do,” he said. “I am one of those few. Let me show you.” – The epigram to “The Horror at Red Hook” by H.P. Lovecraft

This novella takes its inspiration from “The Horror at Red Hook” both in the magic and terror of the urban landscape as well as Lovecraft’s blatant racism. In this “maze of hybrid squalor,” LaValle takes the story to another level and does so with it more sophistication than Lovecraft could ever have hoped to achieve.

H.P. Lovecraft has left a disturbing legacy and The Ballad of Black Tom is one way to account for it and confront it. There is evil in the world and it must be addressed. Some may succumb to the temptations of power derived from the Great Old Ones. Some may lose their soul in the pursuit of justice. This is an original take on the Cthulhu mythos and a marvelous horror story in its own right.

Character development, plot, dialogue and a genuine sense of supernatural peril thrive in LaValle’s hands. This is both a worthy acknowledgment to the craft and innovation of Lovecraft and an indictment of his flaws done with superior skill and subtlety.

General-DC Comics

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