Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Blair Witch Problem

Horror Fan 1: And then what happens?

Horror Fan 2: That morning she thinks she finds his tongue outside her tent! But that night she hears him calling for her again! It’s so creepy.

Anonymous Nerd: (walks up) What are you talking about?

Horror Fan 1: We were talking about our favorite movies and Blair Witch Project came up. She loves it.

Anonymous Nerd: You know the problem with that movie? None of them were trained camera people so they couldn't keep it steady. And they should've gotten better actors, and came up with an actual script. Plus you just can't go a whole movie without showing the monster like that. It just makes it lame.

Horror Fan 2: It's fascinating that you could pinpoint all the problems in that movie, but noticed none of the problems in how you butted into this conversation about my favorite movie.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Six Great Movies Still Coming Out in 2016


September is half-over and Christmas decorations are starting to crop up in department stores. 2016 is a dying beast, and some people are already writing their Best Of lists. But there are books (yo, Wall of Storms), games (yo, Mafia 3), and even movies yet to be released that we’re craving. I just knocked off Don’t Breathe, which I have many, many thoughts on.

But that can wait. Let’s talk about cool movies that are coming out alarmingly soon.

1.     The Mermaid

You might not have heard that The Mermaid is the most popular film in the history of China. Releasing earlier this year, it has already doubled Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s lifetime box office, and is heralded as revolutionizing Chinese Fantasy films.

The Mermaid is a remix of Chinese folklore through the unique lens of director Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer). Trailers promise a comedy about a lovable loser being harassed by a mermaid, or a tragic love story of that same duo being pulled from each other by a cavalcade of figures from Chinese folklore. Despite the CG battles, I’m hoping for more of a comedy, because no director has Chow’s knack for oddballs.

You probably haven’t heard of it, though, because it was licensed by Sony Pictures. The company released it on just 35 theaters across the entire United States. Fortunately, it’s received an On Demand release.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Three Pieces of Good News!

I'm packing up for Worldcon right now, but I have three pieces of good news to share before I go!

1. I'll be making my second appearance at Daily Science Fiction later this year with "Where I'm From, We Eat Our Parents."  I'm flattered to be back, this time with a story of a tentacle monster and his purely consensual relationship with a nice human girl.

Forget all the rumors you've heard about tentacle monsters - he's polite, even sweet, though he's nervous now that he has to meet her parents. After all, her dad served in the war of the worlds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Guest Post by Erica L. Satifka: Beyond the Symptoms

Erica is a writer whose short fiction I've admired for a while now, and I'm excited to share my blog today as she prepares to launch her debut novel. Characters navigating their mental health always catches my interest, but rarely does it let them save the local economy from interdimensional horrors. Over to Erica!

Emmeline Kalberg, the protagonist of my debut novel Stay Crazy, has paranoid schizophrenia. But she's so much more than that. While Stay Crazy is speculative fiction, it takes place in the present-day real world, and Em not only has to deal with the monsters in the store and in her mind, but also the stigma that comes with her very misunderstood condition.

That’s something I wanted to confront even in my title: the term "crazy" used in this context is not derogatory. My protagonist – like me! – comes from a working-class background, raised in a family that isn't exactly literate when it comes to mental health issues. "Crazy" is the word that other people would use to describe her, but it's also something Em herself is reclaiming.

Too often, folks with psychotic disorders don't get to be the heroes of their own stories. Nearly always, they're given the role of madman or mystic, and I'm not sure which is worse.

Okay, that's not true: the trope of the axe-wielding maniac is definitely worse.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

John's Worldcon Schedule

I'll be in Missouri next week for the annual Worldcon! It's my first year as a panelist, and I was invited to so many things I had to turn a couple down. The staff has been very welcoming so far and I look forward to meeting everyone.

As always, if you feel like saying hi, please do! It should be a busy week, but I'm always happy to meet new folks.

Anime Stories to Watch in the Dark

Thursday 22:00 - 23:00, 2504B (Kansas City Convention Center)
When one hears "anime", horror may not be the first thing to come to mind. This panel might change that. Don't be scared, and join us as we explore horror in anime.
John Wiswell, Lyda Morehouse

It's Not Torture If It's The Good Guys

Friday 10:00 - 11:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Zootopia at first glance appear to have little in common but both use the premise "I won't kill you, but my friend will." Just a few scenes apart in season 2 of Daredevil the lead is shown torturing someone "heroically" followed by a mob boss torturing someone "evilly." In this session we discuss the hows and whys this dichotomy can have developed and whether it is time to start challenging the notion of good torture on screen.
Scott Lynch (M), Seth Dickinson, John Wiswell, Kij Johnson, Marc Zicree

Flash Fiction: Short, But Not Easy

Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, 3501D (Kansas City Convention Center)
Many people think that Flash Fiction must be easy to write since the stories are so short.  It takes real skill to be able to tell a compelling story in only a few hundred words. Our panel will discuss some of the key skills needed, and the best places to get your flash fiction noticed.
John Wiswell, Anna Yeatts, Caroline M. Yoachim (M), Betsy Dornbusch, Chris Phillips, David VonAllmen

The Horror Melting Pot

Saturday 16:00 - 17:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Ghost stories, supernatural, suspense, gore, shock horror - all of these used to be more or less recognizable and identifed as distinct genres. Today they are increasingly clumped together as just horror. What effect does this have on horror as a genre?
Alasdair Stuart (M), John Wiswell, David Boop, Steve Rasnic Tem

Monday, August 1, 2016

Great Things I Read in July, 2016 Edition

July is the month when I slammed into a wall. Going from 4th Street to driveway maintenance to Readercon to a college reunion pretty much destroyed me, but one thing that kept me sane on the road was all the short fiction I had with me. God bless free public wifi. As always, every piece included in my list is free to read by clicking the link included. If you enjoy a story or article, please let the writer know with a tweet, fan mail, or a handy Patreon donation.

Short Stories and Flash Fiction

"The Journey and the Jewel" by Rebecca Campbell at The Sockdolager
-It's Magical Realist story about a Magical Realist story bleeding into a Magical Realist story! What excellence. The Journey and the Jewel was the last and greatest puzzle-book written by a genius couple, but they died without leaving a solution to the world, and so their daughter Ananda never figured out where its treasure was hidden. Ananda grows up having to deal with what the powerful book may have conjured, like a Shapeshifter whose face is constantly rotating new shapes, and a treasure that might possibly be out there. And it's sewn with lovely lines about the book itself, like, "The Journey and the Jewel’s last page is its most dreadful, the kind of page a kid might fasten shut with paper clips to prevent it opening by accident," which kick the tone in wonderful ways.

"Straight Lines" by Naru Sundar at Mothership Zeta
-“It must have been hard for you, Em.”
“I’m a ship mind. Hard is relative.”
It's that kind of zaniness that leaves you grateful Mothership Zeta exists. It's a very chatty story as the sentient ship tries to work out its relationship with Xiao, the woman who's trying to take it on an adventure. While her motives are interesting, the real strength of the story is in the keen rhythm of the dialogue between the two of them, something that any emerging SciFi writer would do well to study.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Great Things I Read in June, 2016 Edition

June is over! It has been conquered, and there is no more of it. I'm back from the first of three conventions this summer, and had a wonderful time on panels at 4th Street. While I was on the road, I read some fantastic shorts and non-fiction that I'll share with you today. As always every piece is free to read, no pay wall or anything. If you like what you're reading, though, please consider sharing it, or tipping the zine or author's Patreons.


Flash Fiction and Short Stories

"Other Metamorphoses" by Fábio Fernandes at Lightspeed Magazine
-The third paragraph positively killed me - one of the funniest reveals in any flash I've ever read. This flash is a great twist on Kafka's classic novella, and as badly as I want to discuss Fernandez's worldbuilding, it'd spoil the reveal. The story is too short to give away. Just click and come back when you hit "dreamtime."

"The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One" by J.Y. Yang at Uncanny Magazine
-A vicious piece of second-person narrative, explaining how you are being physically cut out of the narrator's body, and then dissected. The most uncomfortable story Uncanny has yet published, dark and ponderous, where the real game is figuring out the context for why all this is happening, and what you and the narrator are.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guest Post: Funny Thing by Curtis Chen

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from debut novelist Curtis Chen. Coming out June 21 from Thomas Dunne Books, it's a SciFi spy romp aboard an intergalactic cruiser, starring an agent with a pocket dimension... in his pocket. But writing about foiling terrorism emerged from events that shaped so many of us, including 9/11. Curtis now shares with us how tragedy gave him inspiration to brighten our world. Over to Curtis!
SPOILER ALERT: If you’d rather know absolutely nothing about my debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo before reading it, STOP and save this blog post for later!

September 11, 2001, was an awful day for me, as I imagine it was for most Americans. It took me a long time to deal with it. I didn’t cry until two days later. I didn’t write about it until the week after, and I stand by what I said then: Murder defies reason.

The good news: 9/11 directly inspired the plot of
Waypoint Kangaroo, wherein hijackers attempt to crash an interplanetary cruise spaceship into Mars to start a war. (In my future history, the Martian colonies very recently won their independence from Earth after a brutal conflict, and there’s still plenty of bad blood between the two worlds.)

The bad news: That particular inspiration also made much of the first draft very dark and depressing—i.e., at odds with the protagonist’s trademark snarky humor—and I struggled to balance those two elements over many subsequent rewrites. I wanted Kangaroo to not take himself too seriously, but I wanted the stakes to be real matters of life and death.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bathroom Monologue: What If Captain America Isn't Alone?


It wasn’t just Captain America who joined Hydra. Was it weird to you that in seventy years of continuity, Cap never mentioned his fascist leanings, and always stopped Hydra from taking over the world?

Then it’s going to be super-weird when Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter join Hydra, too, plus three quarters of the Fantastic Four. Ben Grimm brings an iPod Shuffle and plays smooth jazz just a little too loud during roll call.

The thing is, having all these new recruits doesn’t make Hydra more effective. In fact the number of missions per fiscal quarter drops. Every time they take a vote to raid some young democracy, the measure is voted down in favor of getting drunk and ordering Five Guys. The TEAM HYDRA Facebook Wall is quickly covered in Bernie Sanders quotes and funny cat memes.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

John’s Convention Schedule

Nerd Convention Season is picking up, so it’s time to figure out where we’re going. Last summer got kind of ridiculous for me, so I’m scaling back travel a bit to focus on my health, and finishing a certain novel.

A note particularly for newer con-goers: I know being new sucks. You don’t know anybody, you feel like every attempted conversation is butting in, and you don’t know what the big events are. So if you’re going to any of these cons and don’t know many people, comment on this post, or tweet me, or shoot me an e-mail. Hell, if you see me chatting with a crowd in the lobby, come on over and I’ll introduce you to the conversation. I know how awkward it is standing on the outside of a ring of people. I’m happy to make these spaces more inclusive.

4th Street Fantasy. June 17-19, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I’ve only gone once and this might already be my favorite con in existence. There is one track, and all ~200 attendees go to the same set of panels. Panelists dig deeper into the craft of storytelling than most cons, and the conversation rolls over from panel to panel, since everyone knows anything brought up earlier. For its small population, it attracts a high percentage of professionals, many of whom like to drunkenly sing in the cafe after midnight.

Readercon. July 7-10, Quincy, Massachusetts.
After years in Burlington, they’re moving to a new space that’s hopefully a little less cramped. ReaderCon attracts brilliant writers like Kelly Link, Ken Liu, and Elizabeth Bear, who pontificate generously on panels and at the bar. This is the only con I'm doing this summer where I'm not on panels, so I'll take this one more laid back. I'll be fun to watch everyone freak out over Guest of Honor Tim Powers.

WorldCon, August 17-21, Kansas City, Missouri.
Ending the summer with the big one. This will be my first WorldCon as a panelist, and my first WorldCon with the Rabid Puppy fights going on. People come from around the world, which means seeing more old friends than any other time in the year. I also hope to get some writers together to sneak out for a movie at some point...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Great Things I Read in May (2016)

There were too many good pieces of writing in May. As a result I only finished one novel and two non-fiction books (well, that and copious editing of my own work). I don't regret a moment of it, though it does mean my Favorites list is pretty bulky today. Bulky, and still incomplete.

Short Stories and Flash Fiction

"The Middle Child’s Practical Guide to Surviving a Fairy Tale" by Mari Ness at Fireside Fiction
-Meta on fairy tales is past its Best-By date, and yet Ness has a great steamlined take on them. Here we sympathize with the older (and usually less attractive) sibling in fairytales, the one that usually exists to die horribly as a warning, as a tragedy, or as plot fodder. Over her list of thirteen items, Ness points out the warning signs and tropes you must avoid to survive someone else's magical journey. Being supporting cast is hard. You might as well try to live through it.

"The Rogue State Next Door" by Vajra Chandrasekera at Unsung Stories
-It takes him six paragraphs to establish a cutting satire and vision of the world. It's an uncomfortable story about how the President tries to negotiate with another nation sharing his border, which is apparently so powerful his entire country fears them, and the President won't look through the fence at it. It gives a vaguely surreal vibe akin to Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation, inviting you to wonder if this is a superpower, or some evil alien mega-entity. I kept the tab open to re-read it every week this month. It's like instant fiction: toss this in your imagination and it expands to the fill the container.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

X-Men is My Star Wars


Star Wars or Star Trek? My answer is X-Men. Because I grew up with them, I like my SciFi Extra-Special-Implausible. Not growing up with Star Wars, I confess to never “getting it.” When the Prequels landed, I was unfazed. They were just another trilogy about a Mary Sue with his cast of not-as-special-people who were important because he knew them. They weren’t as well made, but they were clearly the same model. Today, the greatest thing about Force Awakens is watching other people get so much out of it.

I told you that to tell you about ADD. In my lifetime ADD became ADHD, then became a "myth," a thing doctors made up for money, or lazy people made up as excuses. The current scorn for its sufferers is garbage. I have it, and have since childhood - the same week I received medication, my grades skyrocketed. Even then I struggled with reading. Superhero comics, with their mixture of art and the written word, were a huge part of introducing me to the desire for literacy. Here, nothing was more invigorating than X-Men comics, and particularly Wolverine.

So half my readers just closed this article because, ugh, another Wolverine fan right?

The rest of you: hold on for four more sentences.

Because he became particularly meaningful to me at Age 13, when medical malpractice put me in full-body pain for the rest of my life. As opposed to Superman’s invincible skin or Batman’s eternal dodging reflexes, Wolverine feels every blow. He’s shot, stabbed, even eviscerated, and the good artists captured that the pain registered on his face. He could survive anything, but only win by powering through the pain.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Great Things I Read in April

Well, this is late. I've been sacked by a bronchial affair, one truly pesky insurgency that's left me lucid for less of this week than I wanted. I'll do my best to keep this round-up comprehensible. Like at the end of every month, I'm collecting a list of excellent short stories, flash fiction, and journalism. This is probably a little less complete than usual on account of it feels like my furniture is floating. All the stories and articles below are free and can be read just by clicking the link.


Short Stories and Flash Fiction
"Deportations to Begin" at The Boston Globe
-Allegedly this fictional front page of The Boston Globe hurt Donald Trump's feelings. The Globe is an unusual outlet for Speculative Fiction, and yet that's inarguably what this is: speculation on what a Trump presidency will mean for immigration, abuse of law, and the economy. Balder than 1984, and a far sight more likely in its ugliness.

"Foxfire, Foxfire" by Yoon Ha Lee at Beneath Ceaseless Skies
-This belongs on the syllabus for Fantasy classes next year. I love the language. I love the worldbuilding. I love that two paragraphs in, you realize you aren't just hearing this from a human civilian, and not in a clunky line like, "I was born a vampire," but subtly, with, "Better to return to fox-form, surely, and slip back to the countryside..." I love the narrator's indignant place in the society, not utterly helpless, but feeling the pressure of what's coming and expected. Whenever you can establish your world enough that the characters can push back against it in favor of how it should be without it all feeling contrived, you've created a genuine Fantasy. Here the fear of tigers and tiger-sages, and the rush of evacuation, is all potent. It's a story that I thought was going to be shorter, and then was sad to find ending so soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Foreign Tongues" is live at Flash Fiction Online!

What if an alien visitor wasn't as reliant on sight and sound as we are, but rather wanted a taste of our culture? Would you mind an alien tasting you? And would you taste polite to them? Those are some of the questions behind my latest story at Flash Fiction Online, "Foreign Tongues," about an alien explorer that finds earth and thinks ice cream is our best ambassador. The humans? Well...

By bizarre coincidence, this is the third story Flash Fiction Online has published from me in an April. The third comedy, too. So the amazing people at Flash Fiction Online put me on the cover. But they didn't just put my name on it or an author photo. No, no. They painted a tribute to "Sun Belt," "Alligators by Twitter," and the latest story.

I couldn't be more tickled by this. I'll have to take their editors out for ice cream. It's what civilized explorers do.
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