For the past few months, my old friend Frank Romero (co-founder of Denver Comic Con) and I have been curating and hosting SCIENCE FRICTION, a monthly science fiction film series at Alamo Drafthouse Denver. It's done so well, we're branching off into a second monthly series: FANTASTIQUE. The new series will be all fantasy, and it will go down on the first Thursday of every month at Alamo.
We're launching Fantastique on April 2, and we had to kick things off with one of our favorite fantasy films of all time: Highlander. It's a movie that helped put urban fantasy on the map in the '80s, back when that protean, nebulous term had different connotations entirely, and it stands as an undeniable epic (just don't think too hard about the sequels, although I will admit to having a real soft spot for the underrated Highlander TV series).
Fantastique, however, won't only cover the swords-and-sorcery end of fantasy, although there will be plenty of that. It's my goal to represent fantasy cinema as inclusively and diversely as possible; for me, there's room for all kinds of fabulism, magic realism, and/or uncategorizable films that stretch our view of reality. Conan the Barbarian? Willow? Sure, we love it. But Fantastique also has room for quieter, quirkier films like Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud and Guy Maddin's Careful.
As always, Frank and I will appear in person to introduce each Fantastique film as well as offer giveaways, host special guests, and so on. In fact, we have a great guest lined up for Highlander on April 2: Carrie Vaughn, New York Times-bestselling fantasy author, as well as a huge fan of Highlander herself. She's even started spreading the rumor that she may show up to the movie cosplaying as Sean Connery's character, Ramirez, sword and all... fingers crossed! She'll also be giving away signed copies of her latest novel, Low Midnight, courtesy of Tor Books. Oh, and like Science Friction, Fantastique is sponsored by The A.V. Club, where I'm Senior Writer and sometimes-puller-of-strings.
Tickets for Highlander aren't on sale quite yet, but I will certainly and selfishly spread the news as soon as they are. And I almost forgot to mention, the kitchen at the Alamo will be offering a dinner special that night, in honor of the film's Scottish theme: haggis. Not even kidding. See you there?
Farrago's Wainscot--one of the most progressive and adventurous weird-fiction publications in recent memory--is back. And I'm lucky enough to have a short story in their new issue. The story is titled "Of Homes Gone," and it imagines an impoverished world where people are no longer allowed (or no longer allow themselves?) to go inside buildings. It also has boys without noses, hints of Guy Debord, and architecture that resembles "a labyrinth of capillaries." If you dare to read it, I hope you like it.
A couple years ago I asked a few writers I love to list their favorite science-fiction-themed music. The goal was to print those lists in a future issue of a new SF journal out of England, Adventure Rocketship!, that I'd begun writing for.
That second issue of AR! has yet to materialize (although I'd love to see it surface at some point), which left me holding a handful of great lists of SF music. Below are those lists, a stellar sampler of albums, songs, and insights about the intersection of speculation and sound. Thanks to all involved. Time to queue up some Parliament.
My favorite SF-themed music is
the stuff that heads straight for theconcept of alienation and
then turns it all the way inside out, sothat the sparks fly--no,
soar--in every direction, and reach all ofus. I don't know how to
rank these, so I won't; they're inchronological order.
My tracks, which purposefully
don't include "The Final Countdown," though I did really want to
somehow feature a Yes video:
1: "Rocket Man,"
Elton John The loneliness up there, man. It's like Don DeLillo's "Human
Moments in World War III" story. Also, Mars ain't the kind of place to
raise your kids. At least not yet. But I've always wondered if that line was in
response to Stranger in a Strange Land.
Highwaymen Willie liberating jewelry, Kris doing his best Bobby McGee out on
the high seas, Waylon building Hoover, Johnny Cash playing Fear Agent out
there between the planets. It all confirms some suspicions I'd had all along,
about time and space, life and death.
3: "Band on the
Run," Wings I've always heard this song as if sung by a spaceship
crew. Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever. That
could be Ripley and Bishop and them, yes? HAL and Dave. And there's even an
M-class planet in there, a 'desert world.' This song's pure Silent
Running, pure Sunshine. And then of course they fall into that
4: "Life on Mars?"
David Bowie Not the usual spidery pick from his catalog, I know. But how can
that girl be watching that movie? And how can this 'Bowie' have written it?
The story of the song wraps around on itself in a very Calvino way, and then's
out the door only two verses in, so you don't even have time to question what
just happened. Real aliens are clever like that.
5: "The Voice,"
Moody Blues, from Long Distance Traveler I title I keep trying to
use, for science fiction. You know how The Dark Side of the Moon's
supposed to go with The Wizard of Oz? I've always thought Long
Distance Traveler was meant as accompaniment for Olaf
Stapledon's Star Maker. Just listen to that first distant,
obviously galactic sound that opens up "The Voice." It's haunting,
it's bigger than any of us. Your mind has no choice but to fold open.
"Everything You Know Is Wrong," Weird Al. Obviously.
Also, I vote Ace Frehley as
the most science fiction of any guitar player ever, even counting
interplanetery history and the Dominion.
This record is to science
fiction what Enter the Wu-Tang was for kung fu. A dense, mythology-heavy
concept record with more sfnal ideas than you can shake a blaster at, it's also
a damn good listen from start to finish.
David Bowie: The Rise and Fall
of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
I mean, c'mon.
Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Y'all can keep your Zeppelin-y
ruminations on the Shire; I'll take the crushing, post-apocalyptic tunes of
classic Sabbath any day.
Like Douglas Adams, Parliament
punctures the myth of the self-serious science fiction nerd with one of the
ass-shakin'est records of all time.
Full of robot friends
("Are Friends Electric?") and night clubs were humans are tortured
for the entertainment of robots ("Down in the Park"), this album to
me fully encapsulates the cyberpunk verve of the early 80s.
2) "Visage" by
Glitz and glam new wave with a
decidedly futuristic edge, this was the sound we imagined would be playing in
the night clubs of the 21st century, back when 2000 seemed so far away. The
video for the title track "Visage" might have been a cut scene from
Blade Runner. And I could see their most popular hit, "Fade to Grey",
as the theme song to Chris Marker's brilliant French time-travel film La Jetée.
3) "Flaunt It" and
"Dress for Excess" by Sigue Sigue Sputnik
I include both albums here
because it's hard for me to separate them. SSS mocked the corporate excess and
over-consumption that showed its moisturized face in the early 80s. SSS went
so far as to put ads for hair products (Loreal) and fashion rags (ID Magazine)
and others between each song. "Love Missile F1-11" made an appearance
in the opening act of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the upbeat track turns Cold
War paranoia into one long sexual metaphor. Layering their music with
samples from Blade Runner, Scarface, Dirty Harry, and Japanese advertisements,
it's easy to enter the future techno-pop world that Sigue Sigue Sputnik
imagined for us. Favorite tracks are "21-st Century Boy,"
"Teenage Thunder," "Rio Rocks," and "M.A.D." The
albums are worth it just for their cover art.
4) "Dazzle Ships" by
Known for their pop songs like
"If You Leave," "Dazzle Ships" was a sharp departure from
their previous oeuvre. "Genetic Engineering" warns about the dangers
of experimenting with human DNA and has my favorite use of a Speak-and-Spell (an
80s toy) which creepily chants in a Stephen-Hawking-esque voice, "Babies,
mother, hospital, scissors. Creature, judgment, butcher, Engineer."
"Dazzle Ships Pts. 1-3" might be the sound of a spaceship docking
gone wrong, while "Time Zones" layers recordings of individuals from
around the world announcing the time. With tracks called "The Romance of
the Telescope," "Radio Waves," and "Telegraph" this
album veers sharply toward the science-fictional landscape and safely lands on
its own unique planet.
5) Blade Runner Soundtrack
Blade Runner, that iconic film
that has influenced everything from fashion to architecture, would only be half
a film if not for the surreal aural landscape painted by Vangelis. Due to
rights issues, the original film score wasn't available for public release
until 1994, and so for years we had to listen to the cheap methadone substitute
of an orchestral version. Who can forget the atmospheric sounds of "Main
Titles" when the film opens to Los Angeles' smog-choked streets? And the
haunting saxophone of the "Love Theme" is forever seared into my mind
as the sound of future city blues. With "Memories of Green" we
can almost hear Rachael's tears as she realizes she's a replicant. "Tales
of the Future" takes us down into Animoid Row, where artificial animals
are sold on thronging streets. And the "End Titles" might be
the orchestral accompaniment to Philip K. Dick's dreams. May you rest in peace,
In this month's issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, I took a look back at Vermillion: the doomed, erratically brilliant DC/Helix comic book written by the late Lucius Shepard. Vermillion ran for 12 issues in 1996 and '97 before being unceremoniously canceled along with most of the Helix line, noble experiment that it was.
I love Shepard's work -- I reviewed his posthumous novel Beautiful Blood, the culmination of his masterful Dragon Griaule cycle, last year for NPR -- and it was an honor to dwell in his abandoned city-universe for a little while longer.
For no real reason other than the fact that I'm trying to find reasons not to do actual work to today, I thought I'd rank all of Morrissey's solo albums. A little background: Morrissey's debut solo album, Viva Hate, came out in 1988 (on my 16th birthday, no less!), and as huge Smiths fan I bought it immediately. I've been faithfully buying his solo albums, for better or worse, ever since. I still spend SO MUCH FUCKING TIME listening to these albums, far more time than I spend listening to most other music, new or old. I have something wrong with me.
Please note: For the sake of simplicity I'm excluding most of Morrissey's many compilation albums, save for Bona Drag, which stands alone well enough despite its overlap with Viva Hate (and also because we all had no idea back then that Morrissey was going to turn into such on obsessive self-cannibalizer, discography-wise). I'm also leaving out the live album Beethoven's Deaf, despite how awesome it is. Oh, and in all cases, I'm using the most recent reissue of said album--especially in the case of my #1 pick, which particularly benefits from its reissue bonus tracks. And yes, this is all 100% subjective. Do I really even need to say that?
1. Southpaw Grammar (1995)
2. Vauxhall and I (1994)
3. Your Arsenal (1992)
4. Bona Drag (1990)
5. Viva Hate (1988)
6. You Are the Quarry (2004)
7. Maladjusted (1997)
8. Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006)
9. Years of Refusal (2009)
10. Kill Uncle (1991)
11. World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014)
Now go listen to Southpaw Grammar five hundred times in a row and try to tell me I'm wrong.
Seeing as how 2014 is being put to bed, I find myself prone to the same backward-glancing rumination as your average navel-gazing creative type. Turns out, 2014 was a more happening year than it seemed to me at first. And not just because I went on an Irish honeymoon with my lovely wife in May, which was amazing. Here are a few things I've been up to over the past few months:
-A chapter on time-travel music that I wrote appeared in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's latest anthology, The Time Traveler's Almanac (Tor Books). I also did a reading/signing with my table-of-contents-mates Carrie Vaughn and Connie Willis, which was beyond an honor.
-I wrote a Goosebumps book for Scholastic that will tie into the Goosebumps movie next year.
-In addition to reviewing a bunch of books for NPR.org, I wrote my first music article for them: a piece about the Bedhead box set.
-I wrote a ton of stuff for Pitchfork, including dozens of music reviews and longer pieces on John Fahey, Sun Ra, Steve Albini, and Peter Bebergal's great new book, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.
-Over at The A.V. Club, I finished my year-long series on '90s punk, Fear Of A Punk Decade, as well as lots of other assorted malarkey, including pieces on Dragonlance, The Black Hole, Lev Grossman, and China Mieville.
-I started writing for Entertainment Weekly, and there I rambled on about everything from Margaret Atwood to Marianne Faithfull, and from steampunk to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
-My alma mater, Clarkesworld Magazine, ran a couple essays of mine, including one I'm really proud of: a piece about growing up geek and poor.
-I launched a monthly science-fiction film series at Alamo Drafthouse Denver called Science Friction, which I curate and host along with my old friend Frank Romero, cofounder of Denver Comic Con. Fantasy author Jesse Bullington filled in as my cohost a few times, and those two guys are the best.
-I wrote a couple short stories that will be published in 2015: "Of Homes Gone," a surreal science-fiction tale, for the relaunch of Farrago's Wainscot, and "The Projectionist," a dreamy horror story for Nightmares Unhinged, an anthology from Hex Publishers.
-I finished an extensive revision of the first draft of my middle-grade science-fiction novel, Lullaby Underground, and got some great interest and feedback from a certain editor who shall remain nameless, but who rocks. I'm giving it one more rewrite, and from there, fingers crossed.
-I lined up a few awesome things for 2015, including editing an anthology with the great S. J. Chambers, co-author with Jeff VanderMeer of The Steampunk Bible; contributing to another excellent book by an editor/author already mentioned; and being part of a novel-writing workshop in the summer of '15 with a handful of amazing writers, which will take place in the house of a Very Famous Author (tease, tease).
-I got a new tattoo: Bubo from Clash Of The Titans.
-For the 42nd year in a row, I didn't kill anyone.
Over at Pitchfork today, our list of the top 100 albums of the first half of the decade, 2010-2014, has been posted. I got to write the entries for #60 (PJ Harvey's Let England Shake), #50 (Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Allelujah! Don't Bend Ascend!), and #28 (My Bloody Valentine's mbv). Along with the rest of Pitchfork's contributors, I submitted a ballot of my own personal top 100 albums from 2010-2014 before the master list was made. In the interest of transparency, discourse, and why-the-fuck-not, here's my ballot:
Swans: The Seer
The Men: Open Your Heart
Locrian: Return to Annihilation
White Lung: Deep Fantasy
Pallbearer: Sorrow and Extinction
Iceage: New Brigade
My Bloody Valentine: mbv
Fucked Up: David Comes to Life
Cult of Youth: Love Will Prevail
Wolves in the Throne Room: Celestial Lineage
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake
Circle Takes the Square: Decompositions: Volume Number One
Sunn O))) / Ulver: Terrestrials
Prurient: Bermuda Drain
Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Chelsea Wolfe: Pain Is Beauty
Ty Segall: Sleeper
Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
Mamiffer: Mare Decendrii
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
SubRosa: More Constant Than the Gods
Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right
Bill Callahan: Dream River
Deafheaven: Roads to Judah
Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana
Merchandise: Children of Desire
Loma Prieta: I.V.
David Bowie: The Next Day
Converge: All We Love We Leave Behind
Agalloch: Marrow of the Spirit
Marissa Nadler: July
Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
Code Orange Kids: Love is Love/Return to Dust
No Age: Everything in Between
Destruction Unit: Deep Trip
Ceremony: Rohnert Park
Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Inter Arma: Sky Burial
Pianos Become the Teeth: The Lack Long After
Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love
Lower: Seek Warmer Climes
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
Self Defense Family: Try Me
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
Trap Them: Darker Handcraft
Kinit Her: The Poet & the Blue Flower
Cult Ritual: LP1
Screaming Females: Ugly
The Haxan Cloak: Excavation
Tombs: Path of Totality
Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years
Priests: Bodies and Control and Money and Power
The Body: I Shall Die Here
P.S. Eliot: Sadie
Thursday: No Devolucion
Swans: To Be Kind
Tigers Jaw: Charmer
Arctic Flowers: Reveries
Year of the Goat: Angels’ Necropolis
York Factory Complaint: Lost in the Spectacle
Savages: Silence Yourself
Horseback: Half Blood
White Suns: Totem
Total Abuse: Mutt
Cloud Rat: Moksha
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong
Emma Ruth Rundle: Some Heavy Ocean
High on Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis
Have a Nice Life: The Unnatural World
Amebix: Sonic Mass
Wild Flag: Wild Flag
Barn Owl: Ancestral Star
Touche Amore: Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
I am once again pinching myself. The Time Traveler's Almanac, the definitive anthology of time travel fiction, just came out via Tor Books, and I am honored to be a part of it. My essay, "Music for Time Travelers," is one of the pieces of nonfiction commissioned for the book by its award-winning editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and I'm pretty proud of it. To commemorate the release of this massive book, its three Colorado-based contributors--Connie Willis, Carrie Vaughn, and I--will be reading from and signing copies of The Almanac this Sunday, March 23, at Denver's Broadway Book Mall at 3 p.m. The event is free, so if you're in the area, stop on by and say hi. In the meantime, check out a couple interviews I did in advance of the reading for Westword and The Denver Post. You can also read the preface of the book, written by the VanderMeers themselves, over at The A.V. Club. Meanwhile I'll be over here pinching myself some more.
-A word can grow only so long, but the largest word ever found was in South Africa and measured 22 feet.
-A word has no arms, legs, or eyes.
-Words live where there is food, moisture, oxygen, and a favorable temperature. If they don’t have these things, they go somewhere else.
-In one acre of land, there can be more than a million words.
-Slime, which words secrete, contains nitrogen.
-Charles Darwin spent 39 years studying words more than 100 years ago.
-Words are coldblooded.
-Words have the ability to replace or replicate lost segments. This ability varies greatly depending on the amount of damage to the word and where it is cut.
-Words are not born. They hatch from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.
-Even though words don’t have eyes, they can sense light, especially at their anterior (front end). They move away from light and will become paralyzed if exposed to light for too long.
-Words are hermaphrodites. Each word has both male and female organs. Words mate by joining their clitella (swollen area near the head of a mature word) and exchanging sperm. Then each word forms an egg capsule in its clitellum.