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05-23-03: Talking with Margaret Weis; The Spectre of Stephen Laws

The 'Mistress of Dragons' Speaks

Margaret Weis at KUSP.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Margaret Weis on Wednesday, May 21, 2003, and recording an interview (RealAudio, MP3) for this website and for KUSP. She was a delightful guest and I think that all readers will find her interview of interest. I really didn't know much about the world of RPG literature, so it was nice to find out from the woman who practically invented RPG book tie-ins how the business worked, how the games and the books were developed, and how ideas flowed from the extensive "bibles" and now databases to become full-fledged novels. Before we recorded the interview we talked a bit and covered some subjects that didn't make it into the interview. I asked her if Tor was sending her overseas, and she replied that they weren't but that she was going to attend an RPG conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She told me that D&D is tremendously popular in Brazil, that her books are being translated into Portuguese, and that some are read even though they're just available in English.

What I found most fascinating is that in Brazil, D&D is used in schools to help teach math, reading, writing and imagination skills. "That would never happen here," she said -- and of course she's right. Still, it is a shame, as D&D is a way to bring kids to a lifetime of reading and imagination that many will never otherwise discover on their own, with their attention torn away by video games, TV and movies.

Margaret told me that she enjoys the gaming conventions wherever they may be and she clearly has a lot of respect for the craft that goes into this industry. She's delighted to be with Tor -- and would any SF writer. They approached her and asked her to write a series about dragons, and in 'Mistress of Dragons' she's trying to differentiate her dragons from those of D&D. I'm unfamiliar with those of D&D, but her dragons do have a very vivid life of their own. For more great stories of early D&D and the craft of creating fiction from RPG gaming guides, give the interview a listen. Even if you think you have no interest in RPG fiction, you'll find that Margaret has a great story to tell -- and not just in her novels.


The Spectre of Stephen Laws

The new Telos edition of Stephen Laws classic novel 'Spectre'.

Readers of this site might take this opportunity to look in the Review Archive and check out my many reviews of Stephen Laws, one of my favorite horror novelists. I could never in my life figure why this author was not published to death in the US; he's easily as good as King, Koontz and a whole host of lesser names that fill the shelves. Still, we can thank Telos Publications, who brought you last years lovely little Doctor Who novella by Kim Newman, 'Time and Relative', for bringing out the very nice looking re-issues of some of his classic works. First out is 'Spectre', coming in both a paperback and a deluxe edition hardcover. Laws spent time finding the original cinema palace where the novel was set and I'm betting that it is either on the cover or included among the illustrations within. For lots of interesting news regarding Telos Publications, check out their website. For more news concerning Stephen Laws, you can check out his website. According to Stephen, "As you'll see, DARKFALL and THE WYRM are to be published in the States; the former next month, the latter in June of next year." He's also got another project in the hopper that sounds quite fantastic. I'm asked to hold the details, but when the light turns green, I'll be back with the whole story. I can tell you that it will be worth the wait.


05-22-03: Christopher Moore & Jack Womack, The Institute of Fobonics is Open for Business

Not Just a 'Fluke'

A jaunty nautical sensibility imbues the cover of Christopher Moore's latest surreal comedy.

One author who has definitely hung in there is Christopher Moore. Starting with his first novel, 'Practical Demonkeeping', he established himself as a sort of supernatural comedian, the horror equivalent of Douglas Adams. He must be doing something right, because since 1992, he's been putting out one hardcover novel after another. When it first came out, 'Practical Demonkeeping' was accompanied by all sorts of foofaraw about how it had been optioned for a movie. Upon reading the book, it's easy to see why; it's an hilarious comedy with all sorts of scenes just brimming with sight gags that Moore brings off quite well in his prose, but seem eminently well-suited for export to film. Eleven years later and we're still waiting. I'm guessing that Christopher Moore has some humorous horror stories about Hollowood, and I'll be asking him about them when (if)* I interview him early next month. His latest novel is next in the queue, and I'll let you know how it compares to his first and anything else that happens to get read in the vicinity.

*One is well advised to not count one's interviews until one has pressed the PLAYBACK button on the tape recorder and determined that they're actually done.

Random Acts of Sensible Publicity

Note Bookshop Santa Cruz receipt hanging out of the book instead of the usual cover-only shot.

Getting in contact with Christopher Moore, I was given the name of his publicist, one Jack Womack. Now that was a name that jumped out at me, and after getting the details of the interview down, I asked if he was in fact *the* Jack Womack, whose novels I'd never read but held a great interest for me nonetheless. And it turned out that he was. He kindly suggested I start reading his stuff with 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence'. I leapt at the chance to go book shopping, whipped to downtown Santa Cruz and strolled over to Bookshop Santa Cruz, where I found 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence' -- but it wasn't easy. I first chose to look in the "Quality Trade paperback Fiction" area, where I found his latest novel 'Going Going Gone' -- and nothing else. On a hunch I looked in the SF section and found a wide selection of his other titles including the one I was searching for. The fact that Mr. Womack is shelved in two totally different areas is highly indicative that I'll enjoy his stuff. I plan on tucking into this as soon as I'm done with 'Fluke', and of course, I'll report to you. I must say the opening was quite addictive. Had I not already been sucked into Jon Courtenay Grimwood's latest, I'd be about 100 pages into this one. I would presume that Mr. Womack does an excellent job of publicizing writers like Christopher Moore, with whom he clearly has a great affinity. As one plunges into the world of publishing, the network is just incredible.

All Your Language Are Belong to US

Help please us finding Ling-Ling of head.

If language is important to you, and if you've ever bought an electronic musical instrument from Japan (or read one of my more lightly proofread columns), then the chances are you've encountered the Fobonic dialect. Long ago, in another life entirely, I worked a brief stint for a Japanese musical instrument manufacturer, translating the manuals from English-as-sent-from-Japan to English that electronic musicians could understand. Alas, one can't translate the operating system of these instruments in addition to the manuals, so these attempts are rather doomed from the beginning. So I was thrilled to learn that the Institute for Fobonics is now open for business at this URL:

We have to thanks Curtis Fong for his hard work and dedication. Here's his Mission Statement, taken verbatim from the home page for Fobonics.


Finally, after so long time we are coming at you with this home page! Accept no imitation!

Our Mission Statement:

The Fobonics Institute is dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the Fobonics language and its deep historical roots. We have no official PAC lobbying Congress for government recognition, nor are we trying to obtain funding for Fobonics-specific programs in the federal educational system. We simply feel that learning the fine art of speaking in Fobonics can help enrich lives and expand the level of understanding between individuals. Please take the time to learn from the following fine examples of contemporary Fobonics. With patience and effort, you too can learn to express all your thoughts, feelings, even marketing slogans and user manual content, in Fobonics.

The Fobonics Institute dedicartion to promoted awareness and appreciated of Fobonics language. It deep historical roots. We having no official PAC lobby to Congress to getting government recognize. Not also we to try obtaining fund for Fobonic program in federal educationing system. We have feeling with learning fine art of speak. In Fobonic helping to enrich live. Expand level of understand about individuals pleaseing two takes time too learning from follow fine example of Fobonic today, with patient efforts, you also learning express all thoughts, feeling also market slogan and user manual, in Fobonic.



05-20-03: New Mystery Book, Sandra Newman, Gear Heads & Your First Robot, Reviewer Biographies Online

Reviewer Biographies Online

I've been fortunate enough to add some new reviewing voices to the site. I feel that these writers are adding a lot of new perceptions on reading and fiction which will give the site more applicability to a wider range of readers and get more fiction reviewed in less time. These reviewers are by and large, reading books I would read if I had three or four of myself, or if I read three or four times faster.

Readers should let me know what they think of this recent expansion beyond a one-man band to a more orchestrated set of voices. You'll be seeing more reviews by all these reviewers in coming weeks and months. Let me know what you think, and let me know if you want to write reviews for this site. In the interim, here's a link to the biography page (including myself). I can't thank these fantastic writers enough for their hard work, though like myself for them it is a labor of love -- which is why we're all reading.

Name This Book

Well I guess that's a challenge, eh?

This showed up on my doorstep yesterday, and I can't wait to tuck in to it. I talked to this novelist last year, and he had a fascinating approach to writing horror. He even mentioned this novel briefly. As the week goes by, I may talk a bit more about this novel, but it won't be out until September, so I don't want to get you too excited. Or do I? Your call, if you want me to read this and review it right away, I'm looking for an excuse, so send me an email and let me know.

Sandra Newman's Report

This novel is what happens if you postpone your writing career too long and spend too much time in the corporate world.

This book originally saw publication in the UK last year, and now it's showed up in a US hardcover edition and she's touring to support it. One day as a secretary for a firm of industrial spies brought her to the report-style format of the novel, which concerns a fraudulent spiritual salvation startup. The main character's name is Chrysalis, a indicator that change is around the corner. The author is arriving far enough in the future that I may be able to get a chance to talk to her.

Newsweek Reporter Gets into Gear

Newsweek peeks at the geeks.

Brad Stone, the technology correspondent for Newsweek, has written about the Napster trial, the MS antitrust trial and the Timothy McVeigh trial. In this book, he turns to robotic "sports". Starting with Mark Pauline's SRL and running through the current incarnations now viewable on cable TV, you get a history of science fiction becoming science fact. I would presume that fact is infinitely more interesting than fiction.

Your First Robot

Can I get both?

Like many of us, Fred Barton spent his early years fascinated by Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. It's the absolute archetype of robots on screen. Unlike most of us, he figured out a way to recreate Robbie at a "surprisingly affordable" (and unsurprisingly unavailable) price. This Robbie, walks, talks and sounds like the original, thanks to the wonders of a CD buried in its innards.

Fred Barton and Friends.

You want to buy this -- but you can even rent it. Check out Fred Barton's website for details.