What Next?

Which of these would you be most interested in buying/reading:

–the bookend to VECTORS (previously known as FRAGMENTS)

–a sequel to THE QUIET POOLS telling the story of the Memphis

–a stand-alone K-Mac novel in a new universe/future

Drop me a note at michael@k-mac.org, or share your thoughts with me on Facebook.

Lost Treasure

You can find the darnedest things on the Internet.

I finally got around to registering on Goodreads as an author, and in looking through the listings linked to my name I found a publication which was completely unknown to me. It’s a 1982 German anthology titled ANALOG 5 which contains a story of mine, “Eine Frage der Veranlagung.” The English title was “A Question of Compliance,” and it appeared in the June 22, 1981 issue of ANALOG–my first story there.

Virtually no chance of scaring up a copy for the brag shelf at this late date, of course. There’s a copy for sale on amazon.de, but it doesn’t appear the seller ships internationally. Maybe I have a fan in Germany who could do me a solid?

(And did the Davis Publications contract back then cover reprints and translations? Hmmm. As long as I’m digging into old files–)

Ad Astra, Jerry Pournelle

The news that Jerry Pournelle passed away this afternoon is spreading across social media tonight. Over the last hour or so, I’ve been reading remembrances of Jerry by the likes of David Gerrold and Ray Feist and realizing how incomplete my picture of the man was.

I knew the Jerry Pournelle of “Chaos Manor,” his long-running, influential and idiosyncratic column on personal computing in BYTE magazine. Especially early in the PC era, his opinions carried considerable weight in the industry. I still own one of the special “Pournelle keyboards” produced by Northgate in response to Jerry’s commentaries on keyboard layouts.

As a long-time L5 Society and NSS member, I knew Jerry Pournelle the passionate space development advocate. His contributions in this area were recognized in 2016 when he received the National Space Society’s Heinlein Award.

As an SF fan, I knew Jerry Pournelle the novelist. The first of his novels I read was KING DAVID’S SPACESHIP. The best of his novels I read was his first collaboration with Larry Niven, THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE. I have several other of his works on my shelves (despite my limited appetite for military SF and conservative politics).

As a writer, I got glimpses of Jerry Pournelle the con personality–on panels, in the green room, in an elevator, at SFWA meetings, in the SFWA suite. I found that Jerry to be brusque, opinionated, and–frankly–more than a bit intimidating. Consequently, I’m fairly sure I never tried to engage him in conversation, or even asked him to autograph a book.

But I have a couple of memories from lurking in his vicinity. I remember Jerry Pournelle with a mic in one hand and a drink in the other, serving as master of ceremonies for a huge Meet the Pros party (1984 Worldcon, I think)–that Jerry was also very loud.

And I remember the only time I ever saw Jerry Pournelle at a loss for words. In a very crowded SFWA suite (at a Norwescon, I think), he took note of Algis Budrys, the respected writer/editor/reviewer, seated on a couch.

Looming over Algis with drink in hand, Jerry started griping about the review A.J. had given one of Jerry’s books. Algis listened impassively, then said, “Jerry, I will tell you what the problem is with your stories. Too much pushing and shoving.” End of conversation.

Of course, Jerry has vast numbers of fans who’ll heartily disagree. FOOTFALL (also co-written with Niven) went to #1 on the NY Times bestseller list. LUCIFER’S HAMMER made it to #2.

And he was, after all, the pragmatic framer of Pournelle’s Law: “Money will get you through times of no Hugos better than Hugos will get you through times of no money.”

My condolences to Jerry’s family, friends, and other fans. His life changed the lives of uncounted others, from Korea to Washington DC to fandom, and he and his works will surely not be forgotten.

Brian Aldiss, Author & Gentleman

A few words about Brian Aldiss, who passed away today at the age of 92.

In May, 1982 I attended my first science fiction event of any sort–the Third Conference on the Fantastic, in Boca Raton, Florida. I had to take a couple of days’ unpaid leave from my teaching job in Middlebury, Indiana to do it. I couldn’t quite persuade the superintendent that it should count as a professional conference (I was, after all, teaching science, not science fiction).

But COTF really was more of an academic conference than a con (it was co-located with a little fan event that I think was called Tropicon, but I don’t remember much crossover or seeing many fans). There was a further division within COTF itself, as the academics seemed mostly interested in dead authors, leaving the live authors to our own devices. We went to each others’ readings, and hung out together by the pool.

That’s where I met for the first time (among others) Harlan Ellison, Fred Pohl, Ellen Datlow, Robert Sheckley, Jay Rothbell, David Lunde, Marilyn Masiker, Charles Platt, Tim Sullivan, Terence Green, David Kyle…and Brian Aldiss.

Brian’s reading was one of several that I attended. I don’t remember exactly how it came to pass, but he invited me to have lunch with him. We walked across the parking lot to a deli in an adjacent strip mall, just the two of us–one legend in the field and one nobody (I had only had a handful of short stories published by then). Over sandwiches, we talked a lot about the business, a little about the art and craft. I remember distinctly how gentlemanly he was, how he treated me as though I was an equal. And he insisted on paying for the meal, too. I felt–well, befriended.

That weekend was the only time I ever saw Brian Aldiss. Through 86 cons across 33 years, our paths never crossed again (I never made it back to another COTF, alas). But when my first novel EMPRISE was being readied for publication in 1985, Brian remembered me from that weekend and that lunch and very graciously provided a cover quote.

I read many more of Brian’s works after COTF3 than I had prior to it. My favorites remain the HELLICONIA trilogy, though there’re certainly many others worth any SF fan’s attention. He also made an important contribution to documenting the history of the field, with THE BILLION-YEAR SPREE and its update THE TRILLION-YEAR SPREE.

If you haven’t discovered his work, it isn’t too late.

And, though it is too late, I want to thank him again for his kindness.

Ad astra, Brian. We will remember.

Farewell, George Romero

Filmmaker George Romero died on Sunday at age 77. I never met Mr. Romero, but I did do some work for him in the 1980s–specifically, for his television series Tales From the Darkside.

It happened this way: During its first season, the show bought the rights to my story “Slippage,” which had appeared in Twilight Zone Magazine. (The version which appeared in TZM had a large and confusing paste-up error, which I didn’t catch until after the story was reprinted in Karl Edward Wagner’s The Year’s Best Horror anthology. It’s a miracle that the story got the attention it did.)

When the episode aired, I was at once thrilled and disappointed. Thrilled to see my name on the screen, thrilled to think “Hey–I wrote a TV show!”–and terribly disappointed with the end result.

I knew almost nothing about the business side of television, mind you, and I was too much of a naif to understand the constraints within which the show was created. Darkside was a low-budget production which was sold straight to the syndication market–it had no network home, no regular time slot.

Nevertheless, I had my gripes. And when an opportunity came along for me to share them with the showrunners–I did. In detail. On paper.

The opportunity came when in the form of a call from the story editor, who was then putting together the second season. He was calling to ask, “Are there any more at home like ‘Slippage’?” The thing is, there weren’t. “Slippage” was the only horror story I’d written (and, arguably, still is).

But I had nothing to lose, so I sent him “Lifebomb,” which had just appeared in Analog. It only required a small cast and simple sets, and had a “be careful what you wish for” kind of twist at the end.

And as an oh-by-the-way, I naively appended to my cover letter my multi-paragraph critique of “Slippage.”

It must have read to them as though I was putting them on notice that if they bought “Lifebomb,” they should be more careful with it. By all rights, that ought to have abruptly ended my association with Tales From the Darkside.

But, somehow, it didn’t. They bought “Lifebomb,” and then–to my enduring surprise–they hired me to write the teleplay. Later, I pitched them an original teleplay, “Effect and Cause,” and they bought that, too. Finally, they hired me to adapt a Fred Pohl story into the episode “The Bitterest Pill.” (An impending Writers Guild strike may have played a role in some of that.)

So I ended up with all four possible kinds of screen credits on Darkside: story, story+teleplay, original teleplay, and adapted teleplay.

Some people (among them my mother) thought I did a lot more than that for Darkside–the reason being that horror writer Michael M. McDowell was also working for the show. (In fact, I was told that the producers found him when they were looking for the author of “Slippage”–and he made the most of it, writing many episodes and a third of the Darkside movie.) A lot of confusion ensued. At a Windycon, a fan asked me to autograph a copy of one of MMM’s Blackwater novels. Even the Writers Guild residuals department got us mixed up a couple of times.

If the screen credit just says McDOWELL, it’s him–if it says KUBE-McDOWELL, it’s me.

I extend my condolences to those knew George, especially other Darkside alumni. And I thank George for the opportunity he created for me, however unknowingly. I hope he had a soft landing, with no twist ending.

Happy Anniversary, Harry

I wonder if I’ll ever read the entire Harry Potter series. We didn’t start buying them until 2000 or so. I read the first book and about half of the second, just to keep up, when Gwen was reading them aloud to our children Raven and Gavin. I don’t clearly remember why I stopped.

It’s true enough that I’ve never been a big reader of fantasy, particularly in series. But it’s also true that I’m reaching back for a memory from the period immediately after my father’s death, when depression was starting to settle heavily on me. I expect it was getting harder to find joy in a lot of things.

I seem to remember having issues with the writing on a sentences-and-paragraphs level. As a person with some fondness for various kinds of sportsball, I hatedhatedhated the game design of Quidditch. And I think I have to confess to some petty pangs of professional envy, tied to the beginning of hard times in my own career (a cancelled contract, an editor/publisher ally passing away).

But those are trivial things, especially from this distance. The power of Harry’s story, and the magnitude of J.K. Rowling’s accomplishment, stand undisputed. So as the final reel of DEATHLY HALLOWS rolls on Freeform’s weekend marathon, I raise a cup in salute to her, and in observance of this anniversary with Harry’s countless fans.

Movie Night at Alternity House

Without any prior awareness that today is the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Raven and Gwen and I watched several of the extended cuts of the HP films together through the course of the weekend. It must have been something in the air (or on the Freeform program schedule). We have only 7(b) left to go.

We also watched Singin’ in the Rain on Sunday evening, Dad’s choice for a delayed Father’s Day. It was new to Raven, and it had been a number of years for me and for Gwen. I was delighted to watch Raven enjoying it more than I think she expected to. The “Beautiful Girl” number is pretty cringy when viewed from 2017 (and, really, it’s completely superfluous), but “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “Good Morning,” and “Singing in the Rain” are still timeless.

The Family Plan

The people I’ve felt closest to in my life include both natural and found family. Many (though not all) of them are on Facebook, where they might see these words. But only a rare few live close enough to drop in on for an evening. My heart family is scattered like a handful of diamonds cast across a wall-sized National Geographic map. This state of affairs began with high school graduation, accelerated after college, and became more pronounced as the years rolled on.

A long time ago I used to fantasize that if I were only rich enough, I could somehow draw all of my friends together in a kind of co-housing Shangri-La. But I was never in any danger of being that kind of rich–and, besides, by now my friends’ lives are firmly anchored in at least a score of different cities, most of which are in other states, a few even in other countries.

This was less obviously a problem when I was in my 30s and early 40s. Gwen and I often went out of town to spend a weekend with friends, and almost as often hosted visitors. We made regular pilgrimages to the Flying Island of Fandom, attending as many as ten cons a year. We took longer trips to see family and explore little pieces of the country. And something called a modem appeared on the scene, changing the nature of long-distance relationships and creating the possibility of dear-friends-I’ve-never-met.

Then, unexpectedly, it all got much harder. An hour’s drive was a hurdle, not a trifle. A weekend away became vastly more complicated, especially if it was for a con. Depression hit. Chronic illnesses sapped energy. Parenting had first claim on all resources–emotional, financial, physical, temporal.

I’m waking up to the fact that we’ve allowed time, distance, health, and/or money to separate us from far too many friends for far too long. Maybe we could begin to do something about changing that–preferably before we start to find that it takes someone’s illness or wake to bring us back together.

Taking Stock

Digging into the archives of my office has stirred up more than dust…

If there are any fellow scribes reading this: Do you (by design or inertia) have boxes of copies of your own out-of print works piled in a corner? If you do, do you offer them for sale in any organized way? If so, what venues have been most successful for you?

Looking over the back third of my walk-in office closet, I feel as though I’ve ended up with too much ‘inventory.’ The question is what’s to be done about it at this point.

At various times I’ve been a bookseller on Amazon Marketplace, eBay, and half.com, but never primarily to sell my own books–and all those venues have become tougher for small sellers since then.

Hand-selling? Up until the mid-90s, I was attending 6 to 8 cons a year and giving the occasional school or library presentation, which offered some organic opportunities to sell books. But as my focus changed to raising my two younger children, I cut way back events of that kind. Health issues in the family cemented the change.

Of course, as I detailed here last year, depression triggered by my father’s death has intervened to choke off the creation of new material. That alone has, over time, moved me firmly into the Who? Zone, if not I-Thought-‘e-Was-Dead Territory. I’m out of touch with most of the readership I used to have, and I frankly have no clue how to connect with any prospective new readers in this instant-access ebook/social media era.

So, who knows, maybe the best destiny of most of that inventory is to be doled out in increments to Friends of the Library sales. Maybe their fate is to be unsentimentally recycled by my heirs. Maybe any effort I might put into finding homes for these paper copies would be better spent getting my remaining titles available digitally.

But I’m still curious about what other writers are doing with their own surplus Dead Tree Editions.

Office Cleaning

The township recycling event two Saturdays from now is accepting both electronics and software, so this seems like a good time to ruthlessly scan my office (and office closet) for Things I’ll Never Use Again.

First under the microscope was a box of software originally released on floppy disks–the likes of Civilization II, SimEarth, F-117 Stealth Fighter, Harpoon, M1-A1 Abrams, and the Colorado Backup program that came with my first QIC-80 tape drive. They want MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, or Windows 95, and that’s just not going to happen here.

Of course, those were the days software came in a two-pound box the size of a large hardcover book–slipcover, dividers, installation discs in multiple formats, manuals, registration cards, keyboard templates, maps. So I had to break each one down into components to meet the recycling requirements. Cardboard, Boxboard, Plastic, Misc Paper, Books, Magnetic Media. Chaos precedes order.

I held back MYST and RIVEN, for now.

Coming up next, the fliptop boxes of 5.25″ floppies, the drawers of 3.5″ floppies and QIC-80 drives, the shoeboxes full of data CDs and DVDs, the media rack full of program CDs, the clothes basket full of computer speakers, the fan-fold, pin-feed paper box full of power cords, the plastic totes full of every kind of cable used in PCs over the last 35 years, the box of old phones, the crate of wall-warts and laptop power supplies belonging to devices long gone, the stacks of assorted drives removed from some of my 50+ dead or retired computers, the three dead computers tucked away under the library table…

It’s going to be a busy two weeks, with a lot of trips up and down the basement stairs.