28 June 2010

James Bond vs. the Giant Squid

Mania, my dear Mister Bond, is as priceless as genius.

Some time ago in the earlier days of the Black Gate blog, E. E. Knight wrote a post about the James Bond movies as classic fantasies. No argument here—especially when I consider things like The Spy Who Loved Me and Bond-drives-an-invisible-car Die Another Day.

However, the conventional wisdom about the divide between the long-running movie franchise and the series of novels and short stories that Ian Fleming wrote in the fifties and sixties is that Fleming is the realistic, grim, down-to-earth Bond, where the movies are outrageous action-filled rides.

I’m a hardcore Bond fan, but unlike most Bondians my age (born into the ‘70s and Roger Moore’s tenure) I grew up on Fleming’s Bond, not cinema’s. I read all the novels for the first time in junior high school, and at that point had only watched perhaps three of the movies. I ended up approaching the film series from the perspective of a Fleming Purist. This doesn’t mean I flip out when anything un-Fleming occurs in the movies—for Apollo’s sake, I actually get a kick out of the Space Opera/Chuck Jones Cartoon called Moonraker—but it does mean I have a very different lens on than film series than even most serious Bond fans.

And here’s something I’ve learned over the years from watching the films series develop and tracing the history of the earlier movies (Goldfinger is my favorite of the movies, in case you’re interested): Fleming ain’t realistic. His novels are extremely romanticized views of espionage life, and were thought so at the time. Read John le CarrĂ©’s extraordinary The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, meant as an answer to Fleming’s spy-romances, and you’ll immediately see what flights of fantasy Fleming really took with his super-spy. Compared to many of the movies, the novels Casino Royale and From Russia, With Love seem relatively believable, but they are still escapist romances.

Here’s the key difference between the escapism of the films and the books: The movies are fantasies. The novels are pulp adventure—almost literally so.

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .

23 June 2010

My first interview!

I like these little perks of winning The Writer’s of the Future Contest: I got interviewed for the Contest’s newsletter. It is sent out as an email to subscribers, so I hope you don’t mind if I post it here. (I mean, I don’t really talk much about myself on my blog . . . I don’t, do I? Nah, don’t answer that.)

Anyway, here’s the full text of the interview. And that picture is the one I sent in to be used. Yep, I picked a photo where I’m wearing a blue hat.

Meet our Writers of the Future winner Ryan Harvey of California. He was the third place winner in the 1st quarter of the 27th year for his story, “An Acolyte of Black Spires.”

The Writers of the Future Herald Editor did a short interview with Harvey, which is being published here for you.

WOTF: Tell us a bit about you and your background.

HARVEY: I’ve lived most of my life in Los Angeles, although I attended college in Minnesota, where I was a history major. History was my first love, even when I was a child, and it gave me an appreciation for storytelling. After college, I worked in the film business for a stretch, first as an apprentice editor and then in the story department for a production company. But I was never really designed for the film world, despite loving the medium, and soon moved through a series of jobs: speed-reading instructor, reading development teacher, commodities broker and now warehouse manager. All along, I was writing, because becoming a professional writer was my main goal since college. The rest of my family went into medicine—somebody had to be the artist!

Outside of writing, I’m a fan of pulp literature and its history. I’m also a swing dancer and like to wear period clothing of the 1930s.

WOTF: How did you find out about the Contest?

HARVEY: I’ve haunted bookstores most of my life, so I knew of the Contest’s existence since I was old enough to browse the “Fantasy and Science Fiction” shelves, where I saw the Contest anthologies for sale with their amazing covers. I wasn’t certain what it was about for years because I was mostly writing novels and not working in short stories. I finally heard about the details from critique groups. Writers in my groups would remark about how they needed their critiques soon so they could revise their stories and “get in under the deadline for the Writers of the Future Contest.” That’s when I found out how it worked—but I didn’t think of submitting at first because I was still working on novels. Then a period passed when I wrote, but wasn’t submitting anywhere. When I finally got serious about sending off stories for publication, it was only a matter of time before the Contest “bubbled up” as a regular place to submit. It didn’t turn out to be regular, however, since the first story I sent in won. Oh well, I can live with that.

WOTF: What tips or advice would you give to other writers to win the Contest?

HARVEY: Finish your story and send it in. This may sound like silly advice—I mean, you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket, right?—but it’s amazing how much time I spent not submitting because I was afraid to really finish anything. I toyed with my work, let it lay around, and wondered if I had the audacity to send it someplace. And, of course, not submitting meant not getting published. So finish that story, get advice from a few trusted readers (not your mother or father—I can’t emphasize this enough), revise it once, give it a quick spit n’ polish, and then stop looking at it and put it an an envelope and send it to the Contest. Then do that again and again and again each quarter. Don’t let the media’s stories about people who were magically discovered out of nowhere the first time they picked up a pen make you think that’s how it always works. The vast majority of the great writers spent years fumbling through rejections. Yes, my first entry into the Contest managed to win, but I’d spent two years getting rejection slips from magazines, and my winning entry had already gotten standard form-rejections from a number of publications. So reject rejection.

WOTF: What inspired you to write the story that won this year’s Contest?

HARVEY: I had developed a science-fantasy setting that I really adored, and had written a number of stories set in it. In each story, a villainous race lurked around the fringes, pulling the strings in some strange, inhuman agenda. I decided I wanted to really know who these people called “The Shapers” were, to pull back the curtain and see the villains as they might see themselves. I thought about how I could write a tale where one of the Shapers was the main character. That was where it started, although I was surprised at the turns it took as it developed. The main authorial inspiration was fantasy writer Clark Ashton Smith, whose “dying earth” setting of Zothique influenced the tone. His feelings of regret and bittersweet memory painted in dark and lustrous words was something I wanted to achieve using my own style.

21 June 2010

Take me back to the “Parasite Planet”

Last week, the esteemed editor of Black Gate John O’Neill posted a wonderful reminiscence of one of the key science-fiction anthologies of the 1970s: Isaac Asimov’s Before the Golden Age. This hefty volume (sometimes divided over three paperbacks) is an intriguing mixture of autobiography, literary analysis, and miles o’ great pre-Campbellian magazine science fiction. Before the Golden Age is still a classic piece of early pulp archaeology.

O’Neill’s post specifically made me recall “Parasite Planet” by Stanley G. Weinbaum. I did not read this story for the first time in Before the Golden Age, but in The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum. This book, which contains an introduction from Isaac Asimov and an afterword by Robert Bloch, is the first of Del Rey’s many “The Best of . . .” collections, a series I credit with getting me interested in many of the classic science-fiction authors of the mid-twentieth century. I still own my yellowed copies of The Best of John W. Campbell, The Best of Jack Williamson, The Best of C. L. Moore, The Best of L. Sprague De Camp, and The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. (Wait, one of these things is not like the other. . . .)

I first read “Parasite Planet” in The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum, but the Del Rey edition was not my initial encounter with Mr. Weinbaum. That came through another of the great anthologies of the ‘70s (wow, I am really hitting “great anthologies” in a big way in this post), The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Weinbaum’s 1934 classic, “A Martian Odyssey,” was the first story in the collection, and also its oldest. The vote of the Science Fiction Writers of America that determined the contents of the collection picked the story as the second best SF short piece ever published, with only Asimov’s “Nightfall” besting it. “A Martian Odyssey” floored me when I first read it at age eighteen, and so I had to find out more about this Weinbaum guy who seemed to have vanished, since he was one of the few authors in the The Science Fiction Hall of Fame whom I did not recognize from later achievements.

There turned out to be, unfortunately, a tragic reason for this. Weinbaum burst onto the SF scene with “A Martian Odyssey,” which was his first sale. He was immediately the most popular author in the field; everybody loved his work. Eighteen months later, in December 1935, Weinbaum was dead from lung cancer at age thirty-three.

Read the rest of the article at Black Gate. . . .

18 June 2010

Would You Still LIke to PLay WarGames?

WarGames (1983)
Directed by John Badham. Starring Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Ally Sheedy, John Wood, Barry Corbin, Michael Madsen, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen.

Back to the 1980s, again, my friends. Bear witness now that director John Badham made not only one of the quintessential ‘70s-culture films (Saturday Night Fever) but one of the quintessential ‘80s-culture film, WarGames.

WarGames is the Fail-Safe of its decade, a nuclear-brinkmanship thriller about how easily the “safeguards” on U.S. and Soviet weapons could accidentally ignite a full-scale attack. Note that I didn’t say it’s the Dr. Strangelove of the 1980s; WarGames has its funny moments, but it certainly isn’t a satirical comedy, and has much more in common with Lumet’s straight-faced thriller. It’s also a film openly about the personal computer revolution that was in full-scale attack mode and hasn’t let up since. Nerds were posed to conquer the world—and achieved it. Yeah team!

Lest we forget the geopolitical backdrop of the film, 1983 marked a low-point in U.S.-Soviet relations. This was the year of the Korean Airlines Flight 007 and Operation Able Archer, which almost caused the Soviet Union to order a strike because they believed a NATO practice simulation was a massing for a genuine attack. It was a nervous time, and the majority of people in the U.S. felt that a nuclear conflict was inevitable. As a child at that time, I remember vividly my nightmarish fears that at any moment the mushroom clouds could start sprouting.

14 June 2010

Book review: The Smoking Land

The Smoking Land
Frederick Faust writing as George Challis (Argosy, 1937)

I’m returning to the subject of Frederick Faust for the third time this year. But I have a specific, Black Gate-centered justification for it: I wish to unearth his single novel of science fiction, a piece of Lost World and Weird Science strangeness called The Smoking Land.

Faust, under Max Brand and his eighteen other pseudonyms, made his reputation with Westerns, but he did write in almost every genre that appeared in the story magazines of the time. He penned historical adventures, detective tales, mainstream short stories for the “slicks,” and espionage yarns. In 1937, he authored his one true science-fiction work, the novel The Smoking Land, which appeared serially under the pseudonym George Challis in the old warhorse of the pulp world, Argosy, starting in the May 29 issue.

(In fact, this Saturday evening I stood face-to-face with one of the actual issues of Argosy in which the novel was serialized, housed in the pulp collection at Author Services in Hollywood. Actual surviving issues of the self-destructive pulps are rare finds, and the need special protection to survive. And hey look! One of the Argosy installments of The Smoking Land shares space with the Cornell Woolrich story “Clever, These Americans”! Okay, so maybe only I care.)

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .

13 June 2010

The Two Harveys

Again, I recognize the slight thinness in my blog posting. I’ve buckled down on my writing projects since winning The Writers of the Future Contest, so please bear with me . . . it might be this way for a while. I’m concentrating my free time heavily on working on new short stories and revising my recent novels, and that does mean that one of my free time activities, in this case blogging about movies and books, will suffer something of a reduction.

Anyway, last night I attended my first event with some connection to the Writers of the Future, which was watching a live performance at the Stories from the Golden Age Theater in Hollywood. This performance, which occurs weekly, takes place in the Author Services building (the literary agency that runs the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest) and features professional actors reading a dramatization of a pulp short story from the 1930s, complete with sound effects, narration, costumes, and a introduction from a bogus sponsor. Essentially, it’s a live performance of old time radio, and a genuine hoot, especially if you’re like me love both pulp literature and 1930s culture. Last night’s show was a Westerns, “Reign of the Gila Monster,” which was originally published in Western Aces magazine, is pretty much what I expect from the fast-action and sharp dialogue of the stories of the period. The performers included Martin Kove (the eeeevil karate master from the original Karate Kid) and Bo Hopkins, who to me means “Sam Peckinpah.” I asked him after the show if he would please say for me his famous dying line from The Wild Bunch: “Well, how would you like to kiss my sister’s black cat’s ass?” And he did it. Cool guy.

The event wasn’t specifically about The Writers of the Future, but I did get to meet the contest coordinator and also one of the other winners in this quarter. Some of you who have seen the press release for the winners might have noticed two people with the last name “Harvey” among the three winners. Brennan Harvey won First Place, and I won third. And no, we’re not related. It’s a weird coincidence that not only did two people named “Harvey” win in the same quarter, but they’re also both Southern California residents. So yesterday I got to meet Brennan for the first time, and he’s a great guy. Here is a photo taken last night The Two Harveys together:
We’ll spend a lot of time over the next year telling people that “No, I’m not related to the other Harvey.”

Both of us were also interviewed for a documentary about Stories from the Golden Age, a series of pulp reprints. I babbled a lot; pulp fiction is sort of a topic near to my heart—have you noticed that?

The Author Services building contains a room that houses a huge amount of original pulp magazines. This blew my head apart. My beloved stories and authors, in their original pulp wood paper formats, saved from the garbage cans people would have tossed them into back in the 1930s when they finished them. Yes, I stood before magazine with the names “Max Brand” and “Cornell Woolrich” on them. Cornell . . . Woolrich . . . It was like looking at a sacred relic for me. Plus, nearly every issue of Unknown, the famous fantasy mag that gave us Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think.

07 June 2010

Book review: Sword and Sorceress I

Sword and Sorceress (1984)
Edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

The late author and editor Marion Zimmer Bradley probably could not have dared to guess in 1984 that her anthology series, Sword and Sorceress, would turn into a yearly and best-selling institution of fantasy short stories that would extend past her death. That the first volume in the series bears a Roman numeral shows that she did believe the anthology would see at least two volumes; that it now reaches into the mid-twenties (with the twenty-fifth due this year) shows just how much sword-and-sorcery has embraced inclusiveness during the last three decades. Strong female heroines are now a key part of the genre, completing what C. L. Moore started with her amazing—especially for the time—Jirel of Joiry stories of the 1930s. Bradley invokes Moore a few times in her introduction, and the book is dedicated to both Moore and Jirel.

Over a quarter of a century after publication, the first Sword and Sorceress holds up quite well, while still showing some of the growing pains of sword-and-sorcery in the 1980s. Reading through it makes it clear that the sword-and-sorcery revival still had a distance to go in 1984. About three quarters of the stories Sword and Sorceress I are good-to-excellent, but like all anthologies it has rough patches, some shaky editorial picks, and a few pieces that don’t hit at all. As the series had just started, Bradley did not have a large pool of submissions to pick from. Later volumes would improve the mix as the number of works submitted increased, but this is the start, and therefore worth reading for its historical importance, saggy spots and all.

04 June 2010

In which I thank some people

This was a momentous week, no doubt. I received a major writing honor, which marks the biggest event so far in my creative life, and also a major milestone in my aspiration to be a career author. Howard Jones at Black Gate was kind enough to post the news on the magazine’s website, making it the first time I am a subject of a Black Gate post, instead of its author.

The awards ceremony and the publication of my winning story, “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” in The Writers of the Future Volume XXVII won’t occur until August of 2011, giving me ample time to think up an acceptance speech. I could go the Joe Pesci route: “Thanks, it’s my privilege. [That’s it.]” Or the Anna Paquin route: (hyperventilating). Most likely I’ll end up with something a bit more in-depth, but I feel I should throw out a few notes of thanks right now, in the heat of the moment.

(Here’s something to ponder in great jubilation: By the time the Twenty-Seventh Writers of the Future Awards Ceremony comes around, a Captain America film will have come out in theaters and will probably still be playing! Way to go, Cap! Beat that Red Skull to a pulp!)

First, writer and fellow Black Gate blogger Bill Ward deserves very specific gratitude. Bill did the critique on my winning story, and he caught a number of things that no doubt would have caused the story not to win had they stayed in there. Having someone like Bill, a sympathetic and sharp-eyed critic who knows your chosen genre well, is one of the most valuable assets a writer can have.

Howard Andrew Jones, the Managing Editor of Black Gate, is easily the VIP of the way my writing has increased during the last three years. Howard was the man who first invited me (after an introduction by the talented John C. Hocking) to start writing reviews for the online magazine SwordAndSorcery (now gone) and then invited me to be one of the regular bloggers and reviewers at Black Gate when editor John O’Neill picked him as Managing Editor. Howard has encouraged me every step of the way to keep trying and keep putting my work out there. He was an early supporter of this strange idea I had called “Ahn-Tarqa” and looked at the earliest stories to come from this science-fantasy setting. He’s introduced me to many wonderful writers in the SF&F community. When my first novel is published, Howard A. Jones will get the dedication. Guaranteed.

Zachary Kelley may wonder why I’m listing him here, but the Devious Mastermind of The Lightning Bugg’s Lair is a very inspiring chap just because of what he does. When I came across his blog about two years ago, I suddenly started taking my own blog writing, and consequently more of my other writing, with greater seriousness. To show you what sort of person Zack is, look at this recent post where he tackled a piece of very ugly sexism on the web and turned around with a counter-post that was something inclusive and positive. We need more of this sort of blogging out there. Zack show how it’s done.

Now, of course, mea familia. I’m the only writer in my immediate family; most of my relatives are involved in medicine and health care: a pathologist, a future anesthesiologist, an RN, and an occupational therapist who is currently a full-time mom to her first child. But they’ve always been supportive of the off-center weird oldest child who was off in his own world with dreams of dinosaurs, spaceships, and blood-soaked fields of battle. So Mom, Dad, Colleen, and Reed, I love you. (And you too, Diego, although you’re too little to read this right now. Even in German)

I want to make a specific mention of my younger brother Reed. (Mom, Dad, and Colleen, please don’t get upset that I’m singling him out right now . . . you’ll understand when you read a bit further.) Until a month ago, my brother was Mr. Reed Harvey. Now he is Dr. Reed Harvey. He received his M.D. from Emory Medical School last month, and is heading to Stanford to do his residency and then off to a future in anesthesiology.
Reed’s progress through medical school has always been a source of inspiration for me. I can’t comprehend the sort of work it would take to become a physician. I know I couldn’t do it. (And if I somehow managed to squeak through, I’d end up accidentally killing the first patient I got. Medicine just isn’t my thing.) It shows focus, dedication, hard work. It’s that sort of work that makes a writer as well, and seeing Reed graduate reminded me of how hard I have to work to make the same sort of mark in my chosen career. To have a major pay-off in my writing career occur less than a month after my brother got hooded as a doctor simply cannot be a coincidence.

Reed, I love you, you are the best brother anybody could have, and I hope to be as successful a writer as you will be a doctor.

“All right you sons of bitches. You know how I feel. I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle, any time, anywhere. And that’s all.” [Cue the Jerry Goldsmith theme to Patton. Man, I miss Jerry. He would have been the ideal man to score Captain America.]

03 June 2010

I am a winner in The Writers of the Future Contest!

Here it is folks, the big news. Biggest writing news I’ve ever received.

I am one of the winners of The Writers of the Future Contest!

Here is the official press release.

The contest, which is now going into its twenty-seventh year, is one of the most prestigious in the fantasy and science-fiction publishing world. Many of its winners have gone on to careers as novelists and have won multiple Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards.

So, as you might imagine, I’m sort of excited about this.

From the thousand or so entries submitted each quarter, three stories are selected by the celebrity author judges as the winners. These stories, along with the winners from the other three quarters, will appear in a major anthology the following year, and each story receives an illustration from one of the winners of the sister-contest, The Illustrators of the Future. The Writers of the Future collections are among the best selling of SF&F anthologies in history—the exposure is amazing for a writer at the beginning of a career. The winners are also honored at a lavish awards ceremony in Hollywood and get to attend an intensive week-long workshop taught by members of the judging panel.

However, I’ve got more than a year to wait before the anthology and the ceremony: August 2011. I’ve been invited to attend this year’s ceremony, honoring last year’s winners, so I can see what the event is like. I’m definitely going. (It’s only a fifteen-minute drive with good traffic and sounds like a great party.)

As for the story itself, it’s a tale of Ahn-Tarqa, my science-fantasy setting that I’ve developed over the past three years . . . and which is turning into something of my obsession. It’s also getting recognition. Look for two other Ahn-Tarqa stories to eventually appear in Black Gate. I’ll keep you up informed on those dates, and of course the publication date for Writers of the Future Volume XXII.

Going to go buy some champagne now for a celebration weekend!

02 June 2010

The unveiling of the Captain America costume!

Here is our first official image of the Captain America costume design that Chris Evans will wear in the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger:
There are a few changes to the classic design, such as the absence of wings on the side of the headpiece (this may come from the influence of the Ultimate Universe Captain America), but I have to say I think it looks great. It feels like a 1940s military fighting outfit, seems practical and tough, and is still genuinely recognizable as the iconic Captain America. I do miss the wings, however. That’s why us Cap-fans call him “Winghead.”

Now I’m waiting for the first Red Skull costume reveal.

01 June 2010

Movie Review: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Directed by Ronald Neame. Starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Shelley Winters, Roddy McDowall, Jack Albertson, Pamela Sue Martin, Leslie Nielsen.

If you saw the 2006 “kinda-sorta re-make” of The Poseidon Adventure, simply titled Poseidon… my sincere condolences. Man, didn’t that thing bite? If I ever make a list of the worst films of the 2000s that I actually saw (there are plenty of even worse films that I wisely skipped), Poseidon would make the list without even a moment’s hesitation. It was Zeus-awful, and Zeus probably sent his brother Poseidon a gift-basket to apologize for the total soiling of his name in association with that generic, auto-pilot, borderline racist piece of flotsam. It couldn't even use Kurt Russell correctly! How hard do you have to work to make Kurt Russell seem uncool?

As I suffered through Poseidon on DVD, thinking how much better drowning would be than watching it, I pondered journeying back to watch the original 1972 adaptation of Paul Gallico’s novel. But I didn’t do it then—I was waterlogged and had enough. Even though the The Poseidon Adventure was a huge hit and had the greatest effect on the burgeoning 1970s disaster film cycle of an picture, it isn't known as a cinematic masterpiece. I felt no urgency to see it again.

But this weekend, I felt safe at last to go back to 1972 and watch the movie that briefly made producer Irwin Allen popular and created a fad for wreckage spectacle that lasted through the decade until the SF boom overtook it, and the gigantic flop of Allen’s The Swarm and When Time Ran Out… buried the genre until the capabilities of CGI resurrected it in the 1990s. The hilarity of Airplane! helped to play “Taps” over the genre’s coffin.