Friday, January 27, 2017

Girl Genius

David having offered a link to Schlock Mercenary, I am countering with a link to the ever-glorious, massive work of Girl Genius, where "any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."

The New Golden Age

We live in the new Golden Age of the imaginative arts. That's not a minor thing. Someday, assuming civilization stands and scholarship is able to maintain the records of our culture, some Humanities professor is going to be explaining that the most notable key characteristic of the arts of the 19th and early 20th centuries was the increasing use and expansion of imagined, fantastic, futuristic, and supernatural elements, in everything from the practical forms of advertising and publicity to mainstream to the fine arts. Year by year it has become more and more difficult to imagine any description of trends in culture that fail to mention the move from the realistic and observational to the surreal and imagined.

A flood of imaginative arts, from Fantastic Beasts...

Someday I intend to write about that expansion--the slow domination of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and similar tropes throughout much of the so-called "modern" world. Right now, though, I just want to talk about what that amounts to on a daily, practical level.

Among the other things David and I hope I will be doing is reviewing--books, TV shows, movies, you name it. I knew I was a bit out of touch--you get busy and the genre material races past you like two-year-olds at the Kentucky Derby--but I figured I would spend a few days reviewing what was new out there, or what had been out there awhile but not yet caught my full attention. Then I'd pick a few likely choices.

Ha-ha. I'm forced to admit I will never catch up--never fully take in the floods of material showing up. Even with Hulu and Netflix and a range of other streaming services, I am dubious I am going to catch up with the primary fantasy fiction in movies, much less the stuff on TV. A look at the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields suggests I am again out of my depths--and I am not a slow reader. I can watch shows about devils (Lucifer, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural), zombies (The Walking Dead and more), artificially intelligent android life (Westworld, Humans), several different versions of "fairy tales are real," (Grimm, Once Upon a Time...) science fiction, and beyond...

The truth is, it's going to take me a little while to decide how I want to structure this. I want this Friday column to be about the imaginative arts--about the images, the narratives, the music, the animation, the entire vast field of creative dreaming. As a writer, a not-all-that-capable artist, and a lover of the genres, I want to talk about what we have done, what we can do, about how we judge art and how we share it. It's going to take a while, though, to decide where I want to start, and the fact that I'm living in such a wealth of material only makes it more challenging. I don't know whether to start with Pokemon or Pan's Labyrinth; with Fantastic Beasts or web comic funnies. The range and the richness overwhelms me.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

True Love and Literature

I remember it well--that first glorious rush of certainty that at last--at last--I had found the perfect book, a book I could only adore. I was about ten, and the book was Andre Norton's Ordeal in Otherwhere, which you can currently find in the multi-book collection Warlock. Ordeal in Otherwhere had everything: a female heroine who was not a toxic little wuss. A meerkat familiar. Glorious witchy dragon-lady sorceresses. Challenges bigger than the usual girl-lit ick of makeup and clothes and who you were going to date. Dreams. Sensa Wonda. Heady stuff for a girl who wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up, and whose early reading material included Greek myths. Of course, I promptly forgot both the name of the author and the name of the book, and spent the next ten years reading through every book that seemed like it--and came to love the whole genre in the process.

Cover, Warlock, by Andre Norton Source: Amazon Books Some stories take you that way. You are barely a paragraph in and you already know you're in good hands, carried along by writers and, in film, with performers and production teams you dare trust. Your standards and expectations may change as you get older, but you still know that rush of excitement when you begin to read and realize that you're in the presence of competence and charisma. Your favorite may not be my favorite, and mine may not be my sister's--but we still know it when we encounter it. The sting, the sizzle, the sense of falling into the zone, where the story is real and your heart and mind are committed for as long as it takes.

Of course, we all know what it's like to fall out of the zone, too. Fast or slow, logical or puzzling, sometimes a writer loses us. We may know just why. (Zippers on Regency dresses! Hot chocolate in medieval Europe! Men who have nothing better to do the night before battle but comfort their sobbing lovers!) We may never know. (I am still trying to make it through several books recommended by trusted friends, and failing to bond. They are well-written books--I just don't give a damn.)
Here's the thing--loving a work of fiction is collaborative. It's what the work itself brings to you, and what you bring to it. When it works it's true love. When it works, it becomes a landmark in your heart, for days, for years, for decades. You can read the map of your own life and growth in your favorite fiction. There's the stuff you grow out of--sometimes with a gasp of relief. I am so very glad I only loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull for a matter of a few months in my mid-teens. There are books that become permanent features of how you think and understand fiction itself: I will never get over the point at which I realized the complexity of Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, spending much of a week taking it apart and putting it back together, realizing how scene after scene satisfied multiple purposes within both the logic of the plot, the logic of the theme--and the rigorous logic of the thesis. I had been taught that level of reading before--but never accomplished such a complicated analysis solo, without prompting or teacher support. It changed my idea of "skilled writing" forever more. We become fluent in fiction over time, finding out what our own personal zone is like--what we ourselves respond to.

We all have favorites, too. I love R.A. Lafferty--I could write a love song to his short stories, and entire rhapsodies to The Reefs of Earth. I love Connie Willis--almost any Connie Willis. But I also love David Weber's Honor Harrington, pretty much all of Bujold's characters and stories, Sharon Shinn's fascinating different fantasy realms, each distinct, each with a magic unlike anything else I recall seeing. I love Tanith Lee's Night's Master, and still love Asimov's Foundation--and his Daneel Olivaw novels. I love Ready Player One. We live in what I honestly think is the true Golden Age of the imaginative arts. They have become the fictional language of our culture. Whether we are talking space opera or horror novel, comic superhero or dashing vampire leading man, hot modern urban witch or futuristic starship captain or a major in the space marines, we tell our stories in the language of "what if," because for many of us the language of gritty realism wasn't big enough to say what needed saying.

Cover, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline Source: Amazon What have you recently fallen in love with? Are there any new writers or film-makers who have stolen your heart away? Or old classics you either never read before, or only just fell in love with, that rattled you to the core? Let us know what has caught your mind and heart, so we can help you share and promote the good stuff. Because, in the immortal words of Princess Bride: Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world -- except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

William C. Dietz NY Times Best Selling Author of "American Rising."

William C. Dietz is among the few writers who wrote in the Military SF genre during a time when many weren't willing to tackle its particular challenges. As a former combat arms member of the US Army, I have scoured through most of the popular fiction looking for decent Military SF stories to read. Dietz's work has always provided hours of entertainment. Recently I was fortunate to spend an afternoon exchanging emails with Mr. Dietz and he was gracious enough to spare time from his busy schedule to give the following interview...

Q: Why is science fiction important?

WCD: Because science fiction is untethered from our understanding of the past and present, it's the literature of possibilities. How will bio-science change society? What if aliens exist? Do we live parallel lives in other dimensions? No other genre tackle such questions.

That's the serious side of it. But science fiction is, and in my opinion should be, entertainment. And we need that in our lives. A friend once told me that my books are perfect for a flight from Seattle to New York. He made no mention of my plots, of the characterizations in my novels, or the ideas that I put forth. So I could have been offended. But I wasn't. I see entertainment as a noble calling, and the primary purpose of each book I write. 

Q: Why do you write in the particular genres you do? Specifically Military SF?

WCD: I was born at the end of WWII, and like little boys of that time, was raised on a diet of black and white war movies featuring the likes of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum and so forth. The characters they played were sometimes troubled, but essentially good, and extremely brave. Even then I noticed that by their very nature war stories are about danger, difficult choices, and sacrifice. And real war stories are no different. That makes war worth writing about. Add the freedom to speculate about the future, and voila! My decision was made.

Q: Many of your novels have advanced applications of technology. (Science Fiction right.) But has your writing been informed by the technology available or do you think you have had an impact by writing about it?

WCD: We live in an age where everything, reality and fiction alike, is sloshing about in a sea of data. So it's hard to say what sort of contribution (if any) I've made. Especially since many of the things I've written about (military cyborgs for example) are extrapolations from, and elaborations on ideas put forward by others. All of us are indebted to those who came before us. But I'd like to think that my fiction sparked something for somebody. Or, made their flight to New York more enjoyable.

Q: Which leads me to the next question, are you a gadget geek? Do you have twenty seven different USB cords, data sticks, half a dozen worn out laptops cluttering the closets of the house. Or are you the person who's secret family nickname is "Killer of Cellphones?"

WCD: I'm not a hobbyist, no... But I love my tower style PC, my iphone, my gigantic (Internet connected) TV, my Kindle, and my aging ipad. So I'm a serious user, and wouldn't want to give any of them up. And, because I'm a neat freak, all of my cords are under control:)

Q: What prompted you to write your current work?

WCD: Like most professional authors I'm constantly looking for story ideas. And, when I read an article about U.S. petroleum reserves I noticed something interesting. All of our country's emergency oil supplies are located in the south along the gulf coast. As far as I know this decision was made for purely pragmatic reasons. A lot of oil comes in and goes out through southern seaports, there are underground caverns suitable for storing ore located in that area, and so forth.

But since our country is split into the so-called red and blue states, with all of the oil petroleum reserves being located in red states, I wondered what would happen to them if some sort of cataclysm was to occur? I'm talking about a disruption so serious that the federal government was impaired, there was widespread chaos, and a breakdown in law and order. Some southern states, Texas comes to mind, threaten to secede on a regular basis. Would they? And if they did, who would lead such a movement? And how would the oil in those reserves be used? 

That was my initial line of thought. And, after noodling on it, the America Rising trilogy was born. The first book is called Into The Guns. It's available now. Seek And Destroy will be along in June, with Battle Hymn to follow that. From a publishing perspective these would be classified as near future, post apocalyptic, alternate history stories. 

Here's how Penguin's cover copy reads: 
On May Day, 2018, sixty meteors enter Earth’s atmosphere and each explodes with a force greater than a nuclear blast. Earthquakes and tsunamis follow. Then China attacks Europe, Asia, and the United States in the mistaken belief that the disaster is an act of war. 

The United States government is decimated when a meteor strikes Washington D.C. That leaves surviving elements of the armed forces to try and restore order, but they’re badly outnumbered, and some military personnel go rogue. 

Now, as civilians battle the military for scarce resources, a group of wealthy individuals attempts to create a self-serving government based on Libertarian principles. They call it The New Confederacy--and that’s when the second Civil War begins.

Q: Adventure stories, be they military sf, or straight up science fiction evolve and they change. I often see the choice of protagonists by authors as an outlier of things to come. Why is your current protagonist, female?

WCD: There are a number of reasons why my last nine books have female protagonists. First, from a purely pragmatic point of view, there are more female readers than male readers! And it makes sense to write for the largest audience possible. 

Second, I'm happy to say that most male readers (the ones I have contact with anyway) are no longer resistant to female protagonists as long as they are well written and do interesting things.

Third, I am married to a wonderful woman and have two extremely capable daughters. And they inspire me. 

Q: Globally the world is currently undergoing an identity crisis. Our own country is fighting for some sort of new identity or a reestablishment of values which promote a form nationalism. Does your new work explore these topical aspects?

WCD: The America Rising books are primarily intended to be action/adventure style entertainment. But yes, as you can see from the cover copy, I do have a political perspective. And there are conservatives who regularly troll "Into The Guns" in an attempt to suppress it. That surprises me. Apparently they feel their political philosophy is so weak, so fragile, that an action adventure novel might destroy it. And, it appears that the liberty they speak of so frequently, is only meant for them. 

On a fundamental level the series suggests that unrestrained self-interest (the fundamental precept of right wing politics) is a threat to democracy which, in my judgement it is. Now that conservative oligarchs are in control of the United States, we'll see how things go. Maybe the Trump administration will surprise me. I hope so. 

Q: As an entertainer, how much do you see it is your responsibility if any, to interject your own viewpoints and not necessarily those of a fictional character in a story? Or if you would prefer: How do you separate yourself the writer, from the characters, their motivations and drives?

WCD: I guess the simple answer is that my protagonists generally share my values regarding what's right and wrong. My villains don't.

Q: Is it a big issue for you to have a fan realize what you believe privately as opposed to what a character like Joseph Rodney Spaceman might offer up in a story could be diametrically different?

WCD: My books are entertainment for the most part. Most of them don't have any sort of political bent. And, when there is a secondary political theme as in the America Rising books, I imagine that those who disagree with my perspective look elsewhere for their entertainment. Fortunately, that still leaves more than 150-million people who might buy my books. 

Q: On a different slant- How does the process of writing one of your novels work. (Stand alone work, not franchise.) Meaning how long does it normally take you from outline to rough to novel to something your agent can sell. The reason for this question: As soon as I finished reading your last novel I immediately wanted the next iteration of the story. And I know it is rare to have a short turn around time, even for a popular novel.

WCD: As you know there are, generally speaking, two types of writers: Those who write from outlines, and those who are sometimes referred to as "organic" writers. Meaning they make things up as they go along. I am an outline writer. So the process goes like this: Idea, primary research (with just in time research throughout), outline, first draft (with ongoing changes to the outline), edit, second draft, and another edit. Then the manuscript goes to my wife for yet another review.

I would like to thank William C. Dietz for the generous giving of his time.-Thank you sir!

DS Baker editor.

Amazon Link:

Link to William C. Dietz's website:

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Editor Peg Robinson

Strange Suns will be a shared blog from this point forward. As our editors can, they will post. It is our intention to set aside specific days of the week for their use. Peg Robinson has graciously set aside Friday for her comments. I hope you will come to like our staff's thoughts and ideas as much as I have.-DS Baker.

First things first. Hi! I’m Peg Robinson, the co-editor of the Strange Suns page. Right now I can take no credit. The page is David’s idea, and so am I. But y’all have some right to know who I am.

I’m 58, single, with a daughter who’s in college and in that furry, fuzzy space in which the world increasingly sees her as adult and her parents struggle to accept that notion, and the collateral idea that they themselves are getting old. I’m a professional writer and editor, using the definition that allows you to go broke as a pro. I’m an active member of SFWA, with a lifetime membership I paid while I had the cash—a wise move, IMO. I mainly write science fiction and fantasy, though I’m pretty genre friendly. It’s been awhile since I made an SF/F sale—I’ve been writing other things, including portions of text-books and commercial material lately. 

I am almost certainly the softer, fuzzier side of SF/F on this page. In that sense I think of myself as “color.” I mix it up a bit. 

I am very happy to be here. I welcome you to David’s shiny new page—and hope you will welcome me in time, too. Thank you.


I grew up in a time of conflict. One of my first concrete memories is of the death of John F. Kennedy, and of the nation-wide reaction afterward. I grew up in the glory days of the civil rights movement. I grew up with friends in a regular state of protest—Vietnam, nuclear proliferation, nuclear power plants, apartheid, dirty movies, clean movies, movies about Jesus, movies failing to mention Jesus, school dress codes, you name it, someone was in a lather over it.

I grew up in the time of the great wars over genre and genre naming. It started, for me, with Harlan Ellison and his cadre, whose fast reflexive reaction fight over whether Our Great Genre was science fiction or speculative fiction, and whether it belonged on the lonely little genre shelves in bookstores or properly among the respectable literary fiction at the front of the store. My favourite, beloved fiction (all flavors) was said to be delegated to a genre ghetto from which no author could launch a respectable career…or a properly profitable one. On grounds both literary and financial, there was great brouhaha and brawling, and to this day you can date those of us of a particular era fast, reflexive reaction to the term “science fiction” is to cut back with “spec fic.

After came a round I most associate with Isaac Asimov, and his then brand new magazine, titled “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.” Soon enough after startup a whinge began and grew—the magazine was (shock, horror) given to publishing stories that could only tentatively be regarded as “science fiction,” rather than fantasy, or horror, or other properly tech-oriented material. The pages occasionally swarmed with outbreaks of imps, devils, dragons, unicorns, or, horror of horrors, material that applied an unnecessary SF gloss to war stories, westerns, or worse. For some time a true battle raged over what, properly, could appear in an SF magazine, and what should be assigned to other, less factually particular genres. 

Here is the trouble with all the battling of my youth. Regardless of what you call it, or how rigorous the tech, or how you place it on the shelves of the bookstores remaining—I read it all, loved it all, and was mainly grateful as hell that people made it easy to find by putting it in magazines and on bookshelves under a coherent set of genre terms. These days, in which everyone and her cousin has written something in the range of the imaginative literatures, and in which the whole muddled, magical, messy field has come to play a major role in best-seller lists and so-called “literary fiction” shelving, it can actually be harder, not easier to find the authors I want to find, or learn of new talent. These days almost everyone reads some sort of SF/F genre. It is a time of victory—and a time in which the old genre arguments are falling apart.

Here's the truth: I’m a generalist. I love some of all of it, and all of some of it. I even read horror, though that’s not my own niche. I love cross-over lit that blends the fantastic neighborhoods. I adore alternate history fantasy, or magical military fiction, or science fiction that focuses on social and cultural elements of distant past and future galactic empires. One thing that delighted me talking to David is that this is not an exclusive, walled community page. This is us—all of us. It makes me very happy. You see, while I was born into a time of conflict, I came away with the sense that some things are worth waging war over, and some are not, and the classification of literature we all love is less fun than just reading, or viewing, or listening to, or painting, or digitally illustrating the good stuff when it comes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Strange Suns and Author Brian Daley.

This blog will evolve and morph in the coming months, but sooner or later you have to take what you have, hold your breath and make a leap. Pardon the humble beginnings, as I am sure we will improve with age.

Everything has a beginning. Even the universe started off as something. I sometimes like to think a giant amorphous being cleared its nasal cavity and thus with a mighty wind, and not so much a big bang, we came flipping and flopping into existence, like a Great Dane puppy, all legs and no coordination.

The love of science fiction can bite a person rather hard on the fundament. With its terrible fangs embedded into our hindquarters many of us discover a life long love. For me it was forming an informal book club in 4th grade with my fellow Conan the Barbarian enthusiasts. I think Conan has served as the gateway drug for many young people. I know he did for me. 

I thought I would start this blog off with a review of sorts. I found a writer years ago, who in one form or another my personal life kept bumping into at weird interstices with. Especially after I met his spouse on-line in a strange set of occurrences to this day I can't really explain.

Brian Daley

I flipped and flopped from one author to the next for several years after my Conan days, until Star Wars happened as a young teenager. Yeah if you haven't figured it out, I belong to the first generation of Star Wars fandom. Then in roughly around eighth grade, I discovered the "Han Solo Adventures" written by Brian Daley. This was way before fan fiction or even much in the way of franchise writing I might have been aware of. My head exploded. Here was a complete set of adventures! I later found out in the 90's Daley wrote the radio play adaptation for the BBC's broadcast of (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.) 

Several years later 1981 something, in my sophomore year, I meandered into a book store in Olympia Washington, and discovered a book called "The Doomfarers of Cormande." An exciting romp, where a Cavalry Sergeant and his crew of his Armored Personnel Carrier while conducting a patrol, are magically transported to another universe in order to deal with a decidedly deadly magical creature.-Major hook. The magic made sense. More importantly the military men seemed like the real deal.(Resembling my neighbors who had served in Vietnam.) Incidentally Brian Daley wrote the skeleton of this story, while serving in the 11th Armoured Cavalry Division (Black Horse.) in the Republic of South Vietnam.

In the final year or so of my high school I discovered another book also by Daley called "A Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds." The galactic adventures of Hobart Floyt (Earth Functionary) and Alacrity Fitzhugh (Spacer .) Alacrity is pressured into escorting Citizen Floyt of Terra to receive a bequeathment from an off world ruler of nine worlds. It was the first science fiction book, I personally read where I discovered a story could be funny as hell, while still being high adventure. There are plenty of running gags which repeat all throughout the series. The concepts of transportation although vague were sound. (I blame Star Wars.) I am referring to a Faster Than Light FTL engine called a Hawking Drive. (Yes Stephen... it's named after you.)

The first book in the Alacrity Fitzhugh/Hobart Floyt
The world building Daley created, to this day some thirty two years after the first book in the series was released stand up to anything that is currently being published. Oh the tech mentioned nowadays might be a bit more splashy. But his world was a work-a-day world. You could see the grime industrial strength Galactic Fabuloso couldn't wipe away. It felt real. You could smell the lubricant and ozone in work spaces, with trash littering back alleys old evacuation tubes. Along with varied cultures, each having a logical reason for being where and who they were. It was immediately immersive and consuming.

One of the other tidbits or Easter Eggs he put in the Alacrity/Floyt stories, was a minor paragraph about the "Disaster News Network." Where future consumers of entertainment would become obsessed with watching a natural disaster which would destroy a home or community.

Which I find eerily prescient for popular culture's obsession with just exactly that. YouTube is absolutely filled with "Fail" videos or horribly enough top ten "Airplane Disasters." Most viewers not realizing every plane crash usually meant the death of many people. I believe Alacrity Fitzhugh described it as the "Ghoul Network." 

The other blurb was the character Salome Price of the Uncensored News Network, all celebrity news, all day, all night, from all over the galaxy. 

Brian Daley was arguably one of the major writers of Science Fiction in the latter half of the 20th century. I have carried in one dilapidated form or another a majority of his books with me for the past 30 years. 

One of the weird parallels or nexus points I found with his personal life, was my time as a reservist. I found out years later we both had served with certain NCO's and in the last six months of my enlistment, in a reserve component of the 11th ACR based out of Ft Irwin California.

Luckily his spouse of fourteen years celebrated historical fiction writer Lucia St. Clair Robson manages Daley's literary estate, and has recently authorized the reprinting of many of his major works. 

I am even hearing with the success of "Rogue One," the Adventures of Han Solo might be in consideration for an expansion of the Star Wars franchise of movies... But to be completely honest I have neither been able to confirm or deny these rumours at this time.

One of the things I loved about his Del Rey original issue, was the use of noted illustrator Darrell K. Sweet. Who for horse enthusiasts out there, was one of the few illustrators to "get it right." Daley's best cover art IMO was created by Mr. Sweet. Sadly Darrell K. Sweet passed away in 2011. 

Art by Darrell K Sweet.

Brian Daley lost his fight with pancreatic cancer in 1996, he died the following morning after the wrap party for the Return of the Jedi radio play.

Luckily enough for us, Brian Daley's worlds live on. You can find his work, at his official website along with more of his biographical information. Through the link on his page to his published books, there are hypertext links to his Amazon author's page. Each novel currently available is found there.

I believe the old regimental motto is applicable "Alons! or Let's go!" Someday I expect Brian will be found after crossing yet one more river, sitting under a tree penning a new story about broken down cavalry troopers lamenting their plasma swords just aren't up to snuff. You are doing yourself a serious disservice by not discovering his fiction.

DS Baker.

Special Thanks to Lucia St. Clair Robson for permissions granted.

Brian Daley's Official Website:

Brian's available books: