Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

We’re back!

by Daniel Abraham

As folks may have noticed, the site’s been down for a few days while the brilliant team over at Orbit redecorated for us. I’m sure we’ve got some fine tuning to do over the next few weeks, but I’ve got to tell you, the joint looks pretty spiffy to me.

And in celebration, we’ve got the first full-length review of The Dragon’s Path.

All in all, not a bad day.


What the internet was made for?

by Ty Franck

Overweight middle aged white guys talking about space ships.

The only thing that saves this is that we have the incomparable Carrie Vaughn doing the interview, and she is neither middle aged, nor overweight, nor a guy.

Leviathan Wakes Interview part 1

Leviathan Wakes Interview part 2

Leviathan Wakes Interview part 3

Go watch us natter on.


Video Killed The Radio Star

by Daniel Abraham

The fine folks at Orbit got me to talk to a camera for a while. And I hardly look like a serial killer at all.

On The Dragon’s Path:

On Good and Evil:

On Character:

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Dragon’s Path and Killing Rites and… and… and…

by Daniel Abraham

Just a couple bits of news:

1 ) Your friend and mine MLN Hanover is spending the next couple three days finishing up the first draft of Killing Rites.  It will officially be turned in to the publisher (along with a pitch for the next couple books) by this time next week.  Woo hoo!  This one’s been harder than the last ones, but I’m tickled with how it’s coming out.  And I get to play with a character whose company I’ve been missing.

2 ) Yeah, the secret project is still secret, but when it’s announced, oh you will know it.  Oh yes.

This might be the cover art. It might not. Until I open the box, the cat is both dead and alive, right?

3 ) My authors copies of Wild Cards: The Hard Call are apparently in the mail to me. I am inordinately pleased, because ohmigod was that project a struggle.  I have to say that Eric Battle was a real pleasure to work with, and I’m quite pleased with how it came out in the end.  Or I assume I am.  I should probably get a copy in hand before I squee too loud.

4 ) The first officially released excerpt of The Dragon’s Path is presently up at A Dribble of Ink.  Because of the way the book’s built, there will probably be a few more sections leaking out over the next couple of months.  I’ll let you know when I know.  For now, please send all your friends and acquaintances over to Aidan, comment, debate, and generally maintain the level of conversation.  Or something.

5 ) The Science Fiction Book Club is going to be featuring Dragon’s Path as one of its alternate selections.

6 ) Oh, and Publisher’s Weekly mentioned a few sci-fi and fantasy books they’re apparently looking forward to.   Dragon’s Path is #2 on their wish list (um, if you list them alphabetically).  My personal fave on the list (besides me) is Carrie Vaughn’s tale of a forensic accountant in a world of superheroes.

7 ) If you’d rather hear them on tape or CD, Leviathan Wakes and Dragon’s Path are both going to be recorded by your friends and mine at Recorded Books.

8 ) Fred Saberhagen fans! Golden Reflections is almost out.  It’s a reprint of Fred’s novel Mask of the Sun with brand new stories set in the same universe as written by folks like Harry Turtledove, Walter Jon Williams, David Weber, Jane Linskold, and me.

Okay.  More actual thought later.  Must go finish book…


A Surreal Life, Revisited

by Ty Franck

The TCA holds an annual press tour where Networks present their new shows to the critics.  These presentations often take the form of a clip show followed by a panel.

Along with the other networks, HBO was there to present its new shows, and wouldn’t you know it, but my boss’s new show was on the list.

So I go to Hollywood for just under a week as part of a celebrity entourage.  Surrealism commences.

To begin with, everything is first class.  And I mean everything.  HBO arranged cars to pick us up and take us to the airport (we didn’t use them), we were both flown first class to LA, and a car was waiting for us when we landed.  It was a Mercedes, very plush.  That will matter later.

We were whisked off to the Four Seasons where we each had our own palatial room.  We discovered we had a sizable per diem attached to each room as well, so food, minibar, and the occasional massage were also going to be on HBO’s tab.

Now, before I go on, I should mention that I haven’t always been a lowly PA for a celebrity writer.  Prior to my mid life crisis and lengthening hairline, I was a corporate guy.  Senior management at some relatively good sized companies.  I’ve traveled the corporate version of first class before.  It was nothing, nothing like this.

Just hanging out in my Hotel I ran into Neil Peart of my favorite progressive rock band and got to shake his hand, and then later rode an elevator with Liev Schreiber.  I didn’t shake his hand.  He was in a jogging suit and had an iPod on.  I just nodded in a way I hoped was cool.  He nodded back in a way that actually WAS cool.  We parted before our combined cool could disable the elevator and plunge us to our deaths.

Oddly enough, the least interesting part of the trip was the TCA media day.   We did get to watch about fifteen minutes of the Boss’s new show, and that was fun.  But once the media circus ramped up, it was just a constant Brownian motion as actors, writers, and producers milled through tight hotel hallways and packed into cramped rooms to be interviewed by every magazine and media news show on the planet.  For most the evening I followed the Boss around and made sure he was hydrated so the lights didn’t kill him.

Of course, I did get to meet and shake hands with Sean Bean (Dude, fucking Boromir!), and with Peter Dinklage.  Peter has absolutely blown everyone away with his portrayal of Tyrion in the show, and I’d have loved to buy the guy a beer and chat with him, but alas that was not meant to be.  I also ran into Emilia Clarke in the green room, but she was at the center of her own personal whirlwind and so we didn’t get to do much more than say hi in passing.

Once the media day was over, things settled down a lot and some fun could be had.  The Boss’s agent and my pal Kay was in town, as well as our mutual friend Melinda.  I decided to pop over to their hotel one evening for an hour or two and grab a drink.  To do this, I walked out the front door of the hotel, said to the doorman, “I need a car to take me over to the Sofitel,” and one minute later a black Rolls Royce pulled up to the curb.   This same black Rolls came back two hours later to take me home after my third gin and tonic.

And I have to tell you, having now been chauffeured around in high end Mercedez and a Rolls, I can actually tell the difference.  The Rolls was just the most lush vehicle I’ve ever ridden in.  Is it worth its six figure pricetag?  I couldn’t say.  But if you ever get the chance to be driven around in one while sipping expensive bottled water, I’d say go for it.  Yes, it is a wasteful display of meaningless indulgence, a whole lot of money on wheels for the sole purpose of letting everyone around you know you are their better.

But it was a sweet ride.

I haven’t even gotten to the book signing where the Boss had a line that wrapped around the building.  Or the former swimsuit model who came to the signing to meet the Boss and I and hung all over me while pictures were taken.   And then told me she might be an elf in the Hobbit movie (I’m hoping you get it!)  Or the fan party thrown for the boss after the signing with cute girls in custom made Westeros T-shirts and the constant stream of gin and tonics (Brotherhood peeps know how to party).  It was a freaking whirlwind of a week.

Most surreal moment?  Being in the middle of all this hubbub and having three agents want to meet with ME about MY book.  Am I a tiny blip on this radar?  Oh, hell yes.  But I’m on there now.  And I’ve seen where it can wind up.

And that’s effing surreal.


Checking In

by Ty Franck

My partner in crime notified me that I’d taken too long an absence from the blog, and people were probably assuming I’d died. Possibly in a closet with no pants on and something wrapped around my neck.

I have not died, especially like that.

I have an update coming on my surreal life in which I discuss what it’s like to accompany a major writing celebrity on a Hollywood media frenzy. It also include my thoughts on the Rolls Royce versus the Mercedes as a means of being chauffeured about. I now have thoughts on that topic, where once I did not.

To hold you over until my next exciting post, you may check out this glowing review of Leviathan Wakes by Liviu over at Fantasy Book Critic.

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Nothing to report

by Daniel Abraham

I have been to Los Angeles.  I have spoken to producers and managers.  I have eaten a $22 bagel that someone else paid for.  I have been in an elevator with a cut crystal chandelier.  Some people I shall not name are reading Leviathan Wakes and the first three Black Sun’s Daughter books.

Chances are that nothing will come of it, but it won’t be because we didn’t put a chip on the table.  I am, from one perspective, a professional gambler.

Oh,  also and unrelated, I have been to The Bunny Museum and it is so entirely full of WTF that it threatens to create its own event horizon.


Balfour & Meriwether

by Daniel Abraham

Two bits of news:

1) Balfour & Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance is now available from your friends and mine at Podcastle.

2) Balfour & Meriwether in The Vampire of Kabul has sold to Subterranean.

3) There appears a non-zero chance of a Balfour & Meriwether novella sometime next year.

It appears I may have a hobby.


A few things vicious and graceful

by Daniel Abraham

Vicious Grace has been out for about a month now, and there are a few more reviews: Urban Fantasy InvestigationsBibliopunkk, Book Series Reviews, Single Titles, Night Owl Paranormal, Romance Books Forum, Flamingnet (with particularly nifty emoticon summation), a bunch of opinion at GoodReads, and — of course — it’s been Klausnered.

*And* my very good friend from across the aisle, Pat of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist has been so kind as to post an excerpt.

Two bits of carry-home wisdom:

1) The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. — Oscar Wilde

2) Daniel, you know you shouldn’t read your reviews, right?  Seriously, this way lies madness. — Carrie Vaughn (somewhat misquoted)

[EDIT: And Calico Reaction.]


100 Aspects of Genre: Story v. Sentence

by Daniel Abraham

A couple of years ago, I had a very pleasant dinner with (among others) THE Sodomite Hal Duncan, a delightful and brilliant gentleman and good dinner conversation besides.  We had a polite disagreement that has come up again recently, and I find myself reviewing my position in the conversation we had back then and amending my position (without actually going so far as to embrace his).  The subject was whether text and meaning were separable.  This is the kind of thing that happens when overly intellectual writer types sit down over pizza, and should be carefully considered when arranging dinner parties for fear that it take over the table.  Hal’s take, as well as I remember it, was that the literal series of words on the page *is* the story, and any change to that sequence of words necessarily makes it a different story.  My take was that story was more structural: that a particular image or meaning can be reached by a variety of different arrangements of words, and one story can be told using different words without doing violence to the story itself.

Constant readers of the blog here may remember David Hartwell calling me on my poor scholarship over a previous post.  If you skipped the comments on that, the relevant bits were “This is intelligent and thoughtful, but it ignores most of what other intelligent and thoughtful people have said about genre over the last forty years, and that is a severe difficulty, leading to some wheel-reinvention and loose terminology.” and “…I’d suggest starting with Delany’s discussion in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw.”

"A story is not a replacement of one set of words by another -- plot-synopsis, detailed recounting, or analysis. The story is what happens in the reader's mind as his eyes move from the first word to the second, the second to the third, and so on to the end of the tale." -- Delany

So like a good boy, I toddled out and bought The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, and I’m still digesting it.  One of the points Delaney makes in the first essay (or at least the first essay in my edition — apparently it’s a slightly different lineup than the original) was essentially Hal’s point.  Specifically, Delaney argues that “Put in opposition to ‘style,’ there is no such thing as ‘content.'”  And he makes a pretty strong case.  He posits the example of two different translators creating with the same content two wildly different books (one of them engaging, the other unreadable).  He proposes ruining Zelazny’s “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” by changing one word and adding one in every grammatical unit of every sentence without altering the synopsis — the “content.”

It’s impossible to keep from being persuaded of something by the arguments, but the conclusions I’m reaching aren’t Delany’s or Duncan’s.

A professional editor of my acquaintance who shall remain nameless was talking about a bestselling author who I don’t know (who also with the nameless, right?).  Editor said that reading Author was page by page a terrible, punishing experience full of cringe-worthy sentences and clumsy word choices, but that he couldn’t put it down.  For Editor, there are two different levels: sentence and story, and of the two story sells more books.  I suspect that’s true, but more to the point, it reminded me of where my own opinions about the role of language were set.

A personal aside.  Before I was born, my father spent two years in the Peace Corps, teaching English and some simple construction skills in Malagana, Columbia.  When I was born, my father was fluent in Spanish and taken by Central and South American literature.  He read me Enrique Anderson Imbert when I was very young, translating them on the fly.  Cortazar’s “The House Taken Over” is one of the most important ghost stories of my adolesence. I read some Marquez and Fuentes when I was growing up, and was fairly taken by both of them.  The most problematic relationship I have with the great names of Latin American Literature is Borges. I don’t actually like him much, but I keep reading him.  And more often than I like, I agree with him.

"The impoverished condition of our literature, its incapacity to attract readers, has produced a superstition about style, an inattentive reading that favors certain affectations ... This superstition is so established that no one dares admit to an absence of style in compelling works, especially the classics ... Let us take the example of Don Quixote. Confronted with the proven excellence of this novel, Spanish literary critics have suppressed the thought that its greatest (and perhaps only irrefutable) worth may be its psychological acumen, and they ascribe to it a stylistic brilliance which many readers find mysterious." -- Borges

For one thing — a minor point — I don’t think we read word by word so much as phrase by phrase.  That’s trivial.  The greater point is that I *do* think content separately from any given specific verbal expression of it.  Or, to go all perl programmer on it, there’s more than one way to do it.  The argument that I read in Borges lo these many years ago when I was all doughy and impressionable was that language changes, and yet classic stories exist.  It is possible for some folks to take genuine and unambiguous pleasure in reading Chaucer and seeing Shakespeare performed despite the fact that “It is ful fair a man to bere him evene,/For alday meeteth men at unset stevene.” and “Here’s a farmer, that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty: come in time; have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t.” are almost meaningless to an ear accustomed to modern language.  When Delany offers to destroy “Doors” by swapping out words with the same meanings but different nuances, he’s doing what time and the natural drift of language do anyway.  Even the relatively recent classics like Dickens wouldn’t be publishable if they were turned in as fresh manuscripts today, but the stories persist.  Part of that is that they’re armored by the stories about them, but part of it is also that the level of what Editor calls storytelling exists, and at that level Macbeth is strong enough to pull us through despite the inaccessibility of the language.  And there are contemporary novels full of cringe-worthy sentences and clumsy word choices that are also strong enough on that higher level of abstraction to be compelling.

There are a lot of writers in speculative fiction who are very aware of language and of the nature of stories as words on a page.  I’m thinking of Kelly Link, for instance, who writes some of the most pyrotechnic sentences in modern literature, often in ways that absolutely defy a literal interpretation of their content.  And as soon as I’ve thought of that, I think of Carol Emshwiller and Karen Joy Fowler’s Elizabeth Complex.  These aren’t stories that are trying to create an immersive movie-like dream so much as an compelling experience of language.  There are also authors who try to have the sentences vanish and their meaning carry the story.

Used to be, I was in the camp that said the individual words are less important than the story being told.  And I still am, but I’m less militant than I was when Hal and I had dinner.

I feel a little weird writing an essay about something that seems self-evident to me.  I can only take comfort in the fact that it didn’t always seem that way.  Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking now:

You can have a story without language, but you usually don’t.  You can have sentences that don’t carry a narrative of any sort, but (at least in fiction) you usually don’t.  The vast majority of the time, sentence and story go together.  And by that I mean style and content.  They are interdependent but separable in just about the same way as a dancer’s movements and the choreography of the piece they perform.  It would be silly to say that, for instance, that a piece choreographed by Bob Fosse becomes a different dance whenever a new dancer joins the company.  It would also be silly to say that the dancers don’t matter.

A dance with great choreography can — I am assured by those who grok dance better than I do — be interesting even if the individual dancer performing it may not be top-notch (though when they’re just godawful, it may be hard to enjoy).  And a really amazing dancer can forgive pedestrian choreography.  A really great story — great content — can be compelling even when expressed in awkward style, and a beautiful style can carry a predictable plot and unconvincing characters.  And because of that, I have to believe that style and content — story and sentence — are different things.

And sure, it’s better when they’re both good.

[EDIT: Well, less an edit than a note.  If you’d be interested in what Ted Chiang and S. M. Stirling thought about this, they’re commenting over at the livejournal that Lizard Brain feeds]