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

Pleasure and Unease: The Balfour & Meriwether Stories

by Daniel Abraham

So this all started a while back.  As I recall it, I was invited into a steampunk project.  Now I’m not a particularly steampunk sort of fella in general.  I admire the aesthetic, but as with almost all versions of style, it’s a little too much effort for me to really maintain.  Class me as an admirer.  But I’d read some steampunk, and read some criticism of steampunk, and come to the part of that particular project that was interesting to me.

Balfour & Meriwether

Balfour & Meriwether

Now I don’t claim to speak for steampunk.  I don’t know exactly what it is in a larger cultural sense or as a subgenre within fantasy or science fiction.  But what it chimed off of for me was a conversation I had with my father when he was in graduate school about Who Paid the Bills at Mansfield Park?, Michael Gorra’s review of Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism.  For me, steampunk is a statement about the balance between discomfort and pleasure.

I, like many folks my age, grew up with a deep and unreflective joy in colonialist fiction.  By that, I mean Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Oscar Wilde, and on and on in that vein.  Folks for whom the ascendency of the British Empire was a given. I remember a particular Christmas when I was somewhere between 7 and 12, laying on my back, eating Tootsie Rolls, and reading a kid’s adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Those kinds of formative pleasures are profound.  They shape who are and how we make sense of the world, probably to the grave.  Denying them is at best difficult, and at worst oppressive.  And yet.

The history of colonialism in reality (as falsely opposed to fiction for the purposes of this argument), is . . . well, shit.  Let’s call it ugly.  And its consequences and sequelae are quite alive right now.  Once you can see the connection between Mary Lennox’s parents dying of cholera in India at the beginning of The Secret Garden and the present version of American exceptionalism that permits drone strikes that kill children in Pakistan, it’s harder to take pleasure in the things we once did.  And by we, I mean I, right?  So here I was, invited to write steampunk.  To re-engage with the colonialist pleasures of my childhood but without the strictures of history.

Balfour & Meriwether in The Adventure of The Emperor’s Vengeance probably owes as much to Buckeroo Banzai as it does to Sherlock Holmes.  I wrote the story as if it were part of some much larger body of work telling the adventures of secret operatives of the crown in the 1870s and 1880s — so roughly contemporaneous with Sherlock.  I adopted the kind of old fashioned narrator’s voice that I remembered from reading Doyle, and I tried to tell a rollicking adventure story set there.  I addressed the anti-semitism of the time with, I hope, a light hand.  And — most important for me — I got to subvert the idea that our heroes were heroic.

It’s not obvious, I hope, in any of these stories that I’m questioning the nobility of my heroes.  I want them to read as light adventure, and I want to function as conceptual humor.  The second story — Balfour and Meriwether in The Vampire of Kabul — I tried to imply a backstory that Balfour and Meriwether almost entirely miss.  And if the reader misses it too, that’s cool.  The story still works.

Right now, my old friend and colleague at Snackreads has the first two stories available.  In not very long, the third Balfour and Meriwether story — Balfour and Meriwether in The Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs — will be coming out as a chapbook from Subterranean Press (who are also the publishers of my only collection of short stories).  I don’t know whether there will be more after that, but there might.  And if there are, they will be the same basic joke told again: A bright, sweet, tart candy coating that tastes like what I loved in childhood around some little nugget of unease that leaves my adulthood just a touch more bitter. Because that’s what steampunk is to me.


If you’re hanging around Albuquerque this Saturday…

by Daniel Abraham

… I’ll be hanging out with Steve Gould — author of Jumper and Impulse, my endorsed nominee for SFWA president, and all around good guy — at Alamosa Books.

Steve Gould, an author and a gentleman.  Just don't ask him about the whole Mismeasure of Man thing.  that was someone else.

Steve Gould, an author and a gentleman. Just don’t ask him about the Panda’s Thumb thing. That was someone else.

The gig starts at 2 pm and lasts until we leave.  I’m not sure exactly what we’l be doing apart from signing books and being charming, but it’s a great little indie bookstore with a bent toward kid’s books that reminds my of a store called Trespasser’s Will that saved my life and sanity as a child.  Gwen, wherever you are, thanks for that.

Anyway, come by and say hello if you’re of a mind.


The Dragon’s Path in Taiwan

by Daniel Abraham

Woke up this morning to the following facebook post from Gray Tan: 

An image from the Taipei Book Fair. So how cool it that?

An image from the Taipei Book Fair. So how cool it that?

“THE DRAGON’S PATH goes on sale today in Taiwan. Here are photos of display at the Taipei Book Fair. Instant bestseller on, our biggest online bookseller, reach as high as #25 OVERALL!!”

I don’t know if that means Daniel Abraham is now officially an internationally bestselling author, or just that he’s feeling smug about things today, but Lord I am feeling smug about things today.


When We Were Heroes

by Daniel Abraham

When We Were Heroes art by the ohmigod inimitable John Picacio

When We Were Heroes art by the ohmigod inimitable John Picacio

My new story in the Wild Cards universe (starring my very own morally-fallen trust-fund anti-superhero Jonathan “Bugsy” Tipton-Clarke and Carrie Vaughn’s Curveball). Come for the superheroic antics, stay for the coffee-shop analysis of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade.

With thanks to George RR Martin and Melinda Snodgrass who edit the work in that project, John Picacio for the amazing art, and your friends and mine over ar


Two things you can look at, and a Star Wars update

by Ty Franck

Daniel and I were interviewed for the January issue of Locus.  If you don’t subscribe, y0u can still see some excerpts on their website.  We discuss our writing process and our love of lurid adventure tales.  If you want to know about those two things, you can give it a peek.

Also, you can listen to our voices as we talk about pretty much the same stuff on the Machine Readable podcast from Mile Hi Con.

Ground has been broken on the Star Wars novel.  An outline has been approved, and chapters are being typed.  Things I’ve learned so far:  It is important to know ahead of time how you will handle Chewie talking, the Star Wars universe has instantaneous communication and nearly instantaneous travel but space is STILL big enough to hide things, hyperspace is how you get away from badguys but jumping through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops kid, and Leia is the brains of the operation.  If someone has a good idea, it’s Leia.  Han is always always always wrong when he makes a plan or predicts the future, but man does he improvise gracefully.  More robots.  Always more robots.


Five Things That Don’t Suck

by Daniel Abraham

So I’ve been thinking a lot about negativity online of late (and for “of late” read: Since I first got in IRC in 1987).  I thought it would be nice to mention a few things for which I can express my genuine and unadulterated appreciation.

1) Artemis Space Ship Bridge Simulator Continue reading ›


Work Process

by Ty Franck

Our good friend Max told me he was building a flow chart of the James Corey writing process.  Now, Max is a smart guy, and a guy with significant technical skills, so I was thinking this could get pretty complicated.  Two writers, working from outline with multiple editing passes?  That could be tough to flowchart out.

The one Max sent to me is a bit simplified, and I’m not sure how often we actually make the right choice on the decision tree, but it’s damned close to what we’re trying to do.

Thanks Max!

Flow chart after the fold:

Continue reading ›


Wild Cards at Tor

by Daniel Abraham

Coming soon at, a brand new otherwise unpublished Wild Cards story with spiffy, spiffy art.

When We Were Heroes art by the ohmigod inimitable John Picacio


It’s Not Really Fan Art When You’re a Professional

by Daniel Abraham

I present the fine work of concept designer & illustrator Jeff Zugale of

First the SMBC panel.  Now this.  I’ll tell you, it’s been a good week.



A Brief Aside For Science

by Daniel Abraham

So I read this morning about folks who are taking what seems to me the only sane path toward strong AI:  making something that does what brains do, and seeing what happens.

I have a few reactions to this on the general subject of neuroscience and cognitive theories.  The first is Woo hoo!  I love science.  I love the systematic discovery of how the universe works and what it does, and especially the counterintuitive parts where it turns out nothing is actually quite the way we thought.  Love that.  I suspect we’re going to find that brains are big pattern matching structures (or at least neocortexes) are mostly great big pattern matching-with-feedback mechanisms with no central processing unit, and consciousness is going to stay weird and inexplicable.  We don’t have a rigorous model by which matter and energy can exercise will, and we’ve got a lot of examples of matter and energy coming together to exercise will.  We call them people.  Or sometimes dogs.  The present models can’t account for that, and that’s cool.  We’ll build a better model later, when we know more. That’s called science. If our present model accounted for everything, we’d be done.

Second, I am wildly tired of the “Oh my god, subject X did something new and it CHANGED WHAT HAPPENED IN THEIR BRAIN!” I’ve seen a lot of this recently.  Just as a head’s up, that’s the expected value, folks.  If you do something new, it changes what happens in your brain.  Learn how to play piano?  Changes your brain.  Someone gets clocked by a bowling ball and their memory starts getting bad?  The fMRI is going to show less activity in the hippocampus.  That’s two ways of saying the same thing.  If you get a study that shows someone doing something new and their brain staying exactly the same, then I’m interested.

Third, I know that “Oh, the machine became conscious” thing is done to death.  Cliche.  Boring.  Even when it’s been done really well (and I’m looking at you, Galatea 2.2) it’s the execution of the story that makes it stand out not the idea.  But one of the things we know — maybe the only thing we know for certain — is that matter is capable of displaying consciousness.  Some configurations of matter and energy are able to experience pain, love, wonder, and the determination to by god lose a few pounds next year.  Yes, at some point we may be able to replicate that.  But the chances seem slim to me that whatever machine we build will have any deeper insight into the nature of the universe than we do.  I imagine the first AI strong enough to contemplate the philosophical questions of the universe, lifting its shoulders and saying “Wow.  Weird.”

Fourth and final, Ted Chiang has a few essays in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet that should be required reading for anyone doing hard SF.  Ted remains the best science fiction author.