Archive for October, 2010

I’ve Been Podcasted!

Wow! I just listened to the wonderfully done podcast version of “The Taste of Starlight” at

This is the first time I’ve had a short story of mine read aloud and podcasted. It’s one of the coolest things about LIGHTSPEED–they do podcast readings every month. And let me tell you, Kristoffer Tabori does an AMAZING job of bringing this story of Dr. Pelops and his dilemma to life.

This guy has a voice you could listen to for hours. (However, the story podcast is only 64 minutes long.)

Tabori’s voice brings all the gravity of an OUTER LIMITS announcer to the story, and his lively, chilling tones are worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe tale. I feel that the story has been elevated to a whole new level by Tabori’s bravura performance.

Even if you’ve read the story, I recommend paying another visit to LIGHTSPEED and listening to it through Tabori’s immense talent.

Here’s the direct link to the podcast:



A great painting by Joe Jusko featuring a convergence of Barsoom's most memorable elements. That's John Carter and Dejah Thoris in the midst of all the beasties. The setting is one of Mars' ancient ruined cities, home to the savage green Tharks.

It’s a sublimely gorgeous rainy day here in Napa. I’m listening to the ancient, pattering rhythm of the rainsong and thinking about Mars. No, not the red dustball of our modern age, where tiny robots scour the dunes for microscopic life. I’m thinking of BARSOOM, the title the red planet bore a long, long time ago. I’m thinking of ancient cities crumbling across dead sea-bottoms, tusked green warriors standing ten feet tall, snake-haired plant-men, four-armed white apes, ten-legged lions, flashing swords, and blasting radium pistols. I’m thinking of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his most original creation John Carter of Mars.

In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars, his first novel. John Carter, his rugged hero, was a Civil War veteran who stumbled into a mystical cave and was transported through space and time to an ancient version of Mars (Barsoom) where various races of Martians (some obviously descended from Native American stock, some wholly alien in design) battled constantly for survival among the remains of a fallen civilization. Here was swordplay, swashbuckling, and adventure in the grandest style. From 1912 to 1964, Burroughs wrote a total of 11 novels set on Barsoom (most of which featured John Carter). These books, not to mention the author’s Tarzan, Venus, Pellucidar, Westerns, and various other works, make ERB one of pulp fiction’s towering giants.

Artist Boris Vallejo's take on John Carter and Dejah Thoris. I love the misty atmosphere here; it reeks of 70s a good way. A very realistic take on these immortal characters.

I read most of the Barsoom books when I was a youngster, somehwere in the 10-13 range and thoroughly enjoyed them. The fantastic Michael Whelan cover art on those particular editions remain unrivalled for stunning paperback design. So why do I find myself dwelling on John Carter and his ancient, savage version of Mars today? Well, after staying in print for nearly 100 years, Barsoom is finally coming to celluloid. Disney and Pixar are currently in the midst of filming a live-action/CGI hybrid called, simply enough, JOHN CARTER OF MARS.

If done right, this movie could be as eye-popping and culturally galvanizing as James Cameron’s AVATAR, or Lucas’ STAR WARS. But those of us who recall the original books fondly are hoping it will have a dash of John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN to provide the proper amount of barbaric grandeur. If Disney attempts to turn John Carter into a kid-friendly icon, look out…this film could be one giant dud. Consider how Disney effectively removed TARZAN from the adult market with its cartoon musical version featuring Phil Collins. Phil Collins? REALLY? Tell me that didn’t happen.

Will Disney be afraid of spilling a little blood in the course of John Carter’s adventures? If so, they will completely miss the boat. Burroughs’ Mars books are full of savage battles, bloody swords, gnashing teeth and claws, cruel torutures, arena deaths, and one narrow escape after another. The fact that Mars has lighter gravity makes Carter a superhuman warrior in terms of strength and speed. As a survivor of the horribly brutal American Civil War, he’s used to bloodshed and mayhem. This is why he has no problem slashing his way through hundreds of 10-foot-tall Tharks and becomes the obvious choice for Warlord of Mars (which is the title of the third book in the series). Carter is an unbeatable warrior, and he prefers the sword to the radium pistol he carries. Although ERB did not feature the blood-and-guts graphic details of say Robert E. Howard’s fiction, he did deliver constant action and primitive warfare on a  massive (and personal) scale. Violence is the wine upon which Barsoom grows strong.

One of the great Frank Frazetta's many Barsoom paintings. It don't get much better. I hope Pixar is studying Frank's work.

These tales of John Carter are so packed full of amazing visuals, strange creatures, and breakneck action, they are tailor-made for someone like Pixar to work some CGI magic on. The more fantastic elements of the novels will no doubt be brought to life in stunning quality, and the casting sounds good: Taylor Kitsch  (John Carter); Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris); Willem Defoe (Tars Tarkas); Bryan Cranston; James Purefoy; Samantha Morton; Thomas Hayden Church; these are just a few of the cast. It’s obvious that many of these actors will be doing only voice-work, since CGI will be required for the Tharks, the plant-men, and many of ERB’s other outlandish creations. However, this cast is an all-star assemblage of talent that bodes well for the production.

The question is: Can Disney faithfully translate this jewel in the King of Pulp’s crown into a successful film without losing its teeth? This doggy needs to BITE. Without blood and bullets and a whole lotta dyin’, this won’t be ERB’s John Carter of Mars. It’ll be a Phil Collins song.

One of Michael Whelan's eleven legendary Barsoom cover paintings, this one from "A Fighting Man of Mars." For me, Whelan was the definitive source on all things Barsoom. I really hope Pixar is using Whelan's work to their advantage.

While we’re all breathlessly awaiting the JOHN CARTER OF MARS movie to hit theatres in 2012, we can always thrill ourselves by going back and reading the classic books. Most of them are available for free online reading at Project Gutenberg. However, I recommend finding either a copy with one of those amazing Michael Whelan covers, or going even farther back to the exquisite Frank Frazetta covers. These were two artists who really GOT the world of Barsoom.

Let’s hope Disney/Pixar joins those ranks soon…

Another amazing Whelan painting, this one used as the cover to "Thuvia, Maid of Mars", the fourth book in the series. If Disney/Pixar's Barsoom looks anything like the Whelan/Frazetta Barsoom, that's half the battle. The other half, of course, is the violence factor. A bloodless Barsoom simply won't fly.

At the end of the month I’ll be jetting off to Ohio for the latest World Fantasy Convention. While Ohio doesn’t seem like the most exotic of locales for the WFC (especially for a transplanted Californian who grew up in Kentucky), the real location of this fantastic con is the hearts and minds of writers, artists, editors, publishers, and agents involved with the world of fantasy and horror fiction (and by association science fiction).

My first WFC, last year’s San Jose con, left me so inspired and energized about my writing, I was brimming with ideas for months. Since that time I’ve written a new novel and a half-dozen new stories (including “The Taste of Starlight” running in this month’s LIGHTSPEED magazine). One of the terrific highlights of the con were the panels on writing craft and topics related to fantasy and horror fiction. I’ve never seen a better “meeting of the minds” for the discussion and exploration of all things related to the crafting of fantasy fiction.

This year I’ll be sitting on a panel that sounds especially intriguing: “The Continued Viability of Epic Fantasy.  How has this evolved in the 50-plus years since Tolkien hit it big?” What a terrific topic. My fellow panelists will be Blake Charlton, David Coe, David Drake, and Freda Warrington. We will be chatting about what exactly “Epic Fantasy” IS, as well as how it has grown beyond the “stock elements” that were blazingly original back when Tolkien adapted them from folk legends, mythology, and fairy tales. There may even be some who argue that it HASN’T grown beyond those stock elements. Not me.

When I was a kid I read my share of “cookie cutter” fantasies…thinly disguised repackaging of Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS and/or THE HOBBIT. As I grew up, got wiser, and broadened my horizons I realized that I had no use for those types of fantasies anymore. If I’m going to spend days, weeks, or even months reading a fantasy book (or a series of books, as most fantasy epics are), it damn well better be something original and compelling.

If I want Tolkien, I’ll go back and read Tolkien again. Don’t give me the same old thing in a new package. No more Dark Lords, please. No more elves, if you can help it. No more Pure Good vs. Pure Evil. Give me characters, worlds, and stories with depth…complexity…and originality. There are certain Epic Fantasies in the last fifty years that deliver this perfectly. These are the ones I will be talking about during this panel, the works who have kept Epic Fantasy a viable genre:

THE ELRIC SERIES (Michael Moorcock)
A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (George R. R. Martin)

I’m sure there are other Epic Fantasies out there that will eventually join my list (there better be). These are the ones I have read that revived, reinvented, reestablished, and regenerated the genre.  A couple of these might be dismissed by purists as “not fantasy” because of subtle or overt sci-fi or horror content (most notably the Wolfe and Vandermeer series). That does not trouble me…I’m always reminded how broad the term “fantasy” actually is. There are literally dozens of sub-genres beneath  the “fantasy” umbrella, and if that’s true how could there NOT be dozens of sub-genres to the “Epic Fantasy” category?

It really grinds my gears when someone narrowly defines Epic Fantasy as This or That, just as it irritates me when someone applies an ultra-narrow definition to Sword-and-Sorcery. Narrow genre expectations lead to a lack of creativity and fresh voices. If you want to do something special or unique you have to break the rules of whatever genre you’re working with (or against).

An “epic” is a long tale that usually spreads through more than one volume, and a “fantasy” is a story that involves fantastic elements not normally possible in the “real world.” My favorite type of fantasy is “Secondary World” fantasy…and these are the stories most commonly associated with the “Epic Fantasy” label. Yet it never hurts to broaden a genre by bringing in outside influences, challenging preconceptions, and turning right when everyone expects you to go left.

Could you write an “Epic Fantasy” set in the otherwise “real world?” Sure–why not? Can your “Epic Fantasy” involve technology as well as fantastical elements? Absolutely. There are no hard-and-fast RULES to writing fantasy…or Epic Fantasy.

Good writing is good writing. A great story is a great story. Epic Fantasy, like any other type of literature, must continue to grow and evolve, or it will surely wither and die. The authors I’ve mentioned above have been part of that evolution. And I hope to find plenty more when all is said and done. Ideally, I’ll make a modest contribution to that evolution myself. I’m certainly trying my best. 🙂

Here are a few of the other panels at WFC that I look forward to attending (as an audience member):

Story Cycle vs. Novel. Suzy Charnas, Scott James Magner, L.E. Modesit (m), Dennis McKiernan, S. Andrew Swann

Sword & Sorcery. Scott Andrews, Martha Wells, Howard Jones, Patricia Bray.

Slaughtering the Evil Hordes. Robert Redick, Eric Flint, Dennis McKiernan, Patricia McKillip

The Moral Distance Between the Author and the Work. Kathryn Cramer, Jack Skillingstead, Robert Sawyer, P. Witcover (m), S. November

The Evolving Image of the Dragon. Merrie Fuller, Paul Tremblay (m), John Pitts, J. Kathleen Cheney, James Maxey

Authors and Ideas. L.E. Modessitt, Tim Powers, S.M. Sirling, Jason Sanford (m)

What Can Be Done with Old Mythologies. Ari Beck, Lynn Cantwell, Sarah Hoyt, Dave Sakmyster, Seressia Glass

Dream Inspired Fantasy. Kij Johnson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mark Teppo (m), Sydney Duncan, Susan Forrest

Why Is There No Religion in Middle Earth? Samuel Butler, Ellen Denham, Daryl Gregory, Med Turville-Heitz, Eric Van (m)

Me and Stephen King

Read 1/4 of the magazine each week FREE at the website, or download the ENTIRE issue for $2.99 right now. Aren't choices wonderful?

The October issue of LIGHTSPEED magazine—the newest and greatest science fiction magazine on the planet—features a new story from me called “The Taste of Starlight.” It’s a blend of horror and sci-fi that will carry its very own editor-mandated Reader Advisory. It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever written … and it’s not for the faint of heart (or stomach). You have been warned.

Read LIGHTSPEED right here:

Also in this month’s LIGHTSPEED is a reprint story by none other than the legendary master of horror himself, Stephen King. The tale is called “Beachworld”. The issue also features tales from Sarah Langan and horror icon Joe R. Lansdale. As you might have guessed, the theme of this month’s issue is HORROR (it is October afterall), but all these stories are definitely still science fiction.

The LIGHTSPEED site posts a new fiction story (and a new non-fiction article) every week, all for free reading. However, if you don’t want to wait, you can download the ENTIRE issue right now for $2.99.

If you’re reading for free, my story will be posted on October 19.

Read it if you dare… [INSERT EVIL LAUGHTER]

This is the 5th issue of LIGHTSPEED. If you’re new to it, you have four previous issues of fantastic stories to enjoy as well. Eventually all of the new fiction (two stories per month) will be collected in a print anthology. But that could be awhile…don’t wait that long to read this great stuff.

Next month, Prime Books releases its new fantasy anthology paperback, THE WAY OF THE WIZARD. In addition to luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, and George R. R. Martin, it will feature my own wizard story, “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria.” It’s going to be an amazing collection. Below is a peek at the final cover.

Pre-order it now at:

Both LIGHTSPEED and WAY OF THE WIZARD are edited by the great John Joseph Adams (editor of last year’s smash hit anthology THE LIVING DEAD). John knows how to pick terrific stories. Anything he does is a must-read.


WAY OF THE WIZARD hits stores on November 16.

Return of the Monster…

Cover art for the new Monster Magnet album "Mastermind", coming to planet earth on Oct. 25. The BullGod is the band's space-rock mascot.

Oh, my brothers and sisters. There comes a time when all the Rock Dreams and Psychedelic Fantasies of your life emerge and blend with a shifting reality paradigm that manifests something truly Great and Special. There is a time when the Cosmos opens its starry mouth and smiles at us, spitting glorious glowing meteors through transistorized frequencies. There comes a time when the Sonic Threshold dilates and gives birth to a continuum of swirling planetoids and the Music of the Spheres resonates like colliding asteroids to thunder in the chambers of the mind with the pulsing of rogue supernovae…and we must open our ears and let the Big Beautiful Universe spill into our consciousness on waves of Almighty Sound…

That time has come around again…the time of a brand-new album release from the gods of psychedelic space-rock, the great and powerful MONSTER MAGNET. In an age of declawed radio, corporate-manufactured psuedo-rock, and the celebration of mediocrity that is mainstream music, the MONSTER rises once more from its crucible of dead stars to light up the cosmos with a new dose of sonic fury.

The new album is called MASTERMIND. The first single is “Gods and Punks”, and the video tells a lurid tale of a down-and-out supervillain roaming the back alleys of Los Angeles trying to recapture his lost glory. Check it out right here:

No, it ain't the Sons of Anarchy. These guys are WAY cooler.

The album is slated for release on October 25. Legions of MonMag fans across the world will be eagerly awaiting the disc, myself included. This is one of The Great Rock Bands of Our Time, people. The NEW YORK TIMES actually calls them a “mind-expansion team.” If you haven’t discovered them, now is your chance. If you’re already a MonMag fan, you know the deal. Get your speakers fixed and get ready to fly, brothers and sisters. Brother Dave and his cosmic crew are back in town…

Frontman Dave Wyndorf recently spoke to about the new album: “It’s a big, beefy ball of demented anthems and power rock. The music itself is exaggerated and muscular. Like classic rock gone insane! Giant hooks, giant sounds. The rockers are direct and intense. The ballads, trippy and strange. It’s guitar heaven…the lyrics read like a fever-dream of life in the 21st century. Cynicism, optimism, satire, sex, deluded fantasies and dead-on reality. They’re all here – sometimes even in the same song!”

Here is the “Mastermind” track list. The titles alone give you a glimpse of Dave’s cosmo-psycho-mythic sensibilities:

01. Hallucination Bomb
02. Bored With Sorcery
03. Dig That Hole
04. Gods and Punks
05. The Titan Who Cried Like A Baby
06. Mastermind
07. 100 Million Miles
08. Perish In Fire
09. Time Machine
10. When The Planes Fall From The Sky
11. Ghost Story
12. All Outta Nothin’

"Dopes to Infinity" -- one of the World's Greatest Rock Albums.

In my book, MonMag’s 1995 album DOPES TO INFINITY is one of the all-time great rock albums. It is the SGT. PEPPERS of post-Black Sabbath heavy metal. While the band has had some lineup changes since that album’s sheer sonic perfection was released upon the world, the core of singer/songwriter Dave Wyndorf and lead guitarist Ed Mundell remains. I’ve seen these guys in concert three times and they have blown my mind every single time. Their live shows are visual and sonic feasts of rock and roll decadence with custom-made films running throughout the performance to accent the juggernaut that is their stage show. As long as MonMag is alive, ROCK can never truly be dead.

It’s a shame American audiences don’t appreciate them quite as much as Eurpoean audiences seem to (except for the late 90s hit “Space Lord”, which was all over radio for a couple of years back in the day). But Europe has a longer memory when it comes to great music and great bands. America is too much a slave to the “new”, the “trendy”, and the “popular.” Ugh.

Monster Magnet shows are a psychedelic feast for the eyes and ears.

Give me the independent bands that are free to explore their own sounds without catering to some marketing department’s demands. Give me undiluted power chords that rattle the walls and lyrics that make my brain spin in its casing. Give me raw energy and Marshall stacks and burning guitars and radioactive daydreams and cosmic visions and a planet-of-the-apes-and-a-third-eye-kind-of-thing.


And crank it the eff UP.


PS. MONSTER MAGNET has a brand-new Official Website at