ONLY HARMLESS Review Roundup!

So it’s three months and 100 days until The Only Harmless Great Thing drops on January 23rd. I am already having anxiety dreams. I have already been having anxiety dreams for a month now. People tell you you’ll be nervous, but they don’t mention the low-level simmer of “oh god the New York Times is going to pan me or Publisher’s Weekly is going to skin me or maybe they just won’t care and honestly which would be worse” that sets in when your have an imminent book release peeking over the horizon like a moon that may be a space station with a death ray at its heart.

That said, there are moments that alleviate the nail-biting and most of them have to do with early reviews, of which TOHGT has already gotten a handful. Link roundup below!

- A really almost embarrassingly glowing review from Shana DuBois over at Nerds of a Feather that I was pretty certain was being sarcastic until I realized that no, no, she really did love it that much. Every time I get a review that good, some part of me assumes sarcasm. I don’t think that will ever go away completely.

“This novella is not typical anything. It is not a standard scifi adventure, it isn’t a literary gem, it isn’t any one thing because it is everything. There is not a single wasted word in this treatise of perfection. Sometimes you read a novella and lament it is not book-length. The Only Harmless Great Thing could only ever be what it is and Bolander nails it. 10/10.

- The wonderful Alasdair Stuart also gave it an equally glowing assessment in a review that utterly knocked the breath out of for me for several days. I swear I don’t owe him my soul. Not for this, anyway.

This is an astonishing debut in this format from an astonishing writer. It seethes with rage and love and knowledge. It demands to be read. Listen to it.

- Sharp-as-a-new-tack Will Shaw also really (mostly) dug it, and (this is really, really fucking important to me and I’m wondering how many reviewers will catch these themes as well as he did) noted the FILTHY SOCIALIST OVERTONES of solidarity that glue the book together.

This final act of compassion, this insistence on solidarity in the face of fatal oppression, is fundamental to the book’s success. The Only Harmless Great Thing is bold, cutting, and exactly what science fiction needs to be right now.

The Only Harmless Great Thing is available for pre-order wherever you purchase your booklings. Please buy my filthy commie elephant book so I can continue to write & sell stories about whatever crazy crap pops into my head and makes me angry.

This Is All The Internet’s Fault.

A Cautionary Tale

There’s a corpse in Ras’s bathtub. That’s not important, at least not currently. Here is what is important: the toilet paper roll is empty, stripped as naked as the aforementioned body in the bath, and Ras has just taken what may very well have been the largest, most explosive shit of her life.

Her universe has suddenly winnowed down to the bathroom and all its assembled objects: a dirty sink, a clawfoot tub, a corpse. The toilet paper roll, which is–again–empty. All of the towels are in use elsewhere. Ditto the shower curtain. That leaves Ras with very few options. Not the bloodstained trousers currently pooled around her ankles–she’s not a fucking animal, Jesus, c’mon–and not her mangled hand, the reason her nice new pants are all bloodied up in the first place. There’s not much time left, but she’ll be damned if she leaves this restroom in a state that would make an elderly poodle blush.

That gives her just two other options: the shower mat (cornflower, just as frayed and nasty as all of its kind) and the actual cardboard tube the toilet paper used to happily exist on. The corpse is beginning to make a high-pitched, uncomfortably wet noise, like air escaping an improperly-sealed plastic bottle. It’s pretty easy to guess what comes next after last night’s adventures. After the vindaloo, but before the screaming? That part. Yeah.

Cardboard tube it is, then. People used to wipe their asses with corncobs. When you think of it like that, it’s a step up, really.

Ras has the tube unattached from the dispenser and halfway to its final grisly destination before the better, less disgusting solution hits her. Why not just hose off in the shower instead? She’s got time, right? Last night it took something like five minutes from that wet noise until the hatching. She’ll be quick. In and out. Like a boss.

Gingerly she climbs out of her bloody trousers. Slowly–carefully, very carefully–she steps over the lip of the bathtub, trying not to use her bad hand at the same time as she’s trying not to step on the poor bastard crumpled like a used kleenex against the cold white porcelain beneath her. He never even mentioned his name. Ras feels a pang inside, although it might just be more indigestion. Vindaloo and fear are a bad mix.

The showerhead burbles lukewarm water. The corpse’s uncorking noise continues to grow in pitch. It doesn’t take long to get clean–at least, Ras doesn’t think it takes that long. But here’s the thing about time in bathrooms: it doesn’t work like time anywhere else in the world. You think you’ve been in the shower five minutes, but really? Five hours, if you’re lucky. Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in the bath and look what happened to him.

So the water’s barely switched off before the stalk is hatching from the corpse’s head.

Ras is surprised, and Ras is terrified, but Ras is also CLEAN, and there is very little as liberating in the world as getting clean. She sails back over the side of the tub like her head is on fire and her ass catching. She briefly catches a glimpse of herself in the medicine cabinet mirror as she sails by–eyes as big as saucers, black hair streaming like a comet’s tail–and then she’s past, grabbing the only weapon she can think of: the heavy porcelain lid of the toilet tank, underside slightly damp with condensation.

I should have just gone to the goddamned bodega and bought a cheap roll there, she thinks, bringing it down on the parasite with all the strength she’s got.

Trail of Deader Still

I like to occasionally post snippets of the Trail of Dead sequel just to prove to people that, yes, I am still working on it, and yes, it is still pretty goddamned angry. Somehow I think it may be getting angrier.

Somewhere above the jagged treeline there are moons, stars, planets where the weather is controlled by committee and the food is sown in plenty and going hungry getting poor growing tired is a story you tell your doe-eyed dewy-cheeked uterine slough to make their genetically perfect little faces scrunch up in bedtime night terrors. Monsters live in the dark, my meaty tit-polyp. They look like us, but they’re not. Some of them sell their bodies for money instead of fucking over other people. When they screw, nothing comes of it but a good time and extra laundry, because—here approaches the real horror, darling discharge of my dangling dingus—they can’t even afford to print new clothes every goddamned day. If a storm blows in they might all drown, and then who has to clean the bodies and pump their lungs dry and check if their consciousnesses are backed up? Who auctions off the ones too fucking poor to hire salvage crews to locate and reload those scraps of personality? Who sells synth shells down by the seashore? Why, their local planetary governments, of course! And what a fuckin’ disgrace it is, that decent from-the-womb-splatted human folk have to help pay for any part of that wretched swarm’s upkeep. Monsters, sweetest dumpling squeezed cunt-stained and screaming from mine nethers. Use your riches like a shield and the good fortune of how you were made like a sword and hire a bootheel to stand on their necks until the squirming chokes, slows, stops.

Rhye strides through the night, the mud and the mosquitoes and the darkened houses scattered sagging on either side of the road like bone-tired old men who have outlived all their buddies. She does not look up at the sky. Fuck the sky.

More Big News: “The Only Harmless Great Thing”

Life just keeps on getting weirder, doesn’t it? Here is how conversations with me generally go these days:

YOU: “So, how are you?”

ME: “Well, the world is a dumpster fire filled with hungry, angry ghosts and we may all be dead before this time next year, but on a personal and professional level? Pretty damned well, my friend. Pretty damned well.”

YOU: “I understand entirely, as this is the way of the world. Allow us to nod knowingly at one another over the State of Things.”

And it is entirely true! Our country continues to eat itself in a way that would make a gore manga artist blanch, but blessedly the one thing I can worry slightly less about is myself as a developing writer and a working human being. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that 2017, while resembling a clown car plowing head-on into a truck filled with gangrenous dicks, is also the year I finally sold a book.

Because of course it is.

The book’s title is The Only Harmless Great Thing, and it will be released by Tor Dot Com Publishing in 2018. It will be a Real Book Made Of Dead Pulped Trees, which also rather terrifyingly means that for the very first time, you will be required to pay money before you read something I wrote. I am not at all entirely confident that a lot of people are inclined to hand over the sweat of their brow for my disjointed word flail, but that may be why I’m a writer and not a book publisher–I don’t judge the quality of the sausage or the demand, I just grind the bejeezus outta that mess of pig parts. My editor on this project will be the fabulous Marco Palmieri, a fine and talented gentleman I’ve been wanting to work with for actual, factual years.

I’ll keep anybody who cares to know updated on release dates, pre-order links, cover art, and all that other stuff that is relevant when you are publishing an actual goddamned book holy jesus fuck how did I suddenly get here? Shockingly for me, it’s an angry little thing, filled with righteously pissed women, an elephantine Greek chorus, and an ingrained disgust for capitalism’s machinations.

I dearly, dearly hope you’ll take the journey with Tor Dot Com & I in 2018, provided we’re all still alive by that point. Fingers and trunks crossed!

Nebula Finalist Frenzy, or: IT HAPPENED AGAIN WTF BBQ

So. Uh (isn’t this how these always start? Am I honestly so creatively bereft that I can start out a blog entry no other way than sputtering?):

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” my thousand-word rage bark published in Uncanny Magazine, is a finalist for the Best Short Story Nebula. Again, to everyone who put it on their ballot: holy shit, thank you so goddamned much. I was helping clean up after a family funeral when I got the call, so to say that I needed that good news is a grave and frankly insulting understatement to the gift you all handed me. I didn’t expect to get on the ballot last year. I figured it was probably the last time I’d be within six city blocks of a ballot for a long, long time, if ever. Is being a finalist again so soon intimidating? You’d better fuckin’ believe it, buster. Is trying to figure out how I am going to follow this up absolutely bowel-twistingly terrifying, the fear that I’ll never write anything else worthwhile once again lurking at the edges of my internal narrative like a shadow beneath a 1 AM streetlamp? DING DING DING.

It isn’t going to win. I give so little fucks about the fact that it isn’t going to win. I am going to lose to the best–my dear friends and my peers–I am going to go home with a nifty pin and niftier certificate, and I am going to love every minute of it, just like last time. This is further than I ever saw myself getting. This is, like, Voyager probe levels beyond where I ever saw myself getting. I’m honestly just enjoying the hurtling through space bit. The view from out here is great! Flying away from the Earth at extreme velocity is something I highly recommend trying these days.

Meanwhile awards season continues, as the world burns down around us and the mad emperor capers and plays his kazoo, and thus I am obligated to mention that “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” remains eligible for the Hugo ballot (closes March 18th! Supporting members don’t even have to attend to submit, although Helsinki is rad as hell) and the Locus (April 15th! You don’t have to do, uh, pretty much anything to vote on that one). The Hugos have been what polite circles would call “a spluttering sphinctal shit-blizzard” the past few years; at the very least I’d love to be on a final ballot for that fine old rocket that didn’t make me want to bury in face in my hands and throw up through the gaps in my fingers like a baroque bile fountain.

That eldritch power, however, rests solely in your hands–and believe me, friends, your hands have already done me more than enough of a good turn this year. Again, from the bottom of my salted and burned little heart: thank you.

The Last Guardian

So. I played through The Last Guardian. As you might expect from someone with two Team ICO tattoos, I have some thoughts.

I have a dog, a Border Collie, named Murphy. Murphy and I understand each other better than any other dog I’ve previously lived with, whether because of his breed or the time we spent doing agility together or just because we’re a good personality match. Working with Murphy is not like training a dog. It is more like trying to bridge a communicative gap with an alien intelligence who desperately wants to please, depending on his mood that day and whether or not he’s mad at me for some perceived personal slight. It doesn’t feel that he’s less intelligent, really–it’s just that his world is completely different from mine. He might as well be from a planet made of synesthesia.

Fumito Ueda has managed to convey that unique relationship to an almost spooky degree in The Last Guardian. I’ve already seen complaints from reviewers about your giant cat-bird-wolf being ‘stubborn’ or outright ignoring commands to the point of shrieking, controller-throwing frustration. I played through the entire game in roughly 12 hours, and not once did I have a problem getting Toriko to do as I asked–so long, that is, as I was giving him the correct commands. As on the agility course, if the animal misunderstood something I was asking for and got confused, the problem was usually one of communication and lay entirely at my feet for somehow mucking up a gesture or a spoken word. Lots of positive re-enforcement (pets, food barrels) and clear commands equaled a perfectly amiable catbirdthing experience.

And that is the minor miracle behind The Last Guardian. Team ICO/GenDesign managed to create an animal AI so realistic and so beautifully, lovingly realized that the exact same rules apply working with it as they might with a real live animal. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and nothing else will probably come along to top it any time soon. Ueda seems to understand animals and the natural world as few hands working in the games industry–any industry, really–do. More importantly, he respects what animals are. Even at its most sentimental, the game never forgets that this is a big, powerful, potentially deadly wild thing, who can (and occasionally does) knock you across the room when he’s in pain or scared or fighting mad. We forget the animalness of our animal companions at our peril. They are not babies. They contain multitudes, and some of those multitudes will kick your skull into a hammered mess if spooked.

It’s not a perfect game, don’t get my breathless adulation wrong. The camera occasionally flips its shit and zithers into a hellish netherworld behind the scenery or inside Toriko himself. You are constantly fighting to keep this goddamned thing upright as it gently drifts to a perfect vantage point which which to examine the underside of a virtual rock. The platforming elements are solid, but unforgiving; point your cute kid in the wrong way while jumping for a rocky outcropping and he goes sailing leftwards into the void sans parachute (this is not a game for people with a real and present fear of heights). And the barrel physics. Oh, God-Jesus have frickin’ mercy, the barrel physics. As mentioned, I never had any frustrations with Toriko, but I was very close to calling down a plague of extended development times on the next seven generations of Team ICO’s progeny during the two barrel physics puzzles. I want my catbirds realistic, my tattooed moppets easily controllable, and my barrels not fucking rolling, bouncing, and careening, thank you and goodnight. Swearing happened. The words FUCKING BARREL PHYSICS!!!! were bellowed at a volume that probably had my downstairs neighbors mightily confused.

But here’s the thing: past a certain point, you just don’t care. The controls are finicky, but Toriko is rolling happily in a puddle, all four sets of talons merrily raking the sky. The camera needs a therapist and some sort of prescription medication and quite possibly a young priest and an old priest, but there’s a point where Toriko nudges the kid and the kid giggles and gently scolds him and they are ALIVE in there. They are alive and you care about what happens to them and no other game can touch that experience.

If animation is the illusion of life, Fumito Ueda has the wizards at Disney and Pixar beaten in a way that would have a referee stepping in with an alarmed expression on their face. It required nine years of gestation because it took seven days to make the world and two more to dream up and breathe life into a thing that exists only in our dreams.

2016 Award Eligibility Post: A Feather-Counting Contest in an F5 Tornado.

Pretty short one this year: I had a single story published in 2016, this month’s “overtly political, obviously Mary Sue” dark fantasy Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies in Uncanny Magazine. It’s a little over a thousand words long, took me three rage-fueled hours to finish–unfettered rage is a hell of a word generator, turns out–and is probably the first & only story I’ve ever written I wouldn’t feel slightly guilty seeing on an awards ballot. The world is a raging garbage fire and there are bigger things to worry about right now than fiction, but some readers have told me ‘Talons’ is helping them gnash and claw their way through an unprecedentedly shitty chunk of our shared timeline. Honestly, that’s all I give a toss about in the long run.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” is eligible for Best Short Story on the Nebula and Hugo ballots. I guess it could also go on the Locus & World Fantasy lists later in the year, provided we’re not all fighting wild dogs for the last scraps of food in a nuclear wasteland by then. I don’t know about you, but my future vision only extends to about six months ahead these days.

2016 SFWA recommended reading list is here; you can vote for your favourites if you’re a member. Only SFWA members can nominate and vote on the Nebulas; the deadline is February 15th.

Works In Progress and Trail of Dead II: 2 Fucks 2 Furious

Real talk: For a very long time after finishing my last story, I struggled with ADHD-induced writer’s block. Then I got medicated and got stimulated and hey ho whaddaya know, I’m now simultaneously working on two novels, to (fates be kind) be first-drafted by February at the very latest.

One is a fantasy novel I’ve been germinating for a good ten years. It’s prosey and past-tensey and pretty much pure storytelling of the kind I’ve always loved in books like The Last Unicorn and The Princess Bride. The other is the Trail of Dead sequel, which is … Well, it’s the Trail of Dead sequel. It’s noir. It’s pulp. It’s action. You love this shit or you don’t, and good health to you either way.

Anyhow! Since a lot of people REALLY REALLY love Rhye, and because Chuck Wendig asked so very nicely, I’m posting a short excerpt from the latter for your very brief reading enjoyment. Caveat: It’s a first draft, so it’s not as spit-shined as editor-polished work, obviously. Look for the finished product in a year or two! Maybe. Hopefully.

II: IN WHICH MADAME ENTERTAINS A VISITOR

9 AM the next morning there’s a rap on the front door. Rhye’s already awake because she never went to sleep. She is also stone-cold sober and she’s been thinking about her life all night and so she answers the knock with a pistol cleaned six times in the past eight hours ready-steady-take-off-your-heady clutched in one hand, clusters of nerves twitching clickcode for DANGER in seventeen different planetary languages beneath the stress fractures of her good left eye. In all her long, sticky, blurry months of squatting in this place like a choleric bear peacefully shitting itself to death, nobody has ever bothered knocking. Not for love, not for money, and sure as hell not at 9 in the fucking AM, when all the locals are either sleeping it off or tying it on or trudging to the docks in their workboots. It’s a week of firsts that is about to be some motherfucker’s last call.

“Say whatever say-so you got to say and get the fuck going before I call the landlord and she pulls a gun on you or something. Wait, shit, too late.” Click goes the hammer drawing back its pinchy little fist. “I hope this has a beginning that starts with cookies and ends with you leaving the cookies on my welcome mat as you skip back in the direction of that road over there.”

Long pause. A woman’s voice, hesitant, mostly muffled by the door.

“… You don’t … have a welcome mat.”

“Yeah, and I’m beginning to suspect you don’t have any fuckin’ cookies for me either so we appear to be at what you’d call an impasse. Speak. Don’t stutter.” She leans the door open a crack. On the other side her unseen visitor jumps back so quickly Rhye hears their heels splintering through the rotten boards. Whoopsie. “And don’t think I didn’t notice that sass. You wanna get cute, you can take that shit out back and see how well it works as a shovel.”

“Look, I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding—“

“You’re goddamned right there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. You’re about to misunderstand your way onto a fuckin’ bullet if you don’t start talking or walking.”

Hugo nomination

Alyssa Wong did a much more in-depth, comprehensive writeup of the current Hugo situation, so you should probably go read that first (and vote for her for the Campbell, for God’s sake! I don’t need to sing her praises; they are self-evident), as this is mostly just addressing where I stand as one of the current Hugo finalists. I’ll try and make it short, as your time is precious and if you’re anything like me you are sick unto fucking death of hearing about the issue.

So. That silly cyberpulp story I wrote and sold to Lightspeed a year ago has now managed to net itself a hat trick of nominations: Nebula, Sturgeon, and Hugo (EDIT: Make that a quartet; it just got onto the Locus Award ballot as well). I’m honoured. I’m beyond honoured: I’m fucking stunned and honoured. However, making this pretty much the textbook definition of a pyrrhic victory, the Hugos have yet again been hijacked by semi-sentient anal glands, who spewed hot, smelly ass juice all over the ballot, squeezing deserving legitimate work out and smearing the palmful of legitimate noms who got through with expressed butt infection funk. This gunk is straight-up rancid. Stains clothes, kills flowers, soils hope. In an attempt to be very clever doggies, they also stuck several legitimate, worthy works that would have probably gotten on the ballot anyway onto their slates as shields.

So, what’s a nominee to do?

Not a whole lot, honestly. We have two options: Stay on target, or withdraw. Both are perfectly valid choices, but I’m not withdrawing my nomination. The reasons are thus:

A. “Trail of Dead” was NOT on the Rabid slate. It is the only nominee in the Novelette category that wasn’t on their shit-smearing list. Additionally, Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing–a fine novelette that would have gotten on the ballot under its own steam–was Rabid-slated, but is definitely worth touching your eyeballs down on, regardless. The entire intent of RPs using legitimate works as shields this year was to make people bounce off them on principal. Don’t give ‘em the satisfaction. Read and use best judgment.

B. It WAS on the Sad ‘Recommended’ list, but ‘eligibility’ for that sideshow was downright farcical and seemed to involve people mentioning things in a comments thread. If I recall correctly from my one glance at their methods, three people brought up my story, and one of them hated the fucking thing (pretty per for the course with “Trail of Dead”). Either way, I don’t believe the Sad List had a huge bearing on this year’s outcomes. At this point they’re just ticks on the frothers’ matted backs. I’m still not happy about my inclusion, but …

C. … This story is also currently a finalist for the Nebula and the Theodore Sturgeon. It was on the 2015 Locus Recommended Reading List (and is apparently a Locus Award finalist, to boot). It was on several end-of-year best-of lists, and earned a spot in Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. Tl;dr: Many people really, really, really liked “Trail of Dead.” I can’t say whether or not it’s a good enough story to also belong on the Hugo ballot; I’m a terrible judge of my own work and there are plenty of people who will gladly let you know it’s vulgar, brainless garbage that makes a mockery of the hallowed Nebula, Sturgeon, Locus, and Hugo ballots. Conversely, there are many other people who will tell you it’s one of their favourite stories of the year. Both viewpoints are equally valid; if you read it and it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. One way or the other, it managed to kick, punch, and claw its way through a wall of slate voting onto a fourth ballot, and I think it deserves a shot, if only to be a two-handed, middle-fingered salute to all slate puppers everywhere. The future is coming, there’s no stopping it, and they won’t always get their precious way no matter how big a howling toy aisle strop they throw, be it on an awards ballot or out in the wider world.

Hard pounding this, gentlemen. Let’s see who will pound the longest. Or, in Rhye terms, got here anyway, you fucks. Let’s see this through to the bitter fucking end.

Eligibility Post of Eligibility!

So I wasn’t even sure if it was worth doing this, seeing as how I’m a lazy bum who only had one thing published last year. But according to Sources it was a Big Thing, and worth remarking on, and I am nothing if not susceptible to peer pressure.

The one thing was my pulp novelette, And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead, published in Lightspeed Magazine last February, now nearly a year (good god) gone. Over at Tor.com, Amal El-Mohtar called it an “amazing … no-holds-barred pulp action cuss-fest.” Max Gladstone’s extremely generous review at Goodreads (first time I’ve ever had something up for review at Goodreads, natch) says, “it’s the kind of action you only find in prose, beautiful with sharp edges.” Rich Horton of Locus, who picked it up for the Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, writes that the lead’s voice is, “profane, vulnerable, and very darkly funny … well-executed, with a perfect, twisty ending.” Bubbajoe123456 of the io9 comments section says that “all the characters sound like they have tourettes.”

It’s big and violent and sort of silly and it took me three years to finish writing the damn thing, but there is a lot of me in this story, and a lot of my heart, and that probably says more about who I am than I initially wanted to admit in public. ‘And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead’ is eligible for Best Novelette on both the Nebula and Hugo ballots, so if you enjoyed it or were moved by it or just really like f-bombs and think fun stories can also have big dumb hearts inside their gunpowder-stained chests, go ahead and give it one of your slots, with much thanks for your consideration.