“By Grabthar’s Hammer, I Shall Learn to Cook!”

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This has been a long time coming… Eight months ago I bought the book pictured above with the intent of learning to cook. Then all hell…I mean…all Weird broke out, along with Steampunk Bible deadlines, and I never got around to a weekly schedule of cooking meals.

Now, I can cook an egg. I can make an omelette. I can make basic salmon without too much burning going on. But anything more complex has long been beyond me. Ann can attest to this, since the first meal I ever served her while we were dating was canned chili fortified with couscous, cheese, onions, and corn. The tablecloth and candles couldn’t create an ambiance in which this cement-like concoction took on some (or any) allure, to be honest, especially since the meal was being served in my crappy apartment on the seedy side of town.

However, at the time, the meal represented the height of my cullinary skills–indeed, it had been one of two staples of my college life, in part because you could make a lot of it and save the left-overs and eat off of it for days. The same cement-like texture seemed to make it last longer.

The second staple was a huge ball of pasta noodles mixed with a white cheese sauce and vegetables. This is a dish my sister and I made during the year or so that we shared an apartment while going to the University of Florida. Indeed, one of my most vivid memories of college life is of a big pot of this pasta in the kitchen sink to cool down while my sister and I looked out the window…across which blood was seeping because the neighbors had gotten into a fight on the landing above and someone was bleeding onto our window. Ah, college life.

So, culinary experiences of my own creation have been relatively, shall we say, limited, and thus this challenge.

The three meals for next week (M-W-F) will be:

—Trout with almonds
—Chicken Marengo
—Steak Provencale

All will be ready when Ann comes home from work. All will, I am sure, be magnificent creations, and I will be blogging about (and taking photos) of all three as a way of motivating myself to master the art of cooking.

At the end of the first week, I will evaluate my progress, and try to continue cooking three meals a week for at least the next month before deciding whether it’s hopeless or not. I’ll also mix in some of my mom’s recipes and some recipes from when I lived in Fiji as a child (corned beef in banana leaves with coconut—mmmmmmm).

Since this cookbook in particular has pictures of what the dish is supposed to look like, the juxtaposition of ideal and actual should be fairly amusing.

For example, here’s what the trout should look like. Wish me luck. This is a lot harder than writing a book or editing an anthology…

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SF Subculture Seeks Fiction-naut Volunteers for First Contact with Possibly Hostile, Possibly More Advanced Lifeforms in the Vastness of E-space

Damien G. Walter had a guest blogger talking about the untapped potential for science fiction readership, along with some provocative comments. This led to my own comment, reproduced below. Of course, once our outliers reach these distant subcultures, it’s entirely probable that they will prove vastly superior to us and already in possession of the information we are seeking to promulgate. In which case, the communicator will become the communicated…

The kinds of SF readers mentioned do not identify with “book culture,” either, and so book forums and the like don’t register on their radar. There are communities, tribes, and subcultures out there on the internet who read fiction but don’t self-identify as “fiction reader” in the same way that core SF fandom does. It’s these readers that any fiction publication with an online presence needs to find ways of reaching. That requires the work of what I’d call next-generation publicists, whose creative allegiance to the publication they are publicizing is as tribal and communal as those organizations, entities, and subcultures that this person will be contacting. I.e., spacefarers who have received extensive cultural SF training and absorbed communication methodologies conducive to First Contact.

In short, what SF magazines need is to send off inner-space colonizing missions or emissaries that travel across the vast entirety of e-space in search of those interested in short fiction, each emissary basically traveling in a body-suit innerspace-ship encoded with universal signifiers that will tell those the emissaries come in contact with that there is something of interest here. Some emissaries will target particular e-planets and e-systems. Others will be sent out into general quadrants of e-space emitting friendly communication signals with bursts of more specific information in hopes that alien e-cultures will pick up these signals and tractor-beam them to their home e-planets.

Traditional SF magazine emissaries would look like inert blocks of dead matter to most alien subcultures, or like fizzing masses of loosely attached white noise. Which is why such fiction-nauts must be properly trained and prepared prior to launch into the vast reaches of e-space.

Note: Reza Negarestani pointed out to me prior evidence of fiction-nauts, although of a more radical SF nature.

Love Letter to Capclave–This Oct. 22-24

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(The cover, with spine, for the limited-edition hardcover designed by John Coulthart that’s being offered to Capclave attendees.)

October 22-24, Ann and I will be guests of honor, along with Connie Willis, at Capclave in the Washington DC area. (We’re not going to World Fantasy this year.) We hope to see lots of you there. It should be a lot of fun, and we’ll be presenting previews of some amazing projects, with visuals. Not to mention the debut of the book above, with a tell-all afterword by Ann.

We also both wanted to express our gratitude to Capclave for being wonderful to work with and making us feel pampered as guests of the con–they’ve already done a lot for us. Truly professional, wonderful, hard-working people, and we believe it’s going to be great convention–large enough to have lots to do and small enough that we’ll have a chance to meet just about everyone. Especially since as per our usual, we will make sure to hang out in the bar at certain times to make sure we get to say hi.

So, thanks, Capclave–much love. And here are a couple of glimpses of the interior of the book…

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Capclave, Guests of Honor

Ann and I are pleased to be guests of honor, with Connie Willis, at this year’s Capclave (Washington DC area). We’ll be doing a nice presentation with visuals of some of the astounding art from upcoming projects along with panels, readings, etc. Come join us!

Bonus: a limited edition of Jeff’s book The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod, published for the convention.

Books of Present and Future: Angela Slatter’s Sourdough and Steampunk Reloaded

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(Two very different titles, two related but autonomous approaches to excellence in book design.)

Order Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter
Preorder Steampunk Reloaded, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Today, I’d like to talk about, and show off, two books: one by Australian writer Angela Slatter and one that features her fiction.

Sourdough and Other Stories

“In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other. Love, loss and life are elegantly dissected in Slatter’s earthy yet poetic prose.”

The first is Slatter’s first collection Sourdough and Other Stories, which is now out in a sumptuous hardcover edition from Tartarus Press. It features sixteen stellar stories that use folklore as their basis, but are very much three-dimensional portraits of characters, usually women, contending with a fantasy world. I found them brilliant, muscular, and original, as I say in my afterword. (Robert Shearman contributes an introduction, btw.)

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Perilous Admission: Feeling Slightly Nauseous

So…after more than nine months of reading for The Weird, Steampunk Reloaded, and other projects, I’m officially sick of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Some parts of it make me more physically ill than others. I can still read weird, or certain types of it, but at the moment, I can’t read steampunk without feeling nauseous. For real–like, I feel ill. It’s just a function of being force-fed so much of it, and it’ll fade, but it’s clearly time for a change.

What am I reading over the rest of the year, beyond what I need to check out for the Amazon book blog?

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The Past, Present, and Future of Ambergris

A number of stimuli have me thinking about my Ambergris novels, past, present, and future. The first was this stunningly nice Black Gate article by Matthew David Surridge about the series as a whole. It’s nice when a reader gets what you intend. (And, yes, the simpler style of Finch is intended to allow more room for the reader, in part because between the lines of the novel all of this backstory from the other books is streaming in and filling up the space.) And Bookmunch’s review of Finch, in the context of the series (some spoilers), had me feeling somewhat nostalgic, in that I realized Bookmunch has now been around for over a decade! (Definitely a reviews site to check out.)

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Raise a Glass to Guest Bloggers and Clarion

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(Photo by Greg Bossert.)

Thanks to all of the guest bloggers who contributed to Ecstatic Days while I was traveling. Some really amazing posts.

Also, raise a glass to the Clarion class of 2010, documented here.

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(NOTE: This post will also serve as the place to raise any questions you might have about the Cabinet of Curiosities submissions.)