Some Odd Cool Things I Own

This is a piece of coal from the Titanic‘s debris field. Around 1994 a company called RMS Titanic, Inc., took out an ad soliciting pre-orders of these, claiming they would use the revenue to fund a scientific expedition to Titanic, and claimed the ship itself would not be disturbed. Then they promptly used the money to obtain sole salvage rights and sell berths on a cruise ship that sailed to the site, where passengers witnessed another ship the company had hired make a total botch of trying to raise a massive section of the hull, which promptly broke loose and planed back down far from where it had originally been.

Then they mounted a traveling exhibit of items they had pretty much indiscriminately raked up from the debris field. They charged admission, naturally.

I wrote them a really nasty letter because I felt my money had been ill-gotten and used for this debacle. And I admit I have really mixed feelings about the fact that I think that it is so cool that I own something from Titanic.

This is a piece of trinitite. That’s the name given to the desert sand that was fused into glass by the heat from Trinity, the world’s first nuclear detonation, in White Sands, New Mexico, in July 1945. So yes, I own an artifact produced by the first atomic explosion.  And no, I am not going to tell you where I got it, except to say that I did not buy it.

This is the Gregg Press hardcover edition of Samuel R. Delany’s novel Dhalgren. I’ve posted at length about the novel itself, but the short version is that Dhalgren is the book that made me want to write for a living. It has a pretty solid claim as science fiction’s first legitimate bestseller; as I recall over a million copies of the paperback original sold when it first came out.

But there were only 300 of the Gregg Press hardcovers produced. These puppies go for about $1500 nowadays — if you can find one. I didn’t buy mine. But I ain’t telling you how I got it. (Okay, okay: It was a present from someone who did some serious dickering & favor-trading to get hold of a copy.)

I have several books that would be hugely valuable if it weren’t for the fact that my books are read. I beat the shit out of them and I don’t feel remotely bad about it. But I wuv this thing. It’s my fav-o-rite material possession. You can’t have it.  Don’t even touch it. In fact, I think you’ve been looking at the picture a little too long now.

This is a fragment of the Zagami meteorite,a 40-pound hunk of rock that fell from the sky and into a cornfield in Zagami, Nigeria, in 1962. What makes it unusual is where it’s from.

A billion years ago, give or take a few, there was this piece of volcanic basalt just laying around on the surface of the planet Mars. Things went going pretty swell until about 2.5 million years ago, when a comet or asteroid slammed into the surface of the planet so hard that it blew chunks out of the atmosphere entirely — including our little basalt hero. It went tumbling through space for a couple million years and 35 million miles (give or take a few), until October 1962 when it  landed 10 feet away from a farmer in Nigeria. Gasses from veins of the original impact melt scattered throughout the meteorite matched the atmopsheric composition of Mars.

Yeah. I own a piece of Mars, beeyotch.

(A coda to Zagami’s long journey that I find absolutely wonderful: A little piece of the Zagami meteorite was only on Earth for 34 years — because a geology professor named Phillp Christensen attached it to the plaque on an instrument on board the Mars Global Surveyor. That’s right: He sent it back. Little Zagami is, best I can determine, history’s first recorded interplanetary round trip. And hardly anyone knows about it. That’s heartbreaking, I swear.)

Yeah, I know, this looks like the last picture. It’s a fragment of lunar tektite, a little sliver cut from a piece of impact ejecta that probably landed in Antarctica. Or, to make it simpler (and much more cool-sounding): I own a piece of the moon.

Of course it’s entirely possible these last two objects are crap some dude found in his back yard and shucked off on some sucker. But I bought these two items from a meteorite dealer, and all meteorite dealers have to trade on is reputation.

There are some other things I admit I really really want. One is a nice piece of cuneiform. I just think it’s amazingly cool to own a piece of the first writing. I don’t care if it’s a laundry list. I would go nuts if I had a protohominid fossil. A teacup from Titanic.

Some people have told me they think my passion for these things is dorky. Maybe so.  But I’d rather be a dork than be immune to the poetry of an object’s history.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere I Sign

The signature pages for the limited edition of Subterranean 2 arrived the other day, all 500 of em.  I spent two sessions putting my John Hancock on the dotted line.

I envy people who dash out some distinctive, elegant scrawl.  Not only does it look all grownup and fancy when they do it, but they can get through that stack of signature pages in about ten minutes. But something in me doesn’t understand a signature that doesn’t look like the name it represents. My signature clearly says Steven R. Boyett. I think maybe I’m unimaginative.

My signature is also laughably ornate.  I sign it very slowly, and if I think about it too hard I swear to god my hand mutinies and I make some mistake.  It takes forever for me to get through these pages.

In my twenties my signature was hilariously over-the-top girlie.  It had loops and curlicues and looked like some kind of wireframe sculpture of a rollercoaster.  It took me about a day and a half to sign it.  Then I did my first stack of signature pages, for Dave Schow’s Silver Scream anthology.  It took me about four hours to sign 500 pages and my left hand was killing me by the end of it. That was the end of that: I set out to change my signature.

What I ended up with looked a lot different and was faster to sign, but still light years from some quick and distinctive scrawl. Oh, well.

Walking the Walk

For some reason most of my published books and longer works are walking quests. By that I mean that an individual (often accompanied by a nonhuman companion) sets out on foot to cross a lot of real estate toward some objective.  In the course of his travels he usually undergoes death and resurrection (symbolic or literal), and part of his journey takes place on water (replaced by the resurrected Goodyear airship in Elegy Beach).

This holds true for Ariel, The Architect of Sleep, Elegy Beach, The Gnole, the forthcoming Mortality Bridge and Avalon Burning, my novellas “Prodigy” and “Like Pavlov’s Dogs” — in other words, every longer work I’ve published. (But it isn’t true for longer works I haven’t published. Hmm. Maybe I just learned something important here.)

In these works the landscape is usually stripped bare — not of vegetation or wildlife (though sometimes that’s true too), but of civilization — and most of the rules of society have either been broken or made irrelevant. In this my work has a fascination with what have been called Temporary Autonomous Zones, places where normal law, infrastructure, and hierarchy have been suspended. Except in my case they tend not to be temporary.

Interestingly (well, to me, anyhow), this is true for me in the real world as well. Burning Man and the Northern & Southern California Renaissance Faires of 15 to 20 years ago have held great significance in my life.

I sometimes go to great lengths to ensure that my characters must walk to their goal. Driving, bicycling, rollerblading, waving magic wands, or saying giddyup to your centaur buddy pal are just out. I think my reason for this is in line with my view of Grail quests in general:  ya gotta earn yer friggin Grail, pal. You don’t drive to it, you don’t win it in a goddamn lottery. You could, I suppose, but it wouldn’t mean a damn thing to you if you did. I believe (with conviction that sometimes surprises me) that Grails take their careful measure out of your heart. That the price you pay to attain your Grail is always at least the value of the Grail itself. I believe that this is the entire point of grails in general. They are not supposed to be a bargain. He who buys a bargain Grail buys tin.

Another reason I love Walking Stories is because they are a literal (and hopefully literary) embodiment of the adage that “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” To me, what the destination itself eventually means is shaped by the journey.

The nonhuman companion in these things seems to function (at least partly) as an idealization of some human component — love in Ariel, friendship in The Architect of Sleep, duty in Elegy Beach, loyalty in Avalon Burning. Maybe they’re variations on Jiminy Cricket, I dunno. I am aware that one of the great pleasures and powers of fantasy fiction is that metaphors can be manifest. (I’m also aware that when these metaphors are obvious it’s a Bad Thing, which is why I loathe every word ever perpetrated by C.S. Lewis.)

Do we pick our themes and obsessions? Man, I don’t know. I don’t really even know where they come from.  What I do know is that Stephen King’s The Stand and The Long Walk, The Odyssey, The Inferno, The Lord of the Rings, Don Quixote, Gene Wolfe’s Latro books (Soldier of the Mist, Soldier of Arete, Soldier of Sidon) and his Book of the New Sun tetralogy, Heinlein’s Glory Road, all of Cormac McCarthy’s Western novels and The Road, Delany’s Neveryon books, and I’m sure many more struck resounding chords in me when I read them — whether I encountered them in elementary school or last month.

Update: Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2

Here’s the cover for Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2, which will contain my first published short piece (a novelette of approx 30,000 words) in at least a decade, “Not Last Night but the Night Before.”  Cover art is by Dave McKean.

Subterranean Press will publish a limited, 250-copy, signed & numbered, leatherbound & slipcased hardcover edition that features full-color art not available in the trade edition, along with a chapbook of two original Joe Lansdale stories. The trade hardcover will be clothbound. Subterranean publishes beautiful, high-quality books that are prized by collectors; I can’t wait till this (and, of course, my novel Mortality Bridge) comes out.

Publication date is now April 2011. I’ll post an excerpt from “Not Last Night….” before then.

AVALON BURNING Excerpt in New Urban Fantasy anthology

Jacob Weisman of the wonderful Tachyon Publications has picked up an excerpt from Avalon Burning for an upcoming urban-fantasy anthology edited by Joe Lansdale and Peter Beagle. The 7500-word story is called “Talking Back to the Moon,” and will be published in August 2011. No cover or word on other contributors yet (this just happened), but I will definitely keep you posted.

This story concerns Avy’s run-ins with some wild creatures near Griffith Park in the San Fernando Valley, and her conflicted relationship with the wildness in the outside world and inside her as well.

I’m excited about this, and delighted that a preview of Avalon Burning will be available.

A Little Help from Cory’s Friends

Cory Doctorow’s story collection A Little Help from My Friends was published this week.  Cory is a columnist, blogger, science fiction writer, crusader for adoption of new copyright laws and business models (known as copyleft), and one of the best public speakers I’ve ever heard. He was the first writer to digitally release a freely shareable novel (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) under Creative Commons license at the same time it was released commercially in print.

A Little Help is Cory’s DIY experiment to produce, distribute, and sell a bound book without the use of a commercial publisher at any step in the process. He is also giving it away in downloadable digital form. For years Cory (along with others, including yours truly) has been arguing that current digital technology enables artists to produce and distribute their own work in a way that, while admittedly is without the resources and revenue-generation currently possible through established corporate publishers, lets the writer control every aspect of the work and keep every penny it generates.

Cory reported on his experiences producing A Little Help in Publisher’s Weekly. His experience has been invaluable and instructive to modern writers for a number of reasons.  First, it demonstrates that it’s perfectly possible to do the whole enchilada yourself (or rather, employing the resources of yourself and a lot of other people; thus the collection’s title), which is encouraging to writers. Second, it demonstrates that art direction, cover design, printing, packaging, distribution, and accounting, are really hard and take a lot of work, which is good for publishers.

Currently, if you are a writer, to go the DIY route means you have to really really want it. Cory proves it’s possible to make money on a self-produced work and give it away at the same time. He also proves that publishers are still relevant and valuable.

I believe that this process will only become easier for writers, and that corporate publishing will remain strong but will evolve into what is essentially a service industry, offering to take the burden of self-production from writers in exchange for a hefty portion of the profits — pretty much what publishers do now, except that historically the writers themselves have not been their competition, and that is about to change. But competition is good, and will force publishers to strengthen and stress what they offer a writer as an alternative to that writer’s increasing, and increasingly powerful, DIY options.

I admire Cory Doctor greatly.  He lives on a battlefield that, in truth, I really only visit a lot. He isn’t just out there talking about the need to develop new business models and adapt to them, he is developing them. He is a one-man existence theorem, demonstrating the viability of an idea by being an example of what it describes. I hope that you will help support him in his pioneering efforts.


I’m delighted to announce that Subterranean Press will publish a limited-edition hardcover of my latest novel, Mortality Bridge, in late 2011.

Mortality Bridge is a dark and lyric fusion of Orpheus, Faust, The Inferno, and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” myth in which a blues musician travels to Hell to take back his wife’s purloined soul.

It’s kind of hard to convey what getting this book published means to me. I’ll just go ahead and say that I think this is the best thing I’ve ever written, and the hardest. (I once described it to someone as “Terry Gilliam’s film of Orpheus starring Bruce Willis, with a soundtrack by Eric Clapton and a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy.”) It was a looooong time coming, and I can’t wait until it’s published.

The Subterranean edition will feature cover art by Vincent Chong.

I will most definitely be posting more about this as publication nears.

Home of the Rave

Total last-minute gig:  I’m playing a free Burning Man decompression-style party in a winery warehouse in Napa Valley tonight. Except for my brief gig at the Rellik, which doesn’t count, I haven’t played out since moving to Northern California earlier this year. I’ll be playing a ton of funky house & breakbeat, probably moving on to bigtime progressive house as the night moves on and things get wacked. I’ll be tag teaming with another DJ as well — this should be a ton of fun, and I’m stoked.

But it also means a lot of scrambling, because I recently converted from an old version of my Traktor DJ software to a totally new version, and upgraded a ton of equipment. Unfortunately my ancient Sony gigging laptop won’t handle the new Traktor, which means I have to update playlists, massage tracks, and then practice on it using the MIDI controller I used with it as well — all of it glorious for years, and now sadly feeling kind of long in the tooth.

I’m amazed how quickly a whole new set of reflexes and kinesthesia can be acquired. I hope to be just as amazed how quickly they can be reacquired as I practice today.

I’ll record the gig, and hopefully put it (or at least part of it) online as a Groovelectric mix. kEwLz!