Thursday, May 17, 2007

More on the May Emails Subs

Since today is a rainy day in beautiful St. Kilda, I'm sending out my first responses.

Do expect one of the two headers in your email:

"REJECTION": "Your Story" when it's (obviously) rejected;

"HOLD": "Your Story" when I'm holding it for a second read.

At first sight, this might look cruel, but after some discussion on Nick Mamatas's LJ I agreed that being upfront from the get-go is better than unnecessarily maintaining any tension.

One thing that stands out in the slushpile so far is the unusual large amount of religious/God stories. Half of those are about how the Christian right in the USA has taken over power, and the way people rebel against it. Without exception, I found these stories boring. They just didn't tell me anything new or unusual.

Then there's more than the usual amount of stories where either an aloof God learns to become humane, or where missionaries to alien worlds have more success than they expected (the 'don't ask for it, because you might get it' cliche). I would strongly recommend that people doing a 'missionary to aliens' story to read Harry Harrison's "The Streets of Ashkelon" first (not online as far as I know, but widely reprinted, like in 50 in 50 or Stainless Steel Visions.

Although I'm an (agnostic) atheist, I'm not against religion per se. The point is that it is -- like many other themes, but especially with religion -- extremely difficult to come with something that hasn't been said about it before. If you want to capture my attention with a religion-themed story, then it either needs to have a very original angle, or the execution must be absolutely superb.

You have been informed/warned*

(* = delete as appropriate)

And three good ones, so far (of which one was *very* good, I think).

NB: and about a third of submitters don't single-space their submissions. It does take me about 10 seconds to do that myself, but it's annoying, especially when I'm doing it in an internet cafe where I pay by the hour. So do ignore your ingrained habits (I realise that standard submission format is still holy in a lot of places, even in the 21st Century), and single-space, as this makes *my* reading of *your* story easier on my PDA.


In St. Kilda

Where I had three days of beautiful weather (sunny, 23 degrees) and two days of rain (like today).

First and most importantly I caught up with my sister, as it had been over two years since I last saw her. Typically, I arrived Sunday evening around 20.00 hrs (PM), and my sister had to start on a new job the next morning.

This is actually a very good thing as she's been looking for a suitable job for years, and this one -- where she starts as an assistant to a production manager for a small film company (who mainly produce documentaries) -- might very well be the one.

She was hired for three days a week (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday), but it was so busy they asked if she could work Thursday, as well. I told her to do it, as nothing is as important on a new job as making a good impression on the first day, and the first week.

Then Murphy's Law struck again, as her car was broken into when she was parked near her work on her very first work day. It's like my bad luck (see previous post) jumped over to my sister.

But she got the smashed door windscreen replaced, had to buy a bottle of champagne (for celebrating the completion of one documentary. and the bottle was paid for by her company), and all ended well.

Then I had lunch with her -- my apartment is actually a ten minutes' walk from her new job place -- and she told me she brought some of the 'speculaas' -- typical Dutch cookies -- for her to her work, and announced that day was 'Special Dutch Cookie' day. It was very well received.

I have a good feeling about her new job, and I hope she can keep it for quite a while.

Tonight we're going to a play of a friend of her (Chris Wallace) in South Yarra, and tomorrow, when she has Friday off, we'll probably go to the 'Chinese Wall' exhibition in the Melbourne Museum (and might visit Federation Square in the process).

The forecast is rain, so no more beach weather. But I wasn't complaining when it was 23 degrees, which even according to Melburnians was quite warm for the time of year.

Ah, and I had dinner with Sean McMullen and his girlfriend Zoya (I hope I spelled that right!) in Elwood yesterday evening. A very nice evening, and Sean gave me an advance copy of his new YA novel " Before the Storm", which looked particularly good. I'll read it when I've finished the slush, which will be somewhere near the end of June.

I'm having quite a good time, and the only thing slightly bothering me is all the slush I have to read (originally, this trip was planned for April, so before the May Interzone email reading period. Then the job -- training a crew in Hobart -- got delayed by a month. Oh well.

Why Frequent Travellers Should Have Two Credit Cards..

...or more.

Last week, there was a news report in Holland that hackers had broken into a data account of a Dutch bank, getting hold of -- among other things -- the credit card numbers of several thousands of people. Specifically Visa and MasterCard holders. I think that was on Wednesday. Those whose credit card numbers had been hacked would be informed.

I heared nothing, until Friday afternoon, when I returned from work, and there was a message on my answering machine. It appeared that my Visa card number was amongst those hacked (well, the helpdesk man wouldn't admit it, but it's not coincidence, I tell you, as I've had this card for about twenty years with no problems whatsoever), so it was blocked. Well, my flight to Australia was the next day noon, so there was no possibility that I could get a new one before I left Holland.

It's exactly for these occurances of Murphy's Law that a frequent traveller needs a second credit card (also handy when the first is maxed out in expensive countries like Japan).

It was one of these things.

The second screwup happened en route to Australia: I had checked in for the flight, saw that the first boarding pass (to Kuala Lumpur, as I was flying with Malaysia Airlines) was fine, but I only glanced at the second one to Melbourne, assuming that it was OK, as well.

Never assume that.

In my new job as a trainer I only travel about 3 to 4 times a year (in contrast to almost constantly when I was a service engineer), and I'm losing some of my travel routines, such as *always* carefully checking *all* your boarding passes.

Just before the plane landed in Kuala Lumpur, I noticed that I didn't have a barding pass for the connecting flight to Melbourne of 4 hours later, as was booked and confirmed, but one for the evening flight 16 hours later (and the ground staff in Amsterdam failed to tell me this, as well. Probably didn't notice, either: just printed out the passes). So the next 3 and a half hours in Kuala Lumpur were spent getting myself on the correct flight, which barely worked out.

Still, I was finally relaxing when the plane took off on the last leg of the trip, and even more so when we landed in Melbourne and my sister picked me up.

But, as you can see, there's a reason why I stopped my previous job: I just got very weary of the constant travelling, and all the harassment it brings. And you have to pay attention to everything, otherwise an airline company stealthily tries to move you to another flight when they've overbooked their flights.

Even when you have a business class ticket.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Interzone May 2007 Email Submission Period

Short update on the Interzone May email reading period:

So far I received 238 submissions (58 on the very first day, which gave me pause. It slowed down, thankfully), totalling about 1207000 words (about 5000 words per story).

Jed Hartman asked me to keep track of the numbers of male/female/unknown submitters, which I'm doing. So far, the numbers are:

Number of male submitters: 154
Number of female submitters: 77
Not sure of gender/anonymous: 7

So a 2:1 male/female ratio, which is, for us, a rising trend. I did count the very first email period (May 2005), and the ratio was almost 4:1, and last September it was about 3:1.

In September the ratio for accepted stories was 2:1, that is we accepted 12 stories from September (some of which already have been published):

Eight males:

"Elevator Episodes in Seven Genres" by Ahmed A. Kahn;
"Tearing Down Tuesday" by Steven Francis Murphy (IZ #210);
"Winter" by Jamie Barras (IZ #209);
"If" by Daniel Akselrod and Lenny Royter;
"The Two-Headed Girl" by Paul G. Tremblay;
"The Scent of their Arrival" by Mercurio D. Rivera;
"Cradle of the Mind" by Tristan Palmgren;
"The Shenu" by Alexander Marsh Freed;

Four females:

"Heartstrung" by Rachel Swirsky (IZ #210);
"A Handful of Pearls" by Beth Bernobich;
"Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise" by Sue Burke
"Pseudo-Tokyo" by Jennifer Linnaea.

Make of that what you will: I'm reporting this because Jed asked me.

Also, three submitters sent their stories to the wrong email address: I thought it was self-evident that the May submissions should go to the addy, but three of you sent them to the November address: . I don't check that one so often, and it's basically the wrong one.

Finally, I'm off to a combined business/pleasure trip to Australia tomorrow. So there will not be the usual 'receive acknowledges' during the weekend, because I'm travelling. I should get back to it on Monday.

Actually, this trip was planned for April, so I should dive into the email reading period fresh, but got delayed, so now they coincide. Not the original plan. I was also back-logged with other things, with which I've mostly caught up now, so have only just started reading the slush. Expect the first rejections after the weekend.

Liberation Day

May 5 is Liberation Day in the Netherlands. It's celebrated by Liberation Festivals in the 13 province capitals across the country. Den Bosch is the capital of the province Noord-Brabant, so we have this festival every year. It's one of my favourites.

Originally it celebrated the liberation from the Nazi occupation (actually, it still does), but the festival has grown to a celebration of liberty in general (so the liberty to be different), and as such has become a festival of diversity and multiculturalism.

Bands perform from every corner of the world, this year they included Ghana, Ukraine, and a band with members from Kosovo, Chile, and Belgium. OK, and a few Dutch bands as well. Also a great variety of food stands, while the beer was only from Holland (a thing they should improve).

I had a great time, got rather inebriated, and was happy that the next day was Sunday (instead of a working day).

Peace out!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Qubit Conflicts... already mentioned in several parts of the blogosphere. Gotta love the kind of almost instantaneous feedback that the internet provides (while I do miss holding the physical product of an anthology or magazine, like the last paper version of HUB, although there will be a chapbook, and hopefully an anthology, as well).

Paul Raven quite liked it (so much that he congratulates me "on writing a story that I don't feel the need to pick holes in." Luckily this was followed by a winking smiley). Jeremy Tolbert seems to have enjoyed it as well, and muses about (one of) its implications.

On the other hand, David de Beer doesn't like it at all: "I don't understand the point of this." Fair enough: I expect people will not like, or even hate this story. He also mentions:

I also don't understand the point of writers trying to be obscure and not trying to engage as many readers as possible. Is it that much fun to write only for an eclectic audience?

Sometimes a writer -- especially an SF writer, I like to think -- wants to push boundaries. Imagine something that hasn't been imagined before. Often, the price of this is that the resulting story is not really for the greatest common denominator, but indeed for 'an eclectic audience'. And I had great fun writing this one.

However, I cannot decide if it succeeds: I must leave that up to others, as a writer cannot judge his/her own story. Therefore, I appreciate every comment, negative or positive. Do keep them coming!

Update: Jörn Grote of the entropy pump seems to think that, if I didn't quite succeed, I made an interesting effort.

Update 2: Paul Jessup says it's "the first time I enjoyed a scifi story in a long time".

Update 3: On the Not If You Were the Last Short Story on Earth LJ Community, Random Alex seems to like it. Money shot: "And somehow, de Vries gets ennui and pathos in there too."

Update 4: In his Tangent Online review, Ben Payne seems to say that it's not really his cup of tea.

Update 5: Joe Sherry thinks: "Maybe Qubit Conflicts is a bit meta for me."

Update 6: Pete Tennant (one of his many bylines is proofreading for Interzone, and he was kind enough to proofread "Qubit Conflicts" for me, as well) says at Whispers of Wickedness: "...that at the sentence level whole stretches of the story could just as easily have been written in a foreign language, but regardless of that the overarching structure of the story made perfect sense."
And yes, that is a compliment.

Update 7: Lois Tilton at the Internet Review of Science Fiction recommended it (you need to register to see the review). In the spirit of the story itself, the review is concise:

Quantum theory can be understood either as mathematics or as metaphor. Here, de Vries uses math as part of a metaphor to tell the story of the evolution of quantum artificial intelligence into a solipsistic singularity.

Cleverly Done.


Update 8: in Literary Reviews 35, the reviewer thinks that "...Mr. De Vries’s writing within the story is so arcane—[...]—that I at times yearned for the services of an English-to-English language translator." Clarkesworld magazine in general is compared to "...a painting deemed to be a “masterpiece of modern art” that had hung upside down in a museum for two years before anyone noticed." Finally: success!

Update 9: A reaction from a blogger in India: Variety SF rates it a 'C' (which in the site's rating system means 'Time Waster', and Blindsight received the same rating. Hi, Pete!), saying the reviewer feels quite disconnected with most modern stories the reviewer has read on AI, because they are not easy to identify with.

Indeed! Welcome to tomorrow: the strange, dislocated, dizzying feeling you are experiencing is called FutureShock(s). There is no cure, as things will only get weirder and weirder, even in India.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Six times May 1, part 6

Finally, today Interzone's email reading period of May has started. As if I wasn't busy enough already...;-).

Expect updates both on the Interzone forum and here.

A quick glimpse on gmail shows that already 46 submissions have come in, and the day isn't quite over yet...

Sheesh: the previous record was 42 submissions in a single day, and that was the first day of last September's email submission period. It's already been shattered.

On top of that, I will be out of the country from May 12 until May 28: giving a training in Hobart, Tasmania, while also using the opportunity to visit my sister in Melbourne. Actually, this was planned for the last two weeks of April -- after which I could attack the slushpile refreshed -- but the training got delayed.

So now I must read slush while roaming the coffeeshops, bars and restaurants of St. Kilda. Life is hard.

In any case, if you don't get my usual 'receive acknowledge' during May 12 -- May 28, then that's why. Curse your evil editor, and, while I'm at it, be warned: I will adopt Nick Mamatas's practice to put 'REJECTION' in the header of the email, as I agree that this saves a submitter some tension and grief.

You have been warned, although almost fifty of you have already submitted.

Six times May 1, part 5

Today my story "Qubit Conflicts" sees the light of day on Clarkesworld Magazine.


So check it out -- it's a mere 2100 words -- and do feel free to comment on it here, on the Clarkesworld Magazine forum, or on Nick's LJ. Do speak up, even if (or especially if) you think it's full of shit.

Thanks to Pete Tennant for proofreading it, Neil Clarke for publishing it, and Nick Mamatas for lifting it from his slushpile, and working with me on it. I love the nifty artwork by Sieg.

Now I need to wait six months before I can try Nick again...

Six times May 1, part 4

My essay on Blindsight -- the novel by Peter Watts -- is published in the May issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction. I haven't received the issue yet, but according to a friend accross the pond (Hi, David Rivera!) it has been released. Can't wait until it hits my doormat!

Quite happy with this publication, as it's the first time I actually set out to write a lengthy essay on a novel, and get it published.

Don't know if Peter Watts himself has seen it. If not, maybe I should email him a copy? We could -- if needed -- discuss it on his blog.

Six times May 1, part 3

This year, May 1 is the release date of Snakes & Arrows, the new Rush album. In ye olden days (a couple of years ago), I would have bought it in the local record shop. Since those are dying out, I have to order it online. I haven't seen it yet, and as a long-time Rush fan I always look forward to a new album from the guys.

Oh well.

Six times May 1, part 2

May 1 is Labour Day in most European countries, except in The Netherlands. Here we celebrate the Queen's birthday on April 30 (which was Queen Juliana's birthday. Beatrix -- our current Queen -- was born on January 31, but when she became Queen it was decided to keep celebrating Queen's Day on April 30, because January 31 would be too cold for most outdoor activities on this Dutch national holiday).

So we celebrate while the rest of Europe is working, then start working as (most of) the rest of Europe has a holiday. One of the many ironies in the EU.

Personally, I'd prefer to celebrate Labour Day, even though my mother was just decorated. I rather celebrate the achievements of workers than that of one of the richest royal families in Europe. Red above Orange!

Six times May 1, part 1

May 1 is my father's birthday. Jan de Vries would have turned 71 today, had he lived. Unfortunately, he died twenty-two years ago in Moscow from a ruptured aorta.

Among the many, many things I learned from him is the love of science fiction. My father was an avid reader, and he read many SF books (novels, collections, anthologies) as he travelled the world. He loved to travel and experience new cultures. He would have loved to be an astronaut, given half the chance (I also caught the travel bug from him, and a deep-rooted respect for the other).

I still miss him. It would have been great if he could have seen that his kids have gotten well on their own feet: I think he would have been inordinately proud of the documentary -- "Chasing God" -- that my sister Lenny made; he would have spoiled his two grandsons Boris and Jitte (although Grandma is doing an excellent job at that, right now), my brother Frans's kids; and I think he would have liked my venture in SF writing and publishing, as well.

And I think he would have greatly enjoyed the fall of the iron curtain and the subsequent era of détente: he wasn't anti-communist (although not pro-, either), but he hated the Cold War and the nuclear sword of Damocles with a vengeance.

So this one's for my late father Jan.