On unverified intelligence reports

ciafloorI think there are enough posts on this blog for folks to quickly ascertain that I’m not a fan of our President-Elect, but in case you’re wanting for that bit of particular context, I’ll repeat: NOT A FAN.

With that said, I wanted to talk a little bit about the recent bombshell dropped on our nation’s democracy — reports of financial and personal information about Donald Trump in the hands of the Russian government, and the possibility they may be used as leverage against him when he becomes President.

This is a Big Deal, about as big as it gets. And the details of the memos, published by BuzzFeed after CNN broke the story, are about as sordid as any spy thriller could come up with — alleged financial ties, alleged meetings between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, and Trump’s alleged unseemly sexual escapades with prostitutes. The latter, while kinda gross, is far less important than the former two, which could very well be impeachable offenses.

So why didn’t this stuff come to light earlier? Why is it being treated as “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” — or “alleged,” which I used three times in the last paragraph — when we were willing to take WikiLeaks’ emails hook, line and sinker? Why is the U.S. Intelligence Community treading softly here, including these allegations in an appendix rather than as part of its main report on Russian interference in the election?

Here’s why.  Continue reading

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Replace with what, exactly?

Warning! Political opinions ahead regarding the Affordable Care Act. If you’re not up for it, feel free to surf on by. I’ll be back to talking about SF/F and books and whatnot later. Promise. 

You have auto insurance, right? Of course you do. In fact, it’s required by law in 49 of the 50 states. (New Hampshire is all Live Free or Die on this one.) Why is it required? Because if you’re in an accident, you can cover the costs of the repairs without taking a massive financial hit — and you can cover the other guy if it’s your fault, which is even more important.

You have homeowners insurance as well, if you own a home, yes? There’s usually no legal requirement there, but your friendly neighborhood mortgage lender is gonna insist that you have it, of course. And let’s face it, your home is a major investment. If something happens, you don’t want to be out six figures or more. Plus, if there’s a fire or something, it ensures you’ll be able to rebuild, rather than leaving a smoking ruin on your block that endangers public safety and drives down property values.

Insurance is both a financial and social contract. Obviously, it covers your costs should something bad happen to you. Moreover, your monthly payments help cover other folks’ misfortunes — and that’s especially important if you played a part in that misfortune or that misfortune affects your neighbors or fellow drivers.

Insurance is, in essence, pooled responsibility. The more people buy in, the more there is to cover your misfortune and insulate you from the misfortune of others. It’s enlightened self-interest. Yet when it comes to health insurance, we immediately lose sight of this.  Continue reading

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2016 in review: Other people’s stuff

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is treating you well so far, and that this year behaves itself better than 2016. I already did a post about what I wrote last year, but I wanted to talk about other folks’ writing that I loved last year. This isn’t all-inclusive, but rather my meager attempt to spotlight some fantastic works by good people.

Let’s start with friend, baking goddess and fantastic writer Beth Cato, whose Breath of Earth was pure joy. It’s a great, big, fun, magical steampunk adventure set in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It’s got such a fantastic heroine in Ingrid Carmichael, and the setting is imaginative and great fun.

I also enjoyed Chris Roberson’s Firewalk, a police-procedural mystery that ends up uncovering a zombie infestation in a coastal California city. Chris helped create iZombie, so you know it’s gonna deliver the goods, and it does — along with great characters and a gutsy ending that leaves you waiting for the next one.

Alyssa Wong, you guys. Holy crap, Alyssa Wong. She is, without a doubt, one of the absolute finest writers working in SF/F today, and possibly of all time.  Among other things this year, she published “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” “Natural Skin” and my personal favorite, “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” which is a beautiful and frightening Weird West tale. So good. And she’s a fantastic, lovely person on top of it all.

I suppose it was natural for me to read Arabella of Mars, given that it’s got sailing ships in space in the early 19th century, but David D. Levine’s take on it is far different from mine. It’s quite a lot of fun, with swashbuckling action to spare. Good stuff indeed.

Let’s also give a shout-out to Michael R. Underwood’s Genrenauts, which thanks to Kickstarter, has a full six-episode run of novellas now available in omnibus. These dimension-and-genre-hopping stories are super addictive and a blast to read. Mike does meta-narrative adventure amazingly well.

Martin Cahill — writer, raconteur and fellow beer aficionado — had a great novelette out this year in Beneath Ceaseless Skies called “A Glass Kiss for the Little Prince of Pain,” and just…whoa. How can someone pack so much emotion, action and worldbuilding into 11,000 words? It’s not even fair. Such a great story.

As self-serving as it might be — because I have a story in it — the Endless Ages anthology for Vampire: The Masquerade is so much fun. If you played Vampire, or still do, you’ll be transported back to the World of Darkness throughout its various iterations over the years. The stories are fresh and evocative, and the mood is Gothic Punk enough to make you want to shuffle through Siouxie, the Cure and Bauhaus on your iPhone.

If you’re still wanting for books and stories after all that, I’ll point you to a recent Barnes & Noble SF/Fantasy blog post, wherein many fine authors and reviewers listed some of their favorites. Yeah, MJ-12: Inception is in there, too, which was quite lovely to see. (Thanks, Paul!) So are many other excellent books. Check it out.

#SFWApro

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2016 in review: The year in beer

Before I head off to the New Year’s Eve revels — I believe this year they’ll involve viewing The LEGO Movie with the family, followed by a debate over whether to stay up to watch the ball drop on the telly — I thought I’d do a quick roundup of my year in beer, following the tradition established last year.

According to Untappd, the beer aficionado’s social media app of choice, I checked into 226 new beers over the past year, out of a total of 257 total beers. That’s compared to 230 unique beers and 254 in total for 2015. In other words, I really, really like trying new beers, and don’t repeat myself very often.

Once again, American-style India Pale Ales — those super-hoppy beers — topped the style list, with 31 different ones sampled this year. No surprise here, as most breweries will do at least one IPA, if not several; it’s kind of a craft brewer must-have. I also had 13 American pale ales, which are slightly less bitter but still have a very noticeable hop character, and ten “imperial” or double IPAs, which as you can imagine, punch you in the face with hops.

My actual favorite beer styles are largely Belgians, and I had several different kinds this year, including 19 saisons and 11 Belgian tripels. These are far less hoppy, typically far more alcoholic, and much more subtle and flavorful, a lot like wine. I also went on a bit of a cider kick this year, notching 17 different ciders.

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2016 in review: Stuff I wrote

MJ-12-newcover2016 may not have been the best of years — thanks, Donald — but I’m pleased to say that I wrote some pretty good stuff this year, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about it, being in a somewhat reflective mood as the year spirals toward its fiery doom…er…wraps up and folks get blitzed on cheap champagne.

The biggie, obviously, was the hardcover release of my latest novel, MJ-12: Inception, first of the MAJESTIC-12 series of Cold War paranormal spy-fi thrillers. I was super-pleased with the reception, and chuffed to see folks embrace it. To all those readers out there, I thank you muchly for your enthusiasm and kind words.

Night Shade Books also released the Daedalus trilogy in mass-market paperback this year. It was fun to see those books get new life and new readers.

I also contributed a novelette, “Mind Flight,” to the Geeky Giving anthology effort, which benefits the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona. Barrow works to combat neurological disorders, and the theme of the anthology was to embrace that cutting-edge research. “Mind Flight” is the story of a pilot who links her brain to her fighter jet in order to help fend off an alien invasion — and what happens when the aliens figure out a terrible way to fight back. It’s my first hard SF work, and I’m proud to have it in there with so many other talented writers. All proceeds go to Barrow, so pick up a copy!

endlessagesFinally, I got another chance to embrace my geeky, misspent youth by contributing a short story to the Endless Ages anthology, which featured stories set in the Vampire: The Masquerade game setting. “Tiger” is the story of a young vampire caught up in the power games of her elders, with near-disastrous results. It was a total blast to revisit the setting and embrace my Gothic Punk side.

I also had an article published in the October issue of Writer’s Digest, talking about how I use Excel to outline my novels, which was pretty cool. Sadly, you’d need to get the magazine to read the actual piece, but I can point you to the online exclusive bit, wherein you can download part of my outline and see how the alleged magic happens.

As for 2017? MJ-12: Shadows, the follow-up to Inception, should be coming out some time in the late summer/early fall, and I believe plans are in the works for a paperback release of MJ-12: Inception before that. I also have a bit of a passion project I’m working up on the side, and I’m hopeful it finds a home. I also have a short story or two I’m noodling on, but the plate gets full fast, so we’ll see how it goes.

As of right now, I’m not sure what my con schedule will look like for 2017 quite yet. I like Phoenix Comicon and DragonCon a lot, but I’m wondering if it’d be worthwhile to mix it up this year. I don’t think I have the capacity to add to my schedule — I have a full-time job on top of all this fictioning, after all — and I’d be torn about missing out on two fantastic cons. But there are others that seem interesting, and have the benefit of not falling on two super-popular holiday weekends, so we’ll see.

Again, much thanks and gratitude to all the readers who picked up my work this year. You give me the fuel to keep at it, and I deeply appreciate it.

May you all enjoy a peaceful holiday season, and may we all have a better year ahead.

#SFWApro

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Rogue One review: War is hell

Last year, in anticipation of seeing Star Wars return to theaters with The Force Awakens, I reviewed all the Star Wars films. (You can click here to find them.) And I was quite pleased with The Force Awakens; a year later, I can report I’m still pleased as punch whenever I see it again.

So naturally, I was excited about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And the good folks at the Disney-owned Lucasfilm did not disappoint. However, this needs to be said right up front: This is not your typical Star Wars movie.

Last week, I saw more than a few folks on Twitter laughing at reviewers who said Rogue One was the first Star Wars movie to deal with war. “War” is in the title of all seven movies! How could they not be about war?

But I get it now. Rogue One is very much about war. This movie is about suffering, sacrifice, moral gray areas, fighting for a cause, losing and winning and the costs of both. Moreso than any other Star Wars film, Rogue One is a meditation on war and its effects. And when viewed through that lens, it does a pretty damn good job of it.

Spoilers ahead! I don’t feel like parsing my language or writing around certain topics, so I’m gonna just roll with it. It’s not horribly spoileriffic, but if you don’t want Rogue One spoiled, don’t read on.  Continue reading

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Fantastic independent bookstores for all your holiday gift-giving needs

Found by a friend at Powell's up in Oregon. One of many reasons indie bookstores rock.

Found by a friend at Powell’s up in Oregon. One of many reasons indie bookstores rock.

Let me start by saying that I realize Amazon and Barnes & Noble are the two big choices for book buying, and honestly, I have a lot of respect for both of them. Both companies have been good to me and my work, and I deeply appreciate that. I’m glad they’re there.

But you know what’s awesome? Independent bookstores. I love indie bookstores, man. They are an absolute labor of love for the people that own and run them, and they are vibrant and, dare I say, critical pieces of community life around the country. So this holiday season, I would encourage you to check out independent bookstores in your area for all your gift-giving needs.

Or maybe check out the ones I have listed here if you don’t have a local indie close to you. These are the independent bookstores that I’ve enjoyed visiting around the country, and if you’re in the market for books this holiday season — whether it’s my books or just any books — I would strongly encourage you to check them out. The vast majority of these offer online sales and shipping, and many offer ebook sales via Kobo, too.

I totally get that indie books are more expensive — they’re generally full list-price, plus shipping. And sure, Kobo is a little more expensive than Kindle or Nook. Given the huge impact a good bookstore has on its community, I would urge you to shop indie anyway, if you’re able to do so. It’s fantastic karma.

Finally, I’m highlighting the stores that are offering the Geeky Giving charity anthology, which I was proud to be a part of this year. There are some great stories in there, and proceeds go to the Barrow Neurological Institute. Buying it is a win all around, y’all.   Continue reading

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