GBR #17: Peter S. Beagle

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was born a storyteller. As he grew, he told stories, and some of them were made into books. Grown, he told stories, and some of them were acted out by other people, or put into magazines, or had pictures drawn of and through them. Growing older, he told stories, and some of them were put into new books, or were told to people, and some of them went dancing through the air and came slipping along through the wires and curled into the screen in front of me.

Along the way, he wrote some lovely things, and some true things, and some things that were both. (And some of those were about cats.)

Not everyone appreciates the work of Peter S. Beagle, but many many of us do. It’s a quiet tribe. I had wondered if perhaps the love of this sort of lyric wordsmithing was leaving our culture. Then, backstage at a theater, I saw a young man I’d met but didn’t really know. He was reading. He was stealing moments from the production, and himself from the attention of his peers, to lose himself in the pages of The Last Unicorn.  I smiled. I left him to it, to the play of words and images, to learn something about himself and the world. It’s good to find your old friends loved by new readers.

Peter S. Beagle: voted Most Likely to Have Nancy Lose It and Start Crying at Balticon. (Last time such a thing happened, it was Caroll Spinney. So fine company.)

The Last Unicorn has sold over 6 million copies, and Beagle has been storycrafting ever since. Many books, short stories, and more. He’s got a lovely rich storyteller’s voice, too. Writing Excuses podcast has an interview with him; you should give it a listen; you’ll probably want his audiobook that he narrates once you’ve heard this voice.

Cat status: this is the man who wrote, “It made the cat dozing in Molly’s lap look like a heap of autumn leaves.” These words will always summon my long-gone Purrl from memory. And Purrl would never come for anyone who didn’t appreciate a good cat.


GBR #16: Joe Haldeman

imageJoe Haldeman is an artist, poet, teacher, and amateur astronomer who has also been writing science fiction for rather a significant number of years (his first Worldcon was 1963). He’s living in Gainesville now. I’m not sure why this startles me, to find him so relatively near, but I am unreasonably delighted by this, and to learn that he takes part in a weekly life drawing class. He works with ink, watercolor, pastels, and oils. In addition to, you know: writing. He’s got multiple projects in the works. Reading his blog revealed that he does this writing with a fountain pen. And not even a cartridge-filled fountain pen!

(No, I’m not even tempted. Open bottles of ink and I have a long history of … let’s call them mishaps.)

Why does this matter? Well, if you join me in reading his award-winning novella, The Hemingway Hoax, you’ll understand the hint I’m making about the nature of parallel universes, and the very faint question of if the ones in which I read that story might result in my attempting to forge create a pastiche of a Haldeman book, in which case I’d need to know about that fountain pen. The book is set in Key West, and quite captures the air of the place. Haldeman’s experience as a veteran wounded in action adds an intense realism, which is useful groundwork before playing fast and loose with the universe as we know it. It revolves around the proposed creation of counterfeit Hemingway texts, and the complex human motivations surrounding such an attempt.

The layering of multiple universes is complex; I’m not going to attempt a plot summary, as that’s not my job here, and I can’t do it without spoilers. There are Large Questions in this short book. It’s not a work to read without time to think. Characters both develop and become more fuzzy. The plot progresses, and doesn’t, and shatters, and what you think is happening is not what is happening. Sometimes, saving the world is not the desired outcome. Or even, perhaps, possible. This is a fascinating, sometimes dizzying, read. Please, nobody press me to describe it in three sentences, because that’s when someone surely will take a video of me gibbering for several minutes. Let me just point out that this book picked up both a Hugo and a Nebula. If you want to stretch your brain in interesting ways without pharmaceuticals, this book will do it. (Not one for the wee kids.)

While I chose to read an older book, Joe Haldeman is still an active writer. He keeps a daily diary, so you can keep up with his publications and other doings.

Cat status: undetermined, although his well-known Forever War includes a calico ship’s cat, initially hated by the dog-preferring protagonist (but dogs can’t adapt to free fall), that does end up purring in his lap at one point. Spoiler alert: don’t get too attached.


GBR #15: R.A. MacAvoy


Self-portrait as a Pony —R. A. MacAvoy. Used with kind permission.

I’ve never been quiet about my love for the writing of R. A. MacAvoy. Back in my bookstore days, I pressed these volumes into the hands of many customers. As Bertie and I have been collaborating on Albatross and its sequel, she worries it would seem self-serving if I write much about her. And now I love not just the writing, but the person herself. Impossible to be unbiased, says Bertie, and she’s right. So I’ve called in the calvary! You can read R. A. MacAvoy’s bio on her blog.

The following is a  gracious guest post from my long-time friend and reading buddy, Kirsten M. Blair. When I asked Kirsten (@Lorac625) if she’d take time away from making tiny things and shiny things (some Steampunk in her Etsy shop, ya’ll!) to give me a reader’s response to R. A. MacAvoy’s Tea with the Black Dragon, she quickly agreed. We both thought that she’d read it previously. When we discovered she hadn’t, I was going to let her off the hook. But she sent me this the next day:

Amazon has this categorized as romance (probably why I hadn’t found it before) which it is, but… it is so much more. I couldn’t put it down. It took until the following day to start this review because I had to come back from the state of mind generated by reading it, and recover from the awe its excellence left with me. I didn’t expect this at the very beginning, as I find it frustrating not be able to instantly grasp where a story is going, but enough was quickly revealed — and was intriguing enough — to keep me going until I finished it.

It has fantasy, mystery, crime, romance, history and a gritty kind of reality soundly grounded in our ‘real’ world — like Charles de Lint’s urban books or Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s Bedlam Bards series. There are good, evil and in between characters — the main ones are fully fleshed in 4D (pasts and possible futures included or hinted at — I like knowing where/what characters have been/will be), but mostly it has a spell which only the best books cast, i.e., drawing you into itself and its world and out of your own. Definitely one to return to, and an author I need to read more of.

Thanks for “Yet another fine world ye’ve embroiled me in!” — KMB

Thank you, Kirsten! I’m so glad to have introduced you to another great book! You’ve got a lot of fantastic reading ahead of you. ((cue maniacal laughter)) The Great Balticon Readathon extends its power to embrace yet another with amazing literature! Bwaahaahaa!

Cat Status (because Laura Sue will be looking for it): confirmed, historically, and horses too. Presently, dogs. And the intermittent visiting bear.

GBR #14: Donald Kingsbury


Kingsbury Cat Status: Entirely a Mystery! AND I didn’t draw him. So here’s a photo of my cat Seleno Kyle and a sketchbook to tide you over while I sort this out.

True confession: I have failed in my mission, and have not read Donald Kingsbury’s work. It’s not in my local library, and not available digitally. The book I ordered seems lost in transit, but if it arrives, it will be too late for Balticon. I did attempt to listen to the Audible version of one of his books … and I simply don’t have it in me to do that. Through no fault of the book, mind you. This listener has discovered she can’t multi-task while listening to certain audio books, and I won’t risk anyone’s life by driving while trying to follow the mind of a mathematician.

Nor did I draw him. My usual method, when I’m not drawing live and haven’t taken photographs myself, is to respect copyright by not copying someone else’s picture without permission. I will look carefully at as many photos of someone as I can find online, compare them, then from this study attempt to recreate the image I’m holding of them in my mind. (I know…this explains a lot, right?) (I may yet go in and purple up Sharon Lee’s hair.) Couldn’t do this with Kingsbury, though, as I’ve only been able to find a single confirmed picture of him online. So until and if I get to see him at Balticon? No sketch.

His blog was last updated with an anticipated release of Psychohistorical Crisis in November 2001. If I didn’t know the man was planning to attend Balticon, I’d have likely assumed that he has found some way to experiment with his argument that,

…quantum mechanics, unlike general relativity, cannot distinguish between a system in which time is traveling “forward” and a system in which time is traveling “backwards.”            — Donald Kingsbury, blog post

So I wonder … HAS Donald Kingsbury been exploring the nature of entropy relative to time by slipping in and out of the time stream, popping over to 2016 just in time to attend Balticon 50? If I meet him, I’m not sure I’ll have the audacity to ask. Perhaps I’ll just check his cat status.


GBR # 13: Kaja and Phil Foglio

imageMy first exposure to Phil Foglio was back in 198mumbletymumble, when I’d bum my friend’s incoming issues of Dragon Magazine and, very first thing, seek out What’s New with Phil & Dixie, his humorous comic strip. At the tail end of that same decade, I was working in a scifi/fantasy comics and gaming shop and started seeing his work illustrating Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series. Oh, and XXXenophile, which was kept behind the counter under glass in the same section with Anne Rice’s naughty fairy tale books.

As I’m not a Magic: The Gathering player, I hadn’t run across any of Kaja Foglio’s work until (blushing to admit it) this project. But that’s sort of the idea behind the Great Balticon Readathon: there’s such a lot of diverse material out there, and I knew I was missing many opportunities to experience it. And I can’t believe I was missing Girl Genius!

Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones won the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Novel. Then, with subsequent volumes, the couple kept winning this award. After three years straight, they declined nomination in 2012. Now they’re back in the running, and have just completed a Kickstarter project to get a new volume out! They started their own press to be able to publish Girl Genius; it seems to be working out for them. Additionally, there are text volumes of Agatha Heterodyne’s adventures now. The Foglios have been keeping busy!  From multiple sources online, their work structure is largely Kaja doing the writing, Phil doing art old-school in pencil on Strathmore Bristol 2-ply, a little digital magic between them, then off to the colorist. Seems an equitable division of labor, to an outsider, with Kaja finishing up with much of the file management. It’s good to have at least one person who knows how to do that.

Kaja has said she’s not making much visual art right now. As a creative person with a kid, I get this: time constraints change. AND they’ve got Girl Genius coming out (I believe) three times a week. That’s a tight schedule. I hope that someday she’ll consider returning to the visual art side;  what I’ve seen of her work I’ve quite liked. Up to her entirely though, of course. Maybe the words are just calling more loudly now. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Cat status: internet sighting confirmed: a photograph of multiple black cats chilling in their office. With a dog. (I consider the dog bonus content.) Additionally, if you read Girl Genius, you will find a cat who is a Character. Come for the cat, stay for the Steampunk. Girl Genius is set in a different-but-similar world to ours. A certain rare inborn ability, Spark, allows the possessor to use mad-scientist type abilities to create incredible machines that appear to defy physics as we know them. Given the series title, it’s not really a spoiler when I tell you that Agatha, our primary protagonist, is a keen inventor. It’s fun to watch her in action. Girl power! Swashbuckling and adventures, with kids included in non-token ways. Wackiness ensues.

Agatha appears in her underwear a lot, which a friend says just shows that some things don’t really change. Although honestly, Phil didn’t draw much underwear in XXXenophile that I recall. (The centaurs especially, I think, didn’t wear any, did they?) While I haven’t read the whole series yet, what I’ve seen so far has certainly been appropriate for mid-teens and up. It’s Victorian underwear, for mercy’s sake. If you’re wondering if it’s okay for your kids, go take a look for yourself. Because…

Girl Genius is now available online for FREE reading! And then you can go grab hard copies once you’ve fallen under its spell. There’s also a selection of plushies and T-shirts and so on. Years of material here, so there’s an established fandom. The Foglios seem to do a number of conventions, too, so chances seem pretty good you can hunt them up for signings and meeting your tribe of fellow GG fans.

If I meet the Foglios at Balticon, and need something to discuss, I will probably get into a GeekMom chat with Kaja. I believe she actually has outdone me in this department.  We celebrate Bilbo/Frodo’s birthday, but KAJA made an awesome Zelda cake for her kid’s cakewalk. I acknowledge a master. Oh, and they do things like having Pat Rothfuss over to play Tak. As one does. I wonder if she and Phil have 3DS systems, and if they’re bringing them to Balticon? Would LOVE to see their Miis.

GBR 12: Jo Walton


Jo Walton’s moving,

wrapped in grace,

wrapped in pain

down a flight of improbable stairs:

it has been an unlikely journey.

Jo Walton’s moving.

Words as lever,

thoughts as engine.

Down tumble ideas, improbable stones,

Flowing concepts: the pathways of legend.

Jo Walton’s moving,

understated grace,

understanding silence.

Tradition’s unexpected wild offspring:

fresh steps on a long winding spiral.

Next up in our Great Balticon Readathon is Jo Walton’s Just City, which she informs us we must read first before The Philosopher Kings (Book 2) and Necessity (Book 3). I am happy to note that Necessity has a release date of MY BIRTHDAY, July 12, 2016. Not that I’d do anything like be so crass as to drop a gift hint to my husband in my blog. Oh no. Not me.

Plato’s Republic is a sort of thought experiment on what the ideally just society could look like, written by a man with a great deal of genius, but perhaps not as much practical knowledge as such an undertaking might involve.  In this book, Jo Walton makes her own thought experiment, and places Plato’s theories into a version of our world. Overall concept of the book, or as far as I can go without spoilers: time-traveling goddess Athena actually tries this experiment with real 10-year-olds, and a comparatively small number of intellectuals and philosophers gathered from throughout time.

Other primary characters are Apollo, who chooses temporary mortality as a path to learning about volition, and a young female citizen of this ideal city. Excellent use of changing narrative views. Also strongly present: assorted Famous Personages from History whom you may recognize, robot servitors from the future, and a diverse cross section of young people handily poised to demonstrate a wide range of possible responses to living in such an environment.

I appreciated her deft hand with history, art, religion: informative, but not pedantic. Good characterization, interesting plot, but definitely a work of the mind. The space opera set may not find this to be their book, but it’s a genre-jumper for those interested in history, philosophy, mythology, or the many faces of love.

Just City was inspired by the reading of Plato’s Republic by then 15-year-old Jo Walton. (Wish I’d known her then. She and then 13-year-old-me could have had quite the conversation. I’d have insisted on dragging in Shakespeare, though, so maybe it’s better that it took this long for me to find her.)  30 years, 10 novels, and many awards later, she revisited her early idea and created an engrossing story of the pursuit of justice and excellence. I’m so glad she did.

Jo Walton writes lots and lots of poetry. Lots. She’s more proficient at it than I am. You can see more of it on her blog, as well as links to excerpts from some of her prose works on her author page. If I’m given the opportunity to talk to Jo Walton at Balticon, I’m not sure what we’ll discuss. Perhaps the works of Sandro Botticelli, and the stupidity of humans that makes them destroy art for ideology. Or, if she doesn’t want to engage in the mutual gnashing of teeth, perhaps I’ll introduce the subject of blackberry crumble.

Cat status: undetermined, but there’s a photo online of her comforting a stone lion.



GBR #11: Charles Stross

imageA continuing theme of the Great Balticon Readathon is my neglect of mundane duties. Most notably, the laundry has been woefully neglected while I spend my waking hours reading, researching, reading more, writing, and sketching.

You can imagine my family’s delight when I informed them that, at last, I was going to do something about the Laundry.

(I keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means. Let’s let them be happily unaware, shall we?)

Charlie Stross declares on his blog that he has written over one million words in his long-running and award-winning series, The Laundry Files. Disclosure: I have not read all million words.  In this world, magic is not only real, it’s a branch of mathematics. Which is how protagonist Bob Howard, computer tech geek, ends up reluctantly enlisted into a British government branch dealing with the arcane and weird. The Laundry Files novels and stories depict his gradual integration into a system that is confronted with everything from mundane snarky office politicking to full-blown Lovecraftian horror. (Trigger warning: the novel I read was quite graphic. If you’re reading along for the Readathon, make sure you scan some detailed reviews before choosing a book or story to enjoy. It’s horror, and despite humorous interludes, Stross isn’t pulling punches.) There’s an overarching plot through the series (CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN) involving the imminent return of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods. The Laundry is out to stop that from happening. At a million plus words, and perhaps another 1 – 3 novels projected, there’s a lot of tentacled mischief afoot.

Stross has written many other works, generally in series. They are published world-wide, and in many languages. He makes several of his fiction pieces available online, and you can find them on his blog.

Oh, before I forget the biography part: Charles Stross writes full-time, despite Margaret Thatcher and the derail into “a steady career”. (Hey, I recognize that derail!)  According to his blog, updated 2016, he’s 51 and living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Cat status: he claims a sleepy cat for a co-worker, and pictures of various cats with Stross do exist online.

GBR #10: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller


I was going to include their cats in this sketch, but frankly my ipad can’t handle that much floofy-ness.

The Great Balticon Readathon continues with a pair of writers who are also a couple: Sharon and Steve have been married, as she says, “for more than half her lifetime.” Their partnership apparently works. They began collaborating in 1979. Not only have they remained married, but they’ve written many novels (she says 17, elsewhere 23, he says “more than 20” … nice sort of problem to have) and more short stories than you could shake a stick at, if you were the sort of person inclined to stick shaking. (I’m not. I just read stories. Sometimes write them. And draw pictures about them.)

Sharon Lee joins our list of the Cat-approved among Balticon Guests of Honor. In addition to serving our genre by catering to our feline overlords, she was Executive Director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., and then vice president and president of that organization. She is a self-described introvert, which makes her willingness to serve especially generous. She likes Maine, setting five novels and her own self there. Steve likes it too. They say it’s beautiful … and a place freelancers can afford to live. (Yes, I did note this in my Official Record.) Appropriately, it seems that their current cats are Maine Coon Cats. You can find delightful pictures of the Crack Coon Nursing Team on Sharon Lee’s blog. (Search for tag Life with Coon Cats.)

Full disclosure: If I didn’t adore them for living on a Cat Farm, finding out that they’ve got a computer called Number 10 Ox would have won my loyalty. So I’m firmly entrenched at this point.

Steve Miller has a background as a performance poet who got tired of living on beer and started expanding into other writing, including submitting stories to science fiction magazines and fanzines. He also plunged into fandom. He edited a science fiction tabloid, was involved with his local science fiction club (BSFS), and eventually he and Sharon started a genre bookstore with a “traveling convention SF art agency component.” That BSFS connection should make Balticon feel like Old Home Week to Steve!

Attention, novice writers who’d like to travel: Steve says he’s attended “hundreds and hundreds” of conventions, as a fan, writer, and art agent. If I get a chance to talk to the two of them at Balticon, I think I’ll ask them about the practicalities of this. Anything they wish they’d known back at the beginning that would have simplified their travel? And most importantly, do the cats miss them terribly while they’re gone? (Not that I’d know anything about the kind of spite-and-boredom-fueled-toilet-paper-snowstorm that can happen when one relegates cats to the care of sitters…) OK, I’ll ask straight up: is the house more or less intact when you return?

Pretty clever, the two of them, figuring out how to make a living travelling and writing and visiting Most All the Conventions. But then, they are the two of them clever in many ways. Prime example: Sharon kindly linked ( a FREE download of the “quirky little space opera” Agent of Change. The first of the Liaden Universe® novels, replete with charming but lethal protagonists and a deftly portrayed universe for them to live in. Clever, clever. The first one’s free? I think I saw how this works on TV. Because, yes, of course, I downloaded and read the free book. And then started looking around rather urgently for the next. Agent of Change is a solid mix of planet-side and space adventure, touched with humor and suspense both, and graced with understated romance. Lots of action, and well-written dramatic scenarios of large scale and small. I so liked the protagonists! They were multi-dimensional, with strengths and flaws. The story was well balanced between male and female dual protagonists, which was refreshing. And the Turtles? How can you not want more of the Turtles? Well played, Lee and Miller. Well played. You’ve definitely hooked this reader into returning to Liaden.

Next up on GBR: Charles Stross!







GBR #9: Larry Niven


Larry Niven’s background, before writing, included mathematics and psychology. He professes “a sense of wonder that’s firmly anchored in the real-world setting of science and technology.” Back in 1966, for example, while I was busy being born, Niven was writing about the newly-described phenomenon of neutron stars. He’s been a prolific writer of short stories and novels, exploring science phenomenon and building universes. Along the way, he’s gathered an impressive number of awards accompanied by critical and fan acclaim.

He’s been inspired by such varied things as a talk with Steven Hawking, and suggestions from his friends Fred Pohl and Norman Spinrad. His subject matter has been as diverse as straight mystery, hard sci-fi, and even three scripts for the TV series Land of the Lost!

(I loved that show as a kid. It stands up to re-watching, too, with surprisingly solid scripts for a Saturday-morning 70’s kid’s show. Not surprising, now that I have some idea of who was working on it. David Gerrold, too?!? Seriously, Land of the Lost will be its own blog post sometime. Sleeeeeeestaks!)

Arguably Niven’s most influential work is the body of material around Ringworld, published originally in 1970. Set in 2850 CE (Earth date), it involves characters from Niven’s Known Space series exploring a world that is an artificial ring approximately the diameter of Earth’s orbit. It was so engaging that he created four sequels and four prequels. Fan involvement with this series is intense, and spawned sequels including Ringworld Engineers and Ringworld’s Children.

Most of Niven’s work in recent years has been in collaboration, including work with Jerry Pournelle, Greg Benford, Edward M. Lerner, and Michael Flynn, as well as previous GBR subject Steven Barnes. He’s allowed other writers to work in part of his Known Space universe, which has led to eleven published “Man-Kzin Wars” anthologies.

Larry Niven’s website includes links to his active fan community pages. If you enjoyed our Readathon entry, Dream Park, you should consider visiting to see what’s up. If past history is an indicator, you may be able to be small part of creating the Ringworld legacy: additional sequels are a definite possibility!


As for me, time is still pressing. So with a final nod to Dream Park, I’m off to read our next book, Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.