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 #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 #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 #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.


GBR #7: Harry Turtledove

imageSomeone at a convention once told Harry Turtledove that they worried whenever a writer quit their day job. “So does the writer,” Turtledove said.

Before making the great leap himself, Dr. Turtledove (Ph.D. in Byzantine Studies from UCLA) used to be a technical writer. I can’t find anything recent online to see if he still keeps this schedule, but he used to maintain a very professional two and a half hours writing per day, 350 days per year, with much of the rest of the day dedicated to research and reading for his work. “If you wait for the Muse to strike,” he has said, “you will starve.”

For the Great Balticon Readathon, I’m jumping back to a collaborative work that he wrote back in 1999 with Dr. Judith Tarr, Household Gods. Tarr earned a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale. What this collaboration means is that, certainly to a lay person such as yours truly, the world of Household Gods was absolutely convincing.  Yet they managed, between them, to create this immersive experience while avoiding pedantry. They’re not just good historians: they’re good writers.

I spotted this book in hardback on the shelves of a small local library when it was still a fairly new title. I was an exhausted mother of a toddler, trying to find my way in a new neighborhood and a new life situation. The cover design caught me first. I missed reading speculative fiction, and that mode of thought. I was feeling isolated and, frankly, a little overwhelmed. So many day-to-day tasks were absolutely necessary … I was hesitant to check the book out. The description seemed improbable. I wasn’t sure I would like it, and my reading time was so precious.

I began the story impatient with the protagonist, who irritated me. Perhaps she was striking a little too close to home? (Although, for the record: my husband was never the jerk that hers was. I identified with the mommyhood, not the divorce.) I admit, I judged her harshly for her self-absorption. Then again, nobody else was looking out for her … who would if not she herself?

Then the story opened up, and I fell right in. I could hardly put the book down. I stayed up far too late so I could finish it. It turned out to be just exactly the book I needed to read at that time. So exactly that it made me consider having a look around to see if there weren’t some household icon lurking about through which interested deities were acting to bring my unspoken wishes…

Why did I like this book so much? Well, the accuracy of the history, to begin with. Not that I’d have enough knowledge to disagree on specific points, but the authors were so very confident and sure in their portrayal of daily life and larger events in 2nd century Carnuntum, that it never occurred to me to question them. Deft handling. This was not the result of casual scholarship, but consistently showed a real grasp of how that world worked, in detail and in larger scope. I never felt that I was being lectured at, but rather shown a particular time and place and its people.

Our protagonist, Nicole, after unexpectedly time-travelling, reacts much more realistically than such voyagers typically do. It was refreshing. Additionally, there was opportunity for character development. While I never really came to like Nicole, I greatly preferred her post-adventure self. The other characters in the book were individually interesting as well, and even the token shmuck ex-husband has a redeeming moment. Overall, though, the whole plot seems to exist as a frame for the vivid painting of life in history through a modern lens, and it’s brilliant at that job.

This book helped wake my brain up. I was muzzy with mundanities, and Turtledove and Tarr’s well-crafted volume reminded me both of the privilege of my daily situation (Hot water for showers! Laundry done by machine! My Very Own Bath!) and the larger world that reading and, in particular, speculative fiction, could hold open for me. So this volume will always hold a special place in my heart. And I will very confidently read more of Turtledove’s work. I am sure it will be well written, immersive, and that I’ll learn substantially about history. All very good things!

GBR#6: Jody Lynn Nye


Because we all know who is REALLY in charge here.

Attention novice writers: there’s a theme I’m noticing about the Balticon 50 previous Guests of Honor. In addition to the multiple awards most of them have accumulated, many of these folks have long lists of works to their names. Jody Lynn Nye is one of these: she has PUBLISHED more than 40 books, and over 120 short stories. And that’s what made it into print. Who knows how many not-quite-right manuscripts are lurking about the place? We know that practice improves any skill, and writing is certainly one of these. The Great Balticon Readathon is showing us people putting that very real work into their craft over years, and what the outcome of that dedication may be. Lesson in plain view: oh, you wrote a book? Excellent! Write another!


In the case of Jody Lynn Nye, one of these outcomes is my GBR pick, View from the Imperium. A delightful and very funny SF novel that is both political and military. I loved our erstwhile protagonist, Lord Thomas Kinago, who is essentially Bertie Wooster in space. Jeeves is there too, even more utterly competent and utterly mysterious. There are wardrobe disputes and social entanglements and missed cues woven throughout Nye’s story of empire management and mismanagement.  Delightful. And the reason people were giving me side-eye me for laughing aloud on the plane a couple of days ago.

This book has been around for a few years now, but contains a bit of prescient parallel to a current political situation. I won’t get into this right now, but I did identify with a particular bewildered political figure (the one with the cat). Can’t be more specific; my son’s been talking with me rather keenly about spoilers. Bad enough I let you know there’s a cat cameo.

But it’s Jody Lynn Nye, for heaven’s sake, of COURSE she’s going to get in a cat if she can. Visit her website and look at the photo gallery for images of her very handsome black cat, Jeremy. I can of course testify to the usefulness of having a large black cat around when writing or reading, as our own Bruce sets the scheduling at the Palmer household. In fact, without Bruce’s substantial presence and keen vocals, I’d not have been up at 5:30 this morning working on this blog post. He reminds me: if I’d kept his schedule from the beginning, I’d likely be finished with the entire GBR by now, and would be free to do what I really wish I could do. That is, follow Lord Thomas Kinago’s further adventures in Fortunes of the Imperium.

So: what would I speak with Jody Lynn Nye about, should I meet her at Balticon? Well, the cats thing is a simple one. If she feels like talking shop, though, I think I’d be interested in hearing her speak about collaboration. In addition to her own solo work, she’s written extensively with other authors, including such notables as Anne McCaffrey and Robert Asprin. A blog post she wrote back in October last year refers to a Publisher’s Weekly article referring to a protégé relationship with Angelina Adams in the “Stellar Guild series, in which a new writer builds on the work of an experienced author”. I would like to hear more about this, and what the experience was like for both of them. Note to self: see if she’s doing a panel!

If you can’t wait to get to Balticon 50 to hear more from Jody Lynn Nye, Doc Coleman over at The Balticon Podcast has an interview with Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett, replete with insights on publishing, editing, writing, and more. Good stuff!


GBR #5: Allen Steele


Allen Steele, drawn in markers on a bumpy airline voyage, rather looks like Mr. Scott on sabbatical from Starfleet.

In 2008, NASA’s unmanned Phoenix lander arrived on Mars. Among its components was nestled an archival silica-glass mini-DVD called Visions of Mars. This multimedia compilation includes a vast legacy of art, sound, and literature: some of humanity’s thoughts about the red planet. Among the many novels and stories is Allen M. Steele’s 1988 debut Science Fiction story, “Live from the Mars Hotel”. This is the work I’ve chosen to explore next for the Great Balticon Readathon.

Allen M. Steele was a journalist before he started publishing Science Fiction. The precision of detail and careful descriptions required for his earlier profession has carried over into his fiction writing. “Live from the Mars Hotel” has for its structure a series of interviews carried out over time, regarding the first musicians to be recorded from a near-future human habitation of Mars. An interesting conceit: it gives Steele the opportunity to use several first-person narrators, to build the story from largely second-hand accounts. Included in this assemblage of second-hand accounts, opinions and conjectures (although perhaps unnoticed), is the reader’s own position at the end of the story. The reader is left to decide which of several possible themes is primary. Is this a story about what home means? The immigrant experience? Corporate interference in the arts? The wellspring of creativity?

Using multiple first-person narrators gives Steele room to create, in a single story, a wide variety of environments. From a radio control room in St. Louis to the isolated Arsia Base on Mars, Steele presents vivid pictures in few words, setting up frameworks for the reader’s mind to fill in. It’s very well done. Minimal but evocative description leaves more space for the leapfrogging of narrators. He then lets a different narrator fill in a bit more description where needed, paint a little bit more of the plot. The story spirals along, rather than falling into a direct line. It requires an engaged reader. Not a bad thing, I think, to have the reader as an active participant in the story.

“Live from the Mars Hotel,” with its easy familiarity with the music and radio industries, was a most fitting entrance into the genre for this guy from Nashville. His lengthy and prolific career has taken him from having a “best young author” tag to being cited by many new writers as a major influence. And who knows which future entity, human or otherwise, will be reading this story, tucked away in humanity’s message on the red planet? If I happen to meet him at Balticon 50, I think I’d like to ask him who he envisions discovering or engaging with that Visions of Mars DVD in the future.