Emails From Lake Woe-Is-Me — Fit the Ninetieth

Alt text: A black forest sits against a dark, star filled sky. Creepy black goo drips down the scene. Text reads: “Fit the Ninetieth: The Ghost of Words Unwritten.”

[Introduction: Melanie Stormm continues her humorous series of posts about the misdirected emails she’s been getting. Stormm is a multiracial writer who writes fiction, poetry, and audio theatre. Her novella, Last Poet of Wyrld’s End is available through Candlemark & Gleam. She is currently the editor at the SPECk, a monthly publication on speculative poetry by the SFPA. Find her in her virtual home at (temporarily closed for update). Wipe your feet before entering.]


Hello All! Melanie here.

The SFF writing life, with all of its arc ships, singing swords, and uncanny terrors, is brought to you by Regularity.

Having dependable places to sleep, dependable food to eat, and dependable friends to laugh with goes a long way ensuring chapters are written and multi-volume sagas are slogged.

Yes, your characters may not know whether their sleep will be wrested by a band of angry goblins, but your writer should. Too little is said in praise of the banal, too few songs are sung about a regular oatmeal breakfast and an evening walking the cat. Three cheers for the afternoon when all you have to do is write 500 words in your latest short story and dry the towels before they get moldy in the washing machine.

It’s been a season of focusing on writing for our heroes in Cradensburg but with that Cradensburg flare. Just a few weeks ago, Tod Boadkins was hunted by a bow-wielding character that escaped a novelette he was working on. Writer X had hunting of her own to do: she hunted down a special flash light that reveals whether a first draft is ready for revisions or needs more time to cool. And Tryxy the demon started two things at the same time: the fall semester at Miskatonic Online University, and a strict diet and exercise program to keep the freshman fifteen at bay. But I like to think that, in all of this, things have been more regular and cozy, and that our heroes are happier for it.

Without further ado…

Subject: A new stor—HALP!!!!! A HAUNTING!!!!

Dear Gladys,

How are you??? I hope you are enjoying this suddenly sunny weather we’ve been having. By the way, I’m being haunted and need you to come over write away.

I’m sure you’re dying to know how my writing is going. Well, this afternoon—OH MY GOD I’M NOT ALONE, I CAN FEEL THAT I’M NOT ALONE!!!! THE SOUND IS BACK TOO!!!!! THERE’S A PRESENCE HERE GLADYS, A MALEVOLENT PRESEN

Oh, it’s gone. What was I saying???

This afternoon my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, closed himself in our bedroom away from the television to force himself into editing his novelette “Tasyin of the Wicked Watch.” He’s been dreading the task for at least two weeks and has gotten SUPER GOOD at avoiding it. Just the other week he went hunting baers and got lost in the wilderness and so had an excellent excuse for missing the final edits deadline.

It all started when he went up Shit creek, got in a fight with a baer that had been fishing for salmon, and broke his paddle fending off a swarm of woodchucks who came to support the baer (long story.) Fortunately, he hadn’t lost any of his provisions in the tussle. The canoe drifted into some marshlands and my boyfriend opened up the cooler I had packed for him but discovered he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic. This is because I had left the sandwiches on the counter and ran off to write a short story about a woman that receives a clock as an early retirement gift. The clock tells her how long she has left to live. The woman discovers that certain things shorten or lengthen the time, but at one point, she eats a sandwich and, once finished, she checks the clock and discovers she only has three minutes before death takes her.

Anyhoo, my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, being without any sandwiches for his picnic, was forced to abandon his canoe and trudge through the marshes into the bog looking for food. About that time he spied a banana tree in the distance. As you know, Galdsy, it’s not too often that you spot a banana tree growing in the New Hampshire wilderness—I really have only seen one, to be honest—and he knew he was saved!!! A few hours later, he found a path through the bog to the banana tree but discovered that the banana grew at the center of an ancient graveyard with a crumbling stone wall surrounding it.

In the graveyard, mildew-streaked headstones stuck out from the ground like weathered teeth. Occasionally, he glimpsed worn off surnames of the long dead like Luck, Charity, and Cleveland-Banksley-Bauer. Dates such as 1589 and 1703 filled the cemetery, not a year beyond 1713 on any of them. Some of the tombstones had been broken by wind and rain or unimaginable violence, the shattered edges worn smooth by centuries. No one had been in this graveyard for at least 300 years, from my boyfriend’s guess.

He came to the banana tree and, so hungry was he after the woodchuck fight, that he devoured four or five on the spot. When he bit into the sixth, he realized that the graveyard had not been entirely abandoned. On the other side of the banana tree was a freshly dug and deep grave with pale pink worms wriggling in the newly exposed earth. The edges of the grave had not been shored yet and so they sloped inward so that someone who stood on the edge of the grave might slip inside if they weren’t careful. My boyfriend learned too late that he had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

He fell into the grave. It was far deeper than any grave he’d seen before, at least fifteen feet deep and it was a good thing that my boyfriend had attended boy scouts and learned that the safest way to fall is on your face. Still, it knocked him out for a matter of hours. When he came to, the first stars of twilight hung far above him and the darkness made it seem as though the fifteen feet of grave stretched into one hundred, then two hundred.

Then, a figure appeared at the top of the grave. A gaunt, long figure in a wide black hat. The figure stooped with its bone white hands on its knees and called to my boyfriend with a thin voice that invoked the cold of death.

“What ho, traveler there. You have fallen into my grave and so you are bound to do my will or else never return to the world you once knew.”

“What is your will?” cried my boyfriend.

“Have you seen the great wood that surrounds this place?”

“Errr…I think so?” my boyfriend replied. “Do you mean the marsh. Or the part with the baers—”

“This great and malevolent wood has claimed the thousand and eleven souls of the town of Unjust.”

“Would that be the mythological town of Unjust whose inhabitants escaped from Roanoke and came to New Hampshire because they were sensitive to sunburn, and created a place in which horrible things happened that revealed the depravity within the human condition and legend has it that a fog settled on the town for a year and shortly after the inhabitants would mysteriously leave their beds and disappear one by one into the woods never to be seen again?” asked my boyfriend.

“Anyhoo,” said the figure with a voice like the gallows. “I was the last of these souls and my punishment was to roam these woods and find the bones of each of those lost—including the parts the animals got to—and carry them back and bury them each fifteen feet in the earth’s hollow beside a banana tree. As you can see, I’ve been at it for a while and still have eight hundred more to find. Now that you have fallen into my grave, you must pay the price and I task you to help me find the bones of those lost in the fog—particularly the finger bone of Madame Cleveland-Banksley-Bauer, it’s escaped me for years—and help me until my task is completed and one thousand and ten souls rest in these cursed grounds.”

“Is there any other way I can help? I kind of like my life the way it is,” said my boyfriend.

“Bury five hundred with me,” was the gravedigger’s counter offer.

And so the man in the hat and my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, haggled back and forth until they came to the following terms:

“If I help you from this grave, you must give to me the soul of the first person you see as you leave and they will be bound to the first task they undertake or else the fog will come and take you too into the dark, into the woods, into the mouth of whatever beaver ate Madame Cleveland-Banksley-Bauer’s right hand.”

“Deal!” said my boyfriend, and they shook on it.

About that time I was taking a little break from my story with the clock and had a sudden craving for bananas. Fortunately, I knew just where to find some without having to get dressed in presentable clothes and drive down to Mr. Morgan’s. That’s when I happened to run into my boyfriend and let him know that his editor had called and the deadline for final edits had passed and when was he going to turn in the novelette?? On our way home, he told me what had happened and we both agreed that it was an excellent reason for missing a deadline if there ever was one. Then, we got home and he ate those stale sandwiches and I got back to my writing and Tryxy had gotten on to resuming his Golden Girls marathon.

That’s what I mean when I say that he’s gotten very good at avoiding his editing, Gladys. And so, when he closed himself in our bedroom this afternoon, I took the liberty of installing a deadbolt that locks from the outside on the bedroom door and informed him that he could come out again when he’s finished the edits and submitted the story. Every writer deserves someone who will lock them in a room until they finish their writing.

Anyhoo, what was I saying?? Right!!! I was telling you about how my writing was going today.

With my boyfriend working on his edits, and Tryxy finishing his homework so that he can continue his eighties sitcom marathon and #bestkitten helping by sitting on his keyboard, I was completely free to start working on a short story of my own. I know I haven’t told you about this story yet Gladys, it came to me all of a sudden while I was stuck in that stupid clock story—ACCCK!!!! IT’S BACK!!!! IT’S BACK GLADYS!!! HANG ON, I HAVE TO RELOCATE UNDER MY KITCHEN SINK SO THAT IT WON’T FIND ME!!!!!

Ahem. As I was saying, I got to the spot in the clock story where the lady discovers that she has just three minutes left to live and she has to figure out what to do to save her life or die when the minute hand reaches 11:18 a.m. and I’ve been at it for days and I can’t figure it out. So I decided to just throw it aside and start on this completely NEW short story about a child who discovers they can walk through walls and is kidnapped by an evil uncle who has learned his secret and—OH MY GOD, I HEAR THAT SOUND AGAIN!!!! IT’S A HISSING NOISE!!!! AND THEN THE SOUND OF A CLOCK!!!! AND NOW A DARK BLACK FOG IS CREEPING UNDER THE CABINET DOOR!!!!!


GALDSY, I NE— hang on, my capslock was stuck. I need you to come save me!!!! I would ask Tryxy in the next room but he finally got settled into his snuggie and has arranged his popcorn into the perfect position on the sofa and the opening song for Golden Girls is playing and if I ask him, he’s going to have to pause the show, wipe the popcorn butter off his hands, get out of his snuggie after he got it perfect, feel like the room is super cold because of the temperature difference after being in a polar fleece snuggie, and come fight off the ghost!!!!! I can’t do that!!!! And #bestkitten just made a perfect fur circle in his lap!!!!!

If you don’t come, I’ll die!!!! There’s no way I can finish the clock story!!! It’s too hard and I’ll die before I do!!!!

Oh wait. What if I make the character…but that would mean I’d have to go back to the beginning and—

Gotta go, Gladys!!!! I have an idea for my clock story!!!!

Pages next week!!!!



P.S. I still need you to come over. I’ve managed to lose the key to the deadbolt down one of the floor vents and my boyfriend, award nominated fantasy writer Tod Boadkins, is banging on the bedroom door. He says he has to pee.

























Meet the Women of Fifties UK Fandom in Rob Hansen’s “Generation Femizine”

Rob Hansen surveys the early presence of women in UK science fiction fandom, identifies the UK’s first known female fan, and shows the lead-up to the fanzine Femizine (1954-1960) – the first true rallying point for female British fans — in Generation Femizine, the latest addition to TAFF’s library of free downloads. 

The 67,000-word book, compiled from the participants’ own words, is available in multiple electronic formats from the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund’s website, where they also hope you’ll make a little donation to the fund. Find it here.

In this compilation, each major contributor is represented by a mini-biography and a photograph, followed by a selection of her writings in Femizine and/or contemporary fan publications. Rob Hansen supplies necessary context and commentary, tells how it all ended, and adds appendices dealing with the male response (reviews in professional sf magazines), the Great Hoax, the full bibliographical details, and an international listing of “Female Fannish Firsts”.

From Rob Hansen’s Foreword

Femizine (not to be confused with the later similarly-titled US zine Femzine) was launched at SUPERMANCON, the 1954 Eastercon, held that year in Manchester. The idea of an all-female fanzine had been bubbling up for a while and several letters had passed between Frances Evans, Joan Carr, and Ethel Lindsay shortly before the convention in which they decided it was time. Carr volunteered to edit the zine and a flyer was produced in time for the con, with the first issue appearing soon afterwards. As can be seen from the cover photo (taken at the event by Eric Bentcliffe) there was a certain amount of excitement among female fans at this finally happening.

As is now widely known, “Joan Carr” did not exist (see Appendix 2). She was created as a hoax to be played primarily on the Nor’west Science Fantasy Club (NSFC), who then met regularly in Manchester….

A printed paperback edition is also available, released simultaneously with the ebook: click here for more. All proceeds from paperback sales go to TAFF.

[Based on a press release.]

Pixel Scroll 9/24/23 The Decimated Pixel Of Doom

(0) WGA/AMPTP REACH DEAL. Shortly after the Scroll was posted, I received this news item reported by Variety: “Deal! WGA, AMPTP Agree to Deal After 146-Day Writers Strike”.

Hollywood heaves a sigh of relief. The WGA and major studios and streamers have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract that promises to end the 146-day strike that has taken a heavy toll across the content industry.

Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached the finish line Sunday after five consecutive days of negotiations. Day 4 on Saturday mostly involved lawyers for the guild and AMPTP hashing out the fine print of language around complicated and groundbreaking additions to the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement. The nitty-gritty details of language around the use of generative AI in content production was one of the last items that the sides worked on before closing the pact.

“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the WGA Negotiating Committee wrote in an email to sent to members at 7:10 p.m. PT (Full text below).

The three-year contract will be sent to WGA members for a ratification vote. After nearly five months on strike – the work stoppage began May 2 – it’s highly likely to pass muster with the WGA’s 11,000 members, especially with the enthusiastic endorsement of WGA leaders. As momentum built this week, negotiators began to look at the approach of the Yom Kippur holiday on Sunday as a soft target deadline….

(1) HUGO VOTING DEADLINE. Voting for 2023 Hugo Award, Astounding Award and Lodestar Award closes less than a week from now on September 30 at 11:59 p.m. Hawaiian Time.  Don’t miss your chance to cast and update your ballot before the deadline.

(2) YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM. I dreamed last night I was watching a stand-up comic perform. He got to part of a story where emergency vehicles were responding to a situation and he was imitating the siren/bell/electronic squawks they made — which was surprising (and possibly unlikely) he could do with his voice alone, but it was mentally up to me to decide when he had made enough different noises to be funny but without doing too many to kill the joke. Apparently I woke up at the point I decided he’d done enough.

(3) FIFTH ELEMENTS. New Scientist presents “Five of sci-fi’s best corporate villains, according to author John Scalzi”. Read fast – New Scientist lets you read for a few seconds before blocking with a request that you register for an account to continue reading.

In my latest novel Starter Villain, the book’s protagonist, Charlie Fitzer, inherits his mysterious uncle’s vast corporate empire – only to discover that underpinning it all is a supervillainy business that rivals anything that James Bond’s adversaries might have ever imagined.

While my book takes place in today’s world, there are definitely unexpected elements (wait until you meet the cats!) that make for a mash-up of wild science fiction and modern corporatised evil. But of course, Starter Villain isn’t the first work to blend the two concepts.

Submitted below, for your approval, are five cinematic (non-007) works from across several decades that have offered up the sort of villains who show up in my novel….

One of his choices is:

Aliens(1986): In the original Alien (1979), it is clear that the Weyland-Yutani corporation that has sent the crew of the Nostromo to pick up a murderous, extraterrestrial egg values its military branch’s profits more than humans. But in this excellent and rather tonally different sequel, that corporate ethos is given a face in Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), a striving middle-management type who just doesn’t understand why Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) can’t see the financial opportunity the aliens offer the company. Appropriately, it’s the aliens themselves who eventually show him the error of his ways.

(4) CHENGDU WORLDCON ROUNDUP. [Item by Ersatz Culture.]

Chengdu Science Fiction Season. I’m not sure how officially these are associated with the Worldcon, but there have been a few events under the “2023 Chengdu Science Fiction Season” branding, which include the Chengdu Worldcon name and panda logo on their photos and videos.

On September 15th, writer 泽泽 / Ze Ze gave a talk at a Chengdu primary school about the history of SF, which apparently went as far as explaining the difference between hard and soft SF.

This is another talk to schoolkids, this time by La Zi (aka Latssep), who works at SF World magazine, and co-edited one of the Best Fanzine finalists.  This line caught my eye:

First of all, [La Zi] started by talking about three “major science fiction events” that happened around us, the World Science Fiction Conference, The Wandering Earth, General Secretary Xi’s speech…

That’s the Google Translate rendering, but I also put that text through the DeepL and Vivaldi Lingvanex translators, and they all came out with similar results.

This took place on September 16 in Chengdu, and featured Best Short Story finalist Lu Ban alongside a moderator and a couple of others.

I’m not sure when exactly this took place.  The Friday post talks about an event that happened this afternoon (Sunday 24th), but has a video of the panel, so whatever happened today can’t have been that panel?  (I think that panel may have been streamed live, per the text in the top right of the video?)  The panelists include one of the Worldcon division heads, and a couple of writers who’ve had  stories published in English translation.

The people on stage, from left:

  • The lady hosting the panel is  / Chen Yao aka Sara Chen, who works at SF World magazine, and is one of the Worldcon division heads.
  • The guy in the black North Face polo shirt is 谢云宁 / Xie Yunning, who won the Xingyun Best Novel award in 2021, but doesn’t seem to have had anything published in English.
  • Third panelist (guy with glasses) is 阿缺 / A Que, who has had several stories published in Clarkesworld, and also one in the Sinopticon anthology.
  • The lady in the blue top is 程婧波 / Cheng Jingbo, who has also had a few stories translated into English, and has an SFE entry
  • Fifth panelist (guy with glasses)  天瑞说符 / Tianrui Fu, webnovelist. He has a translation of one of his works available on Amazon ( ), but from a very quick skim, it doesn’t look like anyone who was a native speaker was involved in the translation.
  • Rightmost panelist: 张玉乐 / Zhang Yule, president of a university SF society

Early on, after giving an overview of what Worldcons are, and a bit of background about the Hugos, between 17:45 and 20:05, Chen Yao namechecks all the Hugo finalists that SF World has published, has scheduled to publish in the future, or employs (in the case of the editor finalists), all of which were on the recommendation list mentioned in the Scroll a couple of months ago. I’m sure none of that is an attempt to influence Hugo voters….

(5) THE GODS THEMSELVES. “Krapopolis Review: Dan Harmon Sitcom Off to Promising Start” declares Variety.

Ever since the success, demise, rebirth and extended afterlife of the NBC-turned-Yahoo sitcom “Community,” the showrunner Dan Harmon has largely avoided the strictures of network TV. With his cynical streak and meta references, Harmon’s niche sensibility was always an awkward fit for a mass audience; even when “Community” was on the air, it was perpetually on the verge of cancellation. As television expanded rapidly in the 2010s, Harmon found a more natural home in cable and streaming. Despite the departure of “Rick and Morty” co-creator and star Justin Roiland amid allegations of sexual assault, the hit show is now entering its seventh season on Adult Swim; earlier this year, Harmon helped adapt the web comic “Strange Planet” into a series for Apple TV+.

With the animated half-hour “Krapopolis,” however, Harmon makes his official return to a broadcast network. Airing on Fox, “Krapopolis” is at least guaranteed the stability “Community” never enjoyed; ahead of its premiere on Sept. 24, the show has already been renewed through Season 3. And due to the ongoing strikes, “Krapopolis” is now, by default, one of the tentpoles of its network’s fall schedule, with new live-action series postponed until further notice.

That’s a heavy load to bear for an amusing, high-concept riff on the family sitcom set in an extremely loose rendition of ancient Greece. Physically weak and intellectually arrogant, 29-year-old Tyrannis (Richard Ayoade) is a man ahead of his time, so he’s recruited his warrior sister Stupendous (Pam Brady) and scientist half-brother Hippocampus (Duncan Trussell) to help him build a modern city-state. (“He tells powerless people they’re powerful and they like that, so they give him all their power,” one citizen says of Tyrannis’ skill set.) But first, Tyrannis must persuade the skeptical, not least among them his own parents: vain goddess Deliria (Hannah Waddingham) and Shlub (Matt Berry), a manticore-like hybrid of several different creatures….

(6) SFF THAT IS UNEXPECTEDLY PREDICTIVE. Gizmodo says this is “The Summer That Reality Caught Up to Climate Fiction”.

…What once sounded outlandish, like material for a dystopian novel, is looking more and more like reality. So what is a writer of fiction supposed to do? For decades, authors have speculated what the world might look like when the climate from hell arrives. Consider American War by Omar El Akkad, set in 2074 during the outbreak of a civil war set off by a ban on fossil fuels, when Florida is erased from the map and Louisiana is half-underwater. In the six years since the book’s publication, the United States has become the most deeply polarized democracy in recent history; the intensity of heat waves and other disasters have eclipsed expectations. Earlier this year, the magazine Writer’s Digest called American War an “all-too-realistic cautionary tale.”

But El Akkad never intended it to be realistic at all. I asked him if it felt like the novel was starting to come true. “I thought that the way I had structured it was enough of an extrapolation that I wouldn’t have to deal with precisely the question you’re asking,” El Akkad told me. “And that has been obliterated in the last few years. That, to me, is terrifying.”

Extreme weather has melted the distinction between fact and fiction. As El Akkad described it, global warming doesn’t feel slow and steady; it feels more like falling down the stairs, with big drops that shake your expectations. One moment, you’re taking a nap in your house; the next, you’re running for your life from a wildfire. This year, a naturally hotter weather pattern called El Niño started setting in, adding extra heat on top of the climate change we’ve become accustomed to. July was the planet’s hottest month on record, clocking in at 1.5 degrees C (2.4 F) warmer than the preindustrial average. The disasters this summer serve as a preview of what the world could see during a typical year in the early 2030s. We no longer need authors or scientists to imagine it; real-world experience does the trick for anyone who’s paying close attention…..

(7) HWA LATINX INTERVIEW SERIES. “Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Javier Loustaunau” is the latest in the Horror Writers Association blog’s series.

What inspired you to start writing?

I grew up in a house surrounded by books so there was never a moment where I did not think I was going to write, it felt like everyone must write for there to be this many books. Really, I was just impatient to grow up a little and become a better writer, somebody who did not have to lean so hard imitating other writers. One thing that helped me as a writer was when I reached out to the Marvel editorial asking for help on becoming a comic book writer and I got a response from Stan Lee (or more likely his assistant) telling me it does not matter what I write but I need to write every single day if I want to improve. So I wrote letters, I wrote reviews, I wrote poems, I translated, I journaled… but I made sure I always wrote every single day. 

(8) SIGHTS AND SOUNDS. Rebecca F. Kuang shares literary and cultural recommendations with the Guardian in: “On my radar: Rebecca F Kuang’s cultural highlights”. The second item is —

2. Fiction

Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star, translated by Benjamin Moser

A few months ago, I hosted a friend from Colombia who was touring my university. After a morning walk in the cemetery, we ended up at the campus Barnes & Noble, where we picked out favourite novels for the other to read. Rather predictably, we went for the Nobel laureates – I chose for her Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, and she chose Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. She also included a random bonus pick – a short, translated novel by Ukrainian-born Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector, which I enjoyed so much I have since copied out the following passage about writing in several letters to friends: “All this, yes, the story is history. But knowing beforehand so you never forget that the word is the fruit of the word, the word must resemble the word. Reaching it is my first duty to myself. And the word can’t be dressed up and artistically vain, it can only be itself. Well, it’s true that I also wanted to arrive at a sheer sensation and for it to be so sheer that it couldn’t break into a perpetual line.” The word can only be itself. Good advice for every time I sit down to write….

(9) REST IN PEACE TACO CAT. Cat Rambo shared this sad news today:

Earlier this year Taco was part of our Cats Sleep on SFF series in “Proud Pink Sky” – photo at the link.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 24, 1922 Bert Ira Gordon. He not only wrote but directed such films as Serpent IslandKing DinosaurThe Amazing Colossal ManEarth vs. the SpiderVillage of the Giants and Empire of the Ants. Aren’t those truly deliciously pulpy SF film titles?  (I need more adjectives, I truly do.) Forrest J Ackerman nicknamed him “Mr. B.I.G.” a reference to both his initials and his films’ tendency to feature super-sized creatures. (Died 2023.)
  • Born September 24, 1930 Jack Gaughan. Artist and illustrator who won the Hugo several times including once for Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist in the same year. Most of his work from 1970 onward was for Ace and DAW. He illustrated the covers and hand-lettered title pages for the unauthorized first paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings which Ace released in 1965. Here’s those covers he did for The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. (Died 1985.)
  • Born September 24, 1934 John Brunner. My favorite works by him? The Shockwave RiderStand on Zanzibar which won a Hugo at St. Louiscon and The Sheep Look Up. I’m also fond of The Squares of The City which was nominated for a Hugo at Tricon. What’s your favorite works by him? (Died 1995.)
  • Born September 24, 1936 Jim Henson. As much as I love The Muppet Show, and I’ve watched every show at least twice, I think The Storyteller is his best work. That’s not to overlook Labyrinth, The Witches, (yes I know it’s now considered misogynistic) The Dark Crystal and the first two Muppets films which are also excellent. (I think they really did far too many Muppets films.) (Died 1990.)
  • Born September 24, 1945 David Drake, 78. I’d say his best-known solo work was the Hammer’s Slammers series. He has also written the Royal Cinnabar Navy series which are space operas inspired by the Aubrey–Maturin novels which i be not read. Opinions please on if I should do so. He has also drafted story ideas that were then finished off by co-authors such as Karl Edward Wagner, S.M. Stirling, and Eric Flint. He’s very, very well stocked at the usual suspects. Usual suspects for those of you are curious being Apple Books, Kindle and Kobo. 
  • Born September 24, 1945 Ian Stewart, 78. Mathematician and writer. He makes the Birthday Honors for the four volumes in The Science of Discworld series he wrote with Jack Cohen and Terry Pratchett. It was nominated for a Hugo at Chicon 2000. Each of the books alternates between the usually absurd Discworld story and serious scientific exposition. (All four volumes are available from the usual suspects.) He would write a number of genre novels, none of which I’m familiar with. Anybody here read his works? 
  • Born September 24, 1957 Brad Bird, 66. Animator, director, screenwriter, producer, and occasionally even a voice actor whom I’m going to praise for directing The Iron Giant (nominated for a Hugo at Chicon 2000), The Incredibles (winner of Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form at Interaction), Incredibles 2 and Tomorrowland. He’s the voice of Edna Mode in both the Incredibles films, a most excellent role indeed. 
  • Born September 24, 1965 Richard K. Morgan, 58. The Takeshi Kovacs novels are an awesome series that I’ve read at least twice which are why I haven’t watched the Netflix series. His fantasy series, A Land Fit For Heroes, is still on my TBR To Be Listened To pile. I read the first of the Black Man series and will admit that I was far from impressed. 


  • Bizarro is kind of a police procedural. Sort of.
  • Brewster Rockit is a didactic strip about the OSIRIS-Rex mission, with a surprise twist at the end.
  • Tom Gauld reveals another benefit of reading.
  • And Tom Gauld knows something about co-workers’ social lives.

(12) SHRINKING COMICS SECTION. Cartoonist Dave Kellett on X reports Gannett Newspapers is cost-cutting and has limited ALL its 200 papers to just these 34 comics.

The Daily Cartoonist has a list of “The Gannett 34”.

The USA TODAY Network/Gannett group has released a list of the selected 34 comic strips and panels that local editors and publishers will* choose from to run in their newspapers – not all will run in all (any?) of the papers.

The chosen strips and panels:

Group 1: Blondie, Zits, Beetle Bailey, Family Circus, Hagar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace

Group 2: Garfield, Peanuts, For Better or Worse, Baby Blues, Pickles, FoxTrot

Group 3: Pearls Before Swine, Jump Start, Ziggy, Marmaduke, Non Sequitur, Crabgrass

Group 4 Crankshaft, Luann, Baldo, Frank & Ernest, The Born Loser   

Group 5: B.C., Wizard of Id, Close to Home, Argyle Sweater, Mother Goose, Rose is Rose

Group 6: Hi & Lois, Mutts, Curtis, Shoe, The Lockhorns

(13) DRAGONSLAYER. On the “DARK DISNEY – Part 1: Dragonslayer (1981)” episode of Erik Hanson’s Cradle to the Grave podcast the host is joined by guests Clay McLeod Chapman, Junot Diaz, and Stephen Bissette.

Have you ever wanted to see a Disney movie where the Princess gets her foot chewed off by a baby dragon? Well, look no further, Dragonslayer has you covered! Here to chat about said foot-chewing are 3 of the biggest Dragonslayer fans I could find: Author Clay McLeod Chapman, Author Junot Diaz, and comic book writer / artist Stephen Bissette. Together we dive deep into the era known as “Dark Disney” and come to the realization that Disney has ALWAYS BEEN DARK!

(14) I COULD HAVE HAD A V-2.  The National Air and Space Museum blog article “Restoring the Museum’s V-2 Missile” goes into fascinating detail about the history of the components in the museum’s V-2, and the painstaking research to explain which of the paint jobs applied over the years might be the most historically accurate.

One of the icons of the Museum’s location on the National Mall has been the black-and-white German V-2 ballistic missile. Ever since the building opened in July 1976, it stood in Space Hall, which in 1997 was revised to become Space Race. That rocket, currently off display, will return in a new guise, with green camouflage paint, when the hall reopens in a few years as RTX Living in the Space Age….

In a parallel project, Duane Decker of the Preservation and Restoration Unit redid the V-2 launch stand, which is original German mobile launch equipment transferred by NASA Marshall in 1975. Painted black, it was used to support the missile in Space Hall/Space Race. When he stripped it, he found no original paint. I consulted with Tracy Dungan, who supplied 1944 images that showed German stands painted in “dark yellow,” the late-war Wehrmacht vehicle camouflage. Duane painted ours in that color and it will once again support the rocket when it goes back on display in RTX Living in the Space Age. 

This time the stand and rocket will be on top of a pedestal in the Missile Pit, the hole in the center of the gallery floor that allows taller rockets to fit under the roof. Lifted up to floor level, visitors will be able to see the stand and the rocket much as they would have looked during the V-2 campaign of 1944-1945. I very much look forward to the day when we again assemble and mount this important and deadly icon of the missile and space age.

The Museum’s V-2 rocket in the Space Race exhibition in 2006.

(15) SUCCESSION. The Guardian says “Studio Ghibli to be acquired by Nippon TV after struggle to find a successor to Miyazaki”.

Weeks after the celebrated Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki made his long-awaited comeback, the studio he founded almost four decades ago has secured its long-term future, easing concerns over its struggle to find a successor.

Studio Ghibli said this week that the company would be acquired by the private broadcaster, Nippon TV, which promised to continue building on Ghibli’s global success.

Miyazaki – widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest animators – founded Studio Ghibli in 1985, leading it to a string of successes, including an Oscar in 2003 for Spirited Away.

The studio built a loyal following around the world with films like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, while Miyazaki was nominated for two further Academy Awards – for Howl’s Moving Castle in 2006 and The Wind Rises in 2014 – the same year he was chosen to receive an honorary Oscar.

The agreement with Nippon TV, which will become Ghibli’s biggest shareholder, came after Miyazaki, 82, and its president, 75-year-old Toshio Suzuki, failed to persuade Miyazaki’s son to take over the running of the studio….

(16) HONEY, I’M HOME. “In a first, NASA returns asteroid samples to Earth”NBC News has the story.

A capsule containing precious samples from an asteroid landed safely on Earth on Sunday, the culmination of a roughly 4-billion-mile journey over the past seven years.

The asteroid samples were collected by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which flew by Earth early Sunday morning and jettisoned the capsule over a designated landing zone in the Utah desert. The unofficial touchdown time was 8:52 a.m. MT, 3 minutes ahead of the predicted landing time.

The dramatic event — which the NASA livestream narrator described as “opening a time capsule to our ancient solar system” — marked a major milestone for the United States: The collected rocks and soil were NASA’s first samples brought back to Earth from an asteroid. Experts have said the bounty could help scientists unlock secrets about the solar system and how it came to be, including how life emerged on this planet….

And — “NASA collected a sample from an asteroid for the first time — here’s why it matters”The Verge will be happy to explain.

(17) A PART OF ONE PIECE. Gizmodo thinks “Jamie Lee Curtis May Have Achieved Her Dream of Being in One Piece” based on this Instagram.

(18) ANIME EXPLORATIONS. The prospect of Jamie Lee Curtis being cast in One Piece is also one of several topics taken up in episode 12 of the Anime Explorations Podcast, “Shirobako”. Another is Anime industry figures referenced in Shirobako. And Vampire Hunter D.

[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Ersatz Culture, Steven French, Alexander Case, Kathy Sullivan, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]

Remembering Allan Asherman

Allan Asherman

By Steve Vertlieb: Allan Asherman has passed away. He was a revered writer, journalist, Star Trek scholar … and cherished friend. My brother Erwin and I first encountered Allan at Forry Ackerman’s original “Famous Monsters Convention” at Loew’s Midtown Manhattan Motor Inn in the heart of New York City in September 1965. Along with fellow fans, collectors and writers such as George Stover, Wes Shank, and Gary Svehla, Erwin and I, along with Allan, were introduced to the expansive world of organized “Fandom.”

Erwin and I visited Allan many times over the ensuing years at his parent’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York. It was Allan who introduced us to Buster Crabbe when we three journeyed as star struck teenagers to The Concord Hotel in the Catskills in 1969, and sat in rapturous awe before the hero who had enchanted our childhoods as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Red Barry, and Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion.

I can remember a young gentleman in his early teens, so many years ago, joining us for an afternoon at Allan’s home. This young fan, Scott MacQueen, went on to become one of America’s greatest film scholars and preservationists.

In 1969, after having shared a joyous day with Buster Crabbe in upstate New York, courtesy of Allan, I returned the favor when he visited Erwin and I at our own parent’s home in Philadelphia. I had arranged for, perhaps, the very first “fan” interview with William Shatner at “The Playhouse in the Park” near Philly where Captain Kirk was co-starring with Jill Hayworth in a theater in the round production of There’s A Girl In My Soup. I happily gathered together my brother Erwin, and Allan, to join me when I interviewed Shatner for a British fanzine that I was writing for called L’Incroyable Cinema Magazine.

My published interview with Bill Shatner was later re-published in the third issue of The Monster Times, the world’s first and only bi-weekly Monster tabloid. Still later, it was published yet again within the pages of Allan’s definitive, original study of the Star Trek phenomenon, the famed Star Trek Compendium.

Allan and I were among the original stable of staff writers for The Monster Times in 1972, while Allan journeyed to planets and galaxies “Where No Man Had Gone Before” as a revered, legendary figure in the vast world of all things Star Trek.

Allan visited my home, and my parents, many times over the ensuing years and, when I married my then wife, Maria, visited us for a memorable weekend where I proudly gifted my dear friend with some treasured soundtrack albums by composers such as Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann.

As we grew older, our paths diverged. Allan married his sweetheart, Arlene Lo, and settled on Long Island. We met once more for a couples weekend with fellow fans Bill and Mary Burns, Bruce and Flo Newrock, Maria and I.

Every year during the holidays Allan would telephone me, or I would telephone him, and we’d catch up on each other’s lives.

In recent years our communications became fewer, and I always regretted not having just one more opportunity to meet with Allan, and talk endlessly into “the wee small hours of the morning.”

Despite the absence of regular telephone calls, however, I always cherished Allan’s friendship. Then, on the evening of September 23, 2023, I received a somber phone call from my brother Erwin in Los Angeles. He’d heard from Allan’s devoted wife, Arlene, that Allan had passed away suddenly at age seventy-six in a freak accident.

Allan Asherman and I were friends for very nearly sixty years. Despite the physical distance between us, I always cherished Allan, both as a dear friend, and as a brother. I remain numbed by his passing, and by his terrible loss from my life, yet shall forever hold dear my memories, recollections, conversations, associations, and friendship with this dear man.

My sense of loss and utter desolation, however, is palpable. May God Rest His Sweet Soul, sailing the galaxy eternally upon the gallant bridge of the “U.S.S. Enterprise.”

Until we meet amongst the stars once more, dear friend, I shall ever love and cherish both your memory and friendship.

Lis Carey Review: Chasm City

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (Trantor Audio, 2009)

Review by Lis Carey: Chasm City is set in Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, a century or so after the events of The Prefect and Elysium Fire. Or, put another way, some years after the end of the Belle Epoch, the golden age of the height of human civilization in the Yellowstone system, where Chasm City on the planetary surface, and the Glitter Band, made up of thousands of orbital habitats, offered the near-idyllic life of your choice, until the Melding Plague brought it crashing down. 

 The Melding Plague infects all nanotechnology, including nanotech implants in human beings, and causes it to mutate and distort in ways that in machinery is disturbing and dangerous, and in humans is horrific. The near-utopian life of the Belle Epoch civilization in the Yellowstone system depended on that nanotech and what it made possible. The wealthy who were able to get their implants out, or who sealed themselves into high-tech coffins that allow them to live lives with the tools and pleasures of implants, live in relative comfort in the Canopy of Chasm City. The non-wealthy live in much less desirable areas lower down, and the lowest and worst of those areas is the Mulch. 

The main character is Tanner Mirabel, or at least, he sincerely believes he is. He comes to Yellowstone from the world of Sky’s Edge, and he’s hunting the man who killed his friend and employer, Cahuella, an arms dealer and, by many accounts, a sadistic monster. Tanner has a better opinion of him than many others, indeed thinks of him as being in some ways a good man. Cahuella’s wife tells Tanner he’s better than Tanner realizes, that he was better than his reputation when she met him, and has continued to improve since. 

Tanner is one of the two narrative voices in the book, the other being Sky Haussmann, born on a slow colony ship from Earth to the intended colony world of Journey’s End. The ship has a crew of about 150, and a cargo of tens of thousands of sleepers, who will be awakened on arrival at their new home. We meet Haussmann as a young boy, and follow him as he rises through the crew, by intelligence, hard work, and, oh yes, treachery. He becomes both the hero and the villain of the story of how the planet–now called Sky’s Edge–was successfully settled. 

He also becomes a religious figure, inspiration for a cult, and his followers have created a virus that gives those infected visions of his life. 

Tanner’s home is Sky’s Edge, and he has become infected with the virus. 

Tanner leaves Sky’s Edge and goes to Yellowstone, after Cahuella and his wife are killed, pursuing the killer. Without FTL, the trip takes fifteen years, and it’s during those fifteen years that Yellowstone goes from the very height of civilization to collapse under the effects of the Melding Plague, and struggling to preserve any civilization at all. The Glitter Band is now the Rust Band, and only parts of Chasm City are civilized and pleasant–and even that part has a bloodthirsty edge that perhaps was just not so apparent before. Along the way, he meets the religious order that cares for those who awake from cold sleep with their minds not yet fully reintegrated, the entrepreneurs who, for a price, will remove your implants, hopefully before the Melding Plague gets you. He meets some interesting people, some of whom are part of one of Chasm City’s more bloodthirsty sports, and some very attractive women who may or may not be his friends. 

His sleeping visions of the life of Sky Haussmann become more frequent, more intrusive, and start to depart from the official version of Sky’s life. 

In his waking hours, outside the visions, he starts to learn some confusing and disturbing things about himself and those around him. 

And we start to ask ourselves, as he is, who is Tanner Mirabel, really? 

There are twists on twists, here, and the answer may not be what you think. 

Tanner, Sky, and the people Tanner meets, are interesting and compelling characters, not necessarily likable, and not necessarily who you think. 

It’s an absorbing and exciting book. 

I received this audiobook as a gift. 

Sixth Annual Psychedelic Film And Music Festival Screenings Announced

The Psychedelic Film and Music Festival has announced the program for its sixth annual event, with a lineup of science fiction and fantasy films, documentaries, music videos, and a screenplay competition. Screenings will be held from October 20-22 at the Producers Club Theaters in Midtown Manhattan, with passes available here.

The mission of the festival is to raise awareness about the psychedelic experience through media and meditative practices, with an emphasis on exploring creativity and self-expression.

“The festival offers an array of films, talks, and documentaries where kindred souls and good ideas collide,” said event director Daniel Abella. “Our goal is to educate and entertain attendees about how psychedelic practices are approached, which will allow for new pathways towards everyday life.” By offering a wide range of entertainment and imagery, the festival hopes to enlighten audiences’ perspective of their own identities.

The schedule follows the jump.

Continue reading

Pixel Scroll 9/23/23 I Can’t Scroll, Don’t Ask Me, My Heart Won’t Let My Pixel Do Things It Shouldn’t Do

(1) WRITERS STRIKE REPORTEDLY NEARS END. CNN reports“WGA strike: Writers Guild and Hollywood studios in ‘final phase’ of negotiations”.

The striking writers and Hollywood studios are in the “final phase” of negotiations and hope to strike a deal to end the historic work stoppage that has paralyzed the entertainment industry by the end of the weekend, two people familiar with the matter told CNN.

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers spent Saturday negotiating for the fourth consecutive day.

The big four studio bosses — Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav, Disney chief Bob Iger, Netflix co-chief Ted Sarandos, and NBCUniversal studio chairman Donna Langley — were no longer in the Sherman Oaks room by Saturday afternoon, one person said, signaling nearly all the major issues had been resolved. The person stressed, while not directly in the room, the studio chiefs remained wholly engaged in the process….

(2) INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS, HINTS AND ALLEGATIONS. “New Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Teaser Hints at Return of Rose Tyler & Twelfth Doctor” at

As Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary draws closer, the BBC has started to post even more promotional images on social media ahead of the specials’ release, and the latest teaser may be a clue that both Rose Tyler and the Twelfth Doctor are coming back….

… On Sept. 17, the official X (formerly Twitter) account for Doctor Who shared a cryptic image that featured the Doctor’s TARDIS at the end of a long and narrow corridor. The walls are covered with posters hung by employers who are looking to hire workers for their businesses, and one poster clearly reads Henrik’s, the very department store chain Rose Tyler works at in the New Who’s first episode “Rose.” Fans are now saying that this Easter egg could easily mean that Piper will be returning to Doctor Who after all, at least for a cameo appearance in the anniversary episodes….

Another poster, situated right above the Henrik’s one, contains a reference to Glasgow, which some Doctor Who fans are ready to take in as an indication that Capaldi is coming back as well….

… Neither Capaldi nor Piper are confirmed to be part of the cast for Doctor Who‘s 60th-anniversary specials yet, but viewers believe that these Easter eggs offer strong evidence that they will be making cameo appearances. The show is known to be very careful and selective with the promo images and other teasers shared publicly, so there’s definitely hope that the former stars, who were both in Doctor Who‘s 50th-anniversary episode in 2013, will be making fans happy this November once more….

(3) DOCTOR WHO CLIP. And here’s a trailer for the “Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials”.

Destiny isn’t done with them just yet… The Doctor and Donna return for three special episodes

(4) LONGTIME PULP COLLECTOR. Joe Kloc introduces readers to Gary Lovisi in “The Golden Fleece” at Harper’s Magazine.

…Gary, I learned, was Gary Lovisi, a retired postal worker living in South Brooklyn who, since 1986, has edited and self-published more than one hundred issues of Paperback Parade, a near-quarterly journal in which he interviews midcentury noir and sci-fi writers, revisits the “girl-fight covers” of the “sleaze era,” and eulogizes longtime pulp book dealers as they pass on. I got Gary’s number through Gryphon Books, the publishing house through which he put out three issues last year, though he stopped updating its website nearly a decade ago….

… He went on to explain: they were talking about the first issue of Golden Fleece Historical Adventure, a pulp magazine created by Sun Publications in Chicago in 1938. Apart from its two stories by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, and its two covers by Margaret Brundage, an early master of the damsel-in-distress motif, it is an unremarkable periodical that folded after nine issues. It’s possible that Gary would not have given it a second glance if not for the circumstances under which they came across it: “It was maybe twenty years ago,” he began.

He and Lucille were at a flea market in Brimfield, Massachusetts, when swirling black rain clouds gathered overhead. The storm broke, and they ducked under a tent in which a man was selling items recovered from a house fire. Gary noticed a pile of burnt books on a folding table and started digging through them. He brushed one off, revealing the first issue of Golden Fleece Historical Adventure. Somehow, it had survived the fire unharmed, the only book to do so. He showed it to the vendor, who couldn’t make sense of it. Gary paid the man five dollars and drove back to Gerritsen Beach. He placed the book on a shelf in the basement and forgot about it for a decade. Then, in the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The water rose, filling subway tunnels, submerging thousands of vehicles, and killing more than one hundred people. Gary and Lucille’s basement flooded to the ceiling. Tens of thousands of their books were destroyed. Days later, as a city sanitation worker was hauling the remains of the waterlogged collection out to a garbage truck, Gary noticed that two books had swelled and fused together. He pulled the paperbacks apart to discover, wedged between them, in pristine condition, his Golden Fleece.

“It’s invincible,” said Gary….

(5) BANNED BOOKS WEEKS CHAIR. “LeVar Burton to Lead 2023 Banned Books Week as Honorary Chair”.

LeVar Burton

Beloved reading advocate, writer, and television and film star LeVar Burton will lead this year’s Banned Books Week, which takes place October 1–7, 2023.  Burton is the first actor to serve as honorary chair of Banned Books Week, an annual weeklong event that highlights the value of free and open access to information and brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas.

Recognizable for his groundbreaking roles in the landmark television series Roots and the Star Trek franchise, Burton’s work as a literacy advocate has inspired generations. Many in the book community can trace their love of reading and advocacy for the right to read to Burton’s treasured PBS children’s series Reading Rainbow. Burton has continued to inspire readers with the enormously popular LeVar Burton Reads podcast. A long-time champion for reading and access to books, Burton executive produced The Right to Read. This award-winning 2023 documentary film positions the literacy crisis in America as a civil rights issue. 

“Books bring us together. They teach us about the world and each other. The ability to read and access books is a fundamental right and a necessity for life-long success,” says Burton. “But books are under attack. They’re being removed from libraries and schools. Shelves have been emptied because of a small number of people and their misguided efforts toward censorship. Public advocacy campaigns like Banned Books Week are essential to helping people understand the scope of book censorship and what they can do to fight it. I’m honored to lead Banned Books Week 2023.”

Burton will headline a live virtual conversation with Banned Books Week Youth Honorary Chair Da’Taeveyon Daniels about censorship and advocacy at 8:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 4. The event will stream live on Instagram (@banned_books_week). Visit for more details….

(6) THEY, THE JURY. Niall Harrison touts the Sturgeon Award shortlist as the place to look for the best short sff. “The Year’s Best Is Dead, Long Live the Year’s Best: On the 2023 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award Finalists” at LA Review of Books.

…We might, then, turn our attention to awards, of which there is still an abundance. The invaluable Science Fiction Awards Database tracks the short lists and results of over 100 different awards, and a few dozen include short fiction categories. Through their short lists, they provide a kind of crowdsourced year’s best survey, not least because most of them are decided by some form of popular vote. This includes probably the two best-known SF awards—the Nebulas, which are voted on each year by members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), and the Hugos, which are voted on by members of that year’s World Science Fiction Convention—and is one reason why, historically, it has been so useful to have both awards and anthologies.

Popular votes and editorial selection have different strengths and weaknesses, and one particular weakness of popular votes has become more noticeable in recent years. There has always been a degree of overlap between the Hugo and Nebula nominees, but in an era of more short stories than any one person can reasonably read, there is an incentive to read the stories that are most easily accessible and that other people are already talking about, leading to reinforcing cycles of attention. As a result, it is now the norm for at least half of the short fiction nominees for these two awards to be the same, and for them to come from a relatively small group of online magazines—and even allowing for Sturgeon’s sometimes-useful generalization, in a healthy ecosystem, you’d like more differentiation than that.

All of this is a long way around to justifying the ostensible subject of this essay: now is a particularly good time to pay more attention to the short story awards that are casting a broader net than the Hugos and the Nebulas themselves, and one that I find consistently interesting is the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. …

(7) MASTER BALLARD. Tom McCarthy justifies the distinction in his article “J. G. Ballard’s Brilliant, Not ‘Good’ Writing” in The Paris Review.

Putting Ballard on a master’s course list, as I’ve done a couple of times, provokes a reaction that’s both funny and illuminating. Asked to read Crash or The Atrocity Exhibition, the more vociferous students invariably express their revulsion, while the more reflective ones voice their frustration that, although the ideas might be compelling, the prose “isn’t good.” This is especially the case with students who’ve been exposed to creative writing classes: they complain that the books are so full of repetition they become machinic or monotonous; also that they lack solid, integrated characters with whom they can identify, instead endlessly breaking open any given plot or mise-en-scène to other external or even unconnected scenes, contexts, and histories, resulting in a kind of schizoid narrative space that’s full of everyone and no one.

This second group, of course, is absolutely right in its analysis; what’s funny (and, if I can teach them anything, reversible) about their judgment is that it is these very elements (repetition, machinism, schizoid hypermnesia) that make Ballard’s work so brilliant. Not only are his rhythmic cycles, in which phrases and images return in orders and arrangements that mutate and reconfigure themselves as though following some algorithm that remains beyond our grasp, at once incantatory, hallucinatory, and the very model and essence of poetry; but, mirroring the way that information, advertising, propaganda, public (and private) dialogue, and even consciousness itself run in reiterative loops and circuits, constitute a realism far exceeding that of the misnamed literary genre. If his personae are split, multiplied, dispersed, this is because they are true subjects of a networked and fragmented hypermodernity—ones for whom identification, if it is to amount to anything more than a consoling fiction, must come through man’s recognition of himself (as Georges Bataille put it) not in the degrading chains of logic but instead, with rage and ecstatic torment, in the virulence of his own phantasms….


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 23, 1908 Wilmar House Shiras. Her story “In Hiding” was submitted in 1948 to Astounding Science Fiction, where it was published. She published two sequels in the magazine: “Opening Doors”, and “New Foundations”. The three stories would become the first three chapters in the novel, Children of the Atom. Other than a handful of short fiction, I think it’s her only work. (Died 1990.)
  • Born September 23, 1920 Richard Wilson. Not a writer of much genre fiction at all. His really major contribution to fandom and to Syracuse University where he worked as the director of the Syracuse University News Bureau was in successfully recruiting the donation of papers from many prominent science fiction writers to the Syracuse University’s George Arents Research Library.  The list of those writers includes Piers Anthony, Hal Clement, Keith Laumer, Larry Niven and Frederik Pohl. And, of course, himself. It has been called the “most important collection of science fiction manuscripts and papers in the world.” (Died 1987.)
  • Born September 23, 1928 John S Glasby.English writer who wrote a truly amazing amount of pulp fiction of both a SF and fantasy under quite a few pen names that included  John Adams, R. L. Bowers, Berl Cameron, Max Chartair, Randall Conway, Ray Cosmic, John Crawford, J. B. Dexter, John Glasby, J. S. Glasby, Michael Hamilton, J. J. Hansby, Marston Johns, Victor La Salle, Peter Laynham, H. K. Lennard, Paul Lorraine, John C. Maxwell, A. J. Merak, H. J. Merak, R. J. Merak, John Morton, John E. Muller, Rand Le Page, J. L. Powers and Karl Zeigfried. It is thought but not confirmed that he produced more than three hundred novels and a lot of short stories in a twenty year period that started in the early Fifties. (Died 2011.)
  • Born September 23, 1948 Leslie Kay Swigart, 75. Obsessions can be fascinating and hers was detailing the writings of Harlan Ellison. Between 1975 and 1991, she published Harlan Ellison: A Bibliographical Checklist plus wrote shorter works such as “Harlan Ellison: An F&SF Checklist“, “Harlan Ellison: A Nonfiction Checklist” and “Harlan Ellison: A Book and Fiction Checklist”. Her George R. R. Martin: A RRetrospective Fiction Checklist can be found in the Dreamsongs: GRRM: A RRetrospective collection.
  • Born September 23, 1959 Frank Cottrell-Boyce, 64. Definitely not here for his sequels to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. (Horrors!) He is here for such writing endeavors as Goodbye Christopher Robin, his Doctor Who stories, “In the Forest of the Night” and “Smile”, both Twelfth Doctor affairs, and the animated Captain Star series in which he voiced Captain Jim Star. The series sounds like the absolute antithesis of classic Trek
  • Born September 23, 1956 Peter David, 67. Did you know that his first assignment for the Philadelphia Bulletin was covering Discon II? I’m reasonably sure the first thing I read by him was Legions of Fire, Book: The Long Night of Centauri Prime but he’s also done a number of comics I’ve read including runs of Captain Marvel , Wolverine and Young Justice.
  • Born September 23, 1967 Justine Larbalestier, 56. Writer, Editor, and Critic. An Australian author of fiction whose novels have won Andre Norton, Carl Brandon, and Aurealis Awards, she is probably best known for her comprehensive scholarly work The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction which was nominated for a Hugo at Torcon 3. Her Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, an anthology of SFF stories and critical essays by women, won The William Atheling Jr. Award.

(9) SMOFCON RATES TO RISE. SMOFcon 40, taking place December 1-3 in Providence, RI, is raising its membership rates on September 30. Register now and save.

Current rates are:

Attending $60

First Smofcon (never attended Smofcon in person) $40

Young Adult (Under 33 Years Old / Born After 1 December 1990) $40

Unwaged / Retired / Hardship $40

Virtual/Online $35

Family/Con Suite Only $30

On October 1 the attending rate will rise to $70 and the Virtual/Online membership will rise to $40. All other rates will remain the same. The new rates are good through November 27, when the Attending membership will rise again to at-the-door pricing.

Smofcon 40 also has published a Covid policy at the link. Short version: masks required in program space, recommended but optional in hospitality space. Up-to-date vaccines are recommended but not required. Corsi-Rosenthal boxes will be used to filter air in all spaces.

(10) OVERTHROWN. “Neil DeGrasse Tyson Claims ‘Armageddon’ Has Been Dethroned As Film Violating Most Laws Of Physics”Deadline names the new “champion”.

Armageddon‘s quarter-century reign as the Hollywood movie running afoul of the most physics laws is over. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson made the revelation during an interview on SiriusXM’s The Jess Cagle Show to promote his new book, To Infinity and Beyond, highlighting glaring scientific inaccuracies in another space film, the 2022 Moonfall starring Halle Berry.

Armageddon, you say, violates more laws of physics per minute than any other film ever made,” Cagle began.

DeGrasse Tyson agreed, adding, “That’s what I thought until I saw Moonfall. It was a pandemic film that came out, you know, Halle Berry, and the moon is approaching Earth, and they learned that it’s hollow and there’s a moon being made out of rocks living inside of it and the Apollo missions were really to visit, to feed the moon being, and I just couldn’t, so I said, “Alright, I thought Armageddon had a secure hold on this crown, but apparently not.”…

(11) NCIS AT 20. Compiled entirely from quotes by showrunners and producers (none of the actors), this oral history will still be of interest to those who like NCIS: “NCIS Oral History: CBS Show Team Talks Mark Harmon, Pauley Perrette” in The Hollywood Reporter.

(12) CARBON IN EUROPA MOON OCEAN. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.

Two research teams have independently used the James Webb Space Telescope to look at Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

In this week’s Science journal, one team reports that carbon dioxide seems to have been transported from the ocean beneath the moon’s ice crust. The second team’s observations seem to corroborate this.  Both papers together have caused some in the media to speculate what this means for there being alien life in Europa’s ocean. With saying, for instance, that “Alien life on Jupiter’s moon Europa just became a very likely scenario”.

(13) SHBOOM! “Video Shows Rare Bright Fireball on Jupiter, From Amateur Astronomer” at Business Insider.

Jupiter takes a lot of hits for the rest of the solar system, and new footage shows one of the biggest astronomers have ever seen.

About 14 seconds into the video below, you can see a bright flash appear in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. The flash is from an impact — likely an asteroid or comet slamming into the planet. The video was captured by amateur astronomer Tadao Ohsugi, in Japan, in August. It’s a rare sight….

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Rick Kovalcik, Tammy Coxen, Steven French, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, and Chris Barkley for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Elisa.]

2023 Elgin Award Winners

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) announced the winners of the 2023 Elgin Awards on September 23.


1st place: The Last Robot and Other Science Fiction Poems by Jane Yolen (Shoreline of Infinity, 2021)

2nd place: Spacers Snarled in the Hair of Comets by Bruce Boston (Mind’s Eye Publishing, 2022)

3rd place: Cajuns in Space by Denise Dumars (2022)


1st place: Some Disassembly Required by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (Diminuendo Press, 2022)

2nd place: The Saint of Witches by Avra Margariti (Weasel Press, 2022)

3rd place (tie): 

  • Elegies of Rotting Stars by Tiffany Morris (Nictitating Books, 2022)
  • Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea & Other Tales to Foment Revolution by Rebecca Buchanan (Jackanapes Press, 2022)

Michael D. Toman: A Reminiscence

Michael D. Toman

By William F. Wu: My longtime friend Michael D. Toman died at home of natural causes in the last week of August. I knew him for forty-nine years. He was extremely kind and generous, very well educated, as well as being a brilliant, modest, and considerate friend.

His tastes were wide: Classical literature and of course science fiction and fantasy from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley to the most recent editions of Analog, Asimov’s, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In casual conversations, he might reference the ghost stories of M.R. James and the work of Tolstoy (with the opinion that Tolstoy was unfairly denied a Nobel Prize), then express a thought connecting them to a work by Robert A. Heinlein or Lewis Carroll or John Updike. In music, he was well versed, as a baby boomer would be, in classic rock, but he also loved opera and blues – a range of taste I find to be rare. He often – one approving neighbor said almost nightly – listened to classical music. Movie soundtracks were another favorite and he would sometimes describe instrumental moments he loved using musical terms I never learned. Soundtracks by Miklós Rósza and Elmer Bernstein were among his favorites. He told anecdotes about the improvisations of early bluesmen as easily as referencing a Beatles song.

Michael – he eschewed “Mike” many years ago and I’m writing “eschewed” because he would find it funny – “Gesundheit!” – grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and attended Michigan State University for his bachelor’s degree. While I was born and raised in the Kansas City area, I have multi-generational roots in Michigan. My mother and her mother grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and attended the University of Michigan, where my parents met. I attended that university, got my bachelor’s degree in 1973, and took a year off from school before starting grad school in 1974.

Michael attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in 1973, which was also a for-credit class at Michigan State at that time. Among the people he met there was Alan Brennert, who became a lifelong friend.  Before starting my grad school classes at Michigan in the fall of 1974, I attended Clarion that summer. One day, as I was walking up the hall in a dormitory, I glanced into the open doorway of a room where various manuscripts were on a table, available to read. A stranger was standing in the room, looking over the manuscripts, and I wondered why someone outside the workshop was in there.

It was Michael, of course, and he had come from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where he was studying for a master’s degree in library science, to visit that week’s instructor. After all these years, I don’t remember which instructor that was, though it was either Robin Scott Wilson the first week or Harlan Ellison the third week. He also came back to see Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm in the final two weeks. We first met in the instructor’s room one evening with some other attendees.

I was impressed. Michael had a short story, “Shards of Divinity,” in the anthology Science Fiction Emphasis #1, edited by David Gerrold. I had bought the anthology, which had just come out in April of that year, and remembered the story. Michael was the first published author in my generation I met after reading his work, being about a year-and-a-half older than I am. He was friendly and funny. When I told him I had read that story of his, and liked it, he was surprised and modest, and covered his reaction with a joke about “Trekkies.” I had been writing stories all my life, but I had just started taking a professional approach and submitting stories during the previous twelve months. He had accomplished what I was aiming for.

Michael and I became friends gradually over time. During the following school year, I went to my first sf con. I took a girlfriend to Kalamazoo, where Harlan Ellison was the guest of honor. I had enjoyed meeting Harlan – including his highly disapproving critique of a failed story I wrote to his assignment about “where lost things go” – and visited with Michael and Harlan at the con. At another con that year, a ConFusion in Ann Arbor, I crossed paths with Michael again. I took my current girlfriend and Michael observed that I was wearing the same shirt as the last time he had seen me, but adding with a kind of humor I would come to know well, “same shirt, different girl.” It was funny but I had some explaining to do.

Subsequently Michael received his master’s degree and began working as a librarian at Lansing Community College. I was in a combined master’s and doctoral degree program in American Culture. We continued to cross paths at nearby cons and also the Worldcon in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1976. Eventually we visited back and forth between Lansing and Ann Arbor, discovering many more common interests including the original King Kong movie and alternate history fiction – and he knew more about both subjects than I did. We corresponded more often than we saw each other. Back then, when a “long-distance call” cost extra money, we saved pennies by not using the phone.

When I applied, in 1977,  for affiliate membership in Science Fiction Writers of America on the basis of a story published in a British anthology, Michael was the membership chairman. I received a letter of acceptance from him in which the body was informative and professional in tone. In a P.S., he added a humorous personal note as one friend to another in a style that he would use in correspondence with just about everyone for the rest of his life.

By 1978, we decided to go to the 36th World Science Fiction Convention, also known as Iguanacon II, in Phoenix together and share a motel room. We found a place much cheaper than the high-priced Hyatt Regency convention hotel. This motel was in walking distance of the con and we met another motel guest who was a fan. She went by Mickey and said she had never met published writers before. We enjoyed visiting with her and were careful to explain that our careers were still limited. At that con, we met writer Ed Bryant, who was editing an anthology at the time (he had already rejected a story of mine). We also met writers Pat Murphy and Cherie Wilkerson, who had attended Clarion that summer. They also became longtime friends.

At this con, we also learned of more science fiction and fantasy writer friends of our age group living in the Los Angeles area. As always, in visiting with people at the con, Michael was modest about being a published writer and always enjoyed complimenting and encouraging other writers whether they were published or not. He liked sharing information when he could about new short story markets and sometimes comments he had received or heard about from various editors that might reveal leanings they might have. This, too, continued for the rest of his life.

I had a year to go in grad school, though I didn’t know exactly when I would finish – I was about to start my doctoral dissertation, which I completed just about twelve high-stress months later. After all this time in school, I had lost interest in becoming a college professor somewhere. I knew I only wanted to write, though how I’d make a living wasn’t clear. Michael took part in a strike at the library, where he had a stressful split shift every day of work. Over time after the strike, the woman in charge gradually reduced the number of working hours of every employee who had taken part in the strike and was successfully forcing them to find work elsewhere.

At this 1978 Worldcon, we complained and commiserated about our lot and meandered toward the idea of moving to Los Angeles together after I had my doctoral degree and when he was ready to escape the stress and uncertainty of his library job.

Also that year, Michael had a story published in an anthology in France. It appeared as “Contre-odyssée”in translation and was “Against the Odds” in the original English. He was always disappointed that he was never able to get it accepted in the U.S. Two years earlier, “Shards of Divinity” had appeared as “Quelques miettes de divin” in a French anthology. In 1978 I had another short story published in a British anthology that was a sequel to the one in which my first professional sale had appeared in 1977. In the U.S., our publishing histories were Michael’s “Shards of Divinity” and a short story of mine that had appeared in a regional magazine in 1974. That publication was not deemed sufficient as a credential for SFWA membership. Despite writing and submitting our work often to U.S. magazines and anthologies, we each had two stories in European publications that outnumbered our individual stories in the U.S. That was an irony we shared with considerable annoyance.

During these years, Michael became friends with fellow Michigan State alum Joan Hunter Holly. Her first sf novel was published in 1959. Joan was down-to-earth and always supportive of his writing efforts. She lived in Lansing and ultimately had thirteen novels published and a number of short stories. Michael had a particular liking for her novel The Flying Eyes, in which aliens first appear over Spartan Stadium at Michigan State. She was SFWA treasurer in the late ’70s and Michael worked with her in his role as membership chairman. Through her, he met longtime writer Lloyd Biggle and he introduced me to both of them. Joan was a heavy cigarette smoker and died at the age of fifty, in 1982, from lung cancer. This hit Michael very hard. He spoke of her at times for the rest of his life.

In 1978, George Scithers, the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, as it was titled at the time, accepted a novelette of mine. This gave me the credential to become a full member of SFWA, for which I got another letter from Michael with another dose of humor. The story was published the following year. Though our progress was slow, we felt optimistic about the direction of our writing careers.

I finished the rough draft of my dissertation in August of 1979 and the prospect of leaving my grad school life behind was becoming real. On Labor Day weekend of 1979, Michael came to Ann Arbor with some fan friends from Michigan State and one of them drove us down to Louisville to NorthAmeriCon ’79, the second North American Science Fiction Convention because the Worldcon was in Brighton, England, that year. The trip was an experience common to all of us: science fiction writers and fans saving money by sharing gas and a room, including some of us sleeping on the floor in those days when our bodies were young. At that con, we met writer Tim Sullivan, who became a longtime friend, and writer and orchestral composer Somtow Sucharitkul. Tim and Somtow lived in Boca Raton, Florida.

At one point, I was talking to one of them in the dealers room when someone interrupted, wanting to introduce another individual who lived in Boca Raton. I drifted away and learned much later that the new arrival was Diana G. Gallagher, at that time an unpublished writer working on an sf novel. While I didn’t meet her at that time, we would eventually get married.

Michael and I reaffirmed our plan to leave the long Michigan winters behind for Southern California. Knowing a number of writers already in the L.A. area – including Alan Brennert — made it a much more inviting location than any place where neither of us knew anyone. I received my doctoral degree in December of 1979 and drove my old, bought-used, gas-guzzling, but large sedan to pick him up in East Lansing in June of 1980.

Michael always hated driving. He never was in an accident or received a traffic citation. Even so, he would take a bus, ask a friend, or walk if possible – anything but drive. He owned cars at several times in his life but still avoided driving if he could.  Because he never had an explanation (“I just don’t want to”), I had to accept this, as did all his friends. So for our long trip, I agreed to do most of the driving and he agreed to spell me occasionally. We crammed the big car full of our stuff and departed late in the day.

On the second day, we had an experience Michael loved describing. I had been driving for hours in an overcast but dry day as we went south in Indiana. He agreed to take over so I could rest. As soon as he got behind the wheel and returned to the Interstate, a downpour began. He was both annoyed and hilarious: “You see what happens when I drive? You see?” He was laughing and serious at the same time. “You drive for hours and it doesn’t rain. You see?” He had more to say as lightning and thunder added to the storm.

Even so, he was a good sport and drove through the downpour for about an hour. At that point, at his request, I took over again. In minutes, the rain stopped. Then the clouds parted and I was driving in sunshine. I can’t remember exactly what Michael said in this moment, but he went on for a while – again, funny and serious at the same time.

We knew even then that when we would tell the story, listeners would assume, even while enjoying the anecdote, that we were exaggerating – especially given that were professional storytellers. In fact, the experience was exactly as I described. The fact that people didn’t necessarily believe it in full added both to Michael’s enjoyment of recounting the events and also to his annoyance about it. He told the story off and on for many years.

After a few days with my parents in the K.C. area, we drove into the Colorado Rockies. By prior arrangement, we took part in a weeklong Milford workshop in Telluride. Milford had begun in the 1950s and set the workshop pattern that led to Clarion. George R.R. Martin attended; we knew him from cons in the Midwest when he lived in the Chicago area. P.C. Hodgell, a Clarion-mate and good friend of mine, took part. We met Connie Willis, who became a longtime friend, and Kevin M. O’Donnell, Jr., who also became a good friend.

At the end of the week, Michael and I continued on our way. At one point, still on a winding mountain road, I needed Michael to drive for a while. He griped even more this time, in part because the lenses in his glasses had come loose and were held in place by clear tape – which narrowed his field of vision. I took over again as soon as I could. We reached Grand Junction in the evening and got a motel room.

Ready to leave the intensity of Milford and stress of driving behind for a while, we went to see a movie at a local theater – which happened to be showing The Shining. We knew it was based on a Stephen King novel but not that it was set in the Rockies. Nor was watching it a great way to relieve stress. After it was over, we laughed at the irony. And finally found time to relax.

In the Los Angeles area, we first stayed with Jim and Valerie Ransom, friends Michael had known in Michigan. Their kindness and patience with us can never be repaid. I found a part-time job at the L.A. City Hall with the help of Garrett Hongo, an old friend from my grad school days in Ann Arbor, as Michael applied for library jobs. We also house-sat for another old friend of Michael’s, as well as for Cherie Wilkerson and later a cousin of mine when they went out of town on long trips. One month we house-sat for the parents of a former girlfriend of mine – in fact, the girlfriend about whom Michael had observed “Same shirt, different girl” six years before.

I also attended that year’s Worldcon, which was in Boston. Someone – almost certainly either Tim Sullivan or Somtow Sucharitkul — introduced me to Diana G. Gallagher. She and I started a correspondence and sometimes talked on the phone throughout the following six months.

In January of 1981 Michael and I moved to an apartment complex with some of the other writers we knew, sometimes including Theodore Sturgeon. Michael started working for Harlan Ellison full time – each weekday I drove us to Harlan’s house where Michael, in librarian mode, typed cards to catalog Harlan’s immense book collection. Meanwhile, having received interest in my doctoral dissertation by a publisher of scholarly work, I sat in the art-deco dining pavilion and revised my dissertation. We had known Harlan for some years, of course, but these months deepened our friendship with him. During this time, Harlan accepted a story by Michael titled, “Quarto,” for The Last Dangerous Visions.  It was a brilliant pastiche of work by Jorge Luis Borges but did not make the final cut for the upcoming edition as I write this in 2023.

That spring, I attended the first International Conference on the Fantastic in Boca Raton, Florida, in part because my friends Tim Sullivan and Somtow Sucharitkul would be there. I read a short story and presented a scholarly paper drawn from my dissertation. More importantly, I got better acquainted with Diana. As a result of this trip, a couple of months later, I moved in with her and her two kids in Boca Raton.

I was apologetic toward Michael for moving on and he assured me that pursuing a serious relationship with a woman made sense to him. About three months later, Michael got a well-paying job as a reference librarian at The Aerospace Corporation. I did not return to Southern California to live until 1987, though I visited several times. Michael and I continued to correspond and, with his new income, he often called while I was still counting pennies. These years were full of bonding experiences that anchored our long friendship in years to come.

Michael always took great pleasure in helping writer friends any way he could. Sometimes he would make sure someone knew about a potential market; many times he would write to libraries to recommend they buy certain books. He also wrote to strangers with compliments and suggestions. In a striking example, he made Alan Brennert aware of two short stories when Alan was on the staff of The Twilight Zone in the ’80s. One was “Dead Run” by Greg Bear and the other was my “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium.” Both were adapted for The Twilight Zone. All his life, he found ways to promote fiction by friends and strangers.

In 1985, I came out to L.A. with a friend and, with Michael, we watched the weeklong filming of “my” Twilight Zone episode, written by Alan Brennert. That would not have happened without Michael.

At the same time, Michael’s writing grew less frequent. He continued to submit stories already written and a poem, “Seven Ways of Looking at Godzilla.” The latter remains unpublished and I’ve suspected science fiction editors might not have appreciated its literary side and that editors of literary work were put off by Godzilla. In that poem, there’s that surprisingly wide range of interest and knowledge again, similar to his interest in blues and opera mentioned earlier. He filled paper grocery sacks and file folders with story ideas in his tight scrawl.

In the ’80s and ’90s, he had short fiction published in Cold Shocks, edited by Tim Sullivan; Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch; Fantasy Tales; and Fantasy Macabre. Beginning in the early ’90s, he did not write fiction for roughly the last thirty years of his life. He often said, “It’s easier to manage other people’s careers than your own.” Even so, he always insisted that he wanted to write more.

In 1987 I moved with my wife Diana and stepdaughter Chelsea to a small town in the Antelope Valley called Lake Los Angeles. The lake has been dry for decades and it’s nowhere near Los Angeles, being in the high desert north of the San Gabriel Mountains. However, I could now drive to the near edge of the L.A. sprawl in about an hour. Starting in the fall of 1987, five of us who were already acquainted got together for sushi and plum wine roughly once a year until the recent pandemic. The other three are Alan Brennert, Michael Cassutt, and Robert Crais. Michael and I had met Bob Crais at Clarion in 1975 when we returned to visit Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm. Michael Toman could not bring himself to try sushi and ordered his own dinner, but for many years we all enjoyed Japanese plum wine. Alan dubbed us Brothers of the Plum. I have always enjoyed the get-togethers and Michael in particular benefited from the camaraderie as his own writing efforts were left behind. He became more self-conscious than ever about telling new acquaintances that he was a published writer of fiction, but we always reminded him that he was.

In 1995, Michael became a reference librarian for the South Pasadena Public Library. It was, at last, the work he truly wanted: Working up lists of books for the library to buy, helping members of the public find books they sought, and also suggesting books they might like but didn’t know about. Bringing readers and books together brought him special satisfaction.

In the 2000s, Michael made editors of The Best American Short Stories aware of Harlan Ellison’s story “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore.” This became Harlan’s first appearance in this series from the literary world. Out of all the countless ways in which Michael helped other writers, he took special pride in this.

His devotion to helping also included keeping friends up to date on many sorts of news related to creative work through correspondence and eventually email. In time, he became especially fond of File770.

Related to these activities, he treasured being a generally unknown yet influential “force for good,” as he phrased it – and said he would like to be remembered as such. Here it is. Those of us who benefited from his kindness will always remember.

And, of course, the personal side of our friendship continued. When I remarried in 2007, Michael was best man at the wedding.

 Michael repeatedly gave me an intended compliment that revealed something about his long years of not writing fiction. He would say, “I really admire your discipline,” in writing my work. I always gave him the same answer, that I liked writing short stories and novels. It’s something I really want to do. I explained that I enjoyed writing and was not disciplining myself in the sense he meant. Granting that of course there have been days when I was not in the mood but had a deadline to meet, overall I enjoy the process of writing fiction – emphasis on “process.” Though he always enjoyed corresponding with people, often with cultural references and humorous observations, Michael reached the point where he truly did not enjoy writing fiction and could only have done so with the “discipline” of forcing himself to do so.

Sadly, that meant that no one will ever read the unwritten stories based on the many premises he scribbled down. Many combined unlikely concepts along the line of his story “Against the Odds,” in which an additional travail for Odysseus occurs when he finds himself in our time in the back of a bus. At his best, Michael was brilliant in pastiche and with creating premises he never developed.

Just as he never offered a reason for his aversion to driving, he never made an effort to discuss his writer’s block. He insisted he wanted to write short stories but did not write for so many years – in a reference he would recognize, his intention to write and his published stories were jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today.

I think Michael’s greatest moment of writing gratification came in the 2000s when Harlan gave him permission to enter part of his story “Quarto” in a contest judged by John Updike. Michael had long enjoyed and admired Updike’s work and was thrilled when Updike awarded Michael’s entry first prize. Michael received it from Updike in person.

So now my friend of forty-nine years is gone.

Somewhere, there’s an alternate world where Michael D. Toman enjoys writing fiction and fully develops all his premises with great personal satisfaction. That’s a world where we could enjoy all the pastiches and mashups and other story concepts brought forth by his intellect and knowledge and sense of humor. And it’s a world where every writer he ever helped and befriended recognizes and applauds his accomplishments.

I hope the Michael D. Toman I knew has found his way there now.

Kelley Caspari Review: Xocolatl de David

Review by Kelley Caspari: By the register little chocolate squares beckoned.  Labeled, somewhat exotically, ‘Xocolatl de David’, there were three sorts, but the one that caught my eye read “72% Ecuadorian Chocolate with Black Truffles and Sea Salt”.  Not a chocolate truffle, mind you, but the kind of truffle pigs sniff out of the woods in Italy and France.  I surrendered to impulse and bought one.

This Ecuadorian chocolate had its own sweetness with no trace of bitter, although there is no sweetener listed on the package.  It melted across my tongue like it had somewhere to go, leaving a velvety trail.  The truffle flavor kicked in with a surprising animalistic quality and, instead of blending with the chocolate to create a unique flavor, its heavy accent contrasted with the chocolaty smoothness on my tongue, lasting just long enough for me to wonder whether this was quite proper before the sea salt captured my attention, leading me back again to marvel at the smoothness of the chocolate.  And that sweetness!

David Briggs, owner of Xocolatl de David, isn’t afraid to go out on a very thin branch to stretch notions of what flavors can be combined with chocolate.  He’s passionate about pushing boundaries, and that passion results in gutsy flavor combinations.  ”Initially I wanted to make things I would enjoy, and I still do,” he says, “That’s still number one on my list.”  His own palate has a low threshold for sweet, so he deliberately pulls from his extensive culinary background in his creative process.

He was at the forefront of the bacon and chocolate trend some years ago, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has an entire line of chocolates incorporating the bits of animals many people avoid. Case in point are his seasonal Pigs Blood Chocolate and the Chicharrón, which he describes on his blog “as a Nestlé Crunch bar but with fried pork skins. Chocolatey, crunchy, porky, salty, spicy deliciousness.”

If all this sounds too weird for you, start with The Raleigh Bar.  Pecan-chocolate nougat and salted caramel coated in 72% chocolate combine to deliver a salty-sweet treat balanced on an ever-so-slightly bitter edge that is incredibly addictive.  An aggressive sweet note backs up the other flavors in a way that reminds me of a burly henchman with a bat standing behind the fuller flavor profile of his irresistible boss.  You can check out the boss’ picture on the wrapper, too; the name is an homage to the capital of North Carolina, which in turn is named after Sir Walter Raleigh.  For you food and wine pairing aficionados out there, The Raleigh Bar goes extraordinarily well with white wine.

I asked David which product he was most proud of and he said, “That’s easy.  Rhubarb.”  He’s paired it with chocolate in a sauce used just as you would any jam.  Spread it on buttered toast, spoon it on granola or yogurt, and use it as a chutney to brighten up spicy Indian food.  Breakfast will never be the same!

I must confess that my favorite Xocolatl de David by far is the Almond Pimentón bar – dark chocolate infused with smoked Spanish paprika and Marcona almonds fried in olive oil.  This bar makes me silly.  I have to be careful not to close my eyes when eating it or I end up day-dreaming about fictional memories — wandering through multi-colored Arab markets, languorously bathing in a Turkish hammam, fires of sunset and beach bonfires and fire dancers rolled into one glorious night; all mirages rising on plumes of smoke captured by paprika permeating the most wonderful substance on earth and anchored by the nut that sustained travelers on the famed Silk Road.  (See what I mean? Silly.)

I could go on and on about this guy’s chocolate.  I love his unconventional approach to my favorite food substance.  The only problem with these chocolates is that their luxury item price tag.  The part of me that thinks this is appalling shakes its head, while the part that is enamored sneaks off to spend the egg money at the fancy shop down the street.  I’m working my way through his repertoire as fast as I can find them (and faster than I can afford them) because the eye-opening experience they invariably provide delights me beyond reason.

See what David Briggs is up to here — – and here —